Black Honey Interview: Feeling Equally Weird and Troubled in the Head
Melancholic, seductive and timeless are three words which I would use to describe the indie rock band Black Honey. But simply labeling them as ‘indie rock’ does not do the four-piece justice; they encapsulate so much more. Listening to a Black Honey track is like being transported into your own feature film wherein you, the hero, are as equally broken as you are bad-ass and empowered. I met up with Black Honey (minus drummer Tom Dewhurst, but three out of four’s not bad) backstage at ‘Live at Leeds Festival 2019’ to explore music as therapy, the impact of social media and the soundtrack to their film.
We began discussing what the experience has been like reflecting on their self-titled debut album dropping late last year. “I was shocked by the positive response to the record,” vocalist and guitarist Izzy B Phillips explains, “to us, we thought we had made a really, really pop-py record – so we thought we would have loads of hate for it. And actually, there was so much love and support for what we do. We’re really privileged to have people really giving a shit about what we make”. “It’s quite overwhelming how many people came,” – guitarist Chris Ostler went on to talk about how many people turned out for their tour, for not only the shows themselves but meet and greets too.
It’s one thing recording an album in the studio, but another experiencing playing that music to a live crowd. “Oh, you can’t touch the feeling”, Izzy takes a second to compose her explanation. “Having someone sing your song back to you is still the most humbling experience you will ever have. Something that had come from so much pain in your heart – “. Stopping mid-sentence, she explains “We had this kid the other day who’s transitioning, and they wrote this essay just saying that they couldn’t believe how much this record was helping them though, and that you guys [Black Honey] mean everything to us [the fans]”. Reflecting on the sentiment, “We’re like just four losers from Brighton – it’s crazy that we have that”. It was clear that not only Izzy but the entire band felt this way – when talking to Black Honey I gathered a sense that they truly hold a deep love, care and appreciation for their fans.
“Music just fixes people doesn’t it,” Izzy states. Her lyrics touch on fragile topics in a raw and visceral way. Music acts as form of therapy; not only for fans, but the artists themselves. “If you’re having a shit day and you listen to music you can patch yourself up. You can wallow in it in a way that gets the emotions out and cleanses you. Then going back and dealing with reality is easier. There’s a reason why they play classical music to babies in the womb – that shit works!”.
Discussing the album, the band seem genuinely touched that I described it as feeling timeless; transcending music of the day and resonating with listeners ten years ago, as it will do in ten years time. Asking if this was the goal, Izzy replies “That’s something which is hard to achieve as a goal. For us, it’s just a privilege that you think that”.
Black Honey’s music walks the line perfectly between being melancholic, without being whiney, and empowering without being untouchable. “You know what being a woman is like. You have to be happy or sad. You have to be a sexy pop-star, or you have to be an angry punk”. Izzy explains that the way she approached the connection between these two often conflicting feelings is though “the complex emotions that deal with feeling fucking fierce, but being absolutely troubled in the head at the same time. Every dimension and levels of your feelings were reflected in what women actually feel; what people actually feel. Rather than just dumbing it down”.
Leading on from this point, I bring up social media and the influence that it has on individuals, particularly young women today. “Social media is the worst thing for people!” Izzy exclaims, “it makes me crazy, so if it’s doing that to me, what’s it doing to everyone else? Social media is going to make us the most fucked up generation. We are the last generation to know what it’s like before the internet – it’s going to be so shit”. This leads me to question how the band deals with social media within the music industry, given many perceive an essential tool for success to be having a large online following, platform and presence. Bassist Tommy Taylor explains “We try and see it as the shit part of the job. Everything has it’s downsides; sometimes that’s social media”. “Seeing it as admin is better for your health; it’s just the job at hand,” Izzy backs up. “As annoying as it is, it’s good to connect with people that you couldn’t connect with,” Chris jumps in. He explains that they can travel across the globe to Japan and “thousands of people know the words to songs, without the internet you couldn’t do things like that”.
Then again, Izzy retorts “Imagine telling someone from fifteen years ago that to be in a band this year you have a daily expectation on your media outlet. You have to write a little bit about your day, take a picture, edit it and put it online. They’d be like – ‘go fuck yourself!’”. Bringing up the idea of social media being in itself unrealistic and not representing the whole truth, Chris agrees “It’s all censored”. “Even if it is [reality], it’s just a snapshot. We put up a picture today of us hanging around by the van, people see that snapshot. But we were hanging around that van for three hours really, really bored,” Tommy explains. Izzy drives the point home; “It looks fun in pictures, so it must be fun – right?”.
I asked Black Honey about the relative importance of performing live and recording in the studio. “They’re equally as important as each other,” Chris replied, “we approach them both very differently. Recording wise, we like to push the boundaries as much as possible; go out of our comfort zone and try new things. Each individual song wants something different. You cater to that song and make it the best version of that song that it can be, whether that be a string section or whatever else might go. But then for live, you can’t tour an orchestra section around. So, we have to change the songs around and do a live version”. “Lots of artists write to the limitations of their live set up – but we do the complete opposite. We go ‘let’s make whatever we want, and then try and recreate it live’,” Izzy adds.
Black Honey are known for their cinematic themes throughout their music, both being inspired by the works of directors such as Tarantino and the feeling that music can transport you into a film of your own. Asking them to imagine ‘Black Honey: The Movie’, I asked what song they would pick (not including their own discography) for the title track for their film. Immediately Izzy stated that “Obviously exempting all main opening titles of current Tarantino films,” (sorry ‘Misirlou’ and ‘Little Green Bag’). There was discussion surrounding some ‘crazy jazz’ by an Ethiopian group which they heard in their van the day prior. Lana Del Ray got a mention by Chris, but Izzy was feeling something more vintage, not “parody vintage”. Nancy Sinatra also got an honourable mention but was disqualified on the basis of ‘Bang Bang’ featuring in ‘Kill Bill’. Running through many possibilities, the band settled on ‘Run From Me’ by Timbre Timbre; a beautifully simple yet dark song, building to an orchestral grand finale. Director wise, there was no question “If Tarantino had a kid with Wes Anderson” Izzy says; “the art direction of Wes Anderson but then a fucking really fast car!”. I’d go see that film without hesitation, no questions asked.
Looking onwards to the end of the year, Chris explained that the goal is to “wrap up album two”. “I’ll be really happy if we recorded it before the end of summer,” Izzy says, “We’re in a really sweet spot writing now, so if we get this done it’ll be amazing,”. Despite not being able to pull much out of the band, Izzy teased that “The new record is very retro but more ‘Black Honey’ than ever in a cinematic sense”. They did reveal however that there will be a single dropping in June – definitely a date for the calendar.
Header Photo Credit: Charlotte Patmore