Black Honey are a band built on daydreams, fairy dust and ambition. From the very beginning, they’ve created a world you can reach out and touch. Carried by a belief that they could do it all, they’ve swaggered, swayed and shook their way through EPs, and tours that have carried them around the world.
“I went from being some chick who works in a vintage store to touring the world in the space of ten seconds. I could be myself. I saw all of my ideas grow,” beams singer and guitarist Izzy B. Phillips. “I became a monster, this little demon that could fight through all of these ideas. I want to make this happen. I’m going to do all this. All of a sudden I was on fire. I felt electric. Nothing could stop me because I had this burning in my guts to really go and live.”
Their debut album has been a long time coming. Black Honey have always promised it’ll arrive when the time is right. Check your watches, cos that time is now.
“The one thing I’ll never be able to do is experience Black Honey from the outside. That weirds me out. I always wonder what it’s like to watch us from the crowd, or listen to our music for the first time. Having this record and then sitting on it for a little while, I can listen to it with fresh ears. This is what it must feel like to hear us for the first time, and fucking hell.”
‘Black Honey’ isn’t a continuation of what Black Honey have done so far, though. It’s a fresh start and new beginnings. For the first time, they aren’t just saying they want to do it all. Their debut is the sound of a band realising that actually, anything is possible. All you have to do is believe.
“For us, it was important to make something that felt like it said more than what we were initially babbling on about. I had more to say. I had more to give. I had more to explore. The time that we gave that really paid off in the record we made.”
The album is full of purpose. Every song stands for something. There’s “a disco song, a driving at night song, an acoustic ballad, a song where you bring in a symphony orchestra,” Izzy explains. “It felt like it was a bold decision. I don’t know anyone else who makes albums like that, but that’s me. If I’m going to represent myself in music, yup it’s absolutely batshit crazy, but it all makes sense when you hear it."
From the opening hypercharge of ‘I Only Hurt The Ones I Love’, through the rampant disco stomp of ‘Midnight’, the drifting heartbeat of ‘Blue Romance’ and the stripped down, full throttle purge of ‘Baby’ until the slow burn burst and decay of ‘Wasting Time’, ‘Black Honey’ is adventuring.
“That’s what I like about it,” Izzy continues. “That’s what’s so refreshing for me. I’m opening new books. I’m learning more about different genres and hopefully reaching more people through that, but still maintaining the sincerity, honesty and all the things I hold testament to. I hope I’ve retained that Black Honey DNA at the same time as exploring so many different avenues.”
That change came about from a challenge. Their management asked them what would happen if Black Honey wrote a pop song.
“At first I said fuck this. I hate chart music,” she says, but Izzy, never one to give up on something, tried to find a way to make it work. Instead of bending around pop, the band bent pop music around them. And it felt good. Then they started asking questions of themselves.
“My one rule was never to make a song with synths. But what if I make the most sincere song I can with synths? By giving myself a tug of war, it creates something more unique.”
Things didn’t make sense straight away, though.
“At first, it was horrible. We wrote so many bad songs. There were some cool ideas, but they were so badly convicted. It turns out if I try and write a pop song, it sounds like an insulting impression of Katy Perry. It doesn’t sound cool, or good, or like anything anyone wants to listen to.”
That play came last year. The band were banging their heads against walls, trying to make it work but pressed pause to go on the road with Royal Blood. The size, the scale, the ambition of that tour affected the band. When they came home, they wrote five songs for the album in as many weeks.
“It was a really weird time. We were doing all this stuff behind the scenes, but nobody had any idea. Knowing you have ‘Midnight’, this crazy disco banger in the pipeline but not being able to tell anyone about it until the following August was so hard. I just wanted to tell everyone about it. Going on that journey was so challenging, but also the most rewarding thing we’ve done.”
‘Black Honey’ doesn’t just sound different. Their bulging back-catalogue of bangers deals in fantasy escape, this album grapples with reality. Their once-mysterious approach has been slowly eroded away, revealing a very human, very relatable gang behind it all.
“I’m conducting a series of experiments with myself, what can I can be comfortable with exposing. If I am going to show people sides of me, I want to show them some really honest stuff.
“A big part of me learning how to write songs was because I had so many problems as a kid. Doctors said to draw out my dreams because it would help me deal with them. Songwriting is important for me coping with my existence. That’s something I’m thinking about a lot at the moment, putting out this record. I’m telling you everything. Everything about me is about to go on the internet.
“The album is all over the place. I’d say it’s about as up and down as the changing states of my head.”
“Someone once said to be an artist you have to have a certain level of masochistic behaviour because you’re putting yourself raw in the firing line for people to love or hate you so that you can feel connected to the people you can connect to,” she continues.
“That is the damage of being an artist. I created a universe that is escapism but the way I reject that is by telling people real stories about how I’m feeling.”
Songs like ‘Blue Romance’ talk of golden palm trees and velvet worlds. It might sound like perfection with a filter, but it captures a feeling.
“[It’s] a love story which honours love but acknowledges its fucked-up-ness, is set in swinging arms. Dancing all night long, drunk, beautiful and in love. When you escape with someone, when you’re in that dream state and that magical universe, that feeling is real even if the experience might not be.
“All artists have the same worry: is it okay that all the things are so contradictory? What ties it together is the people who make it. If it’s your voice that’s saying it, if it’s your story and you’re telling the truth, if it is sincere, then that is the needle and thread that ties it all together. This album is for my younger self. It’s for every young person that wants to fight, fall in love, fuck and live.”
The Black Honey of old would be pulled this way and that by lust, love and heartbreak, victims of circumstance and under the spell of others. ‘Black Honey’ sees the band more in control.
“When we talk about this record, it’s about feeling like a villain, not a victim. [That empowerment] comes from a tortured place, though. It comes from the heartbreak. It’s like a phoenix rising, coming back harder after taking the hits.”
Not all of the songs on Black Honey’s debut are brand new, however.
“I wanted to give the fans that have supported us through all these years something that would feel familiar. ‘Hello Today’ is a really important song because it’s a fuck you to the past and hello to the future. It’s the most feminist, empowering commentary I was making, when I was really fucked up. Because it was so meaningful to that time, and even now I feel so empowered by it, it had to go on.” Elsewhere, ‘Wasting Away’ is a song years in the making.
“It’s funny; I feel like I never wrote it. I’ve always just been saying it my whole life. There’s an element of coming of age that maybe I’ve not been aware of because I’ve been living it so hard. Every line is real to me. Every story is one I’ve been telling my whole life.
“‘Baby’ is really tough. I tattooed the word baby onto my ex-boyfriend’s hand and then wrote the song ‘Baby’; he found the lyrics beside my bed. I broke up with him three weeks later.”
That raw, barefaced honesty is deliberate and unafraid.
“If someone told me that story, I’d be like fucking hell that’s real. I want to relate, and I want to share in that.”
It’s painted on the walls across the album.
“’What Happened To You’ is about looking at myself in the mirror and knowing you’re a mess. You’re hungover, and you don’t know what you’re doing, but at the same time, you’re powering through with all of the swag, all of the fire. The drums are huge, the pulse of your fucking heart. You’re a mess, but you’re a fiery, powerful mess that no one can stop.
“Basically, the way I see it, I want to be Debbie Harry. I want to be Blondie. I want to be that female rock and roll icon for teenagers to stick on their walls. Do teenagers stick photos on their wall anymore?” Izzy asks, moving at a hundred miles an hour.
“We want to take over the world, play gigs on the moon, travel. I want to go back to Japan; I want to write monsters. For me, writing-wise, I feel like I’m just getting started. Let’s see how far this can go. I’ve been writing a poetry book of all the excess poems that didn’t make it into songs. I’ll put that out at some point. I’m hungry. I’m hungry to write and do everything. I want to do it all.”
Taken from the October 2018 issue of Dork. Order a copy below. Black Honey’s self-titled debut album is out now.
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