More about: Black Honey
In January, we spoke with the absolute powerhouse of a human being that is Black Honey frontwoman Izzy B Phillips. We gossiped about the band's upcoming second studio album Written & Directed, her intersectional feminism, white privilege, and questionable ex-boyfriends - the absolute ultimate interview, if you will...
Today (19 February) marks the release of ‘Disinfect', the fourth single taken from Black Honey’s second studio album - and it’s a whopper. After the blow of COVID the group found themselves having to adapt to quite a few unexpected changes, including rescheduling the release of Written & Directed from January to March. Out via the groups self-made FoxFive label a month today, Written & Directed is an exciting upcoming project from Black Honey; an album that shows just how much this four-piece have to offer.
Created during the same year the group toured their debut studio album, it’s amazing to even imagine how the band juggled this amongst the fast-paced and tiring work of touring. "It was quite weird!" Izzy exclaims, "we wrote a bunch of this release during the same time of our first record. It actually really helped dissipate my anxiety of second album syndrome and lessened the stress of it not being good enough.” She continues: “we had around three weeks between tours where we started drum tracking, then went back on tour and came back to record the rest.”
Following the success of a debut studio album can be an extremely hard challenge, especially when the response to said debut was so positive, as was the case with 2018's Black Honey. On Written & Directed though, we get to see the band sharpen their Hollywood glamour with a pinch of post-punk tendencies. Bringing us cinematic vibes, buoyant hooks and strange yet vibrant music videos, Written & Directed is a highly-anticipated return from Black Honey - and it does not disappoint.
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From their release dates, to touring, to financial struggles, Izzy tells us a bit about how COVID has affected the team during the album's making. The last twelve months have been a great struggle for the world, but the music industry has seemed to be hit the hardest. Whilst we’ve watched the sports industry continue as normal after a short holding period, it’s been really hard to see the music industry struggle so much in comparison. Inhaling before exhaling what sounds like a huge weight off her shoulders, Izzy details, “honestly, COVID has been the worst, I don’t want to sound disrespectful towards the people who have really been struggling with their families dying, as I’ve been super lucky. Touch wood my family are safe and healthy, but the actual repercussions on the band have been awful, mental health including – I felt like I completely lost my purpose for a year.”
She continues: “I questioned if I was a musician anymore, if I wanted to quit, it all just got really heavy, and I just wondered so much about the worth or purpose of what I was doing. Even just getting that gap [in restrictions] around August to October, I felt so good, it was like 'oh my God, I’m playing with my band!'”
Considering all that’s happened, there has still been so much music released across the last twelve months – and each artist has been so transparent about just how hard that's been. "You don’t really realise just how important the normality of being a musician is until the basics are stripped away from you," Izzy explains. The UK is officially onto its third lockdown - with the first two having been complete flops - and there’s been a lot to adapt to in such a short period of time. Izzy puts it shortly: “this time around, I feel like I’m psychologically prepared, I can do this right, I can focus on what I need to do."
As months pass by, we’ve watched how our favourite musicians, actors, friends and least favourite politicians have dealt with this pandemic and it’s been an interesting rollercoaster of affairs to say the least. Izzy talks about the uncertainties she’s felt during all of this and how she’s struggled to find the same pitch of motivation and self-growth that the media has been so militant to display. “I’ve felt insanely uncreative these last few months, I can’t even describe it. I’m trying to practise guitar and piano but realistically I’ve just been sucked down a hole into the internet like everyone else. It’s important to acknowledge the internet has been really great throughout this time, but everywhere I look everyone is so big on self-growth, whereas I don’t feel like I’m growing, I feel I’m the most stagnated I’ve ever been in my life. It’s just hard to see people like 'yeah self-growth man' and doing great.”
There’s been so much of this, and whilst on occasion it’s been a great boost of serotonin to see people thrive in difficult circumstances, sometimes bluntly putting the reality into perspective and having people, especially with high profiles, talk about the dark sides is the serotonin we actually need.
On the other side of all that, Izzy talks about how having this free time has enabled Black Honey to key up excitement for the release of Written & Directed. She details: “it’s been great being able to have the time to talk to fans online and have something to show them. I think if I was sat here with no music to show people, I’d go insane.” She continues, “don’t get me wrong the reflection has also been great, I count my blessings now as I’m super lucky in my life. I’m surrounded by amazing, super creative and inspiring people. I have these amazing connections that have helped me survive lockdown and that feels like such an honour and privilege. Even having a dog is absolutely amazing, an almost life changing experience, that I would never predict would be such a fundamentally amazing thing.”
With their record studio situated in Brighton and the group being placed in various parts of the UK, it’s been a tough time for the band to work on collaborating during the short bursts we’ve gone with minute restrictions. The band currently looks like this: bassist Tommy Taylor in Scotland, guitarist Chris Ostler in Hertfordshire, drummer Alex Woodward in Brighton and Izzy sofa-hopping between friends and family.
Considering the group were juggling the recording process of Written & Directed with their debut studio album tour, Izzy gushes about the recording process, which was a lot more of a joyous ride than we’d anticipated: “I’ve only recorded two albums, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but when you watch old rockumentaries of bands in the studio, our experience kind of felt like that.” She emphasises, “it was so fun and silly, everyone had stupid jokes, there was loads of goofing around, and many beers consumed. It was just so nice to have our ideas brought to life.”
She continues, “Lana Del Ray has this quote that’s like 'taking time for your art is taking time for yourself' and I definitely feel like that. I love coming away from a crazy show in a random country and jumping straight in rather than taking a breather. I’ve really learnt that my process is this manic energy where you’ve just got to go 100 mph. – it just suits me a lot. But lockdown has taught me how to pace myself a bit better.”
This March, the group are scheduled to perform some socially distanced gigs across UK venues, but with how things are going, what started out as very exciting news, is starting to feel less like reality and more a desire. Izzy breaks the ice as she exclaims: “I feel our gigs will probably get cancelled, but if they do, I won’t be upset because I’d rather people be safe than in danger!” She continues, “we will reschedule them if we need, we’ll definitely do something, but I’m not sure yet, it was definitely ambitious to schedule something for March, even though its socially distanced I’m not sure they’ll let us do that.”
In short, there’s always a silver lining to everything, and if pausing a couple of socially distanced gigs means in a few months’ time we’ll be able to enjoy a normal Black Honey concert then so be it.
Whilst the excitement of getting back to normal has everyone on their toes, the other side of this is the blatant anxiety that most of us are struggling with. The transition back to ‘normality' is definitely going to be a hard pill to swallow. Izzy details a bit about on this: “it’s really stressing me out to think the day things open again, we’re going to have to be intensely competing with all of the artist tours that would’ve been happening the last two years."
Expanding as we whirl into the topic of festival cancellations and what 2022 could have in store, she says, “I will wait as long as I need to, it would stress me out if we were one of the first people to do a festival and people were questioning, 'ooh is this dodgy?'” What’s so difficult about the music industry is that for a lot of bands, their income stems from putting on these gigs and tours, having previously touched upon the mental strain COVID has had on Izzy and the group, she furthers, detailing how the group have dealt with the financial dent of the pandemic.
“It was horrendous being in this money loop and thinking, 'fuck we can’t pay our bills,' but now it’s cool we settled all of that. To be honest, we're used to being pretty broke anyway, so it’s quite easy for us to carry on creating and not giving up and keep fighting the good fight.” It’s interesting to think a lot of us have spent these last twelve months grasping onto the 80% furlough that we were promised and paying our bills in full, whilst others have struggled to even find themselves a job and still have to tackle the outrage of paying their bills. What’s so amazing about Black Honey’s Written & Directed is that it’s completely authentic despite the tribulations. The group have put so much work into this project and it’s so transparent from beginning to end.
Nowhere is this clearer than on January single ‘Believer’, released alongside an angelic and vibrant music video. Catching the attention of a stomping list of publications, Izzy details her inspiration and thought process behind this track:
“The goal was to try and write something Madonna-inspired and how she approaches religion...but slightly satire. It’s funny because I originally wanted to go with something really serious, but it came out as this hammy gospel song, which I still love.” She continues: “for me I wanted to do a comment on religion and what it would be like if I were to recreate that now. In my world, there would be a Black Rihanna-style drag queen, I’ve always been such a huge fan of drag and so I wanted to make a comment on allyship and the idea that the boys in the video aren’t supposed to be kidnappers: instead hells angels.”
We want everyone to close their eyes now and imagine what the world might look like if it was created by Izzy...and now open them again to read if you were right. “I would base it on scientology, where there’s an intergalactic war lord. It has to be something like that, something absolutely ridiculous. Maybe there’s a coven of vampires who run it. It’s all-inclusive, for the outsider weirdos and everyone whose been rejected from society are suddenly now the frontrunners.”
Throughout the time we’ve known of Black Honey, Izzy’s feminism has always been very apparent, and from listening to this album, it’s been exciting to see her harness some of this into Written & Directed. Izzy delves deep as she talks us through her feminism: “I believe anyone who identifies as a feminist no matter their politics is a feminist, even if they have really bad views on pro-life, they’re unfortunately still a feminist.” She continues: “I think it would be so shitty for us to have the approach of 'you can only be a feminist if you fit these categories'. I think everyone who believes in equality and the progress of womxn can be a feminist, they can be a Trump supporter, and still be a feminist.”
“I believe in intersectional feminism being the absolute benchmark of what we should aim to achieve," she continues, "I don’t give a fuck if people think I’m an angry woman - literally who cares - and if you do then don’t follow us. There’s just too much bullshit. I had the mindset of 'yeah I’m going start a band, I’m going to kick those doors in, run it myself and fuck off the label idea.'”
And she did exactly that. But, she notes that “while that’s easy and natural for me, for other women it could be scary and hard: women have so many more obstacles. So many women have had more obstacles than me, I’m very lucky because, I’m white, I’m southern, I’m educated, I’m privileged and acknowledging all of those is a part of the conversation we should be having.”
In November 2020 Izzy uploaded an Instagram post showing Dreamfest – a fictional festival she curated as a backlash to the running theme of last year’s shitty, male-dominated festival line-up announcements. Hoping to raise some attention on just how much the music industry needs to diversify, Izzy tells us: “I honestly would be lying if I didn’t say that great conventional festivals (who I won’t name) exist. Whilst I’m really grateful, my approach with Dreamfest was to look at the situation in what would be my dream festival and the more I got into it, I learnt just how complex the issue actually was. For example, mobility and physical disability is something that is literally not touched upon: obviously I had covered the basis of Black, queer, trans and non-binary people, but as soon as I reached disability I only had Portugal. the Man and Mystery Jets - those were the only bands I could think of who had physical disabilities.”
Izzy continues, “obviously mental health is difficult because everyone in music probably has some problem along that spectrum, but when creating Dreamfest, I realised that not only is the conversation limited to white men, but there’s also women and every intersection I got into yet disabled people was a complete miss. One of the best criticisms I got from my festival was that there wasn’t a Black woman headlining the main stage, which was immediately a 'damn I missed that one' moment."
"It was really fun discovering lots of smaller up and coming artists and raising them up," she continues, "I went and found loads of cool punk bands, like She Drew the Gun who are quite a retro Tarantino style group. I’ve always felt like this really campy, drag inspired outsider in this straight white male rock world so incorporating this into my world was super important. Obviously this festival would never happen, because it would been the most expensive thing ever, but it was fun to just put it together because it started the conversation.”
We couldn’t agree more: the thing about these situations is that it really is all about opening conversation. "This has actually reminded me of is this toxic boyfriend I had back in the day,” Izzy says suddenly, alarmingly: “he used to say there were no funny females, like he genuinely thought women weren’t funny. I can’t believe it, like it just makes me ask: why the hell did I stick around for that?”
Izzy continues, “at the time I was just so delusional and looked up to him so much because it was this guy who was around five years older than me. That was a time period before anyone had much inclination of feminism in the modern world. I’m sure he wouldn’t have that view now, but if he did, I hope he reads this and takes a long hard look at himself.”
As we wrap up our chat, Izzy details her plans once lockdown restrictions are no more and we are finally back to normality. “I feel good about 2022. Once life is normal again, I want to go swimming in a lido or in a pool: that’s number one. I want to go on a plane somewhere for a holiday - which I’ve basically never done! It’s only been for touring. I’d love to have a real-life holiday, where I don’t just take pictures for social media. I also want to have a house party with all of my friends and dance, I want to touch somebody’s face, go to museums - more than I did before! And lastly visit Kew Gardens."
You can listen to Black Honey's ‘Disinfect,’ now. Written & Directed arrives 19 March via FoxFive Records.
More about: Black Honey