Redbrick’s Laura Mosley scores an extensive, in-depth interview with Black Honey lead singer, Izzy B. Phillips, discussing everything from Tarantino to female empowerment
There’s been quite some buzz surrounding Black Honey over the past few years since the release of your first single in 2015. What makes it feel like now is the right time to release your debut album?
Well, it was never like, we’re definitely not going to make an album, and it was never like, oh, we should make one right now. We kind of started touring and things started happening really quickly. We went from no one caring about us, to touring a lot and suddenly we were like, if we put an album out now it’d be stupid because we’re seeing the whole world through fresh eyes. I just spent time absorbing all that; I was writing constantly over the last few years. We could have released three albums with the amount of material we actually have. But after the Royal Blood tour, it felt right, something just clicked, and we were like cool, let’s make the album now!
Your tracks on the album are quite varied; ‘Midnight’ gives me Blondie vibes, whereas ‘I Only Hurt the Ones I Love’ is much more rock-based and angsty. What would you say your main influences were for the album?
I love that you see the differences in the songs because, for me, I think the album is quite up-and-down. I definitely didn’t want to make a record where every song sounded like the same. When I listen to an artist I want to explore all sides of their personality. Blondie is definitely up there. ‘I Only Hurt the Ones I Love’ was quite a Tarantino concept. We were just thinking about the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and the tones that he used when we wrote that.
We love all kinds of retro psych stuff. Black Honey is essentially just a psych-rock band that has an open journal ethos lyrically, that then tried to make a pop record and I think that that’s where the weird hybrids come in, which is what I find really interesting about what we made.
I see that you’re citing Tarantino as an inspiration, and this also comes through in your music videos. How important do you find your music videos in telling a story?
I think music videos are a really good way of showing someone what’s inside your head. The biggest misconception people have about music videos is that you need loads of money to make a good one, when actually people can spend loads of money on a music video and it’ll be awful. You need a clear idea of what you’re going to make and, for me, I’m a very visual person so when I write the song I see the video in my head. When we wrote ‘Midnight’, I literally sent the director an audio clip of the demo playing along to John Travolta doing Saturday Night Fever dance and I was like, this is the song I just wrote bro, let’s make this video and he was like ‘cool, done!’
This your biggest headline tour to date. Are there some songs you haven’t played yet?
There are about five album tracks we’ve never played live, and about four album tracks we have played live, plus some of the deluxe tracks which are like the old classics. We’ve been really rewarded by people’s reception to the very new tunes, and I think that’s really cool, when someone can dig a song that they’ve rocked out to for three years as much as a brand new one, I think that’s great.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learnt so far and what would you say to a band who were just starting out?
I think for a very young artist starting out; put the hours in to the right things. Don’t just write three songs and think that that’s good enough. Write three songs and then write another three songs, and then maybe write another three and ask your mates which ones they like the best and make those your main three. If you’re creative, work with someone who is really great at the other things you’re not good at so you can learn from each other.
Find a mentor – I wish I’d had that. The closest thing I’ve probably had to a mentor is Mike from Royal Blood. I’ll ask him what he thinks of a chorus, but he can also teach me so much in subtle ways, and I think that if I’d just had someone mentoring me a bit more from a younger age, I think I would have found my feet a bit more. There’s no rule book – you have to make it up as you go along. You have to have quick wits and initiative, and look for opportunities around you. Even I can miss opportunities right in front of my face, but I can be an opportunist and I have someone like Mike who can help teach me and that’s a window of opportunity I can’t even put a limit on.
How do you feel Black Honey is going to evolve from here?
We want to carry on working really hard and build a deeper narrative. We’re going to deepen the universe and grow all the things we can grow – we’re going to grow the merchandise, grow the shows, grow everything. After that, I’m looking into a kind of James Bond idea for album two. I love this idea of being a CIA agent, or a villain, or an action hero. I have this idea of a woman in my head with this action power. This female Bond soundtrack with strings, pop bangers, and really cool melodies; more orchestral arrangements. I think that’s what’s really exciting me at the moment. That and some Motown as well.
You were mentioning a female Bond, is being a female lead singer quite important to you?
When I was younger, I thought I’d invented being a front woman, and then someone showed me Blondie and Patti Smith and I freaked out like wow, women in rock exist, I didn’t invent it! It’s cool, we have a really gender neutral team and I think everyone is really respectful of gender in our community. The support bands we have on tour – Russo and PINS – they have loads of girls in. I think tech-world is harder; our lighting designer has just come off a tour where there was a thirty-one-person crew and she was the only girl. In tech, there’s much more of a hierarchy infrastructure; it’s very old-school, very dated. Our tour manager gets treated like a groupie when she drives the van.
On stage you can be your own boss; I can get away with doing my own thing and I have a great time. Nothing in our world reflects the severity of it in a mass cultural way, nothing in our world can really compare or reflect the fact little girls can’t get into school in some places in the world. That’s the stuff that really bothers me.
For us, it’s almost shocking that it’s supposed to be groundbreaking that there’s a woman in a band, when there’s plenty, although probably not enough, and the more girls that get on festival bills, the better. I wonder how many little girls in our crowd go and make a band after seeing our shows. When you write songs, you don’t necessarily think about inspiring guitarists. You want to inspire people to follow their heart and live their best lives and let them escape from reality for a bit.
For someone being introduced to Black Honey, where would you recommend that they start?
Probably ‘Hello Today’ with the video because I think that’s the gateway drug between where we come from and what we are about. It’s very indie, but it’s also got all of the Pulp Fiction feels. It’s an important song because, for me, it was the first song where I took ownership of my emotions. Shit went down – this sucks, but hello today, I’m looking forward and looking to the future. I can’t be taken down, I’ve got heaven in my veins, I’m happy. That’s a powerful feeling – to be moving forward.