Black Honey are one of the most exciting bands in Britain right now. Two years since their debut album, the retro-rock outfit are back with ‘Beaches’, their new single, and an album on its way. Peter Bath spoke to frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips…
How have you been keeping over the pandemic?
The pandemic’s a bit of a weird time for everyone, I think. There were points in it where I just felt like I was the least creative I’ve ever been and questioned my purpose and stuff, which was really tough. But I also think having time away from touring was really good time to reflect on everything, to get a new perspective on your life, you know?
Was your single, ‘Beaches’, recorded before the lockdown?
Yeah, we did a bunch of the record back in January. We actually finished off most of it. We’ve been sitting on it for a while so it felt really good to put some new music out for the first time.
What’s the situation with the album? It’s been two years since the previous one, is it imminent?
We’re very shortly about to announce album two, it’s been finished for a while. Our new single is called ‘Run for Cover’, it drops in about two weeks Basically ‘Run for Cover’ is heavy, it’s big. The album is big. The whole thing is like the egotism of an old school rock record, but this time it’s from the perspective and for the perspective of a woman. For me, I feel it’s about time that we start looking at more diverse perspectives of what women can represent in their lives. I want girls to listen to this and feel like they’re a boss ass bitch who can take no prisoners.
That’s really interesting because with a lot of your stuff you’ve got this image, the retro feel to the whole thing, so do you think it’s important to introduce something new to that – to bring a new voice?
I think a lot of my narratives using the retro stuff – it’s quite fun for me because it’s in history that you can change the dynamic and you can re-own the narrative. Say, for example, women and the objectification of women in the olden days. In the sixties it was almost like derogatory towards women, whereas now I’m taking that perspective and flipping it on its head and owning it. It’s about commanding that reversal of perspective, and autonomy and ownership over it, and that’s what’s empowering. That’s why there’s room for more intricate accounts and detailings of the personalities of women, that explore more fluid concepts of masculine and feminine. It’s about deconstructing those barriers as well.
What’s the song writing process?
When you write, you just write what comes into your head, and it’s only after you’ve written a record that you realise ‘Oh, I’ve written something that’s got a point to it and a purpose’. Sometimes it’s just your subconscious is leading you. Often I find songs teach me more about myself than I’m putting into them. They’re more just a reflection of where you’re at. Hopefully that’s where other people can relate to you, because you’ve got this unique position in the world, which is hopefully relatable.
You’re playing a socially distanced gig tomorrow. Have you missed playing live, and are you optimistic about that experiment?
I miss the weird shit that you don’t realise as much when you’re on tour. I miss being in the bus at 2 AM, singing along to Robbie Williams. I miss the human contact with all the people coming to our shows and talking about how their life stories have led them there. That connection I really miss. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow. It’s obviously really weird circumstances but things are out of our control. But what I can control, I’m gonna make it absolutely worthwhile. I’m gonna make it the best show. If this has to be our only show of 2020, I’m gonna make it count.
You’ve got a very clear image and sound. Are you sticking with that for the second album or are you moving away from that?
The sound of this record, I would describe as ‘Black Honey on steroids’. It’s gone back to the heavier stuff and it’s got all those retro things I love and it’s still got the cherry-picking across decades, across genres that I always did do, but this is the quintessential Black Honey record and I feel good about it.
Drawing on things from the past and pop culture, do you ever feel anxious about being too nostalgic and retro?
I like how uncool it is to be retro right now, how everyone’s wearing neon sports wear and singing minimalist pop songs with subs and stuff. Like, cool. I love that that shit’s there, don’t get me wrong, I think there’s space for everything, but that’s just not what I want to do. I’m not a trend follower. I can’t just do what other people do, I have to do me. As difficult as that is sometimes, I can’t do it any other way so I might as well enjoy it.
You’ve got the pop art aesthetic, but what music are you listening to which is influencing your sound?
For pleasure, my top Spotify artist is always Billie Holliday. I actually think this year might be the first year where Billie might not be my top person, but I like listening to the iconic song writers throughout the decades. I have a really obsessive fascination with Simon and Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen, and I can just listen to anything that Dylan’s written, and I love Motown and sixties girl groups. I listen to Sam Cooke most mornings, it cheers me up. But in terms of what I’m listening to for pleasure and what I’m listening to to make stuff it’s kind of different. Sometimes I listen to other bands or artists that are harking back to the same narrative that I am. I like things that reference cinema, and I like listening to soundtracks, and the scores of Morricone. Those are the things I like to look at, and look for how people interpret those pinnacle points in culture to make what they’ve made.
You’re still not signed to any big label. Is that a conscious artistic decision, or is it just a financial calculation?
Kind of both. Obviously we dated every major label person under the sun and thought about it, but the times and ways that the system is changing is really leaning towards letting artists lead their own labels, and do this servicing deal, which is what we did. Weirdly, when we did this servicing thing, we were like the only band that did it. It’s really good because you own your own masters, but you don’t get a big advance. There are pros and cons to it. Ultimately, we were early to that and now its a formula that a lot of musicians are following through with, because owning your own masters is the goal. Also, when you’re not working with a label, you’re not working with all the bullshit. You are your own creative director, so you only have to answer to yourself. It’s a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. I’m there, day in day out, designing – page 3 of the booklet layout is wrong for the album, and we’ve got to do three different versions for three different formats, and I’m the only person that can be held accountable if that goes wrong. There’s a lot of work in running your own label, but it really suits me how I work as an independent person doing my own thing, and I’ve just never been someone that does what everyone else does. I wouldn’t be very good at it anyway; I don’t take shit from anyone.
Are there any new acts that you’re particularly excited about at the minute?
It’s not new obviously, but I’m really into the new IDLES record, the stuff I’ve heard from that. I’m really into girls in bands. I love Alexandra Savior, or the Big Moon’s new record, or Angel Olsen. I’m trying to learn more about the trans music community and start talking and opening up conversations about that stuff, which I think is also really important. Arlo Parks man, fuck me. She’s so good that she makes me want to quit music. I can’t believe how beautiful her songs are. She’s so beautiful, I can’t even say how much I love her.
We’re getting more women performing, but do you think change is happening behind the scenes, in terms of record labels, and how many women are in those positions?
No. No, I think the actual music industry is run by stale, pale males, selling records to stale, pale males. The demand for lineups from festivals are from people who are consuming music that has had 50 years of being marketed by and to the same community, so obviously it’s not changing particularly fast. Even in our management company, there’s a lot less women and less people of colour. In our teams that we work in there’s not enough, still. There’s progress for sure, but there’s quite a fair bit of shifting that needs to happen. We need to really look at ourselves, especially after the Black Lives Matter movement, and be proactively employing women of colour.
In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement and what’s happening in America, a lot of your stuff is focused on an imaginary America from pop culture, how does that square with what’s happening today?
I think America is a whole conversation where it’s so fucked. I’m not a politician and I’m not someone who can speak on that. But I also know that England is as bad, and we do a really sick job of thinking that Britain is exempt from a lot of the injustices and hypocrisies of modern culture. Reading that Renni Eddo-Lodge book, Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race, was absolutely mind blowing to me as a Brit, because she tells it all from a British perspective on how fucked it is. In terms of my music, my Americana thing is more from films, and there’s as much fascination in European architecture and international narratives as there is in America. Because movie-scape is so sculpted in this American dream perspective I think it’s seen as more America, but I like British people as well like Martin Parr and stuff. I like people who are doing a cinematic comment on the realities around them.
Black Honey’s new single, ‘Run for Cover’, is out now.
Last modified: 18th September 2020