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In Conversation With Black Honey: Meeting the Self, Female Empowerment and Refusing to Apologise

All image credit: Chuff Media

Formed in 2014, British indie rock band Black Honey has reshaped popular music narratives through their unique rock sound, retro aesthetic and powerful messages. With musical influence ranging from the 60s rock scene to post-punk, the quartet has graced the stages of Glastonbury, sold out headline tours and hit the UK album chart with their debut album.

Fashioned by lead singer and guitarist Izzy Bee Phillips, guitarist Chris Ostler, bassist Tommy Taylor and drummer Alex Woodward, the Brighton band has its artistic roots in the past but characterises its music with the politics of the future. As, despite Black Honey’s heavily layered classic references, from 90s mystery drama and pop culture to the works of Tarantino, their sound is tinged with rebellion and an unapologetic clarity.

This month, Ella Mansell from Strand Magazine (virtually) sat down with Izzy, the band’s frontwoman, as - on a rare occasion - she relaxes at home with new puppy, Japanese Spitz ‘Zero Priscilla Baxter’. They spoke about her upcoming album, emotional freedom and occupying public space as a woman.

What’s the meaning behind your band name ‘Black Honey’?

We just really liked the idea of all the iconic references, so the Black Angels, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and then ‘Honey’ was just like honey from Mary Jane. The contrast of light and dark, bittersweet; ‘Black Honey’ felt right.

So, you’ve just released your new singles ‘Beaches’ and ‘Run For Cover’ and your second album ‘Written & Directed’ is set to come out in January. How are you feeling?

Great! We’ve got a new single dropping in like, two weeks’ time for Halloween called ‘I Like The Way You Die’. It’s vampire themed, directed by ‘Beauty Spot’ who is kind of our art director on Instagram. It’s going really well, I’m stoked, so much better than I expected! The album is selling really well, so yeah, I feel really good!

What kinds of messages do you strive to present through your new album, and through your new singles?

It’s weird because, when you write music, you aren’t striving for a message as so, but I feel like I just want young women to feel fucking powerful. I want them to put on their boots and strut down the road, to work or school or uni, and just feel like they’re going to boss their day. I want women to feel invincible and feel they’re good enough, they’re worthy and deserve to take up space.

I love the female empowerment that characterises your music and would like to talk to you a little bit more about this. How do you find navigating the modern music industry and all of its pressures? By this I mean the conformity of pop culture and navigating a predominantly male rock and roll scene. Do you feel you have faced any setbacks or disadvantages as a woman?

I definitely feel like an outsider to it, and I guess that’s where my narrative becomes poignant. I have just felt like an outsider the whole time, like there was never a space for someone who is complex, more complex than the linear narrative of being a sexy popstar or being an angry punk. I have a bit of those things in me, but I’m also neurotic, and I’m introspective and I’m chaotic. There are so many more facets to who I am and what I’m making. I’m feminine and I’m masculine and I’m all of those things above. My masculinity is what makes me who I am, and I am so comfortable with that. I’m used to being the type of person that people are intimated by for no reason! But that’s a conversation that they need to have with themselves about their own concepts of gender binary conformity.

I am a woman, but I don’t conform to the binary narratives that we have explored in music so far.

That’s really powerful. You’ve mentioned before that Black Honey is not a ‘female-fronted band’, that ‘female is not a genre’, a band is a band. Do you have any further opinions on these ideas of categorisation?

It’s funny because I’ve almost gone back on that in my head and been a bit more like, ok, positive discrimination is a part of the progression that we need now. That’s a real thing. In my head, I’m actively looking for intersections between black women, trans women and people of colour in music. I’m interested to explore these dichotomies and spaces within music, rather than just ignoring it and saying I see myself as a band. I see myself as a woman taking up space, and opening doors for women and coming up with them together. I still believe in that, and I still have the view that the world needs to stop saying ‘you’re a female-fronted band’. That’s not a press release. But, the reason why it’s different with me is that not many women have the space to do it, and my purpose is to make sure that other people can come through.

Which songs from your up-coming album ‘Written & Directed’ would you say have the strongest voices or messages in relation to these ideas of female empowerment?

So definitely the song called ‘Fire’, it’s track nine on the record, and the lyrics are really simple for the chorus. ‘We are fire, we are fire’ and it just repeats ‘we are fire, I won’t apologise’. The point of it is, I don’t have to explain why we are fire and I don’t have to apologise for it, I’m just saying it as it is. That’s quite a rebellious statement to make, it could be deemed as arrogant. It feels quite upright. Do I have to restrict myself to what people want from this song? I just don’t – ‘we are fire’.

I’m still a bit uncomfortable with that, but what’s important about the song is, in the verses the lyrics are like ‘It’s my body, I make the rules’. I use all of those feminist narratives in one. ‘We are all diamonds shining in the dirt, I get exactly what I deserve, we are fire’. It’s very much going from the ‘I’ to the ‘we’. It’s about knowing your own power as a woman and not fearing it, not shying away from it. It’s about stepping into that space and owning it.

I love that idea of clarity and just refusing to apologise for it. Are there any other songs on your album ‘Written & Directed’ that resonate with you in a particularly personal way?

‘I Do It To Myself’ which is about self-deprecation, about making bad choices, being your own demise, your own downfall. I have this dream when I’ve been drinking too much or have been on tour for a long time, where this ghost comes and visits me in my sleep, and it’s this cloud, this kind of black cloud. I think it’s my subconscious telling me to stop. Have a day off drinking, a day off touring. That for me is such an important song. In ‘I Do it to Myself’, I’m a walking contradiction. It’s a confessional song about how long you play your game. Self-destruction is not a positive thing. Knowing that you’re making a self-destructive choice and replacing that energy with reflection and seeking help is important. A lot of it is about refusing to seek professional help.

Ideas of cleansing, replenishment and change are ideas that crop up quite regularly on Black Honey’s Instagram, especially through the strong image of your burning album cover. Is letting go in order to move forwards part of your creative process?

I’ve never really thought about that, but now you say it I’m like, oh wow that must be a thing! I think I’m still going through a lot of the process at the moment, especially with the pandemic. With this record I feel like I’m meeting myself for the first time – it’s super weird.

Having time away from music feels really unconstructive, yet I see things so differently now. I can’t explain it, it’s like having my eyes opened for the first time. Like what the hell have I been doing for the past five years!? And then I listen to the songs and I’m like, wow, who is this person? What’s going on with her?

So I guess growth is important to you as a band! How has lockdown impacted Black Honey’s visions? In terms of your creative process or how you interact with fans, or just your visions and hopes for the future?

The hardest part about the pandemic for me, which is obviously a privilege, is that I have valued my worth on my work output and ethic. So, when I’m not working, I feel like a failure and I feel like I’m not good enough. I work so hard all the time, that I never stopped and looked at what I am doing to myself, out of choice. And now I’m like, what the hell? Who has their values that mixed up? No one who works so hard is happy. I think there’s a real self-esteem thing for me, where I’ve dealt with ideas as though I was failing if I wasn’t making an amazing song all the time, or wasn’t putting all my life and soul into this wicked song, touring my arse off and dealing with all the stress. Now I’ve just learnt to fucking chill out – it can wait! But those thoughts do still come creeping in, this toxic bit of your brain which tells you you’re a failure if you’re not working every hour of the day, will try and consume you. Despite the times you spend pulling yourself away from it.

So finally, what’s the next step for Black Honey?

So we announced the record which is going super well and we are going to extrapolate our blood intravenously into the vinyl, to go with the sweat and tears that went into making it! We’ve got the next single ‘I Like The Way You Die’ that drops on October 28th, and then after that we have got a bunch of new singles dropping up until Christmas and then it’s all guns blazing for January!

Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor

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