Image Courtesy of Red Light Management
The burgeoning lineup of Nottingham’s brand-new Meadowlands Festival, taking place on June 3rd, is impressive for its inaugural year. Boasting big names from The Kooks to Black Honey alongside eye-catching newcomers like The Mysterines and Daisy Brain, the festival promises to be a day of indie rock to remember.
To get the low-down on what people can expect from the festival and its artists, the STRAND caught up with Black Honey’s lead singer, Izzy Baxter Phillips, who manages to exude rockstar-power even through the fuzzy screen of a Zoom call. During our conversation, I get a glimpse of her unique personal style from more than just the myriad clothes in the background of her bedroom; whether it’s sinking her teeth into an eclectic mix of musical genres, listening to over 200 true crime podcasts, or investigating weird and wonderful retro architecture, it’s clear Izzy B. Phillips does things her way or the highway, in the best of ways.
Welcome back to the STRAND Magazine! The last time we spoke to you, you were about six months away from releasing your second album, Written & Directed. What’s changed for you between then and now?
So much has changed. There were obvious changes that everyone went through, like the world opening up, being able to see friends, and going to the pub again. Beyond that, there have been shows that have been beyond my wildest dreams, like playing with Liam Gallagher, The Libertines, IDLES, Wolf Alice… Yeah, so much has happened since then.
What was your favourite show out of those you’ve performed at?
I think the Eden Project with IDLES was my favourite, because the project was something I really appreciated artistically. The show was really fun, and it was quite a magical Jurassic Park-style setting. They lit up the biodomes from the inside while everyone was performing, which was cool. Then they invited me on stage, and that topped it all off at the end, really.
Written & Directed charted at No. 1 for total record sales during its release week, and hit No. 7 in the UK’s official music charts. What was that like for you, seeing that Written & Directed was so well-received?
Pretty mental, to be honest. I remember submitting it, and thinking about it, and talking about it in therapy like, ‘I’m really nervous about this record’. You don’t know whether other people are gonna like it or not, all you can go on is whether you like something. Because I really loved what I’d made I felt confident about that, but it was interesting to see that other people also got it. If it had bombed I would’ve still loved the album. You can’t control other people but you can control how you feel, so I needed to know that I loved the album, and that it was for me, and that I’d made it for the right reasons.
Are you planning to stick with what you have from here, or would you like to keep pushing your limits and trying new things? Are there any new projects in the works at the moment that you can tell us about?
I think my sound is quite eclectic—I’ve been criticised before for doing too many genres, too much dabbling—but I love that about writing songs. I don’t want to write an album where all the songs sound the same. The fact that we managed to put songs like ‘Disinfect’ and ‘Beaches’ on the same album felt quite special. And I like the idea that whatever I make next should feel like falling in love with the process, and with the album as a concept. I think this [Written & Directed] was the first time I’ve gotten my teeth really stuck into what it means to make a body of work. I’m really, really enjoying that at the moment, and that’s all I can say for now, but I’m really excited for what’s coming.
I’m curious to know if that eclectic approach, with all these different influences, extends beyond music. Are there any other artists, artworks or performers outside of the music world who have really inspired you?
I love the photographer Alex Prager; I’ve got her books, and I reference her work a lot for visuals. I’m also obsessed with the author David Sedaris, but I couldn’t tell you how that fits into my work. At the moment I’m also weirdly obsessed with serial killer podcasts. I was writing songs about a certain notorious prisoner, and that was really interesting for me—I started to research what it meant to be a notorious prisoner, and then got onto loads of murder podcasts. I was being radicalised by the internet at that point! I literally know every different way people dismember a body to bury it. I sat there, well over 200 murder podcasts in, like, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ (laughs).
I’m interested to see how all of that research comes across in your future projects! In terms of other upcoming plans, you’re going to be performing at Nottingham’s brand-new Meadowlands Festival this June. How are you feeling about it?
I’m excited! The lineup looks interesting. It seems like the festival is trying to be diverse, which is cool. This kind of festival might not have had that [diversity] even a couple of years ago. Every festival is fun to do because they’re all such different experiences, and I just love watching other artists and learning from them about how they made their art.
Do you find that performing at concerts is quite similar to performing at festivals, or quite different? Is there anything you prefer about one or the other?
I love festivals because after you’ve played you can go and find a cocktail tent, and the candyfloss or the hotdog stand, or the Ferris wheel. I love doing that sort of carnival stuff that you do when you’re a kid. It’s even better when the weather is nice. However, as a performer, festivals can also be stressful: you have a 15-minute changeover, you don’t necessarily know what sound you’ll be working with on stage, and it’s open-air so the weather might affect it. There are a lot of different elements that you could be coming up against, but I still enjoy all of it. I love concerts as well, though.
What’s the best venue or city you’ve played in so far?
That’s a tough question… My favourite from the last tour I did was the Barrowlands Ballroom in Glasgow, which is so seventies. It looks like a roller-disco inside: wooden floor, disco balls, stars on the ceiling, neon signs—it’s just f***ing sick. It’s also in an area of town where there are hipster coffee shops and antique shops, and the whole thing just has its own culture around it. There’s a road that leads into the town with the name of every artist that’s ever played at the venue before. I also love the Casino de Paris, which had very classic red velvet [furnishings], and architecture that's hundreds of years old; I love when venues are kind of vintage, with all the original features. I love to explore their weird side rooms, and bizarre toilets—the whole study of a venue is something I really enjoy [being able to do] through touring. City-wise, I’d love to go back to Japan again. That was an absolutely incredible, mind-bending experience; it now seems so far away, but maybe one day it could be on the horizon again.
What do you usually do to prepare for a set? Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I always, always, always have a strum on my guitar. I revise whatever I’ll be performing that day, and check in on the things I need to work on and improve. We also always have a shot of tequila and a group hug. We used to have a tradition where we kissed Tom [Dewhurst]’s head, but when he left and Alex [Woodward] joined the band, it felt like we would be cheating on Tom if we kissed Alex’s head. But when Tom came back for the Hammersmith Apollo show, we all gave Tom’s head a kiss—including Alex, which was cute.
I’m sure a lot of our readers will be excited that you’ll be performing live in the UK again. What can people expect from a Black Honey live performance?
I think they can expect a thicker, bigger sound—the biggest sound we’ve done yet. I think it’s gonna be as mad and as tapped as ever, and it’ll be a celebration of diversity and queerness like it always has been. It’s gonna be a true party for the outsiders and weirdos out there.
What’s been your most memorable interaction with a fan?
When a fan has written me a letter or told me that my music has changed their life, I just burst into tears every time it happens. It feels really surreal. It’s a really dissociative experience; you write songs because you’re depressed in your pants and you want to get something off your chest, and then someone comes up to you and says that you’ve genuinely helped them… You always feel like you want to do that, but when it actually happens you don’t know how to process it. It feels like a huge gift that you get back, like you can leave this world knowing that you’ve done one thing. If I can make someone forget their troubles for just a second, then I’ve gone above and beyond the task.
Finally, is there a message you’d like for our readers to take from you or your music right now?
You’re perfect the way you are, and don’t let anyone make you think you’re not enough. Listen to yourself; you know what’s right for you and what’s in your heart, so do that. Also, enough with the toxic work ethic bulls***t—get rest, take time for yourself, and be kind to yourself.
You can find more information about Nottingham’s Meadowlands Festival here.