WORDS MAISIE DANIELS - PHOTOGRAPHY EVA PENTEL
Written & Directed is the second album from Brighton-based four-piece, Black Honey; it tells a dramatic, cinematic story that Tarantino would be proud of with fearless frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips taking center stage in a wild world of stunning visuals, empowering lyrics, and charged melodies.
F Word's editor-in-chief Maisie Daniels sits down with Izzy to chat about the blood, sweat and tears that have (literally) gone into making this provocative and fearless album, and also exploring her views on female empowerment and the challenges of social media.
As you'd expect from the creators of such a vibrant album, the quartet's addictive energy quickly creates an electric buzz that blows away the gloomy London skies during the interview. With Izzy arriving in a cow print shirt, paired with cowboy hat and boots - a real-life Jessie from Toy Story - and the boys Alex, Chris and Tommy wearing large grins (and clothes, of course) all of us at F Word know we're going to be in for a fun day.
Maisie Daniels: Hey Izzy, how are you? Have you had a nice morning?
Izzy Phillips: I’m great thank you, I’ve been doing press mailer and some interviews today!
M.D: So not your first interview today, let me try and get some new questions in for you! What did you have for breakfast?
I.P: This morning I had porridge with a banana and blueberries.
M.D: Is this a regular brekkie for you? I.P: Usually I’m an avocado and toast girl with a poached egg. Also, I’m a big fan of a bit of chilli…
M.D: Ah, see you’ve lost me there I’m terrible with spice…
I.P: I was the same as you, very non-chilli, and then I became obsessed and got a weird kick out of the pain.
M.D: I hate to admit this but I go for ‘plain’ at Nando’s… I.P: Woah, she basic! [Laughs]
M.D: You’re announcing your second album coming out at the beginning of 2021. That’s very exciting! I love the title ‘Written & Directed’. It says what it is on the tin along with a clear nod to Tarantino. What is the story behind it?
I.P: Writing record titles is really hard- it’s like naming your band and I just didn’t know for ages. We messed around with a few different title ideas but ‘Written & Directed’ felt supernatural because we always try and create a cinematic narrative and the whole way through making the record we were like ‘as long as this record sounds like it could be a scene in a Tarantino movie, then we’ve done the sound’ and that was the blueprint how we wrote it all. So when we looked at the title, I had that T-shirt ‘Written & Directed by Tarantino’ and I was like ‘Oh my God what if we did Written & Directed by Black Honey?’ And it just worked. We have the whole feminist and protagonist narrative and I love the way Tarantino portrays women, so it all fit fucking awesomely and it’s really empowering to create this. I love it.
M.D: When did you start making the album?
I.P: We actually started writing it before our first album came out in 2018. The first song I wrote was called ‘Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang’ which never made it onto the record but in our heads, it cemented a direction for how I wanted to do it. And a lot of it was about thinking ‘what would be the most Black Honey thing to do?’ Not thinking ‘what if we experiment here and there…’
M.D: So in terms of the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome, I guess you had that before your first?!
I.P: [Laughs] Yeah! So our first album we went more experimental with and more Pop. However, we realised that although it’s really cool doing that, when you’re in a big gig, playing big festivals, you want massive opening drums and you want to mosh! So we wanted to make something you could mosh to and feel like you could be in a cinema or a credit role of a film…
M.D: The second track on the album ‘Run for Cover’ was released recently and I love it! It’s energetic, empowering and hosts that mosh vibe you are talking about…is this pure Black Honey? I.P: So Run for Cover is actually a jokes one because it was written for Royal Blood. We co-wrote a lot of songs with them, and have been for a while. The first demo we did was with Mike’s voice [from Royal Blood] – which is quite funny – but it wasn’t going to make their record as they were doing the more Disco thing, so we asked Mike if we could have it and he was like ‘obviously’. So we re-recorded the vocal with my voice and initially thought should we change the lyrics, and we thought no. It’s even more empowering and rewarding having a song from the perspective of a dude but song through my own perspective.
M.D: Yes! I’m reading ‘Face It’ by Debbie Harry at the moment and this is exactly what her Blondie character would do. She would sing from the point of view of the man.
I.P: Yes! Her story is mad, it’s so insane, I love how she reverses the perspective. I take lots of inspiration from Debbie Harry- I love that villain, cartoon, comic book character.
M.D: The video for Run for Cover- it’s so cool! I feel like this video is like the birth child of Nadia Lee Cohen and Martin Parr…
I.P: Oh my god yes! If you were chatting me up Hun, you’d have me!
I.P: I actually know Nadia and I did the video for ‘Hello Today’ with her back in the day – so go check that out on Youtube! I used to work with Nadia all the time, building her sets and she did one of our EP’s. Both our styles are really similar and we grew up together in the Brighton art scene. And with ‘Run for Cover’, it was sick- I never wanted to do a live performance video because we thought it was really cliché but with this one, we were like ‘let’s do it, it’ a mosh, it’s going to be wicked!’ So I wanted to make this Twin Peaks, cinematic narrative that had that kind of Martin Parr feel and it was set in Crawley, which is my hometown, in this really weird social club that hasn’t been decorated or renovated, since the ‘60s. So when I get there I’m calling the guys saying ‘I’m here’ and they were like ‘there are no photos of it on the internet, it’s going to look terrible!’ and I’m like ‘trust me, this is amazing’.
M.D: It looked great! I bet you had a lot of fun making this? I.P: Yeah it was awesome; we developed this really simple set up. And that was nice because as Black Honey we used to do these really big things where we’d go to Ibiza with some bombastic, overblown concepts. Where this was cool because we brought things back in and made it smaller. And back to what we are, the square root of us and I think we did that really well.
M.D: It must have felt quite liberating? I.P: Really liberating! And it’s great looking back on the whole of this process and the making of this record; it feels like I am meeting myself for the first time. And reading about all these feminist narratives and with women feeling really controlled and having to be shrunk, and confined into boxes and I feel like I cruised that shit. Naturally, I’m really boyish, I take no shit and I do what I want. I was never like ‘oh god, where do I stand with my masculinity?’ I wear my fucking masculinity, it’s a vibe! There are so many things through this record, the pandemic, and the reflection time that I’ve had where I’m seeing everything.
M.D: Your track ‘Beaches’, which also features on the new album has the catchy lyrics “the preacher’s son, he taught me how to come, come down to the beach where we can have fun”- a clear yet cheeky nod to Dusty Springfield’s banger ‘Son of a Preacher Man’. Can I call it a banger?!
I.P: Yeah! I mean I’d say any song that’s amazing is a banger. Even if it’s an old soul song…
M.D: True! I love the way you take influences from other artists, songs, and eras. Can you talk me through some of them?
I.P: For us, it’s a grunge thing. As a band we really bond over the ‘90s…it’s the dream era. Old school wise, I’m inspired by Lou Reed, Elvis, Blondie (you’ve got that already!) Nancy Sinatra, and the old rock n roll – I’ve recently rediscovered ACDC to an unhealthy level. I put it on and stomp around Brighton and into my therapist’s room. (Laughs)
M.D: You are such an empowered and strong female- have you met with many frustrations coming from a very male-dominated industry…and the world?
I.P: Yeah, I see the frustrations. It’s like one of those weird feedback loops though where the more I’ve learned about it, the more frustrated I become because you see everything with a new lens. Shit happens all the time. As a woman, I sometimes don’t get let into shows- even with my backstage pass- and I have to get the guys from the band to let me in because they think I’m some eccentrically dressed groupie [laughs]. This stuff is just jokes though if I couldn’t handle that I wouldn’t be in this industry, but it’s harder for our team. We have a female tour manager, lighting designer, sound engineer, and those guys have it hard. And I get quite angry with how they get treated. Once you’re on stage you can control the power over how people see you however they get talked down to a lot and we are constantly seeing how much they come up against, it’s really hard.
M.D: What can be done to change this?
I.P: We need to see more women in these jobs. And men should be actively seeking to employ gender-balanced teams. The dudes are the ones that need to change this and there’s a lot of progress, a lot of the dudes we work with have female teams, and it’s about who you take on tour. Take on tour the person you don’t think has had the opportunity because they’re a woman.
M.D: How do you plan on releasing the next track? I know you’ve released 2 tacks already…
I.P: So the next single is called ‘I Like The Way You Die’ and it drops on Halloween. The video is directed by Beauty Spot who is this cool retro girl who has a similar style to me. The video is set in a mansion of Vampires, and all the boys are pouring us wine whilst we are there.
M.D: I can’t wait to see this one! And how will you drop the rest?
I.P: We are playing it by ear. We’ve got this song called ‘Disinfect’ which we were going to lead the campaign in with. It’s weird, it’s almost like we predicted things, the lyrics are “we’re just a virus, addicted to the violence”. So it was great when Trump was like ‘drink disinfectant’ and then Black Lives Matter happened and the video was really political and there was loads of violence, the LA riots were happening and the footage from that we used in the video, so we felt like it was wrong. But when we do put it out everyone will be like ‘oh my god, you’ve written a song about the pandemic’ but we didn’t! We wrote it ages ago! But we have to be sensitive, we have major record labels being like ‘put out your happy song now guys because people need it’ and our albums are so dark in some areas.
M.D: How have you felt you’ve had to adapt as a band during this pandemic? Any major changes? I.P: Yeah, loads. Once someone has taken your tour schedule away, which means you have no rehearsal schedule, and the albums done…I don’t feel that creative, writing-wise I’m so insecure I’m going to lose my magic because I value it so highly, and that’s a really intense thing when you put your whole self-esteem and self-worth on this magical unicorn power that you have. And if one day that’s not how you want it to be, you can feel shit…so that’s something I need to still work on and know that I’m probably still talented even if I don’t write a song for a week (laughs).
M.D: Of Course! And do you find there’s more of a pressure to feel like you have to create because of social media? I.P: Yeah! It would be so interesting if we could rewind the clock and I could tell myself 10 years ago that this is how much I’m expected to do. Posting content all the time…
MD: I know it’s an intense pressure that we are forced to keep up with. Engagement, algorithms…we have become slaves to this synthetic world.
I.P: I literally say pointless shit now to get our engagement up now. I don’t even believe it half of the time. I do it because I’m here to show people my music. So I’m now like ‘what’s going to make people angry?’ (laughs). It’s so weird because that is so far away from who I am as an artist. I’m quite reflective, introspective, I really know myself and the internet makes you question yourself, hate all of your friends, people project false jealousy onto you…it’s all nonsense. And we’d all be super smart to just turn our phones off and call our friends and be like ‘how are you?’
M.D: Yeah there’s also a huge lack of substance being created…
I.P: The negatives dramatically outweigh the positives. If we were going on Google and reading Googles scholar articles about Black Lives Matter then yeah, I’d be like ‘the internet is great’. But do I think people are doing that? Or are they just scrolling through their mate’s pages and liking memes….
M.D: Let’s talk about performing live. You’ve had the amazing opportunity to play a socially-distanced gig – how did you find that?
I.P: I think we are super lucky we managed to do one. That gig was really important because it taught me how to value your gig. As I used to value it on how many people were there, were people singing along, and was there a mosh pit? This is all that mattered, even if we fucked uploads. Whereas with this you can literally have 80-100 people really spread out but the vibes and the love was still there, and I felt super humbled by it. I thought this is all I need and people need this, the connection is was bigger than the crammed, compactness of a show.
M.D: You have a really loyal fan base and it must be great to have them stick by you through this time?
I.P: Yeah, it’s ‘culty’ as fuck, I love it!
MD: [Laughs] that’s the dream, right?! I.P: [Laughs] Yeah I love it. One of my mates – who is in a successful band- was like ‘all of your fans come to your shows dressed as you, do you realised I’ve never seen that at any of my shows?’ But it can also sometimes be a little heavy when fans put their problems onto me as I’m not a therapist.
M.D: That must be difficult, what have you done to work around this? I.P: By connecting the community even more and if someone is feeling depressed or whatever, I will connect them to someone else who was feeling the same. And they will build their own friendships and bond over their similarities with our music.
M.D: That’s really nice; you seem to really look out for and after your fans…
I.P: Yeah, we are announcing the new album tomorrow but we did this secret announcement of the album last night just to the fan club. And gave them exclusive membership cards, so we always make sure to do special things just for them.
M.D: Will this be coming out on vinyl as well?
I.P: Yeah, we are making the best vinyl that has ever been made! We heard about this thing where you can press ashes into the vinyl so we thought ‘what would be the most iconic thing to press into vinyl... let’s press our blood, sweat, and tears!’ Imagine the call to Dan [our Manager] ‘Can we get our blood intravenously removed and then pressed…’. [Laughs]
M.D: Have you done it? Did Dan say yes?! I.P: We are flying to Poland next month and there’s a Doctor that’s going to do it. We are going to film the whole thing…announce the album with the drip in. [Laughs]
M.D: I get how you will give the blood but how will you get the sweat and the tears? I.P: Treadmills, romcoms.
M.D: [Laughs] Amazing! Please document all of this and save me one! The character you play on stage, is this different to who you are off-stage? Your alter-ego? I.P: Yeah but as my therapist says: “there is a village of people that live within us”. So this is what we built the story for ‘Run for Cover’ around. My point of conversation being a woman is about the binary boxes that you have to fit into so ‘sex goddess’ or ‘angry punk’. And those are the two things you can be as a woman in music. But for me, this whole concept is you can be so many different things. And the videos were like the three different stages of me. People were like ‘I don’t understand the clothes’ and no one talked about the fact that we did reciprocal camera changes and each camera change was designated to a different character. No one notices that, which is cool, but they see there’s a weird thing going on with the performance style and the different outfits, they are people who exist inside me. They’re caricatures of parts of me, or parts I’d like to be…weird, uglier parts of me. I guess most people say ‘when I meet you, you are so different from your persona.’ But if I was like my persona I’d be a psycho, holding a gun to my head right now!
M.D: [Laughs] it must be fun to explore those different elements of your psyche and blow it up! I.P: Yeah! They’re all explorations.
MD: If you were a superhero, what would your power be and why?
I.P: I would like to say something really interesting but I think I’ll be really basic about it and say flying. The feeling of flying, the rush, I dream about that regularly…
M.D: What are your hopes for 2021 aside from the album release?
I.P: I guess 2021 will be a sick reset. But then I’m going in very trepidatiously as I guess everyone else will be. I don’t think that 2021 will start and everything will be fixed. I’m not a spiritual person but I think that this reflection time has been absolutely necessary for the entire world. And it’s quite privileged to think we really needed this when we haven’t got Nans and Grandads dying, and Cancer, or serious shit going on, so we can see this as a positive thing. But I do feel positive. I do see the state of everything and I think I’m getting crushed under the weight of the whole world and I think everyone thinks like that. And the whole chaos of the whole internet thing, it’s going so crazy and it’s so draining and I want to turn it off and just breathe. So I feel like there’s light for 2021. I think where we become so divided in our views, and what I’m learning is that I didn’t realise how divided everyone’s views were, how many nuances there are to people’s perspectives that are dictated and controlled by their own little echo chambers on the internet. And how left I am, without realising it…I’m as left as it gets.
M.D: Yes, this year has been incredibly eye-opening.
I.P: And dehumanising. The internet dehumanises everyone so we hate everyone. We are getting fucking shafted here. As creatives, we think we are going to luck out one day and be sorted. We’re not. Some fucking c*nt that’s started these platforms-- we’re buying him his house because we’re the ones making him the content. My friend is an amazing filter maker and she’s got over 100 million clicks on her filter. Has it grown her business or her following in any way? No. Is it driving people to use Instagram…she’s getting shafted
I had to shout at my mum for clicking on a Facebook ad today. And I was like ‘Mum, you shred your paperwork before putting it in the bin’ because you think you’ll have someone going through your rubbish and stealing your identity like that…Teaching that to a 60-year-old is the feat of our generation.
MD: [Laughs] That’s so true! So, Izzy, I can’t end the interview without asking what your favourite F- Word is?
I.P: Is that even a question?! Fuck, food, fight forever!
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