Black Honey’s Izzy B. Phillips never intended to become a mouthpiece for women in rock music, but it’s a gig she’s come to love almost as much as fronting one of the most magnetic bands in the scene. Riding the high of sophomore stonker Written and Directed, Phillips talked gothic tropes and Motown inspiration with Impact’s Gemma Cockrell.
Speaking to frontwoman Izzy B. Phillips hot on the heels of the release of Black Honey’s theatrical and cinematic sophomore record Written and Directed, the cathartic feeling of releasing your album is palpable. “It was actually finished before lockdown,” Phillips affirms, before going on to explain the record’s unusual inspirations. Confessing her love for everything Quentin Tarantino, she grins, “I like the way that Tarantino portrays women, he’s got this protagonist narrative for them. It was the first time I saw a woman on TV being the protagonist in a modern way, who’s also an action figure, complex, and fighting a female villain,” Phillips explains. “It’s engrained into my brain from when I was a kid”.
The most obvious Tarantino reference is the title of pummelling album opener, I Like the Way You Die. “Django Unchained is definitely one of my favourites. I just like the idea of twisting the perspective to be from a woman, it felt playful and fun”. The accompanying music video encapsulates the Gothic trope of the seductive and enticing femme fatale character, and Phillips is quick to confess her approval. “I love femme fatale!” the singer exclaims. “I think that’s what I’m always trying to be, and that’s how we saw the vampires in the music video. I think there’s femme fatale in all the songs! Every time I put my boots on in the morning, I feel like one. I feel like I’m in a movie”.
“I’ve learnt that you’ve got to let songs be the way they want to be, and not fight it”
I Like the Way You Die isn’t the only perspective shift on the record, as the following track, Run for Cover, was initially intended to be performed from a male perspective – namely Mike Kerr of Royal Blood. “Ive had Mike’s vocals on the demo. He has quite a punchy way of singing, and it felt difficult to learn that style, but it’s a challenge I’m so glad I endeavoured to do, because I love the way that song sounds,” she gushes.
Beaches has been on the radar of fans since last summer, being the first track released from the new LP. However, the band surprisingly released a version of the track with Japanese vocals, which posed a challenge to Phillips as a non-native speaker. “Dude, that was a struggle! I think I did five versions of that. It was long, but it was so fun to do. Respect to everyone who does different linguistics, because that’s hard!”. Speaking of the inspiration behind this alternative version of the track, she explains simply, “we were just in Japan, and thought it would be a fun thing to do!”.
The inspiration behind the religiously satirical Believer, a pounding mid track with riffs galore, can instead be traced to Madonna’s Like a Prayer. “I wanted to make a deep, dark satire, like Madonna did,” Phillips explains. Despite the song sounding differently to how she had initially imagined, Phillips doesn’t view this negatively. “I’ve learnt that you’ve got to let songs be the way they want to be, and not fight it. If that’s the way the song came out, then maybe it’s better that you do religious satire but with more than a wink, rather than it all just being serious,” she offers astutely. “It’s more like coming out, coming of age and coming up, with a parallel to religion”.
Despite serving ostensibly as an anthem for the pandemic, follow-up track Disinfect was written long before. “It’s actually inspired by the movie Over The Edge where all the kids go mental and set their school on fire, and the whole town gets overrun by kids,” Phillips chuckles. “The idea was about disinterest or a general disinfection with the way life is for young people, and their frustrations in general. It just happened that the metaphors I used aligned themselves with the virus. It was honestly just luck, or a premonition!”.
“It’s vulnerable, but I see more power in vulnerability”
Written and Directed also allows the listener a glimpse into the more vulnerable sides of Phillips’ personality. “Back of the Bar is about when you’re not with someone, but you’re reliving being with that person that whole time. Afterwards, when you look back on something, you have rose-tinted glasses,” she clarifies. “It’s vulnerable, but I see more power in vulnerability. Sassy phrases like ‘I like the way you die’ feel really good, but to have the complexity of ‘I’m sad sometimes too’ explores much more strength”. Penned by Phillips as the song that Black Honey fans have embraced most fondly since the release of Written and Directed, she reveals “it’s the next single, and we’ve got a video coming out for it next week!”.
This theme of vulnerability materialises again on the sauntering banger, I Do It to Myself. Phillips expands thoughtfully on the stand-out lyric “I’m a walking contradiction”: “I think every woman has a dichotomy of ‘I want to be a boss ass bitch, but today I don’t feel like a boss bitch, and I don’t know how to feel about not feeling like a boss bitch. So, you have to figure out how you feel about not feeling like a boss bitch and explore that, and once you’ve explored that, then you become a boss bitch”.
Summer ’92, an unavoidable nod to the Bryan Adams classic Summer of ’69, takes the theme of sixties nostalgia and fuses it with elements of culture. “It’s a Summer of ’69 idea, but with the cultural points of reference I had when growing up, like skateboards and converse and bleached hair and that kind of thing. It’s not specific, but it’s a lens of teenage romances, that’s what I see in my head. I don’t see my own romance though, which is weird – I just see a projection of romance”.
The penultimate track on the album, Fire, generates mixed emotions for Phillips. “Sometimes when I play it, I’m like ‘this is cheeseballs!’” she giggles, “but when I have some time away from it, I’m like ‘This is the best song ever!’ We put it as track nine on the album, but now I’m like, why did we do that? It was such a wuss move. We should have left it as an earlier number in the album”. Despite the confession that she prefers the track when she is not sober, she affirms, “I love all of the tracks on the album, I can’t not love them! They’re my children”.
“We’re going to be back in the studio in the summer. I’m ready, I’m ready to go! Guns blazing”
Another example of an evolving Black Honey on Written and Directed is the hearty use of brass instrumentation; a unique experimentation for a band with their feet planted firmly in the modern rock genre. “I basically wrote a bunch of Motown-inspired songs, and then we wrote a bunch of heavy songs, and those Motown sounds managed to infiltrate their way through!” Phillips explains. “Somehow it was still a rock record but with brass, which I can’t really explain, but I really like it”.
Female empowerment is a deeper driving force of Black Honey’s music, but this hasn’t always been a cause that Phillips has identified with. “I think when you’re a kid, you’re not like ‘I’m going to start a band so I can correct the world’s issues.’ You get into a band because you like music!”, she chuckles. “Then you realise that you’re fighting this other battle, but not for yourself, you’re doing it for other people”. She furrows her brow. “Learning how to be a voice piece wasn’t a skill I was expecting to learn, but at the same time I feel very lucky that this is something I’m learning so much about every day, and I feel like I can handle it!”.
Looking to the future, the band have plans to return to the touring circuit with a bang later this year. “We’ve just announced an Autumn tour, that starts in October. We’ve sold a bunch of tickets already, so if anyone wants to get tickets, they’ll have to be quick! We’re going to Brighton, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Cardiff and London,” she lists.
“We’ve also got a socially distanced gig in June, and we’re going to be back in the studio in the summer. I’m ready, I’m ready to go! Guns blazing. Let’s do it!”. In terms of what fans can expect of the product of this studio time, Phillips confesses, “we haven’t really done much creative stuff since lockdown. I’ve written a couple of songs, and they are maybe a little more inward, bedroom-y feeling. But I’ve also written some massive rock songs”.
“The thought of all those sweaty people touching bodies now seems absolutely insane and bizarre!”
She is most excited for fans to hear Believer in the live setting. “It’s going to be cool because I’m going to play acoustic guitar for that one”. However, this won’t be the singer’s first experience with playing acoustic guitar live. “I did it when I did the Help Refugees gig at the NME awards, with a big supergroup band, and that was really fun”.
Phillips reflects fondly on her memories of touring the UK. “Leeds is absolutely mad. Also, London. Also, Glasgow! Glasgow was so weird, no one in Glasgow was crazy and then one day it tipped and it was the maddest show we’ve ever done. And they don’t do it for anyone! They’re a hard crowd to win over, all the bands say it. They don’t do it for ages, but once they go, they absolutely go!” she laughs proudly. “The last gig we did there, Tom went on stage and he had ‘Dave’ written on the back of his shirt and the crowd started chanting ‘Dave! Dave! Dave!’”.
Moving on from her most memorable touring moments, Phillips looks to the future of the live music scene: “I think that people might be more reserved about going and doing a mosh pit. The thought of all those sweaty people touching bodies now seems absolutely insane and bizarre!”. Despite this slight uncertainty, she ultimately expects the return to live music to be a positive one. “There’ll be less chin-scratching at the back of shows,” she concludes with a grin, “people will be having more of a damn good time!”.
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