Shaping a spaghetti western universe out of squalling guitars, vivid colours and cinematic vignettes, there’s no other British band out there like Black Honey. Bursting out of the ether in 2014 with their debut track ‘Spinning Wheel’ – a Pulp Fiction-flecked barrage of piercing screams and twanging surf-rock – they have continued to build their own surrealist world ever since.
Hawking Coca-Cola’s distinctive logo for their own bootleg t-shirts and masterminding an entire range of merchandise, designing their own flying-V covered tour posters in-house, and holding the reins to every aspect of their existence, Black Honey have perfected the indie game over the last four years. And now, with their self-titled debut album ‘Black Honey’ they’re “playing the big-boys game” and getting ready to rip things apart again.
From the modulating auto-tune of ‘Bad Friends’ – a hulking pop melody that sounds like a twisted hybrid that melts together chart bangers, and scuzzy, industrial, strangeness – to the rich strings that lace through Lana-Del-Rey nodding track ‘Blue Romance’, ‘Black Honey’, according to Milky Bar Kid-meets-Debbie Harry style vocalist Izzy B. Phillips, is “a Frankenstein’s monster”.
Black Honey have had this finished debut – or at least another, less complete version of it – up their sleeves for years, but returning off tour with Royal Blood last autumn gave the band a last-minute kick of amped up ambition. “Until September last year, we had a decided album,” Izzy explains. “Doing that Royal Blood tour… it went from waking up in David Lynch dream, to being like, fuck, we can totally do this! Coming home, it was like, right, no pissing about. Then we went and wrote ‘Midnight’, ‘Bad Friends’ ‘What Happened to You’ and ‘Into The Nightmare’ in the space of two months.”
“I knew I had more in me to give, I wasn’t nailing it,” she adds. “I want to touch the hearts of everyone.”
Produced by close collaborators Seton Daunt and jazz drummer extraordinaire Emre Ramazanoglu, Black Honey recorded their debut in various locations including Livingston Studios in London’s Wood Green, and Emre Ramazanoglu’s West Hampstead studios. In typically lo-fi form Izzy recorded her vocals in a “tiny cupboard” at the latter location. “I can’t do the clinical, big budget bullshit. I need to be in my pants, on a sofa, just chilling,” she reasons.
Pondering the approach when it came to writing ‘Black Honey’, Izzy readily admits that a collage of chaos is often the way forward. “When I write, I obsessively watch films as I’m writing. I can’t watch films the whole way through, I just don’t have the attention span. I’ll just be like, woah, the sky is really blue in that shot, I get obsessed with the wrong thing. I watch films on repeat – the same CD of Twin Peaks, or something- on repeat all day as I’m writing. Those things subconsciously filter in, and I see films in my head when I’m writing.”
“Then, I’ll just press record and ramble,” Izzy continues. “Your head will tell you what to say. There’s a contradiction at every turning in the album, in the same way that my internal monologue is constantly contradicting itself. I try to put these discussions in as honestly as they come. Sometimes I’m really vulnerable, and sometimes i’m the fucking powerhouse,” she concludes. “That’s being human”
“I’m very dyslexic and I’ve got ADHD,” the singer adds. “The band always say I’m tempo-dyslexic. I quite admire my brain for being wired differently, though, and the band are so solid and tight that it just works. All the most beautiful things are weird. I would be nothing without my band. We’re a fucking band, we’re a squad.”
“Tom [Dewhurst, drums] does graphic design,” she adds, “Tommy [Taylor, bass] is good with business, and Chris [Ostler, guitar] did all of the production up until this point. We really thrive in a world where we can be in control of all our art. Putting your feelings into the world, that’s the hard bit!”
In assembling ‘Black Honey’ from the bare bones of Izzy’s diary scribbles, the band’s key goal was to create an album that feels, above everything else, honest. “If you’re being honest, people can sniff that,” Izzy agrees. The result is a varied journey through the band’s unique world, meandering from the Garbage-flavoured closer ‘Only Hurt The Ones I Love’ to ‘What Happened To You’s “fapping massive 80s Beastie Boys style” beats, and the love-struck ‘Baby’.
‘Wasting Time’ meanwhile, sounds like the Black Honey’s melodic core sucked through a David Lynch lightening combustor; a stone-cold indie classic viewed via a warped house of mirrors This debut takes some curveball routes along the way, and the narrator isn’t an entirely likeable one, either. Instead, they’re complex, flawed, and above all, human.
“This record is all about choosing to be a villain rather than being a victim,” Izzy says. ““In Marvel comics, there’s always a backstory to a villain where they were a victim of their own situation somewhere along the way. No-one is just born a villain, something went fucking wrong,” Izzy expands. “Being a woman, within that, that’s why I’m so obsessed with cowboy. I love the idea of becoming this Milky Bar Kid cowboy villain female that hasn’t existed yet, through an Andy Warhol eye. I’ve invented myself to be this character.”
“People always ask me how did you come up with this idea, and well – I worked in an American diner,” Izzy says, referencing an old job in a popular restaurant chain known for its rock star memorabilia and novelty pin badges. “First I was in this American diner, making cocktails. Then I worked in Beyond Retro,” she adds, referencing the iconic vintage shop. “Then we made Black Honey.”
Looking forward to the release of ‘Black Honey’, the band’s goal is to completely shake up the world they have spent four years meticulously building. “My ethos before was fuck everything happening now, nothing’s sincere, I can’t relate to it. Now, we’re pulling it apart,” Izzy explains. “We don’t listen to modern music for pleasure. We’re studying.”
“We spent so long building this narrative, this indie thing,” she grins. Now let’s tear that in two.“
The Forum - Tunbridge Wells
Open Ohr Festival
Richfield Avenue, Reading