Black Honey Break The Mould

A reputable Brighton band is hardly rare to come by nowadays – the seaside town overflows with authentic talent. None of them quite compare to your favourite indie-sleaze band, Black Honey, though. 

Established for their exemplary take on vintage indie-rock, the quartet have earned their place on just about every ‘one’s to watch’ list since their debut. Over a decade onwards and two albums later, frontwoman Izzy Bee Phillips, guitarist Chris Ostler, bassist Tommy Taylor and drummer Alex Woodward have assembled a hardcore fan base that doubles as a devoted community and has generated lifelong friendships in the process.

Their sophomore release Written & Directed created a Tarantino-esque world envisioned through Izzy’s eyes, who states she was “embarrassingly late” to the world of film. As she opened up to the space of iconic art movies throughout her twenties, more specifically 1984’s Paris, Texas, Izzy would often write music whilst analysing cinematic visuals placed in front of her, unconsciously diffusing its contents into what she was writing at the time. In comes A Fistful of Peaches’, the band’s third effort with its name inspired by 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars – none other than the Spaghetti Western cult classic.

“I’ve always had this thread of cowboy sounds”, Izzy says of the album’s wild west aesthetic. “I think it stems from how 60s music and spaghetti westerns reinterpreted classical orchestrations, and the use of guitars. I became obsessed with it.” Expressing how listening to these sounds “made me feel like a character from that time,” she admits that this is the nucleus of what Black Honey means to her, and through it she’s able to identify as ‘the villain’ and repurpose what those sounds could mean if taken ownership of by a woman and stripped away from men, war and its history.

Interestingly enough, they’ve envisioned collaborating to score a film of their own at some point. “The concept of an album is overwhelming in itself, so trying to arrange parts for an orchestra would be intense. But soundtracking a title track and then having an orchestral arrangement for it would be awesome.”

The fiercely independent group knows a thing or ten about the art of DIY. From self-produced music to self-directed videos, all corners of their art is measured with ultimate precision, only lending creative licence to the select few. Drag icon Dakota Schiffer being one. “I was a fan of hers when she had 2000 followers and I’d be DMing her about her wigs, saying how her aesthetic is perfect,” Izzy fangirls. Schiffer directed the video for ‘Heavy’ – a melancholic, stadium-ready moment on the record that dresses up the notion of grief, written the day that their fan club founder Gavin Woollard sadly passed.

“We had this relationship beforehand, and it was great to give her the whole vision, I literally said to her ‘what do you want to do? What would you like to make?’” The end result can only be described as a glorious portrait piece that elevates Black Honey’s already class A cinematography. “Dakota was such a dream. Everybody got paid on time, we hired people within the trans queer community, it was all so efficient.”

Moreso the reason Black Honey hired a drag artist for the shoot was to provide an opportunity to musically explore drag outside of its comedic realm. “I feel like everything that happens musically in Drag Race, or in the drag world, all has a cabaret comedy narrative to it. I want to see a jazz singer do a classical, fucking amazing jazz performance in a gown, laying on a piano doing the real deal,” she explains. “I think there’s room for the relationship between this world and serious art. Because it’s fun, comedic and it’s gorgeous. But it can also be moving and genuine. Drag performers are the most versatile performers in the world. You know, they’re like pop stars in their own right.”

Touching on how music is heavily consumed through the art of drag in the 21st century, Izzy reflects on consuming music outside of Black Honey. “It’s interesting,” she starts. “I have different sounds for different places. When I’m cooking I’ll listen to quite relaxing, throwbacky gorgeous motown. If I’m stressed, I’ll listen to 60s orchestration playlists, the ones where you feel like you’re driving through Italy in 1963. If I’m studying for my songwriting, I like to listen to rock or pop songs to be like ‘how has Taylor Swift made that melody?’”

It got to a point where Izzy was consuming music abundantly more than she spent creating it, particularly during lockdown. “There’s people that are like ‘I wrote my whole novel during lockdown,’ and it’s so fucking annoying.” Admitting to becoming a self-proclaimed gardener during this time, “I was psychotically digging up holes to escape,” this brief period of escapism away from the noise was crucial in order to lay the foundations for this new record.

On jumping back onto the songwriting horse, Izzy reasons: “I think that I was so swept up in the hurricane of the world opening and going on tour again, that it was like, ‘oh my god, life’s real and happening’ and I was so struck by that, that the songs just come from somewhere after.” Stripped of the glamorous universe Black Honey created through their past two albums, ‘A Fistful of Peaches’ marks a career first in exploring compartmentalised emotions and previous traumatic events, most notably ‘I’m A Man’ where Izzy takes on the character of a male sexual predator to address her own experiences of sexual assault.

“It was exhausting,” she explains. “One day in the studio, I had to be like, ‘guys, I’m cooked. I can’t do it.’ We tried doing the vocal take again, but it was so draining, I couldn’t relive it as hard and in detail and in depth every time.”

‘I’m A Man’ starts with a united chant of the word “consent” followed by verses wrapped in enticing venom and licks of sarcasm. “The amount of people that I play it to and they just completely miss the narrative because they’re like ‘this is quite a jolly groove.’ But if you listen to the lyrics, it’s kind of a different song…”

Exploring uncharted territories also is ‘Weirdos’ – an anthem for outsiders. “That’s something I felt like I represent,” Izzy explains, pairing the track to her own neurodivergent diagnoses of ADHD and dyslexia, all of which she began unwrapping through therapy and when producing this record. It wasn’t until she started working on her own mental health that the final pieces came together for the track, hence how it was over four years in the making.

Contrarily, songs like ‘Up Against It’ act as some of Black Honey’s fastest work to date. “We were thinking about my mate’s kid, actually. We were talking about how he moved out of London to the countryside and drew a massive skull and crossbones on the playground in chalk on his first day of school,” she laughs, linking this back to her days of being a child herself, living with learning difficulties, coping with not knowing how to read and being labelled the “nerdy” one.

This is all a reflection on just how transparent Black Honey are willing to be this era, stripped of their animated façde to unveil some brutal home truths. “There’s a certain amount of glitter you’re throwing on everything when you make it into a record, it’s already so far from the truth.” Izzy expands on the transparency of the industry, noting rogue pop acts i.e. Lewis Capaldi who completely redefines what it means to be a pop star, to trans women at last merging into the foreground to create eccentric pop records.

“I have nothing to enjoy about listening to white man indie rock anymore–which is probably my favourite genre of music–but I have no interest in that now from a perspective point of view of like, I don’t fucking care about your heartbreak, I want know about all of these other people that haven’t been able to speak for the last millennia instead.”

This is probably the most unguarded anyone has ever seen the band. Looking back to 2018’s self-titled release, the chance of viewing any of its members other than untouchable rockstars was near impossible. But today, they flourish in being human.

Peering into the future, Izzy simply wants to continue living her fantasy: “I want to still be like a giant toddler just flouncing around in big fluffy dresses, having the time of their life. I want to be pouring myself a cocktail and own my own flat and have it painted crazy colours. I want to be able to have stories that I could maybe write down in a memoir sense and not just journal my trauma every day.”

‘A Fistful of Peaches’ is just that – the beginnings of a heroic memoir that addresses years-buried suffering. Izzy’s work on herself is by no means finished, albeit she’s now placed herself in a position where she feels much more comfortable opening up. “I want to say that I’m as proud of myself in the next five years as I am for the last five,” she finishes. And proud we all are.

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Photographer: Jamie Noise, Charlie Bronson

Words: Jordan White