Q&A: Black Honey on new album ‘Written & Directed’

They were on the cover of our first ever issue back in 2017, and what a cover star they were! Izzy Bee Phillips embodies everything that LOCK Magazine is about from speaking out about the back-handed compliment that is being named a ‘female-fronted band’ is, as well as highlighting the flaws whilst simultaneously breaking them down of the very male dominated music industry. We chatted all things feminism, new music and social media in our quarantine convo:

Let’s get it out of the way and talk about the elephant in the room: COVID. Welcome to Lockdown 3.0, how was your lockdown first time round? will you guys be doing anything different this time?

So I think last time I felt super unprepared for it, I needed time to recover and calm down after the years of touring, writing and making records. So then I just became a gardener for the first half of it, which is cool! But this time around, I feel slightly more prepared so I’m bouncing between my cousin’s house in London and my own home trying to keep really focused on structure. My structure at the moment is taking my dog for a walk every morning [laughs] its little but its something. But all in all I feel mentally more prepared and haven’t got to the pit of doom yet, which happened so early on last time where I just started to question everything around me: questioning if I wanted to do music, questioning what the fuck was going on… Like, the whole existential crisis thing that everyone had. Although this time I feel better prepared, I do also feel like I’m going to go insane soon though [laughs]. 

What were your opinions on everyone in the creative industry being told to retrain?

It’s like the story of my life anyway. Yeah my mum’s super supportive, she’s like “you’ve worked too hard for too long for this not to be your world.”  And even my brother’s like “I can’t even imagine you ever doing anything else” they know that this is me inside and out and this is who I am. But yeah, this whole fucking retrain businesses was just such a shitty British excuse, and such an example of how much this country does not value the arts, despite the fact that we are the biggest currency for people to come to this country. Anyway its just insane, I’m glad they’ve stopped pushing that narrative now since they saw the backlash it received and just how wrong it was to even say in the first place…Idiots.

As a band you guys have made a conscious effort to do things differently to adapt to these changing times, you’ve done socially distanced gigs, etc. What is your take on “going virtual”? Has it been a positive experience or a negative one [Ive heard very mixed reviews from artists that detest being more active on social media but others being grateful for the platform as an outlet of their creativity] Where do you stand on this?

I stand on both of those perspectives for different reasons: Like I think it’s cool if I wanted to do a live stream off of my phone now it wouldn’t feel like a lame “trying to be influencer” because it’s the only way that you’re going to fucking show anyone what you do at the moment, so I feel alright about it in that respect. But at the same time, with some of the content that we’re just expected to make now I feel like we’re just fuelling this fucking outrageous social media machine. Like I find myself making content everyday for this fucking thing- someone is making money from it and it sure as hell isn’t us. We’re being sold this big idea “you need to build your following during this break” they somehow think that during lockdown it’s going to be so good for bands to build their brand, but I don’t think we’ve gained anything. All we are doing is just fucking feeding someone else’s pocket. The longer this goes on, they’re asking for more, I’m like “oh wait so now we have to do TikTok, twitch, tweets, Japanese social media, like how many more fucking things do they want from us? And at what point am I supposed to be writing songs?! It’s taking us so far away from the actual writing and creating process because you have to just be online 24/7.

Imagine like calling up Jimi Hendrix and being like, “so your songs are gonna get streamed millions of times. But by the way, you’re not going to get paid for them. And you’re going to be expected to do -what is it two songs a month is what Spotify just said recently / or a song a month something insane- for the rest of your career. AND on top of all of that you have to go on social media and do stories of everything that you eat throughout the day, and if you want to grow on it then you have to go like and comment, on Stevie Nicks’ wall.” Like what the fuck are we living? We’ve all gone fucking too far now like, Im 100% out, the second that this band is big enough for me to never do a social media post again. I am fucking done.

The ‘Beaches’ music video was filmed during lockdown wasn’t it? You made it on an iPhone using instagram filters and green screens, you’re no stranger to directing music videos with your capabilities as a visual artist, but I really think this home made video added to that surf rock aesthetic while also making the video a time stamp for 2020 life. What was it like filming this?

Let me set the scene- I was trying to hand paint a green screen and my manager was like “I’m just gonna buy you a green screen” I was like “oh does the postman still do the post now because I didn’t know if lockdown post exists?”. On top of that the the builders were outside my house whilst I’m trying to dance in a bikini, so I’d have to wait until like three o’clock for them to leave so I can actually go and be in my bikini in my own garden without the wolf-whistling. Meaning I only had a couple of hours of sunlight to film in each day, which dragged the process out over weeks. But it was fun in the end, and by the time we got the visuals going the style sorted itself out, it felt really great to capture all the footage, it was fun exploring the beachy filters and then getting the guys to do their versions on top of it was stellar. It was really something, to explore a seedy lo-fi but still like retro Grind-house vibe, and people have really responded well to that video, despite the fact that it was like the lowest budget most lo-fi (deliberately lo-fi) thing we’ve ever done.


Your second album ‘Written and Directed’ is out now and it’s very heavily influenced and referencing grindhouse cinema, kitschy pulp films- both in the title itself and posters. But it’s through a new gaze: a flip-reverse of female cinematic representation, what was it like putting your Tarantino hat on and trying to re-focalize it through a matriarchal perspective?

I like the way that Tarantino projects women anyway, I think he has really good, detailed female protagonists that are flawed as much as they’re amazing and inspiring. So I really like that narrative anyway. I’ve always said that: I’d rather be a villain than a victim, which has been my way of dealing with the way that the media depicts a woman. And so when we did this record for every song we wanted it to be like, “what scene would it fit? What part of the film is that? oh, this is the rolling credit song or, this is the high energy action scene and like, this is the sad bit three quarters of the way through the film” And so because we were always talking about that, this idea in my head kept coming up, “written and directed”. But at the same time I was like “surely someone’s done this, because it feels like it’s the most cliche thing you could call an album”, but thankfully not, so we took it before anyone else could.

I’m so proud of the whole thing. I’m proud about how much I managed to self reflect as well as like (hopefully) tap into what other girls and women are feeling, but also present it through an almost cock rock perspective. Like take human female vulnerability but be like shredding a guitar or stomping around or I don’t know like kicking a door in, at the same time. Yeah, that’s always how I felt growing up listening to my rock records that I loved so much and so if I can replicate that, then that’s my job done. That was the ultimate goal. But I can’t explain just how happy I am with it still, which is a feat in itself as an artist you deconstruct things and look at the minutest of details under a microscope, criticising yourself ‘Is what I intended coming across in this song? could I have said that in a better way? Is that the right word? Does that mesh with the rest of the album?’ Etc I could go on all night, but I am so happy with the record and so very proud of it.

You’ve self titled the genre of the song ‘Run For Cover’ as ‘Vagina Rock’ YAY for a song about sex from the female gaze. How important is it for you to normalise sex for women as, how you’ve described it as oftentimes: ‘clumsy, emotional and complex’ rather than the objectifying sense of porn?

So the song is about weird sex, which is granted, quite a weird choice to talk about as a woman, as we’re so used to the narrative of sex as love and romance and the beautiful side of it, but what about the clunky kind of weird side? I wrote with Mike from Royal Blood and it was originally supposed to be a Royal Blood song. We found it really funny when we were writing it because from a boys perspective, it was like, ‘touch like a sister kiss like a mother // You should run for cover’. And I love the idea that I would be singing from the exact same perspective without changing the lyrics: am I that female character? am I talking about myself? Or someone else? I like the idea that sex is so multifaceted and we’re not just these basic fucking things, you know? The binary narrative needs to be deconstructed somewhere. 

‘Believer’ is just the song we need right now, as we look to find something to believe in again, but talk me through the premise of the lyrics, what was the lost religion you are specifically talking about in the song?

So I was kind of inspired by Madonna and the way that she always approached religious topics, I wanted it to be like ‘Like Prayer’. But it ended up being this kind-of-hammy kind-of-gospel grungy song which is cool, I love ‘Believer’ although I didn’t aim for that it’s so cool. I like exploring the idea of how in life, you’re just lost, for example the lyrics ‘I was just a child or dead behind the eyes’ is just like eye rolling everything in sight, like everything’s just fucking dead to you. But it’s more than just angst, it’s a sort of an existential conversation about ‘what the fuck is going on?’ And ‘why am I here?’ And then the idea that you meet that person and they “don’t look a thing like Jesus”, which is a nod to The Killers, Amen. Also with the added reference to ‘swing low, sweet chariot’, which is in all religious songs. Here I’m just trying to nod to the believers and non believers in the chorus, and ‘Riding high // swinging low, this is how it goes // I’m a believer’. So that in the end the idea you find is like a coming of age: coming out, coming up. ‘I’m a believer’ is kind of finding someone or something which has nothing to do with religion.

Really it’s just more about making that parallel between the spiritual and finding yourself and that’s how I imagine religious people must feel when they find God, per se. If only we could believe in ourselves or in somebody else the same way as people like so blindly believe in religion, the world could be such a better place. There’s a statistic that I read the other day that people who are religious are much happier than atheists. It said in the book that it was like purpose and having something to be accountable for that solves all that existential questioning. I suppose religions always been a really weird one for me, because I went to a fairly religious school and we learned the Bible in the same way we learned about geography. And I did believe in God when I was a kid. Because you’re taught to, in the exact same way as anything else. But by no means am I telling anyone not to believe in God with this song, I think if it makes people happy then I’m so game, as long as you’re not spreading hate and using it to justify all the weird, psycho stuff like Yes, I get it if you’re giving back to the community and you’re spreading love and guiding people then fuck yeah! I’m here for it. But anything else other than that can all do one.

The album does fill a female shaped hole in the industry, in the media, and in our history in general. It’s almost as if you’ve written your own feminist guidebook: “How to create a badass, a bad bitch guide by Black Honey”- I’d buy it. The penultimate track ‘Fire’ literally verbalises this: ‘I’m not yours I don’t belong to you, its my body I make the rules I can do what I want to’- How important is it to tell young girls this and how much do you wish you heard this when you were growing up?

It’s so funny, because I’m so glad that you picked ‘Fire’ out as a standout for girls. Because I wrestle with that song, I’m like: “Is it too obvious and cheesy?” But those lyrics are so fucking important to me ‘we [REALLY ARE] all diamonds shining in the dirt. I know exactly what I deserve.’   I just want to blow that fire into someone and make them hungrier: like, you fucking know what you deserve so go out and fight for it! I’m just really lucky because I’ve always had a lot of things that come super naturally to me, like being a go getter and a leader, attributes which are almost always described as my more masculine traits, have really worked in my favour . But I didn’t acknowledge that it’s not as easy for everybody as it is for me. I’m just some educated white woman, of  privilege, it’s like, I’m basically the Donald Trump of women. So, my job isn’t to be like, “wah wah wah its so hard for me” my job is to be like, “Come on, girls, let’s come up, you can fucking do it. I’m your biggest cheerleader”. That’s what I wanted to do with ‘Fire’. So I mean hopefully, it does that. And if it doesn’t, I think I somewhere in that I was trying to give it to myself. That’s what I’ve definitely learned from the reflection on this album, that a lot of the messaging in it that I’m trying to give for other people is way more just like the shit I just need to hear myself.

And I wish I had someone, like a woman to do that for me. That’s not to take away from the mentors I do have in my life, but they are predominantly all dudes and It doesn’t mean to say that they’re any less brilliant to me, which they totally are. But if I could have this form of guidance from woman, it would just be like, ugh, amazing, ya know? And this made me realise how vulnerable I am and how much I need help. Sometimes it’s like, you can’t be boss ass bitch every fucking day, like you are allowed to be vulnerable. And that’s also what’s important about this record. Like I do want to consciously show that side of me as well because the media just wants you to be in one of two little boxes where you’re either a kick ass bitch who’s gonna knock door in, or you’re a vulnerable and smoozy Lana type. But I’m both of those things at once, I feel so contained by the idea that I can’t have a complex changing chameleon-like personality. My therapist tells me all the time that we all have a village of people who live within us. So I’m here to be like, “yo, here’s my village” judge it if you will, but just as long as you know I am a multifaceted being not a two dimensional character to be objectified.

Am I right in saying ‘Gabrielle’ is like your version of ‘Jolene’?, this admission of honesty to end the album on is really thought provoking, as if to say that there is still work that needs to be done between women, there’s a lot of tension still between woman to woman which is oftentimes harder to resolve than misogyny.

Smashed it! Yeah, I love that. I love that You took that from it. I mean, the difference between Jolene and Gabrielle is the Jolene is written from the perspective of Dolly being with someone and she’s like “Jolene, please don’t take him because you can”. She’s sort of intimidated by how beautiful Jolene is but Gabrielle is actually from the perspective of being the other woman. So I’m the other woman in the story. And I’m saying “Gabrielle, you have him underneath your spell give him back to me” like she’s taken him. But then I’m talking about all the secrets I tell him to be like “you don’t know anything about what’s happening or the history here”. And the good thing about this song is that I have now learned to not call women by their real name, which definitely has come back to bite me on the butt before despite them being positive, uplifting messages for women, that has been an unbearable part of my year this year, which I can’t really go into for legal reasons. But yeah, that happens. So Gabrielle isn’t really called Gabrielle in real life. But she’s she’s closely named to Gabrielle. I have to give that disclaimer these days you see.

I was going through your YouTube comments, and there was one theme that seemed to be synonymous amongst first time hearers as well as the long time fans and that is that they keep saying this album is going to save 2020/21. What do you believe is different about this album versus your debut in that it has the capabilities to save this monstrous year?

Honestly, I think people just comment shit on Youtube just to be seen like it still baffles me. I’d like to think that it’s quite a stretch to say that we’ve saved 2020 like that. Come on now, let’s all look at what we’re dealing with. So I guess it’s just cool to see how much fucking support we have and feel. To feel so much love from the people that are connected with us…I’m proud to have created something which has done that. We have this super strong community around us that we can see and play shows with live, like, that’s the bit I miss the most, but still to have that shine through the platform of social media, which can be an extremely lonely place is an honour and a privilege. And like, I know that everyone’s always like, “Oh, you know, my fans are the greatest” but I genuinely do believe that our fans are the greatest. So sue me.

Read our review of Written & Directed here.

Buy Written & Directed here

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Featured images by Laura Allard Fleischl

Q&A: Black Honey on new album ‘Written & Directed’
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