In the fall of 2019, Black Honey entered the studio and started recording their sophomore album. COVID-19 hit in early 2020, and the whole world went under multiple lockdowns. There […]
In the fall of 2019, Black Honey entered the studio and started recording their sophomore album. COVID-19 hit in early 2020, and the whole world went under multiple lockdowns. There were false starts, bad-to-worse middles, new hopes, bittersweet and triumphant ends – and through it all, Izzy B. Phillips and Black Honey masked up, locked down, and kept Written and Directed on track in the hopes – like all of us – that a release day was coming soon.
Over a year later, that release day finally came. Written and Directed came out on Friday, March 19 and though it bears a considerable burden of huge, unrealistic, or even unreasonable expectations – it meets and exceeds them.
Written & Directed is a massive record with significant, booming, and smashingly cool songs. Big sweeping choruses, honey-sweet melodies that drip down easy and bitter black crunchy rhythms you can chew on or just let melt like hard candy.
More pop it is in its easily accessible entry point and long-lasting stickiness. Cinematic it is, too but neither popcorn throwaway nor pretentious arthouse. Written & Directed, like its muses and inspirations, is a critical darling and a commercial success. One listen-through of the new one from Black Honey makes it clear that, despite everything that’s happened over the past year, this is one unique and exciting record that feels out of time but couldn’t have come along at a better one.
Talking with Izzy on Zoom, she shares how learning, collaborating, and reflecting helped her survive 2020 and hints at why this may be only the beginning of Black Honey’s rise to new pop stardom.
Hi Izzy, it’s nice to meet you. How are you?
Izzy Phillips: I had a live stream on Twitch earlier, which was a bit nerve-wracking, but we survived.
How was it?
We had 40 minutes of technical difficulties, which was all live-streamed, so that was fun, and I had to play with these famous gamers. I had no idea what I was doing and got stuck in a cupboard in Among Us.
So, you weren’t the imposter. Black Honey has been doing many different types of promotion and fan collaboration through various online channels that it might not have in the past. Is that something unique to lockdown, or is that something you see the band embracing post-lockdowns and post-COVID-19? Your isolation Spotify playlists, for instance?
Yeah, Isolation Collaboration is really fun because that’s where we open it up to the fans and ask them to submit any song they think is good that ties in with the theme. At the beginning of the lockdown, the theme was blackness, and then another week, it was women, and it was really great for me to discover stuff. And then we’d curate it down to the ones we think are amazing.
I’d love to keep that going. I think that would be awesome.
We’ve also got this private fan group that we work with on loads of stuff. We’re super close to them, and we message them every day. They’re called the Bee Black Honey Club that we run through a private Facebook page, and we chat with those guys all the time and give them goodies and first access to everything. I feel really proud that like people who are a part of our community are this crazy eclectic group of weirdos who are so up for having a good time and supporting each other. It’s awesome.
That is awesome. Fan clubs have been around for some time, but that level of accessibility and connection is something that’s rare and obviously wasn’t thought of or available in the past. I’m curious, if something like this was around when you were younger, what band would it be for you? Who would you want that connection with?
Definitely Nirvana. When Kurt was alive, I’d have died to be in a fan group like that. I didn’t even know that gigs existed when I was a kid. I just thought they were something that happened to other people. I didn’t realize that people play in London and stuff. (Laughs) For some reason, I thought that was something that only existed on TV. I don’t know why.
Let’s talk about the new album, Written & Directed. You said you made this record for “for young women to feel invincible.”
Recently, this past International Women’s Day, Black Honey was featured in more than a few playlists recognizing and honoring women in music. I was going through some of these playlists, and they featured some of the most important voices and most exciting artists in music: Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, Brittany Howard, Starcrawler, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Death Valley Girls, PINS, etc. Does it feel to you that at this time, right now is the most critical time for women as working artists in any medium?
Important is a strange word. I think it should always be important.
Absolutely. How about empowerment? Do you feel more empowered now to be making music and art than you have in the past?
Yeah. I don’t think I do feel more empowered than I did when I was a kid because the more I know and learn about the barriers that hold you back and the glass ceiling, the more it’s like, “oh God.” The awakening is so real. I do think I’m more empowered than any woman that has walked in my shoes before me. The more I become educated, the more I feel a bit dystopian about how it becomes real and think, “wow, this is quite a big problem.” I think it’s the same with BLM. It took George Floyd’s murder for everyone to realize this is still going on, and this is still a critical problem.
And it happened at such a critical time – during the pandemic, when all the eyes of the world were focused on it. You’ve spoken about the power of the pandemic and how it can stop you from touring and playing live shows, but it can’t stop you from being creative. Do you think some of the cool ways you’ve had to negotiate around the lockdown restrictions and be creative in a different way than you were used to, having produced positive results, experiences, and opportunities that may have rivaled the original plan for those things? Obviously, the video for ‘Beaches’ comes to mind.
Yeah, it’s almost better, isn’t it? I think about the way people talk about artistic limitations. Think about Jack White and when he says to cut off three strings of your guitar. It’s one of those things where I found my creativity frees those limitations. I do feel like making videos is part of it, but I definitely feel how I approach those limitations as a performer on stage – that’s my craft, and that’s how we as a band have worked so hard at for so long. It’s almost reassured me that that’s what I want to do, that’s what we love doing, and that’s what we need to get back to.
If all goes well with the vaccination rollouts, it seems safe to say you will be.
During the lockdown, though, you mentioned that while couch-surfing, you’d been working on your side hustle. This is very telling about the state of the music industry. I think we all can relate, though, as side hustles are not just becoming more common, but they’re becoming a necessity. Can I ask what your side hustle is?
Yeah, it’s weird. I don’t trust anyone doing just one thing – unless they’re really massive – who says they just do that. So, my side hustle is creative direction. I’m doing all the creative direction on this DJ’s merchandise, but it’s not confirmed yet, so I can’t say. He’s going to announce the collection I’m working on. I’m then doing all of the creative direction for a luxury CBD oil brand that hasn’t launched yet. That’s been really fun because I made it all pink and very cool and did it how I wanted to do it. I also write songs for pop artists.
That’s very cool that you’re able to just delve into that world more as a songwriter. One of the narratives I’ve seen in the press about Written & Directed is that it is “more pop.” Do you think that notion of “more pop” is relative to how less pop or more rock, darker, or heavier the band has been perceived?
I think the thing is I’ve always tried to be pop. I think I would be a fool and a fraud if I didn’t say outright that pop songs are the goal—pop songs on my terms. Before on some of our old songs like ‘Midnight’, a disco song that has me really pushing and pulling with loss of different boundaries. It’s me trying to explore what my version of pop is.
So, to me, it’s cool if this record feels more pop and heavier at the same time. It’s like, “Ding! Ding!” That’s what I wanted, and you know when you discover it. It’s like, “Ahhh, more pop and more heavy.” It’s great that these things work, you know?
Absolutely. Some bands struggle with that, while others just seem to have a knack for it. Songs like ‘Back of the Bar’ and ‘Summer ’92’ suggest Black Honey has it down. What do you credit that to? Is it built-in or just a natural evolution?
I’m such an up and down and all over the place person that it would be so weird if I had one consistent sound. I believe there is a complexity and dark dynamic to me as a person I need to reflect on in songs. And in those songs, I’m between the songs too.
That duality or complexity is a large part of what made or makes certain bands successful, too. It’s funny because one of your influences that you’ve been constantly compared to is Blondie, who are trailblazing legends because of pushing those pop and punk boundaries. What’s your favorite Blondie song?
Ooo, it’s tough. I mean, ‘Call Me’ just feels classic, doesn’t it? As I’m thinking of it now, though, the one that popped into my head is ‘Maria’. Just because the melody is so beautiful.
I think we’re about out of time, but what about another influence and connection – Quentin Tarantino? I have to ask, what would be better – starring in a Tarantino film or providing the music to the film?
Both! I want it all. Reach for the stars, baby!
(Laughs) What would that film look and sound like?
Written & Directed by Black Honey, starring Izzy B. Phillips! (Laughs)
Written & Directed by Black Honey is out now everywhere to buy, stream, and support.
YOU CAN CATCH BLACK HONEY ON TOUR STARTING THIS SUMMER.
Purchase your tickets here.
24/6 – Banquet Pryzm, Kingston (Socially Distant)
14/9 – Jumbo, Leeds
15/9 – Action, Preston
16/9 – Vinolo, Southampton
17/9 – Sound Knowledge, Marlborough
23/9 – Brighton, Chalk
4/10 – Portsmouth, Wedgewood Rooms
5/10 – Birmingham, The Castle & Falcon
7/10 – Glasgow, St Lukes
8/10 – Manchester, Academy 2
9/10 – Newcastle, Think Tank
10/10 – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club (Community Room)
12/10 – Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach
13/10 – London, Heaven