‘Written & Directed’ by Black Honey – bio
Heroes and villains. Bad-ass bitches and dead-end deserters. Love, lust, hate and all that’s in between. Ever since Black Honey stomped onto the scene in a head-rush of grit and glitter, the Brighton quartet have set about building their own incendiary, inclusive universe from the inside out.
It’s one that’s seen the band – formed of singer and chief ringleader Izzy B. Phillips, guitarist Chris Ostler, bassist Tommy Taylor and recent addition drummer Alex Woodward – swell from intriguingly anomalous newcomers, infusing every early release with bold, theatrical videos and increasingly iconic artwork, to one of UK indie’s most singular outfits. They’ve travelled the world and released a Top 40 album; graced the cover of the NME and become the faces and soundtrack of Roberto Cavalli’s Milan Fashion Week show; smashed Glastonbury and supported Queens of the Stone Age, all without compromising a shred of the wild, wicked vision they first set out with.
Now, having holed themselves away for the latter half of 2019, the quartet are readying the next instalment of their story: ‘Written & Directed’ by Black Honey. And if their 2018 self-titled debut saw the band, in Phillips’ words, “cherry-picking things from our favourite eras and lassoing them all into one narrative”, then this time they’ve got their targets set more succinctly, with a no-nonsense bullet shot of an album that knows exactly what it wants and how to get it. “Album Two is us coming back like a phoenix rising,” she grins. “It’s about having a fire in you to kick ass. Girls are well overdue a perspective where they can be the protagonist, and the boss bitch with a complex narrative. We just wanted to ‘Kill Bill’ it.”
Since releasing their debut EP back in 2014, it’s this combination of escapism and realism – of providing a technicolour dream world to dive into, yet not ignoring the everyday issues of being a young woman in our own one – that’s fuelled the band’s fire. It’s a duality that’s earned the singer an increasingly loyal tribe of fans, who’ve found something in her message of “owning your weird” to hold close; slide into the band’s Instagram DMs and you’ll find endless examples of fan art, poetry, and testimonies to the importance of Black Honey’s outlook, that prove how beloved a voice they’ve become. “There was a girl that said to me the other day that I make her feel that it’s OK to be herself, and now she’s learned to celebrate it and she listens to our songs to make her feel more invincible. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” says Phillips. “If I can make one person feel the way that Kurt Cobain made me feel when I was 15, then I’ve done my job. Mike from Royal Blood said that our fans are really cult-y, which sounds pretty good to me. We’ve got a cult on the go!”
And it’s to their cheeky self-professed “cult” that ‘Written & Directed’ aims to speak to. From the heavy, un-fuck-with-able stomp of opening track ‘I Like The Way You Die’, which sets out to “reconstruct the alpha male egotism of rock’n’roll and rebrand it with female ownership” through 10 tracks that unashamedly plant a flag in the ground for strong, world-conquering women, the record might musically traverse all kinds of exciting terrain, but its message is a singular one. “The concept feels compact,” Phillips nods. “It allows you to feel empowered, to go out into your life and be invincible. I want the songs to be a superhero cloak for a younger girl or boy to not have to feel so bogged down for being different.”
Written throughout 2019 and recorded in fits and spurts between touring, with original sticksman Tom Dewhurst still playing drums throughout (Dewhurst left to move to the countryside, but is still a constant cheerleader at every show), it was with a sense of experimentation and fun that the band began to lay down their vision. At first, Phillips explains, the demos had veered off in all kinds of directions – Motown-indebted tracks, disco tunes, “nighttime spooky pop songs” – but soon the quartet had a game-changing penny drop moment: “Watching a massive mosh pit is the biggest thrill you can have – especially to something you wrote in your pants in your bedroom,” she enthuses. “So we realised we just wanted to make all of it sound really heavy, and as soon as we had that dark undertone then it felt easy because that’s what’s naturally us.”
Fleshing out the demos into fuller, gnarlier beasts, the band then began to assemble a suitable task force around them to dial up the energy even further. Producer Dimi [surname] came on board to helm the record, with legendary engineer Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, Foals) mixing it and Dave McCracken (Ian Brown, Swim Deep) stepping in to work on stripped-back, affective album closer ‘Gabrielle’. Phillips also sat down with a host of musical mates for collaborative songwriting sessions, with Carl Barat and The Prodigy’s co-writer Olly Burton both inputting on ‘I Like The Way You Die’ and Royal Blood’s Mike Kerr working on swaggering highlight ‘Run For Cover’. The same inclusive ethos ran throughout the album’s sessions, too – the giddy, broad-minded vibe echoing the suitably eccentric surroundings the band found themselves in at Willesden’s Damien Hirst-covered Narcissus Studios and Dimi’s studio in Westbourne Park, where one day a samurai sword randomly turned up in the post.
“People were dropping in all the time, like in ‘Supersonic’ when Oasis were just chilling out, making records – it felt like that,” recalls the singer. “I didn’t realise I could enjoy making an album so much. Everything felt stressed and manic and 100mph on Album One, but this felt like how it should be – fun and naughty and badly behaved.”
The hedonistic, anything-goes attitude that populated the albums sessions is audible throughout Black Honey’s second: a record that dips into cheeky, nostalgic pop (‘Beaches’) and glam-psych (‘Summer ’92’), via cathartic confessionals (‘I Do It to Myself’) and easily the heaviest, most full throttle moments the band have ever laid to tape (‘Disinfect’, ‘Run For Cover’). It’s a record that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, with ‘Beaches” lyrics naughtily nodding to Dusty Springfield (“The preacher’s son, he taught me how to come/ Down to the beach so we could have fun”) and ‘Fire’ harking back to the slow slide of Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. But, just as Black Honey have always revelled in the rich history of pop culture, here they’re throwing a wink to their heroes, but twisting them into their own mould. “I’m a music fan so I’m coming from that perspective,” says Phillips. “We’re all just collections of things, so own that and make that you.”
With a typically hyper-visual world referencing grindhouse cinema, kitschy pulp films and a flip-reverse of female cinematic representation all primed to unfurl and explode around them, ‘Written & Directed’ is the sound of Black Honey strapping in and saddling up, of harnessing their quirks, and, as the singer has always hoped, riding them joyously into the sunset. “This is the album I would have made even if no-one was listening and it felt very pure. I feel like I’ve learnt that I’m more authentically myself than ever,” Phillips says. “Now I just want a massive mosh, and for people to come to the shows and let loose. I want people to go and become fierce, ferocious versions of themselves, and I hope that we’ve represented an alternate perspective for girls to feel beautiful and weird and cool and excited at the same time.”