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Underneath the Mask: Inside Black Honey's 'A Fistful of Peaches'

Wednesday, 22 March 2023 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Jamie Noise

Off the back of their triumphant third album ‘A Fistful Of Peaches’, which unleashes a widescreen barrage of cinematic indie sleaze anthems, it’s tempting to reclassify Brighton’s Black Honey as more movement than band. Hell bent on giving a sense of belonging to every outlier in search of connection, it’s a communal and unflinchingly truthful record that looks set to further strengthen the  bond between the group and their devout followers.

Having spent time learning about her neurodivergent identity and its effects on her life, as well as coping with childhood trauma, parental divorce, sexual assault and the adoption of unhealthy, albeit necessary, coping mechanisms, vocalist Izzy Bee Phillips, after years of encouragement from family and friends, committed to intense therapy sessions during lockdown. 

Alchemising her self analysis into emotionally nuanced confessions that, almost by accident, have captured the emotional zeitgeist of the last few years, if the band’s first two efforts saw their popularity go from strength to strength, album three should strike an even more resounding and far reaching chord thanks to its reassuring collection of resonant stories that deliver the musical goods.

Ably assisted by guitarist Chris Ostler, bassist Tommy Taylor and drummer Alex Woodward, ‘A Fistful Of Peaches’ is a stylistic treat that, while spicing up their ever evolving aesthetic with nods to everyone from The Killers and Weezer to Pixies, Garbage and The Strokes, remains distinctly Black Honey courtesy of contagious retro melodies and evocative textures.

We caught up with the singer to discuss emerging from one of the darkest times of her life to craft the band’s hugely appealing new record, while also hearing all about her passionate desire for a more intersectional society and what she believes might, one day, become known as ‘the cult of Izzy.’ 

Your first album was a very challenging process because you didn’t enjoy the production side, while follow up ‘Written & Directed’ was a happier, more fun-filled experience. What was making ‘A Fistful Of Peaches’ like in comparison?

You’re pretty bang on with the first two. Three was really good. It was album two, part two and so we did loads of shit the same. The only thing that was different was we did the first half in summer and did six or something songs with Dimi [Tikovoï, producer] in the same drum room and same setting. Then we went and finished some tour shows, bits and bobs, festivals, came back and wrote a few more things and recorded them. 

Having the gap was weirdly nice because I feel intimidated by doing a massive blob of 12 or 10 songs that are finished, decided on and chosen. It’s a bit overwhelming. So to make a record based on six good ones felt more manageable for my little brain to process and gave us time to sit on stuff and be like ‘what do I feel is missing?’ and ‘what do I feel I really need to get off my chest? What haven’t I covered?’ That was awesome and it was also really fun. It was almost like, at one point, I felt too relaxed. I had to keep checking ‘is this actually good or are we just cruising because we’re having a nice time?’  

Having said that, you’ve also spoken about how the album followed a very testing time in your life during the pandemic, which resulted in you going for therapy. Did that have an effect on your songwriting? 

I didn’t deliberately change anything about the way I wrote but maybe I had more of an ability to access things. It unblocked some congestion. But it’s not done and I’m not one of those people who thinks therapy is ‘the’ fix. Anyone that tells you they’re cured from therapy is bullshitting you. It’s a long thing to do and hard to endure. But it’s definitely changed something about my music and looking at it externally now, I’m listening to the record and am like ‘That probably happened because of therapy’, but I couldn’t tell you why.     

‘A Fistful Of Peaches’ doesn’t scream pandemic record, but by discussing your mental health issues, and what you went through during lockdown, which was similar to what many people experienced during that time, you’ve captured the mood of that period and made the album both very personal and universally appealing. How conscious were you of that when crafting these stories?

You don’t plan it, that’s the thing I would say. I wouldn’t be like, ‘This is a record I want to make about x, y and z.’ You think about whatever you need to get off your chest that day and then somehow, once you start looking at that from an external point of view, it feels like, ‘Hey, these are kind of interesting things I’m exploring’ and then pull them together. At the end of it, I look back and suddenly know it’s that. 

Nobody Knows, the song, is very much like what you’re saying. It’s the only one where I can feel the weight of the pandemic directly because that was the ‘pandemic song.’ It’s that era where the music industry were telling us we’ve got to write happy songs because everyone needs to be uplifted, and I was thinking ‘Who the fuck will write a happy song right now?’ We turn on the TV and they’re pouring bodies into mass graves in New York and I opened my phone and watched someone get murdered by the police in front of my eyes. Some of that shit doesn’t leave you.

You co-wrote Rock Bottom with the legendary Cathy Dennis. Does that soundtrack where you were at your lowest ebb?

I love writing with her. I do pop stuff with her for other artists and that’s always fun. Rock Bottom is so her. The melody shaping, she helped me with loads of that. But yeah, I don’t think during lockdown I was actually at my worst, but it was pretty fucking close. You know when you get sick and suddenly you remember the time when you were the most sick you’ve ever been and somehow hark back to it? Rock Bottom was like that feeling. 

I was definitely going through something and in a bit of a way, but I couldn’t process it, in terms of real time, and so it felt good to explore that idea of plugging in and feeling like you’re dissociating with reality. Because it’s all a digitised world and our brains are getting over-stimulated and under-exercised. We’re also being fooled by such a huge wave of media that we have to circumnavigate everyday to find out if it’s false or true. No wonder we’re getting all our wires crossed and everyone’s brains are breaking. It’s obvious we’re in this sort of technological increase era people will look back on and think how dangerous it was for our brains.    

You reference that need for escapism on Out Of My Mind and Cut The Cord, but is there a fine line between necessary escapism and unhealthy dissociation and have you had to find a better balance between the two?

Yeah, I wish they’d told kids that daydreamed in school they were probably just dissociating with their surroundings. In therapy I dissociate and my therapist has a routine where she goes ‘OK, where have you gone?’ and I’m literally like ‘What are you talking about?’ And she’s like ‘you’ve gone somewhere, you’re dissociating.’ Sometimes my band call it the Izzy stare where I go wide eyed and look at the floor.

Realising it’s this weird thing I do, that helps me cope, is quite interesting. I’m learning a lot about myself. But I think designing fantasy and dissociation are slightly different. Dissociation is completely involuntary whereas exploring fantasy is a choice you can go to. Where the two come hand in hand is when people who create fantasies also have a strong significance for dissociating and try to soothe themselves in some way to get more comfort in their lives.  

On your last album you claimed ‘I’m myself in all of these stories, even if it’s as this hyper-characterised vampire villain go-go girl.’ How would you describe her on ‘A Fistful Of Peaches?’

It’s basically about who’s underneath all the costumes and masks. Like, when you get the back story of the Sandman in Spider-Man, and you realise he’s actually got this whole other story and what made him the villain is other events. The villains always have the more interesting back story. So it’s sort of going behind that, digging it up and being like, ‘Hold on, she comes from a place of vulnerability and probably quite a lot of pain’ without sounding too ‘poor me.’  

You’ve also said you’re the most compassionate to yourself that you’ve ever been on this album. In what ways has that manifested itself?

It’s good to be tough, but sometimes even more brave to be warm and kind, and right to let in this sort of pain. Vulnerability is a very powerful thing and the more compassion I learn to give to myself, the more I can hopefully rebuild all those destructive brain cells in my head, while working towards becoming better and growing. We can all afford to give ourselves a lot more compassion.  

Which songs on the album best manifest that vulnerability and empathy?

I’m A Man because I use that space to explore sexual assault, and the experience most women have, and maybe non-binary people too, and having a space that can hold our anger about how we’ve been treated by the patriarchy. It feels like a healthy way of putting it out because I’m not just shouting at everyone and preaching. It was good to personify the person that sexually assaults people and write it from that perspective. I guess that’s how authors write their villains and people that do bad things. Exploring someone’s ‘why’ is an interesting way of getting into the grit of it. I really liked that series, what was it called? It was about this girl in London who explores loads of different themes of sexual violence…

I May Destroy You?

Yes. It was very inspired by that series. I like how she [series creator and star Michaela Coel] made a commentary on different, real, complex, nuanced situations and found that very educational in a lot of ways. She wrote those characters with more intricate back stories and it made for a really interesting, thought provoking era I had and that’s why I wrote that song. I felt I should process my own experiences with sexual assault in ways that, if I’m confrontational about it and angry and it’s healthy and valid, maybe other women won’t have to internalise the shame and hatred and all of these disgusting things you experience as a side effect.   

You’ve spoken about using your position as a woman in the industry to inspire and open doors because women still face so many obstacles. Yet, the likes of Madonna, Alanis, Spice Girls, Courtney Love and more were saying the same kind of thing decades ago. Do you think those artists made a difference and what needs to happen so artists don’t need to keep banging that same drum for future generations? 

Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it, because why is everyone still having to protest? I feel like if those guys hadn't done what they’d done, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now. And if I’m not able to do what I’m able to do, that won’t give licence to people who are shy, introverted or struggle to be clear about their identity and nuances. Every woman that opens a door is opening a door for another woman. That’s undeniable. But who are we to expect a worldwide problem to be fixed by a few artists in the 90s? It’s such a huge ask on them. 

So I’m ultimately trying to do my bit in small ways. And it’s important to say I know I’m privileged and I like to call myself ‘the Donald Trump of women.’ I’m white, southern, middle class, educated. But that’s why I get to see those privileges, because I’m at the top of that spectrum. Whereas there’s a lot of people in intersectional spaces that will still be overlooked. And that’s the goal. That’s the plan. To wake up to something that’s more intersectional. 

What would you like people to take away from ‘A Fistful Of Peaches?’

This is a big ask, I wouldn’t expect it, but my dream is that people can come away from this record and think about their own internal dialogue, about how much shit talk they give themselves. Maybe give themselves permission to fuck up, to not really know who they are and not meet this insane expectation they put on themselves. To show themselves more kindness and compassion. And for queer as fuck people to feel they have a home or can feel held in a space where anger is welcome. Bringing together outsiders or minorities who haven’t had much companionship for their day to day lives. Maybe this can be like a companion for them? Maybe we can grow together? I’m just indoctrinating everyone into my cult at this point.    

Black Honey's 'A Fistful of Peaches' is out now.

Black Honey Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed March 22 2023 - OXFORD Bullingdon
Fri March 24 2023 - BEDFORD Bedford Esquires
Sat March 25 2023 - NORWICH Norwich Arts Centre
Sun March 26 2023 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy2 Birmingham
Wed March 29 2023 - BRISTOL Thekla
Fri March 31 2023 - BRIGHTON Chalk
Sat April 01 2023 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Sun April 02 2023 - SHEFFIELD Foundry
Tue April 04 2023 - MANCHESTER Gorilla
Wed April 05 2023 - NEWCASTLE University Students Union
Thu April 06 2023 - GLASGOW Classic Grand
Sat April 08 2023 - LIVERPOOL District
Sun April 09 2023 - STOKE Sugarmill
Tue April 11 2023 - SOUTHEND Chinnerys
Wed April 12 2023 - LONDON KOKO

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