• John Earls

The Runout Grooves with John Earls: Black Honey interview and previewing Lana Del Rey

Each fortnight, leading music journalist John Earls goes deep on new releases, examines the latest vinyl issues and talks to the makers of the best new albums.

STAR PLAYERS: Talking to the makers of the best new albums

This week: Black Honey

If Black Honey's self-titled album was one of the tautest, most full-on debuts of recent times, their second record Written & Directed is even more remarkable.

In just 31 minutes, the Brighton gang serve up fired-up scuzz rock, grunge romance, indie bangers, trap-influenced pop and acoustic dramas. It's tied together by a wildness that suggests Black Honey are yearning for moshpits more than most.

Singer Izzy B Philips tells The Runout Grooves how illegal moshing, keeping it together in lockdown and her entry-level synesthesia helped shape a classic cinematic sequel.

You pack a lot of flavours into Written & Directed's 31 minutes. Was it always the intention to make such a varied album?

We didn’t want to shy away from getting the complexities and contradictions of my personality into the album. I’m vulnerable but also really fierce, I can be introverted… I wanted all those sides to relate to the way I feel inside. Women are affected by society's monochrome portrayals of having to be a sex icon or a punk, where there's no scale. I wanted to make sure I showed my complexity. The fact it’s 31 minutes? I hadn't thought about it, but I love Best Ofs, so maybe it’s a good thing.

How much is the heavier sound influenced by touring your first album?

Being heavy is what we connect with most. We wanted to go back more to a heavy rock sound. That felt really good. As soon as we started the album, we thought “We’re onto a winner here.” From there, it was seeing how songs like Beaches and Disinfect could sit on the same record. We’ve made it work, and those songs are cousins rather than brothers.

Our first album was really trap and modern but, when we toured it, that sometimes made songs sound smaller. I was thinking “I want the drums to be wide and open for the next record” and I wanted to at least be able to jump about and dance to every song. We’ve got a crowd of fierce fans who want to cut loose, so we wanted something for them to really go hard in. Ironically, of course, moshes are now illegal.

With a title like Written & Directed, just how visual is your songwriting?

I see visuals as the songs are written. The way music accompanies your life makes it a cinematic experience, like when you're on the bus it’s part of your journey. I am a very visual person, and I have entry-level synesthesia. When I see some things, my ears suddenly spark sounds. When I orgasm, I have little movies that play in my head, which is apparently connected to synesthesia. I thought everyone had it. I only realised it was a condition when I read about people talking about being able to hear colours.

How hard has it been not to play live during the pandemic?

There's a feeling of having the rug ripped out from under your feet. Everything I’ve worked hard on and built my own self-value for, everything I believe in and love doing, has completely been taken away. Part of me still doesn’t know if I’ll be able to go back into it. Part of my brain thinks “Do I still know how to perform?” Once we get back in the studio, I’m sure I’ll be able to visualise it more. But, when you’re not playing in the room together, it’s so hard. I’d played in a room with this band every week since I was 17.

Has the fact you've not buckled brought the band even closer together?

I feel more resilient now. There were so many opportunities when we could have thrown it all in. I'm proud we haven't, it's a sign we love what we do. Having this time to reflect makes me want to come back even harder. No-one will be backstage moaning about anything anymore. The beer being warm will never be a concern again.

Written & Directed is out on March 19. Order it here