With one of the most hotly-anticipated albums of the year about to drop, we spoke to Black Honey’s talismanic lead singer Izzy Baxter about the band’s meteoric rise, being part of the Brighton buzz, and her track-by-track take on their debut LP…
SYNC: It’s been quite a 2018 for you guys so far, with what has been a crazy festival schedule by the looks of it. How have things been going over the past few months?
IZZY: We’ve been itching to get this material out. It’s one thing to make a record but it’s something else to make a record and then not be able to speak about it or share it for months so now we’re just so excited that people are about to hear what we’ve been working on all this time. It’s cool because it’s been busy but not TOO crazy. Touring and going backwards and forwards between countries is crazy, but once you have a record coming out, it’s more like press stuff that we’re doing. I did a cooking show the other week and that kind of stuff is really weird. When we get asked to do TV stuff it’s strange because I’m really not cut out for that. Being filmed like that is just… whaat?!
SYNC: The video for Midnight looks like it must have been a LOT of fun though?
IZZY: It was brilliant. There’s a really big difference between being on TV versus making an art piece. Making a video like that is right up my street. I wrote the song initially as a bit of a piss-take basically, then when we made the song I filmed John Travolta dance moves on my phone and showed it to the director and said ‘we have to do this’… so we got a dancefloor, some crazy dance moves and it just kind of escalated from there. It was so simple to make because the vision was so clear from the get-go. There was no miscommunicated vision or anything to confuse things or dilute it.
Black Honey – Midnight
SYNC: What kind of input do you guys have into your videos because clearly your track record shows how much goes into them.
IZZY: I would describe myself as the ideas person. I go to the director (Shaun James Grant) with the idea and tell him who I want doing the make-up, who I want to cast in it, and he’ll be like ‘cool, yeah’. With Shaun I feel like we’re almost the same person creatively; I’ll go to say something and he’ll be able to finish the sentence, or he’ll be thinking the exact same thing I was about to say. So I absolutely love working with him.
For the video to I Only Hurt The Ones I Love, I knew what I wanted to do and found this location in the South of Spain where they filmed The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and we filmed it. It’s so funny because when people ask they think it must have been so high budget but really it was just me and my friend Sam. We went out on our own, stayed in an Airbnb, did all my own make up, bought a wig on eBay for £2, and went to this theme park with a camera and just started filming. We didn’t pay for loads of assistants or film crew, it was just me and Sam, and I was using my kitchen mirror as a light reflector. The gun in the video is a toy gun that we bought from the gift shop. So people think we had a crazy budget but no, I’m just a creative person. I live for this.
In fact, videos are the easiest part. Writing the songs is the hard bit. By comparison, the video is easy because I already wrote those songs with my own brain so the ideas are already in there.
SYNC: So for you, do the videos have to reflect the original meaning of the song
IZZY: Well, yes and no. For Midnight, it was so obvious that it had to be based on Saturday Night Fever. With Bad Friends, we were basically musing for ages about self-portrait narratives, and media culture and how people share and tell their life stories from their bedrooms. So we kind of wondered if there was some kind of art in that, and decided that if we get some beautiful, artistic women to make their own interpretations of the song then the comment would make itself, rather than us try to make the comment. They interpreted it in a way that spoke to them, and that freedom was what was important for me in that one because the media can be so controlling and yet this wasn’t controlled. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinions and should be able to express themselves in a way that they feel is true to themselves.
It felt so different as a Black Honey video. I’ve got so many other things that I want to make, and so many more songs in my head… although I feel I’m getting to grips with the cowboy stuff now. I feel like I’ve done that.
Black Honey – Bad Friends
SYNC: With the album launching now, excitement levels must be off the scale – what will it mean to have the album finally out there?
IZZY: It’s one of those things where it’s not actually real until I’m holding the album from the shelf. People have been asking me how it feels but it’s been so long coming and so much has gone into it that I really can’t believe it until I see it.
SYNC: So will you be creeping into a branch of HMV in disguise and buying up copies?
IZZY: Yeah, I’ll be that person. Wearing a headscarf, Marilyn Monroe glasses, with massive lipstick on, pretending to be in disguise, but really just looking like a crazy cat lady.
SYNC: You’re about to hit the road too, taking the album across the UK and Europe. Are there any new places on the schedule that you’re particularly looking forward to?
IZZY: It’ll be our first time properly touring Germany. We’ve done a couple of festivals and one show supporting Royal Blood, but going to Germany properly has been on our list forever. We have lots of friends there so it’s a pretty important place to be going. We’re also going to some different towns in the Netherlands which is cool, plus a few places we have done before but which we want to do PROPERLY… like Paris. I want to pull an all-nighter in Paris, see all the sights.
SYNC: Do you approach your own headline shows massively different to say support slots or festival appearances?
IZZY: Yeah, every show is different. Doing a tour support, you have to respect that not many in the crowd will know you, so a lot of it is a kind of handshake or first introduction as I see it. They’re buying tickets to see Slaves or Royal Blood and will love every song of theirs, but as a support act, the more people you can convert the better. Sometimes you’ll be shocked and they’ll be super into it, and you’ll be blown away by it. That can be almost more rewarding than headline shows in a way because you’re pretty sure everyone there is already on your side.
Festivals also present the same kind of challenge. You need to make those who are walking through a field come up to your stage because they need to know and hear more rather than just head off to the bar for a gin and tonic. No, you’re gonna stay here and witness some fucking rock n’ roll!
SYNC: We saw you at Truck Festival during the summer and what stood out for us is that yours is a real rock’n’roll performance. Is that a key aim for you, and is it in the front of your mind when writing new material?
IZZY: I don’t know, I think rock n’ roll is all about spirit, and it’s perhaps the most misunderstood thing ever. There are so many bands that don’t understand rock ‘n roll because they don’t always get that it’s mainly about the spirit. Audiences are very good at sniffing out ‘fakeness’ so I think you have to stick with what you can do rather than be something you’re not. I can’t just go and be a pop star and shake my ass – I don’t even want to do that – but even if I wanted to I couldn’t do it. I have to be myself, and be a complete lunatic.
Black Honey – Hello Today (Live)
SYNC: This is probably a cliché question for you by now, but we’re going to ask it anyway. What is it about Brighton?! Literally every other band we feature on Sync is from the place. What has given the music scene there such impetus?
IZZY: I find it really hard to explain because I’ve not lived in any other town. I’ve grown up surrounded by really amazing musicians. But what I will say is that for all the bands you’re referencing and finding really great, there are triple that number in Brighton who are just as talented. It’s crazy how many brilliant people there are there.
As a band, we grew up in a kind of grunge-rock era. We’d go out and every night there would be some kind of Pavement-style band or some really obscure Kraftwerk-type things. It was a really arty-rock community. I think it took quite a lot of balls to go in a slightly different direction, to go more pop and 60s retro.
SYNC: The diversity of bands coming out of Brighton is fascinating too though. With bands like Royal Blood, Fickle Friends, Yonaka and yourselves all emerging from basically the same scene.
IZZY: Fickle Friends are really good friends of ours. I’ve know Natti for years – she’s a babe. They initially really struggled to do their pop thing and fit in to the Brighton mould. They were never really part of that and walked their own path which I’ve always really respected them for.
I remember that years ago there was a really pretentious documentary made about the Brighton music scene and all of the bands they picked to be on it fitted the stereotype but are not even around any more. At the time, I was gutted not to be considered important enough to have been included but now I think: ‘Fuck. That!’… I’d rather be anywhere except in that documentary.
BLACK HONEY: Black Honey
Only Hurt The Ones I Love
IZZY: This is our revenge track, but is also about being a villain and not a victim. The biggest thing to look out for on this one is the Pulp Fiction piano which we reference really directly from Dick Dale’s Misirlou – a cowboy song about being a badass. It’s kinda cool.
IZZY: Massive disco banger! Bee-gees, Abba, Blondie
What Happened To You?
IZZY: This is our rock stomper that I want kids walking to school who are being bullied to get their stomp on to, and look after themselves.
IZZY: An open-journal story about having sex with the wrong people.
IZZY:: Palm Springs, 60s James Dean and True Romance, all in one.
IZZY: The lyric ‘when I get so low, tell me have you ever been alone in a crowded city’… when you look around you at all the bright lights and everything should be so fun and exciting, and yet inside you’re still alone in this crowded place.
IZZY: A sassy anthem for myself in combating the monsters in my head, saying ‘fuck you monsters in my head’ – looking forward to tomorrow and the future, but in a sort of villainous Tarantino way.
IZZY: About that horrible sweet spot you’re in just before you break up with someone. It’s a break-up song and a love song, when you can see someone being your future ex.
Into the Nightmare
IZZY: Co-written with Royal Blood. We joke that it should be Into The Mic-mare, but we wrote the song about when you have a relationship where you think you’re in love but you’re not, it’s just like an inventive version of it and in fact that person’s really toxic for you. It’s like when you’re lost in the nostalgia of what you want the relationship to be. It’s a bit twisted and ‘Bond-themey’ as well.
IZZY: It’s about digging someone’s grave, and who can get the lowest blow on the other – sticking a claw into someone or twisting the knife. It’s all gothic, and graveyards, and it’s set in the end!
IZZY: I love Just Calling. It was the last song to get on the record – I just woke up one day and said ‘this has to be on the album’. I don’t know why but it just had to be on there and is my favourite song. It’s a phone conversation where I’m just saying ‘how does it feel now I’m not around’. It’s set in the night time, with images of neon and driving cars and stuff.
IZZY: The curveball of the record. It’s David Lynch’s nightmare, and dreams and hopelessness – and hope wrapped up in it somewhere too.
Words © Martin Allen for Sync