We all like our sugar hits. Like most everything, the truly best things come to those who wait. Unlike the instant gratification (and immediate comedown) that processed, and refined sugar gives you, honey is purer, infinitely more nutritious, and with proven long-term health benefits.
Certainly, Brighton band Black Honey have been beavering away at the coalface of music making for a while now. I recall receiving an email from the band looking for some interest in a pre-Black Honey EP. That was back in 2012. For while, it looked like it just may not happen for them, a series of singles and EPs, whilst displaying plenty of talent, energy and dedication, weren’t quite firing them into the big time. Yet.
However, they persevered, and continued to accrue a fanbase. The last time we covered the band they did a show with Brightonians Dream Wife at Patterns, in 2016. Does Izzy, the frontwoman for Black Honey, remember that one? “Yeah, I do. It’s easier when it’s in Brighton, cause obviously it’s home. I know the venue pretty well. Working with Dream Wife was like one of the first big crowd supports we’ve had.” Like Dream Wife, it was last year that things started to fall quickly into place. Firstly, they made some big decisions about what they wanted to achieve as they worked up towards recording their debut album. Then they nabbed a massive tour support with fellow Brightonians Royal Blood, including a date at the Brighton Centre in December.
In anticipation of news of an album and a major UK tour, Blood Honey have been on the road, for a short tour, showcasing new material and priming themselves for what looks like a big year ahead, spearheaded by the release of the first single off the album, ‘Bad Friends’, which represents a huge departure for the band, and which seems to be paying off.
As they gear up for their last date in Portsmouth, the band are buzzing off the back of their shows so far, although at this very moment in time, for Izzy, it’s all about setting up for today’s final show. “We’ve just arrived in Portsmouth and the guys are setting up the stage. I’m about to start setting up the merch stand. It’s a really sunny day. And I’ve been in the van today; it was a short drive today. It’s so hot, I’ve been sat inside the van all day, and I’ve only just stepped out into the light. She momentarily disappears to order a ‘Black iced coffee with vanilla syrup’.
“It’s what I’m in the mood for right now. I can’t drink milk, I’m allergic.” How it’s been so far? “Yeah, fucking loved it,” she says. “So much fun. We’ve had crazy fans singing along, mosh pits, crowd surfing. I’ve met everyone at the merch stand, had amazing chats with people. And there’s been a great reception to all our new material as well. Really sick.”
At the end of June they’ll be playing in Finsbury Park, with some of their heroes and inspirations, including Queens of the Stone Age, and Iggy Pop. “We’re really stoked to play with Queens. We met a couple of them before when we played with Mini Mansions (who feature QOTA bassist Michael Shuman) and Alex Turner (when playing with Last Shadow Puppets) a few years ago. And then we supported Royal Blood for six weeks and met a couple more of the guys on the road there. I’m also really stoked to see that Iggy Pop is playing, and Brody Dalle, and all of my favourites. We’re also doing Latitude, Truck, 2000trees and loads more. Can’t really remember them all, but we’ve got absolutely loads of them.”
Shame you’re not playing The Great Escape this year, I say. Or are you going to be doing a secret show, I wonder, hopefully? “People keep asking us to play last minute secret sets, but we’ve played it many times and we wanted to take a break this year. Plus we’re too busy. We’ve got a video shoot this weekend, and loads of other stuff. But, we’ll be back. The Great Escape is where our hearts lie. We spent our whole youth getting drunk on the road and queuing up to see our favourite bands. We’ll come back for sure. I really want to sneak in and watch some bands, but I don’t think we’ll have any time.”
The recent single ‘Bad Friends’ caught many by the surprise; a song heading down a distinctively poppier road, but with an underlying tension, and deep groove, that takes it far and above mainstream pop fodder. There has apparently been a great deal of thinking behind this new direction. “‘Bad Friends’ is a good snippet into the explorations of what we’ve been doing in terms of reaching for more of a pop challenge. We wanted to see what would happen if we commented on the narrative of auto-tunes for example. What happens if an indie-rock band does an autotune and how people position that as a criticism of someone’s singing ability, or if you can be sincere. Those are the kind of things we found really interesting. Those are the kind of questions we ask a lot in the album. We’ve explored a lot of hip-hop, and drum narratives. We’ve built a lot of the tracks based on a hip-hop perspective, and taking a rock band and making it sound like a deliberate example, like they did in the 80s when they took old 70s records and classic rock and stuff. We wanted to approach what we were making with that kind of ethos.”
It sounds like it wasn’t easy getting to this stage, though. People were starting to ask when the album was going to come out, and the band were struggling in the songwriting department. “About a year ago we wrote some very, very shit songs at first, almost sounding like parady spoofs,” admits Izzy. “It didn’t sound very sincere at all. After a while we decided to explore parts and elements of things we wanted to look at. We live in the crazy world where you can listen to fucking anything, and I think modern music reflects the eclecticism of the listening culture we live in. It’s really miserable. Now, you have to write choruses in 30 seconds for it to be Spotify appropriate. How miserable is that? Do you remember when intros were like 30 seconds long?” she asks.
I do, and I start talking about bands who are perhaps pushing the envelope a little more than yer average rock’n’roll band. Such as fellow Brightonains Demob Happy, a band not afraid to assimilate themes and concepts within their work, and, God forbid, will start a song (‘Be Your Man’) with a rolling drum pattern. “I love Demob Happy. I think they are brilliant. I think Matt (Marcantonio, singer and bassist) is quite interesting as a philosopher. He’s a big reader, and I think a load of the sub-textural commentary comes through in their music. I loved it when they worked with Tom Dalgetty on their lead single. I was blown away by that song (‘Be Your Man’).”
“We knew we wanted to push it. We’ve felt underwhelmed by all these indie bands. Bands we love but which didn’t sound like they were pushing hard enough, or weren’t challenging enough. We decided really early on we were going to be different from that and walk our own path. We put our heads together and thought, ‘What if we did that and challenged the pop commentary and hip-hop commentary? What happens if we look into something with more of a cinematic approach?’ We’ve actually got a string symphony on a couple of the songs which we’ve just booked which is really exciting: amazing composers collaborating with us.”
Yes, like good old-fashioned honey, Black Honey are the real deal, a band who have worked hard to get to this stage, where now a world of possibilities are quickly opening up for them. “We’ve been building fans organically. It’s the most rewarding part of our journey. Everyone who has bought tickets to see us tonight (in Portsmouth) is someone who has been on board with us since the beginning. It blows my mind how people come up to us and say, ‘I saw you in 2015’. What!? ‘You’re still here!’ Wow! It’s really rewarding.”
And after the show tonight, perhaps a little party to celebrate? “I head back home after the show. I’ve got a Doctor’s appointment in the morning. Rock’n’roll, huh?”
Black Honey will play a massive homecoming show at Concorde 2, Brighton on 14th October 2018 . (Tickets on sale Friday 25th May at 10am!)