The members of Black Honey are not really sure if they want to be in a hotly hyped British indie band. They definitely like playing in a band. That’s clear from the way this quartet of irreverent twentysomethings talk about music – they just don’t seem so sure about the other side of it. The media, the attention the – whisper it – chance of fame.
Thing is, the band that make their Middle East Debut at Dubai’s Casa Latina today, are exactly what alternative music fans and record company A&Rs are after in 2016 – a scuzzy-yet-poppy, smugly witty, retro-minded guitar band fronted by a blonde lead singer who cannot avoid Lana Del Rey comparisons at every turn.
They have dealt with this contradiction in a number of beguiling media faux pas, which probably only serve to make Black Honey even more talked-about. First they dropped their debut, self-titled EP late in 2014 without so much as a Facebook page, press release, or even a photo. This was not an oversight. “All of us had been in bands before and could feel people judging us on how we looked,” says 22-year-old lead singer Izzy B Phillips. “A chick with a guitar – that really shouldn’t be a thing in 2016.”
Later they broke their silence by sharing Phillips’s mobile number online and inviting fans to get in touch through WhatsApp. She never changed her number. “Everyone thought we were mad,” says Phillips. “But I’ve made actual friends from it. People don’t believe it when you say, ‘I’m just sitting on the sofa having a cup of coffee figuring out this song’ – they love it.”
Eventually, they slipped out a single, hazy, orange-hued Polaroid, and swapped arty, static videos of 1970s TVs for sponsored YouTube spots for clothes and footwear labels.
These days they are incredibly active on social media, posting ironic images from every tour date. It’s all working – last year Black Honey were named New Band of the Week by NME and The Guardian, and broke the festival circuit with gigs at Reading and Leeds. This year they have toured Europe and soundtracked Kate Moss after a tune was picked up by Vogue; third EP Headspin was released with a certain fanfare last month.
But there is an open tang of regret for those faceless days. “We actually liked doing no interviews,” says Phillips, who has also attracted comparisons to Debbie Harry. “That was a really happy place, making completely unadulterated music, we were completely protected.”
This (perhaps reluctant) interview is taking place via Skype, with the whole band eating breakfast, as they prepare for their Dubai gig. The murmuring, giggling musicians – thoughtful guitarist Chris Ostler, chatty bassist Tommy Taylor, and all-but-silent drummer Tom Dewhurst (all 25) – seem stoked. It marks the band’s most far-flung gig to date – Ostler has never left Europe before.
More than anything, they are looking forward to the chance to pose poolside for kooky photos – a photographer is coming along for the ride, solely for this purpose.
Onstage, the quartet are normally joined by their “mascot”, a plastic flamingo called Jerry. Too big for their suitcases, they’ve ordered a blow-up replacement – provisionally named Terry – for the trip. Both sides promise it’s a sheer coincidence that the club night they will perform for, Bad House Party, are so proud of their own blow-up animals that they have their own Facebook profile.
If all this tomfoolery makes parts of the Black Honey myth sound contrived, it probably is. But a sense of artifice is essential to any student enrolled in the school of rock ‘n’ roll, and Black Honey are graduating with honours.
Their image is all quaint, vintage Americana – leather jackets and scraggly long hair, loud flares and heart-shaped sunglasses.
Described as “stylishly sad”, songs have pithy titles such as Madonna and Teenager. The music channels 1960s girl pop through the fuzzy prism of 1990s shoegaze and grunge. Think The Jesus & Mary Chain, Pixies, My Bloody Valentine – and sure enough, these are the very names the band drops when asked about their inspiration. Spinning Wheel lifts a Tarantino-touting surf guitar groove.
But it’s more than cheap appropriation – there’s something pure in Black Honey’s longing for a simpler time. They talk about hopes to tour the United States with a teenage enthusiasm.
Returning to the theme of their long-lost anonymity, they reference the bands of the 1960s, who might be known to their fans by a single record sleeve photo – or not at all.
“Nobody needs to know what we had for breakfast,” says Phillips.
“We’re bringing that sense of mystery back – we’re enjoying the romanticism of being in a band.”
• Black Honey perform today for Bad House Party at Casa Latina, Ibis Al Barsha, Dubai; doors 9pm, Dh100
Source: art & life