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Interview: 10 (More) Things To Love About The Beths

Interview: 10 (More) Things To Love About The Beths

Lydia Jenkin / Photo credit: Mason Fairey / Friday 24th July, 2020 2:09PM

Over the past two weeks it’s become clear The Beths are one of the most beloved bands in Aotearoa. Their sold out Powerstation show was a triumph, they’ve dominated the media, the new album Jump Rope Gazers flew up the charts to the #2 spot, and they’ve announced a huge impending tour of the country [see below for dates and tickets]. Essentially, if you don’t already know how awesome The Beths are, I’m sorry to say you’re out of the loop.

But there’s always more to learn about your new favourite band! So here we have….

10 (MORE) THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT THE BETHS:

1. Their existence as a band is partially due to an email Jonathan sent to Liz in 2012

Liz Stokes and Jonathan Pearce first met at Macleans College.

“I just remember being in Concert Band, I was playing the trumpet, Jonathan was playing saxophone, so he would’ve been sitting in front on me, because brass sits at the back. I think maybe we went to see some kind of trumpet concert together at school? We were just kind of friends through the bands and friends through music generally at school” Liz recalls.

Liz formed the band Teacups with her friends (including Chelsea Jade Metcalf), and Jonathan was in Artisan Guns.

Jonathan recalls being “serious, grumpy, and unapproachable” as a teenager, but the pair remained friends as they moved through the music school at Auckland University (where they also met bass player Ben Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck), and played in the Babyshakes together, before an email prompted Liz to get into songwriting again.

“I got an email from Jonathan maybe 2012 or 2013, that kind of said ‘Can you please write some more songs so that I can record them?’…something like that. It’s probably in my Gmail somewhere.

“I hadn’t written music since Teacups really – since jazz school I’d been quite focussed on playing the trumpet, and we’d been doing the Babyshakes. And my response was kind of like, ‘Ah nah’, but in the back of my head I was like, ‘Well, I could start that wizard rock band that I’d always wanted to start’. So I got into writing music again, and I got it into my head that I wanted to write something where I could play guitar in a band – because even though I’d learnt guitar and played guitar it wasn’t something I’d done. I spent a year or two trying to write as many songs as I could, because I knew I was going to be rusty, so I thought, I’ll write a lot, and when I have a lot of songs, I’ll pick the best ones to demo, and send them to Jonathan.”

“And one of the songs was ‘Whatever’” Jonathan adds, “and hearing that demo for the first time was like ‘Oh shit, drop everything, this is the thing I do now. I do The Beths.”


2. They love vocal harmonies and they work really hard on them

Vocal harmonies were a pretty key part of both Teacups and Artisan Guns, and now they’re a big part of The Beths too.

“With Teacups there was a guitar, a bass, and the thing we could have the most fun with and play around with was the vocals, and I feel like that’s a similar thing with this band, where it’s two guitars, bass, and drums, and then you can add this other element that’s like an extra instrument that you can do lots of really fun stuff with. And it just makes sense. Also, it’s really hard and punishing, which is something we kind of like about it” Liz laughs.

“And it presents an interesting challenge, particularly when mixing” Jonathan adds. “Where do you put them? You know you’ve got your lead vocal, and drums have to be huge, and then you’ve got lots of guitars, because it’s guitar music, and then there’s kind of no space left, but there’s this other thing we need to get in there. And so I think our stuff sounds a bit different because you have to compromise and make space, or just be really dense sometimes, really thick texturally. It’s just something we really like doing though. A song’s not finished for us until we have a fully arranged backing vocal part.”


3. Liz did ‘Jump Rope For Heart’ at primary school too!

She’s not going to give us an etymological explanation for what the phrase ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ means to her, but Liz did reveal that she’s a bit of a skipping fan, and she also recalls the 90s primary school PE phenomenon that was ‘Jump Rope For Heart’.

“That was lit. And the different colour handles with the white skipping ropes, and the green ones were shorter and the pink ones were longer?

“I’ve done a bit of skipping. I think if you want to get into jogging, buy a skipping rope and just do that for 15 minutes at a time. It’s a gateway. We call them skipping ropes here, so I guess ‘jump rope’ is an Americanism that just fit the song – it had to be that because of the cadence. Skipping rope was one too many syllables.”

4. Their only rule about creating visual content is ‘We don’t do black and white, and we know we’re not cool, so don’t try and make us cool.’

So The Beths not only knock it out of the park with their music, but also with an amazing array of videos, posters, album artwork, and merch. This is not an accident.

“None of us really feel like we express ourselves very well through visual art, and it doesn’t come naturally to us, but we totally aspire to accompany our music with meaningful stuff, and something that enhances the whole. So our answer to that has been to find our most awesomely talented friends and champion their stuff. And just try not to be prescriptive, and give them a go” explains Jonathan. “We have our ground rules about visual stuff. We don’t do black and white, and we know we’re not cool, so don’t try and make us cool. This has been something from the start really. We know we’re not cool, we’re not models, and if we try and be cool or look cool, it will look terrible, so as long it’s not trying to be cool, we’re sweet with it. That’s the one ground rule really’ laughs Liz.

I would argue that embracing exactly who you are is the epitome of cool.


5. The Beths are keen bird fans – although they haven’t picked their candidate for 2020 NZ Bird of the Year yet

You may have gleaned this already, but The Beths are into birds – they’ve got bird photos and art in their studio, on t-shirts, and in their recent video for Out Of Sight, they do some bird watching! “ That felt like low-hanging fruit” Liz smiles. “We wanted to do a casual video with Ezra (Simons, who also plays in Earth Tongue), and wanted to do a fun road trip thing with super 8 footage, but we needed something else as well, it was like, ‘Well, what about birds? Ok’.”

They also got right into the 2019 NZ Bird of the Year election, first supporting the Tawaki and then Hoiho.

“We were stoked Hoiho won. It was time for a penguin! We haven’t picked a candidate for this year yet though. It’s nice to wait and feel it out.”

6. They like hearing about all the different references and nostalgia for different bands that people find in their music

The Beths defy any easy categorisation – they don’t sound like any one specific thing, but rather a combination of the best elements of a lot of different genres.

“I’ve noticed that people tend to hear all sorts of different things in our music. They’ll say ‘you sound like mid-west emo’ or ‘to me you sound like power-pop’ or ‘to me you sound like bands from the sixties’. And it’s nice that people can project whatever they like onto it, and that’s their way of connecting with it emotionally” says Liz.

“Yeah I feel like we don’t really break any barriers, or we’re not trying to create something brand new” explains Jonathan humbly. “I’ve always felt like the mission has not been to find some new sound, it’s been to do the sounds that we like really well.”


7. Liz is not sending Jonathan secret messages in the song lyrics

“They’re not passive aggressive notes” she laughs.

“And sure you draw from personal experience, but with songwriting you also draw from the experience of friends around you, and trying to understand what they’re going through. You draw from experiences that happened a long time ago, or maybe you have an experience that reminds you of a much more drastic feeling – like seeing a cloud and it reminding you of a big thunder storm, and that’s what it’s like with writing songs. And you simplify it sometimes, but writing lyrics is pretty cloudy. And I think we communicate pretty well, so I’m not hiding secret messages to Jonathan in my songs.”

They do talk about the lyrics as a band though, particularly when they’re working through what direction a song is going to take.

“When you’re collaboratively developing the song, sometimes it will just be going in the wrong direction – and the wrong direction will be defined by Liz, because it’s her song. And it can be helpful to talk about what the song means to you” Jonathan explains.

“And I think that we can all say what the song means to us and it can all be valid, and I know Liz is so generous with her songs towards us, so I hope that’s not a creatively undermining thing to say, but there are times when it’s so great to know the emotional thrust behind a song, and that can inform whether you decide to clash with the harmony or be very neutral, or whether it needs a money beat at that particular moment or not.”

“Totally!” Liz agrees “It’s nearly a democracy. It’s a room full of such good musicians, it would be a shame if I dictated everything they were going to play.”

8. Breakfast and Travel Updates is probably the best band blog ever, and everyone should read it

Here’s my hot tip for the week – go and read The Beths excellent blog https://breakfastandtravelupdates.com/ , which is the creation of bassist Ben Sinclair.

“It’s a real treasure for us” says Liz, “because none of us journal, and you forget where you were a week ago, and to have such a great diary kept is so good.”

“Yeah that blog vies for being one of the things I’m most proud of being a part of putting out into the world” Jonathan adds. “It’s just such a good document. Consistently hilarious, and completely explains our lives and who we are. I think Ben has very much expressed himself and the band through that.”

It also includes a ‘Beth of the Day’ competition while they’re on tour, which is “highly competitive and hotly contested”.

9. They’re a generous bunch

They’ve got a reputation as one of the nicest bands in the land, with good reason. They constantly pay tribute to their team and their crew, whether that’s at live shows or during radio interviews; they support MusicHelps Live; they made space for Chloe Swarbrick to get up on stage at their Powerstation show; Liz has been a key mentor for Girls Rock Camp; they let musical friends use their studio space for rehearsals and photo shoots; and they offered me a beer when I arrived to chat with them!


10. They still LOVE playing live, even after several hundred shows

“I guess that’s part of what was scary about this whole situation for us” explains Liz “I mean I feel like this sounds stupid in the context of a global pandemic, and so many people are dying, and I’m going ‘yeah it’s really hard because I had to think about what it means to be a musician’. And I just want to tell myself to shut up.

“But for us, part of how we self-identify as musicians is playing with other people and for other people. Which means touring as much as we can and interacting with as many people as we can. And so the prospect of not being able to do that for a couple of years, well, we came to be at peace with, because that’s all you can do, but it was pretty scary. You have to think a lot about what you want to do, whether you want to continue, all that kind of stuff. But luckily we can play some shows in New Zealand. We’re extremely lucky!”

And so are we, because we can go and watch them play! Get along to the shows.


UPDATE 31/07/20: Christchurch's The Beths headline show has moved to the larger capacity The James Hay Theatre and is now an all ages event...


The Beths - Jump Rope Gazers Tour

Saturday 11th July - The Powerstation, Auckland [sold out]
Thursday 27th August - Yot Club, Raglan*

Friday 28th August - Totara Street, Tauranga*
Saturday 29th August - Cabana, Napier*
Thursday 3rd September - The Stomach, Palmerston North[sold out] 
Friday 4th September - San Fran, Wellington [sold out]
Saturday 5th September - San Fran, Wellington [sold out]
Sunday 6th September - San Fran, Wellington [sold out]

Tuesday 8th September - Playhouse, Nelson*
Wednesday 9th September - Mussell Inn, Takaka*
Thursday 10th September - Framingham Winery, Blenheim* 
Friday 11th September - The James Hay Theatre, Christchurch [all ages]△
Saturday 12th September - Starters Bar - Dunedin*
Sunday 13th September - Tuatara, Invercargill*
Friday 6th November - Auckland Town Hall, Auckland (all ages)∞
Saturday 7th November - Gisborne Beer Festival, Gisborne∞

Tickets available HERE via UTR*
Ticket info available via The Beths' website HERE
Tickets available via Ticketek△

Links
thebeths.com/

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Buy
Thu 27th Aug
The Yot Club, Raglan
Buy
Fri 28th Aug
Totara St., Tauranga
Buy
Sat 29th Aug
The Cabana, Napier
Thu 3rd Sep
The Stomach, Palmerston North
Fri 4th Sep
San Fran, Wellington
Sat 5th Sep
San Fran, Wellington
Sun 6th Sep
San Fran, Wellington
Tue 8th Sep
Playhouse Theatre, Nelson
Buy
Wed 9th Sep
Mussel Inn, Takaka
Buy
Thu 10th Sep
Framingham Winery, Blenheim
Buy
Fri 11th Sep
The James Hay Theatre, Christchurch
Buy
Sat 12th Sep
Starters Bar, Dunedin
Buy
Sun 13th Sep
Tuatara Cafe, Invercargill
Buy
Fri 6th Nov
Auckland Town Hall, Auckland







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