BIGSOUND Interview: The Beths (New Zealand) talk wizard rock and their debut album

Leading up to BIGSOUND 2018, there was a lot of gossip about New Zealand indie-pop band The Beths. But singer/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes says we could have been discussing a different band.

“I tried to start a wizard rock band from the perspective of Hermione Granger when we first started the band, but I couldn’t do it,” laughs Liz. “I couldn’t write as Hermione because I didn’t feel right. I can only write from my bad experience.”

The Beths – Elizabeth, guitarist Jonathon Pearce, bassist Ben Sinclair, and drummer Ivan Luketina – recently released their debut album Future Me Hates Me. Instead of “wizard rock”, they’ve crafted an enchanting collection of sunny power-pop.

The band’s members have known each other for a while, having crossed each other’s paths in Auckland’s music scene. “We all played in high school bands and played the same gigs when we were 17 and 18 years old,” says Pearce. “We all just wound up in jazz school together and kept playing in each other’s bands. It was a couple of years after we left jazz school that we started The Beths.”

Those jazz chops aren’t present in their music. Instead, they display a gift for creating tightly-wound pop songs. “At jazz school, everything is kind of exploratory and improvisational and a lot of creative expression,” says Stokes. “The tightness is almost in opposition to what we were doing a lot of the time because in The Beths everything is a lot more structured and tight and clear; there’s a lot of boundaries between choruses and everything is laid out. We just wanted to start a band that was kind of for fun.”

Along with playing guitar, Pearce produced Future Me Hates Me at his K’Road studio. Pearce has worked there with other New Zealand bands like shoegazers Eyes No Eyes and fellow BIGSOUND visitors Wax Chattels, the latter’s album proving an intense process. “We made [Wax Chattels’ album] at crazy times in the night in urgent bursts throughout a few months,” he says. “There would be some deadline that was reasonably arbitrary for them that was coming up and they had to record right now. We would be like, ‘Sweet! Come in at 8pm. Let’s get some Red Bulls and some coffee and smash out some really hectic music’. We’d do that for three nights in a row and destroy ourselves.”

Compared to Wax Chattels, recording Future Me Hates Me proved to be a casual affair. The band worked slowly, dedicating spare time to recording one part at a time. The process was made easier because, as Stokes says, “we knew what it was supposed to sound like, so it was just a case of getting it down”. Pearce adds, “It wasn’t until late last year we were like, ‘this is a really good record and we should probably focus on this for a little bit; mix it real good and do stuff with it’.”

After BIGSOUND they’ll be touring New Zealand, the States, the UK and Europe, finishing in time for Christmas. Back in New Zealand, the album’s title track has been nominated for APRA’s Silver Scroll Award. The award recognises outstanding achievements in songwriting and is voted for by other New Zealand songwriters. Past winners include Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Neil Finn, and Lorde. Pearce praises Stokes’ songwriting, saying of the title track, “Its special when you can sum up a thought like that that is difficult to describe in four words, two of which are repeated”. However, Stokes remains modest about her talents and the reception to them.

“We’ve been pretty lucky. You never know how people are going to react to what you make, and you’re not supposed to care either, but I do,” she laughs. “It give you a nice glow but then more anxiety because maybe the bad one’s just around the corner. You can never be just happy, but we’re happy. We’re definitely happy!”

Future Me Hates Me is out now. Follow The Beths on Facebook HERE.

Photo by Jasmin Osman.

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