Liz Stokes of The Beths
In October 2016, when HUP was putting on shows by bands we liked more or less every month, we were fortunate enough to have The Beths headline a show at Nivara Lounge. Ahead of that show we talked to Liz Stokes, the band's main songwriter, for a HUP interview which is still available to read here.
It's now almost exactly five years on from that show and it's fair to say a lot of very good things have happened to The Beths since then, not least a hard-earned but much-deserved triple-whammy of awards at last year's Aotearoa Music Awards - Best Album, (for Jump Rope Gazers), Best Group, and Best Alternative Act for a second consecutive year. We caught up with Liz as she and the rest of Auckland came out of their latest level 4 lockdown, almost five years on from that 2016 show.
Kia ora Liz! I hope you are all doing well. I’m typing this a few hours after the announcement that level 3 kicks in tomorrow evening…hurrah for you all! What things have you missed the most and what are you going to looking forward to doing most with your new found freedom?
Kia ora. It’s been a week at level 3 now. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of some hot chips. Not much else has changed though to be honest.
How has this lockdown been different from previous ones? Have you been productive at all, musically or otherwise?
They’ve all felt different. We were bang in the middle of tracking a new album when this one started. For the first few weeks Jono and I were able to keep some productivity going from home. Some tracking, some writing, some mixing. But as the weeks have gone by that’s dropped away a lot, to be honest. For me anyway. It comes in waves though.
Congratulations on the release of the live album! It sounds brilliant, I don’t think enough people release live albums these days. How did the idea for that come about?
The show at the town hall in November last year had a lot of emotional weight for us. For all the obvious reasons to do with the global pandemic. We recorded it and filmed it, with a short term aim of streaming the concert for people overseas. Once we had it in hand, it just made sense. We had the time to put it together.
The thing that struck me most about the record is how absolutely stunningly solid you sound as a band these days. I remember the earlier shows here in Hamilton and it was clear you were a special band back then but you’ve gone stellar since then and it is of course much deserved. Have you always believed this was possible, or was there a point where it dawned on you that this was really taking off?
We’ve always tried really hard to be a good live band. But it’s a whole different level being able to play like 250 shows in 18 months, we were able to really push ourselves. We’re still working on it, it’s still a difficult set to get through for us instrumentally, vocally, and energetically. I think in late 2017 we had a small confidence that Future Me Hates Me was a good album and that we would bet on ourselves for the next year. A lot of things lined up and we got really lucky.
How are you finding the song-writing process a couple of albums in? Has it changed much since Warm Blood, either in terms of subject matter or the way the songs come together? Years ago, you told us that you (Liz) typically record a demo and bring it to the band to arrange the parts.
It’s still really difficult. I’ve written a lot of songs now, so trying to keep writing ‘Beths’ songs, which have particular… characteristics? or that have a particular feeling to them, is hard to do without repeating yourself. The process once a demo is made is still pretty similar. I send it out and we work out an arrangement together as a group. The main difference now is that back in 2017 we would learn a song to play it live in the set, then record it later, whereas now we learn a song, record it and then add it to the set. It’s a big difference.
Is there anything you do to try and keep things fresh or challenge yourself musically, maybe include chords or instruments or perhaps structures that you haven’t used before?
Yeah, I think I’ve learned that when it comes to writing, having at least a trickle of new information coming into your brain is pretty important in having new things come out. Whether it’s some music that’s new to you, or a book, or going somewhere new, or meeting someone new and having a conversation you haven’t had before. It seems obvious but it’s easy to reach for comfortable things that you know, particularly when things are hard. I do this a lot.
Is there any new material planned for release in the next year or so and what can you tell us about that – EP/LP when etc.
We’re trying haha.
There’s a US tour coming up soon, how have you enjoyed playing there in the past, and are there any fundamental differences in the way a tour works there compared to here in NZ?
Yeah it’s a super strange place. It’s so so big. And people love music there. It’s our biggest audience, and like I said before, being able to play a whole lot of shows and settle into a groove is really satisfying.
I’m not sure how much time you have spent in the US in the past but have you felt at home in any particular city or state? Is there a city you particularly look forward to playing over there?
The big cities are the biggest shows, NYC, Chicago, LA... and they are awesome and usually kind of fly by in a surge of adrenaline. We played three shows in Wisconsin in 2019 though, and one sticking in my memory today is when we played at this tiny venue called ‘Shitty Barn’ in a town called Spring Green. We played cricket in the parking lot and they showered us in cheese and it was a really fun night.
Can we expect a NZ tour sometime in the next year or so? Covid pending of course.
We’ll see about next year. We’ve played pretty heavily in NZ in the last two years so if international touring goes ahead next year then we’ll certainly be doing as much of that as we can. But we love it here too much to not plan something fun.
A few non musical questions...
Back in 2016 you informed us that Ben is the best cook in the band, and that all he talks about is seasoning pans. Five years on, does Ben retain the title and has the food chat moved on passed seasoning?
Now that Tristan has joined the band on drums, there is some competition in this department. Actually I take that back, it’s not a competition. It’s a loving shared interest. Ben and Tristan have made numerous marmalades together.
Also back in 2016, you told us that Jonathan was the sportiest Beth with his love of cricket. Is that still the case or has a new sporting interest developed amongst the band?
Yeah we all kind of joined Jonathan in the end. It started with a mini cricket bat that Katie (our then drummer) bought from a supermarket in the UK in 2018, that we would play with at rest stops. Then we were pretty homesick in 2019 and the cricket world cup was on, and that’s when the interest became full-blown for us I think. But Jonathan is still the biggest cricket-head. (Editor's note: Check out this tremendous Beths Cricket Tee Shirt)
According to Bandcamp, the new record is ‘Housed in a wide spine single sleeve jacket’. Two questions, both equally nonsensical…the first is this...Which Beth has the widest spine? (Bit weird that, but I’ll leave it in.)
No clue haha.
Which NZ city or town would you most expect to see someone wearing a single-sleeve jacket as a fashion statement, and why that place?
I dunno, but it sounds cool.
Who is the most famous person you have met that has made you a little overwhelmed. Like a real OMG moment?
Probably Rick Astley. He was a total sweetheart and I would die to protect him.
What does your ideal NZ holiday look like/consist of?
I’d love to go to Stewart Island one day.
Finally, are you feeling confident about the Blackcaps winning the T20 world cup?
Big thanks to Liz for taking the time to talk to us. The Beths Live at Auckland Town Hall is out now and available via the band's bandcamp page and all good record stores.