A new LP, being good-busy, and puzzle solving with The Beths

A new LP, being good-busy, and puzzle solving with The Beths

“It's just a gut feeling where when you've made something good I think you know it, and you can kind of feel it”

Hailing from New Zealand comes the indie-pop-rock sounds of The Beths, an outfit who have played to sold-out crowds across the globe, gracing festival such as Pukkelpop, The Great Escape, SXSW, Primavera, Splendour in the Grass, Latitude Festival, and more, received three APRA Silver Scroll nominations (2018, 2019, 2021), two Taite Prize nominations (2019, 2021), a Levi’s Music Prize win (2020), two Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards wins (2019: Best Group, Best Alternative Artist) and three Aotearoa Music Awards wins (2020: Album of the Year, Best Group, Best Alternative Artist). 

With all of this to back them up, the four piece consisting of vocalist/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes, guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair, and drummer Tristan Deck unveil their third full-length LP Expert In A Dying Field alongside a full Australian tour, which includes dates in Boorloo/ Perth and Kaurna Land/ Adelaide. 

Written during the highs, lows, and lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, and then recorded between Jonathan’s studio on Karangahape Road in Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa/Auckland and a three-day studio mad-dash in Los Angeles, Expert In A Dying Field is a refined and polished sounding collection of beautifully articulated compositions from The Beths. Throughout 12-tracks that are dripping with poppy hooks, satisfying guitar licks, and plenty of ‘skuzz’, the band continue to go from strength to strength, humbly presenting some of their finest work thus far. 

To celebrate the release of Expert In A Dying Field and The Beths upcoming tour, we jumped on the line with the effortlessly-cool Elizabeth Stokes/ Liz to chat all things songwriting, LP assembly, solving the puzzle of set lists, and more. Be sure to hit play on the LP, and take a read of the interview below. 

So your third album Expert In A Dying Field comes out tomorrow, but before we get stuck into all about it, your Australian Tour also kicks off tonight in Victoria - thank you so much for jumping on this call. I'm sure you’ve been incredibly busy preparing and rehearsing. What does your usual ‘day of the show’ prep look like? 

Day of the show is often just travelling to the show, so we're lucky that we flew in last night, but for the show tomorrow in Sydney we'll be up early and at the airport, and then a lot of the day is just getting to the city, getting to the venue. But yeah, once you get to the venue you load in, you set everything up, you get soundchecked, you find some time to eat some food, and you know write up the setlist. There's a big to-do list, but it feels good, and the night kind of disappears from there. It's a good-busy, that we've missed for a while.

And how has the vibe at rehearsal been, are you all excited to touring Australia again? 

Yeah, definitely. We popped in I think earlier this year and we just did three shows, and they were, you know, shows that had a lot of a lot of baggage I guess, because some of them had been on sale, you know, people had bought tickets over two years ago. So it was nice to finally do those shows, put them to rest, and then this is really fun. This feels like a fresh start, fresh tour. We're excited to be back, and make it to Perth and Adelaide this time, which we didn't last time. So yeah.

I know I’m looking forward to seeing you in Perth this time, is there anything you’re most looking forward to with this tour run? 

What are you most looking forward to? I don't know, I guess while we're away, like you said, the album comes out tomorrow, which is - It’s so exciting to be out on tour while the record comes out. It's really busy, because there's a lot of behind the scenes work to be done, but it's nice because you don't just end up posting and then like stewing and like sitting there at home, watching the numbers, seeing if people are listening and stuff. It feels more tangible to then put the album out and then go and play a show that night, then the next day and the next day, and you know see if people are singing along, see if people like it. It just feels more like tangible feedback.

Yeah you get to see it unfold in real time which is awesome. 

Yeah, it's a nice distraction as well. 

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Absolutely, and it’s been so great to have musicians such as yourself being able to tour Australia again, but a good chunk of the album was written during lockdowns. Can you tell us a bit about that writing process? 

Yeah, I guess most of the record was written in like late 2020 to kind of into 2021. So it was a long process, like the last song that made it onto the album I think I wrote it in October or November last year. I tried to write 20 songs, that was my goal. I’ll write 20 songs, maybe more, and then we can kind of like choose which songs to develop and play and then narrow down from there which song feel right to be on the record. And that was a real kind of luxury to be able to not just be like, “these songs or the good songs that we have to do”. It's like, these are the ones that feel like they fit. So that was a fun process.

Yeah, and can you give us some insight into how that process goes? How do you choose “this song is right for the LP” and “this isn't”? 

There’s a lot of back and forth, and a lot of um, songs kind of take shape in different ways I guess. Some of them don't really shine in the demo form, but once you play them with the band, they really pop, or like some songs, you know it's a good song but for some reason it's just really hard to record or something like that. It's just a gut feeling where when you've made something good I think you know it, and you can kind of feel it, and you get good feedback from the people around you. And yeah, building and recording a song, it's a skill that we're getting better at, but there's a part of it that always feels like it's just magic or luck.

And with those demos that didn't make it onto the album, do you think that you’ll continue to develop with the band and eventually release them? 

Maybe. I don't feel like there's too much pressure there. Some of them we might, you know, put out as B-sides or like standalone singles, but also it's nice to know that you don't have to put out everything that you make.

Yeah. 

It's nice to think that like two years ago I hadn't written any of the songs, and now there's a whole album and it kind of gives you hope that, it's okay, I can just write some more, I don't have to use everything that I've made, and repurpose it. And sometimes songs come back and have a second life, and that's really nice. Like a Knees Deep is a song on the record that in 2018, so like four years ago, I wrote a song that was probably like the birthplace of Knees Deep, but it just like wasn't a very good song (laughter) It was a bit boring. But the idea and the concept of the song, and the metaphor of the song I liked, and held onto for a while until this year, it came out again and into a song that was a good song I think, that I liked a lot more.

Now this is your third album, in four years - which is very impressive, a lot of artists have gone away from releasing full length albums, what kind of sparked the idea or was the catalyst for “we’re going to release another album”? 

It just feels right for us. We feel like an albums band, it's like the main way that I like to consume music, you know, I like to put on a record, buy an album and then not have to choose anything for 40 minutes, maybe it just comes down to that (laughter). But I guess people go for playlists nowadays. But there's still, I don't know, I think it varies from person to person and like, I don't think it's an end or I don't think people either listen to songs or listen to albums. But like, for me personally, I love the format, and I love making a big project and kind of celebrating it. Which, I guess putting it out every two years is kind of needed if you're not making a lot of things in between, and not dropping lots of singles in between. We still try to be productive.

Yeah most definitely, you seem to be very prolific songwriters. 

The album title comes from the opening track of the same title, and obviously the line “how does it feel to be an expert in a dying field” is just classic, but can you remember how you came up with it? And why you decide to make it the album's title? 

I can't remember how I came up with the phrase, but I just knew I liked the phrase. I feel like I had the name of the song first, and then the song kind of came afterwards. But yeah, It's hard to remember how I wrote a song, but I think I had the name of the song, and then I wrote the verse first and the verse melody really, like, cemented the song for me. It made me want to kind of keep writing it, and the chorus, it's not something I sort of normally write. It ended up being in the recording a really small chorus, rather than normally we're a band that does a verse and then I try to lift into the chorus, you know. In a way that feels very traditional, and I really like it, but with this one that just wasn't working, and it didn't feel right until we kind of stripped down into the chorus. I think it makes it feel a bit more intimate than some of our songs have in the past, but it was what felt right.

Yeah, that's fantastic. And is that something you often do when writing songs, coming up with the concept first and then kind of mould the rest of the song around that idea?

Sometimes. Sometimes I will kind of have a feeling of what the song’s about, and then kind of like because then you have to kind of like extrapolate lyrics, or sometimes the lyrics come first and so, you know, there's an idea there to kind of expand on. But sometimes it's the opposite. Sometimes you write the chords and the melody and then what the song is about reveals itself later. But I feel like I'm always searching for the like, the kind of songwriting I like, where there is a line that kind of sums up the song, or like a hook that kind of feels like you can name the song that. It's not something I always achieve, but it's something that I'm always trying for. It's a way that feels kind of like Tin Pan Alley kind of songwriting, of like the song is called “but not for me” And then you get an image of what the song is about, then they say, “but not for me” four times and you're like, “okay, this is this is what the songs about”.

And when doing an Album tour, how do you come up with a set list? Can fans expect to hear most of the new album at your upcoming shows? 

Yeah, setlists are hard. They kind of feel like doing a Sudoku. Sometimes it’s like, well it can't go there, and It can't go there because those two songs are the same tempo or the same key, or there's too many songs from one record all in a row. It feels like puzzle solving until you land on something, and you're like “here is my suggestion for the setlist”, and then maybe you play it through and be like, “these two, they don't work”. It just feels like problem solving, but in a way that's quite satisfying. And, you know, different songs work at different points in the set in different ways. But yeah, now we're going to be playing quite a few songs from this new record. It's so strange when we had one album, we could play every single song on that album in a set. And then when we had two albums, you suddenly have twice as many songs to fit into a set, so you kind of have to start being ruthless with songs that you’re not gonna play. And with three, that's even worse. You can make it a bit longer, but you're still having to be very choosy. Sometimes you go to a place and you're like, “we might not come back for two or three years”. There's gonna be songs that people are really sad that you didn't play, but you just can't fit everything in. 

Definitely, and when you’re choosing what songs are going to make it, what informs that decision? Is it just “I feel this will work well in this city”, or Spotify listeners, or I like this song and want to play it? 

It's a bit of everything, yeah. Like certain songs have done well in countries and so it's a no brainer, we're not an alienating kind of band where it's like, “we're not going to play the song that you want us to play.” We want to play the song you want us to play. But yeah, once you've got the songs that you kind of have to put in because they kind of make sense, like most recent singles and things like that. There are songs that just work well live, and there's the opposite, there are songs that for some reason, work really well in the recorded form, but they just don't seem to hit live, or like you have to kind of rework them to make them work live. So there's songs that we play a lot just because they just go off live in a really satisfying way, like Uptown Girl is a song like that for us, it's a song from our first record and it just seems to create a real fun energy. So it's very hard to leave it off the setlist.

Well I look forward to seeing it live, thank you so much for joining me this morning. It’s been an absolute honour to chat with you. Best of luck with the upcoming shows, and congratulations on Expert In A Dying Field’s release tomorrow! 

All good, thank you for chatting. See you in Perth. 

 The Beths Expert In A Dying Field

The Beths new album Expert In A Dying Field is out now via Ivy League/ Mushroom Group. 

AUSTRALIA & AOTEAROA TOUR DATES 
AUSTRALIA 

Thu 15 Sep 22 - 170 Russell, Melbourne, VIC *
Fri 16 Sep 22 - Metro Theatre, Sydney, NSW *
Sat 17 Sep 22 - The Triffid, Brisbane, QLD *º
Tue 20 Sep 22 - The Gov, Adelaide, SA ^
Wed 21 Sep 22 - Magnet House, Perth, WA % 
* w/ Hans Pucket, ^ w/ Oscar The Wild, % w/ Mal De Mer, º w/ Platonic Sex


AOTEAROA 
Fri 23 Sep 22 - Opera House, Wellington, NZ 
Sat 24 Sep 22 - Theatre Royal, Nelson, NZ 
Fri 30 Sep 22 - James Hay Theatre, Christchurch, NZ 
Sat 1 Oct 22 – Glenroy, Dunedin, NZ 
Fri 7 Oct 22 - Auckland Town Hall, Auckland, NZ 

 
Tickets on sale now at thebeths.com 

Follow The Beths: FACEBOOK / INSTAGRAM / TWITTER / TIKTOK

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