Analogue Music | The Beths

The Beths

By Matt Conner

Liz Stokes doesn't want to jinx anything.

Asking the lead vocalist of The Beths to reflect on the journey taken on the band's debut album, 2018's Future Me Hates Me, isn't as straightforward as it sounds. Stokes is careful with her choice of words, if she speaks at all. She's honest but also hesitant before she admits, "I'm afraid of jinxing it or something by saying how much it means."

The "it" is the aforementioned journey enjoyed by the Auckland-based band—a lineup that also includes guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Ben Sinclair, and drummer Tristan Deck. Together they've leaped from continent to continent for the last couple years—at least pre-COVID—opening for the likes of Death Cab for Cutie or headlining their own slate, all fueled by the buzz that comes from an album that landed on multiple year-end lists.

This Friday marks the arrival of Jump Rope Gazers, a sizzling follow-up that lacks any obvious singles—a sign that Pearce says he believes is a win for the band's creative approach. We're inclined to agree. Stokes has nothing to worry about, since there's no way to jinx this momentum.

Analogue: How much reflection has there been for you looking back at Future Me Hates Me and where that album took you?

Liz Stokes: I think we've thought about it a lot. It's weird. The whole last couple years have been a completely different lifestyle to what we were before, which was working full-time and just being a hobby band. It's pretty surreal just how much it's completely taken over our lives. For me, anyway, it's just everything that I do, from when I wake up to when I go to sleep. That's a huge change in that now it's very focused.

Analogue: Would you say those are largely good changes?

Liz: Yeah, majority. My reflections might sound gloomy, but I'm very pleased with the fact that people liked the first record and that it has allowed us to play in all the places that we've played and it's allowed us to make it a job. [Laughs] It's like I'm afraid of jinxing it or something by saying how much it means. Like now, there's the very real possibility that people won't like the new album and we won't be able to do it anymore. That's scary.

Jump Rope Gazers
Jump Rope Gazers

Analogue: Is that normal for your personality to worry about that kind of thing or is this all just so new and different that it feels fragile?

Liz: I'm not sure. I mean, it feels pretty on-brand. [Laughs]

Analogue: You mentioned all the places that album took you. How much of that was in line with what you expected before you released the album? Were you prepared at all?

Liz: No, it was toward the end of it when we realized this record was pretty good or something. We thought it was good enough that we should really go for it. It also came at a time when we were self-evaluating and looking at where we wanted to be in the next five or ten years. We were like, 'Well if we don't do this now and take a huge risk, we never will so let's just do it.' For us at the time, it meant seeing if anyone would want to release it. For me, it meant booking a little DIY tour of Europe and the States. It ended up all coming together pretty quickly.

Analogue: I'm assuming it's one thing to record when you're not sure who will be there to listen and another thing to record today. How much of that was in your head when writing and recording this album?

Jonathan Pearce: It's in your mind and it's a new and different challenge to making your first one. But we found that if we didn't change the recipe too much, we found the first album quite freeing. You have that pressure in your mind, but it also means you're building on what you've done before. You don't have to necessarily state as clearly and as often and as concisely exactly what your musical mission is. You can subvert it in a way and be a little bit looser with it. You can trust that it's still going to be your record. It's still going to be your music.

Liz might talk more about this, but she did try to write a lot over the intervening years between the albums. It's wasn't as if you came home at the end of that album touring cycle and just locked yourself in a room to write the album then and there—

Credit: Mason Fairey

Liz: By the time we were done touring, most of the songs were written. Some of the songs or song fragments were very old and even pre-date the first album.

Jonathan: That took the pressure off a little bit.

Liz: I didn't want to be caught at the last minute trying to write an album so I tried to prepare.

Analogue: Was the road pretty inspiring?

Liz: Well, I very rarely write on tour. It doesn't feel very creative. You're just exhausted and driving. But whenever we had a break between tours, it was the right time to process what had been going on and write.

Analogue: Could you tell a difference in chemistry in the studio having had those touring experiences all over the world?

Liz: Yeah, that was a huge difference on this record compared to the previous record. This was a lot more concentrated, but on the first record, there wasn't this chemistry we have now. We've spent so much time together in the last couple years that it really changed the culture of the band. It's communicating properly. When you're on tour, you also have to really take care of each other. That way of trying to understand each other made a big difference, too. This record felt more exploratory in a positive way.

Jonathan: When we made the first one, it was just a completely different feeling. On the first one, there was definitely this different energy and some of it was not very nice and a little bit... I'm trying to answer this question without bagging on our last album, which I really love. [Laughs] But I think there was this machoistic energy or something where we were trying to play really fast and tight all the time but not for any particular reason or not in a positive way. This one was different and I think it opened up a lot of different things.

For example, we much more embraced each other's processes, so we were more able to push through on a song like "Out of Sight" where it wasn't coming together and didn't sound cohesive. It was chaotic for a long time. But by being more aware of how each other ticks and how we work together as a group, we were able to make that happen. In days gone by, what would have happened was that somebody would have gone up and decided they were the boss in that situation and would have told everyone else what to play. Then probably we would have just done that. There wouldn't have been that same exploration.

Analogue: Given some of the sonic changes, are you worried at all about fans and their expectations?

Jonathan: Definitely, especially considering we've gone and kind of blown the two fastest rock bangers on the record in the first two singles.

"We really struggled to pick singles off of this record whereas we felt they were way more obvious the last time around. That was scary because you want to be able to point to a song and say, 'That's the song!'"

Analogue: Was that intentional?

Jonathan: No, and looking back on it, it might not have been the smartest idea but I feel proud of those songs. We really struggled to pick singles off of this record whereas we felt they were way more obvious the last time around. That was scary because you want to be able to point to a song and say, 'That's the song!' We had to ask a lot of people and we actually had this little spreadsheet going where we'd send people the album and try to quantify their reactions. That ended up informing our decision on singles based on that. For better or worse, that was part of our process.

Analogue: All of this sounds like a test of your artistic resolve. True?

Liz: I feel like we've made a good album and that's all we can really do. The only thing you can do to respond to the pressure is to try to write as good of a song as I can and then we try to arrange and record them as well as we could. I think we've honestly done our very best.

Jonathan: I agree. Something that helps us to get to that place of artistic resolve is that we had a lot of things that we wanted to do. Some of them are framed as things we wanted to do differently from the last record. Some of them are just fresh on this record. I feel like we went into it with those things in mind. If you come out the other side and feel like you ticked those boxes and what you've created doesn't have that obvious single, that's a win in and of itself. It makes it easier to accept that, to accept what you've made and hopefully really like it and stand by it.

VISIT: The Beths

*Photo Credit: Mason Fairey