The New Zealand power pop quartet discuss the belated reaction to their 2020 album, the chaos of pandemic touring, and the newly announced Expert in a Dying Field.
“Thanks for waiting two years,” frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes of The Beths earnestly says to an adoring sold-out Brudenell Social Club on the 28th March. It had, indeed, been a long time coming. The New Zealand power pop quartet were riding a growing wave of buzz at the start of 2020, built off of their irresistible 2018 debut Future Me Hates Me and a tight as hell live show that saw them earn opening slots for bands like Death Cab for Cutie. Barely 18 months after releasing that debut, the band turned in the finished masters for their follow-up, Jump Rope Gazers… and then, well, you know what happened. Rather than hold the album back, The Beths diligently pressed on with their release plans and the more contemplative, somewhat slower follow-up became quite the balm for me during those dog days of enforced (both self- and not-) isolation. Their magnificent intricate harmonies became more integral to the songwriting, their command over instantly-memorable middle-eights got even stronger, and Stokes’ relatable anxiety-riddled lyricism cut even deeper when the distant emotional longing she sings about became the daily norm for people like me.
Evidently, I was not alone in that feeling. Despite having to reschedule their UK shows twice amid the ever-changing state of pandemic-life, that Leeds gig had one of the hottest crowds I’ve been a part of since live music made its regular return. For an album released in the middle of lockdown’s weird time-collapsing bubble, the songs from Jump Rope Gazers received an equal-to-even-more-rapturous response than long-standing fan favourites off of Future Me. Rather than stunting their momentum, like one may have expected for an indie band just getting their feet wet on the public stage, the pandemic instead seemed to have merely delayed its payoff for a little while, like the moment when a violently shaken soda can finally gets cracked open. Being from New Zealand – where COVID mandates and responses were stricter, implemented quicker, and ultimately more successful than in many other areas of the world – The Beths did manage to play some shows during 2020 and 2021 in their home nation, but they were still taken aback by just how strong the response ended up being on their tours so far this year.
They’ve also been busy. In September, 20 months after Jump Rope Gazers, they’ll drop album #3, Expert in a Dying Field. Lead single “Silence is Golden” is an outright ripper, a fuzz-toned buzzsaw barrelling along at 100MPH that intentionally rubs some grit on The Beths’ gleaming pop songwriting and will absolutely destroy all the live stages they pass through. Written to work best in a live setting, one could potentially read Expert as an unconscious reaction to the dropped average tempo of Jump Rope or perhaps as a cathartic blast of energy responding to the last two years. Gazers was released in isolation, but much of Expert was recorded in isolation following an unproductive 2020 and a national lockdown in mid-2021 that forced the band to sit with what they’d initially worked on and refine/expand from afar until they hit on something they were really proud of. Both Stokes and guitarist/producer Jonathan Pearce liken the process of making Expert in a Dying Field to getting to make their first album all over again, being given the time and space to create the best possible versions of these songs without so much pressure.
A week before the new album was officially unveiled – and after multiple delayed attempts to arrange something thanks to a particularly chaotic UK leg of their ongoing world tour – I got the chance to hop on a Zoom call with Stokes and Pearce to go over the last two years. How they adapted to releasing an album in the early pandemic days, fostering a community via their Patreon, the madness of trying to tour nowadays, their evolution in songwriting on Expert in a Dying Field, and Stokes’ supernatural ability to pull perfect counter-harmonies out of thin air.
Full interview exclusively on Soundsphere Magazine (link).
Callie Petch would burn the city to the ground to turn it down.