Auckland’s indie darlings are back with their new single “A Real Thing”, a bright and upbeat track laced with climate change anxiety and existential dread. Following The Beths’ 2020 release “Jump Rope Gazers”, the pandemic brought about a lull in writing until the right riff married Liz Stokes’ stream of consciousness writing to eventually produce the latest single. While there isn’t an album release on the horizon just yet, Liz and Jon tell us to expect more music, more videos, and more shows coming up soon.
Wrapping up their North American leg supporting Atlanta-based Lunar Vacation, The Beths are crossing the ocean once again for their UK and European run of shows. With the pandemic now permitting us to start taking back international stages, Liz and Jon are excited to be present in a room full of fans again. The band has noticed that those attending their shows have had an attitude shift, and no one is taking live music for granted. The beauty of music, as we discuss in this interview, is that live shows give us the opportunity to connect with people and places we wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths with.
What’s your go-to gas station order?
Jon: String cheese.
Liz: I do like string cheese. I like string cheese or the really spicy Cheetos, the spiciest one you can get.
Jon: Takis are pretty good, the real spicy ones or the strange colors, pretty into that.
Liz: Anything that gives you fifteen minutes of a really intense experience and then you can go back to the numbness of being in the van.
You guys just dropped your single, “A Real Thing.” Tell us a little more about how this project came together.
Liz: We’ve been working on a lot of new music, we released an album in 2020—What a time to release music. And we didn’t write a whole lot in 2020, I don’t know why, just not a very creative time period for whatever reason. But one of the things we did right was the guitar riff that turned into part of “A Real Thing,” which we were recording as part of a lot of new music, and something about it just felt right to kind of put out on its own as a fun thing to release. It’s a song that holds a lot of anxiety from that time period, like 2020. Just anxiety about climate change, about things not really moving in the direction you feel like they should be. I don’t have any suggestions in the song, really, it’s just emotion.
Describe your typical songwriting process. Is it like “A Real Thing” or different?
Liz: It can be similar. Often, I used to do a lot more of writing lyrics first and pulling from there, making melodies and putting harmony underneath it. But it’s actually gotten to a point right now where it’s slightly different for every song. The guitar riff came first, and then I mumbled out some gibberish that ended up becoming words that felt good. And that’s been happening more, noodling on the guitar that way, but I still do kind of write stream of consciousness prose. And I write with the idea that most of what I write is purging all that garbage, but sometimes I do find little nuggets of an idea that you like, or a rhyme that you like, that sort of thing. Then I bring the song to the band and we arrange it together, flesh it out.
Jon: With the sort of quality of Liz’s work in general, the sort of garbage prose that Liz is describing will one day be released to some kind of bestselling book.
Liz: I think that’s where you’re wrong, my greatest strength is my ability to hide all the garbage.
Jon: Well, you might be right.
What was your first impressions of your bandmates when you met?
Jon: That’s a long way back for us.
Liz: Jonathan and I actually went to the same high school. We weren’t close or anything, he was the year above. I used to play trumpet and he used to play saxophone in band, so I remember him from band. Very musical guy, very quiet, very serious, which turned out to be not true. An extremely silly man, in the end.
I met Ben in high school as well. Just through, I was playing in a high school folk band with my friends, and he was playing in some kind of high school band, and my bandmates met him through university or through a gig or something like that. We ended up meeting each other at some gigs, which we were playing at a lot and going to a lot. Just kind of all ages things, indie Auckland things.
And then we all met Tristan at university, where we all studied music. He was the only drummer, there were two full years where there were no drummers except for Tristan. So he was playing in everybody’s band, and all swallowed up.
Jon: It was keen, you know. He was a keen young man.
Liz: He’s a couple years younger as well.
So you guys just toured with Lunar Vacation— how’d you meet? What’s your favorite thing about Lunar Vacation?
Liz: We met for the first time on the tour, in Seattle. We found out about them just last year when we were looking for spots. And they were keen, which was great. They’re super lovely, really nice. It’s fun to meet a band from Atlanta, which is a state we don’t know a lot about. We’ve met people from LA, we meet people from really big centers. I know Atlanta is also a big center, but I don’t know, we just haven’t met anyone from there.
Jon: It’s not a tourist destination for New Zealanders, no one goes to Atlanta for holiday. But that’s the special thing about touring, you get your world opened up to really interesting places. They’re just angels, and they’re really keen musicians. I think my favorite thing about Lunar Vacation is they would often DJ on the bus, and it was anyone’s guess as to what decade, continent, or language the music might be coming from, from the DJing.
That’s one of the cool things about being a musician, it really gives you experiences you wouldn’t get anywhere else.
Jon: You get experiences you couldn’t pay for. You couldn’t choose to do some of these things, you have to be doing what you’re doing.
You guys have an upcoming UK tour and the rest of Europe as well. What are you guys most excited about during the next leg of your tour?
Liz: We are not excited about the flight. Thirty-three hours in transit from New Zealand. I’m excited about the UK, it’s a really fun place to tour. There’s so many people concentrated in such a small place, you don’t have to do these big long drives. You’ll drive like two hours and be in an entirely different city with an entirely different identity. It’s a pretty interesting place, the people there are so lovely. There’s a connection between the people there and New Zealand. I guess we’re a colony, so some trauma there, but also there’s this shared, I don’t know, same queen and we drink tea. Cultural kind of similarity that is there, which is really nice. We really like going to Scotland. We get along really well with people there.
Jon: We really love Ireland as well, we get to play there. That’ll be pretty good. Skipping over to Europe will be interesting as well. These places are all at different stages for us, and we just kind of get a different experience at a show when we play at a small boat in Leon or something than when we play a big theater in LA or London. It’s always fun, it’s really fun.
How have you seen the attitude of the band and people who come to your shows change after the pandemic?
Liz: It’s a pretty big change. What we’ve kind of, there was this kind of… who knows how long it will last, but not taking it for granted. It’s very fresh for a lot of people. We get a lot of messages from people that are kind of like, “That was our first concert in a couple of years,” or something like that. That’s really nice to feel, like if you want to be in a room full of people, which is such a big deal now, you kind of want to make it special, and want to make it worth it. It’s just such an experience that’s a bit rarer nowadays, so you really want to make people feel like it’s worth it for people to come out and get a babysitter or just come out into the world. And you want to welcome them back in a way that’s hopefully safe, and loving, and grateful. You just want to be present, and enjoy the things that you’re doing while you’re doing them.
Beyond the UK tour, what are some of your upcoming plans?
Jon: We’re back home in a couple of months, and we’ll be gathering steam for the next bunch of things. Probably quite a lot of creating different kinds of things back home. Little bit of recuperating.
Liz: We’ve been working on new music and stuff, we’ll keep rolling and making a bunch of stuff and getting ready for the next batch that we do.
Jon: Making videos, getting haircuts.
Liz: Important stuff.