This interview previously appeared on Alt Philanthropy, an online music publication active from March 2016 to April 2020.
Future Me Hates Me, the 2018 record by New Zealand group The Beths, has been a staple of my summer mix from the moment term ended. Their discography is undoubtably no frills (containing witty, self-deprecating song titles like 'You Wouldn't Like Me' and 'Less Than Thou'), but even the angstiest track among the bunch feels perfect for a beach holiday. I talked with The Beths recently at Summerfest to learn about their school experiences, European adventures and how they get those distinct 'The Beths' harmonies.
Emily Muller: One of the things that sets your band apart from other bands on the scene is the layered vocals and harmonies. Can you tell me a little bit about your production process?
Jonathan Pearce: Elizabeth usually starts by making us a little demo. That will have her playing guitar and singing. Very often she has the whole vocal arrangement worked out [on the demo] as well.
Benjamin Sinclair: The parts on the demos inevitably sound a lot better than us singing them.
JP: That’s right, the very best version is Liz doing it herself four times. She sets a high bar and we do our best!
There’s a few times where it doesn’t turn out [how we want]. We’ll do the rest in the band practice room. Ben often gives me a note. I think I’ve suggested one backing vocal idea in all of the songs that we’ve done.
EM: And which one was that?
JP: The“Ooh ooh ooh”in 'Future Me Hates Me'.
EM: The most brilliant part of 'Future Me Hates Me', hats off.
Moving on, I think your jazz school beginnings personify this ultimate rock-star fantasy where you say screw it to conventions and buy an electric guitar. What did the people you went to university with think [about The Beths]...did they have great respect for your band or did they look down on you for not continuing with the trumpet?
BS: Doing a jazz degree at university was actually rebelling against rock!
Elizabeth Stokes: We were all actually in bands in high school first. University was great. That’s part of why I really love the Auckland music scene. People play jazz but everybody is doing different projects and has their own project going on. Nobody is just doing jazz so we saw other people studying their own projects and said let’s do a side-project thing. Hopefully it has now gone the same way and people have seen us and though: “oh, I’m going to start my own weird, electronic, rap project!”
EM: You recently finished the European leg of the tour, did you have any favorite attractions?
JP: There’s this castle in Scotland we really like called Tantallon Castle. It’s on a big peninsula and it skirts the peninsula so it looks of a bit of land by the ocean.
ES: We also found out a lot of stuff about the queen. She goes to this little house and throws a dinner party and pretends to be a normal person.
EM: The next one is for Liz! A lot of the [pop rock] genre is relatively male-dominated. I find that your music is brilliant because it is angsty without being all ‘sad-boy who is mad that a girl won’t date him.’ Has it been difficult to come into this industry as a woman?
ES: It’s always challenging being in male dominated space a lot. Writing it hasn’t been hard because I’m just writing from experience. The biggest thing about guitar music is that it’s been around a while. The thing that I most enjoy about the music that I’m hearing right now, written by people who aren’t men, is the perspective.
Music doesn’t necessarily have to be groundbreaking or innovative in its sound but it ends up being because it’s a new perspective and that’s great. There’s stories that have been told a million times and even a similar story told from somebody you normally wouldn’t hear it from is much more interesting.
EM: In your press materials there’s this quote about "putting your heart on your sleeve and then apologising for it", which resonates with me as a chronic over-apologizer. When did you learn to let things out in this way? Do you think you’ll always feel a little bit apologetic for your feelings?
ES: I’m trying to apologize less literally...in the way that I know women just constantly apologize all the time. I find it easier to write about personal things in a song than I would if I was talking about it. Like right now...I’m stumbling over this question!
Even [sincerity] in a song took me a while. I feel like I’m less apologetic now for just writing sincere music. There are a couple of songs on the more recent album where [I thought] “I don’t know about this.” This one is just, straight up, sincere. There’s not really much shielding it. Those are some of the songs that people have really connected with. I’m less afraid to just be ernest, I think.
EM: In the 'Future Me Hates Me' music video you all appear as quirky characters in a school play. Did any one of you actually have a role as a star as something equally as embarrassing and interesting in your own school musical?
BS: I was in one school play and I was an alien. I didn’t audition for any parts. I just had to hold a gun and then fall over dead at the end of it.
JP: I wasn’t in any, I was in the musical band.
ES: I always wanted to be in one! I wish I had now because it seems like a really unique experience that you can’t really get as an adult unless you join a musical theatre company. It seemed kind of cult-y - which I kind of liked. I auditioned the first year of high school and I didn’t get in the cast so I thought “this isn’t for me.”
EM: Well look at you now, you’re still making music!
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity