The Beths on their Aussie tour, writing in lockdown, and their new record Expert in A Dying Field
You’d be hard pressed to find a group that sound as original as The Beths. While the world of indie rock keeps growing, The Beths sit apart from the pack with their unique songwriting, Beatles vibes, and perfect harmonies.
Their upcoming release, Expert in A Dying Field follows their debut Future Me Hates Me and sophomore Jump Rope Gazers. We caught up with frontwoman Elizabeth Stokes and guitarist Jonathan Pearce to chat about it all.
“With an album, there’s always a lot of work,” Elizabeth says. “And it kind of builds and builds and builds, and once it comes out, it’s kind of a relief.”
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Before they hit Aussie stages this September, the group have been bringing Expert in A Dying Field to crowds across the world, seeing what connects with their adoring fans.
“It’s nice to be touring,” Jonathan says. “I think when we do it, it means you have so much to do every day, you’re not kind of like just sitting with the quiet and watching the computer.
“It’s just real joy. People like the gigs and singing new songs, and we’re thinking, ‘this has really struck a chord with people’ or ‘people like this part of that song’, and then you can kind of learn how to play them differently. You hand them over to audiences.”
Much of Expert in A Dying Field was built throughout New Zealand’s lockdown period, forcing the four-piece to work in a way that wasn’t too familiar. Elizabeth details the interesting process.
“We hadn’t really done the kind of arranging where you can write and live on four different continents if you want to.
“Historically, I would send a demo out. And we would get together in the room and build the song all together. But we were doing stuff where John and I would lay down like the guitar parts and then put down like a scratch drum track, but then send it through to Tristan or to Ben, who would record a bass line over the top.
“It was actually really interesting, I think we would try arranging and writing like that again because there’s less pressure to be a person in a room coming up with a good idea on the spot, I think it’s like, people have time to kind of ruminate on whatever they’re writing at the moment.”
There’s truly something special throughout Expert in A Dying Field, throughout much of the record, it feels like you’re sitting in the room with The Beths, jamming along with them. Each line is clear and gives great depth to the listening experience.
“One of our goals for the album was that when you’re listening to it, you would be able to sit down in a quiet room with headphones on and choose to just listen to Liz and what she’s playing on guitar and singing. Or just listen to me and what I might be playing on guitar or singing, and that part would carry you through the entire song from start to finish,” Jonathan says.
This allowed for a lot of space to be heard across Expert in A Dying Field, where the listener can easily fit in. Jonathan notes that a lot of this came through the production sphere.
“Leaving that space, it’s good to pick a winning thing and make that really big. And I had to do that if you’re constantly kind of throwing overdubs at something.
“I think another thing that was part of my strategy production for this record was to use the faders more to mix in that old fashioned way and put some variety into the volume of things.
“So there’s sections where things are brought back so that the dynamics of the playing are enhanced a little bit, and then push forward into the choruses. I think it was kind of a different approach to those instrumental tracks, to try and avoid technological answers to problems that can be solved in the playing.”
The Beths love being inspired by music of all different types, some of their many inspirations being groups like Tegan and Sara, Brand New, and newer bands like Hans Pucket (who will be supporting The Beths on their Aussie tour).
Influences follow through to the mixing and audio world too, Jonathan noting music that inspired a lot of the sounds across Expert in A Dying Field.
“I listened to quite a lot of the Soccer Mommy record (Color Theory), the song ‘Circle the Drain’ and ‘Bloodstream’.
“I thought the low end of those tracks was really great, so I was thinking okay, I want like a tonal balance like this, I need to fill the spaces with really deep bass, and then a kick drum that cuts through.
“There’s a lot of production references, there’s this track called ‘The Good Mr Square’ by The Pretty Things, and that has this crazy bus compression, it’s an amazing sounding recording for heavy-handed bus compression”.
It’s only a few more sleeps until The Beths make their way to Australia, hitting some bigger stages than tours in the past. The group will be joined by fellow Kiwis Hans Pucket, for what’s sure to be a night of hard-hitting rock.
“It’s strange to say it’s strictly an album release tour, but it’s right on the album release, so it’s not like you can expect that everybody has listened to the album.
“It’s going to be a fun dynamic, there’ll be a bit from the new record, then the previous records.”
“You can expect Kiwi awkwardness in spades,” the pair add with a laugh.