It’s always exciting to watch a good band rise into stardom. Making music is just like any job in that it takes hard work and it’s fun to watch good people succeed. Fans follow updates with bated breath, getting Twitter notifications and following Instagram posts as a new favorite artist builds recognition and achievements. As exciting as all of it is for fans, it’s even more exciting for the people in the actual band. Just ask the members of New Zealand four-piece The Beths. Two years removed from their first EP, The Beths are on the rise as they prepare for the release of their first album, Future Me Hates Me, this week and they’re drawing attention from both fans and major outlets alike.
The Beths are made up of Elizabeth “Liz” Stokes (guitar and lead vocals), Benjamin Sinclair (bass), Jonathan Pearce (guitar), and Ivan Luketina-Johnston (drums). When I talked to Stokes and Pearce in mid-July, the group was spending some time working in Spain after wrapping up their first tour outside of their homeland. At the time, Stokes said Future Me Hates Me was just beginning to feel real to her. Why? “We’re talking about getting actual physical [vinyl] albums and stuff. I’ve never had an LP before, I’ve had CDs before and things like tapes, but I’m quite excited to get a big, physical item,” she says.
The physical media coming in wasn’t the only thing that went smoothly for The Beths while writing Future Me Hates Me. Stokes recalls that when recording their 2016 EP, Warm Blood (which was reissued this year when the band signed to Carpark Records), everyone in the band was still trying to figure out what they should and wanted to sound like. She further elaborates by saying “that meant we went into the album with a better idea of what we wanted to do and what direction we wanted to push in terms of production.” Over the past two years The Beths have crafted their sound into the guitar-happy indie-pop jams like “Happy Unhappy,” capturing a unique feeling that mixes the bright, sunniness of their music with Stokes’ lyrics that often touch on deep, moving emotional topics.
The process of growing their sound and their ideas started long before The Beths released Warm Blood though. All of the members of the band have known each other for years and grew up together, which Stokes sees as a huge asset. “It makes it a lot easier. The vision is pretty shared,” Stokes explains. “When you work with a new producer you have to kinda make your visions meet in the middle.” With that shared life experience, The Beths are on the same page more often than not. On the production side, they don’t need to worry about bringing anyone up to speed either. Not only does Jonathan Pearce play guitar for The Beths, he also serves as producer for Future Me Hates Me.
While Pearce says he’s still learning and is therefore hesitant to give a blanket statement about producing, he does explain what it means to him by saying, “I think so much of that job is just listening to the band, listening to what the music is trying to say and what the band members are talking about and listening to and trying to help the thing along to get to where everyone wants it to go.” By being with the band through the entire process of songwriting and rehearsing, Pearce says he has more of an insight into what everyone wants the track to sound like than an outside producer would. While he does admit that sometimes having fresh ears on something can help, he adds, “I don’t think that’s really necessary in this case because I think Elizabeth has a really clear idea where the music is going.” Listening to the cohesiveness and vision of Future Me Hates Me, I believe listeners will agree with Pearce.
The way Stokes writes is also influenced by The Beths’ shared education. All four band members studied jazz, and while The Beths are by no means a jazz band, the shared background does help. Stokes reveals, “We all speak the same language and can communicate ideas quite directly because we all learned from the same book which makes it efficient to work through ideas when we’re rehearsing and things like that.” Stokes also takes some ideas from jazz into her writing. She says with a chuckle that while she’s not writing jazz standards, she appreciates the directness in many of the best standards. She further explains, “I like how succinct they are at putting out an idea or a concept or a theme… You never finish a song like ‘what was that song about?’” Stokes also shares that she likes to write a song and then move on, letting it find its legs and morph into the final product in the rehearsal room rather than having her tweak it a million times while writing. With Future Me Hates Me done and waiting for release, she laughs when she admits that means she’s been sitting on these songs for longer than she likes.
Fans around the world got to hear those songs this summer as The Beths toured Europe, The United States, and the United Kingdom for the first time. Stokes says, “The UK was great and Europe was great in a different way and the States was really invigorating to get there because that was the last leg.” The Beths took advice from many friends who had previously toured before booking shows, and while Stokes and Pearce say they heard their fair share of horror stories from those friends, their own tour went pretty smoothly. Pearce says with a chuckle, “The worst show of the tour definitely exceeded my expectations,” explaining that even the “worst” dates went much better than he would have ever thought.
The music video experience for The Beths has been equally interesting. The video for “Future Me Hates Me” was a pretty standard music video experience, Stokes and Pearce tell me. The “Happy Unhappy” video was something else entirely. They explain to me that the deadline for the music video was fast approaching and they had nothing. While spending the night in Manchester, Stokes called director and friend Callum Devlin. She remembers with a smile, “I was like ‘Can you please make a video in 24 hours? I’ll give you this much money, what do you say?’” As Pearce reveals, not only did Devlin want to do it, he already had all the footage. “He didn’t even have to shoot that stuff, he already just had it,” Pearce says, the disbelief still in his voice months later. There’s just something so perfect about the pineapple head (played by Devlin’s girlfriend Annabel Kean) that fits what The Beths are going for, and it all just happened by fate.
While this week is the biggest week of the summer for The Beths with Future Me Hates Me coming out, the week that “Happy Unhappy” dropped was huge too. First, Rolling Stone reporter Jon Dolan published an article with the headline “The Beths’ ‘Happy Unhappy’ Is the Song of the Summer.” If getting a recommendation from one of the hallowed institutions of music writing wasn’t enough, podcast listeners were also introduced to The Beths from a respected source. On the July 5th episode of popular Ringer podcast The Watch, pop culture critic Andy Greenwald included the band in his recommendations for listeners (the remarks start at the 19:45 mark). Stokes still finds the entire experience surreal. She explains her feelings by saying, “When you’re in the middle of nowhere and so far away, it’s like having a fictional, magical figure just be like ‘hey, I like this band’ and you’re like ‘alright… thanks.’” While she says she tries to play it cool “just in case it’s a joke,” it’s hard not to hear the smile in her voice as she talks about the recognition.
With co-signs from industry tastemakers and fans across the world alike, The Beths are on the upswing here in the summer of 2018. They’ve checked off a bevy of firsts, with another one getting crossed off the list on Friday when Future Me Hates Me graces the world with its release. Through it all The Beths have grown together, both personally and creatively. If you want to watch a band with great music and fun vibes earn their place at the top of the musical world, put The Beths in your rotation right now. They’re only going up from here on out.