New Zealand’s The Beths produce sticky, infectious pop-rock songs that have been rapidly winning over audiences from every hemisphere. Drawing influence from bands like Rilo Kiley, Fall Out Boy, Tegan and Sara, Death Cab For Cutie, and Bright Eyes, as well as New Zealand bands like Good Shirt, Bic Runga and Elemeno P., The Beths have been attracting deserved attention with a stellar EP, a critically beloved debut album, and a successful recent world tour. Their single, “Happy Unhappy,” was even named song of the summer by Rolling Stone last year.
The four friends—guitarist/singer/principle song writer Elizabeth Stokes, guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair, and drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston—all studied jazz together at the University of Aukland where they tried out different sounds and configurations until they settled on a guitar pop format.
It might seem unusual that a group of classically trained jazz musicians would gravitate towards pop-rock, but great music is great music and The Beths’ perfectly constructed songs are catchy as Hell. Stokes and co. were merely returning to their rock roots with an arsenal of compositional tools and knowledge.
“I studied trumpet, Ben studied saxophone and Jonathan studied piano,” says Stokes. “We had all played our current instruments in our respective high-school bands that we were in, so it was more of a return to indie rock (although Jonathan was playing guitar in bands throughout this period). I loved learning about music and internalizing the theory of it in the way that you do when you learn to improvise. I'm not sure how it affected my songwriting, I suppose it just gave me a language to think and communicate in and helped to clarify the music I can hear in my head.”
The Beths recently released their debut album, “Future Me Hates Me,” on the always excellent Carpark Records (Toro Y Moi, Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, Class Actress).
“We love Carpark,” says Stokes, “they're all so great and we really feel taken care of. A friend of ours from Wellington has been with Carpark for a long time, Introverted Dancefloor, and Jonathan shared our album with him for some mix notes when it was in late stages. He forwarded it on to Todd [Hyman] from Carpark, who liked it and sent us an email. It all happened pretty quickly.”
The album, full of biting lyrics, happy harmonies, and hook-filled guitar interplay, boasts the same clever songwriting and tight musicianship as their previous “Warm Blood” EP, but with slightly improved production from guitarist Jonathan Pearce.
“A lot of the songs were written around the same time, so it was more a fine tuning of our live set and our recording process,” explains Stokes.” The songs are challenging to play live, mainly all the [backing vocals], and we were playing most of the songs regularly around Auckland by the time we started recording. Jonathan Pearce records us in his studio, and he is always so passionate about improving the way he works. He reads constantly and tries a lot of things out, so the album sounds more polished than the EP, and I'm sure the next album will sound even better.”
The Beths have already built a devoted fanbase in their native country, but they are excited at the prospect of returning to the States for another tour. “There are quite a few differences in gig culture between the US and NZ, but the audiences are similarly friendly and receptive,” says Stokes. “Playing in NZ, in Auckland especially, is like playing a home game, it's hard to lose as we feel so connected with the place. I like that at US shows so many people are so sincere and un-self-conscious in how much they love music, our music or someone else's, and they just want to share that with you. It's really nice.”
“The most exciting thing for me is seeing people connecting with the music and seeing that group of people grow. It brings with it the tantalizing idea that we might be able to make a living doing this at some point, if we stick at it.”