The Beths are a four piece band from Auckland, New Zealand formed by high school friends Elizabeth Stokes and Jonathan Pearce, along with bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Ivan Luketina-Johnston, while they studied jazz at the University of Auckland. After an EP back in 2016, The Beths are set to release their full-length debut Future Me Hates Me on August 10th. I recently got to chat with Liz and Jonathan (as well as touring members Katie and Chris) as they began their first ever tour of the U.S. They were kind enough to play a few songs for us as well for another SubModern Session, which you can listen to here.
FMQB: Let me start by going on record as saying that "Future Me Hates Me" is my favorite song of the moment.
Liz Stokes: Thank you.
FMQB: Let’s just talk about that song a bit. It’s so clever, lyrically, and it’s super-catchy too. It’s got all the pieces. How did that idea come to you of your future self regretting decisions that your current self thinks are worth that future disdain?
LS: I don’t know. I mean, mostly when I write, I write a bunch of stream of consciousness stuff down. I must’ve just been feeling annoyed at how I was pretty adamantly trying not to fall into something new after being in a long relationship. I was skeptical of my feelings. [laughs] So I wrote this song about, kind of, that.
FMQB: Well I don’t know what happened with that, but the song really worked out. Enough so, I guess, that you made it the title track of the record.
LS: Yeah. Naming stuff is really hard. I found it to be difficult. It took us a long time to name this band and I tried to think of another title for the record and couldn’t. Then I was like, "Well, Michael Jackson called his albums by one of the songs."
FMQB: Speaking of the band name, you, Liz, are Elizabeth and that’s where The Beths name comes from.
LS: Yeah, it’s just like the back end of my name and I like the tradition of being a "The" band. It means you’re a band… usually. You can kinda tell when you’ve got a "The," it’s usually a band, but not always.
FMQB: But it’s kind of funny that you don’t go by Beth, you go by Liz.
LS: Yeah! The Lizes was even harder to say.
FMQB: That would not really work too well. The Z and the S together.
LS: Everywhere I go it becomes harder and harder. In Germany I felt cruel making German people try to say The Beths. I felt terrible.
FMQB: Oh how do they say it?
LS: Y’know like, "Ze Bess" kinda thing.
FMQB: It kind of sounds like The Best! You can take that as a compliment.
LS: There are a lot of people who think that I’m on stage saying, "Hi, we’re The Best," which I’m not. [laughs] I mean, we’re okay.
FMQB: You’ve gotta have that confidence. So how did The Beths start, now that we have the origin of the name?
LS: I’ve known Jonathan and Ivan and Ben, who are our home team Beths, since high school. Basically we used to play in high school bands. It’s the same as when you start a band in any scene I think. The Auckland scene is pretty small and you get to know everybody in it. We all went to jazz school at the same time as well and started playing together because, y’know, you got to jazz school and then you’re like, "I wanna play rock music in only triad chords and power chords." I did the trumpet at jazz school and I didn’t realize how important, to me, lyrics in music were. I would listen to a lot of jazz music and my favorite were always the standards where I really liked the lyrics, like Cole Porter songs, and Irving Berlin, and that kind of thing. They’re so succinct and really witty. And they’ve always got like a little, not punchline, but a little moment at the end of the song and that’ll be the title. The whole concept and idea of the song will be compressed into the title, which is also the last line in the song or something like that. I think I just missed writing lyrics and wanted to write songs in that kind of way.
FMQB: What you just said is exactly what you did in "Future Me Hates Me."
FMQB: Yes! You did it! You summed it up in that one phrase and it’s at the end of the song. And you said you had written lyrics previously?
LS: Yeah. My high school band was a folk band, so I’d written songs for that. It was guitar based and three of us all singing, so that’s where I got a really good taste for vocal arranging. Cause it was just, I would play the chords, our bass player would play double bass, and then it was all just vocal arrangements to fill out different sections or to make it interesting. That’s something that came pretty naturally to me and that I really enjoy.
FMQB: We’ve got some sweet harmonies today, which I really noticed even more so in this arrangement.
LS: Sorry, I make it very difficult for everybody. [laughs] Here, so play this stuff and sing at the same time. It’ll be fine. [laughs]
Jonathan Pearce: Play it at an unusually fast tempo.
LS: Yeah, play it fast, play it loud, and then sing really sweetly. That’s about it.
Find out more about The Beths at TheBeths.com. Future Me Hates Me is out August 10th on Carpark Records and is impacting this week via Terrorbird. Listen to their SubModern Session performances of the album’s title track as well as "Happy Unhappy" and a bonus song from their 2016 EP here.
By Josh T. Landow