Over the band’s time in Austin for their first South By Southwest, ORANGE had the chance to sit with New Zealand indie rock band The Beths. They played numerous shows over the festival following the release of their debut album “Future Me Hates Me,” which came out last year. I sat with lead singer Elizabeth Stokes, guitarist Jonathan Pearce, bassist Benjamin Sinclair and drummer Tristan Deck in a bustling Marriott hotel downtown. We talked about their home, the album and where they got the best cup of coffee in the world.
Story by Gabrielle Sanchez
Photos by Maya Coplin
When did you all start working as a band and how did The Beths get started?
Ben: We all played around in bands in Auckland in our later high school years so Liz and Jonathan and I knew each from all that. Liz and Jonathan went to school together at Macleans College in Auckland. We all went to university to study jazz together and when that kind of started wrapping itself up we all had these instruments that we played in high school like guitars and stuff and we had all went to college to study different instruments. Johnathan wanted an excuse to play his flashy new Gibson Les Paul and ended up putting a lot of pressure on Liz to start a rock band.
Jonathan: This part of the story is overstated, but I love it.
Ben: So Liz had been doing song writing for a band called Teacups before we went to uni and she put those amazing skills to use again and wrote a bunch of amazing songs. Then we started rehearsing together and yeah formed this band The Beths.
Jonathan: For about a year we just practiced and played shows in people’s living rooms just for fun. I don’t think we played a proper show until we could play quite a few songs, and it takes a while to get about six or seven songs.
Liz: We ditched a lot of the songs too. If I played you those demos again you’d say “Oh yeah, those were shit.”
What did each of you play when you studied jazz?
Jonathan: Liz played trumpet, I played piano, Ben played tenor saxophone and Tristan played drums.
Tristan: I played more instruments in jazz school than I play now . I had to learn vibraphone and piano as well.
Where did you get the name The Beths?
Liz: It was before the very first show that we played, and you know you have to have a name if you’re a band. So that was the deadline, and so I looked up a whole bunch of things and I like the idea of being a “The” band because it usually means you’re a band, rather than like a project or something like that. Beths, when I googled it it wasn’t taken. My name’s Elizabeth so we took the last part.
Jonathan: It took several months to come up with though, I remember that part.
Ben: And if you look on The Beths website there is a tiny “™” after The Beths so no one else can take that from us.
Were there other names that you wanted to go with?
Liz: I really liked the name Dogs With Jobs but it was already taken by some band in Norway or something. But it’s okay, this is good, this is fine.
How would you describe your first show as a band?
Liz: Our first show was in August, at King’s Arm.
Jonathan: What happened at that gig? I just remember it was really difficult.
Ben: From a technical standpoint.
Jonathan: We were all quite weak, like Liz is a good singer —
Liz: But I wasn’t.
Ben and Jonathan: You were.
Liz: We were all learning, like for instance I couldn’t sing a whole set without losing my voice. Because I was like “Oh I can’t hear myself, I guess I’ll sing louder.” And you just end up shouting.
Ben: We were trying to sing three-part harmonies, and play our instruments at the same time.
Liz: It took awhile to figure out how to do this.
Ben: It was an ambitious thing to start off with for a first gig.
Jonathan: One of my ambition early on in the band’s time was that I was gonna for the first time in my life play with my amplifier way too loud. I was gonna be antisocial and make a point of it. That went out the window when I started having to sing a lot, it stopped there pretty fast.
What had been your favorite place in Austin so far?
Jonathan: Arlo’s vegan burgers is pretty solid.
Ben: Yeah, yeah.
Liz: Yeah, that was pretty good. We went there two nights in a row and so I think I need a break.
Ben: I’m hanging out to look at the Capitol Building. We only saw it through the window of our cab.
Jonathan: Ben loves a good dome.
How would y’all describe Auckland?
Jonathan: It’s on an isthmus, which mean it has oceans on both sides, which is pretty unique.
Ben: It’s a unesco city of music.
Jonathan: It sure is, even though it’s pretty hostile to its music venues. But it is a beautiful city and a great place to see music.
Ben: There are beaches, fifteen minutes from the city center, amazing black sand beaches less than an hours drive from the city’s center.
Jonathan: It’s got great parks, volcanoes, a couple of good bridges.
Ben: Rangitoto volcano is dormant, and it sits right in the Waitemata Harbor right off of Auckland. So if you go to the Auckland museum they have a simulator of what would happen to the city if the volcano went off.
Liz: It’s terrifying, I like screamed.
Ben: They say it’s not gonna happen so it’s fine.
What is your favorite lyric from the album?
Liz: I can’t do this.
Jonathan: What’s your favorite child? It’s real tough. It depends on what mood you’re in, what you need to hear.
What is your favorite song to perform live?
Jonathan: “Uptown Girl,” which is not the Billy Joel song.
Liz: It’s our song.
Ben: We came up with that title independent of that song.
Liz: I like doing “Not Running.” I like doing any of the fast ones because there’s an element of everyone is playing really fast eighth notes and it feels like a sport or like you’re trying to balance something very delicate. If you trip up then the whole thing falls flat.
Where is your favorite place to get coffee?
Ben: I would say that one in Berlin.
Liz: It’s called The Barn?
Ben: Yeah I think you’re right Liz. The best and most expensive coffee we’ve ever had.
Jonathan: Yeah that’s right, I think it was six euros for a cup of coffee. The best coffee I can remember having.
What music are you guys listening to at the moment?
Liz: Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Phoebe Bridger’s “Better Oblivion Community Center.” It’s just a perfect combo for me. I’m a big fan of both of them separately so when that album dropped it was like, “This record is about ME.”
Jonathan: Dear Nora’s new record, I’ve been listening to that a million times. I think it’s incredible.
Tristan: I’ve been listening to the stuff in the van to be honest.
Ben: I’ve been listening to the new Death Cab record, it’s really great. And Bad Moon’s record, it’s been at the top of my list. A band from Washington D.C. called Bad Moons. We played a few shows with them on this last tour and their record sounds amazing.
Who are some local artists that you like from New Zealand?
Ben: Hans Pocket is a big one for us. We love them a lot.
Jonathan: The best band in New Zealand. Tiny Ruins also just put out a new record on Milk Records, an Australian label.
Liz: I’m gonna swerve and go with this artist from Christchurch called Pickle Darling. He kind of like lo-fi, emo sounding stuff.
Tristan: I really like Highly Unclear, just for emphemic, great guitar rock.
Check out ORANGE’s coverage of one of The Beths SXSW shows here. The Beths can be found on all social media platforms, and their album “Future Me Hates Me” is on Spotify.