In the (admittedly kind of ambitious) hope that everything goes according to plan, this November will see The Beths make their long-awaited return Down Under.
It feels like a solid decade since we last saw the Aotearoan pop-rockers jam their hearts out on local soil. It was October of 2019, Sydney’s beloved Crowbar was teeming with excitement, and every lovably quirky hook and ultra-catchy chorus struck with the energetic aplomb of an Olympic gymnast. The band were set to make their massively hyped return back in June – this time with their exceptional new album, last year’s Jump Rope Gazers, in tow – but mere days out from the tour kicking off, a spike in local COVID numbers meant they were forced to pull the plug. Things haven’t exactly gotten much better since then (especially not here in Sydney), but there’s still hope The Beths will be able to pull off their rescheduled dates for early November.
In the meantime, the band are about to drop their first ever live album, snagged right from the soundboard at their landmark hometown show in Auckland’s idyllic Town Hall. The sold-out gig took place last November and featured what might just be the sharpest setlist The Beths have ever scribbled up. Honestly, having the heady and hypnotising title track from Jump Rope Gazers lead straight into the colourful disarray of ‘Uptown Girl’ is… Well, it’s not a choice we’d have been brave enough to make ourselves – but having listened to the bluntly titled Auckland, New Zealand, 2020, we can happily confirm that it actually works pretty goddamn well. And then you’ve got the triple-hit closing salvo of ‘Little Death’, ‘Dying To Believe’ and ‘River Run, Lvl 1’… Man, the amount of unspeakable things we’d do to witness such life-affirming brilliance in the flesh.
Before the record drops this Friday – alongside an equally wonderful film whipped up by longtime collaborators Annabel Kean and Callum Devlin (aka Sports Team) – we caught up with frontwoman Liz Stokes to vibe on anything and everything to do with live music.
What is the best non-Beths show you’ve ever been to?
Back in 2015 I flew from Auckland to Melbourne to see Jenny Lewis. I was such a huge fan of her music, solo and with Rilo Kiley, and she wasn’t coming to New Zealand so some friends and I flew over. We arrived at the venue and I just high-tailed it to the front by myself, cried for the whole set and caught a yellow rose that she threw into the audience (which I dried and still have). I had grown up with those songs, and was still growing up with them. Finally hearing them live and experiencing that show at that moment, when I had just ended a particular part of my life, just felt like a kind of closure. I am really grateful that those songs were written and that I got to live in them for a while.
Of the approximately 3,746,291,409 shows The Beths have played thus far, what would you say has been the most memorable?
It’s hard to remember things, my brain’s a bit fried. We played a pair of shows at the Hollywood Cinema in Avondale, in our hometown of Tamaki Makaurau in November 2019, and they just felt triumphant. We had played like 250 shows in the last 18 months and the songs felt easy and fun, and there were lots of friends and family there – as well as a lot of people we didn’t know – who were singing very loudly. And the next day we started recording Jump Rope Gazers. I am just realising that those shows were nearly two years ago and now I am sad.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had offstage? Do you guys get up to many adventures on the road?
Do we ever! A little bit. It’s usually pretty all-consuming work: we get up early, drive all day, set up, play, pack out, sleep somewhere, and repeat. We got a few days off in Perth in 2019, and we went to Rottnest Island and biked around and saw quokkas and even some whales. I know, it sounds pretty cool right? We’re a very cooooool band. But honestly, any downtime that can be spent either spending quality time with nice people or exploring nature is usually the best way to have a good time – if we’ve got the energy. We only occasionally get up to any debauchery, and I don’t like to talk about that because I am deeply ashamed.
What’s one place you’ve always wanted to play, but haven’t yet had the chance to?
I would love to play in Indonesia. I’m half Indonesian – my mum is from Manado and I was born in Jakarta. We moved to Australia and then to New Zealand when I was a little kid. It would mean a lot to me – and to my mum, too – if we were ever to play there.
On that note, what’s an artist you’ve always wanted to see live?
I’d love to see Ella Fitzgerald sing. I don’t think I would recover.
“At festivals (and in support slots), there’s an element of trying to win a new audience over, which is a dynamic that can be quite fun to explore.”
Who would you say is physically incapable of putting on a bad show?
My friend’s band Wax Chattels is one that I will drop anything to see live. They’re like… Noisy-post-punk? Even if that’s not normally your thing, their live sets are just hypnotising and exhilarating and great. Sometimes my face really does melt. If they come to your town, you should definitely go. Remember to bring earplugs, though, and a container for your face.
Do you prefer festivals or headline shows?
It’s apples and oranges. You know, I prefer oranges in the summer and apples for the rest of the year. Just kidding, I don’t really like fruit. They both have their pros and cons. Headline shows mean a lot because people have come specifically to see you. There’s more pressure to deliver, but it’s also more rewarding. Festivals feel slightly lower-pressure on that front (we’re not usually the headliner), but are also very adrenaline-inducing as you usually get like 15 minutes to set up all of your gear, then dive straight into a 40-minute set of only bangers. Also at festivals (and in support slots), there’s an element of trying to win a new audience over, which is a dynamic that can be quite fun to explore. As a punter, I prefer a headline show.
What’s your favourite song to play from The Beths’ own catalogue?
Playing ‘Little Death’ is always fun. It’s such a journey from start to end, and it’s so fast, so playing it all together as a band feels like the four of us are on one skateboard, riding down a steep hill – one mistake could be a disaster. But somehow we always make it to the bottom safely and get to celebrate with some big fuzzy hits at the end.
What’s your all-time favourite live album?
Bee Gees – One Night Only. Isn’t it everyone’s?
What goes into your decision-making process when it comes to lining up a support act for a tour?
We usually pick a band who has expressed interest, whose music we like, and who seem like they would be a nice hang.
What’s one thing you always need to have on your rider?
We aren’t big enough to have an outlandish rider, I’m afraid. The biggest ask is an electric kettle, which is a given in some places but completely elusive in others – lookin’ at you, America. The kettle is for tea and for steaming my voice when it’s rough from singing (if there is a science that says this does nothing, please don’t tell me). Maybe one day, though, we’ll be a big enough band to ask for a ping-pong table in the green room… It’s nice to dream.
The Beths 2021 Australian tour dates
Thursday November 4th, 2021 – Factory Theatre, Sydney NSW
Friday November 5th, 2021 – The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
Saturday November 6th, 2021 – The Night Cat, Melbourne VIC
Tickets: Secret Sounds