Head In The Clouds: Clash Meets The Beths

Liz Stokes on their new album, and thriving on chaos...

Their melodies have been compared to those of The Beatles and Phoebe Bridgers has described their music as bringing her “unbridled joy”.

Just a day after arriving back in New Zealand after touring the US, vocalist Liz Stokes fights her jet lag as she speaks to Clash about trying to finish an album while in lockdown in New Zealand, “overthinking” when it comes to songwriting (and life!) and missing chaos.

The third album from The Beths, ‘Expert In A Dying Field’, follows previous albums ‘Future Me Hates Me’ and ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ as well as a live album (“Auckland, New Zealand, 2020’). The 12-track album is a perfect mix of power-pop and scuzzy, guitar-heavy tracks. Despite being the only band member being interviewed, vocalist Liz Stokes wants to “shout out” her fellow bandmates. (The Beths are Elizabeth Stokes, Tristan Deck, Benjamin Sinclair and Jonathan Pearce).

“How does it feel / To be an expert in a dying field / And how do you know / It’s over when you can’t let go,” Liz asks on the title track, asking listeners to help her as she navigates life without a loved one. When it comes to songwriting, Liz draws from her own experiences but is also considerate of the feelings of others and, unlike other introspective lyricists, tries to understand things from opposing points of view, too. “I guess they are [autobiographical]. There’s a saying, you shouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. I feel like [the songs] all start as autobiographical. But there is an element of… I am also just trying to make a good song. And so sometimes you take from a lot of different places. Or maybe I’ll start the song from my perspective and then I’ll shift to… I’ll actually be doing it from the perspective of the person I’m singing about or something. I don’t know. I feel like they always come from a place of truth, though.”

Her ability to write songs can, admittedly, come from a place that is “navel gaze-y” (as she puts it) but there is a real skill to writing from the point of view of others and it is a skill Liz has a knack for. “I feel like it’s a product of overthinking, which is something that I do a lot of – just like experiencing something and rather than writing or thinking about that experience, the song… I spiral first. And think about it, around it and think about how, what it means about me, which is very navel gaze-y. You know, how it affects other people involved in stuff?”

While writing songs for the forthcoming album may not have been a huge, cathartic experience for Liz, it does help with clarity when it comes to some of the moments in her life. “It definitely makes it more obvious to me. When I look back at this body of work, this album that we’ve made and of songs that I’ve written, I feel like you can spot patterns in yourself that you can’t normally see.”

An example of this is the previous single ‘Knees Deep’ which came about as a result of the 2021 lockdown in New Zealand. It was a last-minute addition to the album and the band are pleased that it made it onto ‘Expert In A Dying Field’. Liz says: “We were recording this record, in 2021 and then in August 2021, in New Zealand… But we had a lockdown and we were making this album. And we were a bit unsure of where it was going or maybe we weren’t happy with where it was going. And we were going to take kind of a week off or two weeks off anyway, to just have some space from it. Then this lockdown happened and we were like, ‘Okay, this is a couple [of] weeks long, then we’ll get back into the album and have had some time to think and maybe I will write like one or two new songs’”.

The lockdown was much longer than they had anticipated – from August 2021 through to November 2021. “One of the songs I wrote during that time was ‘Knees Deep’ and that felt like a turning point. For the, for the record, I think it felt like the song that the album needed just kind of something upbeat and driving, that just pushed the whole way through and didn’t have didn’t stop and start. It was one of the later additions to the record, but I’m really glad that it happened.”

At times, the album can sound chaotic. Was this intentional? Liz explains that, while life has certainly been chaotic, there have also been times when things are a little dull and quiet, to say the least. There’s something to be said for a little bit of chaos. “There’s an element of, I think, the last couple of years, that’s been chaotic. But there’s also been elements, I think, for a lot of people, depending on what your life has been like, that were like, whatever the opposite of chaotic is, like really still, and monotonous. If you were at home for long periods of time… I feel like they were [the] times that I missed, I think the kind of chaos that you get in everyday life, there’s like things…things that you know, when when you’re going about living your life, you just encounter random randomness and you encounter things that will be different every day, which were things that I kind of missed, or maybe it was a product of trying to introduce a bit more chaos into our lives after that, but that might just be speculation. I don’t know…”

‘Expert In A Dying Field’ is out now.

Words: Narzra Ahmed
Photo Credit: Frances Carter

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