We are quick to denigrate the ‘burbs, and yet, they persist—you can travel the globe and still end up on the outskirts of a city, staring at lawns, houses, picket fences, and upwardly mobile couples with 2.5 children. They’re odd places: secure yet not quite representative of the world at large. And, more often than not, they’re pretty lame. For many of us, that works.
“I grew up deep in the suburbs of East Auckland, a very uncool place, which suited me,” says Beths vocalist Liz Stokes. “Jonathan (Pearce), our guitarist and producer, went to the same high school as me. Ben (Pearce, vocals and bass) and Tristan (Deck, drums and vocals) grew up slightly more central, but we all managed to find each other through the music scene. We all still live in Auckland and love it; I don’t think any of us harbor much ambition to live anywhere else.”
The Beths are some of the countless musicians that have emerged from the suburbs—in no small part because of the environment itself, and in part because of the unique aspects of life in New Zealand.
“There’s a great spectrum of music being made, we really love it there,” says Stokes. “It must be some combo of being so isolated at the bottom of the world, and with quite a small music ‘industry,’ and a real DIY spirit that runs deep in the culture”.
That spirit applies to Stokes, who didn’t come from a musical family and had to learn how to play music herself.
“My family isn’t musical really, but I had a hankering and a knack for it early on, but didn’t start properly learning instruments until I started high school,” says Stokes. “I got some guitar lessons, then dove into ultimate guitar tabs.”
After learning guitar on her own, Stokes and her friend started a cover band. It wasn’t your typical cover band that rips through classic rock songs on a Friday night at your local bar either.
“We would go busking at the local mall and play Jenny Lewis covers,” Stokes says.
The Jenny Lewis cover band was short-lived, as Stokes went to university with her future bandmates and put more focus on making original music. Stokes also taught trumpet to kids in New Zealand, and it was a job that she loved.
“Consequently, teaching trumpet at schools was the highest paying consistent work I could get in the city,” says Stokes. “It was a pretty sweet job, I could work 18 hours a week and still had time to do rehearsals and gigs. I had to get very good at visualizing and describing what’s going on in the inside of someone else’s mouth. It’s a bit of a black box, and when someone is playing with a terrible sound, there is a trouble-shooting process.”
The type of music that Stokes taught for a living is totally different than the music that she currently plays for a living, and it’s evident in the debut album for the Beths, Future Me Hates Me, which is full of guitar hooks. It’s an album that Stokes is still amazed by today.
“It’s a special record, I think. It’s so wild to me that people are still discovering it for the first time,” says Stokes. “We made that record slowly, I mean, this was kind of a side project. I think the earliest song on the record was written in 2014, and the album came out in 2018. We recorded it in Jon’s studio space over odd weekends and evenings. We had been playing the songs live for ages by the time we tracked them; Jonathan was researching and reading so much about engineering and mixing and learning so much. By the time it was done in late 2017, we were proud of it and knew we had made something good.”
On Sept. 16, the Beths will be releasing their third album, Expert in a Dying Field, and the process for the recording of that album was rewarding for the band, and different than previous recordings.
“It feels great to make a third album. I feel like there was less pressure than for the second, and we also had more time. Because… y’know,” explains Stokes. “Anyway, we really feel good about this one too. We’ve all put a lot of ourselves into it, we’re all better musicians, Jonathan is so good at making records now, I worked hard on the foundation of songwriting… It means a lot to us, and playing a few of the songs here and there on this tour has felt great.”
The Beths will be playing some songs from the record at Asbury Park on Aug. 26 at the Lanes including “Silence is Golden” and “Expert in a Dying Field.” So far the band has seen a positive reaction with playing these songs live.
“They are so different. ‘Silence’ feels like a manifestation of pent-up stress with this tense riff, and ‘Expert’ starts off as one of our more contemplative songs that turns into one of our more cathartic,” explains Stokes. “They both feel like new avenues of sound exploration for us, but still very much in the Beths zone.
“The ones we’ve played have really been proving themselves, which isn’t always the case. Translating a song to the live set after recording it can be a challenge. They’re hard, but we like that. We’re all at our limits playing and singing this music.”
The Auckland-based band is looking forward to playing their first show in the Garden State, and are excited to check out the Jersey Shore.
“Apologies for taking so long to get here! I confess I don’t know very much about New Jersey,” says Stokes. “But I understand there are some beautiful beaches? Which sounds pretty good to me, we can’t wait.”
The Beths will be playing at Asbury Lanes on Aug. 26. Ticket information can be found here.