INTERVIEW: THE BETHS
By: Maya Santow
In September of 2022, New Zealand indie band The Beths put out their most recent album, Expert In A Dying Field. In light of the band’s two sold-out shows at the Sinclair this past week, lead singer and songwriter Liz Stokes answered a few questions via email about the album, tour, and her own fields of interest.
Maya Santow (MS): Expert In A Dying Field features a careful balance of heartbreak, hope, and some light self-deprecation— themes that you’ve explored in your previous albums as well. Going into this project, did you have an idea of which way(s) the album would lean emotionally?
Not really. It’s hard to know what a body of work like that is ‘about’ until you’ve finished putting it together. I wrote a lot of songs, and we wittled them down to the twelve on the album. There is a sense that they fit together, but sometimes it’s hard to justify why. I know I tend to write about relationships, including my relationship with myself, which is often fraught.
MS: Expert’s album cover, designed by Lily Paris West, features a giant fish— is there a specific significance behind the fish?
Lily is amazing. We were working out concepts, and talking about the album title and what it made us think about. I like working with visual artists and being able to trust they are better at understanding that medium than I am. And it’s so interesting to show your art to someone and have them make something reacting to it. From the first time I saw that fish I just knew that was it. I am a sucker for things with faces. Why is he in that field? So many questions.
MS: I was lucky enough to have seen the band perform at Here and There Fest, Courtney Barnett’s curated touring festival, this summer at Mass MoCa. What was it like performing at a festival with a smaller, curated group of artists?
It was so great! Every artist was awesome and the vibe was really nice. When you are on tour, you usually don’t see many gigs, so festivals are a great opportunity to take off the musician hat for a couple of hours and instead just soak in some music.
MS: In the spirit of the album’s title, if you could study to become an expert in any other field besides music, what would it be?
Ooooh I’m not sure! I have always had an affinity for language, so maybe linguistics or going full polyglot or something would be fun. It is unlikely though haha.
MS: You and the band all met while studying at the University of Auckland, and many of our student readers at Boston University are also working on independent creative projects— in music or other forms of art. Do you have any advice for university students who are pursuing creative fields?
It’s hard to give broad advice like this, as everyone’s situation is so different. The advice that connected with me the most when I first started this band was Ira Glass’s ‘The Gap’ quote where he talks about the gap between your taste and your skill when you first start doing something, and the best way to close the gap is to do it a LOT. So I wrote a lot of songs, as many songs as I could. Lots of bad songs. But they started to get better, and I started to like them more. Eventually I had three demos I was happy with and sent them to my friends to start the band. I still use this approach when writing for a record.