the beths's ebullient pop punk is the sound of the summer
Get a first listen of the New Zealand quartet's brilliant debut album, 'Future Me Hates Me,' streaming exclusively on i-D.
Photography Mason Fairey
New Zealand pop punk band The Beths are currently living in a villa in Chelva, a town in the Spanish woodlands with a population of less than 2,000 people. The closest city is Valencia, about 45 miles away. They’re in Chelva not to write or record music, but because a fellow Kiwi musician lives there and they thought, well, why not live in the woods for two months? As lead songwriter Liz Stokes explains, “We finished touring at the end of June. Our last show was in Barcelona [and] we weren’t going to go back to New Zealand between tours because it’s so expensive. We knew we were going to do two tours, so we thought we’d just stay here in Chelva.”
The band’s debut album, Future Me Hates Me (streaming exclusively on i-D below), is out August 10 via Carpark Records, and Rolling Stone has already named single “Happy Unhappy” one of its “songs of the summer,” alongside Cardi B’s “I Like It” and Drake’s “Nice for What?”
Like a lot of 20-somethings, Liz and her bandmates (Jonathan Pearce, Benjamin Sinclair, and Ivan Luketina-Johnston) came of age during the wave of emo that swept the world in the early 2000s. My Chemical Romance, Brand New, and Fall Out Boy were all big influences, and when Liz pondered the idea of starting a rock band (after several years of playing wizard-inspired folk music) she was immediately drawn to the music that defined her youth, rather than the music she studied in jazz school.
But Future Me Hates Me isn’t just an emo record. In fact, Liz argues it’s not really emo at all — “we don’t get emo that much,” she says. Songs like “You Wouldn’t Like Me”, “Happy Unhappy” and “Whatever” are intended to be sincere, but they also have a hint of sarcasm that comes from a style of Kiwi humor that’s both self-deprecating and unintentionally dry. And at times it can be hard to figure out just where they draw the line. Do they really think they’re going to look back and hate themselves? Are they happy or unhappy, about a recent breakup? But if you ever needed proof that The Beths are serious, the evidence jumps right out at you. The guitar riffs are huge, the backing vocals make you want to add your voice to every chorus, and there’s just enough Kiwi slang to get you clicking through to Urban Dictionary.
From their cosy pad in Chelva, Liz and Jonathan discuss finding an audience for their music via Reddit, how they apply jazz training to rock music, and why their favorite street in Auckland is a haven for creativity.
What specifically within the jazz discipline did you study? And how have you applied that to The Beths?
Liz: I studied jazz performance on the trumpet. I’ve thought about this, because I don’t know for sure if it’s influenced my writing, but when I write melodies and when I think of them, I think it was influenced by the time I spent on a single line instrument working out the sounds that I liked, and where I’d prefer the melodies to go and end. Even now, if I’m singing a melody in my head, I’m doing things with my fingers to get the intervals. So I feel like it maybe developed where I wanted my melodic ideas to go.
You grew up on a diet of 2000s pop punk and emo. Is your own songwriting influenced by nostalgia?
Liz: I think it is, but I wish it wasn’t, and that I was forward-thinking and a revolutionary. I wanted to write the kind of music that made me feel [things] when I was younger, and a lot of it was from that time. Bands like Rilo Kiley and Fall Out Boy.
You toured the US for the first time this summer. What surprised you most about the US music scene?
Liz: In terms of venues to play at, I was looking at small venues and I’d constantly stumble across bands that I love — bands that I thought were huge. New Zealand just doesn’t have that many bands at that level, like mid-sized successful touring bands... that middle layer of bands that are the bread and butter of US venues. That was new to me.
Jonathan: It’s definitely an interesting part of growing as a band. You can try and work on your sound and your approach, and try and change your band to fill these bigger places, or maybe you don’t, and instead you try to fill these small club-sized venues in 50 different cities around the world. We don’t necessarily have stadium band ambitions, but we do have the ambition to fill 50 clubs in the world with jangle pop music.
Was filling venues outside of New Zealand something you set out to achieve when you started The Beths?
Liz: The thing that triggered it was that our first video went viral — I say that with huge air-quotes — on a subreddit, and in one day jumped up to 25,000 views on YouTube. For a New Zealand band, that’s a lot of views in one go. Just through that alone we made it onto Spotify playlists, and suddenly we had a global audience. Suddenly people in other countries were listening to us and there was this creeping growth that started to happen. It planted the seed that maybe we could go other places.
You have a song called “Uptown Girl.” Can you describe the New Zealand version of an ‘Uptown Girl’?
Liz: For me, uptown is Karangahape Road (K Road), because it’s literally uptown. So I guess an uptown girl is someone on K Road getting drunk.
Jonathan: We definitely shoehorned the name “Uptown Girl” onto the song, in that it doesn’t feature in the song. It’s simply shoehorned in there to facilitate a silly joke.
For people who don’t know about K Road, how would you describe it?
Liz: It feels like our home. It’s literally where we were living. Jonathan’s studio is next to the food court, which is across the road from the two churches of Auckland underground music — Whammy Bar and The Wine Cellar. And then right behind them you have the Audio Foundation, which is where all the experimental music and freaky jazz takes place. From going on tour, it seems like there is a K Road in every city, and in every city it’s gentrifying.
Jonathan: In my mind, it’s the music mainstreet of New Zealand, and it might well be the alternative art mainstreet of New Zealand as well. It’s definitely gentrifying, but at the same time I feel like another thing is happening, which is that the non-conforming folks, who have for a longtime occupied K Road, are becoming a bit more accepted. It’s maybe a bit friendlier, even though it’s getting more exclusive. I think K Road is a bit of a gem. I disagree with Liz on this point [that there’s a K Road in every city]. It’s so concentrated and has a reasonably small population. You see everyone you expect to see on a regular basis there. It’s small and it’s special because of that. You can almost throw a sheet over five or six pretty important venues in Auckland, on that street, and I don’t think it’s quite the same in other places.