- Publish Date
- Thursday, 9 August 2018, 3:48PM
"I'm getting homesick," Elizabeth Stokes tells me over a fragile phone line from a small town in Spain. Because we have a mutual friend - my brother - who works at Whammy Bar, we've been talking about the Karangahape Rd institution where Stokes' band The Beths regularly hangs out.
Stokes is in Spain with the rest of The Beths following their European tour; after their last show in Barcelona, they retreated to Chelva, a small mountain village where friend and fellow Kiwi musician Scott Mannion lives. "I'm doing some writing," says Stokes. "I haven't really put more thought into it than that. I just haven't done as much writing lately with touring, and everything."
"Everything" might allude to The Beths' debut album Future Me Hates Me, which finally arrives tomorrow. The four-piece started working on the songs at the end of 2016, and recorded it over the course of last year at bandmate Jonathan Pearce's studio on K Road.
"Like everyone in New Zealand, if you're in a band, everyone's got a job, so we were just kind of making it whenever we could get round to it," says Stokes. "It took a while."
When I ask Stokes and Pearce what Future Me Hates Me might be about, Stokes replies: "I should have come up with an answer to this question by now. The songs aren't completely unrelated, but the thing that draws them together is, I guess, that I wrote them during two years in my mid-20s, and maybe that is interesting? I don't know."
It is. Stokes' songwriting is extraordinary; each Beths song races along with an infectious energy and searing wit. But Stokes also keeps things grounded, her narratives often referencing the mundane details of everyday life – she'll as happily sing about heartbreak as she will about putting the bins out.
"I tend to keep things really general," she says. "But you can strike a balance. When it's a little bit vague, and somebody listens to it, they're not thinking about you, they're thinking about them. Which I think is good. But also, people aren't that vague – you can get quite specific and still connect with more people I suppose. I think details are important and relatable."
Pearce agrees; "I think it's much more interesting to say, 'I cried in the kitchen', rather than 'I cried and I cried'."
"Yeah," says Stokes. "Maybe it's like word painting, but taking a real emotion and putting it in a physical place, rather than a hypothetical one."
Future Me Hates Me's Silver Scroll-shortlisted single of the same name is a perfect introduction to Stokes' songwriting. It's a spiralling internal dialogue of someone initially backing away from love for fear of getting burned – but eventually surrendering to the chaos.
"People aren't so one dimensional that when they think about something they're like, 'well, I shouldn't do this', and then just leave it at that," says Stokes. "You always think all the way around, and from the top, and underneath, and you're doing it all simultaneously when you're dealing with anything.
"You can see your own decision-making get worn down over the course of something," she continues. "I like the story of, 'it won't happen again...' and then, 'it probably won't happen again'. I just thought that was really funny to put in a song. There is an ellipsis, and a reply to yourself."
The Beths are slated to play The Others Way festival at the end of August and say they'll have some New Zealand tour dates coming up later this year. Stokes says she loves playing live – partially because there's little room for the awkwardness of conversation.
"I feel more comfortable on stage than going offstage afterward and having normal conversations," she says. "I'm pretty shy. Because you know the rules on stage, but when you go offstage you're like, 'oh no, where's the structure?' I don't know what I'm going to be doing for the next four and a half minutes."
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.