The Beths © YouTube

Covid-19 sucks ass, but The Beths still kick ass

In the midst of the Corona pandemic, The Beths released a new album and skug asked them a few questions and promptly got answers. Although their statements have been reproachfully glancing into the interviewers’ eye from the editing desk for about two months, their meaning hasn’t changed a bit.

While the Corona pandemic has temporarily transformed Western society into a kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare dystopia, The Beths have still managed to release a brand-new record, titled »Jump Rope Gazers«. So, skug hooked up with these fearless individuals, who shot their answers out of their fortresses quicker than Trump will be kicked out of office. Elizabeth Stokes, with her catchy introspective tunes, makes you feel like you’re hanging out with her and moaning about life and existence. She seems like the kind of person you can hang out with at a party, watching other people play beer pong. Or just get out of there and gaze at the stars. Look, it’s easy to fall in love with her a little bit, okay? In love with her AND her wonderful music! Okay: back to reality. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and Elizabeth Stokes, front woman of the group, talks about The Beths’ new album and how New Zealand is dealing with the whole corona situation which is not unimportant now.

skug: How was working for you on the new album? Did Covid-19 already influence the writing process?
Elizabeth Stokes: Well, we started recording in November of last year and handed in the fully finished album at the very start of March, so it was all done and dusted before Covid really began to turn our worlds upside down. We briefly considered delaying the album, but it felt like the album still made sense in whatever the new world was going to look like, so after a lot of discussion we decided to go ahead with it.

The lyrics and music on the new album are perhaps even more introspective and melancholy than before. I guess touring and being thrown back on oneself had an influence on you?
Yeah, it’s hard to remember what you were like three or four years ago. I wonder, am I a more melancholic person than I was before? Did I use to be more fun and less of a bummer? Maybe, and maybe that is just showing itself through the music I write. But yeah, our lifestyles have all changed a lot, and we’ve become a lot closer as a band. So maybe I’m just more comfortable letting the Debbie Downer that was in me all along finally shine through lol.

The beautiful song »Do You Want Me Now«, for example, is about relationships at a distance. Has anything changed for the better in this respect since the tour? Or does not seeing your friends just drive you crazy?
Well, it’s strange, now we are all at home for the next while, which wasn’t the plan for this year (we were going to be straight back on the road). And a lot of family and friends who lived overseas have come home to NZ too, because of Covid, so it’s weirdly nice to be around lots of people we’ve missed a lot and actually spend time together. I’m trying to really appreciate it and not take this for granted. But we still have many friends who are overseas, and times are so rough right now and I desperately wish we could see them or make things better for them.

How has life and especially playing in a band changed for you since Covid-19?
We are extremely lucky that in NZ we can play shows safely, so to be able to tour locally is a huge privilege. It’s still a massive change from what we would have been doing this year though. Promoting an album internationally without an album release tour is pretty difficult, so we have kind of had to make a lot of like… content? It’s weird, and not what you hope you’ll be doing as a musician (which for us is playing gigs), but we’ve been trying to find ways to express ourselves. We made music videos and did a live stream on YouTube to celebrate each single release and the album release; those were a lot of work but ended up being quite fun in the end, and each one kind of feels like a time capsule.

What’s the situation regarding Covid-19 in NZ? Do artists like you get financial support?
We’ve been extremely lucky in NZ, thus far we have been supported by the Wage Subsidy which the government made available for anyone whose income was affected by Covid-19. That finishes up at the end of July. There are also lots of creative funds you can apply for. There was one from Creative NZ to top up the Wage Subsidy to bring it up to minimum wage. There is NZ Music Commission, who normally can assist with overseas touring, who have pivoted to helping bands tour locally or make content that will help promote the band overseas, like live streaming etc. And NZ On Air, who fund commercial music and music videos, had their budget increased so they could fund twice as many artists as usual. Venues and music workers have also gotten some support. We are so lucky that our current government views the arts as something worthy of existing and protecting.

How is your personal daily routine in isolation?
Well we’re not in isolation anymore, but our isolation routine was pretty good. Jonathan and I live together. We would do one big shop, real good meal planning. I’d go out for either a run or a walk every day and listen to an audiobook. The park near our flat is next to the zoo, and there’s a fence that borders the back of the elephant enclosure, so on a good day you might get a glimpse of the ellies. We cooked every night, my favourite was probably this Sichuan Mala noodle recipe. And then the rest of the time I was playing Animal Crossing and visiting my flatmate’s island to sell fruit or turnips.

How do you deal with the cancelled tour?
With our US tour in April that we had to cancel, by the time we finally announced it was cancelled (or postponed?) it was kind of a relief. But it didn’t feel good. What was worse was seeing it happen not just to you, but to every artist you know at once. People mid-tour having to get home, people whose breakthrough opportunities were now on hold indefinitely… It was a pretty sad time.

Considering all the stress and complications of these times, how do you manage to stay so consistently upbeat with your music?
I’m glad we seem consistently upbeat haha, it’s really been quite up and down. Having an album release to plan towards has given us something to focus on and keep working towards throughout everything. We’ve been pretty busy, but now the album is out there is some quiet, which is scary. We’re always looking ahead though, three months, six months, a year… what’s going to keep us busy. For now, we’re just enjoying playing music together again. Working the new songs into the set is very challenging, so that will keep us occupied for a while.