The lead singer and guitarist Elizabeth “Liz” Stokes (“Liz is shorter,” she deadpans, “saves so much time”) for the Auckland-based indie pop band The Beths (self-titled after the frontwoman) chatted with me before embarking the next morning on their first U.S. tour since before the pandemic.
“We recorded ‘Jump Rope Gazers’ from the end of 2019, finished it and turned it in on March 6, 2020,” Stokes can now laugh about the timing. “We were already packed up and ready to go on tour in support of the record.”
We all know how March 2020 turned out. The Beths, like all of us, pivoted from their original plans, dabbling in live-streaming intimate shows. Because of the very different Covid conditions in New Zealand (fewer outbreaks, closed borders, immediate lockdowns when there were a cluster of cases and other more stringent efforts to curb the spread of the virtus), they were able to tour New Zealand — and New Zealand only — shortly after the release of the album. (Back in October 2020, The Washington Post covered The Beths’ NZ tour to contrast with the dire state of live music in the States.)
For those not familiar with New Zealand’s music scene, Auckland was designated as a UNESCO City of Music in 2017, and art-post-punk bands of the aughts such as The Naked and Famous and Die! Die! Die! originated in New Zealand. Meanwhile the post-punk Dunedin sound of the 1980s — jangly guitars and hazy vocals — inspired everyone from R.E.M. to Pavement to Mudhoney.
The Beths formed in 2015 with Stokes crediting Auckland’s “small, good music community.” Stokes met guitarist/producer Jonathan Pearce and bassist Ben Sinclair while in high school when they were all playing in their “respective okay high school bands.” Tristan Deck, a friend they met while studying jazz at Auckland University, rounds out the foursome as their drummer.
They released their debut EP “Warm Blood (2016),” and their 2018 debut full-length “Future Hates Me” led Viva (the arts and culture magazine of New Zealand Herald) to declare The Beths as “the next big thing in music.” Over the course of these albums, they have perfected their indie sound of power pop chords and neurotic lyrics bleeding through sugar sweet harmonies.
With their most recent album “Jump Rope Gazers,” they’ve matured into a sleeker sound. The album — recorded pre-pandemic — feels prescient with songs about emotional and spatial distance. (A taut jump rope is the perfect measure for socially distancing, and “Do You Want Me Now?” opens with “Long distance in the wrong distance.”)
“Because there’s been no international artists able to come in, there’s been a heavy focus on local music. All the summer music festivals were all filled with just New Zealand artists. A lot of people think that their local music scene is the best, but actually, ours is the best.” Stokes gushes.
She goes on to explain that they ended up playing more smaller towns and venues than they normally would during their 11 stop tour, making the national tour even more special.
She admits though it’s a relief to finally kick off this long awaited U.S. tour that began in Seattle on February 5, and sees The Beths heading to Black Cat on Friday, February 25.
“It’s strange that that’s the only tour we’ve done for “Jump Rope Gazers” which came out a year and a half ago. Our label CarPark Records is actually based in D.C., and we’ve always just had a lovely time in Washington, and we are just excited to be heading back on tour. ”
The Beths play Black Cat on Friday, February 25. Lunar Vacation and Weakened Friends open. You purchase tickets by visiting blackcatdc.freshtix.com/
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