The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Field Day 2010: Beth Jeans Houghton Interview
Jamie Bowman , July 27th, 2010 14:15

Beth Jeans Houghton plays the Village Mentality Stage at this year's Field Day. Here, she tells Jamie Bowman about escaping the kooky folk tag

Still only 19, Beth first came to the attention through support slots with Bon Iver, King Creosote and Tinariwen. It helped that she also had a sublime debut single 'Golden', produced by Adem, which somehow made sense of her wish to combine her love of glam rock, Nick Cave and the many various seventies female folk singers her stunning voice recalls, namely Vashti Bunyan.

I first came across her when she was seemingly plucked unaware from the crowd at 2008's Green Man Festival to sing with Devandrah Benhardt (more of which later) and seeing her at the same festival a year later sealed the deal as I began to bore everyone I saw with tales of this Geordie lass with the beautiful voice who wore wigs, high heels and had a song called 'Nightswimmer' which reminded me of the first time I ever heard Kate Bush.

Thankfully by the time I talked to her ahead of her appearance at this year's Field Day I had calmed down enough to discuss her forthcoming album, that Green Man appearance and men who sweat too much. She apologized for being out of breath as she'd just "been rapping."

Your biog on your website describes you as having been "born in Transylvania to a pack of albino werewolves" which led the Guardian stating you had "an excess of kook". Does the excess of kook perhaps detract from her music?

BJH: It has surprised me a bit the reaction to what I wear or don't wear and to be honest I think I might start toning it down a bit now. It's not that I mind people not liking what I wear. What I wear on stage is what I wear off it and I've always made my own clothes but I guess it does detract from people talking about the music and that really fucks me off. I suppose I come from a group of friends who were all bit eccentric and dressed up all the time but I didn't really realize that until we started touring. So yes I might stop dressing up quite as much – I suppose it's even harder for the boys [Beth's backing band The Hooves of Destiny] in their make up and matching outfits.

How do you see yourself in relation to the current crop of folk artists?

BJH: This whole folk thing is bollocks. I can understand that we sound a bit 'folky' with violins and mandolins but we've never really thought of ourselves as part of a scene or dressing like people who associate with it. Back in Newcastle we were never part of a scene. We just played where we could.

And yet I and thousands of others first saw you when you ended up on stage with Devendra Banhart at Green Man Festival? Lots of people still think that was staged somehow?

BJH: Well in a sense it was. I still get a lot of stick over this but I went to see Devandra play last week and he's still pulling people out of the crowd and people think it's staged. Basically I knew that he did this and I made sure I was right of the front of that gig and made sure I had a song ready. But he had no idea who I was. Even it had been staged people seemed to enjoy the song and that was what was important not the situation that surrounded it. I think sometimes people lose sight of what's important, same with the clothes I wear. I had a great time and I played a song. That's what's important.

Your songs often seem very personal and direct and yet you seem to constantly play down their importance with your stage banter. I heard you describe 'Nightswimmer' as about “a boy who sweats a lot.”

BJH: My songs are very personal. I find that if you write your own songs it's impossible not to dredge up a lot of your personal life which sometimes I'm not entirely happy to do. I don't want to always explain the songs too much, and you know, leave the audience to work it out themselves. 'Nightswimmer' was about a boy who I was in a relationship with who did sweat a lot but that's just the starting point and obviously there's a lot more in that song going on about the relationship we had but I don't always want to give too much of myself away.

It feels like your debut album has been a long time coming. Is there some kind of master plan ay work ensuring your success?

BJH: Hardly – I don't even have a record deal at the moment. It doesn't feel particularly different or a long process – I've only been doing this since I was 16 so I'm still a new artist to most people.

The decision to bring in a big name producer like Ben Hillier (Blur, Doves, Depech Mode) shows a bit of ambition though?

BJH: Because there hasn't been any record label involved we've had a bit more freedom and I was conscious I wanted to try something a bit different. He approached me and I have to admit at first I was like “no, no, no I don't like him”. In the end he's turned out to be perfect because he's brought a skill and quality to the recording while also letting me do what I want to do. The album was due to come out in September but I think it's been delayed now due to sickness. Not mine but Ben's.

You've said before that you want to make music that's “kind of like a tribe marching to war?”

BJH: It's not that I want it to provoke violence or anything but more that I want make music that drives you along. You know that feeling when you hear something and you get that feeling in your stomach and you're all in it together. It's hard to explain but that's the beauty of music isn't it?

Beth Jeans Houghton plays the Quietus Village Mentality Stage at the Field Day Festival in Victoria Park on July 31st