With the honk of a comedy horn, the shot cuts to a wobbly phone camera, led around the room by a hand which is holding a chocolate biscuit and lunging towards the mouths of both audience and band. ‘Snack Cam’ might seem a weird proposition in the real world but this is The Beths’ wildly exuberant cosmos, where sampling local delicacies on tour has become such a habit, that to ignore it would be a glaring omission from their latest set. Welcome to the world of The Beths TV. On Cable. In Stereo.
It is episode 4 of the Auckland band’s monthly House live streams, and their final serving peers out from under the covers of lockdown with one simple premise: good chat, good tunes, and good times. Broadcasting from within the peppermint walls of guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s Tāmaki-makau-rau production studio into the front rooms of the world via YouTube, each 40-minute session is an intimate DIY hangout with The Beths in their natural habitat – and a closer listen to the inner consciousness of vocalist and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes.
“It’s really early,” she tells the 15 or so friends who have gathered before them in the form of an awkward school photo line-up. Viewers at home might disagree; it is 10am Auckland time but 11pm in the UK and that ‘Snack Cam’ biscuit is looking less like elevenses and more like a bedtime bite. In fact their stash of crisps, apples and cake would suggest apocalyptic bunker rather than studio, and a band just as prepared for impending Armageddon as they would be for a midnight feast.
With cables snaked around the floor and all wearing headphones, Liz runs through the script with Jonathan, bassist Benjamin Sinclair on the left, and drummer Tristan Deck in the corner behind her. Together, in their cocoon of makeshift soundproofing from what appears to be a collection of covered mattresses and upturned sofa cushions, The Beths have become their own production crew as the cameras roll on their inverted entertainment show. Observing every angle of the room as the view rotates 360 degrees to show bunches of flowers, bird artwork, various technical stations and special guests, music lovers from across the miles are invited to join the fun and revel in The Beths’ organised chaos, with more than a hint of ‘90s morning TV programme The Big Breakfast.
As the camera pans to the audience grinning and bobbing their heads from side to side, the band strum the cool, breezy riffs of indie-pop opener Dying To Believe with buoyant charm and receive rapturous applause. Taken from The Beth’s new record Jump Rope Gazers on Carpark Records, the follow-up to their 2018 debut LP, the House party doubles as album launch. Treated to a sneak preview of the title-track’s video, stickered with Day-Glo Beth TV icon and live chat over the top like a Beavis and Butthead outtake, the live rendition is dreamy with the more tender touch of Wolf Alice. “It’s very emotional… I’m sorry about that,” apologises Liz, introducing the song before singing through her atypically clenched-teeth whilst the band’s Beach Boys harmonies chime in and a ‘Hot New Track’ gif animation blazes in the top right corner of the screen to indicate a Beths’ exclusive.
In fact harmonies is a hot topic of conversation; between songs The Beths respond to their socially distanced audience’s questions via Callum in the ‘Question Time!’ corner, such as ‘what’s everyone’s favourite breakfast egg’ or ‘where do the harmonies come from?’ “From my brain,” Liz suggests with a smile as laughter erupts around the room, and no doubt, in front of screens worldwide.
As in earlier episodes between chats about Animal Crossing, masking tape, making ginger beer and with spinning pineapple face animations, there are live performances of songs from their first album Future Me Hates Meand the acoustic first House session which aired at the height of lockdown when Liz and Jonathan performed as a duo. Now reunited as a full band with audience, Little Death builds to the early ‘90s lo-fi indie-pop they’ve become known for whilst the hooky Great No One recalls the familiar C86 vibes of The Pastels and the driven jangling Britpop of Echobelly with fresh two-thousands style.
Their set is broken up with more inspired features; ‘Time Zone Check!’ has become a favourite in the chatrooms of their earlier streams and there are even interviews with special guests; Philippa Emery, the artist behind Jump Rope Gazers’ joyfully surreal artwork reveals how nostalgia, relationships and incorporating text into the artwork was integral to her own creative process. The session’s tech team and video producer pals Callum and Annabel of Sports Team, with director of photography Samuel, discuss their film-making method and share how the track’s ‘alien meets girl’ concept came about during a daily recommended lockdown walk.
With accidental Fight Club style subliminal messaging, the screen occasionally blinks to black with the phrase ‘looking for the phone’ and an illustration of a cat napping only reinforces the band’s motto of nothing but light-hearted quality control, before ‘Snack Cam’ and a banana bitten by many mouths makes one final interruption. “New Zealand is currently completely Covid free, I’m sorry if that stressed you out,” laughs Liz as Ben removes the plectrum stuck to his forehead, ready to satisfy everyone’s appetites once more with their irrepressibly cheerful ‘Uptown Girl.’ “Our new album’s out, we’re really proud of it; a big thanks to the whole universe,” Liz says and raises a glass, as the universe stays turned on, tuned in and ready to pop-rock out.
During the performance, The Beths showed their support for Black Lives Matters; namely the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which protects and defends the human rights of Black Transgender people in the US and PARS (People at Risk Solutions), an Aotearoa Not for Profit that delivers a range of specialist services to prisoners, released prisoners, deportees from overseas, at risk youths and their whānau. Just The Type joins them in asking that you please check out these important causes and consider donating to them if you can. Thank you.