New Zealand indie-rock upstarts The Beths were one of last year’s breakout bands, thanks to their knack for teaming irresistible melodies with fiery guitar tones and insatiable pop-punk energy.
The band have spent 2019 touring the hell out of impossibly hooky debut album Future Me Hates Me, kicking off with a support slot for Death Cab For Cutie (fun fact: the band were actually soundchecking while we shot Death Cab’s portraits for their recent rig tour) and journeying across Europe, Canada and the US, before they cap off the year with a handful of gigs around their homeland.
Amidst their relentless schedule, singer, guitarist and namesake Elizabeth Stokes somehow found time to let us into her six-string world, revealing her love of Weezer, the allure of triple-humbucker Les Pauls and why you should always gig from the heart...
1. What was your first guitar and when did you get it?
“One of my older sisters gave guitar a go very briefly. It didn’t work out, so I inherited her three-quarter-sized cheapo classical guitar. I still have it, and later played it in my first band, to the dismay of various sound engineers trying to mic the thing.
“My first electric guitar was a Peavey Raptor that came with a Peavey Rage practice amp. My dad bought it for me when I had committed to learning guitar properly for a year, so I was 13.”
2. The building’s burning down - what one guitar do you save?
“Oh God, it would definitely be Jonathan [Pearce, co-guitarist]’s Les Paul. It’s a Goldtop ’78 Les Paul Deluxe, and is definitely more valuable and sentimental than any of my gear.”
3. What’s the one effects pedal you couldn’t do without, and why?
“The one pedal I love most is actually the one I am currently without. And it’s fine, haha. It’s a nondescript silver box containing a clone of a Little Green Wonder.
“It’s the first effects pedal I bought, specifically for The Beths. But it was playing up before we left, so I’ve replaced it with a Hot Cake for the time being. It’s my gentler distortion.”
4. Is there a guitar, or piece of gear, that you regret letting go?
“I haven’t had a chance to get rid of many things yet. I’ve been trying to sell my Epiphone Les Paul Custom G-400, but it holds such a soft spot in my heart it’s hard for me to let it go.
“I bought it mainly because of how badass it looked - three humbuckers! But it’s a bit over-powered for me. I will definitely miss it when it’s gone.”
5. And what’s the next piece of gear you’d like to acquire?
“I currently play a G&L Fallout, and I love the thing. It’s a Tribute series, though, made in Indonesia (like me!).
“I would love to own, or even just have a play on one of the American-made ones. They’re about four times the price, though, oof.”
6. What’s your favourite chord, and why?
“Hard question. Open E chord is so powerful, and I do love a chunky C power chord. But my hands always fall into the Fmaj7 using just the top four strings, ringing an open E. Don’t know why, it just feels comfortable.”
7. What’s the greatest guitar tone you’ve ever heard?
“Hard to go past Weezer. You can’t not air-guitar the solo break in Buddy Holly - it’s illegal!”
8. If you could have a guitar lesson from one guitarist, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
“I’ve never played in anything other than standard tuning. It’d be pretty interesting to have a lesson from Joni Mitchell and see how the way she plays in alternate tunings affects the way she writes and approaches music.”
9. What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
“We played the opening of a film festival. 45 minutes of apologetic loud guitar music after a heavy three-hour film. It was so uncomfortable. Then this old guy came up and yelled at us to stop - I thought there was an emergency. Turns out he was just a rich patron of the festival and was just a real entitled dick.
“We finished playing, and then I cried in the gear closet. I learned from that gig to not hold back; it doesn’t make the music somehow more palatable. It just made us sadder.”
10. What advice would you give your younger self about playing the guitar?
“I learned to play a lot of my favourite songs, but I wish I’d learned like 10 times as many.”