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Interview: Liz Stokes
Discussing The Beths' 'Expert In A Dying Field (Deluxe)' Double LP
The Beths’ Expert In A Dying Field was easily one of the best guitar pop albums of 2022.
For my money, no modern band is as skilled at blending smart indie rock, fuzzy alternative and elements of power pop to create something that feels new. Which is why I asked music journalist/author Annie Zaleski to write about the Auckland, New Zealand-based quartet for Remember The Lightning: A Guitar Pop Journal, Volume 1.
“The Beths are a perfect example of power pop’s wide-open future. They’re a band that isn’t beholden to (or trapped by) any particular era or sound, sees traditional form and structure as malleable, and makes the kind of music that’s in the ear of the beholder,” Zaleski wrote in her essay, “The Beths: Power Pop’s Wide-Open Future.”
So, I was thrilled to hear about the new Expert in a Dying Field (Deluxe) double LP (Carpark Records, Sept. 15) featuring two additional singles—“A Real Thing” and “Watching The Credits”—plus acoustic/demo versions of album tracks, and the “Keep The Distance” demo.
The additional material adds an interesting dimension to their critically-acclaimed third album, giving fans a glimpse into how The Beths’ songs evolve and a deeper understanding of Stokes’ artful songwriting.
I was particularly drawn to the acoustic version of "I Told You That I Was Afraid,” which Stokes described to me as “a mouthful to sing, a whole lot of words! It's nice to have a version where the lyrics take centre stage.”
I caught up with Stokes via email as The Beths continue on the latest leg of their international tour in support of Expert In A Dying Field. We discuss the deluxe edition of the album, Stokes’ songwriting process, what fans can expect from live set lists these days, and what the band is currently listening to on the road.
Liz Stokes Interview
How did this expanded version of Expert In A Dying Field come about?
Liz Stokes: It’s nice to celebrate! We aren’t sentimental enough, I always forget our album anniversaries. So it’s nice to celebrate the life that EIADF has had over the past year.
Was it difficult to revisit a highly-regarded project like this a year later?
Liz Stokes: Yeah, it was hard. Putting ‘A Real Thing’ and ‘Watching The Credits’ was an easy choice as they are both fully formed recordings that were made during the album recording process, but sharing demos is always scary for me. They are these very rough sketches, where I’m not thinking about sound quality or tidiness. But they are where the song lives its early life, so I hope it’s interesting to listen to.
‘Watching The Credits’ was supposed to be on the album until the very last minute, when we swapped it out for ‘I Told You That I Was Afraid.’ It just felt like a better fit.
‘I figure if you write 20 songs, you can choose the best 10.
And it allows you to write bad songs too, which you have to be able to do.’
— Liz Stokes
What's your personal relationship with the earlier demos once the final album version is out in the world?
Liz Stokes: It’s like looking at old photographs from when you were a kid. You’re like ‘I recognize that swing set’ and ‘I forgot I used to look like that.’
Of the demo versions included, do you have a favorite?
Liz Stokes: I listened to the demo for ‘Expert’ a lot after I had a made it, which is a little embarrassing (haha). But I really liked what I had made.
Sometimes liking the demo too much makes it harder to translate to full band though. You have to let that version go and allow the song to morph into something new, and usually something better.
Are you a prolific songwriter? Are you working on the next album?
Liz Stokes: I wish I was more prolific, but I’m probably about medium. I can’t seem to write on tour, and I’ve barely written anything in the last year. But I always try to write a lot when I’m making an album.
I figure if you write 20 songs, you can choose the best 10. And it allows you to write bad songs too, which you have to be able to do. I wish I could write 50 though, some artists can and I’m jealous.
The Beths are currently in the middle of extensive European and U.S. tours. Are the additional deluxe edition tracks influencing your set lists?
Liz Stokes: Yeah, we’re really enjoying playing ‘Watching The Credits,’ it is quite a challenge! It’s always quite high for me to sing, and then the last chorus has a key change up a tone so it just gets silly.
If I got on The Beths' tour bus, what music would I be listening to ?
Liz Stokes: It’s something different every day! Yesterday we did Kane Strang, Feist, Gorillaz, Beyoncé, Ben Folds Five and Ratboys.
We like albums. And I have been DJing a little bit, I bought a little Hercules Starlight controller that I use with Serato. I am bad at it, but it’s fun to be bad at things.
Remember The Lightning—A Guitar Pop Journal
A new semi-annual music journal featuring some of today's best music writers on modern guitar pop, and talented modern artists on the music/genres that inspire them.
James Goodson (of Dazy) on Being Power Pop-Adjacent
Annie Zaleski on the Beths
Mo Troper on Chris Bell's "I Am The Cosmos"
Rob Nesbitt (of the Suitesixteen) on the Exploding Hearts
S.W. Lauden on the Whiffs (Our debut cover models!)
Mary E. Donnelly on Sloan
John M. Borack on Juniper
Paul Myers on Tinted Windows
Mike Randle on Popsicko's Off to a Bad Start
David Laing on Power Pop's Country Roots
PLUS: Custom Cover Art By Brian Walsby