The Beths: Experts in Undying Harmony

When asked that long simmering question, “Is rock dead,” The Beths’ lead vocalist/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes has a particularly hot – and accurate – take on the matter.

“There is a certain kind of rock ‘n’ roll that maybe is dead, and maybe it’s better that it’s dead,” Stokes told Revue via Zoom while on tour in Europe last month. “Like the getting super wasted, and being really rich, and being a man and having no women playing the music, maybe that kind of rock ‘n’ roll is dead. But in terms of just a band playing electric guitars, I don’t think it’s ever died.”

Her band, and their brand of infectious indie-rock, embodies that other ethos – that rock can live on, well past the AI revolution, with earnest lyrics and meaningful human connection.

Currently touring in support of their latest critically-acclaimed album—last year’s Experts in a Dying Field—the New Zealand-based band has broken through internationally. With Rolling Stone describing them as “one of the greatest indie-rock bands of their time,” and online outlets like Pitchfork and The Ringer naming their 2022 release as one of the best records of the year, The Beths stand poised to take off as one of the genre’s new generation of stars.

Spending the rest of the summer and fall opening for legends like The National, The Postal Service, and Death Cab For Cutie—as well as playing a handful of headlining shows, including a stop at Bell’s Beer Garden on Aug. 22—the band continues to build their cred, while fellow female indie artists Courtney Barnett and Phoebe Bridgers, among many others, sing their praises, with the latter highlighting the title track to their 2020 album, Jump Rope Gazers, as one of the best love songs.

“There’s such a thing as a musician’s musician, and it means a lot when someone you really like, and you respect their songwriting, says they like (your music),” Stokes said. “It makes you want to just keep doing what you’re doing, and not feel like you have to change who you are.”

Who The Beths are is a group of four New Zealanders who first formed back in 2014. Stokes is joined by lead guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Pearce, bassist/vocalist Benjamin Sinclair, and drummer/vocalist Tristan Deck, and together the band shares their voices to create a classic power-pop sense of harmonic beauty. 

“I think our harmony is a reflection of our want as a band to be pitching in,” Stokes said. “That’s a goal that we have. Everybody being involved in the singing, even if we’re not amazing singers, which, when we started the band, we were all very rough. So we’re still learning.”

On Experts In a Dying Field, the band lyrically taps into a near universal anxiety many feel right now: namely what to do when you’ve lived life one way, only to have the world completely and suddenly change around you. The album’s title track is actually about the end of a relationship, and what to do with all that specific knowledge that comes from learning the closest parts of another person, but thematically it connects on multiple levels. 

“You write what’s in your head, and what’s in your head is fed by everything that you experience in the world,” Stokes said. “We’re all kind of experiencing a lot of weird stuff, and it just feels like you look around and you’re like, ‘What is going on? What is the world going to be like in five years?’ I have no idea.”

It’s not the first time the band’s music has been particularly prescient to present day problems, as their last album, Jump Rope Gazers, released in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, dealt with themes of social isolation. 

“It wasn’t about COVID because it was written before the pandemic started,” Stokes said. “But there was a lot in it about friendship and relationships and navigating the distance between people. And then suddenly it just felt extremely relevant.”

Living in New Zealand, which closed its borders at the beginning of the pandemic, Stokes shared how isolated they felt from the rest of the world at that time, but how close they felt with their home country and the close-knit community of other bands in it.

“It’s weird to talk about it because it’s so specific,” she said. “Every country will have a very specific story of how they got through it. But for us, as far as releasing an album during a pandemic and being a band during a pandemic, we were quite lucky. We were able to tour. We got a little bit of government support in terms of money, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

Delighted to return to the U.S., Stokes added that playing all over the world has always been part of her rock ‘n’ roll dream, which shows no signs of dying. 

“This was our ultimate dream, to play 50 cities in the world,” she said. “Just small venues. And not even necessarily fill them. But just to be able to do that was a dream fulfilled. And we’ve definitely done that and a lot more. So it feels like we should expand the dream a little bit.”

The Beths

Wsg. Disq

Bell’s Beer Garden, 355 E. Kalamazoo Ave., Kalamazoo

Aug. 22, Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m., $25 advance, 21 and older,