Beth Jeans Houghton interview: “I hate London”
Falling from the limelight is often damaging to any artist and devastating at the start of a career. Yet for Beth Jeans Houghton the rise of the Marling’s and the Welch’s, while the Sheeran’s took our dollar, couldn’t have been better.
Hougton’s style always tilted towards the credible outsiders of singer songwriters, St Vincent and Jesca Hoop, with early shows kicking with footlights of folk’s Oprey. So while the Radio 2 darlings thrived, she dismantled the quirky folk banner to refine her magnificent debut album Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, in to a sample filled big band rumpus.
She’s emerged as a conflicting artist with a dislike of London’s scale, yet content with L.A’s sprawling metropolis, and brazenly individualistic while inseparable into her band the Hooves Of Destiny who she places on a an equal billing. As Houghton’s momentum finally builds we spoke to her about leaving her past and excitable pride at releasing an album.
How does it feel to finally have an album coming out?
It’s exciting just for the fact it’s taken so long to get to this point and more of a relief I guess to know it’s finally coming out. We’ve been in suspended animation for a long time.
Why did it take so long?
There were many delays, just boring stuff; negotiating contracts and people who were meant to be signing contracts getting sick. But it’s been beneficial in a sense to give us more time to work through songs and figure out how were going to do them live.
So what are your songs about?
Life experiences from the heart and whatever’s happened to us and the situations we’ve been through. Everywhere we’ve been, everything we’ve been through and everyone we’ve ever met. You take influences from the world and then you put that into a song.
Are there any specific song-writing processes you go through?
I don’t consciously strive to find a melody; I will just have an idea. I can’t sit down and think I’m going to write a song, it just happens. I think if we force songs to sound like how we think it should sound, it would just be boring. I also think we wouldn’t enjoy it if we had any structure in writing.
How was it working with Ben Hiller?
It was really good, we were really lucky to have found him. We all had a good dynamic and he’s really open to new experiences and trying to make to music the way we wanted it to sound. He’s not at all condescending; he was just out to make a really good record without an ego or trying to put a certain stamp on it. It was a very freeing experience.
Why did you choose him?
He just seemed like a good egg I guess. He was open to new ideas to how we wanted it to sound and understood we didn’t want to do it for commercial reasons or make a pop record, we just wanted to make what was in our heads so I guess that was just the best fit.
You’ve released it on Mute, a label usually associated with left field electronica. Why?
I think it’s more of them being a label associated with creative people with very strong ideas of where they’re going and what they want to do. They’re very open-minded and we’ve been lucky to work with people who support our ideas rather than just trying to make a load of money.
Were you comfortable with your initial folk tag?
Folk that! I understand where it comes from, but that was when I was 16 playing on my own with a guitar, but that’s completely irrelevant to our music now. I feel like I left the band I was in on my own and joined this one. There might be some slightly folky bits in some places but it’s definitely not the biggest animal in the zoo.
Initially you we’re unfairly pigeonholed with Laura Marling and Florence Welch, but they stormed on while you fell from the limelight. What was going on?
It was due to the delay in the record, we were all rearing to go when the record was finished nearly two years ago. But, I never consciously wanted to be in any kind of limelight so I hadn’t really noticed that we’d been anywhere or disappeared from anywhere until people were calling the album a comeback.
The bands called Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny, a cynic may say you’re jumping on the ‘and the’ bandwagon.
(Slightly annoyed) There are so many bands who have called themselves so-and-so and the some ones, so we not jumping on any bandwagon it’s who we are! You could say that about any band who call themselves one word or put ‘The’ in front of their name.
A Hoof of Destiny says: We’re more Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention than Marina and the Diamonds.
You use strong imagery such as invisible bras, tiger costumes and lame suits. Is it a way to protect or hide yourself?
That’s just who we are.It’s nothing conscious. I’m very happy with the way I am and the way the band are and we don’t need to show ourselves as something else to become successful. I’ve never been one to care what other people think so I would never dress to please.
What fed the interest in LA?it seems like a big leap from Newcastle?
(HoD): I don’t know they’re pretty similar.
I suppose Whitley Bay could be like Venice Beach
(laughs) Maybe. I’ve always wanted to visit California since I was a little girl, so going there and realising it was how I imagined it would be was really nice. I had no particular reason why I wanted to go over there, but it seemed a friendlier free spirited and creative place. You can go up to the mountains or the beach, or go off into the desert. It’s just like a magical place to be.And sunny.
Were you not tempted to base your career in London?
Oh dear god no! I hate London. It’s just a bigger version of Newcastle – a dirty huge city and there’s a lot of competition and the weather isn’t a fantastic. I’m not a city kind of person of kind of person. I like country side and natural environments and I think you can become very depressed and creatively squashed in such a large depressing place.
Finally, what are you proud of so far and what do you hope to achieve?
I’m really happy that we have each other as a band because we all get along so well and we’re like a family which means we can make music without ego and without frustration. No one wants to stand out and we work really well together as a group. Also, to actually be having a record coming out is lovely and I’m proud of it. I like.
Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny released their debut album Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose on Mute Records on Februrary 6, 2012Tagged in: Beth Jeans Houghton, music, the Hooves Of Destiny
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter