Interview: Beth Jeans Houghton
Beth Jeans Houghton got her big break in 2007, making the leap from punter to performer by climbing onstage with Devendra Banhart at the Green Man Festival. Five years on the Geordie singer-songwriter’s firmly established herself as one of the UK's most exciting musical talents, transfixing audiences with her kooky alt-folk and even kookier get-ups.
We caught up with Beth to find out all about her debut album, “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose”, and her mysteriously-titled backing band, The Hooves of Destiny… You can read our exclusive interview below.
Hi Beth, how are you and what are you up to at the moment?
Right now, me and The Hooves are in Aubenas, France, about to soundcheck. We just drove through the Alps, which was beautiful. The van set on fire. We took a polaroid.
According to your Facebook page The Hooves of Destiny are half men, half goats who emerged from a lake in Buttermere. Can you tell us how you really formed the group please?!
I've known each of The Hooves for a long time. I met Blazey when I was 9. I met Dav and Rory when I was 16, when they played with another band and I used to go and sleep in their rehearsal rooms and get passively high from the amount of weed they smoked. Fin I met at a party, and Callum I've known since I started playing music.
Congratulations on “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose” – we love it! What did you set out to achieve on the album and are you happy with the results
Thank you so much! I set out to make a record unaffected by outside opinions and I was happy to watch it grow in different directions. And yes, I am happy with the results; there is not a thing I would change.
You worked with Ben Hillier on the album. How did that come about and what do you think he brought to the record?
I can't remember how it came about but we met and I liked him. Ben has an amazing way of getting the best out of people and also experimenting. He really put onto record what I had in my head. He's a lovely genius.
If you had to pick your favourite track on the record, which would it be and why?
I couldn’t possibly. They are all so different and I love them each for different reasons.
In recent years there’s been a move towards musicians documenting the minutiae of day-to-day life; whereas your lyrics are pretty fantastical! Are you deliberately kicking against that trend?
I don't deliberately aim to do anything in particular. I never sit down and try to write a song. A song will just come to me and then I have to document it. Lyrical inspiration comes from everything and everyone I have ever met, seen, touched, missed, heard, licked, held and loved.
Who are your musical heroes? And which albums were you listening to when you wrote “Yours Truly...”?
I wasn't listening to any albums during the recording of “Yours Truly…” In our case, recording was quick and a lot was done in a short amount of time so I didn’t have time to listen to music whilst we made it. I wrote the songs between the ages of 16 and 19, so that’s three or more years listening to records which I could not list. My musical heroes are those who don't conform to making a song for its commercial benefit, but for its own good. I like humour in songs, and unexpected changes. I love Frank Zappa for this reason.
Is your chameleonic appearance just an extension of your personality or are you adopting a persona?
[It’s] an extension of my personality. I do like fashion but I don't think too hard about what I wear. [It’s] just whatever I feel like really.
We really love your videos – do you take a hands-on role in devising them? And can you explain the concept behind the ‘Sweet Tooth Bird’ video please?!
Thank you! That video was directed filmed and produced by my brother, Ben Jeans Houghton. He takes full credit; he's a creative whirlwind and I love him.
If you hadn’t been a musician for a living what do you think you’d have done instead?
I love photography and art and travelling, so probably one of those. For me, life's too short to work in an office to pay for things I don't need that won't ultimately make me happy. What makes me happy is friends and love and travelling and having fun. And although it costs a little to do the travelling, the rest is free.
You were picked to perform with Devendra Banhart: are you still in touch with him? And if you could collaborate with anyone in the future, who would it be?
I see him every now and then when I'm in LA: we have a lot of mutual friends. I'm not really a collaborator: right now I'm a little too stubborn to share the songwriting role with another person. But two people I'd love to sing with are Ryan Sambol from The Strange Boys and also Sam Herring from Future Islands (he sounds a bit like Captain Beefheart). They both have the weirdest f*cking voices, in an amazing way.
We heard that you live in LA now. Why did you decide to leave the UK?
I still live in the UK, but I visit LA frequently and plan to move there this year with The Hooves. Los Angeles is my perfect environment. Within two hours you can go from the city to the mountains to the ocean to the desert. The music scene is thriving and friendly and it’s an easy place to stay healthy, happy and interested. Los Angeles is the love of my life.
Finally, what’s been the highlight so far?
There have been so many highlights in the past few years that I could not choose one. The one consistent highlight of mine is sharing the company and talent of The Hooves of Destiny. They are more than a family to me and make every road trip, tour, show and day a better and more beautiful one. I feel like I found my soul mates.