Liz Stokes of The Beths on ‘Expert In A Dying Field’:

Liz Stokes of The Beths on ‘Expert In A Dying Field’:

Critic’s Bethst Day Ever

Aotearoa indie darlings, The Beths, released their third album ‘Expert In A Dying Field’ mid-way through this month. To Critic’s surprise, the album is not actually about our humanities/marine science students and staff looking on in despair as their department is slowly snuffed out by dwindling University funding. Still, there’s a lot to relate to as The Beths sing about self-doubt, anxiety and change, casting glittering spells through their sugar riffs and their most tender, full-bodied harmonies yet. On one of Critic’s Bethd days ever, we were lucky enough to chat with Liz, singer and songwriter of The Beths, just ahead of their show at Glenroy Auditorium this Saturday. This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity. We wished we could have kept in the part where Liz does her impression of an American accent.

Critic: So Expert In A Dying Field has just been released and it has been met with such positive reviews so far. I was wondering what experiences and emotions informed this album?

Liz: It’s quite funny. You record all these songs, you write them all and then it’s quite a long way now, from when I wrote them. The latest one I wrote was probably November 2021. It’s still interesting, looking back and trying to spot the themes, or the emotional things, from this end. It’s hard to remember exactly what you were feeling at the time, except for the times when it’s obvious from the song. I feel like there’s a lot, looking through the album, about coping and the people who help you cope. The ‘coping’ is coping with change as well. We’ve all had to adjust a lot in the last few years to a whole lot of different things, living in a slightly different world. I feel like those are the kind of themes that come up. And I don’t know how I feel about them. I guess I’ve felt a lot of things over the last couple of years. A lot of them have been pretty sad.

Critic: Yeah, I feel like it has a whole spectrum of emotions on it. Especially the uncertainty and anxiety are ones that shine out to me. It kind of captures the human experience right now. It’s really beautiful… I’ve heard, with having a bit more time to work on ‘Expert,’ it’s quite different to how your previous record Jump Rope Gazers came to be.

Liz: With Jump Rope Gazers we finished touring and we had three months to make the record. I’d written the songs already but it was a hard deadline and we were gonna go touring straight afterwards. Which, of course, we didn’t, because we handed that album in March of 2020. What was so strange about the album cycle for Jump Rope Gazers, was that we would have hypothetically toured that record for eighteen months. Instead, we toured New Zealand, we played some festivals over the summer and that was kind of it. It was at the end of 2020 that I was like ‘Okay, I’ve written some songs but I need to get down to business.’ I want to write at least twenty songs and I want to be able to choose, not just the best songs, but songs that feel like they fit on the record. The biggest writing period was probably at the start of 2021.

Critic: On this new album, how do you feel that you’ve grown the most as a band? Are there any elements that you’re particularly proud of on this new one?

Liz: I really do think we’ve grown as a band. I feel like we’re all comfortable with what we are and have a sense of what we make. It means that you can try things out in a way that doesn’t feel self-conscious. You can try on different feels or different sounds and know that it’s still gonna be you at the end of the day. It’s still gonna sound like you, you feel kind of confident in that. We’ve all developed as players as well. Jonathan has, since he started recording our first EP, he’s come such a long way. He’s always trying to improve and I feel like he’s just managed an incredible sounding record. Ben and Tristan’s playing is always great. They’re always finding new ways to try and be creative… I feel like I’m reigning them in a little bit sometimes. But I also feel like that’s part of the tension of trying to make a song that feels like a good song. It sits somewhere in the middle.

Critic: It’s been amazing to watch your growth over the last few years as well as how you’re dipping into other peoples’ work in New Zealand, especially with Jonathan producing for Hans Pucket recently. It’s really exciting. A mutual of ours, told me that you all studied together at the University of Auckland’s Jazz School, albeit in different years. How did you come together to be The Beths? And what are the highlights of those early days?

Liz: I actually knew Jonathan since high school. I knew Ben since I was in high school and he was in Uni, from playing music in Auckland. I think in some ways, it was a reaction to jazz school. I wanted to play guitar again. I wanted to play an instrument that I was kind of bad at again, get good at it and have fun with my friends, playing in a rock band. That was not an experience I got to have in my high school band, which was a folk bank. I wanted to rock out. I was like ‘I’m 23 and I want to start this now.’ It’s never too late to start rocking out. You wanna start? Start now. And we did. Jonathan helped me record some demos. From there, Tristan joined the band a couple of years later. We’ve had a few different drummers. He was such a natural fit for the vibe. I played with him at Uni, we were in a few different years and stuff. That’s the thing about studying jazz in particular, it's collaborative music. While you’re there, you’re playing with other people definitively, you never really play by yourself.

Critic: How does it feel to have started out very much ingrained in the Tāmaki Makaurau scene, a very local music community, to becoming this massive national band that is now touring globally? Do you carry that same energy that you started out with or does it feel quite different?

Liz: It feels different in a lot of ways. I feel like we try to be the same people and carry the same energy. Our very first tour was a DIY one. It was before Future Me Hates Me came out. We played to rooms of between five and maybe sixty people on a good show with big local bands that would be on the Billboard in the UK, and a couple shows in the States. That felt cool. Like, we’ve done this. If this is all it is, then I’m stoked. Then the album came out. We just ended up not coming home, really. We just kept touring for a long time off the back of that. I think I didn’t really realise it. It wasn’t like we exploded from rooms of twenty people to rooms of a thousand people. The next tour we were playing to rooms with one hundred to two hundred people. The next tour was slightly more and the next tour was slightly more, and then there was the pandemic. But we’re still not a hype-y band that has exploded. I feel like that means we’re able to manage it between us. We are ambitious and we do want to be able to do this for as long as we can. We’re just trying to stay ourselves as we do so.

Critic: We’ve heard that student audiences, particularly US college radio stations, have been really big supporters of The Beths. How important do you think student media and these student audiences are in building that hype and sustaining yourselves as a band?

Liz: It’s been huge for us. First of all, in New Zealand, even back in 2016, 2017, when we were just touring locally, playing in Auckland. Booking our first national tour when we came down to Christchurch and Dunedin, having a song on local student radio was so important. And it meant so much as well. It really felt like a way to tap into the heart of a community that you aren’t of, because we didn’t grow up there. It’s been a real privilege to be played on student radio stations. They’re so important. They’re so beloved. We’ve had a lot of luck with that. 

Critic: Okay, awesome. One more question, I promise it’s not sinister. The big question now is what breakfast food would you consider each of the Beths, including yourself, and why?

Liz: This is a hard one. Jonathan is Vogels. Vogels with butter and marmite. And why? I just know that he really likes to eat that breakfast. It’s straightforward and practical. It’s not a breakfast that’s too involved. Both Ben and Tristan really enjoy cooking so I feel like they’d be a more put together breakfast. Maybe Ben’s something weird like a breakfast pizza, he’s just kind of a strange man. I feel like Tristan’s a very elegant French omelette. It’s like you need a lot of practice to get it right. He’s the man who’s done a lot of practice. I don’t know what I am. I’m an egg. Eggs on rice, maybe.


The Beths are Liz Stokes, Jonathan Pearce, Benjamin Sinclair and Tristan Deck. They are based in Tāmaki Makaurau. Their third album, ‘Expert In A Dying Field,’ was released 16 September 2022 via Ivy League Records. The Beths are currently on their NZ tour and will be playing in Ōtepoti Dunedin on 1 October at Glenroy Auditorium, supported by Dawn Diver. You can and definitely should get tickets here. You also definitely should try and get The Beths to sign this issue of Critic Te Ārohi. 

This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2022.
Posted 1:55pm Saturday 24th September 2022 by Jamiema Lorimer .