Beth Jeans Houghton: Dramatic Fantastic


The precocious Beth Jeans Houghton has been on tastemakers’ radar for three years now. Back then, at the end of her teens, the girl from northeast England was hailed as an ingénue making “sweet and gentle folk music.” But with her album Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose complete, and with her band The Hooves Of Destiny behind her, the results sound anything but. Her phenomenal soprano is still a glistening thing, but the album it presides over is dramatic, even cataclysmic, and shot through with orchestral melodrama. We caught up with Houghton on the eve of its release.

DANIEL MARTIN: Hi Beth, what are you doing today?

BETH JEANS HOUGHTON: I’m at home in Newcastle and we were in Ireland yesterday. We were playing a show. It’s nice; everyone’s very organized over there.

MARTIN: Compared to what you’re used to?

HOUGHTON: Well, in England, people aren’t very organized, and people hate their jobs, so shit never runs smoothly.

MARTIN: The album has been a long time coming; how do you feel to finally be ready?

HOUGHTON: Really good. I think it finally hit me this morning that it’s actually coming out, so it’s a relief. I kind of blocked the whole thing out of my mind because it had taken so long, so it’s all flooding back in now.

MARTIN: What took so long? Did you trash a lot of material?

HOUGHTON: No, no, it took about four months to record the record, and we finished two years ago. It’s just been silly—the delays were, like, signing record deals and people getting sick and label stuff, really. It was all really boring. That was incredibly frustrating.

MARTIN: Did you worry people might have forgotten you from your early buzz?

HOUGHTON: Not nervous, because I’m not really interested in interest, if that makes sense. I’ve never really paid much attention to that, and I don’t really mind how many people buy it, it’s more of a personal project for me and the guys, so I’m just happy it’s coming out. If people buy it, that’s nice and everything, but even if less people bought it now because it’s been delayed for so long, it wouldn’t affect my psyche.

MARTIN: What did you want to achieve with the album?

HOUGHTON: I had an idea of exactly how I wanted the songs to sound in my head, but at the same time I didn’t wanna be restrained by ideas of exactly how it should be. I knew how I wanted it to be, but I was nervous of that as well. The general feel of the songs stayed the same but it became a lit bigger. It actually sounds a lot more like it did in my head now.

MARTIN: There are a lot of fantasy elements there, is it important to be visual and evocative?

HOUGHTON: I guess the songs are all stories in a sense, in that they’re all things that happened to me, but I don’t really approach songs in that way that I’m trying to be honest about details… but yes, it’s all personal. I don’t really understand writers who can sing songs that other people have written.

MARTIN: Are you putting a lot of yourself out on the line?

HOUGHTON: Not really, the only people who really know what the songs are about is me and the band because… even though it’s completely honest, I don’t think that anyone would be able to work out what I’m actually saying here. There’s a lot of imagery and language, but even I’m not trying to do any of that.

MARTIN: Do you feel part of any wave of female singers making this kind of dramatic music?

HOUGHTON: No, no not in the slightest, I don’t even want to be part of a movement at all, but definitely not part of some specifically female movement. I was talking to my band about it the other day, even in the context of some kind of local music scene we’re not even part of that, we are in our own bubble. And I don’t consider myself a solo artist. I was solo to start with and then the band came and then it grew into us being a band. This is not just me and a backing band. But yes, the only movement I want to be part of is just one that’s concerned with making the world a bit nicer.

MARTIN: With that in mind, are you politically active? Have you been following the Occupy movement, for example?

HOUGHTON: In a sense, but to be honest I don’t know anything about politics—I would like to know; I haven’t gone into it yet. Obviously I’ve seen it happening around. I just mean like a general conscience in what you’re doing.

MARTIN: What other new artists are you excited about?

HOUGHTON: We don’t listen to a lot of new music in the band. We do like Warpaint, and I like Local Natives, they’re brilliant.

MARTIN: A lot has been made of the cinematic nature of the music. If this really was the soundtrack to a movie, then what kind of movie would it be?

HOUGHTON: I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to make a soundtrack anyway, but I’m not sure. Maybe that will reveal itself to people when they hear it. But how would I describe what we’ve made? Well a friend of mine came up with a good phrase, “musical alchemy,” and I quite like that. And another friend said that the record sounds like thunder, so I quite like that.

MARTIN: What’s next for Beth Jeans Houghton?

HOUGHTON: I’m going to have some lunch and then I’m going to paint some trousers. What will I paint them? I don’t know—I have a fake band called Misty Sphincter, so maybe something to do with that.