“I could be anything that I want, boy”
Smoking Out, from Homecoming April 2021
Du Blonde’s third and latest album, Homecoming, feels just like that. Consistently dealing with subjects that are personal, bruising and heartbreaking, this record feels like those subjects are now being faced off with more of a spirit of defiance, resilience and triumph. It’s a beautiful pop record with plenty of… are you ready?… fuzzy distortion, surf, soul, heavenly Mary Chain melodies, Mamas and Papas (or Bad Religion depending on your persuasion) ooozen-aaahs and fizzing hooks to keep us lo-fi punks happy. Personally, I’m really happy to see lots of collaboration – Shirley Manson, Ezra Furman, Andy Bell and the magnificently named Farting Suffragettes.
She’s working on her new EP which will be called Baby Forever and will be released on her own DaemonTV label. Written, played, produced, designed, released and marketed by Beth. She’s taken artist control by the scruff of the neck and detonated it into one that fits her gloriously unapologetic self and a generation of DIY renegades
The only thing you can expect from such a progressive, charismatic and thoughtful mindset is to expect something different to what’s gone before.
So what deadline have you given yourself?
Beth Jeans Houghton
Well, I’m going back to London and mixing on the 16th of July. I’ve got two days to mix it and it’s getting mastered on the 18th of July. I haven’t really got a release date deadline nailed down yet.
But, I do have three projects that I want to get out this year. I met with my manager yesterday, and he looked like his brain was shrivelling up. And he’s actually not even my manager, he’s my label services guy, but he pretty much acts as my manager but just won’t admit it (laughs).
He needs to go with the inevitable! How are you going to mix and master the new EP?
So, last time I got Homecoming mastered at Abbey Road. This time, I was saying, like, I have this fun thing where, if anyone wants to do this so that I can like get it out quicker, then let’s talk. So, a really sweet guy on Instagram was like, “I’ll do it. I’m legit. I’ll do it for free!”
People sort of forget that it’s not just the cost of manufacturing, it’s the cost of studio time, whatever. And I’ve cut that way down, because I’m doing it at home. But if you cut mixing and mastering costs out, it doesn’t really matter how good the songs are, it’ll just sound a bit shit. And so for me, a lot of my timelines are based on when can I have saved enough money to pay for the mixing and mastering But lots of people donated to my fundraiser for the EP, which is really lovely. I’ve just got to do good songs now!
Tell us all about the fundraiser and how you made your decision to do that.
I’ve always had a weird relationship with the idea of me doing fundraising. I see others doing GoFundMe, Patreon and stuff like that, and I have absolutely zero issues or judgements on them doing that – I think it’s a really good, new way for artists to go about releasing music with more control and also its really nice for the fans, because it’s not a pity party, as they actually want to be involved. I was raised in the way of “don’t borrow money from anyone, you buy what you can afford”, which is still like a big part of me. And then also, there’s a part of me that wishes the industry wasn’t set up in a way that you have to ask people to donate money. And then the other part of me is “donations should be for people who are ill or have lost their house in a fire and who am I to ask for money?”
I think the turning point for me was when Spotify, during the pandemic, made that option available where you could attach your artist PayPal to your artist Spotify account and people listening could just press donate, right?
So, I activated that on my account, but I didn’t think anything would happen. But, I’ve had people donate money. Sometimes it’s like a fiver and that’s so helpful. I’m so grateful. All of the different third party tools that people use in the music industry just end up cutting artists’ income each time, so I try cutting out middlemen as much as I can. So now I’m thinking about doing my own version of a subscription service on my website that I have total control over. So there isn’t a third party taking a percentage, but also, I’m not confined to their rules.
You posted a video on Twitter of you wrapping some of your merch (Beth designs and handles all aspects of her merch). It showed brilliantly the care you take when your fans buy your merch. And that totally reminds me of something Martin Atkins (PiL, Killing Joke, Ministry) said in one of my I Wanna Jump Like Dee Dee podcast episodes: “When somebody buys your stuff, why would you not just do that extra little bit and make their day?” So what you’re talking about is the same kind of mindset. I think how you interact with your fans is really engaging.
Yeah, well, I’m really interested in music history in terms of the way that fan clubs were run in the 60s where you got things like a lanyard and a badge. I wanted to go down that kind of route.
I’m really interested in marketing and branding. Have you ever listened to the podcast 99% Invisible?
As a serial podcaster, I’m ashamed to say No.
OK (laughs), it’s a really good design podcast and they released this episode about Sears department store and another top store in the ‘50s. The beginning question was, What made Sears overtake the other one? At the time, there were a standard set of dimensions for catalogues. So, simple trick, which was the Sears design people made their catalogue an inch smaller than the other one. So when the dutiful housewives were tidying the house, they would put the smaller Sears catalogue on top of the pile. That’s fucking brilliant. I’m really not into the idea of selling useless shit to people who don’t need it and tricking them into it. But I am very interested in how to be smart about what and how you are selling – making something people really do want, so that, you know, three months, three years later, they still love the product that they bought. And also, how to make being a musician and an artist a business that you can grow, much the same as anyone else who has a company would and taking away the shame of wanting to figure out how to do that. In any other industry that would just be you being smart and successful. Whereas like, a musical artist, you’re a sellout? Why do you want us all to just be like, broke forever? And if we’re not, then we’re not legit?
You’ve also brought in homeware as well.
Yeah, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a fashion designer or an artist. I’m going to buy tufting guns so that I can make rugs. And then for the Baby Forever EP, I’m going to make limited edition stuff, like resin dummies or pacifiers.
For me, designing and conceptualising merch for each EP or album is just one of the most fun things.
So, you’re really thinking about the entire artist experience, not just the music, it’s the music plus the usual merch, plus the stuff that people need in their lives – like rugs, like pacifiers, art, butt prints…
Yeah, definitely (laughs). I like it when things are all sort of connected. There’s this guy called Patrick Sparrow. He’s really my ex-boyfriend’s friend. We have like an email pen pal thing where we send an email every three to six months. He’s an illustrator and has this comic called Peeper Creeper. And it’s this character who is this gross meat man – it’s almost like he’s like a human with no skin.
And then he had these glow in the dark Peeper Creeper dolls and stickers made. And I will just get anything Peeper Creeper, but
I think I feel the same way about it as people who buy, like, Star Wars memorabilia feel. So, I think about merch in a way of like, what can I make that I can then make memorabilia of? It’s not even about selling stuff. It’s just like making small worlds each time where I can use the concept to try out anything that I’m interested in.
I can’t count the number of times that a record label has delivered to me my CDs and vinyl on the last day of the tour! With Lung Bread For Daddy (Du Blonde’s 2019 album) I was asked how many records I wanted for that tour and I said maybe 200. And they were like, oh, let’s start with 50 as in like, “oh, you totally wouldn’t sell 200”. And within the first two shows we’d sold out. And so I didn’t have any records for the rest of the tour! I think that a lot of bands and labels don’t realise what an opportunity merchandise is. Often, I don’t pay myself for shows. I use the show money to pay the bands so that they are paid properly, and then I’ll make money for me off the merch.
I think merchandise is a missed opportunity for many. And I think that if you like someone’s music, you want to hear what they have to say about other stuff: you want to know if the fucking bass player does little doodles of dicks, like you totally want a ‘zine of that. And then they’re getting like a couple of quid times 100. And then that, you know, helps them pay the rent when they’re away from their day job.
I use this as an example all the time: if Ty Segall made this, would I buy it and how much would I pay for it? I’d fucking buy his butt print if he made one. Because if I think about it, it’s just like, well, how much shall I sell my butt print for… and the only way I can possibly deal with that is to just pretend it’s someone else! (laughs)
I just think it’s a really fun way of doing things. For a lot of bands to survive, this is one of the few ways that they can continue to do that without having to rely on big companies. I think creating good merch does breed a type of fan that will be with you for a long time. You’re not thinking how do I sell this to a million random people. You think what can I make for the people who like my stuff? It’s like half of them you know by name and they keep coming back and buying stuff. I can see how many orders one person has made historically: I can see that Kevin has spent 250 pounds over two years with seven orders, so I’m now going to give Kevin an extra gift every time for supporting me.
I think that’s absolutely the right way to go. I mean people eventually get fed up of reissues, you know, regurgitating told material and getting cookie cutter stuff. You know, eventually, even the most die hard fans will feel like they’re being shafted.
Yeah. It’s just another 30 quid for album that’s got one new song on it. I was talking to my manager about planning for the next album album, which is kind of going to be like, Homecoming Part Two. And I said that I should make it a bit longer (laughs) because Homecoming is like, 25 minutes long. So, I’m thinking maybe 12 minutes on the next one (laughs). Nah, I don’t seriously think it’s too short. I wouldn’t go back and add more to it. I think it was just right. Another one on and it would have been filler.
But then I’ve been listening to a lot of ‘90s rock recently, and then I’ll open up the album on Spotify and they’ve got 953 songs on it (laughs).
I realised yesterday that my songs are getting shorter and shorter the older I get and the worse my ADHD becomes. I’ll listen back to a song I’ve just written and I’m like Right! Yes, that’s a good length! And it’s like five seconds long (laughs)
(laughs) Are you getting into Napalm Death territory?
So the new EP is called Baby Forever… tell us about it.
Well, it’s very different – at the moment – from Homecoming. I was thinking “God, these songs are so long!” but they’re not, they’re just slow!
So, giving away as much as as you want to, how is it different from Homecoming? And what’s inspired you for this record?
Go on then, I’ll tell you what bloody inspired me. I got talking to this guy. And I was just like, oh my goodness, is this person like a soulmate, what the fuck?! It’s very rare that I fall for someone. I’m so happy single. The happiest times in my life are when I don’t have a partner. So, we were just talking, not “dating”, but I could totally imagine watching horror films with this guy and going on road trips. And then it turned into this thing where it was just like basically just like, Instagram emojis like back and forth. And I was like, “wait, what’s, what’s going on?” And then that’s just basically what it became. So, I was gutted for two weeks and then I was like, oh, fuck it, whatever.
I think I’m generally quite good at like, feeling out people’s vibe. So anyway, I’d written a bunch of like, really happy, excited songs in that short time. And I’m still super stoked with them. Maybe that’s why he came into my life: so I could just get new, happy material (laughs) And then, after this whole emoji thing happened, I wrote a bunch of really scathing slow songs.
I’m not a mean person but anyway, on Smoking Me Out, it was so fun for me to play a nasty character with a demon voice. I can get like angry about stuff, but um, it’s kind of fun to inhabit this dark part of myself where it’s just like “Fuck you” (laughs).
So, that’s kind of what the EP is about. For now!
I see you flourishing doing things on your own. You got out of the constraints and control of the corporate industry. You create this wonderful, carefully curated merch, you’re experimenting with your music, and you refuse to be pigeonholed. It’s a very counter-culture ethos. What’s your relationship with the movement?
Yeah, I mean counterculture has always been something that I’ve been interested in. So early on, I was really into West Coast garage psych and the songs I really loved when I was 14 or 15 were all made in basements. You know, records that you really had to dig to find.
I mean I really love punk now but even back then, when I was still more into psych, I just loved the Riot Grrl and punk way in terms of DIY shows, making jeans and being politically outspoken. I’ve always loved freaky people being themselves.
I was thinking about counterculture recently and how I was part of probably like, the last “scene” generation. I mean I wasn’t any specific thing when I was a kid – I was never an emo kid or whatever. But scene kids were almost like the last proper counterculture group before everything just exploded. And I listened to something the other day where someone was saying that this explosion was because of the internet. My age group didn’t have the internet in the sense of looking at what people wore in the ‘80s. Now, kids are able to look up an era or a scene. They have all of the imagery, and they’re like, I’m going to be getting some cybergoth clothes listen to Mákina. Which I think is really great.
I think counterculture is coming back into like mainstream, not in a corporate sense, but in a widespread sense, and it’s down to things like Tik Tok. I fucking love Tik Tok so much. It’s actually super-educational. It just gives loads of people access to learning about all types of things. And the amount of social activism that goes on is incredible.
It’s also a good way to get different perspectives.
Two things that I love Tik Tok for: firstly; before and just after I got my Tourettes diagnosis, there were two Tik Tok accounts ran by people with Tourettes and I learned so much more from them than reading any literature on the subject; and, secondly, there are small business Tik Toks which I think all bands should follow, because they are like “Do you want your own branded stuff but can’t afford it? Here’s how you can do it super cheap”. And there’s small business finance and it’s all bite size stuff which is how we all understand things now. I mean I’m on the weird cusp where I’m an elder millennial, having a bit beforehand and then the crossover but it’s such a great fucking tool and I can see so many younger people doing it for themselves which I hope is a new movement across the board, not just for music.
I mean counter-culture is also an attitude, a way of doing things and I wonder what the common thread is? Perhaps its values and purpose that bring us together under a common desire to create things.
Create something that is your own and then share it with other people to see if it resonates. And I think that’s why a lot of cool counter-culture emanates from smaller towns because you don’t have easy access to things. Take smaller towns that don’t have venues, so bands can’t play there, you’ll get these skater kids saying “Well, my dad knows this guy who has a warehouse, we’ll see if we can get it and our band will play instead”. I know this is a massive generalisation as counter-culture can and does happen everywhere.
I think that was a similar situation with Black Flag in Redondo Beach and Bad Religion in Woodland Hills, California. Scarcity meant they had to get creative and rehearse and even play shows in parents’ garages and basements. You’ve made a very good point. Where you’ve got scarcity, that’s where creativity kicks in. There’s no other choice.
Yeah, and going back to the EP, that’s why I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a 4-Track recorder again. It’s what I used to write music on – I’d write it and record it in that one take before I forgot it. Since I moved to using Logic or Pro-Tools, there’s something missing in the whole thing when you are just able to do anything you want, I would love to be able to release bootleg demos burnt to CD. Which is actually something I’d been thinking of if I did a subscription service.
I just need to navigate my morals and my pride (laughs).