“There’s something about the words and the music together that makes me feel emotional… It’s like a cheat code to making me feel something.”

Lyrics describing heartbreak, severe anxiety, and self-deprecation are scattered throughout the discography of Auckland-based indie rock band The Beths. But ironically, the group’s frontwoman and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes considers herself a pretty closed-off person. “[It’s] not something I really like about myself,” Stokes says. “But it does feel like songwriting is an avenue where I can make myself vulnerable, and kind of crystallize what I’m feeling. Just putting it out into the world and having other people relate is important to me.”

The band operates in a paradoxical space; despite the often stark contrast between the upbeat music and heavy lyrics, their songs never lose depth within catchy instrumentals. With their latest album, Expert In A Dying Field, released in September, it’s easy to find yourself instinctively bouncing your foot or nodding along, even as Stokes sings lyrics like, “If this is love then why’d you have to leave / I’m broken in the morning then wasted in the evening.” The title track and album opener describes the emotional aftermath of a breakup, focusing on the empty space left behind by a lover and the irrelevant knowledge of them that you’re left with. A sentiment of paralyzing fear is described in the track “Knees Deep”: “The shame / I wish that I was brave enough to dive in / But I never have been and never will be / I’m coming in hot then freezing completely.”

Stokes’s heart-on-her-sleeve lyrics play a paramount role in crafting songs that are both specific to her experiences and relatable to others. She takes an autobiographical approach that feels painfully personal, inviting listeners to explore a vast range of emotions alongside her. “I’ve never been compelled to write poetry, or share anything that I’m writing in the form of prose,” Stokes says. “There’s something about the words and the music together that makes me feel emotional… It’s like a cheat code to making me feel something.”

The Beths found their way to fame more quickly than they anticipated. They quit their jobs to go on tour for a few months, and after wrapping up their time on the road, they were content to get back to work, knowing they had spent most of their savings. But their grungy debut album Future Me Hates Me, which was released while they were on the road, was so well-received that they decided to book another tour, and continue from there.

Every member of the band was born and raised in Auckland, forging a deep connection between the group and the city that has remained intact. “I know it’s maybe quite strange to grow up in a place, and also go to university there, and then continue to live there,” Stokes says. “But we all feel really connected to it. We feel a real closeness to the city.” They plan to stay in the city where they got their start for the foreseeable future; everything they need is there.

The band’s sophomore album Jump Rope Gazers was released during the height of COVID, unintentionally establishing it as a “pandemic record” for many, despite the fact that it had been completed before the virus spread across the globe. “We weren’t trying to make it a lockdown album,” Stokes says. “But everybody has lived through that, and so I feel like you can’t separate it from [that] context entirely.”

Stokes and guitarist Jonathan Pearce met in high school, and found the other members of their group while studying jazz at the University of Auckland. After they all graduated, each played in a number of local projects before eventually joining up to form The Beths. When the time came to name the band, Stokes took inspiration from the fictional character Lorelai Gilmore, who named her daughter after herself. “You don’t have that many opportunities to name something after yourself,” she says. “You can get a pet, or you can have a baby, I guess. Or you can start a band.”