Bethia Beadman might be a name not many of you are familiar with but if her evident ambition is anything to go by that’s soon set to change. Bethia is a London based solo artist who is as colourful as her biography, forever weaving her own stories and creating her own luck. In her past, she has been a ballerina, travelled the world and played and toured with Courtney Love, though for all her surface delicate ethereal charm she is no wallflower – one would have to grow a thick skin with Courtney around- and, musically situated somewhere between PJ Harvey and Cat Power, she is straight out of another era. An intriguing prospect, a romantic, a dreamer, an eccentric; her live presence is intense and strangely captivating. She may be seemingly hard to pin down as an artist but her music is as honest as a raw wound or open book while remaining enigmatic all the while. We catch up with Bethia to try and get further under the skin of music’s new dark horse.
Your songs are all heavily informed by love. Are you an old romantic?
I don’t really understand what else there is out there except love. Surely that’s all there is for certain, no? Romance is a gorgeous, human playtime especially if it feels ancient and wild. But perhaps romantic depths can be a dangerous place if one loses sight of the true and unconditional -I guess romance is just a focal point like a gold icon. I remember reading the devotional Indian poem of ‘Mirabai’, a girl so brimming with love within and without that it irritated her new husband and his family, so they decided to be done with her. The poem writes how she ‘took the poisoned cup and laughed as she drank it…’ Rock ‘n’ Roll. Romance can cover a vast spectrum from The English Patient film sound track, right through to a greasy old git on a Harley out on the open road. Actually that’s not a very large spectrum is it… All desert film shots. Excellent.
Does wearing your heart on your sleeve ever get you in trouble or make you feel vulnerable when performing?
No, Love only makes me feel powerful. But actually I can’t be any other way any way. And I love to be on stage, I could sleep there I feel so comfortable. Like kissing can be easier than speaking, singing can be easier than breathing. A theatre for me is a secret temple where performing for the gods is the key through a portal to something more wonderful that has no distinction between the roles of performer and audience and no distinction between us and love.
You toured as part of Hole for a period. How does it compare being part of a band and being a solo artist?
I’ve always had the same band, we just didn’t name it. This is different to being a solo artist with a backing band or producer. I guess I have to write songs so that’s why I couldn’t be in other bands for long but I like being part of my own band. Though it can be glorious to sing into silence, I’d rather be playing through an amp with a full band any day. Some relentlessly fluid lineups [in bands] are wonderful and inevitable but I do like it solid which means the same people taking what we have and working with it, enduring it, which is claustrophobic for everyone at times of course. Fortunately none of Courtney’s band got up until after lunch when we lived together, so I had whole mornings alone to write amidst the Jasmine before the smell of bacon and eggs wafted in on the L.A. breeze.
I’d definitely like to be in a position to spend six months making a record at Abbey Road like Florence! I’d also like to tour and play music for the rest of my life which can’t happen without a certain level of success due to the price of petrol but many bands have been commercially viable with no musical compromise whatsoever. Perhaps, conditions are just tough now since the general listening ear has been so compromised by loose musical morals -a song that would have been a radio single back in the day wouldn’t even get air play now since our attention spans have been so lowered and manipulated by industry antics. Then at the other end of the spectrum, I think lots of great music today hides behind lo-fi simplicity- cool, cheaper and less to live up to. But who wouldn’t want to make a record that sounds as luxurious as Dark Side of the Moon? Who would shoot on digital if they could shoot on film? Not me. I’d be filming Gone with the Wind and pouring my blood into the earth if it wasn’t red enough.
Which bands inspire you in contemporary and traditional terms?
Songs. Songs and then Kraut Rock. And bands that sound like a Turner painting, dealing in the alchemical arts. Working with light and ecstasy through sound. Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I mean, good Lord. I loved trip hop, Portishead and had a dream about making a record with Tricky. It’s pretty sexy that darkness. Stevie Nicks is my Number One Female voice of all time and Kim Gordon. Sonic Youth do it for me -maybe I’ll have an epic rock band in decades to come when I go through menopause. Santana’s Samba Pa Ti for going to heaven -probably the original recording, not when Carlos is experimenting live. I’m well over post rock or any sensitively produced city folky dribble. I like a *star* plus a *star band*. I like beats and electronics only if they are used in a focused fashion to provide a killer drop. My favourite bands in London in recent times have been The White Russians, Selfish Cunt, Liars (serious and gregorian sounding) and the Arrows of Love/ Shuga / Second Head lot. If I wasn’t chasing songs like hummingbirds, I’d be making those kinds of sounds I expect. I love Sharon van Etten. I think her use of melody is astounding and her songs are brilliant. I saw Alpines live this summer. They seem completely commercial in every single mind blowing way. One wonders what one needs to make a career if that isn’t it? They should be massive. That girl is is the real deal.
‘Fire’ is a very dramatic video- are you inspired by cinema? How important is the visual side of your work to you? Does it bother you that, as a female singer, your appearance is more likely to be focused on?
No. My best friend is doing academics in ‘Gender’ and my big sister is a lesbian and hasn’t brushed her hair in my life time. I live in London, a city that’s deeply contrived and cool beneath grey skies. I am currently loving to perform my gender role as Maid of Love. Post-feminist. All Woman. It’s true that when I’ve done sound engineering jobs I feel much more respect from blokes than as a singer, but that’s their issue. I’m definitely not into imitating men in rock n roll to get their respect. What a bore. One day I’ll be old, for much longer than I’ll be young. And anyway, I might be an emaciated crow beneath these pomegranates, so pity the fool that judges. And appearance is always focused on, no matter what we do, and by all genders. One female supervisor at Cambridge said, ‘Oh well at least she’ll look good in the bar…’ -I graduated with a Starred First. Meaow. I am inspired by cinema yes, but people listen to music nowadays by watching it, so the visual element is a requirement. But I think it’s daft how people are expected to do everything now -which must create masters of none. That’s why I just choose great film makers like Mason Jar and NowMomentNow to help represent my music.
There are a lot of comparisons flying around you (PJ Harvey, Lan Del Rey etc). How will you separate your identity from these artists?
I reckon there’s just one massive archetypal music hall out there that we are all tapping baby but within that, I don’t think there can be any issues with one’s own identity being different from someone else’s. The big comparison names are just reference points for expression commodified -and it looks like the industry can only handle one intense soul expresser every decade or so, which narrows down the field of comparisons. I worked on a PJ Harvey live session once. There were around twenty hefty blokes who couldn’t wait to get out of the studio -great since there were just three of us left in the room. Pretty funny, and I glared at the bloke crackling his sandwich wrapper. I’m happy to be compared to Lana since her voice is like an old fashioned star if you take it alone under the sky. Perhaps I relate more to her branding than the ‘quirky girl’ presentation of female singers over the last few years which I felt was like putting them in a box trying to control the witch. I mean, if you want me to be quirky then let’s get serious. Ultimately, Florence Welsh nailed it in the Metro when she said, ‘The only thing we have in common is tits.’
What do you hope people will take from Made of Love?
I guess it was all about me, a bit like everyone’s first book is all about themselves… I hope to pass through that. But I do think it’s a record of compassion, and that’s universal, so I hope that people can feel as comforted by it as I have felt when listening to other people’s music. I think all my music is for driving. I LOVE driving.
Your second album is already finished! What can we expect and how do you manage to be so prolific?
That’s not really prolific is it? The second album is really the partner record to the first. Much of it was recorded at the same time and indeed years before the first. They come as a pair and can ideally be played back to back, but I couldn’t very well release a double album as an unknown artist. There are some steps beyond songs about my own life (well, one song) -an adaptation of a James Elroy Flecker poem… ‘Farmagusta and the hidden sun rings black Cyprus with a lake of fire’… Hell yeah. Then there’s an exquisite duet with Mike Mills, ‘Georgia’. ‘At the Beach’ is the best song I’ve written. Both the first two records are pure, unconscious journeying -also in terms of production. You could say karmic journeying, if ‘karmic’ could be a well known adjective without too much implication, which it isn’t. Anyway, both records are stitched and glued with hair and bone marrow. I like wild albums for the time being.
Made Of Love is out now. Bethia plays at The New Oxford on September 21st, The Lowry on September 22nd.