Beth Jeans Houghton opens up about her journey to new album 'Lung Bread For Daddy', expectations on female artists, and working with Red Hot Chili Peppers
Despite still not being 30, it feels like Newcastle’s Beth Jeans Houghton – or Du Blonde as she prefers to be known these days – has been around forever. Now three albums of eccentric rock ‘n’ roll in, she’s crammed a lot into almost 15 years of making music.
And yet, going by the brittle, lived-in garage rock of excellent new record ‘Lung Bread For Daddy‘ – a record that is at times extremely difficult to listen to, such is its raw emotional honesty – it seems that a lot of living might have taken its toll. Is it possible to live too much, too soon? What better time than now, then, to find out if everything is alright in the world of Du Blonde…
Hello Beth. The new album is really good, if a bit harrowing in places…
“Thanks! It’s my new thing. I think each album so far represents a different side of me. I’ve been describing each album as a different limb of the same monster. The first album [2012’s ‘Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose’, made as Beth Jeans Houghton] was written when I was between 16-18, so it was me exploring who I wanted to be when I grew up. What I wanted to be at that point was very extroverted, which I think you could see in the way that I dressed. I think this album, in comparison, is much more who I am right now. I’m still an extrovert, but I think a lot of it is in the music rather than the way I’m dressing or whatever. Musically it’s much closer to what I really like. Punk and classic rock and garage rock and psychedelia. It’s less reactionary.”
So is it fair to say that a record you’ve made under the name Du Blonde is actually truer to who Beth Jeans Houghton is than the record you made under that name?
“I think that record was me too, just a different side of me. I will say this though… I went through a period of being quite worried that the only thing that was interesting about me was the way that I dressed, or even that I was young. Those two things seemed to be the only things that the press ever wrote about, and sometimes I have got a bit hung up on what other people have had to say. I had a period where I was surrounded by some people who were always telling me what to do and how to behave and I kinda got confused for a little bit. I feel like I started to reclaim that on the last record [2015’s ‘Welcome Back To Milk’, made as Du Blonde] and this is the next step. I like to think of this record as ‘no fancy stuff, just me…’ I’m 29 now! I’m old!”
‘Lung Bread For Daddy’ is a very honest record. It’s quite difficult to listen to at times. It sounds like a record made by someone who’s been through some stuff…
“Well, my mental health hasn’t ever been great for any real consistent period of time. I really struggled with social media for a while. I had a breakdown. A lot of anxiety. A lot of depression. The cover of this record is a painting I did of a photograph I took of myself at my most depressed. It was therapeutic to paint myself with all my skin imperfections and the exhaustion in my face. I’ve done a series of self-portraits over the last few years. I’ve only been seriously suicidal in my life once and I did a painting of myself around that time. It’s really harrowing. I find it upsetting to look at. I literally went to the GP’s and sat there for four hours to stop myself killing myself. They gave me some medication and three days later I drew another self-portrait and you can literally see the difference in me. It gives me strength knowing it’s possible to go from that bad place to that better place.”
Can you tell us about the song ‘Take Out Chicken’? That’s quite an intense little number…
“That’s about an ex-boyfriend I met in an arcade. He was drinking wine out of a can and he had the worst anxiety I’ve ever seen. I immediately thought, ‘This is the one for me’. I had a real thing when I was growing up of wanting to help people with anxiety, I think because I recognised myself in them. But anyway. I spent three months in his dark apartment while he smoked weed and walked around with a gun. We watched the HBO series Hannibal and ordered take out chicken from some place in LA. He’s a very sweet man, but we weren’t compatible.”
You’ve spent much of your career alternating between living and working in Newcastle and LA. That must be a weird experience. Is it a bit disorientating?
“I’d been obsessed with the West Coast of America and its music scene from the moment I’d heard Ladies of the Canyon by Joni Mitchell as a teenager, so it just seemed natural to me to try and spend as much time there as possible as soon as I was old enough to be able to do that. I always loved the culture of lots of people making music with lots of other people. It seemed like everyone was in five other bands. I loved looking at the credits of records and seeing how much crossover there was with musicians. And the best thing was, when I got there it was exactly like that. I was so gleeful! I fully intend on going back there when Trump’s gone.”
You basically started your career as a child. You lived a lot of life very early. Did it sometimes feel too much?
“I feel like I experienced a lifetime of weird shit before I was 22. It doesn’t make me sad. I’m grateful for all my experiences! It’s all learning. Even the breakdown I had, I learned something from. I have a memory of being 12 and blowing out candles on a birthday cake, and the wish that I had was ‘I wish to experience every emotion known to man in it’s extreme’. Obviously that’s a terrible idea, but I think I have almost. No… actually, that’s not true. The relationship I’m in right now is completely new. He’s so kind and supportive of me being myself. There’s no anxiety there. It’s one of the greatest adventures of my life. Basically, when I’m old and I’m dying, I’m going to have so many fun memories to draw upon.”
Where do you think your creativity comes from? It seems like you’re always doing something…
“I think a lot of it is because I’ve got ADD. I can’t concentrate on one thing. Also, when I was a kid, I just had so much belief in myself. It wasn’t that I thought I was great, it was more that I just never considered I couldn’t. I’d just decide that I wanted Van Dyke Parks to produce my album, because why not? And so I’d find his email and write to him. Making things has never been a problem for me, it’s finishing them that’s the struggle. I’m really very disorganised. I think it’s one of the reasons why I feel so at home in LA. Being an hour late to meet someone is just expected. But making things is, for me, predominantly a therapeutic thing. Being honest, even if it’s about things that are super gross or disgusting, that helps. It makes my life easier, even if it makes other people uncomfortable.”
Speaking of which, tell us more about your comic, Butt Hurt. You’ve described that as being all about weird dreams you’ve had or retelling uncomfortable situations.
“Well, I’ve always drawn. Before I became a musician I wanted to be an artist or a fashion designer. My parents are graphic designers. We weren’t allowed videogames as a kid, we just had pens and pencils! They taught me how to use photoshop when I was little and we were always encouraged to make stuff. I will say this about my parents though. They were always super supportive of me wanting to be me – I had a terrible time in school with my ADD, dyslexia, bullying and just generally being a weird kid, and they totally understood me leaving school early and pursuing music and art. They just always instilled in me that I had to find a way to make it financially viable. I had to learn to make it a business.”
You taught yourself animation and have made music videos for LUMP, Ezra Furman and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. How did you learn to do that?
“It started with RHCP. They’d seen Butt Hurt and really liked it and so they asked me to draw ten illustrations for them which they were then going to get a team of people to animate. Seven weeks before the video was due I found out they hadn’t found an animation team yet so I taught myself how to do it in that time. It was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked. I’d work for three hours, sleep for thirty-minutes, work for three hours… and repeat that until I was done. I lived on pulverised baby food and YouTube tutorials. I’m currently learning how to code so I can make a videogame…”
Du Blonde’s new album ‘Lung Bread For Daddy’ is available on Moshi Moshi now. She plays the Electric Ballroom on March 22.
For help and advice on mental health:
- ‘Am I depressed?‘ – Help and advice on mental health and what to do next
- Help Musicians UK – Around the clock mental health support and advice for musicians
- Music Support Org – Help and support for musicians struggling with alcoholism, addiction, or mental health issues
- YOUNG MINDS – The voice for young people’s health and wellbeing
- CALM – The Campaign Against Living Miserably for young men
- Time To Change – Let’s end mental health discrimination
- The Samaritans – Confidential support 24 hours a day