LOCAL INTERVIEW: Du Blonde | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Beth Jeans Houghton is pissed off. And who can blame her? After our interview, I’m pissed off on her behalf. “With a lot of press I get, people talk about my clothes. People seem to be focused on what a girl looks like and what she wears; it’s really rare I get interviewed without being asked what it’s like to be a girl in a band. Women have ideas and political beliefs and they play their own instruments and write their own songs, I find it bizarre it’s 2015 and this is still a thing.”

At the recent 6 Music Festival panel events, Beth – who will be releasing her new record under the moniker of Du Blonde – took part in a conversation with other local luminaries who were discussing making music in the North East. I was shocked to hear her say she’d felt marginalised as a woman in the North East, but it transpires that’s just the tip of the iceberg: “When I first started out at 16 I went into the whole thing not aware of my gender as being any specific issue, it didn’t really dawn on me that there weren’t that many solo girls around in the North East at my age. Back in the days before Facebook, my friend showed me an online forum with so much hate about me on it I was shocked. I realised I wasn’t necessarily accepted in this scene – which is fine, I wasn’t looking for a scene, I was looking to make music – but I thought at the time it was an issue with my age. I’m 25 now and I still get that shit from people all over the world; it’s probably because I’m a girl, which is really sad to have to admit to myself.”

It may have been this prejudice that fed an insecurity which was to ultimately bring her previous sound – and her band, The Hooves Of Destiny – to a halt. After tasting success with her debut album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, she repaired to her ‘spiritual home’ of Los Angeles with The Hooves to record the follow-up, but it never saw the light of day; Beth’s 60s psyche pop album no longer spoke to her and she suffered crippling anxiety and writer’s block, until a friend forced her to confront what was simmering under the surface: anger.

“For a long period of time I’d stopped being honest with myself, and I’d stopped dealing with certain situations because I figured they were too hard to deal with. Those things come out later in a much darker way. I was angry with myself for having let people treat me a certain way. I was annoyed I lost my strength and let people walk all over me for a bit.”

du blonde

“I was angry with myself for having let people treat me a certain way. I was annoyed I lost my strength and let people walk all over me”

Beth admits that letting go of her Newcastle-based musicians was a “moment of great confusion and torment”, but the input and influence other people were having over her life contributed to her not being true to herself. “I’d been listening to a lot of people who had opinions on what I should sound like. It was a time when I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence and their opinions mattered more than they should have. I spent a long time going in a direction that wasn’t me and picking up other people’s shit that stuck to me. Now I feel more like myself. Although I have a different name I feel more like me. This is probably the kind of music I was trying to make with the first record, I just didn’t know how to do it yet.”

And so Du Blonde was born; taking new influence from American hardcore and classic rock – “songs that barely have anything on them, but say a lot” – Beth emerged from a period of uncertainty and heartbreak in true fighting style with Welcome Back To Milk. Opening with the quick one-two bassy punch of Black Flag and the faintly Eastern tinge of Chips To Go, with its shouted refrains and galloping pace; the album’s tempered by the subtle beauty of the gorgeous Raw Honey and the wistful Hunter. The undercurrent of rage is never far away though; whether it’s on the stunning sentimentality of After The Show, which slow burns with betrayal and heartache, replete with twinkling piano and Gospel-like backing vocals, or the noisy tirade of If You’re Legal, written about the culture of barely-legal girls, which fizzes with staccato hi-hats, tribal drums and resplendent trumpets. Black Magic’s Morricone-esque guitars and vocal theatrics belie a resentment that is practically spat at the listener: ‘what is it like, to fuck your mistress with your hands tied’.

There’s no trace of bitterness here though – if anything, it’s a mournful record, full of recriminations, accusations and a barely controlled rage. And it’s absolutely glorious.

“A lot of the aggression is less bitter pissed off aggression, it’s more standing up after you’ve fallen down and having the strength to do that.” She admits. “And realising that those things had to happen so you don’t let them happen again.”

The choice of working with Bad Seeds musician and producer Jim Sclavunos was an inspired move. “The great thing about Jim, is he’s very good at harnessing the sound I wanted. I had sessions with some other producers and I told them my plans: I wanted to sound like a live guitar band, I wanted to be a person not a girl, but they wanted me to be more what they could sell.”

Along with a newly realised sound, Beth’s stage show is also a revolution. Without a guitar to hide behind, she’s free to put on a proper performance. “I feel much more like myself. I feel now when I’m on stage I’m being me. That comes from getting older and caring less.”

This is what comes from sticking to your guns; Welcome Back To Milk is a massive fuck you to all the people who slagged her off online, who asked her if she was on her period in business meetings and who treated her with anything other than the respect she deserves as an artist. Sometimes, angry is good.

Du Blonde releases Welcome Back To Milk via Mute on 18th May. The band play The Cluny, Newcastle on Thursday 11th June.

Images: Alice Baxley

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