You might know Jehnny Beth from her work in the thrashing post-punk band Savages. But now, Beth is setting out on her own. Her debut solo album is called To Love Is To Live, and was inspired by David Bowie’s swan song Blackstar. Beth tried to get into a similar headspace as Bowie for the record, telling the New York Times that she worked on the project “as if I was going to die.” This sentiment comes through in the music — an earnest and unabashed attempt at reconciling with life and the anxieties of death.
Ahead of To Love Is To Live, Beth sat down to talk her love for Nine Inch Nails, Bill Murray, and her new book in the latest Indie Mixtape 20 Q&A.
What are four words you would use to describe your music?
Oneiric, strange, erotic, and cruel.
It’s 2050 and the world hasn’t ended and people are still listening to your music. How would you like it to be remembered?
Well 2050 isn’t actually very far away… I’m pretty sure humanity will still be consumed by the same fears, the same kind of love and obsessions, so my album should do just fine.
What’s your favorite city in the world to perform?
I have great memories of Mexico and Porto (Portugal), the audiences are so passionate there, but luckily I have always found incredibly generous audiences pretty much everywhere I have been around the globe.
Who’s the person who has most inspired your work, and why?
I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without the influence and love of my long-term partner and collaborator Johnny Hostile. This year is our 15th year together and he continues to inspire me on a day to day basis. Johnny is the fuel. He empowers me by giving me the reality of that life which creates the music and the work, and helps me to maintain it over the years.
Where did you eat the best meal of your life?
The best meal of my life would have to be a meal that I remember with love, and that would be something my grandma would have cooked in my childhood, most certainly a dessert, probably a French prune pie, in her garden on a summer afternoon.
What album do you know every word to?
Well… mine! And Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea by PJ Harvey.
What was the best concert you’ve ever attended?
Nine Inch Nails Lollapalooza 2014.
What is the best outfit for performing and why?
When I started performing in Savages it was clear to me that, being a female front person, journalists would spend more time talking about my outfit than my music, so I started dressing simply with black clothes, like a work outfit, so they would have nothing to talk about but my lyrics.
Who’s your favorite person to follow on Twitter and/or Instagram?
@johnnyhostilephoto: Johnny Hostile started photography when we moved from London to Paris 3 years ago. His work inspired a collaboration between his photos and my writing on the subject of freedom and sexuality that we compiled in a book called Crimes Against Love Memories (C.A.L.M) published in June 11th 2020 by White Rabbit Editions.
What’s your most frequently played song in the van on tour?
What’s the last thing you Googled?
A link to a video that a fan did of one of my old songs. The link didn’t work…
What album makes for the perfect gift?
Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever crashed while on tour?
Someone’s back garden shed… somewhere near Norwich, UK, 2008, winter time.
What’s the story behind your first or favorite tattoo?
My tattooist (Joe Moo) is a friend and I love his work. I only have red tattoos. My favourite tattoo is the one that says “I Am Here”. That’s the epitaph I want on my grave when I die.
What artists keep you from flipping the channel on the radio?
Idles, Fontaines D.C, King Krule, Black Midi, Ezra Furman, Liam Gallagher, NIN, Kelly Lee Owens, Underworld, Mica Levi, Bill Evans, Nina Simone, Vivaldi, Schubert, Mozart, Massive Attack, Lee Hazelwood & Nancy Sinatra, Marianne Faithfull, Fever Ray, Grace Jones… the list goes on and on…
What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you?
My mother wrote me a letter before Xmas and it was the nicest letter I ever received, it profoundly changed my relationship to her and to the world. She told me how much she loved me and how she supported me in what I am doing even though she doesn’t always understand. Made me realize that we truly can’t be happy without being loved.
What’s one piece of advice you’d go back in time to give to your 18-year-old self?
Don’t be afraid to be who you are – they will get used to it.
What’s the last show you went to?
Idles in Alexandra Palace. I lost my t-shirt in the moshpit, very erotic.
What movie can you not resist watching when it’s on TV?
Old french comedies, or any kind of good comedy, anything with Bill Murray.
What would you cook if Kanye were coming to your house for dinner?
I’d hide his wife’s jewelry first.