Freeing herself from the shackles of her former sound, Beth Jeans Houghton boldly rebranded as Du Blonde – and is no longer afraid to speak her mind.
Two years ago, Beth Jeans Houghton had a bittersweet epiphany. Standing among the props in the “David Bowie Is…” exhibition at the V&A Museum, she realised that she had not been true to her childhood vows – to always keep moving, keep pushing her sound and never be pinned down. Things had to change.
Beth originally started off alongside The Hooves of Destiny, which saw them release the critically acclaimed “Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose”. Eager to expand on their success, Beth and the band took to LA in the hope of recording their second record. But soon Beth became disenchanted with her sound and artistic direction, and decided to split from the band to go about things alone.
After some soul-searching, she underwent a transformation. Beth Jeans Houghton was dead, and Du Blonde was born. While Du Blonde isn’t a stage character, it is a complete reinvention – introducing a new look, band and sound. We talk to Du Blonde about her newfound confidence, album and about setting off into the LA desert with Future Island’s Samuel T Herring.
You said that Du Blonde isn’t a character or persona. So how would you describe it?
I’d say it’s a new project, but it’s me 100 per cent. It’s not like I’ve created something artificial or change when I’m on stage. I’d say that I am probably more myself than I used to be. And the name just acted as a good way to make the point that I’m not doing my old sound anymore.
Would you say that there’s a lot of emotion and anger tied up with your latest album?
Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of releasing of emotion. I got to a very stagnant point in my head and in my life, and I needed to expel all of that. But I would say it was more of a productive anger than anything else. Sometimes when problems build up over a long time, and you’re not really addressing them with yourself or other people, they can come out in ugly ways. But rather than do that, I wanted to do things in a positive way and put it into music. That way it’s healing for me, and I also save everyone else from my wrath.
How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist over the years since Houghton & The Hooves of Destiny?
I think I’ve become a lot more honest with myself and with my music. The first record was honest, but this one is more blunt and to the point. I’m not avoiding certain subjects by shrouding the lyrics in mystery; I’m just saying it how it is. I think I’ve become a lot more confident to be myself and not worry so much about what people are going to think. You can change as much as you like, but there’ll still be people who won’t like it.
Do you prefer being a solo artist?
It’s very different. I prefer it at the moment, but there’s something to be said for The Hooves of Destiny, as I was with them for eight years. There’s something really beautiful about that in a personal way. But in a creative way I definitely prefer being solo, because I get to call the shots and do all of the creative aspects exactly how I want, which is the only reason why I’m in this job.
Why did you choose “Black Flag” as your first single? What was the inspiration behind the video?
We chose that song because it was a good statement to begin with, and we wanted to make the point that it’s all changed. The video is about my love for LA. At the time of shooting the video, I hadn’t written “Black Flag” or any of the record. The desert footage was shot two years ago, but at that time I already had an idea of how I wanted things to be. So when filming I just danced to Beyoncé, because I knew I could put my song on top of it later. I wanted the video to represent my life in LA, ‘cause that’s a huge part of the record.
You’re also into photography and artwork. How important is creating art to you?
I only started doing music when I was 16, so before that I did a lot of art and photography and I thought that that’s what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. It sort of acts like an escape as well. If I have writer’s block with my music, it means I have something else to keep my creative juices flowing. That way I’m not wasting time or being lazy, I’m putting creativity into another medium and that can also inspire me to go back to music with fresh ears. It’s like a little club in my head; they all help each other out.
People make a lot of assumptions about your music. Do you dislike having to pin it down, or do you have a particular sound that you’d subscribe to your songs?
With the first record, it was a lot harder to answer that question because there were so many influences. I still wouldn’t know what the first record is, genre-wise. But I know that this record is a lot simpler. It’s a guitar-based record and it was influenced by punk and rock.
You’ve also worked together with Future Island‘s Samuel T Herring. How did that come about?
I saw them play in Newcastle in 2011. I was totally blown away, because it’d been so long since I’d seen any band that engaged with an audience like that. I made a record in LA that never got put out at the end of 2012, and my producer at the time asked me what else I wanted while I was there, and so I told him about this guy in Baltimore. I got in touch with him thinking that at most he’d send over an MP3 of his vocals, but he said he’d come up to LA. He decided that as soon as he got there, we should drive into the desert. Which seemed like a great idea at the time, but as it got closer I got more nervous about my wellbeing. But it was fine – he was not a dangerous man, he was a real goofball. So we just drove round the West Coast for a couple of weeks, and went back to the studio. He did the vocals for my song in his first take, and he ad-libbed the whole thing. My producer and I were just like: “What the fuck?”.
If your listeners take one thing away from your music, what would you like that to be?
One of the sole purposes of music is that you can relate to it and apply it to your own life. So I really wanted to try and make a record that would stand the test of time. You know when there are always some records that you go back to, and are always in your collection? I’d love it if this album was one of those.
Your album “Welcome Back To Milk” is out in May, so what’s next for you over the upcoming months?
We have a show on May 18th, which is the record release day in London, and then we’re going on tour in June. I just want to be playing live as much as possible. I won’t be playing my guitar anymore. It’s really fun and freeing, and it’s a lot easier to connect with an audience and involve them. Before I was probably hiding behind it because I didn’t know how to harness that power. But I think I’m almost there now.
Words: Leonie Roderick