The liberation of Du Blonde: “People shouldn’t worry about self-releasing; doing it myself is more fun”

Interview The liberation of Du Blonde: “People shouldn’t worry about self-releasing; doing it myself is more fun”

On new album ‘Homecoming’, the singer is shaking off the shackles and going her own sweet way.

First coming to prominence under her own name as the folky Beth Jeans Houghton, before changing lanes and re-emerging as Du Blonde for 2015’s ‘Welcome Back To Milk’, it’s taken another six years for the singer to ditch the dead weight, go it alone and truly embrace the genre-hopping, wildly creative output that she’s always wanted to make.

With third Du Blonde LP ‘Homecoming’, a fuzzy garage pop joy of an album, Beth has done just that - and she’s added some musical guests, her own record label, and a multi-faceted creative ‘house’ to her arsenal in the process.

You’ve recorded, released and done everything yourself on ‘Homecoming’ - was there a catalyst for that?
I’d always wanted to self-release and I think the catalyst for doing it now was the pandemic. I was just coming to the end of my last record contract and I knew psychologically that I couldn’t do labels anymore. In terms of recording, I produced the last album and I always wanted to learn to engineer but as long as I had access to a studio I wasn’t gonna do it because it’s easier to go to a professional. But then I couldn’t, so I did it myself.

Why did you get to that end point with labels do you think?
I’ve been on labels for 15 years, and it’s kind of twofold. I like doing stuff DIY anyway; when I started when I was 15, 16 years old, I’d burn my own CDs and do it myself and that’s what I love and wanna do forever. Then I got sucked into the industry side of everything and I got the confidence beaten out of me. Labels are good for some people but not everybody, and the people who they aren’t good for shouldn’t worry about self-releasing because it doesn’t mean you can’t put out a record and get it on the radio and all of these things where I think people feel like they’re being invalidated by not having the support of a bigger company. But for me it just meant I had no rights over my music, I couldn’t make any money from it and I had to fight tooth and nail for all of my creative decisions.

I had people telling me I should wear a bikini on stage; I was sexually harassed by my manager for three years and then the label told me they didn’t believe me; a different manager committed fraud and forged my signature - there was all this shit. Probably three times I very seriously considered quitting music and was so depressed and upset and hating life, but then I thought I don’t actually need to be with these people and doing it myself this time has made me realise not only can I do it but it’s more fun.

Was there a sense of being put in a box previously?
Definitely. I think pretty much anyone I’ve worked with in that area has an idea of what they think I am but it’s totally not what I am. For [debut Du Blonde album] ‘Welcome Back to Milk’ I had really bad acne and I just wanted to make a video in stained sweatpants and no makeup, and they just wouldn’t go for it. They just didn’t realise that people would actually like it because it’s relatable; they won’t let people be themselves but they’re also missing a trick because audiences want to see real people. People don’t always relate to some well airbrushed thing on a screen with a good camera. I want to show people you can do things on an iPhone, you don’t have to spend £20,000 on a music video.

You can hear the sense of liberation on the record - what was the mood whilst making it?
I definitely felt liberated. There’s a burp that starts the record! When I’m recording vocals I always have to burp so I just get it out before I start singing, and when I was editing it I went back and thought, ‘Ah man, I would totally leave that in’ and then realised that I can. I don’t have to email four middle-aged white men to be like, ‘Please can I have my burp?’, I can just stick it in there. On ‘Smoking Me Out’, I put an octave pedal [on my vocal] that sounds like a mad monster thing. I hadn’t come up with a verse I liked and I just adlibbed that. I was thrilled that I could do that and I could put it on the album without going to anybody for approval, so I think that probably does come through.

“I’m so into the idea that anyone can make music or art. Some of the best songs are two chords and the person can’t sing.”

There’s always a strong aesthetic to your work - what was the mood board for this record?
I was thinking a lot about my youth, about ‘90s things. I put ‘Pull The Plug’ out recently and someone on Instagram said it sounded like it should be on the soundtrack of Clueless which I love. There was a lot of anger and sadness in my previous records, and I’ve gone down the dark route, but most of the time I’m quite a giggly person so it was nice to [reference] fun stuff and pop culture and not think about the meanings of things all the time.

Is this your version of pop music then?
I think it is. Well, my true version of pop music is still to come because I’m making an experimental pop/ happy hardcore record at the moment so I’m going even further in that direction. But I’ve always loved pop music and I’ve always felt that I couldn’t put that in my music because a lot of people in the industry have issues with people changing genres or experimenting, but even Shakira - some of her songs are full of amazing, almost metal guitar parts, and a lot of my favourite rock music is quite pop.

What’s the appeal of making something that still has that rough around the edge, garage quality?
I don’t think I could have made it any less rough around the edges if I wanted to, but I’m so into the idea that anyone can make music or art regardless of ability and I think some of the best songs are two chords and the person can’t sing. It’s more about the energy and whether the song gives you a feeling that you wanna dance or you wanna smash something. Being a virtuoso on an instrument is really cool if that’s something you can be bothered to get to, but I don’t think it’s any less valid to just smash a song out and I quite like that for me because then I can put out four records a year.

So is there less of an emphasis on an album being the definitive statement of where you are now?
Definitely. Another thing about the label route is you’re often subjected to their bizarre turnaround times and a three-year album cycle, but I’ve always made enough to put out [four albums a year] and I haven’t been able to. I still think about the 20 albums I could have put out that I never was able to. It used to stress me out putting out records because I knew it was the one record that would have to last me the next two years so it had to be perfect, so I didn’t hate it. Whereas now, I probably won’t be touring til the next album, so if I hated this then whatever?

“Now I can make a garage pop record and then I can make a happy hardcore record and then something completely different.”

You’ve got some exciting profile guests on the album including Ezra Furman and Shirley Manson - were the tracks written specifically for the people who sung them?
All of the vocal collaborations came about after I’d written the songs and worked out who would fit. Me and Shirley had spoken about doing something and I thought ‘Medicated’ would work; Ezra and I have very similar ‘60s girl group tastes coupled with the punk thing so that worked for ‘I’m Glad We Broke Up’. That song in particular is very personal to me because I don’t normally write songs that are very specifically about someone, but that one was, so to have her singing those lines was funny. Like, but that’s MY relationship!

Are there still more genres you want to explore?
That’s why I’ve now got my own record label, Daemon.TV. I’ve got a side project called Fuck Daemon with my friend in LA that’s sort of glam-metal, and a country punk band with my friend Mike from Girl Ray. I wanna just be able to put out a 7” or 50 cassettes; I fucking love merch so much and I’m so excited.

Some truly eclectic tastes there!
My other albums have been more one genre with a taste of other things, whereas now I can make a garage pop record and then I can make a happy hardcore record and then something completely different. And there’ll be people who absolutely hate one of them and that’s fine, and they don’t have to listen to it because I didn’t try and shove it all on one record that they do want to listen to!

Anything else in the pipeline, Beth?
Daemon.TV was initially a clothing brand and then my friend said well why don’t you do it as clothing AND a record label? But then I also wanted to make lampshades and rugs and things, so now it’s ‘AND homeware’. It’s just a lot of tie dye and hand-painted clothing and faux fur items at the moment, but I want to get into making more things soon. It won’t be dependent on what I’m releasing musically, but I wanted to have it as an ‘art house’, which might make it sound fancy but it just means I can release anything and put it all in one space so it’s vaguely understandable.

‘Homecoming’ is out now via Daemon.TV

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