BETH JEANS HOUGHTON
interview by Jessica Lennie
photos / Paul Heartfield
What do you get when Sonic Youth encounters musical alchemy? A match made in psychedelia heaven.
Meet Beth Jeans Houghton and the Hooves of Destiny. A British band complete with matching hoof-print tattoos and a distinct, multi-genre sound that will leave you transfixed.
The band’s debut album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose is all sweet enchantry and soft crooning. One can’t help but succumb to daydreams filled with carousel rides and night swimming in an imaginary wonderland.
Houghton, the female lead in the group, sings with a raw beauty, bouncing in and out of different genres and dreams, yet maintaining a distinctive gospel/folk-like hybrid influence. The album, recorded by Ben Hillier (Blur, Depeche Mode and Elbow) coaxes you to sit back, close your eyes and let Houghton’s angelic voice envelop you.
Hailing from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, 21-year-old Houghton is a youth of many talents. Whilst playing six musical instruments, she also possesses a rare condition, which is no doubt, one of her most remarkable features. Houghton suffers from synaesthesia, a neurological condition whereby two or more of the senses that are usually experienced separately, suddenly become joined together involuntarily—resulting in music seen as colors and patterns or taste seen in shapes, letters and numbers. In Houghton’s case, it means she communicates mostly through colors and symbols. Geniuses such as Ludwig van Beethoven and author Vladimir Nabokov were both born with this rare condition.
With Houghton at the reigns and the Hooves of Destiny fervently leading her, we can expect to see a lot of this band, 2012 and beyond.
How did Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny come to be?
We all met when I was sixteen. I was playing solo shows, and my manager at the time was in a band. I sort of, accidentally stole his drummer and his bassist! The other two members, I met separately. One, I had known since I was a kid and the other, I met randomly at a party. We all got together and started playing music.
Did you write all the songs on your debut album, Yours Truly Cellophane Nose?
I wrote the structure and lyrics of the songs, then the rest of the group put their part in to determine how it should ultimately sound. The music is a group effort.
What is your favorite song on the album?
I really like them all to be honest. I didn’t want this to be an album with just a few good singles. I like records, well-structured albums. I like each of the songs for different reasons.
Are they all personal experiences of your own?
I always write about my own experiences.
How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?
Anything. Something! If they weren’t feeling anything, I would be like, “Oh, this is not great!” Lyrically, my songs all tell a personal story. Sometimes, it’s shrouded in mystery, and people can’t really tell what I’m saying—but the feeling is still there. I always feel euphoric when I sing, so maybe that!
There have been a lot of ‘folk’ references about your musical sound and style. How would you best describe your music?
Well, there’s a term my bassist Rory came up with, Sonic Youth (does she not know this is in reference to the band? Maybe cut), which is a good one. We also came up with Musical Alchemy the other day. It’s kind of like a scientific experiment where we play with different musical genres and see what comes out! There’s a load of everything in there. The list is like 16 genres. Laughs.
How did music first make its way into your life?
When I was a kid, there was always a lot of music playing in the house. Growing up, my mum would have The Roaches from New York or Jimmy Nail playing while she worked. As I grew older, I started to get into her vinyl collection. I didn’t start making music until I was about sixteen, but it has always played a really big part in my life. I’ve always loved it.
What is the first instrument you ever played?
My mum made me take piano lessons when I was a kid for about three years, and I absolutely hated it!
What music are you listening to now?
At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Van Dyke Parks’ records, the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band.
What is your most prized possession to date?
Jesus. My life, I guess? I really love my guitar. It’s a Gibson Les Paul—a gift to myself, after we signed with Mute. I’m not one for possessions, really. I’m more about the people in my life. It’s very important to have close friends.
I have to ask you about your rare condition—synaesthesia. What does it involve exactly?
I only have it in reference to letters and numbers. So if I read something or if someone is speaking to me, the letters appear as colors in front of my eyes. It kind of looks as though they are floating. Oh, and days of the week and stuff are all different colors too. We actually have a new ukulele player who has the same condition, except he experiences it musically, as in, he sees notes and chords in color. He taught himself to play piano, he’s a genius. It’s very unlikely to have two people in the same band with it! So it’s pretty cool.
Is there a quote or saying that you live by?
I do love quotes. I often post inspirational quotes on our Tumblr. There is one I particularly like, “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, then it’s yours, If it doesn’t, then it’s not meant to be.”
If you could have one wish, what would it be?
Happiness for myself and the rest of the world. Actually no, I take that back! Laughs. Just good health and being able to do all the things I want to do before I die. That’s it.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Hopefully living in Los Angeles, having put out ten records, starting to write scores for films, with a child maybe…I’m really into children at the moment. That sounds wrong. Laughs.
So you want to move to LA eventually?
Yeah our plan is to do a tour of LA by the end of the year and make the next record there. I think we’d much prefer to live and be based there and tour the UK, Europe and beyond. I really love LA. I’ve been there a lot in the past year. So yeah, that’s our plan—living in a commune together!
You should be playing at Coachella. Just saying.
I really want to play at Coachella! Honestly, I don’t spend that much time in the UK anymore, sort of two, maybe three weeks at the most. We have only played one show in the US—in Silverlake. But Coachella would be amazing.
When you are old and retired, what do you want people to look back and say about Beth Jeans Houghton & the Hooves of Destiny?
That we did the best that we could. That we worked hard and made great records. I really hope that in five hundred years, people still listen to our songs, and that they still have some relevance and influence.