A.C. Newman (The New Pornographers) Talks with The Beths on the Talkhouse Podcast

"20 years later, all I have to say is it's a crapshoot. It's a bingo game."

On this week’s Talkhouse Podcast we’ve got the songwriters behind some of the most tuneful tunes in indie-rock, one with a couple of decades under his belt, the other two relatively newer to the game: A.C. Newman along with Liz Stokes and Jonathan Pearce.

Stokes and Pearce are the core of the New Zealand band The Beths; she sings and plays guitar, he plays guitar and engineers their fabulous records. Their third and latest, Expert in a Dying Field, was one of 2022’s best—and you don’t have to take my word for it, it made tons of those best-of-the-year lists. Stokes is a fabulous lyricist and expressive singer; she’s one of those people whose semi-deadpan actually says quite a lot. The songs are melancholy and spunky, and sort of in the tradition of some great late-90s/early aughts indie-rock, like Superchunk or Rilo Kiley. Maybe it’s no surprise that some big bands that broke out in that era, like Death Cab for Cutie and The National, have taken the Beths out on tour. Check out the title track from Expert in a Dying Field right here, and catch the Beths on tour all over the world this summer.

Another Beths admirer who got his start in the early aughts is A.C. Newman, who’s best known as the singer and chief songwriter for the New Pornographers. That Canadian band started out as a sort of supergroup consisting of Newman and Neko Case alongside Dan Bejar and John Collins of Destroyer, but over the years it has really become a vehicle for Newman’s incredibly melodic songs. The band is on tour now behind their ninth album, the slightly mellower though no less engaging Continue As A Guest, and yes, both the current live lineup and the record still feature Neko Case—in the past she’s had to split time with her vibrant solo career. Check out “Really Really Light,” from Continue as a Guest.

In this conversation, Newman, Stokes, and Pearce—who were only admirers beforehand, not yet acquaintances—talk about the early days of these things called websites, blowing your life savings to go on tour, government arts grants that help bands do bigger things, and when doing it yourself just becomes too tough. Also, Newman gives some solid life and career advice: “Just do what you think is cool.” Enjoy.

Thanks for listening to the Talkhouse Podcast, and thanks to A.C. Newman, Liz Stokes, and Jonathan Pearce for chatting. If you like what you heard, please follow Talkhouse on your favorite podcasting platform, and don’t forget to check out the other podcasts in our network, including Craig Finn’s That’s How I Remember It, How Long Gone, and Bjork’s Sonic Symbolism. This episode was produced by Myron Kaplan, and the Talkhouse theme is composed and performed by the Range. See you next time!

(Photo Credit: left, Nicole White; right, Lindsey Byrnes; Edited by: Keenan Kush.)

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