Du Blonde: ‘I can do anything I like, within reason’

Du Blonde. Picture: Alice Baxley

Du Blonde. Picture: Alice Baxley - Credit: Archant

After reinventing herself as punk rocker Du Blonde, Beth Jeans Houghton tells Alex Bellotti about her newfound musical liberation.

The difficult second album is hardly an uncommon problem in the music world, but it’s fair to say that Beth Jeans Houghton felt it harder than most.

After releasing her folksy, psychedelic debut, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, with the band Hooves of Destiny in 2012, the group headed to California to record its follow up. By the end of the year, however, the Hackney songwriter was so disillusioned with the results that she scrapped the sessions, left the band and disappeared off the radar, plagued by fears that she had lost control of her musical identity.

So what a relief it was in May when Houghton emerged reborn as the uncompromising grunge queen Du Blonde, complete with a brilliant new record, Welcome Back To Milk. Packed full of growling guitar anthems such as Black Flag and Mr Hyde, while retaining her penchant for the occasional soaring ballad, the album vindicates the 25-year-old’s gutsy decision to wipe the slate clean and risk alienating her fanbase.

“I was in a position where suddenly I had nothing by way of plans or what I was doing,” says Houghton. “I didn’t have my old band anymore so in one sense it was quite scary, but in another sense it was like, ‘Well I can do anything I like really, within reason.’

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“It’s quite a relief because by the end of touring the last record it was just tiring. You have to sing songs with a passion that’s believable, but I’d written half the songs when I was 16 and I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be in love with whoever the song was about. Musically I just wasn’t that into it, and it was sad because people who’d just bought the record found it all new to them and I didn’t want to disappoint them, so it was quite difficult.”

To celebrate her new album, Houghton is currently enjoying a residency at the Shacklewell Arms, which ends with a free show on Monday.

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Alongside her hardcore punk-influenced new sound and aesthetic, her rebirth as Du Blonde has also seen her ditch her guitar live to just sing with a microphone, in order to “challenge myself and think about what scares me”.

This reshaped identity and desire to push boundaries came in part after visiting the David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A in 2013. It was an experience which saw her reconnect with one of her main musical influences growing up, alongside artists such as Marc Bolan and Captain Beefheart.

“I think it made me realise that people can [reinvent themselves] but remain the same person,” she explains. “We were looking at the history of his work and the differences in it, but also at how he remained himself the whole time. At that point I realised that I didn’t feel I was being myself anymore. It wasn’t so much about the personas, but I wasn’t creatively doing what I wanted to do; I’d succumbed to other people’s opinions of what I should be doing, which is never a recipe for happiness.”

Had she ever previously considered such a drastic change to a punk sound?

“No, I’d always wanted to, but I’d never understood the formula, which is just three chords, as simple as you can. I think I would have gone in this direction on the first record, but the only way I knew how to write music was with loads of chord changes, key changes and different melodies. But then just before we started recording I realised you can write good catchy songs just with three chords and the simplicity almost makes it sound bigger.”

Admitting her label would “probably kill me” if she changed her name again, Houghton is happy to stay as Du Blonde for the foreseeable future.

While the musician predicts her next album could be “even heavier and darker”, she’s open to the future taking her in yet another direction. At the very least, you sense the third record won’t be nearly as difficult to figure out.

Du Blonde plays the Shacklewell Arms on Monday (August 3). The event is free, but tickets can be booked in advance. Visit shacklewellarms.com

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