When Beth Jeans Houghton picks up the call, she’s in the middle of ushering her Mum off to collect the latest shipment of records that have arrived at the door. The musician has been holed up in her family home in Newcastle since the world went into lockdown last year.
The space is now the HQ for her newly founded, record label Daemon TV Part merchandise warehouse, part vocal booth, even Houghton’s childhood bedroom provided a backdrop to complete her latest record, Homecoming.
But despite the irregular studio space, Du Blonde (the moniker Houghton performs under) has never been uncertain in her sound. She’s an artist that’s willing to bear all as debut Welcome Back To Milk proved with Houghton sporting nothing but a fur coat and a mirkin on its provocative cover.
Follow-up Lung Bread for Daddy was the first step towards the entirely self-produced, self-directed, and fully-immersive beast here today. And while the garage rock riffs remain, Homecoming boasts a vibrant pop sheen she’s longed to try but never felt the autonomy to do so, until now.
Even with its independent aspirations though, Homecoming welcomes multiple cameos from a slew of Houghton’s creative peers from longtime pal, Ezra Furman to Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson.
With Mum shuffling the boxes into the dining room, Houghton casts her mind back to pedal demos on YouTube, that chance encounter with Jeff Garlin, and explains why hard rock riffs ignite her soul.
You were completely self-sufficient on this record; writing, recording, and producing from your bedroom. Did you use pedals and gear from existing rigs or did you create a lot using digital FX?
“I've always been a guitar collector. I have about 16 electric guitars. I know what I like about them but I don't know the technical stuff. For years, I was like, ‘Oh, it's embarrassing, I need to learn what this means and how this pedal works.’
“But I've started to realize, it doesn't matter. I used to tour 10 different pedals and then the last tour I went on, I used three. One was a tuner, and two of them were rip offs from that pedal brand, Joyo, who just basically do rip-offs for £20.
“Me and my ex-boyfriend used to watch an awful lot of pedal demo videos so my whole setup was probably less than £50. It's wonderful to be a nerd and to know all of these things if it's important to you but it's not necessary.
“I wish I'd heard someone in the past talking about how it doesn't make you uncool or stupid not to know this stuff. It's just as valid to make music not knowing what you're doing if you like the final result.”
You were gifted a guitar from Curb Your Enthusiasm comedian Jeff Garlin when you found the guitar you’d lined up to record with had been stolen. How did that chance meeting help spark the record’s songwriting?
“It's the guitar that I'd use on Lung Bread for Daddy and it was one of my favorite guitars, an '80s Fender Strat. I got to San Francisco and the guy who had it in his studio was like ‘Oh, yeah, that was stolen three months ago.’
“Then I met Jeff Garlin not realizing he was a total rock guitar nerd. He turned up at my house with a Fender Strat Custom Shop red guitar.
“They're hand-wired, as opposed to on a factory line. I didn't think it would make that much of a difference to the sound but I have never played a guitar that is so pleasurable to play ever in my life.
“The pickups are really hot so you barely have to do anything and screaming sustain comes out. I wrote the first song five minutes after he left the house.”
Despite creating the record independently, Homecoming is jam-packed with creative collaborations. How did you approach the artists involved and how did their sounds influence the songs?
“The only guest person who I hadn't known beforehand was Andy Bell. He asked me to do some vocals on a track so I was like ‘While I do these vocals, would you mind putting bass on this track?’
“With Medicated (ft. Shirley Manson), it’s very much saying ‘Hang on, you'll be okay. It's totally fine that you're a weirdo.’ Garbage was that band for so many people. When I was growing up, it was like here are the weirdos who found success and stayed weird.
“I've got Ben Corrigan who is Jonny Takeaway in Hard Skin on the Ezra [Furman] song. I sent him more of a punk track, and he came up with the guitar bit in the chorus which made the song completely different.
“He made it glam. In the past, I might've been like, ‘But it's not mine.’ Now I can be like, ‘I fucking love it. He's made my song better and I'm really grateful.’”
Undertaker features a dual guitar solo which harks back to an epic hard rock era. Were those the bands that inspired you to pick up the guitar when you first started playing?
“Yes, but not to the extent that I could have named any of their songs. There are always these social expectations about what you're allowed to like and if you like it, you have to prove it.
“I'll read about hair metal and glam rock and heavy metal but I'm not one of those people who can name loads of stuff. The thing that I love most about those genres is harmonic guitar solos. Those dueling guitars. It’s almost like classical music but with overdrive. It just lights my heart on fire. I love any music that ignites your soul and makes you feel something.”
The lack of control working with record labels throughout your 15-year career is one of the reasons you’ve decided to release Homecoming on your own terms. How have the last 12 months impacted that decision?
“It's been such an awful year. But for me, it's probably been the biggest turning point. The restrictions of not being able to go to a studio forced me to do what I always wanted to do. It gave me the excuse because I was like, ‘Well, if it's shit, I'll tell everyone, it was my pandemic record.’
“I was reading Dennis Dunaway's (bass player for Alice Cooper) biography when I first got to Newcastle and I was like 'Fuck, this is what I love about music.' They're these 17-year-old kids and they turn up and say, 'We're playing here' and then tie spiderwebs to the stage.
“That was what I was like and it got stripped away from me being in the system. So, with this record, I'm going to bootleg my own album. I'm going to sell hand-burned CDs and do everything that I did when I started out and I loved what I was doing.”
Homecoming is out on April 2 on Du Blonde’s own label, Daemon TV, and available to preorder now.