Primavera Sound LA festival is touching down (finally) this weekend with a variety of acts from around the world, including one such talent, Jehnny Beth, who has been no stranger to Primavera Sound’s landmark Barcelona shows, playing there in June. The French, London-based frontwoman of rock band SAVAGES stepped out last night at Zebulon for a special Primavera In The City show and she hits the stage for the fest on Friday, 9/16 at Los Angeles State Historic Park. The brand-new three-day event runs through Sunday, 9/18 with headliners ranging from Nine Inch Nails to Lorde to Arctic Monkeys.
Jehnny Beth‘s solo debut To Love Is To Live was released in 2020 with fans gravitating to ferocious electro lead single “I’m The Man” as well as tracks like the breathy ballad “Flower”, experimental tune “Heroine” and the dark and mysterious piano-led “We Will Sin Together”. With shows on hold for a couple years, it’s an exciting time for Beth to get out in front of fans eager to experience her music and interactive performance style in person. Beth has collaborated with everyone from Julian Casablancas to Gorillaz to Noel Gallagher to Bobby Gillespie and she is surely making her mark in rock music. Her Primavera Sound LA show is one that was intended to take place back in 2020.
“Like many artists, things got delayed”, said Beth. “I couldn’t tour and I was lucky enough during that time to be asked to act in movies and do other things, like present a TV show in France. Now that touring is back for me this year, it’s almost like finding myself again. It was also nice because all of my life used to revolve around the idea of being a touring artist and musician and it was amazing and I’m so grateful for everything I’ve done but also it was interesting to take a step back and look at who I am if I’m not that. So now I go back with sort of a fresh mind. I’m able to enjoy it even more than I used to. I took time to write new music and to do some acting. When it was about starting to play shows again, it’s like being an athlete, you have to have the energy and the mindset, it’s a different thing. During the two years of Covid I was boxing a lot, which I still carry on doing. The ring was kind of a replacement for me for the stage, you are facing yourself, you have to train the body physically to do these things. So I found sort of a way to get my body up for it and I’m sort of ready to go. When you’re an athlete, even if you lose the championship, you go back to training the next day”.
Jehnny Beth’s stage presence is something to admire, the way she connects with her songs resonates with fans and it’s something that has evolved since she was a child, through various music groups and arrangements. Growing up in France, her parents were heavily involved in theater and Beth took small parts in her father’s plays since age four. Her father wanted her to act and Beth rejected this notion when she was a teenager, pursuing music more heavily. She went on to play in the duo John & Jehn with John Hostile and later SAVAGES was her mainstay, with the band playing final shows in summer 2017 and each member venturing off into solo projects. And most recently with the break after releasing her solo material, Jehnny has been back to acting, enjoying the collaborative elements of both music and film.
“[As a child], there was no difference being on or off stage for me and I preferred to be on. I think there is definitely that in my blood. I think it’s something that I crafted from the early days in London asking small clubs and venues to have the opportunity to have a show. With my first band with John & Jehn, loading the equipment myself with John, when you drive yourself to the clubs, you play and you are barely paid but you love every minute of it, playing as many shows as possible in London. What I had in common with the girls is we rehearsed so much, and I’ve always done that with every project I’ve ever had. The same way you’d rehearse for a movie, you’d do a set and now you’re going to concentrate on every moment between lines. Having everything ready so you can lose control on stage. That’s one of the reasons I stopped drinking because I lost my voice on stage with SAVAGES. When I stepped back on stage sober I started crying because I heard the fans cheering and I hadn’t heard that. I just needed the music to lose myself, I didn’t need the alcohol. When I talk with musicians, there’s a lot of good singers in LA and I just think of Shirley Manson, Juliette Lewis and other people I admire. One time I was talking with Atticus Ross, who produced some songs on my solo record and he said being a front singer is a god given gift and some people have it and some people don’t”.
The film work has been ongoing and varied, with recent roles in 2021 films Kaamelott: The First Chapter and Paris, 13th District as well as the European channel Arte program Echoes with Jehnny Beth, which includes conversations with musicians and live performances with acts like Wet Leg, IDLES and Franz Ferdinand, still going strong today since starting in 2020.
“Doing film is a collective work, which is the same for music”, said Beth. “I have worked with different partners and even with my solo records, different musicians and producers. And so I think there is a similarity in that it has this idea of the troupe or the group. Ideas come from different places. I love that environment because it’s inspiring and stimulating. I think I was also cast because of my music work, so that kind of helped, because I already had an image. Even if this director had an opposite vision from my image, like to destylize, there’s a starting point they want to work with. I actually started acting [professionally] when I was 17, I did a movie and decided it was not what I wanted to do and I moved to London to do music. But going back to it was going back to my roots. It felt a bit like home”.
Whether she’s playing alongside other talented artists, with SAVAGES or on her own solo project alongside producers Johnny Hostile and Malvina Meinier, Beth thinks the feeling of live music for her is the same.
“I’ve been on stage with various formations. SAVAGES is a really good band to play with, because it’s really unpredictable and you know the musicians are real artists and it’s sort of an unexplained connection that happens. It just always works. SAVAGES took me around the world and enabled me to have a voice so I’m really really grateful for that. When I’m on Jehnny Beth, it’s made with Johnny and Malvina Meinier, they are both producers and we play new songs that are more electronic and dance, even techno, really dark, so I love having them on stage, to have really amazing sidekicks who are really charismatic or artists of their own. Johnny Hostile is an incredible instrumentalist, and I was able to see him on stage performing with Nick Cave. It was amazing to see him from outside of our project. Malvina, I’m so happy I found her, she is an incredible producer but she can write for orchestras and she can also headbang and is an amazing dancer. I feel like we can be really scary but also give a lot of love. The only thing I’m afraid of with live is for people to be bored. You’re always surprised by what happens, that’s my goal anyway”.
The list of collaborators goes on and on and also includes The xx, Tindersticks and composer Trentemøller. Ahead of what is shaping up to be an electric performance at Primavera Sound, Beth shared about an artist she has her eye on to work with one day.
“It’s interesting because I do this TV show in France called Echoes, where I invite artists to come on stage with an audience. They are not French artists, although it’s in France. Recently, I invited this band Wu-Lu, that just released a record on Warp Records and I would love to play a song with them because they’re such an incredible mix of hip-hop and punk. The aggressiveness and contrast, everything I love in a band is that”.
Catch Jehnny Beth at Primavera Sound LA on Friday, September 16 for her set 3:30 – 4:15 PM at LA State Historic Park, All Ages, 1:00 pm, 3-Day GA $425.00; 3-Day VIP $975.00; 2-Day GA $240.00; 2-Day VIP $680.00; 1-Day GA $159.00; 1-Day VIP $389.00
Words by Michael Menachem
Photo by Andreas Neumann