You might not guess it from the photograph but Beth Jeans Houghton, the Newcastle musician who is the polar opposite of demure, recently started working in an office. She is managing herself at the moment and, with a new album to release and a UK tour to organise, her label thought she might need a bit of extra support so it offered her a desk at its west London HQ. “I always thought commuting to an office would be my worst nightmare,” says the 25-year-old, glancing around her new workplace, “but really my worst nightmare is to do a job I don’t enjoy with people I don’t like.”
Three years ago, Houghton released a debut album with her band, the Hooves of Destiny. The music was an exuberant mishmash of styles – psych-rock, 60s pop, folk – and so was Houghton’s dress sense: the last time this newspaper encountered her she was wearing a tiger suit. The album was well received and they were mid-way through recording the follow-up in Los Angeles when Houghton hit a wall. She was having creative differences with the band, she tells me. “When I listened back to what we’d recorded, I didn’t see any of myself in it… None of it was angry, none of it was sad. I wasn’t being true to myself.”
So she pulled the plug on the record, broke up with the Hooves and ditched her name. On the new album, a spiky, propulsive, exhilarating piece of work called Welcome Back to Milk, she goes by Du Blonde.
The change was drastic but apparently overdue. In the summer of 2012, during a European tour, Houghton had a breakdown in a Zurich hotel room. “I felt my head go. It was the scariest thing. It felt like my brain was melting.” She had to play a gig in Paris the following night. “I think there’s video footage of it: I just look like I’m gone.” She shakes her head at the memory. “I don’t know how I made it through.”
It took her months to recover. “I started eating healthily and meditating. I saw a psychiatrist, which did me the world of good.” Ditching Beth Jeans Houghton for the more in-your-face Du Blonde helped as well. “It’s positive release,” she says of the aggression in new songs such as Black Flag (a reference to one of her favourite hardcore punk bands). “I let off steam so that it doesn’t flow into my relationships. I’m a way calmer person now.”
Office life seems to agree with her, too, and if the reality of a rock career is less glamorous than it appears from the outside, that’s OK. “99% of my work is admin; 1% is playing shows and making music. The people I know in big bands who’ve been doing this for years, they never stop. They look after themselves, their money and they surround themselves with good people.” Houghton’s advice for budding rockers about to land their first record deal? She shrugs as if it’s obvious. “Go on an accounting course.”
Welcome Back to Milk is out 18 May on Mute. Du Blonde’s UK tour starts on 3 June