Betsy Haley Hershey of BETS spoke with Rare Candy about her craziest show experience, her upcoming album, and using music as a place for activism.
By Paulette Arnold
RC: When BETS was starting out, the band was bicoastal. How do you feel each coast has influenced your music?
BH: I was actually raised half on the west coast and half on the east coast, so I feel like that defines me in general. I still am very bicoastal to be honest and I am always going back and forth between the two places. I think that when I’m on the west coast, especially LA, I feel like it is this place where I can dream. There is so much open space and I can go on hikes and walks on the beach and be in nature, which allows me to daydream a lot more and to have my dreams be big. I feel like the east coast is about hustling and working hard and putting all that into actual action. I feel like that’s my recipe for life.
RC: Since you’ve already lived on both sides of the US, if you could pick anywhere else in the world to live, where would you choose?
BH: Nowhere else in the US because I feel I have my dream places here. I feel like I could definitely live in London, Paris, maybe somewhere in Germany. I’m definitely into Europe. I love playing music in Europe; it’s definitely one of my favorite places to play.
RC: What makes playing in Europe so different?
BH: I think that there’s a difference in the societies which is just that in a lot of places in Europe, people are raised to appreciate art and music in this different way. There’s also a lot of places where artists and musicians are supported by their government. I think that this gives them more respect for art and music and they really think of it as a real thing, instead of how it is so common in the US that if people tell their parents that they want to be an artist or a musician their parents usually tell them, “No, what’s your next choice?” I went to music school and I remember there were a lot of kids from Sweden. They were musicians whose governments sent them to music school, rented them cars, rented them apartments, and they were completely taken care of. I think that would be completely amazing if that happened in the US. I feel like it allows artists to develop on a much deeper level.
RC: You’ve been travelling a lot to perform all over the world and have said that it doesn’t matter where you are, that “if an idea comes to you, regardless of what you’re doing, write it down or record it.” Where has the weirdest place you had to stop to write down a lyric been?
BH: I wish I could even think of an answer because I feel like there’s never a normal place! I mean it definitely happens when I’m taking a bath. Also when I’m driving. When I used to be in LA, I would be on a jam-packed highway, like the 10, and I’d get this idea that I’d love. I think the weirdest may be yoga class because that’s an awkward one. All these activities are relaxing and soothing, which is the opposite of my personality throughout the rest of the day when I’m working and hustling and go-go-go. Whenever I take a minute to stop doing all that, then ideas are constantly coming to me. Though, I’ve never left yoga class to go record a song...maybe I should try doing that.
RC: In that same interview, you also spoke about how easy it has been to spread your music globally, even without a label. How has the dissemination of your music changed throughout your career?
BH: It’s all about the internet. It’s so amazing that we are able to reach people in all these different places. What’s cool about Spotify—which is kind of what determines a musician’s life in this day-in-age—I can view things as an artist and go behind-the-scenes and see the cities where people are listening to my music. It always blows my mind! For example, I’ve never been to Brazil, but they love me there! That is so incredible and I cannot wait to go love them back. When I first started, I wasn’t as aware and I didn’t know how to access any of that on Spotify or anything. Now that I’m more aware, I can see the places I should go based where people are listening to my music or commenting a lot on Youtube. I have always wanted to go play music everywhere. I love traveling and playing music because it is a really interesting way to see different cultures and how they respond to music. Even when I was in Frankfurt, Germany, that vibe was so different from when I was in Berlin or Paris or Copenhagen. It’s so fascinating to see how people react and how those reactions change in different places.
RC: How shocking was it at first to go online and see that the music you made had traveled further than you had gone physically?
BH: It is very shocking, and I’m so curious as to how it happens. I have this video that has almost two million views on Youtube and people always ask me how that happened, and I always respond: “I don’t know, but I’d love to know how!” It is so cool, and I guess people’s excitement gets them to share things and it takes on a life of its own, but it is incredible.
RC: What advice would you give to other musicians who are trying to spread their music?
BH: I honestly think you have to choose what your priorities are. For example, if you want to tour and that is your dream life then that is a good way to spread your music and slowly but surely build up a fanbase. However, there are other musicians who don’t do that and who barely play shows. There are so many different avenues. If you want to get your music into film, TV, and commercials then that is this whole other way that people discover new music. I think it is a personal choice of what would make you happy, but I think that everyone should tour at least once just to experience it. As far as long-term game plan, I feel like you have to choose what your top priorities are because the whole music industry is changing.
RC: Why censor the title of your song “Don’t Give a F#ck”?
BH: [chuckles] Oh, why did I do that? I think it was just for fun! A friend of mine was helping me make the cover art for the song and we tried it and thought “Oh that looks cool!” It is not because I am a very censored person. Although, I did just play a show at this festival in Denver and there were all these kids in the audience. I usually do say the word “fuck,” but I looked out and saw all the kids and totally replaced the word with a breath. I was thought, “Oh my gosh! I don’t want to ruin these kids’ upbringing!” There were so many and I don’t think I have ever played to an audience of kids before so I was not really sure what to do in that situation.
RC: What is the craziest or most unique crowd that you have ever played to?
BH: I would say Paris. I played there at this two-story venue called Super Sonic and the crowd was so fun and wild and it felt like there was so much going on everywhere, like I was performing to this wall of humans. I remember at that show there were these two guys that got butt-naked. It was amazing! They had clearly been drinking a bit, but it made me so happy because they were so free and having so much fun! Of course I think they were told that they had to put their clothes on or leave, but it made me happy that I had that experience. That really just gives the vibe of the night, it was so great.
RC: Your song “Daydream” is just about the perfect diary-entry-description of a puppy-love crush. How can you connect back to those feelings in order to write something so raw and sincere, while still being youthful and lighthearted?
BH: I think that it was kind of easy because I feel like love in its essence, at least in my experience, is always that way. The love in that song is the kind of high school immature love, but in my experience love is always like that.
RC: Some people tend to invalidate young love, do you think it is possible to be young and in love?
BH: Oh my gosh! Young love is completely valid. I’ve recently been thinking about how people try to separate “young love” from “adult love.” I think that those relationships or crushes when you’re in the age range of high school or college can be so formative. They can be such a huge part of someone’s path in love even if they don’t end up with that person forever. Those young loves are crucial and can shape a person, even if it’s a bad relationship. I’m a big believer that people should respect those loves because people can learn from them and grow.
RC: On your album Project Violent Femmes, you cover the Violent Femmes’ debut album. If the Violent Femmes could cover one of your songs, which would you choose?
BH: Okay, well it would have to be one of the songs off my new album because that’s what I’m into right now since I just made it. I feel like I would want to hear them cover “Out of View”, or they could just do a full cover album of mine like I did of theirs! That would be great! If you could speak to Gordon [Gano, of the Violent Femmes], put in a good word for me!
RC: You’ve mentioned that a focus you had while writing this upcoming album was that you wanted to create songs that would be fun to perform live. What makes a song fun to perform live?
BH: I mean when I first started recording music I had never really played a show live before, which is pretty opposite of the way I think most people do it. I loved my first set and I loved the songs I played, but when I was performing I wanted more variation and energy in certain songs. I like to jump around, dance, run around on stage, and get the audience involved. I didn’t really have that before because my music was more mellow. This new album, Future Color, is basically this concept album about my life as an artist, being a creative person, the ups and downs, the isolation, the fears, and also the amazing moments—all of it. I thought in order to represent that properly that I needed to have songs that were the highest highs and the lowest lows and everything in between because that is what the experience of being an artist is like.
RC: You’re really leaving everything out in the open in your songs. What has been the most difficult thing for you to write?
BH: I feel like the only time that I really have struggled was on this song off the new album, which is the slowest song on the album. I originally thought it was going to be mid-tempo and a little bit upbeat, so I recorded it that way. I’m the kind of perfectionist who will re-record a bunch of times and change the tempo and the key and try everything, so for this song, I just knew that it potentially had this good life, and I just wanted to help it be the best it could be. Then I thought, “Oh wait. I have to make this really sad. This is actually much sadder than I realized.” It was a challenge to get there, but it was also a fun and cool process. In the middle of that process, I knew that it wasn’t right but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Now I’m super happy about the song and know that it is what it was meant to be.
RC: You started recording music before you ever performed live. How has performing live changed you as a musician?
BH: I feel like every time I play a show I learn new things. I really hope that never changes. When I first moved back to New York more full-time, I had this five-person all-female band and that was amazing. At the same time I thought I was not as independent as I wanted to be because it was nearly impossible to even plan a rehearsal time around five New Yorkers’ schedules because everyone is so busy. Then I put everything into Ableton, and now I can do solo shows and work on the whole album myself with controllers. That’s I’m doing right now, and I have these two guys that I’m playing with, so we have this trio going for the live shows that we have coming up. I think learning how to work with other musicians and how to work alone is what I’ve gained. I also love watching other people perform as a way to learn about myself, too.
RC: Do you have a favorite performer that you’ve seen live?
BH: I don’t even think I can choose. I feel like every performer I see has shaped me in a certain way. I love Tune Yards, who has this super creative, unique music. Seeing them live was definitely informative as to how I could do things differently.
RC: Your album Future Color is out October 26th, what is something we can expect to hear on it?
BH: You’re going to hear all my secrets! It’s me opening up about the real battles, the real desires and fears of being a musician, which is being my most vulnerable self. I feel like I am not open about that part of me because I’ve just been trying to do it, figure it out, hustle, get it done, and try to do everything. I have so many highs and lows, even within a week. It’s a fight, and what I’ve learned is that it’s all about “keep going, keep going, keep going” mentality. On this album I’m really telling all my secrets and my hopes, how it feels when things are awful or good. It also talks about my relationship with the audience and all my biggest desires. It’s so vulnerable, but also so colorful!
RC: Do you have any final thoughts or closing remarks?
BH: Something that I’ve learned over the past few years of doing this is how to support independent artists. A lot of people would think it’s buying their album on iTunes or other things like that. Actually, what I’ve learned, which is so strange in a way, is it’s all about Spotify. If there is somebody that you love out there who is a smaller artist who is not supported by a big record label you should show them any love on Spotify by following them, adding their songs to playlist, and things like that. Things like that can change artists’ lives. I feel compelled to tell people because I love so many smaller artists who are not in the mainstream radio, and it’s so interesting to know that things like that can make such a big impact on their lives and ability to keep making music.
RC: Are there any artists that you are listening to now that you think other people should not know about?
BH: I was just listening to Erika Spring, who just put out new music. Also Devon Welsh, who I love. He used to be in this artist project called Majical Cloudz, but now he’s just going by his name. He just put out a new record, which is beautiful. I love supporting other artists and I’m trying to figure out more ways to support them. It’s nice to support art, because like I said earlier the government and society is not making that a priority. It’s terrifying.
RC: How do you think music can play a political role?
BH: I have always felt that the act of making music or any kind of creative art or activity is, in itself, an act of resistance. It is like someone is choosing to not give in to the weird distraction tactics on the media now. I also feel like, in this day-in-age, it is imperative that we all get involved in any way possible. When I did the Project Violent Femmes release show I donated the money from the show to Planned Parenthood. That’s one way I can take action, so that’s my angle. If you are a lawyer you can go volunteer to help these kids that are separated. Everybody has a role. I honestly think that at this point we are all responsible for doing whatever we can to make changes and stop this insanity from happening. I think that music is super powerful. It’s important to keep going and take part in activism and resistance as one sees fit in their own lives.
BETS’ new album, Future Color, releases on October 26 and she will be playing a show on October 24 at Elsewhere in Brooklyn.
Check out BETS official website here !