When Jehnny Beth was asked to host a show on Beats 1 she had one mission in mind, to create a platform where musicians could speak to each other. As the frontwoman of post-punk revivalists Savages she’d spent a lot of time on the road with and around other artists but realised that despite all the time shared at festivals and on tour buses, she never really got the chance to talk about what it was like being a working musician with her peers.
“It’s a little different I guess to speaking to a journalist because there is a level of understanding that comes from doing the same job,” Beth explains of the formula behind her Beats 1 show Start Making Sense. I mean we meet other artists at festivals, and sometimes we become good friends, but I like to think that we need to exchange our knowledge as much as possible so that mistakes are not repeated and also gain confidence that we’re doing the right thing. Sometimes hearing someone else’s story and learning that you’re going through the same stuff, it can save time.”
To many music fans, their favourite artists exist in another world, one outside of their day to day reality. Mythicized on the radio, in print and on TV, famous musicians don’t really seem human to the average fan. They might look and talk like us but their lives aren’t the same, and they certainly don’t complain about their jobs. It’s an enforced uncanniness, one that allows us to project ideas onto an artist’s work, to form opinions on it. It’s harder to dislike Ed Sheeran when you know he’s a nice guy. Meet one of these heroes, however, and you’ll realise that underneath the media training, the album campaigns and a life split between the studio and the tour bus, most of them are normal people, they just have an unusual job.
That’s exactly what Jehnny Beth is trying to learn more about with her show. By inviting guests from across the musical spectrum, she’s able to share insights from veterans and newcomers alike. Free from the prying of hungry journalists looking for a quote, her guests can talk about the bits of their career that don’t make headlines. “I have learned that music is a human and collective experience”, she explains when asked about the greatest lesson she’s taken away from her show “It takes so much gut and hard work to make anything happen in this world, so it has made me more understanding of others”.
We’ve all been guilty of making assumptions about artists. If you don’t like someone’s music or don’t understand their scene, it’s all too easy to write them off. It’s something Jehnny has been determined to challenge in herself and her listeners, often taking her show on the road both with Savages and more recently with Gorillaz for whom she’s been providing guest vocals. She’ll be back on tour with Albarn and co by the time this interview goes out.
That personal touch is the essence of radio in Jehnny’s eyes. While music fans have endless avenues down which to explore and discover new acts, only radio aids it with humanity. ”I loved radio growing up and particularly the talking bits,” she enthuses. “I still listen to radio every morning when I wake up, even if it’s just news. I love people telling me a story.”
What’s the most out-there song you’ve played on your show?
Napalm Death. It’s a one second song called ‘You Suffer’ and it just goes ‘WHY?!’ that’s it. You have to listen to it; I actually played it four times in one show, so it’s probably my most played as well.
If you could invite any musician from history onto your show who would it be?
I think I have to say, Bowie. It’s obvious, but I think it’s fair to say, just because I’d like to hear his voice again.
What’s your favourite moment you’ve had on air?
When I went to Henry Rollins house in LA to record, and he showed us around, and he has this vault of archives about punk music around the world and the manuscripts of Get In The Van, all the kind of posters he collected and another room with rows and rows of records, like a library really.
Who’s going to be big by the end of the year?
Smerz, they’ve just signed to XL. They’re amazing; they’re based in Copenhagen. Really good dance music with good lyrics, great songs.