Editors' Notes “I needed to change things in my personal life, but also in the way that I was working,” Jehnny Beth tells Apple Music of her debut solo LP. “It was exhilarating for me to begin from a clean slate, starting something new and feeling that fear of the unknown again.” Best known as the lead singer and co-writer for UK post-punk band Savages, Beth was repeatedly told that it was too much of a risk to branch out on her own and that she should build on what she had done before. She followed her instinct instead, relying on her own resources and several collaborators to bring her project to life, including British producers/audio engineers Flood and Atticus Ross and long-time creative partner Johnny Hostile. TO LOVE IS TO LIVE is a natural display of Beth’s experimental curiosity—unleashing unsettling synths and industrial percussive elements as she gets in touch with feelings of self-doubt and her sexuality. “It was an inner voice, something that was calling me to do this—otherwise, there’s the danger of losing myself completely,” Beth says. “I didn't want to be enslaved to one genre of music, and I didn't want to be one of those singers who are slaves to their dance.” Here, Beth walks us through the album, one song at a time.

I Am
“When I heard Atticus Ross’ production, I knew it was going to be the opener. With Savages, my voice was connected to the intensity of the guitars and the drums with that classic punk-rock band scenario. And he was creating the same intensity but with strings, and instruments that were different. I love that it creates a sense of suspense and wonder. When you finish the track, you're left with questions like 'What is coming next?' The song was written by me and Johnny Hostile, and it was during the very early stages of exploration. During one of our lab experiments, we tried to pitch my voice in different styles and tonologies, and we found one that was really pitched down. There's a multiplicity of voices on the record. And I think the purpose is to unlock the forbidden thoughts and intimate thoughts that we believe are shameful. I think that we push them down. But as humans, we have contradictory thoughts—and we battle with the idea of identity and the idea of good and bad all the time. There is danger in trying to repress those hidden voices and not giving the space for them. So that's why it was important to open with that voice and not my voice.”

Innocence
“It was produced by Flood in his studio in London. He has this capacity of getting obsessed with details and muting all the important parts. You don't understand what he's listening to or why he's even listening to that. So I got frustrated, and he kicked me out of the studio and asked me to come back an hour later. And then I was very frustrated and angry. I came back and heard the mix, and then came this moment where I was hearing myself in a way that I had never heard myself before. It brought me to tears. I wrote the lyrics early on in the process of making the record; I placed it as the starting point of the journey—the same way a novelist would start with the shameful thoughts for his novel, and start from there to grow. Not trying to avoid it, but put it at the centre—and I asked myself what is the thought that keeps you up at night that you never reveal to anyone. And it was the idea of lost innocence, in the sense of feeling isolated and not being able to connect with the rest of humanity. It's about the reality of living in busy cities as well. The more you close your eyes to people, the more walled up you become. You see the reality of a city which doesn't treat everybody equally or the same way, and the anger that it creates.”

Flower
“It's a classic scenario of distance being sexier than the touch, and celebrating female nudity in a hypnotic way. I was inspired by all the girls in Jumbo's, which is an LA pole-dancing club I go to when I'm in LA. I really love the atmosphere of the club and how freeing it is, and how exciting and frightening it is at the same time. I love that tension. Hostile composed it for me, and when it was finished, I felt it wasn't for me. I wasn't sure, so I sent it to my friend Romy Madley Croft [The xx vocalist/guitarist], and she replied in capital letters that I have to have this song on the record and that it was great to hear me in a different context. I decided that I was going to check with myself if I was feeling uncomfortable. And if I was feeling uncomfortable, it was a good sign that I was going in the right direction.”

We Will Sin Together
“It’s an invitation to do bad things together and the realisation that love is part of that. That there's no right or wrong; there's only in and out. If you decide to break a sweat and participate in life, you are going to make mistakes. So for me, it's what I call a post-romantic love song. It tries to reach beyond the ancestral codes of romanticism, because they too often generate frustration. Romy sang backing vocals on it. We were working on the song in LA and I asked her to sit behind the mic. I love her voice. I think it naturally carries a lot of emotion and never sounds fabricated, and it also suits the song perfectly. It's one of my favourite tracks of the record.”

A Place Above (feat. Cillian Murphy)
“I had written the texts and I wondered if [Irish actor] Cillian could read it. Because, again, I wanted this multiplicity of voices on the record. I knew he was a fan of Savages, and I was a fan of his; I think he has one of the best voices in modern cinema. He did it without hearing any music, which I think was great and perfect. I remember what Cillian wrote to me when he wrote the text. He said, ‘It's big stuff.’ And then he said, 'It should be done in a slow way, a quiet way.' He made it personal, as if you were hearing someone's personal thoughts that you suddenly had access to. It’s a little bit like in Wings of Desire [German film director Wim Wenders’ 1987 film]. The angels have access to people's thoughts and minds, and they can hear their secret thoughts.”

I’m the Man
“What I wanted to say with this song is that the root of evil isn't just on the other side—it lives inside of each of us. It's implanted in our core by generations of parents or grandparents in society, and we must stay strong and aware to overcome the aggressive power to control us. It's about facing my own responsibility for the evil of this world. It's important for arts, in general, to show our own complexities to our faces. I wanted to portray the evil of this world and put it on me, wear the mask of people. Because it's impossible for me, as an artist, to draw a line between good and bad and just pretend that I'm always standing on the right side of the fence. Sometimes it's about looking on the other side, trying to understand your own thoughts and your own darkness and your own violence.”

The Rooms
“It’s a resolution moment, kind of a resting in contrast to ‘I’m the Man’. I wrote and recorded hours of piano and vocals on my own in the studio. It's a calm description of an orgy where women have all the power. It comes from a line by Francis Bacon, who said something like, ‘When I went into the rooms of pleasure, I didn't stay in the rooms where they celebrate acceptable modes of loving, I went into the rooms which are kept secret.’ It's a beautiful way to describe desire and exploration.”

Heroine
“I think ‘Heroine’ is a cry to be free. I have had quite a journey with this song, because it was originally called ‘Heroism’. Because I wanted to talk about the idea of freedom and role models and the fact that freedom is, in fact, frightening. I was told I should play the heroine in ‘Heroine’. I couldn't really step into the shoes of that big character that way, that was positive in a way. You need to be able to embody positive characters as much as you embody frightening and contradictory characters. So that was the realisation for me. Sometimes you look for role models around, but you have to also be able to see what's within you. And for me to hold the people around me to get there, to take me there.”

How Could You (feat. Joe Talbot)
“One of my favourite songs about jealousy is ‘Why’d Ya Do It?’ by Marianne Faithfull from Broken English, and I always wanted to write something about jealousy. I've had to work very hard to conquer jealousy in order to live, and it wasn't easy. I had to fight against all my conditioning and invent new rules for myself. I've learned so much from the process, but it's something you constantly need to check yourself with. Because jealous people always think they're right. Which I think is my main problem with it; when I was jealous, I was tempted to think I was right, because jealousy makes you think that there isn't a greater pain than yours. I couldn't imagine a better person as Joe [Talbot, IDLES vocalist] to be a jealous man on this song. Because he knows, and he understands, what it means to take control of this human instinct. And he's been jealous. He's been a bad guy; he knows what it's like. When I discovered IDLES, I thought they were shining a light into what it means to be a man in a band. I knew Joe was going to write something brilliant about anger and jealousy, and he did.”

French Countryside
“I wrote it as if I was writing a soundtrack for Call Me by Your Name. That's what I had in mind: the summer, the countryside and the promise of love. I wrote the lyrics much before that. I wrote them in a plane when I thought we were going to crash, and I was making a list of promises of what I would do better if I survived. And obviously when the plane landed safely, I forgot about my list of promises. When I revisited the idea I realised, oh god, we forget about the urgency of life. I was suddenly facing those ideas again, and I really wanted to make something before I go too. It contrasts so much with the rest of the record, but that's really on purpose.”

Human
“I knew I wanted to make a record that would give a sense of the journey, holding a narrative from start to finish. It was part of my early discussions with Atticus. I didn't want to make a collection of songs. I wanted the record to be a world you can live in. He had this idea of reintroducing the dark voice at that point with the same lyrics. And again, bringing in those orchestral strings, and that sort of drama and intensity and suspense. So we're going back to the beginning, but we've evolved. The idea of the lyrics came to me when I was reading about people who go to digital rehab, because they've lost the sense of self and connection to their life. It felt that it was interesting to finish the album by saying I used to be a human being and now I live in the web. Because I think we can relate to that more and more.”

SONG
I Am
1
3:42
 
Innocence
2
3:22
 
Flower
3
3:19
 
We Will Sin Together
4
3:00
 
A Place Above (feat. Cillian Murphy)
5
1:13
 
I'm The Man
6
2:39
 
The Rooms
7
4:18
 
Heroine
8
4:01
 
How Could You (feat. Joe Talbot)
9
2:59
 
French Countryside
10
3:58
 
Human
11
6:01
 

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