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Houghton's going places
7:00am Saturday 25th February 2012 in Music
After the initial buzz around Beth Jeans Houghton, all went quiet. Now, two years later, she and her Hooves Of Destiny are releasing their debut album. On the eve of a UK tour, the north-east lass tells Andy Welch about the delay, her plans to record a second album soon and riding around Los Angeles with Neil Young.
"Last time I was in LA," says Beth Jeans Houghton, breezily, "Neil Young drove me around Malibu in a Cadillac."
It's this kind of story, falling easily from the young singer-songwriter's lips, that makes it clear Houghton has got her feet firmly on the music ladder.
At first it seems incredible that a 21-year-old from Heaton in Newcastle, who has hardly released any music, might spend the day with someone of Young's stature. But factor in the rumours about a relationship with Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, and things become a little easier to understand.
Now laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, she clears things up.
"I don't know him or anything. I was with a mate out there who said he was going to see 'his friend Neil' and that I should go with them. Turns out 'Neil' was Neil Young," she explains.
"He collects Cadillacs, I think, and he turned up in this gorgeous white car and drove us around Malibu beach all day. He's a very slow driver, but a lovely man."
Unfortunately, Young didn't have any tips for Houghton. Perhaps he would have done if he'd known she was a singer-songwriter.
"I didn't tell him I was a musician, no," she says. "How do you say to Neil Young, 'Oh yeah, I also write songs'?"
Houghton first caught the attention of the music press three years ago with her debut EP Hot Toast Volume 1 (a nod to her intolerance of wheat).
It seemed to signal the arrival of a new star, one rooted in a folk tradition but, with her penchant for outlandish stage attire, possessing an eye for the flamboyant.
These days she's compared to Laura Marling on a regular basis, and while Houghton says she likes Marling's music, she does hate the tag.
"It makes me think the person saying it hasn't heard my music. Basically we're both blonde, female and write songs, that's as far as I think it goes."
And there's no mystery surrounding the success she's had so early on. A talented, musical youth, Houghton started writing songs in her teens, leading to the release of her debut EP, and then formed a band in order to release the "big sound in her head".
She's now backed by The Hooves Of Destiny, a collection of friends who all joined her in a "really organic kind of way".
"In the same way you don't go up to people and ask them to be your friend, I never asked anyone to join the band, it just kind of happened along the way."
She's now been waiting to release her debut album, Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, for the last two years, and is currently back in her native North East to enjoy a bit of home cooking before heading out on tour.
"It's just so exciting that all the things we thought would happen two years ago are finally happening," she explains. "It's kind of weird too. I'm worried my head might explode."
The delays around the album seem to stem from nothing more serious than a few people dragging their feet about signing contracts, or being ill when they were needed, to hurry things along.
Houghton says it's not been easy waiting so long, but she and the band have busied themselves with lots of live performances and seeking out fun where they can.
"Any musician that says they're not having fun is either doing it wrong, or lying to appear cool," she says.
"Why would they be doing it if they didn't enjoy it?" she asks. "It's certainly not for the cash any more. Everyone in this band has a lot of fun, we're really good friends and we all live close together so we hang out when we're not doing band stuff, too."
The years between 17, Houghton's age when she wrote most of the songs on the album, and 21, as she is now, can be among the most formative. Not so with Houghton, who maintains her personality hasn't altered much in the years between the album's conception and delivery, and that she never felt particularly naive in the first place.
"Of course I'm singing about things that happened a long time ago, there's an element of that, but I still stand by the way I felt back then. There isn't a song on the album that doesn't suit me. If there was, it wouldn't have suited me two years ago either.
"We knew we had to keep the songs fresh, though," she adds. "So where we could, we cut back on playing the songs from the album when we performed live. Now, when the tour starts, we can't wait to start playing them again."
Understandably for someone who has had their work held back for two years, Houghton wants to get busy with her second album as soon as possible. There's no shortage of songs, she says, it's just a matter of finding time to record them.
"We're off around Europe after the UK tour, then it'll be festival time. Ideally I'd like to record something before the end of the year, and in Los Angeles too."
Houghton actually wants to move to the City Of Angels, having fallen in love with the heat, the pace of life, the palm trees and "the feeling it's still the 1970s".
She's not a fan of London, so nowhere but America's West Coast will do.
"We are very ambitious though. What's the point in not being?" she asks. "Not to sound maudlin, but we're all going to die, so you have to make it count. I've become increasingly ambitious during the past two years too.
"There's an awful lot of positive thinking going on. There's had to be."
Extra time - Beth Jeans Houghton :: Beth Jeans Houghton was once described by The Guardian as looking like "Gwen Stefani with a touch of Brody Dalle, with a sound that is Vashti Bunyan crossed with Nico."
:: One band member, described their sound as being "more Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention than Marina and the Diamonds".
:: Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, was produced by Ben Hillier, who has worked with Blur, Elbow, Snow Patrol and Doves.
:: The band have toured with, among many others, Mumford & Sons, King Creosote, Fionn Regan, Bon Iver, Mystery Jets and St Vincent.
:: Beth Jeans Houghton And The Hooves Of Destiny are signed to Mute records, home of Goldfrapp, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Moby and Depeche Mode.