Beth Jeans Houghton - Freak folk's weird sister finally hits the charts

Four years after her debut EP kick-started the hype, Beth Jeans Houghton has an album, a new home in the US and a veteran rocker boyfriend.

On a bright, bitter morning, the 22-year-old Geordie singer-songwriter Beth Jeans Houghton takes in the wide-screen view from a London hotel bar overlooking the bustling city centre. She is joined by one-quarter of her band The Hooves of Destiny – drummer Dav Shiel, a striking apparition in skin-tight, wet-look leggings, glam-rock silver glitter platforms and an enormous furry hat that's part feral chinchilla, and part White Russian countess.

"So many people have jobs that they don't really like. I don't ever want to retire," says Houghton. "As long as I'm able to do stuff, I'm going to be happy to do it for a long time."

In fact, she has already been doing it for quite a long time. The debut album may only just have been released, to positive reviews across the board, but the oldest of the songs on Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose (named after a prank played by Houghton and a friend, where they stuck boiled-sweet wrappers on their faces and waited to see if anyone would point it out) dates from when Houghton was 17. Despite early press attention in 2009, when she was first placed in the freak-folk genre alongside Joanna Newsom, in a canny move of creative control she refused to negotiate a label deal until the album was recorded; its release was further delayed by the illness of producer Ben Hillier.

One positive effect of the three-and-a-half year wait since Houghton first arrived on the scene has been craftily to sidestep the new-folk boom, which might have drowned her complex, subtle sound in a sea of Mumford and Sons. The glorious Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose, while it still has at least half a hoof in the freak-folk of 2009's Hot Toast EP, encompasses a wide and wonderful range of sounds, from the spiky Vampire Weekend-like highlife indie-punk of "Atlas" to the baroque Kate Bush whimsy of "Carousel", with lyrics touching on subjects from her mother's pregnancy with her brother, on "The Barely Skinny Bone Tree", to overly-perspiring lovers on "Nightswimmer".

Houghton, it's clear, is set on doing things her own way, even if it means losing out on the precious opportunities that hype offers. Unsurprisingly, she comes from the proverbial creative background; her parents were both graphic designers ("My mum used to draw the streetlamps on maps, isn't that cool?"), while her brother, Ben Jeans Houghton, is a respected artist who has designed sleeves and directed videos for her.

"My parents always encouraged drawing and creativity and stuff, and anything that involved your imagination," she says. "They never told us we were weird, whereas other parents would have. So we never noticed."

Everyone else did. From the release of Houghton's first EP in 2008, her textbook wild-child, free-spirit back-story became the stuff music hacks salivate over. She left school at 16, having taught herself guitar, and played her first gig at 17, the same year she was pulled onstage with Devendra Banhart at Green Man festival to perform her own song "Milk Bottles".

Her attention-grabbing wardrobe has featured hotpants, wigs and, in one memorable press shot, Dali-esque eyeballs painted on her breasts. Interviews might typically feature tales of her Arctic-fox spirit animal or of how she was going to live in a yurt, or focus on her synaesthesia, a condition in which, in Houghton's case, words and numbers become confused with colours and numbers.

"It makes absolutely no difference to the way I write songs," she insists, "And even if it did, I wouldn't know, because I've always had it." The development of her material and the burgeoning identity of the Hooves of Destiny have apparently reined Houghton in a little. If not exactly mature or serious, as her whimsical stage banter proves ("My mum gave me a hat for Christmas – just like a balaclava but with a moustache"), she is a decidedly less wacky performer now. It's much the sort of change anyone goes through between the ages of 17 and 22. You wonder sometimes, though, whether she feels that she is marketing a version of herself that she has outgrown.

"It's more that other people are promoting old versions of me," she says. "I find that people will take bits from interviews or reviews from, like, four, five years ago. If you took an excerpt from someone's old diaries they'd be completely different and it's the same with this. People will hold on to what they've heard a lot about, which is funny to me. I'd want to know what was new and what was happening now."

One thing happening now that Houghton is resolutely refusing to talk about is her relationship with Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis. She replies to a question about whether she frets that her band might get increasing attention for the wrong reasons with an unruffled: "I'd say no, and no comment."

Now, Houghton and the whole band are planning to decamp to Los Angeles, also birthplace of the Chili Peppers, for at least as long as it takes to record the next album. It is less fuelled by romantic convenience, though, than by a romantic obsession with the apotheosis of the rock'n'roll band. West Coast America in the 1970s, specifically Pamela Des Barres's riotous memoir I'm With the Band, and the great American weirdos like Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart were her early obsessions, thanks to raids on her parents' record collections.

"It's just hearing these stories and the idea of travelling and working with your friends. You might get paid measly amounts for it, but I'd always choose happiness over riches," she says. "And it is so unbelievably fun. Plus, it's really cathartic singing songs. I get to express my feelings and leave them behind. Otherwise I'd probably end up all stressed up and depressed and insane. So let's never stop!"

Beth Jeans Houghton plays Queen Elizabeth Hall, London tonight, for BBC 6 Music's 10th birthday

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?