Camille Berthomier is a Poitiers, Vienne, France-born, London-based singer/songwriter, actress, author and musician, professionally known as Jehnny Beth — and as the frontwoman of the Mercury Prize-nominated, critically applauded act Savages. With Savages, the Poitiers-born, London-based singer/songwriter and multi-disciplinary artist has developed a reputation for a unique lyrical perspective and a powerful stage presence that has captivated audiences across the world over the past 15 years.
Beth’s solo debut, To Love Is To Live was originally slated for release last week through Caroline Records — but the album was pushed back to June 12, 2020, as a result of Beth’s desire to support local, independent record stores by ensuring that the physical album could come out at the same time. “Record stores are where I found myself as a teenager, digging through albums that ultimately shaped who I have become,” Beth says in press notes. “To release my first ever solo album in a way that would leave them out felt wrong to me; luckily, we were able to find a date that would allow us to release the physical and digital album at the same time.”
Recorded in Los Angeles, London and Paris, To Love Is To Live finds the longtime Savages frontwoman boldly stepping into and claiming the spotlight as a solo artist, and collaborating with an eclectic array of producers and artists including Flood, Atticus Ross, longtime collaborator and Savages bandmate Johnny Hostile, Adam “Cecil” Bartlett, The xx’s Romy Madley Croft, IDLES’ Joe Talbot and Golden Globe-winning actor Cilian Murphy. Thematically, the album sees Beth tapping into and accessing the darkest and least comfortable parts of herself to craft material that’s cathartic, abrasive, fearlessly honest and vulnerable, making the material a dark and cinematic meditation on the very strangeness of being alive.
So far I’ve written about two of the album’s singles: the brooding and atmospheric “Flower,” a track that was reportedly written about a pole dancer at Los Angeles’ Jumbo’s Clown Room and seethes with a feverish and obsessive lust — and “Innocence,” a dark ad sultry track that evokes the uneasy feelings of isolation, loneliness while ironically living in a big city surrounded by seemingly endless people. “Heroine,” the album’s fourth and latest single is centered around a similar, slinky off-kilter motorik groove as its immediate predecessor, rapid-fire four-on-the-floor, shimmering synth arpeggios, brief blasts of horn, twinkling keys and an achingly vulnerable vocal performance from Beth, the track probes deeply into the dark recesses of her psyche with a fearless abandon.
“When I think of this song, I think of Romy from the xx strangling my neck with her hands in the studio,” Beth recalls in press notes. “She was trying to get me out of my shell lyrically, and there was so much resistance in me she lost her patience. The song was originally called Heroism, but I wasn’t happy because it was too generic. Flood was the first one to suggest to say Heroine instead of Heroism. Then I remember Johnny Hostile late at night in my hotel room in London saying ‘I don’t understand who you are singing about. Who is the Heroine? You ARE the Heroine’. The next morning, I arrived early in the studio and recorded my vocals adding ‘to be’ to the chorus line: ‘all I want is TO BE a heroine.’ Flood entered the studio at that moment and jumped in the air giving me the thumbs up through the window. I guess I’m telling this story because sometimes we look around for role models, and examples to follow, without realising that the answer can be hidden inside of us. I was afraid to be the Heroine of the song, but it took all the people around me to get me there.”
The recently released video is split between footage that the Savages frontwoman and Johnny Hostile shot and edited — including footage of her walking and vamping in a London tube station, of Beth glistening with droplets of water and in a murky pool, as well as footage of Beth as a little girl, shot by her family, which creates an eerie and intimate look into the artist and her psyche. The DIY nature of the video manages to bring the songs message of self-belief and resilience into a deeper clarity. “We couldn’t plan that the current worldwide circumstances would push us to make this video entirely ourselves at home but sometimes working with constraints is the best fuel, and it fits perfectly with the positive message of self-belief and resilience of the song, pursuing childhood dreams and destiny,” Beth explains in press notes.