Early March, 2017
Beth was tired, the kind of bone-deep feeling she couldn’t even begin to articulate. All she knew was that she wanted to lie in her bed and listen to other people’s music, and forget how to think. Mostly, she was the industrious one, busy and bustling, cleaning the house or baking cookies or writing songs at the piano. But today, she was tired. Unfortunately, today she also had to give an interview. Amy had put her foot down. “I know you hate it, but you have to do SOME promo for your first actual album, Beth!” she had said at family dinner a couple of weeks ago, and Laurie and Meg and John and Jo and Fred and even Marmee had nodded, so Beth knew she had lost.
She rolled over to turn off her phone alarm, and smiled absently at the lock screen photo of her and her siblings from a beach day a couple of years ago. Jo was grinning at the camera, Amy was glaring while Laurie quite literally pulled her pigtails, Meg was rolling her eyes, John looked fond, and Beth, as usual, was looking down at her toes. The only members of their ragtag little group not present for the shot were Marmee, taking the picture, Dad, traveling as usual, and Fred, who at that point had only been Jo’s most recent girlfriend, and not yet at family-outing status.
Just as Beth sat up in bed, contemplating the long day ahead of her, Jo burst through the door, and landed on top of her. “Bet, get up! Rolling Stone is coming in two hours!”
Beth sighed and extricated herself from her sibling’s excited embrace. “Yes, I know, dear, why do you think I’m still in bed? And don’t you have your own apartment? What are you doing here?”
“Did you think I wouldn’t come when I know how nervous you are for this? Please, Bet, give me some credit.” Jo began to chatter about interview tips and comfort dressing, and Beth eased herself out of bed. She was so much better than she used to be, but her bones still sometimes hurt in the morning, the residual ache of long illness. Beth forced herself to tune into what Jo was saying, and Amy stormed through the door.
“Don’t you dare dress her, Jo March!”
Jo paused, looking guilty for an instant before schooling their face into a scowl. “Excuse me, who says you get to say what Beth wears for this shindig?”
“Shindig? Really, Jo? And Beth said so, when she made me her stylist, manager, and publicist!”
“You mean when you bullied her into letting you have a say in her career?”
“GUYS,” said Beth, as loudly as she dared. “I’m gonna choose my own outfit today. I love you both very much, please leave.” Both of her siblings gave her mutinous looks before turning tail and heading out the door. Beth could hear them bickering all the way down the hall. She turned to her closet and picked out her lucky dress. If she was going to have to talk to a stranger about her music career at length, at least she would feel like herself. She smoothed her hand over the navy fabric with the multicolored star pattern, and started to get ready for the day.
By the time the reporter got to Beth and Marmee’s apartment, Beth was a little bit sick of her siblings, which had maybe been Jo’s plan all along, drat them. Amy was in the corner on her laptop, swearing loudly every few minutes about some coding thing, and Jo was pacing around the living room, trying to come up with the right phrasing for their latest New Yorker story. Meg had even shown up, lying on the floor in a vintage party dress she was wearing for no clear reason and fiddling around with the cast list she had to have done by Monday, asking Beth her opinions about teenagers she had never met, much less judged the acting abilities of. Marmee was out with a client, despite it being a Saturday, and still the apartment felt full. Of course, as soon as she heard the knock at the door, Beth was pathetically glad she didn’t have to face the interview alone.
Beth heard Amy shrieking before she had even quite processed the magazine cover staring at her from the dining room table. There was a yellow sticky note over her face (“so proud of you honey, I’ll be back late, Love, Marmee”), but it was unmistakably her, on the cover of Rolling Stone. Until this moment, she hadn’t quite internalized that that was a thing that was going to happen. And now there was no stopping it.
“Earth to Beeeeeeeth,” Amy practically shouted in her ear.
“Do you want to read it? Do you want me to read it first? Or read it to you?”
Beth hesitated. It was the biggest day of her career so far, and she knew she should read it, but….
“Can you read it first?”
Amy hugged her, in the bone-crushing way only delicate-seeming Amy could. “Of course I can, doofus.”
Beth shook her head, to clear the moths, and went to unload the dishwasher. She definitely needed grounding on a day like today. As she dried bowls, she periodically snuck looks at Amy, who was grinning so beatifically that it had somehow come all the way back around to devilish.
Finally, Amy put the magazine down on the marble counter with a satisfied smack. “She loved you. And she loved us. And your album is coming out in six weeks, can you believe it?”
Beth looked down at the handsewn chicken on the dishtowel she was holding, and burst into tears.
Excerpt from the May 2017 Rolling Stone profile of Beth March: “Beth March on Near Death Experiences, Her Favorite Doll, and What Her New Music Means to Her” by Kitty Van Tassel:
Beth March is quiet. I’m expecting this -- what else would you expect out of a young woman who, despite her viral indiepop success, fills her instagram feed with shots of doll-sized furniture? What I was not expecting is this: Beth March’s family is loud.
When I get to Beth’s apartment -- a beautiful brownstone on the Upper West Side, relatively modest, but roomy and comfortable -- all three of her biological siblings are there, a bulwark of support that, according to Beth, showed up unannounced and uninvited. Margaret “Meg” March, the oldest, is a high school theater teacher in Brooklyn, and is inexplicably wearing what looks to be a prom dress from about 1955, sky blue with a petticoat (when I ask Beth about it later, she smiles fondly and says “she’s just like that”). Jo March (full disclosure, a friendly acquaintance of mine), a New Yorker staff writer and “lowkey nonbinary icon” -- Beth, again, who seemingly idolizes her older sibling -- hangs around for the duration of the interview, making protective faces whenever I ask a question that could potentially make Beth uncomfortable. The youngest March sibling, Amy, is more business-minded than the others. She codes for a supplemental education startup, while finding spare time to organize Beth’s career, and enjoy minor success as a postmodern painter (she is responsible for the gorgeous cover image of Beth’s forthcoming album, the Kingdom). Each of the March siblings introduce or reintroduce themselves to me before I even have a chance to say “hi” to Beth.
When I’ve fought myself through the group of siblings and several foster kittens, Beth invites me to join her in the kitchen, where she plans to bake rolls to bring to the volunteers at the food pantry where she regularly helps out. Only Jo is permitted to join us in the kitchen, Beth gently glaring Meg and Amy into submission when they ask to come. Though Beth has barely spoken 10 words to me at this point, I can feel the tension seep out of her as we enter the kitchen. She seems most comfortable here, a room with the friendly yellow walls and oft-used baking supplies. She smiles for the first time in the 15 minutes since my arrival, and as she bustles about, I get the chance to ask her a few questions that have been on my mind since she shot to soundcloud fame a year ago.
RS: As I understand it, your songs were posted publicly by your producer, Teddy X, without your permission. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Beth: Oh my goodness, I was so mad at him. Of course, I had been so grateful to him for helping me out in the studio, but I had no idea he was going to post what we worked on. Laurie is so stubborn, maybe the most of any of us, and he thought my music deserved to be heard by people other than the family. [Teddy X’s given name is Theodore Laurence, and he has been a family friend of the Marches since they were teens. I know from both of their instagrams that he is currently dating Amy March, although neither Beth nor her siblings discuss this in the time I spend with them] I didn’t speak to him for a week, and then by the time I realized I didn’t mind too badly, we already had almost a million listens, and I was getting calls from labels, and he was unbearably smug.
Jo: Teddy knew our Beth wouldn’t ever post the music on her own, and her music is so wonderful, nobody but her was surprised it was so successful.
RS: Why did you go into the studio, if not to make music for the public to hear?
Beth: I’ve always written music. We’re a very creative family, as you’ve probably noticed, and music was my domain starting when we were very young, I wrote my first song when I was about 9. But when I was 16, I got sick. [She pauses a moment, seemingly collecting herself.] I got tuberculosis because I wasn’t careful enough around a family I was helping out. I’ve always had asthma, and TB just knocked me out. I was in and out of the hospital for a long time, and I kept getting infections in the hospital.
Jo: We thought she was going to die.
Beth: Right, and I thought I was going to die. And I realized I wanted a more permanent record of my music. I felt fully recovered starting about two years ago, and immediately asked Laurie if I could use his studio. I’m usually pretty bad at asking for things, but Laurie has always given me anything I asked for, so I just asked before I could get too scared. And it turned out he’d just been waiting for me to do it, he loved my music, and not just because we’re like family.
RS: Why did you sign with Nightingale Records, as opposed to some of the bigger labels that were courting you?
Beth: Rose was just such a good person. Does that make sense? [She means Rose Campbell: heiress, philanthropist, and founder/CEO of Nightingale Records] I’m pretty shy. Really shy, actually, and she made me feel immediately comfortable. Plus, I love Phebe’s music so much. [Phebe Moore, emerging neo-bluegrass singer, and up until Beth joined the label, Nightingale’s brightest star] I knew that Rose would let me keep making music on my own terms, with Laurie, and that was important to me.
RS: How was making your first full-length album different than those tracks you made without knowing anyone would hear them?
Beth: It was way scarier. But I couldn’t let myself get paralyzed by thinking about people hearing my songs. Music is my healthiest outlet, and I couldn’t let it turn into something I was doing for someone other than me. So I tried not to think about it too much. But this album is definitely more cohesive than the Soundcloud tracks.
At this point, Beth leaves her roll dough to rise, and invites me to see her bedroom. It has soft pink walls and a large window, but the real focus is the dollhouse, three stories tall and about four feet wide, resting on a coffee table in the far right corner of the room, with a ring light nearby for the photo shoots that dominate her instagram. The dollhouse is open at the back, so the miniature Victorian furniture is visible. I’m so entranced by these tiny furnishings that I don’t notice Amy, now sprawled across Beth’s eyelet duvet. Amy informs us that Meg has returned to her own apartment “to finish crushing youthful dreams” (Meg’s cast list for her school’s production of Much Ado About Nothing is due the following Monday). Amy joins us for the rest of the interview.
RS: Your lead single for the Kingdom, “Joanna,” which was just released, is a little different in tone than most of your previous work. It’s a story song about a sort of swashbuckling adventure. Can you tell me about your inspiration for the song?
[Amy begins to giggle uncontrollably and Jo tackles her in what seems a clear attempt to shut her up.]
Beth: Stop it, you two! Um, how about I just show you? [Beth walks to the windowsill and returns with an exquisitely crafted porcelain doll, complete with a Regency-style riding habit.] This is Joanna. I was shy when I was little, but being sick during the peak socializing years of high school and college definitely made it worse. Joanna is a little bit like an alter-ego, a little bit like a fantasy, and a little bit her own person. So I decided to start off the album with a song from her perspective.
RS: Oh, wow, I love her! As far as other album influences go, I know that your Christian faith is very important to you, does any of that make it into any songs? I love your cover of "Amazing Grace" from that first Soundcloud drop.
Beth: Oh, thank you so much. I mean, being a Christian definitely affects every facet of my life, I don’t know how it couldn’t. But as far as the actual songs go, I think only the title track and Track 3 cover faith explicitly.
RS: Your family don’t exactly embody the mainstream view of Christians….
Beth: Oh, I know. We’re big city folks and we have a high school teacher, a queer writer, a musician, and a coding genius. Plus our parents are a social worker and a field chaplain for Doctors Without Borders. But our parents believed very firmly in Jesus as an example of radicalism, and taught us that. And I really took that to heart. Plus, when I was sick……
RS: Your faith became more important to you?
Beth: Yes, that.
[Beth is silent for a few moments, as if contemplating what to say next]
Beth: Jesus taught me how to help people, and how to accept help. And I completely understand that that is not everyone’s experience of Christianity, and I respect that. But once I stopped being mad at Laurie and realized that I wanted to do this [she makes a gesture seemingly encompassing music and fame] I knew that I could only do it by being entirely myself. And my faith is a part of that, so.
Amy begins to talk about how “Bethy” was always the quiet one but also the most artistic of all the March siblings by far, for which Jo hits her with a pillow, and Beth whisperingly asks me if I would like to hear the album.
We end up in the living room, listening to the full album on vinyl. It won’t be out for almost another three months from when I visit the apartment, but it’s been finished for weeks. Beth says that once she had a contract, the album just poured out of her. It’s pure indie pop perfection, dark and hopeful in alternating bursts. My favorite couplet, the one I’ve been unable to get out of my head, many days after I heard it, comes from the third song, titled simply “Track 3”: “I’m still here, I’m alive/It’s time to finally try” ◆
the Kingdom, Beth March’s debut album, will be streaming and in stores on June 1, 2017.
Mid-April, 2017, Twitter
Kitty Van Tassel @KittyVanTea: not to be all, “I wrote a thing,” but I wrote a thing! I got to hang out with indie pop mastermind/cat lover Beth March and her wonderful siblings, and I wrote about it for next month’s Rolling Stone! https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/beth-march-album-dolls-family/1868
Jo March @cupofnb: *retweeted Kitty Van Tassel @KittyVanTea and added* Read about my sister, the coolest girl in the world!
Jo March @cupofnb: No but seriously I am so so proud of my Bet, three years ago she was near death in a hospital and now she’s releasing an album!
Amy March @amymarch24: *retweeted Jo March @cupofnb*
Teddy X @tlaurielaurencemarch: my not my sister sister has an album coming out! If that sentence doesn’t make any sense to you, read this profile! I’m only mentioned like once, but it’s still good! https://www.rollingstone.com/feature/beth-march-album-dolls-family/1868
Amy March @amymarch24: @tlaurielaurencemarch reeeeeeally not the point, Laur
Jo March @cupofnb: @amymarch24 @tlaurielaurencemarch you didn’t have to be mentioned at all, doofus
Teddy X @tlaurielaurencemarch: @amymarch24 @cupofnb I joke, I joke!
Teddy X @tlaurielaurencemarch: My girlfriend and my best friend are both fucking scary
Kitty Van Tassel @KittyVanTea: *retweeted Teddy X @tlaurielaurencemarch and added* read all about them in my new profile of Beth March!
Professor Fred @winnifredbae: *retweeted Kitty Van Tassel @KittyVanTea*
Late April, 2017
They were all gathered outside of Meg and John’s apartment, ten days after the profile came out, and none of them could figure out why. Meg had texted the family groupchat, demanding prompt attendance. She’d used the family codeword, Pilgrim, so they knew she meant it. But Meg had also been uncharacteristically reticent, so they had no idea why she had summoned them. Well, Beth thought maybe Marmee knew, she looked awfully pleased about something, but then again, Marmee was often happy about events they knew nothing about.
Fred also looked much less bothered than the rest of them, but Beth figured when it wasn’t your family, just your partner’s, maybe you were just more chill about things. Laurie didn’t look chill, but that didn’t disprove the theory, he was their family in all but name.
Jo squared their shoulders in the same way they’d done when imitating Dad as a kid, and said,“Well, somebody has to knock.”
Just as they raised their fist, however, the apartment door burst open.
“You’re early!” exclaimed Meg with dismay. “Or am I late?”
“You’re late,” said Amy and Jo together, just as Beth said “We’re early!” with what she hoped was a reassuring smile. Beth glared just a little at her siblings, wishing they would be nicer, especially given something was definitely going on with Meg.
As Meg ushered the assorted Marches into the tiny Brooklyn apartment, Beth looked around in complete confusion. Meg and John’s apartment always looked nice -- Meg had impeccable taste -- but right now it looked like something out of a Pinterest fever dream. There was pale blue-green gauze draped over every surface, and fairy lights hung from the ceiling. There were silver balloons, and electric tea lights in jars.
As everyone looked around in wonderment, Amy rushed to the front of the crowd. “Oh Meg, it looks beautiful!!” she squealed, and threw her arms around her sister. “But what’s the occasion?”
Everyone looked at Meg, and Meg looked back. Beth could feel anxiety and excitement radiating off of her sister, and she didn’t understand. But Marmee nodded, once, and it seemed to bring Meg down to reality. “Come out, John!” she called into the tiny kitchen. Beth realized that John must have been patiently hiding in a corner, because most of the kitchen was visible from the entryway.
John looked slightly sheepish as he came into the living area, carrying a platter covered in...something. They might have been brownies, in a past life? But they were a little round for that.They looked sort of like dingdongs, except more lopsided, and somehow less appetizing.
Marmee, as usual, recovered herself first. “They look delicious, dear!” she exclaimed. Beth found herself making noises of agreement, unable to hurt her sister.
“Everyone take one!” said Meg, in that commanding, oldest-child voice that only she could muster. Dutifully, every March, plus Laurie and Fred, took a small chocolate thing. “On three, take a bite, then look inside!” singsonged Meg. Jo looked thoroughly annoyed, but grunted their agreement, so everyone else nodded, too. “One, Two, Three!”
Beth looked inside the disgusting chocolate cake-thing. There was a colored portion, green like the decorations, and it seemed to have black squiggles in it. But she couldn’t figure out what it was supposed to mean.
“Is this some sort of fucked up gender reveal party?” said Jo, with real anger starting to edge their voice.
“Language!” said Marmee, just as Meg said “Of course not, how could you think that of us!”
“I didn’t, really,” Jo replied, gruffly.
“You’re supposed to read it!” said Meg, pleadingly. Beth decided to let the cake do the talking, and turned hers around to show Meg the illegible mess inside. She noticed her family all following suit.
“Oh NO!” said Meg, somehow even more dramatic than usual. She started to giggle, and then to laugh, until Marmee rushed forward with real alarm and hugged her. Beth saw the tears leaking out of Meg’s eyes as she looked at her family over her mother’s shoulder, her husband patting her back, her face full of love and fear and hope and dread. “I’m pregnant,” Meg said. “With twins.”
Early May, 2017
Beth was dressed in a fairytale witch costume, and everyone was looking at her. She’d been so sure, when she came up with the concept for the “Track 3” music video, that it was exactly right. Now she felt like she was going to throw up.
The idea was simple: the protagonist of the video was a 10 year old girl, whose gingery-brown hair and freckled face matched Beth’s own. She wandered through an oversize garden, carrying a glinting silver sword and facing down weird creatures. She would fight gnomes, bow respectfully to a unicorn, and hitch a ride on a giant butterfly. Beth had wanted to use as many practical effects as possible, and it had been really fun to see her dreams come to life in creepy-fantastical makeup and props. But the end of the video was where she herself came in, and now that they were going to shoot it she was questioning every aspect of her vision.
She was dressed in rags and a big black hat, but her makeup was “dewy and youthful” according to Amy, and her hair was down. The plan was that when the butterfly dropped the little girl down in a clearing, the girl would present Beth with her sword, and Beth would knight her. Beth would then hand her “younger self” a rose from inside her cloak. Thanks to CGI in post, the flower would begin to glow, and then explode into sparks as the whole screen went white. Beth had thought she knew exactly what she was doing and what she meant by it, but now there were going to be people watching and maybe it was stupid and pretentious and she was stupid and pretentious and THIS was how she was choosing to present her music to the world?
Panicking, Beth turned from the set, ran into her trailer, and locked the door behind herself, then sank to her knees and cried.
Her team let her be for about 5 minutes, presumably until Amy came back from whatever call she was making. As her tears started to slow, Beth heard a sharp rap on the door.
“Bethie, what’s up? Are you sick? Do you need a rest?”
Beth heard the real concern in her sister’s voice and felt even worse. Her symptoms weren’t acting up, she was just a coward.
“No,” she responded miserably. “I just can’t do this.”
“Can’t do what?” said Amy, and Beth felt certain she was talking to the wrong sibling for this. Confident Amy had never been unsure of herself or her artistic vision, even when Jo had scoffed at her ideas when they were little.
“This,” said Beth. “I can’t -- I’m a hack. This is embarrassing. Everyone will hate it.”
“Elizabeth March,” said Amy, with steel inflected precision, “You are an idiot.”
Beth could feel the tears still seeping from her eyes, but stayed quiet, unsure what Amy would say next.
“Why are you doing this?” said Amy, suddenly.
“What, hiding?” said Beth, a little petulant. “I told you!”
“No,” corrected Amy. “This! Music!”
Beth sat silent, thinking.
“You didn’t have to get a record deal after your songs went viral -- if you had told Laurie you were mad at him, he never would have leaked your work again, you know that.”
Beth made a small sound of assent, just so Amy would know she was listening.
“You want this, Beth,” said Amy. “This didn’t just happen to you -- you’re as ambitious as the rest of us, maybe even more than Meg, or me. For all your housework and charity causes, you’re as dreamy an artist as anyone. You’re not content to just do music as a hobby, it’s your life. You’re brilliant at it, and this music video shows what you’re capable of.”
Beth felt like the tears rolling down her face were of a different sort, now.
“Bethie, let me in,” said Amy, and Beth did, at once, enfolding her little sister in a huge hug, trying to make her understand the thanks she couldn’t say. “Okay, I’m going to clean up your makeup, and let’s get this party started.”
Beth couldn’t help but laugh.
May 31st, 2017
The loft was crowded -- it was Rose’s apartment, and she had plenty of space, but there were a lot of guests. Meg had been allowed to decorate with an unlimited budget, her nesting hormones coming out in full force, and it looked gorgeous. The original of Amy’s painting for the album cover hung on the wall.
Laurie was dancing with Jo, and Beth couldn’t help but smile. Laurie and Jo danced with abandon, their whole bodies moving. It had always been Their Thing, dancing, and Amy and Fred didn’t seem to mind. Beth could see Amy chatting up a potential music video director for the next single, while Fred talked seriously about something -- probably Shakespeare -- with Marmee. Meg was waltzing with John, graceful as ever even with her growing belly. Mr. Laurence had even shown up, and Beth knew he had done it only because he loved her. The old man was reading a book in an armchair, despite the lights and the noise and the people. Dad had somehow paid enough attention to the date to send flowers, which sat in a place of honor on the mantle. Phebe and Rose were talking animatedly with their friend Anabelle -- Amy had informed Beth with a whisper, earlier, that she was a supermodel. Beth was glad that no one was making her dance, or network, even though it was her album release party. She just wanted to bask in her family, and in the ridiculous, wonderful thing she had done. She closed her eyes.
Beth wasn’t sure she’d ever been happier. Her stomach still felt weirdly wiggly when she realized people would be listening to her album in an hour, but it didn’t bother her as much as it had a couple of weeks ago. She knew her music was good, even if she wasn’t sure about the rest of her. Music mattered, she knew that.
Phebe slid into the chair beside her, and Beth opened her eyes and turned to look at her. “Are you ready for this?”
Beth nodded, firmly. “I am.”
Pitchfork’s 8.5 review of Beth March’s the Kingdom, by Sallie Gardiner
In her triumphant first album, Beth March proves not only that her viral Soundcloud tracks were not a fluke, but that she possesses a depth of sound and spirit that few can match.
Beth March might not be the sad girl you’re looking for. Her new album, the Kingdom, is both more cohesive and more varied in tone than her viral mixtape. Though she has focused in on a gorgeous, spare folk-pop sound palate, her new songs range in emotion from explorations of grief and rage to deep, earned joy.
One of the most surprising tracks is the first single and opening track, “Joanna,” released this past March. Upbeat, with jangly guitars, it’s a story song of adventure and romance. But the bridge at the heart of the song is pure Beth March as we’ve come to know her, evoking emotion in a few swift phrases. Joanna knew she was alone/all along she knew/but it was a country she knew well/in Alone, she didn’t mind the view
A slower, more traditionally Beth March-ian song is “Track 3,” a personal favorite of mine, the fantastical and endearingly heartfelt video to which was released simultaneously to the album. “Track 3” is a coming of age story of a sort, a narrative of a person deciding for the first time to live actively. March’s vocals lilt hauntingly over soft piano, but the hopeful, determined lyrics belie the wistful melody.
The saddest song on the album, as must be noted for all those who cried to March’s initial Soundcloud offering, is the tenth track, “Concord.” March sings of lonely children, absent fathers, and dead cats with a combination of grief for the world as it is and rage that it isn’t as it should be. The chorus is particularly effective: she left me/with the kittens/he left her/to take care of us/they left me/in my crowded head/in this failing body/in snow-covered Concord
The most technically accomplished song, March saves for last. “the Kingdom,” the title and closing track, is a marvel. It’s six minutes of pilgrimage, tracing an imagined journey from a humble village home, filled with love, to a heavenly castle filled with wisdom and joy. The Christian imagery is evocative, but was not overwhelming or unpleasant for this agnostic. The production, as provided by her album-wide collaborator Teddy X, is lush without overshadowing her voice. I can’t pick out a passage to quote, it’s so seamlessly woven together. It might be a perfect song.
the Kingdom, as an album, is slightly less than perfect. There are a few overwrought metaphors, and one or two of the quieter, slower songs probably could have stayed on the cutting room floor or been released as a bonus track. But as an artistic statement of intent, Beth March's debut album shows that she is one to watch. She seems to simply have more emotions available to her than many a veteran artist, and she’s just getting started on teaching us how to feel them.
the Kingdom is out now on all streaming platforms and in record stores near you. ◆