What do you do when you’re tipped as the UK’s most exciting acting talent at the tender age of 13? Most people would keep at it until they reach the pinnacle of their careers at 16, before plunging promptly into C-list obscurity.
But Betty Curse is not most people. Discontent with falling victim to the “just another former child star” curse, she decided to cast her very own spell on the music world. Her debut album Here Lies Betty Curse marks the resurrection of a sublimated rock star dream. Spawned from a love of Nick Cave, The Cure, The Cramps, Vivienne Westwood, Edgar Allan Poe and Betty Paige, this new sensation is set to become the poster girl of the gothic revival. musicOMH caught up with Betty to chat about the realisation of her lifelong musical dream, as well as a much-needed history lesson on what gothic subculture really represents in 2006…
Under her given name Megan Burns, Betty won the Marcello Mastroianni award at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 for her performance in Liam. She also appeared in the feature film 28 Days Later in 2002. What inspired the transition from budding actress to rock star?
“I actually knew music was my calling from a very young age. I must’ve been around seven. I remember watching Top of the Pops and getting upset and frustrated because I wanted to make music. I grew out of that phase but it hit me again when I was around 13 while I was doing the films. The whole time I never thought I could do it because I couldn’t sing or play any instruments, so I thought of getting involved behind the scenes, like maybe in a publicity role or something. I’m so fortunate that I finally got my chance to be in a band, so I guess all that feeling sick and crying ultimately paid off.”
The discussion moved on to the categorisation of her music as “gothic”, a term liable to misconstruction and liberally tossed around to describe her sound. The radio-friendly tunes from Betty’s album may come as a surprise to those anticipating hardcore screamo music. How would she describe her sound to the casual listener?
“When Steve Ludwin and I got together we were set on doing pop music. But what differentiates my sound from the disposable plastic pop churned out by winners of The X-Factor is how my music has an edge to it, especially with my lyrics. This duality between the sound and the lyrics is kind of my way of appealing to the dual capacities in all of us. I think everyone is just a walking contradiction. We like to think we know exactly what we’re doing in life, but something will always crop up to destroy our conception of ourselves. Seriously, I sometimes wake up feeling like I’m schizophrenic…”
“I actually knew music was my calling from a very young age. I must’ve been around seven” – Megan on being driven
Perhaps this duality in Betty’s music might also be seen as a way of reconciling mainstream society with the oft-misunderstood gothic subculture?
“Definitely. Society is always exposed to this scripted stereotypical gothic subculture: the girls are always seen as slutty and the guys are all supposed to be dickheads swigging pints of Snakebite and Black and head-banging and acting like vampires. It’s ridiculous. Of course you have people who are into the goth thing for the wrong reasons, but a lot of the people into it are the most beautiful souls. Most of them are peaceful enough to understand the romanticism of life. To me, poetry and art are more representative of gothic culture than death and gore. But it doesn’t really bother me when people misconstrue things – it’s usually only those frustrated people who are too scared to stray from the supposed mainstream who take the piss anyway.”
As someone who confesses to having an unhealthy fascination with the notion of death, does she worry that people might file her under “death and gore” without much thought? Also, with everything which goes on between her ears, can Betty Curse tell us what happens after we croak?
“I think that what a lot of people don’t realise is that my lyrics are often tongue-in-cheek. Of course, not everyone will get it, but I don’t want to play it down since it’s what I find amusing. I’m just determined to be me and to not be fake. I don’t think I could write about anything else really. With the death thing I think the reason I’m so fascinated is because I don’t have a clue about what happens beyond the grave. It also takes away the fear of dying when you’re fascinated. Death is so beautiful because once you find out what happens you can’t come back to enlighten everyone else and to tell them what to expect.”
“If I told the 14-year-old me that I would be playing on the same day as Guns N’ Roses, I think she’d tell me to piss off!” – Megan tries to get over playing at this year’s Download Festival
At that moment, I became temporarily distracted by her Vivienne Westwood skull necklace. Is her refined Gothic Lolita aesthetic an important part of her on-stage persona?
“Yes. I think too many bands are sloppy about their image. People should really take advantage of the fact that they have a stage of parade around on. But even in my everyday life I love to dress up, and I want to encourage more people to do it, both girls and boys. My roommate and I spend hours customising things before going out. I went to London Fashion Week the year, but I generally just pick up what I like without overthinking it. I tend to go for a cutesy look with an edge, but I am also influenced by the whole 50’s glamour thing.”
However, Betty is determined not to let her image overshadow her passion for music. Discussion once again gravitated towards the album and life on the road.
“I always draw inspiration from everyday life. Then I mix it with books or poems which I read so they become a bit more fantastical than the gritty realism of what bands like Arctic Monkeys are all about. I just think that music should always be about escapism. Even with bands like The Cure there’s always a fairy tale aspect involved. I think my album blends reality with fantasy quite well. Do You Mind if I Cry is quite a personal track for me since I was going through a weird phase at the time, and God This Hurts is about my messy love life. Each track reflects a different character trait I possess.”
“I just think that music should always be about escapism.” – Megan isn’t sure about Arctic Monkeys…
As much as she loves spending time in the studio, Betty is emphatic about her enthusiasm for touring. “I love nothing more than touring. I’m such a hermit that when I’m not working I just sit in the house watching films and listening to music all day, so getting out and playing shows is great. I recently played at the Download Festival which was amazing. I’d always wanted to go but I never could because of exams and stuff. But I got my chance this year, and never in a million years did I think I would be playing on my first outing. If I told the 14-year-old me that I would be playing on the same day as Guns N’ Roses, I think she’d tell me to piss off!”
Being a girl in a band has its perks, but Betty is not blind to the differential treatment she sometimes receives. “I hate getting into the whole sexism thing because I’m not a feminist at all, but I think people tend to be more sceptical and cynical when they see a female lead in a band. They pigeonhole you. It’s so lazy – all the comparisons and stuff. You’d never see those tabloids ripping Dave Grohl apart for his dress sense, but when you’re a girl you’re constantly being judged on how you look But I went to see The Cramps last night and when Poison Ivy came on stage she got hit by a can and she didn’t give a shit. She’s a woman but she was also more rock and roll than half the audience. Seeing women rock it out like that makes me more eager to take whatever comes my way.”
At first glance, one would be forgiven for expecting Betty Curse to be a brooding, moody teenager. However, her depth of character is accompanied by an inherent sweetness which makes her more endearing and human than most of the plastic pop acts pervading the scene. The Megan Burns who is petrified of spiders and desperately in need of sleep is not afraid to shine through the makeup and gothic regalia. Call me crazy, but the girl who professes to wanting Nick Cave to sing to her as she bleeds to death just brightened up my day.