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Interview with Beth Hart
30 November 2016
BETH HART - an explosion of emotion
Interview by Cheri Lyn
I was really excited about meeting a talent like Beth Hart, and I bumped into her outside when she came down to have a cigarette with her husband. They are both really tall with a strong and warm aura, and from the very first moment Beth sparkles with her charisma. Whilst smoking I had the chance to talk with Beth about girl issues like shopping and friendships. Beth seems to enjoy the simple things in life and due to her lovely, relaxed and ope- minded nature, you feel immediately close to her.
Beth, you have just released your new studio album 'Fire On The Floor' a year and a half since releasing 'Better Than Home'. You must have worked hard to write and record another album?
No, actually I haven't. 'Fire On The Floor' was done before 'Better Than Home' was completed. I write a lot all the time. Usually when I turn in an album I have two to three other albums ready to go and the producer chooses which songs will be on the album. For 'Better Than Home' I had about 50 songs but the experience was really painful as one of the producers died of cancer. So I was in a really bad way, I almost broke down. I have been to two psych wards within a few months. As soon as I got out of New York, where we recorded 'Better Than Home', I got back into a hospital again. And as soon as I got out of there I called my label and told them that I have to do another album right now, because if I don't then I am afraid I might never go into a studio again. This experience was so painful. But they agreed and I couldn't believe it, I was so happy. So I called my producer, Oliver Leiber, and sent him all my stuff. He chose the songs and we went into the studio and recorded it within just three days. And this was before even mixing of 'Better Than Home'. Therefore 'Fire On The Floor' has been recorded long before 'Better Than Home' was finished.
Where do you get the inspiration to write so many songs?
Well now and then I co-write with other writers. I get inspired in a really weird way sometimes; it is almost competitive. When I write with others and they have some really cool ways how to build up a song, then I take this inspiration as a level, where I want to go.
But what inspires me the most, it's just struggle. It's struggle to survive, to understand oneself, to be close with God. It is struggle to not hate myself, not to be angry at someone else. And I don't know how, I don't know how to let go with that anger. It is the struggle of learning how to love other people and not being defensive and thinking that they are attacking me. Part of that is some drama of my childhood, another part of it is having a chemical imbalance of my brain. Even though I take medication and I'm trying to do everything that they are telling me to do: I take my meds, do meditation, do a vitamin therapy, try to avoid coffee and sugar. I am sober and clean now and I do anything that regulates the brain chemistry but you never know when it breaks out. Although the medicine helps a lot, it doesn't fix it. They haven't found anything yet to do so.
But I think when you chose a lifestyle or career, which is involved with many time changes due to travelling through different time zones and the idea of receiving failure or receiving success, both can activate the symptoms. The blessing is, with those spins comes a lot of creativity, so I have a lot of material to write about.
We all know that you are made from dynamite, but you are working so hard with writing, recording and touring. Where do you get all the energy from?
My mom and dad are both really strong people. Even my mom, she is 80 years old, she gets out of the house and is still so active. She is working a lot to stay fit. And my dad is the same. I think I have that energy from both of them.
'Fire On The Floor' is probably the most diverse album you have ever written. It includes all kinds of styles like Jazz, Blues, Soul and Gospel. It is also completely different to all the other albums. What was your inspiration for all the different styles?
I have been raised on a lot of different styles. I grew up with classics, which was my first love. Then my mom turned me on with all kind of Jazz. She showed me all the other great songwriters like James Taylor, Carol King, Billy Joel, Elton John, The Beatles. Then my brother involved me in a lot of Reggae music, like Bob Marley, as well as Ska and Punk Rock. Later I discovered a lot of Heavy Metal like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin. What has pulled my heart strings the most was, when I was a teenager and went out to singing clubs, people used to give me stuff to sing from the likes of Janis Joplin or Robert Johnson. Robert Johnson fascinates me a lot. He was just a street musician, they took him into a hotel room and that was where they recorded all his shit. He didn't have a label behind him, nothing. Then he died, but he wasn't a star at that time, he was a broken man who became that legend of the 60s after he died. I have also been influenced by Etta James and Joe Turner, big boss of the blues. His shit was such a killer.
So there are just a lot of genres that inspires me, and as a writer that challenges you to follow the path of the heroes that you love, but you put your own feelings into it. And also I get fucking bored man, I don't want to record the same things on every album again and again.
With 'Fire On The Floor' you have proven how talented and creative you are and that you are not only an amazing singer, but also a brilliant songwriter, being able to do all those genres. Will you continue with different styles?
I can't really help it. Actually I am a really controlling person, I like to have the control. The only time when this changes is when I go to work with a producer. If that producer says I should do it like that, I would do so. Even if I don't really agree, I would try it. Even if at the end of the day, I don't like it very much. It is a very humbling experience but I think it makes you better as a human being and as an artist to not be really comfortable, to not do what you always want to do. Try things which make you feel challenged, that make you go: I don't know if I can do that, I don't know if that is a good idea. I know that sounds so controversial to what we are told – try to be yourself, do what you want to do. But I sometimes wonder, with being yourself you never really get out of your comfort zone and then you write the same stuff again and again, and as an artist you should go out of your comfort zone. Then you are forced to do something totally different and even if it sucks it is not really about getting a plus or approval from the audience, media or your friends. I think it is a life experience to try things and be willing to get lost.
What is it like working with you? Do you have a clear idea of a song, how it should sound when it is done or do you just let it go and let musicians and producers put their ideas and creativity in it?
This is all I do: everything is written, vocal and lyrics. But what is great about the piano, you can do all the bass work on the left hand, a lot of harmony on the right hand and also play the rhythm – so you can have everything mapped out. Then I will record it and band gets it. I usually don't meet the band, as they are chosen by the producer I work with. They get the material one week before recording and then we go to the studio after the arrangement is done. Further the producer can say, 'What about we move the bridge over here, go to a solo here instead?' That's why I have to really trust the producer.
We have like a key saying, "team player", because I get really nervous if I don't have the control because of my mental issues. I usually need to have it. That's why it is so important for me to keep my mind open that I can work with other people and allow them to put their influences into it.
And I tell you what I do now, what I didn't do when I was younger, because I hated my fucking voice. What I would do years ago, when I went to a studio, I would be so miserable because I heard my voice and didn't like it. Whilst on stage it was different, as everything was so loud. But at the end of my 30s my voice dropped down and I got that big fat low end that all of my heroes had. I didn't have that before, I had such a high end and I hated it. So when my low end popped in, it was the first time when I thought I enjoy being in a studio right now. But what I never do, after recording my vocals, I never go to the control room and have a listen to my takes. I don't want to hear my voice. I leave that booth, go out have a tea or a cigarette and wait till the producers says we got it or have to re-record it. I never hear anything of the song until it is mixing time. Then when I get the first rough mixing tracks, that is the time when I lose my shit because I think I am the fucking worst singer ever. But after a while I get used to it and stop judging myself so brutally, and then I can get a listen to the instrument mixes and see if it works for the song.
At the end of the day it is not about me as a singer or the players, it is all about the song. So it is about making sure, whatever the song needs to lift it up and makes it even sound better, I just let it happen. All of the musicians I have worked with and also the producer on 'Fire On The Floor', they were so great and humble and the nicest guys. Therefore it is about not bringing in your ego, it is all spiritual. Just come in with that and let it flow. The production with those great guys was so fast and easy. It was so nice to have that experience after 'Better Than Home'.
With 'Love Is A Lie' and 'Shut My Baby Down' it is getting very dangerous. Do you have a creepy, dangerous side in you too?
I do like horror movies. I always know that I have a place in my mind where I'm kind of going dead, because I also love watching autopsy videos and photos of crime scenes. I look up those photos to get scared. So there is that darker side in me but it also comes from having a lot of anger inside, which is a part of my mental disease. Those two songs, as well as many others on 'Better Than Home', are based on an experience my mom had. I got a call from her saying that her husband left her for a girl down the street. As I am so protective of my mom I flew there, went to him, screamed and yelled at him. I was so angry. And that is what 'Baby Shot Me Down' is all about. But we have it all sorted out with him. They are not together anymore but understand each other and are friends again. But a lot of dark shit was written around that.
Also 'Woman You've Been Dreaming Of'?
I wrote the music when I was 19 but had a different lyrics and melody around it. All these years went by. A lot of songs that didn't make it on 'Better Than Home', including 'Love Is A Lie', were then chosen by Oliver to be on 'Fire On The Floor', and I really liked the music of 'Woman You've Been Dreaming Of' so I changed lyrics and melodies and the producer has chosen it. Actually some songs were written long ago, they just needed the right moment to get ready.
It seems like your career is going up and up constantly. You already had so many great co-operations and concerts. What are your plans for the future?
I really try to focus and not to plan too much, because you never know what happens the next day. But something I am really excited about is working with Jeff Beck on a record again, so I will meet him at the end of the tour at Christmas. I am nervous and I hope I don't let him down. And further my husband and I bought a new house, almost two years ago. And the day we moved in I got really drunk, although I have been clean from drugs long before – since I met my man 16 years ago. I had my very last drink the day we moved in. Since then I have never touched alcohol again. I am sober for two years now (smiles). We want to put a pool in our new house, which I am looking forward to.
My plans are actually just trying to stay healthy and enjoy how pleasant life is each and every day, enjoy the time with my husband and family, trying to be grateful instead of being down and out. And that is really it.
Beth, thank you, you are so natural and have a strong personality and I love the fact you are saying what's important for your future is your love, family and health.
Yes, that beautiful human being right there (pointing to her husband), he is who made me fight back and I wanted to be alive for him. Before meeting him, I wanted to die. I just hated everything about living, I hated myself, I felt so ashamed of myself and being with him is just good. He is so patient and I love him so much.
With saying that, Beth started to cry because she was so thankful for having him and all the good things in her life. And that is the magic about Beth Hart – every single word she says or sings is honest and comes from the bottom of her big heart. She is funny, lovely, energetic, angry and sad at the same time. It is barely impossible not to fall in love with her as she catches you with her energy, joy and emotions. Thank you, Beth, for making me love and cry and the very best for your future. Beth Hart – the voice of a devil and the heart of an angel.
Beth Hart LIVE reviews:
Beth Hart & Colin James: Royal Festival Hall (London, 23 November 2016)
Beth Hart & Colin James: Colston Hall (Bristol, 17 November 2016)
Beth Hart ALBUM reviews (including 'Fire On The Floor'):
Beth Hart - 'Fire On The Floor'
Beth Hart - 'Better Than Home'
Beth Hart - 'My California'
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