10 Questions with ... Beth Hart
August 17, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
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For the past two decades Beth Hart has become beloved for her raspy and soulful voice. She has had huge success on the blues charts she consistently sells out her tours in U.S. and overseas. She counts Joe Bonamassa, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Slash among her admirers and collaborators. Hart also has a really moving personal story of triumph to boot which she draws upon for inspiration and strength. She has dealt with the loss of her sister to AIDS, drug use, family strife, and a bipolar diagnosis that was both frightening and liberating. But she is the ultimate conqueror and has become stronger through it all. In 2015, she released her latest album, "Better Than Home."
1) Looking back, can you remember the moment that you wanted to be a perfomer? Have you always wanted to do this?
I remember the first time I ever heard "Moonlight Sonata" which is by favorite composer of all time, Beethoven, and it's also to this day, my favorite song that I've heard in my life, and I directly bee-lined for the piano and I started playing a little bit of it that night. I was four years old.
I didn't start singing but I started writing at that age. I did that for years and years until I went and saw the play, Annie at seven. That's when I learned all the songs on the record and I would sing them for my mom at night before she went to sleep. I never thought much of myself as a singer, but I really liked the feeling of being able to yell and you wouldn't get in trouble because you were singing. I would yell out these Annie songs but really I wanted to be a classical composer, that's what I dreamed of being one day. I got into cello in the fourth grade and I played that for years. I adored playing it. I got an opera coach when I was 12 because I really wanted to learn how to sing properly, the only proper way to sing, I thought at that age was opera.
But my coach said to me, "Beth, I'm sorry, it's not that I don't think you have the talent for it, what I think is that you want to do things your own way and you cannot do that when you are singing classical music. You have to be very disciplined to the way the composer wrote it." Of course, that's why it's classical music. So that was when my dream of that died and I started putting lyrics to music for the first time. That was when I was about 12 or 13. So yeah, it's always been something that I did.
I remember I auditioned for a performing arts school the following year. I got in, but I never went to class. I would show up around 1:00 in the afternoon when the music classes started and then they expelled me from the school for that.
2) You've been compared to Etta James and Janis Joplin. Would you agree that those are two voices that you admire and ones that inspire you?
So many singers and songwriters have inspired me but those are definitely two of them without a doubt. I love Etta and I love Janis.
3) Please tell us about your new album "Better Than Home."
Yes! I worked really hard on this record with two really great producers who are really good to me and really kind. I think they did a wonderful job on this record, and I think it's a really beautiful album.
I think it's also filled with a lot of light and gratitude. Usually, I use writing as a way to figure out things about me and I get scared pretty easily about everything. I deal with a lot of depression, so I usually use it as way to find some relief from that. Whereas for this record, I turned in 45 songs to the producers and they really felt that the times when I sing more about hope, being grateful and joy would be a better way to go for this record. So in that way, I think it's very different than a lot of my records. Not that I haven't had songs of joy in other records. But I think a lot of times, I write about those demons and I think on this record, there's really no talk of that. There's more talk of having more faith and overall more positive. So it's nice and I'm proud of this record. I think it's really beautiful and I of course hope people get it and enjoy it.
4) What songs are you particular excited to share with the world?
Oh every one of them. I love and adore each and every song on this record for their own reason. If I had to choose one, it would probably be "Tell Her You Belong To Me." It took me a ridiculous amount of time to write it. It never usually takes me that long. It took me over a year and a half to write. It took me forever to put the lyrics on it and once I did, I was really happy to see how much love and how strong my love is for my father and nothing and no one can get in between that. He left when I was a child and it was devastating because I was so so close to him. He was my life. He went to jail for a little while and he was away for 3 or 4 years. Then when he got out of jail, he met this horrible woman. I remember being so excited that he was out and I could be with him again, and by the time he got out I was 10 or 11. She pulled me aside and said, "Listen, you are too high strung and it's going to cause your dad health problems so he doesn't want anything to do with you. You are not allowed to call the house." And it stayed that way all the way up until I got my first record deal with Atlantic when I was 23. Then he kind of came back into my life because he left her.
So it was interesting to see that I wrote a song for my father that has no anger in it but instead it was just all this willpower and love that I had as a little girl and nothing, not even that horrible woman could get in the way of that. Nothing could take away my love for my father. So I understand why it took so long to write it because I probably didn't want to visit that place. Especially after so many years of therapy, you want to think that therapy has worked in some way, and when I started writing the song, I think I was 42, and I think that I was scared to see if I still had a bunch of anger still there. I can only tell really what I'm feeling when I write. Otherwise, it's all just layers of denial to help get me through. So that would be the song that I would choose. I am going to bring the record up to his house. I dedicated the record to him but I am not going to tell him that I wrote that specific song for him because I think that he beats himself up more than I do which says a lot. He's the master of hating himself and being really down on himself. The truth is, he's a man that went through a lot of pain as a kid. So he's doing the best that he can and I think that if I were to tell him that that song was for him, it would make him feel more guilty and ashamed. So I'm not going to do that. But I did dedicate the record to him and I did tell him that. So now I just have to give him the record.
5) Let's talk a little about your 1999 song, "LA Song." What was the inspiration for that song? Were you living in LA at that time?
Yeah I was living in LA. So, I ran away at 15 to chase a guy that I met who would become my boyfriend and he was living in LA. Then he left LA to move back to Brooklyn, NY, where he was originally from. He was much older then me, he was nine years older. So I decided to run away from home and go live with him out there in Brooklyn which I did. It was terrible experience. I got on drugs when I was I there. I ended up running away from him because he was physically abusive. It was just a bad thing. I got pregnant and it was just all bad. So I came back to LA on a flight that his mother had arranged for me while he was away. He would go on these two weeks runs where he would steal CDs up and down the east coast. So while he was away doing that, that was my time to leave.
I went back home and that's when I went to the performing arts school. SO, then some years rolled by chasing music and trying to get a deal. SO when I got my first deal with Atlantic, I put out a hard rock record which didn't really do anything on the pop level but it did a little for us in terms of touring different parts of the world. And then that band broke off and I made another record and while I was working on that second record, I left L.A. again for the first time and I ran away to Alabama to be with a guy that I had met there when I was on tour.
But the same kind of shit happened again as the first guy but this guy was not abusive, it was more just about me being drunk and messed up and scared all over again. So then I left Alabama and moved back to L.A. and that's when the song, "L.A. Song" was written. It's funny, for so many years, I thought I had written it about running away to Alabama. But really, what I came to realize later on is that I really wrote it about that traumatic time when I moved to Brooklyn.
6) Please tell us about your performance at the Kennedy Center Honors celebrating Buddy Guy? What was it like seeing Barack and Michelle Obama lead the standing ovation?
Well, you know I didn't even know that people were standing up! I think that I was so caught up in the moment and doing a good job for Buddy that I didn't even realize it. I didn't know until after the show when my husband and also my manager told me what had happened. I had just been so focused and with all the lights in my face, so everything that is dark out there. Anyway, it was cool that it didn't end up airing until after Christmas and I got to be with my mom when it aired finally. I was visiting her in Arizona so we were watching the show at her breakfast table! That was really cool and she was so proud. I love my mom!
7) What is it like performing with Jeff Beck? Has he always been someone that you wanted to work with?
He's so easy to work with. He's the best. There's no dictatorship in him. He's just so kind and is enthusiastic. He's like a teenager and he's like this with everybody he works with. He's just so excited and he has so much fun doing what he does. He's just really really nice and so so sweet. It's almost like he's your teenage little brother but on the other hand, he's like your great grandpa who loves you and is good to you, and kind to you, and he makes you feel really good. He's just perfect. He's just the nicest person. Yeah, I love him so much!
8) Who else would you like to work with?
So many people that I've wanted to work with have died. I was so crazy in love with Amy Winehouse. When she died, I felt like I lost my sister all over again. I couldn't stop crying for weeks and weeks! It was horrible! She was so wonderful and so talented.
9) Who are some of the newer musicians that you think are incredible and are really breaking ground today?
You know who I think is absolutely fabulous is Florence from Florence And The Machine. I think they are just so great. They have totally created their own sound. I know they have been together for years and years. Before they ever had their first breakout record with "Dog Days are Over," their first record It makes sense why they have their own sound because they really have spent time creating it and nurturing it and bringing it together. I love "Ceremonials" and their newest record that's getting ready to come out. "What Kind Of Man" is the first single and I love it! I just think Florence is fantastic. I love her voice. I love the band. I love everything about them.
10) Of all your many accomplishments so far, which ones have really stood out to you?
God, I don't feel like I've had any accomplishments. Honestly, I'm a pretty depressed person. It's weird. I'm either on cloud nine and so grateful for everything and everything is amazing, or I'm in total dark mode and I feel like I'm such a loser and such a waste of space. I just live in those two zones and nothing really in between. So today, I'm in a pretty dark space. But there is one thing that has brought me a sense of accomplishment and that's that I feel very clearly that God has given me this vey beautiful way to contact him and that's through writing. So that no matter where I am in the world, specifically, where I am in my head, in a high or low, I know that if I go to the piano and try to create something, I know that's where I'll find God every time. Every time! And that's a beautiful thing that after so many years of doing this that I can finally become aware of that. So that's by far what I consider my great accomplishment. Being able to see that gift he gave me. So when I'm freaking out and lost, I know that if I go to the piano, I will find him.
Is there a message that you hope your new album "Better Than Home" conveys to listeners?
Yeah, I hope more than anything that it can be an album that they can listen to and relax in it's gratefulness. It's about being able to face everything that we all go through. I mean, life does have its good days but most of the time it's kind of an uphill battle.
There's so much that's scary about it and there's so much that can make us feel less than all the time. I think that we all can kind of connect to the idea of thinking that everyone has it all together when really they don't. All of us feel that way. One of the themes of the album is the gratitude for all of it, for the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the standing still and running as fast as you can. It's a gratitude for that. I hope that's what people get from it.
*Special thanks to Leah Adams who conducted this interview.
Check out the interview here as well.