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INTERVIEW – Beth Hart, March 2015

| 26 March 2015 | 1 Reply

INTERVIEW – Beth Hart, March 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Beth Hart has lived in Struggletown most of her life.

Her older sister died from complications from AIDS when Beth was only 20; she battled with drugs and booze and a bad lifestyle for years; and narrowly avoided succumbing to a similar downward spiral. A diagnosis of bipolar Disorder finally explained much of the turmoil she had felt inside for so long, and set her on the path to recovery, eventually leading her to drum tech Scott Guetzkow.

Beth Hart 01

Guetzkow eventually became her road manager, and even more eventually love blossomed between them and they married.

Finally, Beth Hart feels able to look at all the good in her life, to appreciate that whilst things aren’t perfect, they could be (and have been) a lot worse.

Which leads us to her new album Better Than Home, released on 10 April through Mascot/Warner. It’s uplifting, a celebration of sorts. Mostly of her own self-recognition and her survival. It might be her best yet.

First though, she’s on the road – and we get her on the line from Thailand, where she tying up some last minute press before enjoying the rest of the day off with Scott. This Sunday – 29 March, 2015 – Beth Hart plays the West Coast Blues & Roots Festival in Fremantle, Western Australia, and with her unique voice and emotive grasp of the blues in all its many shades, it guarantees to be a show not to be missed.

She goes on to play Byron Bay Bluesfest, The Metro in Sydney on March 31, and The Recital Centre in Melbourne on April 2.

One of the many things she’s thankful for today is that Australia seems to have finally embraced her music over the past few years.

“Yay! Thank God!” she bursts, “Oh my God! It took so many years to get something going there. I was there in my late twenties promoting a record – at that time, I was very sick. I couldn’t get it together to properly work. Many, many years went by, then I got very fortunate to come there again with a brain that works okay now. It’s been really, really cool. Yes. It’s wonderful. Who doesn’t want to go to Australia and perform? It’s a beautiful place. The last time I was there, I just had the best time in the world. We were there last year. It was just so great. We are super excited to be there again this year.

“This is so cool!” she says when asked for her favourite memory of performing Down Under. “My favourite memory is when I was in Byron Bay, I was backstage, hanging out. I had done a show that day, and I was hanging out. All of sudden, someone comes up and they say, ‘Buddy Guy wants to talk to you. He’s in his backstage dressing room.’ I said, ‘really?’

“Now, I had made a song with him, but [not] with him in the same room. I only got to do it through the internet – I worked with a producer and they [sent] my vocals over to him.

“So, I got to go backstage with him, and sit with him,” she says, the excitement of meeting a legend still fresh in her voice, “he told me stories of him and Etta James when they were kids and how they met and the things that they would do. It was so amazing. He goes up, starts his show. I was just so excited to be with him and watching him perform, [but] I’ve seen him perform before, [and] I had to go pee. So I took off and I went to the bathroom.

“When I came back, someone said, ‘oh my God, Betty, he was asking you to come out on stage with him and perform.’ I said, ‘oh no – I had to go pee!’ I missed a performance with him. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I got to talk to him and he’s just so wonderful. Yes, that is my finest memory.”

Beth Hart - Better Than Home

The new record, Better Than Home is an incredibly brave album, with Hart basically baring her soul to the world. It must take a lot of guts to lay those feelings on the line like that.

“You know what’s funny, man,” she says, her voice suddenly serious, “is that all the records I’ve done have always been vulnerable. It’s kind of my personality, to be very, very open about my stuff. That really isn’t that hard of a thing to do because it’s just something that I do, but on this record, I’m vulnerable in a totally different way.

“I mean, it’s vulnerable in a way, more of having faith, and hope, and celebrating life, and comparing it to different struggles of mine. I got to tell you: it was very scary. It was very hard to do. It really took me off guard, but I was encouraged to go down this road by the producers, who I’ve never worked with prior to this album. Their names are Rob Mathes and Mike Stevens, two really amazing guys. Without them, there’s no way I would have had the courage to do it. It really did kind of terrify me.

“I wasn’t comfortable talking about the joy,” she continues. “I know that sounds strange. Honest to god, it’s true. I guess I was just comfortable talking about my struggles and my pain, you know? They were like, ‘we know you got it in you, man. We know it’s in there!’ I was like, ‘no, it’s not. It’s not.” But we got there. We got there together. I’m very thankful for that. It feels really good to have a record that’s got some joy in it, you know?”

Accepting that you’re in a happy place, and putting it out there, can often be the scariest thing to do – perhaps because there’s a chance you might lose it, and that is terrifying.

“Yeah, that’s it,” exclaims Hart. “It’s the chance that you might lose that. That’s it! You nailed it. That’s got to be what it is, man.”

Beth Hart 02

Having publicly sung and spoken about her addictions in the past, and about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I wonder, does it attract attention from people with similar illnesses looking for advice?

“Yes, it does. It also helps me feel not alone,” she states bravely. “It’s a quite beautiful thing. That’s part of why I talk about it. I don’t just talk about it because I’m trying to be a hero – what they say is you take a curse and turn it into a blessing. It’s also for selfish reasons: when I talk about it, I do get people who have the same thing or other things that approach me and talk to me about their stuff. It helps me to not feel alone. I guess I could join a group – I could join one of those groups and do that joint group therapy thing, but it’s hard because I’m always on the road.

“I guess this is my way of doing it. Also, on the road, when I do some meet and greets, or when people win backstage passes in contests, instead of us just doing the typical signing stuff and taking photos and saying ‘hi’, I turn it into a mini therapy session. I make everybody sit around in a circle. I’m like, ‘okay, this is my shit today. Does anybody else have anything to express?’ It goes around in a circle like that. That’s what we do together. It’s healing. It’s a cool thing.”

Does she practice a kind of catharsis by songwriting?

“Yeah. Definitely! Songwriting, you know, music, anything like that – painting, going to museums, looking at spray painters and people expressing themselves, it’s all healing, because I think we see our own feelings in others. When that happens, again, it’s that beautiful thing of ‘we’re not alone’. We need each other. We have each other. It’s a cool thing, man.”

Beth Hart 03

So, having written about her struggles in the past, and the joy in her life on this new record – what’s next?

“Yes… I think I’m going to kind of stick with this joy thing for a minute,” she says with gusto. “It’s not the end. I never know what the future holds. Of course, as we know, life has got lots of ups and downs. That’s just the way it goes. Right now, I’m kind of focusing – this is the thing I’ve been focusing on, right: Someone taught me about this recently. I really want to share this with you and your listeners. That is that if you’re feeling really down, let’s say. You’re tripping out. Let’s say you’re scared of something, or you’re just feeling really sad. Maybe you know why and maybe you don’t know why. It doesn’t matter. You’re feeling down and out. Instead of speaking about how down and out you feel, you do the opposite – you start speaking how good you feel.

“I know this sounds ridiculous, but someone told me to do this not that long ago. I started doing it and now, I’ve noticed that when I go into a depression or I go into a down mode, I can bring myself out of it a lot faster. It’s simply by using the opposite words from how you feel. I even have a song about that called, Might As Well Smile. It’s the first track on the record.

“This has really made a difference, you know? Even if I’m crying, I just say out loud, ‘I feel really good right now. I feel really happy right now.’ It really freaking brings you out of your funk. It’s a good thing.”

Despite an incredible voice which sounds like it comes from a really deep place inside, Hart actually refutes the theory that it might be physically strenuous to summon that up.

“No, no – not at all. Not at all. I think that when I talk, it’s more strenuous than when I sing. Definitely. That’s one of the things in vocal training that I had to learn, because the coaches would tell me, ‘the technique when you sing is quite healthy, your problem is the way you talk. You get excited. You raise your voice. We really need to try and teach you how to not talk like that.’

“Actually, the way I’m talking to you right now,” she continues, “I probably am doing a no-no, because I’m pushing a little when I’m talking, but I’m excited. I’m in Thailand, I’m on vacation, I’m having a good time. Yeah, it’s really the talking.

“When I’m on the road, touring a lot, what I tend to do is not do too much talking. I’m pretty quiet during the day, then just use my voice for the shows.”

Does she have to do a lot of vocal exercises, then, to keep her voice in good shape?

“I don’t at my age now [Beth turned 43 in January]. I did when I was younger. I did a lot of scales and all that stuff. Then I learned a new way to warm up. It’s just light warming up that I do throughout the whole day, a few minutes here, a few minutes there. By the time it comes for showtime, then I just do what I call the high blows, which I just blow out the top ends, so that way, I know that everything is connected. That’s it. I really don’t do scales anymore, you know? That stuff is over, thank God. It’s so boring!”

The press kit which comes with Better Than Home includes the observation that the early producers and labels she worked with, “all heard the same thing. A voice that inspires, transforms and moves you.” Does Hart feel the inspiration or power of her own voice?

“No, but I have to say that now I like my voice, whereas when I was younger, I hated it. That was all during my early recording career: I never liked the sound of my voice. What I liked was the feeling of singing. When I would sing, the feeling that it felt like in my stomach and in my chest, I liked that feeling. It felt like I was literally getting stuff off my chest.

“As I started to get older, in my late 30’s, my voice dropped down. My low end of my voice dropped down, it got warmer. When that happened, it was the first time that I really started to enjoy making records. Up until then, I really just liked the feeling of doing shows, because I wasn’t using in-ear monitors. I was using regular stage monitors. I couldn’t really hear my voice so much, so it was great.

“Like I said, when my voice changed, I was like, ‘hey, this doesn’t suck.’ I got in-ear monitors. Now, I’m like, ‘hey, I can sing okay.’ It’s very different now.”

Beth Hart 04

‘I can sing okay’ seems quite the understatement for someone who has guitar heroes the calibre of Jeff Beck, Slash, Joe Bonnamassa and Buddy Guy queuing up to play with her.

“I’ve had some nice people in my life, I’ve very fortunate,” Hart says with remarkable understatement. When pushed, she admits working with guys of that stature can be incredible.

“Absolutely! The first of those guys was Jeff Beck. He made a major impact on my life. It it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have ever worked with Slash or with Buddy. When I met Jeff, it was for a writing session in the beginning. After we did some writing together, he said, ‘hey, what do you think about coming out and doing some singing with me on the road. I’m going to go to the United States, and I’d like you to be my singer.’ I said, ‘well, that sounds great.’ I went out on the road with him.

“Slash came to one of his shows, because Slash is a huge fan of Jeff Beck. After the show, I got a call from Slash saying, ‘hey, would you like to make a record with me?’ [She perfomed Sister Heroine with the ex-Guns n’ Roses guitar slinger for his self-titled debut solo album] Which was really great, of course.

“But then when I worked with Jeff again on the Kennedy Center Honors, that was how I got to get to work with Buddy for a track on his last record. Again, it’s all connecting through Jeff. Also Jeff has made a major impact on me as a writer as well, because he gave me advice. He said to me, ‘hey, you know, any time you start feeling comfortable, or getting specific accolades from an audience, you got to change direction.’ I was like, ‘what are you talking about, dude? If people are digging what you’re doing, don’t you want to keep doing that?” He said, ‘no.’ He goes, ‘if you stay comfortable, it’s the death of your artistry. You have to constantly challenge yourself and get uncomfortable.’

“I thought that was fantastic advice. He obviously has a lot of courage. He’s so brilliantly talented. Yeah, I love Jeff. A lot of good things have come from knowing him.”

And with that our time is up and Hart and her husband is off to “get some sunshine and swim and enjoy this most beautiful place.”

Roll on Sunday’s show!

Category: Interviews

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