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INTERVIEW: BETH HART – October 2016

| 20 October 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: BETH HART – October 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

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Beth Hart is on a roll right now. After the success of last year’s Better Than Home comes her thirteenth album: Fire On The Floor, an eclectic stew of blues, jazz, rock and soul that is out now on Mascot’s Provogue label. SHANE PINNEGAR called Beth to find out more.

With its refusal to be pigeon-holed, Fire On The Floor sounds like a record out of time, harking back to the ‘70s when artists didn’t need to be so sub-genrefied. Hart says it’s not boredom that drives her to be so musically diverse.

“No, I wouldn’t be bored – I would be pissed off if someone told me I should stick to one particular kind of music!” she insists. “I’d tell them probably to piss off. Also the challenge of working through different genres of music, and finding what’s going to come out of you, [as you] take on different genres – it’s an exciting thing. It’s also a very humbling thing.

“I think that challenge is so important, because as soon as I start to get bored, what the hell do you think the audience is going to be? They’re going to be so bored, they’re going to throw tomatoes at you. They’re going to walk out. I can’t go there! I’ve been really blessed in my career, that the different labels I’ve worked with have never tried to make me do anything a certain way. I’ve been one of the lucky ones in that.”

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Just as with the songs on Better Than Home, Hart has dug deep for the lyrics to Fire On The Floor. Having spoken with her previously about the catharsis of songwriting for a troubled soul, I ask if that process was as important this time around?

“I don’t know, I really just love the process of doing it,” she muses thoughtfully. “When I was younger, I think I took it much more seriously – in the way that, I felt like, if the song didn’t come out where I thought it was a good song, then somehow that was a reflection of who I was as a person. That’s no way to go, and as I got older I realised, ‘no, this is something that you get to do that just makes you happy and learn!’

“So now when I write, it’s like, whether I’m looking for some kind of relief emotionally or mentally [from] what’s going on at the time, it’s really [deeper] than that. Now it’s more like just sitting down and enjoying the process, and whatever comes, not judging it but just having this thing where you… you know when you wake up in the morning and you get to do something that you really love to do, like play with your dog out on the front lawn, or go plant some flowers, or go fishing with your dad, or one of your best friends. I look at it like that now.

“It’s just really great to sit down in my little piano room,” she continues ecstatically, with the passion of a sinner having seen the light, “and mess around and see what comes. It’s funny, it’s like my love for writing has gotten so much deeper as I’ve gotten older! I think it’s because of that, it’s really just appreciating the process and not judging it, just letting it flow.”

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That’s an awesome place to be emotionally – and it certainly beats working for a living!

“Oh my God,” exclaims Hart with a chuckle, “I don’t really work, do I? I just go around with whatever it is. I’m trying to see it like work though. I don’t really feel like what we do is work – the only time I feel like it gets to be work, is [when] we’ve been on the road for a while and I’m tired, and I can hear my voice starting to shut down, and then I get really scared and nervous.

“That’s when it becomes work… I’m like, ‘oh my God, I’ve got to go home,’ and it really exasperates my bipolar disorder as well. I really start to melt down when I’ve been out [on the road] for too long. That’s the only time I feel like it’s work, but otherwise I just feel like we’re getting to do what we love to do, and at all times we have to be so grateful and remind each other of that. It’s so important, sometimes I take it all way too serious. I’m so blessed that my husband says, ‘hey, you could be digging ditches girl, you are lucky and blessed, don’t even for a second start to feel sorry for yourself.’ It’s so true, it’s so true!”

As triumphant a record as Better Than Home was, the recording process was coloured by co-producer Michael Stevens’ illness. Stevens passed away from stomach cancer on 15 October, 2015, just shy of 49 years of age.

“It’s just really sad, and it still really messes me up,” Hart admits. “He was so young, and he really pushed me. He raised that bar so high upon me that I hated him for it, a lot of the time. He was trying to get me to get out of my comfort zone, which is about the most beautiful blessing that anyone could do for any artist!

“He didn’t make it. It was just terrible – but what a beautiful album that he worked so hard on, and [co-producer] Rob Mathes, just both of them are really beautiful men. I miss Michael so much, that’s why I made Fire on the Floor right away. I went in and I recorded Fire on the Floor, I think it was 6 weeks after I got back from New York [where we did] our seven days of making Better Than Home. I called up the head of my label, Ed, who really is a dear of a human being, and I said, ‘hey man, I know we haven’t mixed Better Than Home yet, but I’m dying over here. Will you please give me some money to go and make another record?’

“Ed knew everything that was going on, and he said, ‘you bet.’ You don’t see people like that in the music business anymore – people like that are who built the music business. They would get artists that they love and believed in, and they would do anything for them. They wouldn’t treat them like, ‘oh, this is just about product.’ It wasn’t like that, people like [Ed] have such vision. He just signs who he loves and believes in, and he did that for me – I’ll be grateful for him forever. So, we made Fire on the Floor, and it was just really wonderful. It’s like that whole thing of, if you fall off a horse you have to get back right on right away.

“I felt like Ed allowed me to do that, because being in the studio for Better Than Home was just so hardcore that I knew if I didn’t get back in [the studio] right away I’d probably never want to go back in there. I was very, very lucky.”

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Despite having recorded the album so long ago, Hart didn’t feel anxious or impatient to have to sit on them for nearly eighteen months.

“No, it was so wonderful – I’ll tell you why, aside from what we just talked about. It was so nice to be able to get two albums done, and just know that I could sit back – we just bought a new house, [so I could] work on the house, and plant stuff in the garden. I can go out on the road with my band and just let my well refill up, for whatever future writing there’s going to be.

“I really got a chance to take a break from it,” he continues passionately, “because I tend to overdo everything that I get involved with. I was just writing so much that I actually had to wake up in the morning, I’d start praying to God, and I’d say, ‘you’ve got to get me to stop writing.’ It just became this full blown addiction, and it just wasn’t healthy. I got my wish, and I got to make those two records, and then I got to take a break from writing. Now I notice those things last maybe six months, then that well is starting to want to be messed with again.

“I have started back [writing], but I got to take a break from that total over-indulging and just too-many-hours-a-day thing, which was really starting to drive me insane, and my husband insane! It was nice just recently, because we’re getting ready to release Fire on the Floor. My band got the album, and they were calling me up, they were like, ‘dude, I love this record.’ And so now we’ve been on the road the last couple of weeks… it’s really fun, [we’ve got] the new stuff to play.”

Fire On The Floor features an impressive cast of supporting musicians, from guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Michael Landau to keys legend Ivan Neville. That’s just WOW, right there.

“Isn’t that insane?” Hart exclaims, almost disbelieving her own band. “Can you even believe it? [Producer] Oliver Leiber is the stud of studs man – he calls me, and he’s like, ‘this is who we’re getting [to play on the album],’ – ‘no way dude!’ He was just so nice, so nice.”

Hart confirms that playing with world class, super-experienced musos such as these makes her lift her own game.

“For sure, I think, without a doubt! You are what you’re surrounding yourself with, that’s a real true and good thing, and I love that saying. It’s so true. It so ups your game. Remember when I first worked with Joe Bonamassa, we made our first record together, Don’t Explain. I was just so nervous about it all, especially taking on that kind of material, because we were doing cover songs of great, classic songs. I was so nervous about it, but it was the smartest thing I ever did because it just makes you grow, it forces you to grow, forces you to do things you didn’t think you could do, and that’s such a nice feeling. It upped the game for sure, yeah.”

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Hart spent New Year’s Eve just gone performing with Jeff Beck on U.K. TV presenter and muso Jools Holland’s famous annual Later With Jools Holland Hootenany special. How on earth can you top that New Year’s Eve party this year?

“I don’t know – it was so crazy man, it was just so rad,” Hart says excitedly. “God, that was so fun, and I’m the biggest fan in the world of Jools anyway. To have had him playing the piano with us, such a treat, and to have his whole band with us. I recently just did in Holland, I recently got to share the stage with Jools for a festival. What a treat that was, it was so much fun. All the other artists that were on the show were so awesome, and I was just happiest that night. We’ll see what this year has planned!”

With fans that range from the young (our nine-year-old is a big fan and was struck practically dumb meeting Hart at the Fremantle Blues & Roots Festival 18 months ago) through to older blues and jazz fans, it must be so validating to know that your music touches such a wide variety of souls.

“I don’t look at it as validating to me, as such – and this might sound like just fucking so weird to you – but I really just look at it, any time someone says something nice about a song, or a performance, I don’t for a second believe that it’s ME or my band doing it. I think most it’s just all about spirit, and I think that God and angels and people that have passed away that are now on a whole other level, I really feel like they come through us people on the planet, whatever you’re doing. If you’re painting, if you’re dancing, if you’re a cook and you’re cooking for people, any time you’re doing anything that’s going to connect with others. If you’re a plumber, and come to somebody’s house to work on their pipes, and you walk in the door with a big smile on your face, and you just let the people know you see them. That’s the way spirit flows through, so with whatever job you have, with every day I think that we all have this awesome opportunity to let the higher spirit funnel through us.

“Whenever someone says anything nice, it always goes to God, period,” Hart continues intriguingly. “I know left to own devices, I screw everything up. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it with my drugs, I’ve seen it with all the different ways that I would self-destruct to myself, and also to others. I know from my own experience, if it’s left up to me, I’ll screw it up every time. It’s like, just get out of the way and trust that that spirit’s going to be there, and something beautiful happens. I always give it up to God, because that’s where all the good comes from, I know it, I can feel it.”

Hart plays at Byron Bay Bluesfest next year, but that’s unlikely to expand to a full national tour.

“No, and I wish it was, gosh!” she admits. “We’ve been really hoping to get things really smoking over there, but it’s a really long flight, and it’s hard to build something up in an area where you can’t spend a lot of time milking it and getting it happening and making connections with people. It’s been a bit of a struggle for sure, I’ve done a few small tours in different parts of Australia but so far this year we don’t have anything booked, we just have two shows at Byron Bay. My finger’s crossed, because it’s just so beautiful there and the people have always been so nice to us. So we’re just leaving it open that, if it’s in the cards for us, we can start playing more there than just coming for a festival, you know?”

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With just one more question before our time is up, I ask Beth Hart, ‘what would life be like for you without music?’ and get an unexpected answer.

“I think that I would be okay,” she says, surprisingly in a way, “because there’s so many things I love. I love painting and I love fishing, cooking and gardening and being with fun people, and laughing, and I love nature, I love camping. That would be all right, I think that music is a beautiful thing but I don’t put it as my first love in my life.

“My first love is my family and friends and Love, and being alive. There’s lots of good stuff out there, and music happens to be one of them. I don’t put it as the priority, I used to when I was younger. It was way too consuming, and I found that I was using it to be a way so if I got an applause or people liked the song, I used to make it be about me, and that just was no way to go. I’ve let that go at some point, and I just trusted that whatever I’m supposed to do, and that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m going to be okay, no matter what.”

Shane

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