She was the talker, I was the clown.
I arranged my interview with Beth Hart at the end of her 2017 European tour. It was the last night of the tour at Sentrum Scene. Oslo was cold and Christmas beckoned. But Beth was chilled and relaxed after a swim and we began to chat as if old friends, yet I had never spoken to her before nor, I am ashamed to say, had I seen her play live.
That night Beth was suffering with a chest infection and had skipped the sound check.
“…the people I have that work with me are just so wonderful, they know all sides of what I like and so they just kind of dial it in – so it’s great. But I do love to soundchecks because I love to rehearse and think of new things to start on, because you know the show is different completely different every night. I like to run through some stuff if I can or, we just wing it!
And that’s just a lot of fun and I don’t mind train wrecks, I mean we have plenty of those, we’re playing live and I find that it’s fine. I mean we’re not doing just brain surgery, it is just music!
I like to keep us all a little bit on our toes. And I also like to keep us as humble as we can be. You know, when people give you applause and stuff like that, it can blow smoke up your butt. That’s not good for you as an artist. I think it’s good for us to constantly stay uncomfortable so we get reminded of how fallible we are.”
One thing we hadn’t spoken about was how long the interview would last, concerned that I might be getting in the way of some pre show ritual I asked how we were for time.
“…don’t worry about it, yeah because it takes me only like maybe fifteen minutes to do my makeup and hair and then I just throw something on. It’s a last night yeah. Be cozy and comfy, take your time.”
Hart is no stranger to touring, I asked if she found differences between audiences around the world.
“I think there’s a little bit of a difference, just in terms of what is thought of as respectful. I find differences even in the United States. L.A. is much more quiet, maybe because there are a lot of artists, so a lot of people come to the show that are artists themselves. They come to watch rather than be a part of the show, it’s kinda the same in New York. But when you’re in the south, they’re crazy! They’re very vocal, very loud.
But if I’m in Norway where we are now, it depends on what town. I just played Homma and I think that they think it is very rude to be too vocal. If I ask them to sing with me then they will. But there won’t be a lot of whooping and hollerin’ because I think that they think it’s considered not respectful.
Because I am so eclectic in my song writing, some areas I go into and they just want to hear rock, others I go into they want to hear more jazz and soul and some areas just want to hear blues. So that makes it great again, I change up the set all the time. Over time you get to know certain areas, you get to know what they want and that’s what I want to do – give the crows what they want.
Social media is wonderful, I love it so much! I can find out all those details just by going on the internet! It’s like a contest – see how many times they say this song, that song – its great that we can make our set based on that as well.
What style does Beth Hart prefer to sing – is it rock, or blues or… or indeed, do you have a preference?
“I prefer it when it is all in a gaggle – playing a song that is really heavy rock and them literally going to the opposite side of the spectrum and playing something really, really sensitive alone at the piano and then jump up and do a jazz song then follow the jazz with a bluesy or a punk song. I like opposites, probably because I am bipolar and am used to, in life, living in such extremes.
Also, growing up, I listened to a lot of different kinds of music and I couldn’t say which one I really preferred. If I had to go to a desert island I would probably just take opera or classical music if that was the only style that God would let me take with me. But I like so many styles myself, to sing and to write and to listen to.
If someone was sending me out on the road and said OK, you can only do one style for the whole tour it would probably be me playing alone at the piano just doing confessional songs about my weaknesses and my fears. I’ve got a lot of issues with shame and being down on myself. Its really weird but when I do those confessional songs I get a feeling of being surrounded by the spirit – its a forgiving feeling, of being free and being part of something good.”
Beth, you and I don’t know each other, we have only been talking for a few minutes and yet I feel that the Beth Hart I am talking to now is the same one I’d meet if we bumped into each other in Walmart!
“(Laughs) – you know, in my show what you will see is me being myself and you will also see me putting on airs. I have moments when I wish I was so tough! You’ll see me doing what I wish I could be, or what I think I should be. And then you see me being really sexy, and I never felt sexy growing up because I grew up in a household of really beautiful women and I was definitely the ugly duckling of the family – I have a lot of issues around that!
Then at some point in the show, you’ll see me come into, I think what I am, and that is just that little girl who wants so much to find the light and to feel a part of it all. And that little girl thinks that the only way to that is to show all that weakness and all that fear and all that need for love.”
You famously get your breakthrough in a talent show and a $50 bet…
“Yes I did, and here’s the joke. It didn’t give me a break, all it did was give me some money. When I did that show it was no longer a popular show, it aired at midnight on Sundays, and it was on cable. And back then nobody had cable!
So it didn’t get me noticed or get my career going, in fact that show was so unpopular that if you did that show no record company would sign you! You were considered uncool, not a real artist – all these things that were attached to it. I kinda knew that going in, but I really was broke!
And I gotta say, I didn’t know I’d have that much fun! I did thirteen shows and everyone in the whole production, including the other artists, they were all so nice, it was really a joyous thing. My plan was to do just one show and then quit, try and be like the rebel and say ‘fric you guys’ – I thought that would be cool. But I just had so much fun, and I kept winning. But I spent all that money, and I won a lot of money, over a hundred grand! That’s a lot of money now but back then it was like a small fortune.
I spent all of that money in six or eight months and ended up going to the street and playing out of my guitar case for whatever money people would drop in. That was how I met my third manager who would end up being my manager for my life and that’s David Wolf. I’ve been with David for coming up on twenty three years and he is just, like you know, he is my family.
He hates it when I say this but it is true, he has been my father figure, the dad that I didn’t have for a lot of years.
It is just so funny and ironic that I would meet who I needed so much as a little girl, that kind male loving figure in my life, after I had given up on the clubs and finally said fric to the business, after I had gone back to the street. That’s when I met David and within a month and a half he had me signed to Atlantic. They say when you stop looking for it you will find it!”
Would you recommend a young musician go on a talent show today, something like X Factor or America’s Got Talent?
“Oh yeah, sure I would. At my age, and I’ve thought this for some time – it is such a competitive business, you never know what’s gonna happen. You might as well take every single opportunity that comes your way.
No matter what you do in this business there is always gonna be someone who says something nice and there will always be plenty of people who say something mean. At some point, to survive, you realise that you cannot do what you do based on other people’s opinions.
And you certainly can’t judge yourself or your worth as an artist or as a person based on other people’s opinions. It is true for both sides – if people are clapping and telling you that you are great, then you are really not that great. If people are not clappin’ and not giving you any kind of attention it doesn’t mean you are that bad! You have to learn that at some point in order to survive and have fun in this business. It really can be a fun business but where it can be torturous is if you allow others to say what your worth is as an artist.
We are all pack animals, that is how we survive, by being part of a group. It’s our natural instinct to be accepted and have people love you, it makes you feel safe. But that is also the very thing that can kill you.”
A slightly frivolous question if I may – what would I fine if I picked up your MP3 player?
“Oh – I listen to a lotta, lotta Dinah Washington, I love her, I listen to a lot of Lana del Rey, I love her song writing, I love all the different producers she works with on her different albums. It is incredibly beautiful lyric writing – and I love that voice. She doesn’t have a hundred background dancers and a full light show or this big giant showbiz thing. She just brings her beautiful self and her unbelievable lyrics – she doesn’t even talk, she does none of the stuff that I do on stage. But I admire her so much, she doesn’t need to.
And I love Frank Sinatra – been listening to a lot of Frank and Dinah lately, those artists just knew how to stay out of the way of harming the song. I am such a songwriter lover – I love people that write songs and even though they weren’t songwriters you would think that they were – you don’t see that a lot with today’s artists. There is a lot of riffing, a lot of acrobatics and that can be a bit annoying.
One of the things you see a lot about great singers is that they think its about them and they frick up the song. But the really great singers are the ones who don’t get in the way of the song – they understand that it is always, always about the song. They give you that lyric, they give you that phrasing. They allow there to be room for the band and the musicians. There is just such a respect for the song, and Frank and Dinah and a lot of others from that era knew that it wasn’t about them.
I listen to Amy Winehouse, I used to listen to her a lot but less so now because its heart-breaking. I really felt like she was my sister and I wanted to save her. I guess that’s because I did lose my own sister to addiction, even though my sister died of AIDS, she got it through being a drug user and she could never stop using drugs and that wore her immune system down. I felt so attached to Amy when she was alive, I could see that she had that real mental illness of self-hatred and self-harm and couldn’t stop.”
A good friend of mine Julz, a big Beth Hart fan, was insanely jealous that I was going to be talking to you today. She said “I just hope when you talk to her that she is a nice person.” I can happily report to her that you tick that box. Beth, thank you for your time it has been a genuine pleasure talking to you.
“Oh that is so sweet, such a nice thing to say, thank you!”
Yes, Beth Hart is a very nice person, go see for yourself:
UK & Ireland Tour Dates 2018
Apr 10, Vicar Street, Dublin, Ireland
- Apr 12, Regent Theater, Ipswich, United Kingdom
Apr 14, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill On Sea, United Kingdom
Apr 15, Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Apr 18, New Theater, Oxford, United Kingdom
Apr 19, Leas Hall, Folkestone, United Kingdom
Apr 21, St David Hall, Cardiff, United Kingdom
- Apr 24, Corn Exchange, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Apr 26, Opera House, Blackpool, United Kingdom
Apr 27, City Hall, Hull, United Kingdom