FBI, Drink, Drugs, Young Fame and times in the wilderness.
The headlines of Beth Hart’s life are there, written in red ink, screaming blues clichés that fill column inches in gutter rags and are the prison kissing cousins to every downtimer’s midnight playlist. She sings it so true, our own filing cabinet of fucked loves and failings are released when we hear her intense soul punch the walls of however we’re holding it together.
Hart makes albums that water the down-country of her many ardent fans. The blues, rock, soul, pop hinterland has a been comprehensively covered by a myriad of artists and despite the die hard dosh it comes back to the question: do we really need another modern blues record that chases idiom and puts originality in a very tight 12 bar cage? No, we don’t. Beth Hart isn’t going to give us one either.
Released on April 13th Better Than Home is a new direction, one which embraces a new perspective both for fans of her work and for admirers of the more unusual avenues in the suburban sprawl of contemporary blues-based music. It’s not off the map but rather takes the driver down a new stretch of road, with the aim of connecting us with positivity without the plastic platitudes or fast-food for the soul so beloved by light jazz and (puke) six string teenage confessionals.
Reclining in a London hotel foyer, Trebuchet approached Beth with caution. She’s a big presence. She’s intense, fills a room, and has a mercurial quality that might not necessarily go your way. Settling back into a corner chair, Trebuchet turned the recorder and moved closer to the topic ‘Why does the ‘up’ of this new record sound like such a right turn from her usual style?’
Beth Hart: I didn’t really realise what was going on in terms of coming from a writer’s perspective until we did the difficult job of choosing from the 40-plus songs that I turned over to the producers that eventually became the record. I knew what they wanted from me a year and half ago, they had really done their homework in terms of past records I had done (Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens) and after seeing me at the Kennedy Honours with Jeff Beck.
It first started with them wanting me to do a soul blues record of covers, because I had done a soul/blues songs for the event. But then they listened to my past records and came across what they saw as the strongest thing I had to offer: confessional songs, singer/songwriter stuff when I sit behind the piano, when I’m not screaming the rock and roll and when I’m not doing the blues/soul thing. Where I’m just doing those personal songs.
Now, at that stage I had gotten away from those sorts of songs… which was really nice. I had gotten away from them during my California record, which was a lot about demons and a lot about struggle and I was sick of feeling it and talking about it. It had become exhausting.
So when I came across Joe Bonamassa and we did a couple of cover records together it was just so much fun. So I wrote the Bang Bang Boom Boom record, which was my trying to write in that fun direction and digging into figuring out how to play jazz songs, how to write jazz songs and do more blues stuff.
So from that to Rob and Mike saying ‘No no no! We want to go back to this and dig even deeper to look at really what’s going on in your life at the present instead of going into what was going in your past’, I just didn’t think I could do. I didn’t think it would be any good. I had written in a certain way for so long, in terms of a narrative and in terms of a lyric, and so to take me out of my comfort zone and to challenge me to really look at the good was really scary.
Not only because I didn’t know it would be able to do it in a way that would communicate and connect with others, but also because I had got so used to writing from a place of pain that I realise that you don’t have to fall from pain. You’re already down. But you can fall from your joy and your faith, your ‘up’ and also you don’t get to hide when you’re up, you have to be responsible.
I read a quote by Ghandi and he spoke about the difficulty of happiness compared to pain, and how much more work it is to be happy as opposed to being sad.
I thought, wow that is so cool. So despite kicking and screaming, instead of telling Rob and Mike to go fuck themselves I said OK.
I think this is the upside to having mental illness and knowing what I have to deal with in my head is that, instead of me saying ‘This is my gut instinct and I’m sticking to it and I’m not going to do it and that’s it’ I can let myself be doubtful in some ways. I’m aware of my illness and if your head doesn’t always work so well, or even properly, then it’s sometimes a good thing to question yourself and try something else that someone else is suggesting for you. So I propelled myself forward and sent them so much material as well as saying ‘Let’s try some jazz, let’s try some blues, let’s do some whatever’ and they would come back with ‘Oh not that’s not what we’re talking about, don’t go hiding’ and so on. But at some point they finally said ‘We’ve got it. We’ve got the material. Good on you, we’re proud of you’. However, when we went to make the record it was even scarier.
This has been the most difficult, the most scary experience I’ve had writing and making a record and I know why. It’s because I was scared.
If people rejected the record I didn’t have anyone to blame it on and I didn’t have anything to hide behind. I couldn’t say ‘Oh it’s because my influences came from this or that artist’ or, as with my past records, the genre bending allowed me to hide too. Instead of that I stood in one place, with one voice with one message about how I was feeling and having that voice being the music and obviously the narrative behind it. It was – oh man.
In the end it was only seven days in the studio but it was a lot of writing for over a year and a half and when they turned in the (pre) mix I hated it. I hated it so much I ended up hurting myself and went back into hospital. I just freaked out.
It was after so many years of writing and having a certain perspective and then being on medicine and having a husband and being sober for 14 years (I have my slips) and praying and getting close to god. So instead of feeling all this confidence I was out of my comfort zone and this is a wonderful place to be, but I was afraid of it, and I think that’s why I hurt myself.
So when I got out they had (final) mixed it and when I heard it, I was all ready to hate it. I was on tour and I had my headphones in and I couldn’t wait to hate it and call them ‘We’re not putting this out’ (laughs). You know?, any reason, and then my manager David (I’ve been with him 20 years) said to me: ‘So, what do you think?’
I turned to him and said ‘This doesn’t suck. This is beautiful. I can get behind this. I can learn from this.’
I think that that is proof that when you write it’s not you. Whether you want to call it God or the angels or your subconscious or whatever, but that you already have the answers. It came through in the writing and now after all this I’ve never enjoyed promoting a record like this. I’ve enjoyed it so much, it has changed me as a writer. I’m enjoying going down this path that I fought like crazy to avoid going down. It’s so nice to sing these songs or listen to the record and hear the part of me that really has faith in life and in love, in family and in husband and in myself. And that is so different for me.
NEW ALBUM ‘BETTER THAN HOME’
RELEASED 13TH APRIL 2015
PROVOGUE/MASCOT LABEL GROUP
UK Tour Dates.
Thurs 30 April Cheltenham Jazz Festival – Tickets
Fri 1 May Colston Hall, BRISTOL – Tickets
Sun 3 May Philharmonic Hall, LIVERPOOL – Tickets
Weds 6 May O2 ABC, GLSAGOW – Tickets
Fri 8 May Barbican, LONDON – Tickets
Sat 9 May O2 Academy, LEEDS – Tickets
Mon 11 May Corn Exchange, CAMBRIDGE – Tickets
Weds 13 May Rock City, NOTTINGHAM – Tickets