It’s well known, people love falls, but they love comebacks even more. The story of American singer Beth Hart will surely be used by movie makers one day. But her life approach, based on love, building up strength and emotional rock music is inspiring her listeners every day. During a quarter of a century on the scene, she experienced a true roller coaster ride. However today, she is enjoying well deserved middle age of a rock goddess. In our interview we focused on her fruitful solo career, as well as current touring plans which include Czech capital Prague on Monday. Next to that, thanks to her honesty we talked shortly also about her memories on mental illness and drug addiction. However due to her lifestyle, based on meditation and faith, she is managing to keep her demons even deeper in the past. Unique, honest and kind. That’s Beth Hart, which sometimes doesn’t care about the language. Don’t also get surprised, if she naturally moves away from the topic we originally started. Shortly before my call, she liked my article about my music presentation sessions, I organize for blind and visually handicapped in Prague.
How are you personally trying to help others, who are less lucky then we are?
I mainly try to be really honest about the shit I have been through and how blessed I have been to have god, my husband, family and friends, who really helped me fight back and not quit. I really want to share what has scared me and what I struggled with. Next to that I have been a lot of times praying for people. I think there is something strong in the power of a prayer. You know, get down on your knees and really asking god and visualizing people that are struggling with mental illness, dying or losing people that they love. I’m praying for them and hoping, they will find faith and hope. However, this is not it, that’s just one phase, as we continuously go on. It’s really important to realize, there is so much to hope for. We are not alone! We are not bad! We are not horrible things! We are beautiful and wonderful, but life is tough! Of course we go through crazy shit, but it’s ok, as it is a part of learning and growing. Anyway, that’s my little way of trying to bring some love and faith.
From what I understood, you are gathering energy for all of your activities through transcendental meditation. I’m personally practicing meditation for almost two years, but how does this specific type of meditation helps you?
Well, I will tell you what man, people have been trying to get me do that for years. I mean from my twenties, people were trying to get me to meditate. But when I tried, I sucked! I was so frustrated and I just couldn’t do it. Usually you don’t want to do stuff, you are not good at, right? Well, I didn’t do it. But finally, my husband Scott said to me: “Hey, haha too bad, I already booked a thing for you and me to go learn all about the meditation. We have to go, because I already paid of it.” I went with him for a three day course and you know, what I loved about it? When they said: “You cannot do this wrong. You can’t screw this up. Easy, easy, easy!” When I started doing it, from the very first day, when you go through the whole introduction ceremony, I felt it. You know, what it was? I felt like taking a break! Just a break from my thinking! Taking a break from thoughts as “I know”, or “I should”, or any other “I”! Getting away from myself and really coming into this beautiful planet and universe. I felt life, light and love, which is always good. I got into this place of quiet and piece. And you know, I do my meditation, but I don’t always have piece as my mind is running million miles an hour. But there is still a feeling of “I am going to practice this every day and taking a break.” It’s my personal vacation for twenty minutes, twice a day and that’s it. I do it with my friends, Scott, my bass player Bob or alone in the garden. I think it’s one of the neediness things. I love it.
I try to be really honest about the shit I have been through
Was that three days course taking place from morning till evening? Personally, I went recently for a meditation weekend, where the program was full-day. It was sometimes very frustrating, but I could feel the difference after I came home.
No, it took about four hours and I believe we did two days in a row, couple days off and we had one more day. Luckily, I felt the difference the first day right away. It felt like our bodies were being pushed down to bottom of the ocean. It was just really quite and really heavy. Some of my friends would say: “Oh, it makes me feel the opposite. I felt really light, like I am flowing.” At first, I was sinking, but after about a year, I started feeling I was really light as well. However, even the better moments are where I could no longer feel my body and everything kind of goes numb. You can’t tell where your arms nor legs are. I love that. Personally, it’s better than getting high. Because I remember, when I would get high, the type of high I love the most – well, I would get high on anything. No matter what it was, just give it to me. If it changes how I feel, I will take it – but that kind of high, I searched for, was this really heavy kind of opioid slow flow.
In this moment, the phone connection was cut. I was just on the vacation with my friends in Serbia, where we went for a festival called Guča, which is a legendary wild gathering for trumpet players, which was headlined by Goran Bregović. Our interview took place on the first stop of our journey, in Belgrade, where I bought a sim card and bought enough credit. Serbia is not a member of European Union and roaming discounts don’t apply here. Beth was currently in Finland, therefore I bought twice a credit it was needed for a fifteen minute call to this destination. Everything went according to a plan, Beth started to open up about very personal topics, but suddenly the line was deaf. I had no other option than to meditatively make up with it and kindly ask her management for a new time slot. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Ben from Mascot Label Group for another phone call with Beth.
Call Number 2
If I have the correct information, you are already involved in the writing of new album. It’s truly inspirational as you have released your latest album Fire on the Floor last year and Better Than Home just a year before that. How do you explain such a fruitful period in your career?
First of all, I have to say, both of those albums have totally different bands on them. And none of the bands are my band that I tour with. The first band was put together by Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens, who produced Better Than Home. And they were all great players. Really great and very successful players, as well as the producers themselves. On Fire on the Floor album, Oliver Leiber has put together a really all-star band. I mean really freaking well-known and accomplished players. So, when you get producers that are unbelievable and have done it for years, you are going to get great musicians on a record.
Could you please introduce to us the members of your band, with whom you will be coming to Prague?
I will be happy to, as I always have my band on a tour. They just learn what was done on the record, whichever band played it and they go with me. I have been with a guitar player Jon Nichols for eighteen years. Then I have Bob Marinelli on a bass for the last five years and then I’ve got Bill Ransom on drums for the same period. However, Bill used to be my drummer back in my twenties as well.
Only label which would sign me was in the Netherlands, as well as in New Zealand
Could you please give us an idea about the songwriting on the last record Fire on the Floor? There are both wild & fun songs as Jazz Man, same as slow & emotional pieces that I love the most from you.
Thank you. You know, I think I change so much from record to record. I don’t know if I am doing it consciously or not. It might be a little bit, but let say I have even no idea what direction the next record is going to go. The only think I do know is that I am interested in having very vast, theatrical and dreamy sound. Songwriting looks good so far as I am sitting on a lot of songs. When I say a lot, I mean I have 164 songs right now. They are not completed, as a lot of them are ideas, but then a lot of them that are practically completed. That doesn’t matter to me. What happens is, I always have a massive bulk of songs that are ready to go on each record. But before I’m recording a record, I always get inspired and I start to write more things. So I may jump into that massive pile of songs and complete few things. If the producer digs the ideas I provide him, then I will send the shit. Or if I just feel excited about something and have to finish it, I will send it as well. But I will never ever turn out and say: “This will be on the record!” I don’t do that. I write so far across the border, in terms of genre and I love everything that I write, but when I work with the producers, I prefer them to choose what they think would kill during the production in the studio. I don’t believe in making them do something they don’t want to do. To get the best out of the people you work with, you should encourage them to do what they love. For the next record, I am really interested in a guy called Rob Cavallo, who has been around a long time. He did let say Alanis Morissette’s single Uninvited, which was really significant piece. He took a pop song and turned it into a Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. It was just phenomenal. Next to that he also signed and did all Green Day albums. So he is really significant guy and a great producer, who can do anything. We met some time ago on a party, where I was playing some new things on a piano and he really reacted to my songs. Anytime in life when you come across somebody who reacts to you or what you do in a positive way, that’s an interesting think to follow up on. But I also believe in meeting somebody who reacts in a negative way. Then you get an opportunity to look at yourself to expand and make some changes. Either way, response is valuable and I have really good feeling from Rob, even though I never worked with him before. So, we will see what’s going to happen, but I have a cool feeling it’s going to be something different. I always remember what Jeff Beck told me: “As soon as you do something that people really like, be smart and don’t do it again. Get away from it immediately and try something else. ‘Cause if you don’t and you try to give people what they want, you will lose your artistic truth and become a company making the same product. Yes, you might get rich from that for a while, but your audience will become bored. And if you will try to change, it’s often too late, as you got stuck in the habit.” I took that recommendation seriously and I do follow it unconsciously.
European Fall Tour
You current touring schedule in Europe is quite intense and it’s more than understandable. Your discography is a spectrum of success stories from various part of the world. However, how did you manage to build such a strong fan base in Europe?
Well, I had an American audience a little bit back in my twenties, because I have done a TV show and then got a big record deal with Atlantic records. On my second record with Atlantic, I had a big hit here. But that was when I ran into major metal illness and drug addiction. I ruined my career and got dropped from Atlantic. So I had to get well, if you know what I mean. I couldn’t do music anymore and it took me about a year. And when I got well, I have written a record called Leave the Light On. I have made it on my own and the only label which would sign me was in the Netherlands, as well as in New Zealand. So, for that first year I only toured New Zealand and Holland. Then Denmark opened up and I got a record deal, just for Denmark. Soon Norway opened up a little bit, same as Germany. Then I re-signed to a label which would cover me for the whole Europe. When I released album My California, it got a lot of airplay in England. Suddenly I was playing there all the time, next to many other countries here and there. In 2011 I made a record Don’t Explain with Joe Bonamassa that was really big in France. There were suddenly number of big touring countries for me, therefore I would organize one really big show a year for them. At that time, by the end of 2012 I played a track I’d Rather Go Blind with Jeff Beck during a Kennedy Center Honors for Buddy Guy. That completely reopened my career in the United States, as well as in Russia, Australia and Canada. So the next thing I knew, my label opened up my contract for the world and I started touring everywhere. Asia, Africa, Europe, you name it. But it was literally year by year, step by step. And you know, I am not saying this to sound humble. I really believe that the music business, in terms of people liking what you do or being playing on the radio, it’s really a luck game. Who has to say, some artist is more interesting than the other? It really comes down to you getting lucky. I am 45 and I have been doing this for a very long time. I love it, both business and music side of it, but I realized this: “If you keep doing what you do, it will go through waves. You will have times, when it will really connect, because you will have some lucky thing that comes up like a TV Show or radio stations domino effect.” So, I am trying not to think about it seriously and be aware of the fact, it goes up and down.
Same as grass and trees need sunshine and water; we grow by love and challenges we bring to each other
Same as in many other European countries, you have very loyal fan base in Czech Republic. However, did you manage to see Prague as a tourist?
Oh yeah, freak yeah! I remember my first time going to Prague was for a vacation. We walked for hours and we loved it, especially the art. Next to that we enjoyed some classical music on Charles Bridge. Then we continued to some church for a full classical production. It was just amazing and I was impressed how Prague has never disconnected from classical music.
So, what about you and classical music? Do you manage to find time to enjoy it in your free time and visit concerts?
Yeah, that’s some of my favorite music. When I was a young girl, I was a cellist for many years, so I was in orchestra. But my first love for classical music and my first training as a singer was opera. I also had an amazing opera coach Rhonda Dillon and I would go to opera all the time. But as I got older I moved away from that, but till this day on my alarm clock, I have it connected to our classical station here in Los Angeles. In my car I always have classical station, next to jazz and Mexican Mariachi station. I love it, as it so happy! I no idea, what the singer is talking about, but it makes me feel so good. (Laugh)
Do you use some recommendations from your first vocal teacher till this day and how do you take care of your voice after all these years?
Rhonda told me once: “Listen Beth, opera is not going to work for you. You got to give up that dream. It’s not that you don’t have voice for it. It’s that, you being a songwriter in heart, you should keep writing material on your own. You cannot do that in classical music. You have to respect it to the letter, how it is written and everything about it. That’s why, I don’t think you will be happy in a long run doing that.” So I have listened to her and really dove into songwriting. But I also really wanted to become strong and healthy singer. So, at sixteen I joined another coach. His name is Bob Corff and I worked with him all through my life. There are days, when I work with him five days a week, when I home from the road. But there are also periods, where we don’t see each other at all. He has been incredible coach to me. Everything from proper warm up to warm down. Not many people know, but warm down is actually more important for your voice than warming up. Same as proper breathing or placement, so when you are performing, you are not harming your voice. He really believes that as we get older, singers are supposed to get better. Those who don’t, often don’t take care of it. It is also important to be quiet between shows, speaking as little as possible or never drinking coffee or having sugar. Making sure you have humid air in your dressing room is also crucial. I need a humidifier in a hotel room or on the bus, to make sure the air is moist. Knowing me, if I have vocal problems, it really affects my mood and I get into major anxiety, which screws my ability to work with others.
If you try to give people what they want, you will lose your artistic truth and become a company making the same product. Your audience will become bored and it’s often too late to change it
Gear & lyrics
Could you please mention to us some of the microphones brands that you rely on?
There are certain microphones that I like, but my favorite one is wireless from Sennheiser. But in the studio I use a lot of tube mics. Those work best for my voice, because they capture the big fat low end. They can also handle a lot of power on them, so there is not much compression needed. When you hear vocals, with a lot of compression, it takes away natural ring in the voice. It’s important not to lose that, when you are performing on the record. You don’t want to hear just the tone. You want to hear the ring in the tone, the soul in the tone.
Next to the singing, you are also multi-instrumentalist. We already mentioned cello, but I tend to assume you write a lot with piano and guitar. So, are there some instruments which are for that reason in your collection for years?
I am really open, when it comes to guitars. I have one electric guitar, which is Stratocaster from Jeff Beck’s series. Next to that, I have number of acoustic guitars. Usually, when I am writing, I will use a piano, but the second option would be my acoustic guitars. I like mainly the brand called Guild, but I am pretty open to the whole thing with acoustic guitars. It doesn’t really matter to me much, but I mean the warmer and rounder the tone, the better. However, within acoustic basses, I would go only for Ibanez. I do have few electric basses, but I prefer acoustic basses WAY more. It’s probably because of the fact, I was a cellist. So I like that very resonant fat warm sound and I also like using bronze strings, because there are bronze strings on the cello. It could be a comfort thing, but Ibanez is amazing in that.
There is one question which I wanted to ask you for a long time. Looking at a Seesaw cover, I was always wondering if you and Joe might have been influenced for a cover by B.B. King’s Live at Tthe Regal, which Joe Bonamassa loves, as he once told me during an interview?
Oh no. I have never owned any of the B.B. King albums. I think that’s more of Joe Bonamassa thing and I think that idea for the cover was Joe’s idea. I was not even aware of that. (Laugh)
Because of this interview, I was carefully going through your discography and especially the lyrics, which are very inspirational for your fans. Therefore I would like to ask you if the inspiration is coming mainly from your personal experiences or are you also gathering ideas from the stories of your close friends?
I would never write from someone else’s point of view. I can’t do that. I wish I could. It would probably help me to have a wider pallet to choose from. I really only write about how I feel. That doesn’t mean I am not inspired, when I meet someone and they share with me their story, as everybody’s got a lot of stories about survival, love and how it saves your life. You know, really deep life stuff. That allows you to connect to other people and helps you to find yourself through small similarities in other people. It helps you to stretch and grow yourself by seeing and willing to be opened through differences in other people. Same as grass and trees need sunshine and water; we grow by love and challenges we bring to each other. That makes us grow and flourish. I like that and I honor when someone, I don’t even know, will just be honest and open about very personal things. So I feel really comfortable to be totally honest about my stuff, when I am songwriting. Even if it’s stuff, that someone else would listen and say: “God, aren’t you embarrassed to say that’s who you are? That’s how you feel? Because it makes you look so weak.” In truth, I am weak! I am not strong! You know, I am scared, insecure, confused and I have very little faith. When I say that and I am open about that, whether in music or in a conversation, only in those moments I feel a bit of strength. That’s a total paradox of it all. Because when I say I am strong, I am really weak. If I say I am weak, I get to be strong for a moment. I live between those opposites and they have to be together in order to recognize the other. Like, if I eat something and it tastes great. Well, I don’t know it tastes great, unless I am offered something that tastes like total shit. And if I feel something that feels good, I don’t know if it feels good, unless I know what feels bad. I have to be aware of all of it, in order for any of it to exist in my feelings.
Beth, it’s always inspirational to talk with you. If I may speak for all of your Czech and Slovak fans, we hope your life attitude and music are going to help you to feel even stronger. Thank you for your time. It was an amazing conversation and I hope to meet you at least shortly on Monday in Prague. Have a great tour around Europe.
Thank you! Please make sure that we get to meet up, because I would love to meet up with you to hug and kiss you. You are so lovely to talk to. You are such a good listener, your questions are interesting and you are just great at what you do. You are such a lovely person. Thank you so much for this. I will see you all in Prague!