Of course you heard of Beth Hart, how could you not?! This amazing composer and performer is releasing a brand new record. Lets find out what “War In My Mind” is about, with the one, the only, Beth Hart herself!
Hi Beth! Your ninth record will be out Friday. First what is the title about? “War In My Mind” is a pretty strong statement. How did the track also name the record?
Beth Hart: I named the record but my husband suggested that I use that song as the title instead of the other one I wanted, which was “Sister Dear” I wrote for my sister. But “War In My Mind” is just about mental illness and the struggles with that.
But in which way it was a better title?
Beth: I don’t really believe in better because art is just like beauty, it’s subjective. You just need to call it whatever you’re comfortable with and I always use a title for a record. I think there’s only two times in my career I didn’t use a song as the title. I just like that, it’s all personal stories. But “Sister Dear” is the reason why I got the producer Rob Cavallo.
It’s a song about me apologizing to my older sister and that’s a real breakthrough because I was always so angry with my oldest sister. She’s very strong, much stronger than me and I was scared of her. And I think I kind of always blamed her for my other sister’s death and when we had the first therapy session, I ran downstairs to write a song to Susan about how a dick I thought she is. Instead, in the song, it’s all me apologizing and me listing the things she did for me as a little girl which where loving and wonderful.
So I played it at a party and Rob Cavallo happened to be at the party too. He came up after and said “listen, I really want to produce that track”. So I thought it could be perfect, since I planned to dedicate the whole record to my sister anyway. But my husband said “no way, War In My Mind is my favorite song and you always talk about your struggles with addiction and mental illness. You got to call it that!”. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I call it, I would love either title.
Do you always write based on some feelings? If yes, is it something you feel the need to? Or maybe you’re just not comfortable with anything else?
Beth: I’m comfortable with being ridiculously open whether I’m around people I know really well or whether I’m with people I don’t know at all. And I don’t think it has something to do with being courageous. I think it has everything to do with being mentally challenged. So I don’t have natural normal of fear of social interaction. Often I’ll behave in ways where I don’t have any boundary awarness so I’ll meet someone and just vomit on them on how I feel and someone else who has a better mind will be like “you can don’t do that” and I don’t understand that, I don’t have the ability. Also when I was a young kid, I started talk therapy with big adults, at 6. I got used to at a young age being really open as my way to survive. I think that’s why I’m so open in my songwriting and everyhing else. Because that’s all I know.
How is your writing process like? Do you always start with the piano? Is it only once in the studio that you think/work on the arrangements with the producer?
Beth: First I always write chords on piano, guitar or bass. Then the melody comes usually very quickly. The music, I usually write very fast within the first five/ten minutes. Then I’ll get an arrangement. Once I get it, if I’m still into it, then I’ll feel some kind of past dream or regret or something I’m struggling with or something I’m really happy about and the narrative will present itself. But the reason why I don’t even go there first is that I don’t want to waste the time that I spend working on the lyrics if the music isn’t great. And I always image that as a beautiful woman.
Lets say you’re going to a bar and you want to meet a great girl. The music is how beautiful she is accross the room. So you go to her but if she doesn’t have anything to say, you might sleep with her but you’re not gonna call her back. And that’s the lyrics.
I’m not gonna spend all that time on the soul, the heart of the song unless I think it’s beautiful enough to be attracted to in the first place. That’s why the music always comes first.
But once in the studio, do you allow yourself some space for any new arrangements or ideas?
Beth: This is why I prefer the piano or the guitar for writing. The piano is very self explanatory. All treble instruments like violins, horn parts, guitar parts, they’re all in the register of the piano. All rhythms are in how you play and move. And then also the dynamics are in how you play and move. Everything is just self explanatory. Just like all the great composers. They always wrote all the massive orchestra from a piano. You can do everything on a piano, it’s incredible.
For example on “Try A Little Harder”, with the fun but also soft parts and the dynamic changes. What’s your part on all that? Because there’s plenty of arrangements.
Beth: That’s where Rob comes in. I’ll take my phone, record the whole song with my voice and send it to him. If he has any changes of arrangements ideas, we discuss it before I go and record the piano live. Sometimes I do it with the band but most the time it’s just me by myself. Then the band is built around that. As I said, it’s very self explanatory so whatever we add, it’s the instrumentist himself. Plus I find that a great producer never tells someone what to do unless they have a very clear idea. Because you’ll get the best out of the people by not dictating and telling them what you want them to do. You’ll get the best by inspiring them and it’ll come out of them. Not only they’ll be happy but you’ll also get the best artistry.
Did you work with those kind of producers telling what to do in poor way?
Beth: I mean, I’ve worked with people that were very very painful for me but they’ve all been great artists and producers. I made records that I don’t like one of them being “My California” but I love the songwriting of it. Hate the production. If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t allow them to release it. But I’m glad I did because there are some people who really love that record. It’s just natural, I think the best way to compromise myself as an artist is if I’m willing to do things that make me uncomfortable. It’s like when people say “stick to your guns and be who you are”. I think that’s the worst advice, the worst. Because you’re making it about your ego and that really compromises you. If you’re open “well I got these ideas and this is who I am” but if I let that go and work with others then it suddenly gets bigger. Also I get the opportunity to learn. It’s funny, all the advice I got when I was young, I’m so glad that I’m way to stubborn to not take it. And that’s the whole point. You’re like a younger generation, you’re supposed to think that my generation is stupid because if you don’t, you don’t make us keep growing. Just like my generation had to think that our older generation was stupid. We’re constantly evolving. That’s why we can’t follow in the footsteps of who came before us. We have to break away.
A word about “Thankful”. You insist repeating “thank you” to something. What’s the desired effect?
Beth: Being thankful. Just like if I would walk outside right now and look at all the things that people hate, I’d have hate. But if I look at all the things making people beautiful, I’m gonna feel beautiful. It’s as simple as that.
Also, you said while writing this song in the studio that you “got a little taste of heaven”. That’s nicely worded but what did you feel in order to think that?
Beth: That’s a cowrite with my friend Rune. I’m very religious and Rune isn’t at all. I love him, he’s one of my favorite people, I learnt so much from him. Anyway, we were in the studio and were working on this song and felt like angels coming, we really did, even he felt that and he’s total atheist. “See dude, if you want to feel heaven, all you have to do is look and believe it’s there”. That’s it, it’s so simple. And we started listing all the things that’s heavenly to be alive. Like your parents, family, food, nature etc. and even listing things that I’ve been so ashamed of like my alcoholism, my mental illness, things that I hate about myself and even finding the value in that. Suddenly, the whole room changes and all this live came and we start crying because we just felt free. It was a really cool day.
There’s like flamenco guitars on “Spanish Lullabies”. Even being qualified as a blues performer, your music is rich with many influences. What inspire you? Is it the music you listen at that moment in time?
Beth: Everything, it’s so many different things. I don’t really listen to other people’s music but I go through phases. But mainly when I listen it’s stuff from very long ago like early Billy Holiday or Dinah Washington, Bob Marley, stuff from way back. Classical music and that kind of thing. I think what inspires me the most to write songs is just life and feelings. If I’m feeling love, jealous, angry… Shame seems to be the biggest catalyst for me because I think that’s something I struggle with like any other human emotion. I don’t live in any grey. Either I’m feeling really passionate and excited or I’m feeling totally ashamed and scared, and I don’t really live anywhere else. Having the extremes, I think that’s making me go to the piano. Just like if you’re feeling angry and you yell at somebody, and you know it’s not the right thing to do, but you yell, and it feels good or you’re crying and just getting out your heart -and that feels good- I think that’s the same reason I write. It just feels so good to get it out or trying to get it out.
By releasing “Bad Women Blues”, won’t the fans be surprised by the mood of the rest of the record? It’s one or the most kicking track from it.
Beth: Maybe, maybe not. I think that the people coming to my shows know me pretty well enough to know that nothing ever repeats. If you get a rock track or a ballad or a jazz track, they know they’re not buying a whole rock record or jazz record. No record I’ve ever made, songs don’t repeat. I hate those kind of records, I can’t do it.
How do you build an album then?
Beth: It just depends on the songs. Whenever I’m making a record, I usually turn in between 35 to 50 songs, I don’t care the songs they choose. I don’t have an idea or the “I want to make this kind of record” feeling. I’ve never done that. All I care is songwriting. I always work with a different producer for every record and then I know I’m gonna learn something, I’m gonna be challenged, there’ll be some things about them feeling me good but also bad. I welcome both of those things because I know it’ll affect the music. And they’ll choose what they think they can get great. Instead of me saying “this is what I want you to do”, I think that’s a bad idea. It’s better to let them choose what they think they can make great, what they’re excited about and that’s where I go.
From your first album to this one, how would you define it?
Beth: I woudn’t. (laughs) Hopefully it’s just change and growth, hopefully. But to me, I just show up with whatever it is and go for it. And also, because I’m older, when I was younger I was more concerned about my value being based on someone else’s opinion. Today, I know that my value has nothing to do with that, so it doesn’t matter. No matter what you do in life, there’ll always gonna be people who like you, hate you, love you and people who don’t give a shit. It doesn’t hurt your value.
You started the piano pretty young. But what motivate you to hit a stage? Was it natural? Or did you feel something, like a call to do it?
Beth: No I think I wanted people to make me feel like I wasn’t shit. I was searching for attention, and still am, and searching for someone to make me feel like I’m not a piece of crap and not feeling alone. I honestly think that’s why I perform because if it was just about love for music, I’d stay home and play and that would be great. But I am searching for some kind of connection and I think that also comes from not being right in my mind, but also from so much abandonment as a young girl. There was a lot of tragedies happening early on in my childhood. And because there was not stability, I don’t have a lot of trust for wherever I am, so maybe that’s why went on the road and go to new places, always searching for something else. Now that I’m older, I think because I’ve been with my husband for so many years, and he’s not like me at all. We’re both alike when really hyper but he’s very stable, not cocky, but confident and very generous and kind. I think that helped me a lot to feel a little bit more safe but I’m still on the run. I’m still in this business.
You had a few tracks used in TV shows in the past. Could you be interested by doing a full soundtrack for a movie or a show?
Beth: Would I do a soundtrack? Hmm. I’m always such a scary cat about things that I haven’t done before. I guess it would depend on the nature of the material and if I feel if I could add something. The problem with writing for somebody else is if I don’t have the same experience. I’m not a good enough writer to be able to do a good job. I can only get closer to the truth if I’ve experienced it myself. That would be the challenge.
Lets say it’s a movie on mental illness or divorce or some kind of trauma in childhood, I think I could do that and I’ll probably take it on because it’d be probably healing and maybe I could deliver a good work. But if it was about Mary Poppins or something, I’ll be like “no I’m not the person for that!”. (laughs)
You’ll be back in a few months and you’ll play the Olympia twice in Paris, doing two different gigs. A solo one and a full band one. How do you prepare yourself in this case?
Beth: Every night, whether I play alone or with the band, is a totally different show. We never repeat and that’s for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t wanna to get too show biz because it starts looking very fake and too well rehearsed. I also think it’s not good for your mind and memory or your spirit. Plus, as soon as I start being to confident I’ll get really cocky and feel like God… forget it, I’m out of here. I’ll lose touch with the source. It’s weird I know. But I also find it very fun when you’re watching a band and they really fuck up, total crash and burn, stopping the song and that happens almost every night. I love to see the band when I say “okay tonight we’ll play this song” and they be like “we haven’t played that in like five years” “I don’t care, we’re playing it tonight”. And they ask “are you soundchecking?” “nope! You’ll rehearse it backstage”. And I think I enjoy to torture them a little bit (laughs) it also kind of keeps me aware that because I come from a place of so much fear and taking myself too seriously, it’s a way I remind myself and the band that’s just music. We’re not doing like brain surgery or spinal surgery. If we make a mistake, no one will die. People might “boo” and throw something but who cares? We’re used to that anyway. Right? So I like to play with that.
And as always, the last question: we’re “RockUrLife” so what rock Beth Hart’s life?
Beth: My husband! Yeah, he’s so nice! Did you meet him out there? I woke up today the biggest asshole… so tired and hating everything. “I hate promotion, I got to get out, I can’t do it, I’m too old”. And he’s like “OMG my wife is the devil”. I got ready and came down, he came and he brought me like a little tea and a little “I love you” and I was like “Man, I’m not worthy”.