Mike Ragogna: Beth, your new album is titled Better Than Home. So what’s better than home?
Beth Hart: “Better Than Home,” the song, is about getting out of your hiding place and having the courage to live as loud as possible. It is about feeling the life that has been given and has been waiting for you all along.
MR: “Might As Well Smile” makes a very good point about trying to stay optimistic through personal challenges, headlines and hypocrisy. To me, those are some excellent, tight lyrics. So how did you come up with this one?
BH: I was going through depression and struggling with powerful cravings to drink. I got so fed up with it that I decided to write something positive to help me realize that all I really have to do is fake it till I make it. I realized that I needed to smile anyway, and find all the wonder in life that’s certainly worth some gratitude. And it really worked. I started to come up out of it. I really love that song.
MR: What are a couple more of your favorite songs on the album and what are the stories behind their creations?
BH: “St. Teresa” is one of my favorites. It reminds me of the importance of grace. One of the many wonderful things she said was that the definition of having grace was to give love and help someone who you think does not deserve it. This, to me, is unconditional love–going beyond our judgment and cherishing anyway. The song was inspired by the film Dead Man Walking. It’s so brilliant. It carries such weight.
I also love “As Long As I Have a Song.” It’s my first time opening up about my absolute love for writing. I talk about how when writer’s block happens it’s not just frustrating, it’s terrifying to think that maybe the thing that helps me to heal and pray has possibly been taking away. This song reminds me to always, always, always value the gift of writing and to be so thankful for it.
MR: What was the recording process this time around and which lucky musical pals came to the party?
BH: We recorded in New York City, then mixed in Los Angeles. Ed Cherney mixed, Rob Mathes and Micheal Stevens produced, piano was Rob Mathes and myself, guitars were Rob and Larry Campbell, bass was Zev Katz, and drums were Charlie Drayton. We spent seven days in the studio and it was real cool. I was surrounded by great people…and how can ya not love New York?
MR: Speaking of pals, you recently did a project with Joe Bonamassa who adores you in my interviews with him. But the adoration doesn’t stop there. What’s going on with all this Beth Hart luv?
BH: Well, I hope he loves me because I love and adore all the musicians in his camp and the producer, Kevin Shirley. We’ve made two records now and a live DVD together…but it’s not that kind of love. I have a husband who’s the sexiest man that’s ever lived!! And I adore my Scotty more than anything and anyone, forever!!!
MR: Nice. How would you define your music these days?
BH: I call it Americana–rock, blues, soul, story-teller, gospel, and sometimes a sprinkle of jazz–all the stuff Americans invented. The best.
MR: I’ve interviewed you like thirty times now, if by thirty, I mean twice. We’ve basically talk about your latest project, which, of course, we’re doing again here. But let me ask you about your roots this time. Which artists were you listening to growing up and what songs really got to you?
BH: I listened to a ton of different genres. From classical–Beethoven, to jazz–Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Anita O’Day, to reggae–Steele Pulse, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, to soul–Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, James Brown, Etta James, to blues–Howlin Wolff, Big Joe Turner, Robert Johnson, etc), to hard rock–Led Zeppelin, ACDC, Rush, Black Sabbath, Sound Garden, Alice In Chains, Tool, Les Claypool in Primus, to punk–Ramones, Black Flag Pattie Smith, to story tellers–Carol King, James Taylor, Ricky Lee Jones, Eagles, Tom Waits, etc.–and this long ass list could go on and on and f**kin’ on!
You know, sometimes the songs that really affected me were not from the artist catalogue of their music, like the song “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen. I never got into any of his other music, but that song to this day is in my top three lyrical masterpieces of all time. It so beautifully describes longing. It’s clever, but never reaching. It’s full of promise, but never a bullshit fairy tale. It’s the shit that writers should study on how to craft a great lyric. Also, The Stones song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is perfect and so f**king true, but never preachy. There is a humility to knowing. I love it. The song “Summertime” is, to me, a musical feat. Just the music alone does it for me–soaring melodies, both gentle and powerful, like classical music, then a total blues style lyric over it. So fantastic. And last but not least, “Strange Fruit” by the great Billie Holiday and Nina Simone–genius!. This song musically is so gorgeous and DARK DARK DARK, which is so totally appropriate for the darkest of lyrics covering, in such a poetic way, the true depths of slavery, cruelty, and depravity. It’s brave, it’s honest, and it will never let us forget. It’s art.
MR: What are the stories behind the transitions from music fan to performing musician to recording artist?
BH: The transition from fan, to performer, to recording artist for me was like learning how to dive…and each board got higher and higher. I wanted so much to do it, but I was afraid I’d be hurt. Now I’m used to being hurt and I know it is part of it, and that’s okay, because it also brings such love and joy. It’s totally worth it every time.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
BH: The best advice I can give is to do it because you have to, and try to never rate yourself or your work based on others’ reactions. This is very important. It’s a gift to enjoy, not to get more and more. If more comes than that’s awesome, but if more never comes don’t ever let that determine your worth. Have faith in everything and everyone, including yourself.
MR: Though there seems to be a healthier environment these days with new or emerging artists taking control of their own careers as opposed for depending on major labels to propel them. Yet it’s virtually impossible to have a huge career without those labels’ support and coordination and contacts. If you were starting now, how would Beth Hart approach getting her music discovered?
BH: Oh I have no idea. I suppose I’d do what I did before, and that’s write and perform anywhere and everywhere constantly.
MR: How have your creativity and career evolved within a turbulent music scene’s sea changes?
BH: I honestly don’t focus on that, that’s what I have a manager and a label for. I have enough to jumble with taking care of myself and being creative. I also believe that God has me right where I’m supposed to be, always.
MR: So what surprises do you have waiting for the Beth Hart fans and newcomers?
BH: No surprises. I have a humble outfit, but we still give as much love and energy we possibly can each night. We play songs from all the records, so I always hope to make the audience feel very happy that they came.
MR: At this moment, are you where you want to be in your life?
BH: I really am enjoying and feeling so so grateful each day lately. This is a calm and peaceful time.