Mike Ragogna: So how are you doing, Beth Hart?
Beth Hart: Hey, how are you?
MR: Just dandy. So Bang Bang Boom Boom. Tell me everything about it. Leave nothing out.
BH: [laughs] It’s such a work of love, oh my God, and there are so many love songs on it. I think it’s my first record that I’ve actually written a lot about love. Let’s see… musically, it was definitely really challenging for me. I didn’t have any intention on making a record, I just had the intention about two years ago of setting off into a quest of a new kind of music for myself. It was inspired by doing a record with Joe Bonamassa. On that record, we did a lot of cover songs, and we did a bunch of jazz and blues and rock, a lot of stuff that centered around a soulful kind of thing. It inspired me so much that I thought, “Wow, I’m really going to put my head to the piano and work on some of these changes and some of these vibes, so I kind of went back and listened to a lot of stuff I was growing up listening to. I listened to a lot of genres of music — a lot of gospel, a lot of jazz, a lot of blues, a lot of hard, hard, hard rock, old school rock, a lot of modern rock, and a lot of classical music and reggae.
Those are like my forms, and so this time, I didn’t really have a form of knowing what I was doing, so I pulled out all those old records again. I was listening to a lot of Joe Turner and Billie Holiday and really wanting to be fractured by like Thelonious Monk and stuff like that, all the crazy changes and fun stuff and the great lyrics. Something that I found was I was enjoying writing so much in this new genre, probably because it was fresh and something different for me. But one of the things I realized later into the writing of the record — this was before I started doing any of the co-writes, this is just stuff on my own — I noticed that my lyrics were changing from the past. The subject matters I’d choose a lot before were life and my disappointments with it and shame with myself, a lot of talking about how I felt either with myself or life in general, but not a lot about love. I noticed that that was coming up a lot in this record and it made me really happy to see how when you shift yourself musically and you start to challenge yourself musically, your stories and your philosophies on life that you didn’t even know you had can show up in a lyric. I had a lot of fun with that. I’m really proud of it and I had a great time.
I wrote with some great writers, too. I wrote with James House, who’s a singer, songwriter, musician. I have to give him major cred on “Caught Out In The Rain.”; that was really his idea and I just love that song. I wrote with Rune Westberg on two songs, “Bang Bang Boom Boom,” and “Thru The Window Of My Mind.” Rune Westberg is an old friend of mine, a great songwriter, and he and I have written in the past. It was funny, I hadn’t done any writing with him on this whole record, and then, right before I went in to work with Kevin Shirley who did the record for me, I just stopped by his house and we wrote two songs together really quickly and that was “Bang Bang Boom Boom” and “Thru The Window Of My Mind.” I was so happy to work with him again and have such great music. I really love those two songs. I worked with Juan Winans who’s an amazing songwriter and part of that whole BeBe and CeCe Winans gospel family. We wrote a great little song together called “With You Every Day.”
MR: That reminds me, on this album, there’s even a love song, in a way, to God. You’re not being particularly reverent, but you are acknowledging your relationship cleverly through your song “Spirit Of God.” I thought that was very cool.
BH: Thank you, thank you so much. You know, there’s a funny story about that song. When I was a real young kid, around the age five or six, I belonged to a country club. My brother would always be looking over me and keeping an eye on me, but I’d sneak away from him and I’d go upstairs into the clubhouse. Way upstairs on the top floor is a place people would rent out for weddings or stuff like that. Usually, there wasn’t anybody up there and there was always a grand piano, so I’d sneak up there and go play on the piano and have myself a good little time. One day, I’m walking up there and, mind you, I’ve been to Catholic church, it wasn’t my favorite thing. I’ve always felt a love with God, but I didn’t like Catholic church, it was way too serious and quiet and boring. I wasn’t into it. Well, this day, I’m walking upstairs into the clubhouse and I’m hearing all this banging and booming and going crazy up there. I open the door and I look in, and there’s a full-on Baptist church — choir, preacher, dancing, singing, up and down the aisles, sweating. That preacher looked over because I’d poked my head through the door and he said, “Little white girl, do you believe in the Lord?” I’m like, “I don’t know?” and he’s like, “Come on in and celebrate the Lord,” and he put me up there with the choir and I got to sing. Everybody was so good to me, and that was one of the most amazing experiences in watching what I felt like was celebrating God the right way, where you just show all of your feeling out loud — sweat it out, dance it out… To me, that would be the right way for me to show it anyway, but it was also like seeing a great rock concert for the first time. It was unbelievable. So that’s what that song is all about.
MR: Sweet. Can you take us on a little tour, maybe reveal a few more adventures of the songs that went into this album?
BH: Ok. So I turned in about forty songs to Kevin — I like to do about forty or fifty because I figure if you write a bunch of songs, there’s bound to be a few in there that will work and that you’ll like and whatnot. Some of the stuff I sent in was the stuff I’d been working on this last year, stuff on my own, and stuff with other songwriters who I love so much, but some of the stuff I just thought I’d throw his way was stuff I’d written four or five years ago. One of them is called “Ugliest House On The Block.” Now, I really do live in the ugliest house on the block, however, I was using it more as a metaphor for the way I feel. It’s like one of those hard-luck stories that you have to laugh at, because if you don’t laugh at it, you’re just overtaken by your own outlook on how negative it is, and we all know that no matter how bad it is, it could always be worse. So it’s one of those kind of songs, to be able to laugh at the hard luck of it all and to be able to find comfort in your awareness and not ever take it so seriously. It’s your life, you’re alive, you’ve got to find gratitude in that.
MR: Yeah, nicely put.
BH: It was such a fun song to work on, and it took me a while to write that one. I didn’t send it to Kevin right away; he kept asking for more and more material, and he said, “I have a feeling you’re holding back some of your more personal material. Why don’t you throw me some of that?” That was one of them I threw his way, and he just loved it and wanted to record it and I was very happy.
MR: Beth, let’s talk about “Everything Must Change.” You’ve actually had some major life changes especially over the last couple of years, haven’t you?
BH: Yeah. It seems like my whole life has been major changes on every corner. I’ve always struggled with bipolar disorder but I never was medicated as a kid for it. I kind of self-medicated, which led me into a lot of problems with drug addiction and whatnot. Then I finally just had to get sober, and this was many years ago, right around when I married my husband. We’re coming up on twelve years of being married. All the doctors were telling me, “It’s not going to take just being sober, you’re going to have to go on some sort of medication probably.” I said, “No I don’t, I’m going to be sober and I’m going to get my life together,” and I did. I got sober, I still had my weird little head shit, but I was doing pretty good, I’d started working in Europe, things were going pretty good, I was building a career, my second chance career was happening there. I was feeling really good and I was kind of being a little bit of a brat, saying to my doctors, “See, I told you I could get sober,” and they were saying , “No, you’re in remission. You’d better watch it.”
They were right, because about five years ago, I had my worst decline mentally I’ve ever had, stone cold sober, and ended up going to the hospital. So everything changed. That song was written as soon as I got out, and it was all about what I experienced in there. I’d been to hospitals before, but never for such a long run, and usually when they let you out, you just get semi-stable and then they let you out. But this time, I had to get not only stable but they wanted to keep me and watch, so I was in there for a good month and a week. On the last week that I was there, I realized that whatever kind of darkness in life, all people have their own difficulties they deal with, that we know that when things are really good, we know that they have to change. But I think I forgot that when things are bad that, too, will change. That will also change, and it will get better and it will get hard again and it will get better and it’s this journey of life, so I just tried to bring in a lot of different metaphors. In the song, I talk about the outlaw and I talk about the little women dancing and I’m trying to use these different pictures of how when things are good, they get bad, and when they’re bad, they get good again, especially at the end of the song when I talk about my mother and my way of saying goodbye to her when she’s dying. “Mom, don’t be afraid, because it must change. That’s part of the natural law. Everything must change.”
MR: The title “Everything Must Change” has been used often prior to your own song about life because it’s such a constant, it’s like street wisdom. People want things to stay as they are, but they, and we, just can’t.
BH: They cannot. And I think one of the great things to recognize is when things do change for us, especially when they’re going good and they get really ugly or really difficult, it’s not because we’re bad or created something bad, it’s just the natural journey of life. Everyone’s got their own destiny and their own paths, and I think that our paths are meant to be filled with joy and dreams and even tragedy and that’s just a part of it. We can either flow with it or we can pretend like it’s not supposed to happen and every time, have our asses kicked because we’re expecting it to stay good and that’s just not the natural law of things.
MR: And as The Beatles say, we get by with a little help from our friends, for instance, in your case, that would be one of my favorite interviewees, Joe Bonamassa.
BH: Oh God, isn’t he a treasure? He’s amazing.
MR: Tell me about your relationship with him, because you not only recorded with him, you played together live and became close.
BH: Yeah, we actually just finished another record together last week and we’ve got a tour coming up in Europe. Joe contacted me first by playing one of my songs on his radio show that he had for a while. He’s playing a song, I believe, called “Sick,” off of a record of mine called 37 Days. I was doing a small show in London and he came down to the show. I never got a chance to talk to him, but he said to my husband, “I’ve got an idea, I really want to do a record with Beth that’s a cover record of all of our favorite soul songs.” I didn’t get my hopes up, I know how busy people are in the business. I thought, “Wow, maybe that’s the last I’ll ever hear of that, so I’ll just enjoy that nice gesture. If anything would come of it that would be great, but if it doesn’t that’s okay too.” Some months later, I bumped into him in Holland. We were staying in the same hotel and this was the first time I actually got to see his face. He said, “Dude I really want to do this record,” so I said, “Hey, just say when and where.” He said, “Make a list of your favorite songs and think of anything that reminds you of soulfulness and I’ll do the same and we’ll do a record with Kevin Shirley, the guy that I work with.” That’s exactly what we did. We chose a bunch of different things from Ray Charles to Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Etta James…all kinds of great artists. I had the best time making that record. He’s a great guy.
MR: Yeah, he is a great guy. And also you had a little outing with a certain Jeff Beck recently at The Kennedy Center.
BH: Oh, God, yeah, Jeff Beck is my magic man. He’s been so amazing to me and my life. I love him so much. I was doing a little TV show in England called Jools Holland… and whenever I’m doing something, he usually comes down. My husband and I have a good relationship with him and his wife. He said, “Just keep your ears open, kid, over these next couple of weeks.” I said, “Oh, okay.” I got on the road working and I got a call just two weeks later from him. He said, “Hey, I’ve got this opportunity to represent Buddy Guy on The Kennedy Center honors. Would you like to sing?” I said, “Jeff, with you, I’d do anything, but oh my God, Buddy Guy?” I was so excited about that, and I knew I really wanted to do “Rather Go Blind.” It was a song I did on the record with Joe, and Buddy Guy is a huge fan of Etta James who takes credit for writing that song and certainly sang the hell out of it. So I said, “Jeff, what do you think about this song,” and I also had to run it by the director of The Kennedy Center Honors, and they thought that it would really be a wonderful thing to do for Buddy since he loves Etta so much. Yeah, man, I got a stylist to give me some clothes so I could look good, because oh my God!
MR: [laughs] Did you wear those clothes on your latest album cover?
BH: Well, I did my album and actually released it already in Europe before I did the Kennedy Center Honors.
MR: I was kidding, sorry.
BH: No, no, no, but it’s funny because the same outfit I wore on the frickin’ Kennedy Center Honors I just wore on the photo session the other day for Joe, and my latest record we did together last week, we finished and I’m wearing that same outfit. That’s pretty funny, what you said is actually true because it’s going to be on the front cover of a record.
MR: [laughs] Nice, love it. All right, the question I ask everyone, including you now, oh Beth Hart. What advice do you have for new artists?
BH: Number one, get a great manager who’s smart, well-connected, and really, really cares about you personally. It can’t just be like you’re a meal ticket or he says he’s going to make you a star and be all business. Really get someone you can connect with and have an amazing relationship with. Number two, realize that you can’t count that fame and money is going to come just because you think you’re talented or your mom thinks you’re talented. You have to really make a decision and say, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to love this, even if the fame and the money doesn’t come, I’m going to dedicate myself to growing as an artist because I love it and it brings me joy and it drives me crazy and all that stuff that life does.” It kicks your ass and then it turns you around and gives you a big fat hug and a kiss. And I think you’ve got to approach it that way because, as we know, there’ve been so many great artists out there that you’ve never even heard of, you don’t even know they exist, and it doesn’t take anything away from their artistry or the relevancy of what they have to say. Sometimes, you’ve got to get lucky or get promoted properly or timing or whatever. So I would say those two things: Get a great manager, someone you can trust, and make the decision, are you willing to do this, even if fame and money never comes? Because you know, even if fame and money doesn’t come, and I’m speaking from serious personal experience here, I have had the time of my life in my career. As a kid, I dreamed of a big house in Malibu, a jet, and the whole world. I didn’t get that, but I’ve had an amazing time. I feel so beyond blessed.
MR: Beth, what advice would you give to the young woman who had a big hit with “LA Song (Out Of This Town)?”
BH: [laughs] My advice to her would be, “It’s okay to get lost and f**k up. Forgive yourself, learn how to have compassion, and open up your heart and get back to work and do what you love to do.”
MR: So now that you’ve done your first piano solo on “Swing My Thing Back Around,” does that tempt you to do more?
BH: Oh, yeah. You should hear some of the s**t I’m working on today on the piano man, it’s just out there. Thelonious Monk would be like, “Hey, bad motherf**ker, keep on working at it!” Even some dark and crazy s**t. I’m having the best time in the world. The best time I’ve ever had on the piano. The best.
MR: All right, so I don’t want to sound sappy but if I wish you really great luck and big success with this record, would you take it well?
BH: Yes, I would actually take it well, thank you! I don’t feel the fear like I had before and I think it’s partly because I’ve been around a while. But I think that I’m realizing more now in my life, more than ever, how frickin’ lucky I am to be alive, period. So everything else is just cherries on the cake. I can’t complain about a thing.
MR: And now that you’ve mentioned it, what’s your favorite cake?
BH: Oh, German chocolate cake. I like wedding cake, too. I love that white, thick, fat frosting that’s so sweet you feel like you have a heart attack after one bite. I love so many different kinds of cake. I love pineapple upside-down cake, I could just keep going for years. I love all the cakes. All the cakes.
MR: Is there any random question that I haven’t asked you yet?
BH: No, not that I can think of. You’ve been great.
MR: [laughs] Beth, it’s been wonderful and I do appreciate your time. Good luck with everything.
BH: Thank you, thank you so much, and thanks for doing the interview, I really appreciate it.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne