Beth Hart är aktuell med “Fire on the floor” som är ett ganska avspänt och lugnt album där det bjuds på en del jazztoner. I vårt samtal pratade hon bl a om sin närhet till Gud, ett kort möte med Lemmy och vikten av att vara öppen med vem hon är och hur hon mår:
“There is always a danger about being open, but I think there is a much greater danger about being closed, so I just choose the lesser of two evils. No matter how negative I can perceive something happening me because of my being open, will never compare to what have happened in the past by me being closed.”
Over the last couple of years, how would you say you´ve evolved as a songwriter?
I don´t know if I´ve evolved? I´m just still writing after all these years and I definitely did take a different turn after I made a covers record with Joe (Bonamassa). Obviously there was no song writing involved. It was just covering phenomenal old school soul, jazz, blues stuff, so what it did was that it kinda surprised me how much I love singing. I knew I always loved those songs and I look up to those artists, but I never would´ve been tempted to sing those because I knew I didn´t have a low bottom resonant voice, which all those singers had. When I got into my latter 30´s, it just happened to drop down and then I got asked by Joe to make that record, so it really worked out cool. Even though I was challenged and nervous, to do the record was like I am with everything, but I was just so taken aback by not only of how much I enjoyed doing it, but how cool it would be if I really tried and opened up my vocabulary on the piano, so that I could start to write more in those genres. So I did and it was just the most fun. It felt like it had been many years since I made that change of lane, so I just got this big fat well where I can pull from as a writer. It´s not the hard rock stuff, it´s not the singer songwriter stuff… that stuff will always be there and I´ll always write that stuff, but doing this whole new thing from a different vocabulary musically, has been really interesting. The music always dictates where I´m gonna go with the lyrics next, so it´s been interesting seeing how the narrative is inspired by the music and where I´m gonna go with it. This whole thing has been cool. Really challenging, but really fun.
You mentioned getting nervous. What is it you get nervous about when you´re working?
Everything! I get nervous about everything. It doesn´t matter if it´s music or relationships or just going to the supermarket or if I´m going to 7-Eleven. I´m sure a part of that is stuff from my childhood and also from having bipolar 1 disorder. My brain chemistry is kinda always on the edge of everything and I think that´s why it´s so important for me to constantly be as open about everything as I can be, so I don´t start believing my own bullshit. I just keep it out there and that´s one of the really cool things about making music, that it forces you to keep it out there.
You are very open about your life and being bipolar. Do you think there is any danger these days in being too open?
Oh God! There is always a danger about being open, but I think there is a much greater danger about being closed, so I just choose the lesser of two evils. No matter how negative I can perceive something happening me because of my being open, will never compare to what have happened in the past by me being closed. I remember when I was in my 20´s, getting ready and gearing up to do my second record with Atlantic and they told me, point blank in that office, that the record that they were me gonna push was gonna be big and all this stuff and I just remember thinking “What a horrible thing! This is gonna be the end of me as a writer. I´m way too young for this. I don´t wanna be a popstar!” You know, if you become a popstar at a young age and you´re not fully developed as an artist… I don´t think we ever fully get developed, but I certainly think we develop as we get older and I think we get closer to being able to telling the truth and being away from our own self surviving denial. I was so in place of so much denial at that age, which is very common, but then on top of that, not being medicated for bipolar… so when I got to recover from that, it was very clear to me that I had to make a decision to be open and honest about who I am, even if it meant to be ashamed. It would be better to be ashamed openly then try to pretend I´m something else, because that almost killed me.
When it comes to mental illness these days, even though it´s 2016, it´s still kinda taboo in a way.
Yeah. I talk about it like crazy so I don´t notice that and in my world I´m really open about it. Same thing when people say “Oh, you´re a female singer in a man´s world.”, but I don´t feel like it´s that way. No man has ever made me feel less than them because I´m a woman. No man has ever made me feel like I don´t belong on that stage doing rock and roll because I´m a woman. I have never experienced that. I think it´s the same thing with bipolar, I think it´s just because I´m so damn open about it, that if there was someone who was gonna be uncomfortable about it, they´d be totally embarrassed to show that to me because I´m not ashamed of it. If anything it was like “Thank God there´s a reason why… the answers to why I´ve been so self-destructive to myself and also so over the top one second. I´d be so loving to someone and the next second I´d just hate them and rip them down. I always wondered “I gotta be a bad person? A worthless person?”. When I got my diagnosis I totally was in denial of it and said “You guys are full of shit! I´m just an addict and I need recovery.” and they were like “No, you need to be on medication.”. I said “No, I don´t!” and I got sober for five years, five months and six days and I said “Aha, see, I was right! I don´t have bipolar, I just need to be sober!” and they said “You´re a ticking time bomb.” and they were right. I ended up having one of my worst psychotic breaks and I was on psych ward for over a month and a half and when I got out I was like “Ok, I think it´s pretty clear that I should take the medication.”. I´m one of the rare few who actually take their medicine every single day and night and I´m very consistent about it. I don´t think it would´ve been the case if I hadn´t had such a bad break. It was actually a beautiful blessing.
As I understand it, this album was a lot easier to make than your last one, “Better than home”? In what way?
Oh my God, it wasn´t just easier, it saved me! Making “Better than home” was very daunting, very painful, because the two producers I was working with, Rob Mathes is fabulous and Michael Stevens is also a fabulous guy but at times very hard on me. I am ultrasensitive and he was also diagnosed with cancer and he died after we made the record, but he was dying during the record. When we went to New York and the studio there for seven days of recording after months and months of meetings and listening to the songs and having arguments and all the rest of it, so when I got back from New York I was so unwell and I had to go into the hospital for a little bit and then when I got out, I called the head of my label and I said “Would you please give me some more money to go make an album?” and he said “Why? Do you hate Better than home?” and I said “No, Better than home is beautiful and I love what we did, but I need to make another record right now because I´m just gonna fall apart if I don´t. I gotta get this stuff out.” and he said “You´ve got it, kid!”. You know how they say “it never hurts to ask”? I was sure he´d say no, but I just got so lucky with that. I called Oliver (Leiber) and said “Oliver, can I come see you? I wanna make a record with you.” and he was like “Of course, sweetie!”. I came and saw him and my arms had all been cut up because I´d just gotten out of the hospital and he said “Are you ok?” and I answered “I am ok, believe it or not. I know I look like hell right now, but I swear I´m ok. I´ve got some really good songs that I gotta get out and I think we´re gonna have fun.”. We made the record in three days and it was light and fun and easy and Oliver is so sensitive. He himself is also in recovery, so he´s so sensitive, so kind, so positive and an old pro so he just took good care of me. I´ve got a very rare situation to have the kind of record company owner that I have. This guy is a lot like Ahmet Ertegun who founded Atlantic Records. He didn´t sign me because he thinks I´m gonna get on the radio and make him a bunch of money. He signed me because he´s a fan and that´s what Ahmet was like. It´s a luxury, a gift.
The last song on the new album is called “No place like home”. What does home mean to you?
Home means a lot of different things to me. I mean… I guess the ultimate home to me would be to be in the presence of God, so in other words, in order to completely dwell in the present moment because I think right here with us, is God, is heaven, is peace, is every kind of perfect thing your imagination could ever take you too. It´s right here, but for some reason, who the fuck knows, we have such a hard time staying in it. We´re either always in the past or thinking about what´s coming next. The song and what that album represented to me, was all about coming into faith of God and finally getting to where exactly you´re supposed to be. It´s beautiful. In this song, it´s a different take. You dream your whole life of trying to become something or someone, thinking that you´re not good enough. One of the avenues you choose that you hope will someday make you feel free and like becoming a performer and getting out on the road and then you get there and you realize that the most beautiful thing you ever had, was where you originally came from. It wasn´t who you were, it was what you had. It´s like wanting to go back to that place you had, but you didn´t realize was so beautiful.
Have you always been a religious person?
Yeah, I have. I didn´t much like church. If I met a priest or if I met like a born again Christian pastor, I would always think they were so neat, but I didn´t like church so much. I would go only if there was no one there, but it wasn´t until almost two years ago that I actually joined my first church and got a pastor who I just adore and worship, her name is Pastor Kim. But since I was a very young girl, I always talked to God and I always felt so disconnected from everyone, like family, friends, teachers at school. Everyone just kinda represented to me what I could never be, so they were all bad. But God I would always talk to, so I guess that´s why I´ve always written so much about God. I could have conversations with him through the music. That has just been a constant thing that has stayed with me to this day.
Do you think music saved you in any way? Where would Beth Hart be today if it wasn´t for music?
No, I think that God is the only one that can save you. If he finds you through painting or finds you through music or finds you through having a child… he can find you in so many places if you´re willing to seek it out and no matter how difficult or painful it is, you continue to seek it out. I wouldn´t say music saved me, I´d say definitely God saved me. I think that music has been something that God gave me to be happy. In other words, if I write a song and I play it for someone and they think it´s shit, that´s ok. If I write a song and they think it´s beautiful, that´s ok, but neither one defines my worth as a person or an artist and that is something really important that I had to learn along the way. At least that´s what I feel that God´s been trying to tell me, like “Do not ever base your worth as an artist or as a person on popularity or money. Just base it on the simple fact that I gave it to you just to make you smile, just to make you feel better.”. That´s it and that´s as good as it´ll ever get.
This last year we´ve lost some fantastic musicians like David Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, Glenn Frey and so on. Anyone of them that you listened to more than the others?
Well, when Amy Winehouse died that just broke my heart. That really screwed me up. That was bad. I had lost a sister many years ago who died from AIDS. She got it from a junkie because she was an intravenous drug user. When Amy died, I felt like I lost my sister all over again. That was really detrimental. Her singing and song writing was just absolutely fucking brilliant. So much honesty. I was never a David Bowie fan. I never really got into his music. There were a few songs that I liked, but all my friends were always like “Oh my God, David Bowie is the greatest of all time!”. I just never got it, but of course I was sad. I was never a big fan of Prince either, but it was very shocking when I heard how he died, like “Fuck!”. When you have such big fame and a young age, one of the scary things about it is, as you age, that ego doesn´t wanna let anyone know that you´ve aged. People will take drugs like steroids or painkillers. Not necessarily to get high, but just to be able to continue to perform at that level. It´s just another one of those examples of fame killing you. Not that I can speak from experience, because I´ve never had to deal with a thing like that and I´ve had an anonymous life my whole life as an artist, so I can´t even imagine the pressure that comes with that. It did make me think, like about Michael Jackson. I´m sure the only reason why he couldn´t sleep is probably because he was on a ton of steroids, so his poor little body and voice could perform like that at that age. When you´re on steroids and I know this personally, if you take any kind of steroids, you will not sleep even on heavy duty bipolar medication, unless you take a ton of it. It´s just sad.
Did you ever meet Lemmy?
I did. I was in a photo with all these artists in an LA show they were all doing for women in rock. The performers were all taking a photo together and in the photo I made sure that I got up right under his right arm and I said “I need some of your coolness to rub off on me.” (laughs) and he was so badass. What a big guy he was. “Ace of spades” is one of my favorite songs of all time.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen