An In-Depth Interview With Beth Hart About Her Forthcoming Album, “Fire On The Floor, Her Favorite Musicians and More!
Posted On 01 Feb 2017
As the singer explains, this latest record gave her an emotional release following the bitter-sweet sessions for “Better Than Home.” If there’s a theme that ties these twelve songs together, it’s a sense of escapism following the hardest of times. “We were still in the mixing stages for that album and I knew I had to make another record. Making Better Than Home was so painful, because one of the producers, Michael Stevens, was dying of cancer. It was a very emotional record to write and to make. I wanted the songs for Fire On The Floor to get born real quick.”
These twelve new songs run the gamut of genre, reflecting Beth’s eclectic teenage influences, which took in everything from gospel, soul and classical to the seismic rock of Soundgarden. “As a writer,” she nods, “I feel really stifled if I’m trying to write in the same style. I just can’t do that. Growing up as a kid, I was raised all over the place stylistically, loving so many different genres.”
As such, you’ll find everything from the spring-heeled soul of Let’s Get Together to the brittle rock of Fat Man. “I love that song,” she says of the latter. “That’s actually a co-write with a wonderful songwriter named Glen Burtnik, who I started writing with when I was about 24. We wrote that seven years ago – just a basic skeleton – but then I got super-inspired and wrote out the lyric. It feels good to sing it. That’s what’s so great about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just such a fantastic way to let out your angst.”
Likewise, the title track: “I love Fire On The Floor. It’s just smouldering. I think it’s gonna be a fantastic piece to perform live. It’s filled with passion. It’s about when someone you know is so bad for you, but you can’t help it. Then there’s No Place Like Home. I love that song. It’s about how, like, you spend a lot of time on the road, and you start to realise all the great things about being home. Kinda the opposite to the song Better Than Home.”
Other upbeat highlights include the salsa-tinged Baby Shot Me Down and the jazz-inflected Coca Cola, with a vocal that reminds you why Beth was recently voted as the 20th best blues singer of all-time in The Blues. “Vocally, that one takes me back to a Billie Holiday kinda singing,” she reflects. “I love that kind of vibe, like a light, fun sexiness.”
By contrast, there are some songs that Beth had to wrench from the emotional depths. “Picture In A Frame is a big one for me,” she says. “When I started writing it, I was thinking about being in love with my husband. But when I was done, I could see that I really connected it with Michael Stevens, and it was my way of saying to him, y’know, ‘I just want you to be better’.
Learn more about Beth Hart in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time again. It was a pleasure to speak to you a couple years ago. I’m delighted to chat with you again for All Access. So now that 2016 is over, what are some words you would use to describe the year for you?
It was a great year for me. I didn’t know that Fire on the Floor as an album would be so well-received in Europe and then in some of the outside territories, like Australia and so on. We have yet to release it here in the U.S. We’re getting ready now to do promo for that. I just didn’t know it would be so well-received.
You never really know what people are going to dig about what you’re doing, but for me, Fire on the Floor was really a rescue record because I had just gone through making Better than Home and it was a very, very difficult experience for me for a lot of different reasons, but one of the main reasons is that one of the two producers was dying. He ended up dying. His name was Michael Stevens and he was tough but a beautiful person. He really, really pushed me. I think for me, I swing from either being really confident, even sadly to admit a little cocky sometimes, but I also swing into having a lot of insecurities. Sometimes when people ask a lot of me or they’re not liking what I’m turning in, especially when I’m working one on one with someone, I can get really insecure.
That was a difficult thing. I think he just wanted me to write more from joy instead of from pain. That was the whole reason why I went to the piano as a kid in the first place was because that was a place to seek God and seek comfort in your pain. It was something I always got used to. If I’m happy and joyous, which I have been a lot in my life thankfully, I’m usually not at the piano writing about it. I usually go to the piano, like I said, to search for God’s comfort and to just confess everything that I’m feeling. Maybe if I’ve done something that I’m ashamed of or things like that. He was really challenging me to not do that and it was hard. When Better than Home was over, it really exasperated the bipolar and I was having a lot of problems. I was going in and out of the hospital a couple of times. I made Fire on the Floor as a way to survive the experience of the studio that I just had making Better than Home.
I couldn’t believe that the label would give me a slew of money again to go right back in and make another record. I made Fire on the Floor before Better than Home was even mixed. Like I said, it was a rescue record. To see people respond to it the way they have is really, really nice. I try to never take any of that too much to heart because I trust that artists, like beauty, it’s really in the eye of the beholder. I know from my experience I could really love something that I wrote and no one could respond to it. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that does not have any bearing on if the work is any good or if I’m any good as a person. That’s a struggle for me, but it’s an important thing for me to remind myself. Just like if someone thinks it’s really wonderful, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s it’s that wonderful. It is to that person. Yeah, but it’s all good.
What have been some of the highlights for you and your music?
Well I guess I covered that. Yeah. Then also the tours have been going in a new direction, too. What’s going on onstage and what I’m sharing with the audience has been more vulnerable and more personal I think maybe than ever, but instead of it coming across I think as me seeking people’s sympathy, it’s more so coming across as what I really want it to and that is just to inspire other people to feel like it’s okay to be in touch with whatever it is they’re feeling and to get it out, to not hold it in. I’ve been feeling proud of that and surprised that that’s been coming out.
What are you most excited about for 2017?
I’m really excited to see that hopefully our country and everything that’s going on with Trump and how freaking negative and all that has been happening. I’m really hoping that there’s going to be some things that he does as a president that surprises us liberals and makes us feel like, “Okay, we’re not in the hands of something that’s going to be really dark and horrible.” I always try and be as positive as I can and give people the benefit of the doubt because in my own experience, seeing myself fall so hard so many times in my life and do so many things where I lost my way so many times and then people didn’t give up on me, like my husband and my family. I learned that it’s important to really try and be as positive as you can with everybody, no matter how much you may disagree with their actions. Really try and put that energy out there and see them surprising you and being able to do some things that are for the good. Hopefully he’ll be a little bit gentler and surprise us all with that.
Did you make any New Years resolutions?
You know, I never really do. I think I make a … If you want to say a resolution. I think maybe I try and make one every day and that’s just to be grateful for that day. I find that if I live in a place of gratitude, which I have every reason to be grateful all the time, no matter what bullshit is going down, then I am in a state of peace. I think that’s a resolution that I make every day. Certainly I don’t live up to that. There are some days that I’m just loving to feel sorry for myself, but yeah.
You just released your latest album, “Fire on the Floor.” Can you talk about the evolution of the collection and the inspiration behind it?
I already went over that with you on the first response, but I will add that those songs, they were all written within … There’s a few songs on Fire on the Floor that come from several years ago. I did a co-write with Glen Burtnik and we did Fat Man. Then I did a co-write with Rune Westberg and that was several, several years ago. The other bulk of material really came from when I was writing for Better than Home. A lot of the songs that ended up on Fire on the Floor were songs that were passed over by Michael Stevens and Rob Mathes. Rob Mathes would always say to me, “I think you’re wanting to make a different type of record than we’re wanting to make here. I think that’s for another time for you.”
Even though it would frustrate me at times, I’m so happy that it worked out the way it did because this collection of songs really needed to be with each other and not mixed up with some of the other stuff on Better than Home because Better than Home is such a different album. I really think it worked out nicely.
How is Fire on the Floor an emotional release?
Well I think that the emotional release for me is not really in the studio. I think it’s partly why I don’t work as a producer at all. I did do some production once on a record called Screamin’ for My Supper that I co-produced with my bass player, Tal Herzberg. Then Oliver Leiber, funny enough, ended up producing two of the songs from Screamin’ for My Supper, “Delicious Surprise” and “L.A. Song.”
I didn’t use Oliver again until years later. We did a co-write on a song called “Write On” and he produced that. It was just a song here and there that would come across through the years, but this time like I was telling you earlier, I was so desperate to go back in the studio and have a good experience. I did it right away. I called up Oliver and I said, “Yo, let’s … I’ve got a ton of songs. I want to send them to you. Will you make a record with me, please?” He said, “Absolutely.” We were literally in the studio recording for three days with an amazing band that he put together. They learned all the stuff off … I write everything on piano or guitar and then I just record it and I send it to them just freestyle in the room. I don’t make a demo of it or anything. They’re such badass musicians. They just nailed all of it.
It was two weeks of doing talks with Oliver and then boom. We were in the studio for three days with the guys and they killed it. I think that the emotional release though is what comes for me from the writing. It’s more than emotional. It’s total spiritual experience for me. It’s something I’m so grateful to God for because it really makes me feel so close to Him. Any time I’m close to God, I know I’m in the best place I could be in. Yeah.
“What are some of your favorite songs on Fire on the Floor?
“Good Day to Cry” is very inspired by Michael Stevens going through such suffering like he went through. I love, love “No Place Like Home.” I just love it. That was a really fast write too.
It’s funny. Sometimes the fastest writes tend to be some of my favorites. They just come out of … I think it comes out of spirit, but I guess a lot of people would say it just jumps out of the air at you. I love “No Place Like Home.” I love “Jazz Man.” I think it’s really fun. I think “Fire on the Floor” is one of those torch … You can really dig your teeth into it vocally. Okay.
Are there any particulars that you are most proud or are happy with how they turned out?
Well I’m happy with the way everything turned out, otherwise it wouldn’t be on the record. That was something I had to learn just by virtue of being in this business so long is that I definitely feel like I got to a point where I was like, “You know what? Fuck everybody. If I don’t love it, it’s not going on the record.”
It’s not because I think I’m so important and an album is forever. It’s just getting to an age where you are not afraid any longer to say no because you end up realizing that yeah, none of it is really that important. We’re just making music. We’re not doing brain surgery. If I make a bad record, no one is going to die. There is a sense of saying, “Hey, you know what? I wrote these songs. They deserve to come out beautifully and they deserve that respect. If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going on the record.” Yeah. Okay. “I’d love to know if the driving force to make music for you has grown and changed through the years. How has it ultimately transformed?” It hasn’t. You know what’s really funny is that I’m really thankful to say that because when I was young, like all young artists, you’re so passionate and you’re so excited and you’re so challenged and there’s so much to learn. There’s so much like, “Oh my god. I don’t know if I can do this. You know what? I don’t know if I’m good enough.”
There’s just all this really neat challenges about it and it’s one of my favorite things about making music and then also being in the business is it’s a constant … For me in my head, it’s a constant challenge of, “Let me face my fear. Let me face my fear.” It’s like writing a song. If I can really write an honest song, I’ve got to be willing to face what my fear is. That means to me what is my part? I’ll give you an example. I wrote a song recently for my sister, Susan. We were in a huge fight. It was going on for a year and a half. It was terrible. I was so angry at her and I so expected apologies and all this expectations of her, of what she owed me. When I went to write the song called “Sister Dear” and it’s not on a record yet, but when I wrote the song, everything about the song was about me apologizing to her and instead giving her love. Giving her everything I would want from her. Instead in the song, I give all that to her.
That’s one of the things I love love about the business and about the art because they really are two different things but we know we bring them together in the same pot is that challenge of, “Am I really willing to face the truth? Am I really willing to face getting up there on that stage? The audience might think I suck.” Then afterwards it’s like, “Okay, I survived. No one died and it’s okay.” I got humbled. Then maybe that next show they enjoyed it and it’s like, “Oh, right on. We connected with them. We did our job. They’re happy.” It’s always that facing your fear and just doing it anyway. Feel the fear and do it anyway. I think that was the name of a book, a really great book. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I love that.
What performance or performances of yours stand out? Has there been a show when you thought afterwards, ‘Wow, I gave that my all and that was amazing’? What show has really allowed you connect with an audience?
Well definitely the challenge every night is always, always to connect with that audience. What I find through the years ended up being something that did change for me was I came to the realization of if I was willing to be a fool, if I was willing to look bad, if I was willing to be totally dead out honest, that somehow always connects whereas if I go out and I’m polished and I do the show biz thing and the ba ba ba ba, there … The electricity of that being able to connect with another human being doesn’t seem to really be there.
You’re a woman, so I know you’re going to relate to this. You know how if you meet another woman and you sit down with her and you’re like, “How are you?” She goes, “Oh, everything is great.” Then you say, “How is your husband or your relationship with your mother?” “Oh, everything is great.” Whereas if you sit down with a woman and she says, “I’m really going through a tough time,” or, “This happened. That happened. I don’t know what to do about it,” or ba ba. You get this amazing sense of trust and connection. I think that’s one of the things I learned throughout the years of going out there and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily make everybody feel comfortable in the crowd, but it makes that connection by being honest. At least as honest as I can be at that moment, depending on what kind of denial state I am to survive whatever is going on in my head, of course. Yeah.
You’ve got a pretty heavy tour schedule coming up. Where are you looking forward to playing at? Are there some new venues that you have never played at on this schedule?
Yeah. I did play Robert Hall in London, but I did it in a festival situation. I had my show. There were a lot of other performers that also had their shows whereas now I’ve booked it for my own show. It’s a really large venue and it’s an absolutely glorious place to play. It’s like the Carnegie Hall of England. I’m really excited about that. I do tour a lot every year. It’s how I make my living. I’m not a pop star. I’m not selling millions of records or even hundreds of thousands of records. It is how I make my living, but it’s also a great way to, like I said, practice that facing a fear.
Sometimes doing a show is enjoyable and easy, but a lot of times in my head … My head plays tricks against me and likes me to think that I’m no good. It’s always that challenge to say, “Okay, this is what my head is telling me, but I think it’s full of shit. I think that the truth is that it’s all okay. It’s all okay.” Yeah.
The music world has lost a lot of incredible artists in the past couple years. Is there one that has really affected you personally?
You know who really affected me personally? This was more than just a couple years ago, of course, but was Amy Winehouse. When I found out she died, I went into a very similar state of shock and depression when I heard my sister, Sharon, had died. It was so visceral. Really any time people would do an interview for at least a year or two after, I’d just break down. My sister, Sharon, also had a horrible drug addiction, but she had also gotten AIDs as a result of being a shooter. She got crazy thin.
I was the biggest Amy Winehouse fan in the world. I went and saw her in Denmark do a show. I remember when she walked out onstage, her body reminded me a lot of my sister Sharon’s. Yeah, it’s just … That really shook me to my core. Also being a survivor of addiction and bulimia and anorexia and all those different things that people with different states use to help them feel better or to numb themselves. I got to survive those things. It’s always a work in progress, but it’s like you survive a plane crash. You think, “Why did I survive and they didn’t?” There’s this gratitude that you survived, but there’s also this guilt that comes with it. Like, “Why did my sister not make it and I made it?” That was really, really hard. Then also when Prince died, the way he died of the overdose. It’s just fucked up. Getting cancer and getting some horrible disease is horrible enough, but then to die of an overdose. It’s just like, “Oh, man.” It’s just what a waste.
Who are some of your favorite artists and what bands continue to inspire you and your music? Who would you still love to work with in the future?”
You know, unfortunately I always dreamed of working with Leonard Cohen and poor thing lost his life this past year. He was just one of my great heroes of songwriting. Just unbelievable. Also his voice. Love, love, love his voice. Loved it more and more as he got older. Then also Tom Waits I’m a huge fan of. Always have been, always will be. Love and adore him. Massive fan of Etta James. Massive fan of Aretha Franklin. Massive fan of Otis Redding, Billy Holiday, Diana Washington, obviously Frank Sinatra. Probably the greatest singer of all time. So many writers from reggae, like Peter Tosh and I love the band, Steel Pulse, and I love Bob Marley, of course. Yeah, just all over the map from classical music. I’m also a big, big Beethoven fan. Then I’m also a big fan of what I call the singer-songwriters, like Leonard Cohen obviously and Tom Waits, but I love Carole King and James Taylor and a lot of the blues guys. Of course Muddy Waters.
Yeah. I could just pretty much go on and on but I love a lot of the hard rock too, especially when I was around 10. I really got into some of the progressive rock, like Rush, but I was really into Led Zeppelin, really into Rush but really into Black Sabbath. I thought that their music was just absolutely genius. It reminded me a lot of if someone took classical music and turned it into really scary rock and roll. That’s one of the things I think I loved so much about Black Sabbath.
When you aren’t performing and working in the studio, what do you like to do for fun? How do you unwind from it all?
I do a lot of things that I absolutely love. I’m big into meditation, big into yoga. I’m big into swimming. I really love to swim. I really love to bike ride. I’ve got a small gym here, which I will use, but really I’d rather be out on my bike in town.
Whenever I’m on the road or off the road, but when I’m on the road I have collapsible bikes for my trailer in Europe and my trailer here in the states, so I can ride a bike every single day on the road on the day of the show. Then I go on Swim Finder and I find wherever the local swimming hole is and I’ll go swim. Love cooking. Adore cooking. My husband loves and adores cooking and I love gardening. I love painting. I love doing pastel work as well. Yeah, those are the things I just adore to do. Of course having a dinner party with family or friends that come over. Friends I’ve had in my life since I was a teenager. We just hang out and a lot of my friends are singers, so they’ll come over and we’ll swap who our favorite singers are on YouTube. Just be so killer. It’s so fun. I actually have one coming up on Saturday. My best friend, Ron. He’s an amazing singer. My girlfriend, Kathy. Also a great singer. We’re going to hang out, eat and I’m sure swap who our favorite latest singers are.
What do you hope is the message of your music?
Just a willingness to be really confessional and honest in hopes that healing will come. That’s really the bottom line for me is just that confessional … Whether it’s to God or your mother or a friend or a stranger. Someone who is down and out that you meet that maybe you don’t even know and you let them know, “Hey, yo. You’re not in this alone. I’m fucked up too.” Through that, it’s like you click on a little lighter in the middle of a big black room and all of a sudden that black darkness just runs. It just can’t survive in the truth and in the hope of that. That would be nice if even one person could get something like that from the music. If no one did, I have to remember that I have gotten something like that from the music and to always be so grateful, so grateful for that.