BETH HART Interview

BETH HART (Live at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., November 13, 2016)
Photo: Mick Burgess

She’s performed with Slash, Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy and Joe Bonamassa and has been hailed as one of the great singers of her generation. Beth Hart has a new album Fire On The Floor out and a UK tour starting in a few days. Mick Burgess chatted to Beth to find out about the making of the album and what she has lined up for the tour.

Next month you’ll be over in the UK for 7 shows across the country. Are you looking forward to coming back over here?

Oh yeah, absolutely. We’ve been loving coming through here every year for the last 3 or 4 years and we always have such a good time. The places we get to play get nicer and nicer each time and we’re playing in some lovely theatres on this tour.

By all accounts the shows are all either sold out or just about sold out. That must be great to hear?

Oh gosh, how cool is that? I’m so lucky. That’s so nice to hear. I’m looking forward to coming over even more now.

You’ll be playing some great venues on this tour including the London’s Royal Festival Hall as well as our very own The Sage in Gateshead. Does an impressive hall with a great ambiance enhance the experience of performing from your point of you or can you turn up and play just about anywhere?

I’m such an emotional performer and my head is always like a roller coaster so if I’m in a good place and feeling grateful that’s when I notice that my shows come across as a lot more positive. If I’m in a down cycle then the show could be much darker. It doesn’t depend on the venue at all but it does depend on where I’m at with my mood as to the type of show I’ll do. If I’m in a good place then I’m really open minded to what’s being presented but if I’m in a bad place I’m much more closed minded.

On 13th November the second show of your tour is up here at The Sage in Gateshead. You’ve played there in the past. How do you find the crowds up in the North?

The crowds in the North are always so appreciative of the music. They really get into what I’m doing which is great. For any performer who’s coming up, if they really want to test their psychology and how they handle themselves on stage then coming to the UK as a whole is a wonderful place for that. I don’t think the audiences blow any smoke up your butt at all I think they sit back and watch. It’s not that they aren’t supportive it’s more that they aren’t over the top psyched up thing. They are more reserved like the fans in Denmark. When I was in Denmark I thought they didn’t like me but I was told that when they are listening like that they are showing you respect. It really raises the bar when you’re in front of a crowd like that and makes you feel humble and focused on the job in hand.

You’re playing 7 shows over 13 days which is quite a well paced tour. Was that a deliberate step to make sure your voice is looked after a while you are on the road?

I made a deal with my label and my manager many, many years ago after I lost my health in a bad way. When I came back I had boundaries that I’d set with my doctors who said if I was going to step back into this business I had to have boundaries because if I didn’t I’d have another collapse of the mind, of addiction and I’d end up in a psychiatric ward and I might not survive it the next time. When I restarted I set those clear boundaries and my manager said that I probably wouldn’t have a career as I’d not be working near enough as I should to cover the costs of touring so I said, so be it, that’s fine. If I never get a career going and it’s for the sake of being healthy then that’s beautiful. So they were my terms for me singing and touring again and it’s much better for me to cope with the rigours of the road. If we do get it started with these new boundaries then it’s win win. If I ever had to choose between having a good mind and good health with having big success then there’s no contest, I’d put my health first every time.

As far as the tour goes, what do you have planned for your fans this time round?

I have a rule of thumb on how I plan tours. Every single night is a different set list otherwise I’d be bored. I also really love the challenge for me and the band as it forces us to use more of our feelings and depending upon one another to make that music rather than it being made by numbers and predictable. I like it when the band and I are in a humble, vulnerable place on stage. I think it makes for a better show and the overall passion and uncertainty raises the intensity of our performance. What I tend to do is play a couple of songs from each album that I’ve done and that alternates throughout each show. I’ll also play 3,4 or 5 songs from whatever is my latest record.

Your latest record Fire On The Floor has just come out. How’s the reaction to it been so far?

It’s been really nice that the media has been so receptive. You know I’m an old goat at this now so I had to make a decision along the way to survive this business psychologically in that music is so spiritual, it’s so saving of me and helps me in so many ways and I’m very protective of all my songs. One way I coped with this business is to think if people have a really good reaction to your music it doesn’t mean that the music is good and it doesn’t mean that you’re good as a person and if people think you’re music is absolute garbage, it does not mean that you are absolute garbage or that your music is absolute garbage. So I’m indifferent. Of course, who doesn’t like people to say they like what you’re doing but it’s imperative that an artist doesn’t allow applause to determine their worth. If you get caught up in all that it could be the end of you as when they love it you’ll feel great but when they hate it, which is inevitable, then you’ll think you’re the worst thing ever.

What were you setting out to achieve when you first started work on it?

I never, ever have a plan when I start work on a new record. The writing and recording process just happens naturally and I end up recording what feels good. There’s no pre-conceived plan.

You cover a lot of ground musically from Rock, Blues, Jazz, Soul and everything in between. What do you listen to that inspires you to write in such an eclectic way?

I’ve always listened to a lot of different genres. I always have Classical radio wake me up in the morning. I may then go and listen to Native American music, tons of Jazz stuff, then I might be in a mood to listen to the Ramones or I’ll put on Iron Maiden or especially Black Sabbath. I’m always mixing up different types of music and I think that’s why I’m always writing across a bunch of different genres.

Do you write alone or do you have someone to bounce ideas off?

99% of the time I write alone but every now and then I do a co-write. I’m choosy who I write with but over the years there’s a few who I’ve really loved working with and have learned so much from them. In the early days I’d written with Bob Steele and Greg Sutton who were so great to learn from. I later worked with Oliver Leiber and Glen Burtnik who was in Styx for a while and he was great. I do actually prefer to write alone not because I think I write better songs that way but I think I reach a deeper level of honesty. With a co-write, you have to be more sensitive to the other person’s ideas. You have to be kind to them or their inner child will run off into the woods and will not want to play with you anymore. I do feel overall, as I’ve got older, that I tend to spend more time writing alone. On my current album I wrote everything except Fatman that I wrote with Glen Burtnik.

You actually recorded 16 songs in 3 days which is incredible in this day and age. What made you get in and out so quickly?

I loved working with Kevin Shirley and how fast he worked when I did Don’t Explain with Joe Bonamassa. I loved the spontaneity of that so after that it’s how I’ve done every record that I’ve made. The next record I did with Kevin, Bang Bang Boom Boom was recorded over five days. My latest record was all done in 3 days so I think that’s just the way I’m going these days. I just like to get in and record quickly and capture the moment the best I can.

Over the years you have performed with such greats as Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Slash and Joe Bonamassa. Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself when you look at those legendary names you have sang with?

Absolutely. I’m still amazed at some of those incredible artists I have performed with and feel so flattered that they have wanted to play with me. I feel so humbled when I look at those names but am so proud of my work with them.

Where do you head after the UK shows are over?

I’ve got a couple of days off after the last show at the Royal Festival Hall in London and then I head over to Europe for shows in Holland, Belgium and France and then I finish up at Casablanca in Morocco where I’ll be playing at the Jazzablanca Festival so that’s a pretty cool way to finish the year off for me.

Beth Hart’s new album “Fire On The Floor” is released by Provogue/Mascot Label Group on October 14th.

Beth Hart tours the UK in November.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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