Beth Hart is on Tour, and her new album Fire On The Floor will be releast this Friday.
Is the cover-artwork meant to be like a threat? Is it the moment before you’re about to set on fire to a petrol station?
Beth Hart: Oh! No, no, no! We actually added the fire in later on the photo. We thought it looked cooler. But no, I just think we were using an amazing set that was designed by a film crew from one of the movie studios. And so different people use it for different things. It’s a hotel, it’s a dinner/supper club, it’s a petrol station. And we thought it was great because it looked so great inside and out. It looks really authentic for that time.
What made you go for “Fire On The Floor? How did you come up with that title?
Hart: Oh, it’s just off of a song that’s on the record. Yeah, I have a song called “Fire On The Floor” that’s on the record. you know, I write songs, and when I put them on the record I usually will name one of the titles that I like the most on the record. I thought that “Fire On The Floor” would suit it nicely, because it is a record that has a little more angst. And a little more of a heavier back end to it. Especially since “Better Than Home”, my record previous. So yeah, I think it sounds like a great title, so that why I decided to use that song as the title.
There´s something energetic and dangerous to it, isn´t there?
Hart: Well, I guess it just depends on how, whatever you want to use it for. I mean, for me, the song – “Fire On The Floor” – is about a very intense relationship with someone that you know is not good for you. And you know if you stay, you’re not going to survive. But there’s no way you can leave. Every time you try to leave, it keeps you coming back. Like an addiction. So yeah, that’s what the song is about.
Hart: On this record, it’s definitely a very different record than “Better Than Home”. “Better Than Home” was more overall a singer-songwriter record. It’s still eclectic, because that is just the way that I write. So it’s got some pieces of old soul, and a little bit of Rock´n´Roll. But basically “Better Than Home” was a singer-songwriter, storytelling kind of a record. Both musically and lyrically. Whereas this record I think definitely moves more towards a blues/jazz/rock… the basic lyric overall talks about love, but that’s certainly not all of it. There’s also some songs that talk about the love for home, and being out on the road so much, and desiring for that simplicity and that comfort and that consistency of being at home – waking up in the same place every day, going out to the yard.
There’s also a song called “Fat Man” …
Hart: …that really covers decadence over consumption, capitalism… kind of the way that the US kind of runs their life – there’s a lot of overconsumption here, a lot of getting more, getting more, getting more. Instead of being in the moment, and really just embracing your life and being grateful for it. I don’t think that Americans are ungrateful, not at all. But I do think that we are a young country, and we have a lot to learn. So in the song “Fat Man”, I kind of play off of that, but I use as a metaphor a street person. Someone that lives on the street. Someone maybe who’s dealing drugs, someone that would be considered to be “outside of society”. And what I do in a song, is I use them as the one who has actually the higher learning, the higher consciousness. Which is really, you know, an irony in the song. And it’s not at all a preaching song. I guess, I would consider it a little bit of a sense of humour, you know, without preaching. ´Cause I don’t think preaching really does any good.
Well, the message behind “Better Than Home” was: “touring is better than home.” Now home seems to be more important than anything else, almost like heaven on earth. How comes?
Hart: No, no, the song “Better Than Home” is not really about that at all. “Better Than Home” your whole life wanting something more than what you have. And then you come to realize, by facing God, by facing the truth – whatever you want to call it – by facing something that rocks you to your core, because you know you’re in the midst of truth? And that’s when you realize you have something better than what you ever could’ve dreamed of. And that’s what’s better than home.
But last time you were asked to do something that was more uplifting and not so heavy, or?
Hart: Oh, I don’t really care about that. I think I just go with whatever it is. I think that on “Better Than Home”, one of the producer’s desire was to get me to write more about the joys and what uplifts me. And it’s really funny, because every record I’ve ever done – including “Better Than Home” – has both sides. It has songs that are about faith, and finding joy, and finding something that releases you. And also songs that are about just the opposite. About feeling lost and feeling afraid. It’s just regular life. Like what we all go through. We all have our ups and our downs, and it’s consistent throughout all of our lives. It’s not a movie, you don’t get to a point where suddenly you’re free forever – it’s life. And so I think that was what his desire was, but it was funny, because if you sit down and listen to the whole album, “Better Than Home”, not every song is joyful. There’s plenty of songs of struggle. So that’s been a consistency on all my records. There’s some humor points, there’s some very sad points, and there’s some very joyous points. So, I think that’s a consistency with me as a writer. And I don’t think that that will change.
So this album is not a counter reaction or a response to the last one?
Hart: No, no. I made this record less than three weeks after I recorded “Better Than Home”. We hadn’t even mixed “Better Than Home” before I went back into the studio and recorded “Fire On The Floor”. I just did it with a different producer.
Who you used to work with more than ten years ago?
Hart: Oh, god, yeah. More than that, much more than that. The first time I worked with Oliver Leiber I was 26, and we recorded a couple of songs for what would be my record “Screamin’ For My Supper”. And he recorded “LA Song” and he recorded “Leave The Light On”. And, or, sorry, “Delicious Surprise” for “Screaming For My Supper”. And then my records following that he recorded a song – and also co-wrote a song with me – called “Leave The Light On”. And he also wrote a wonderful song called “World Without You”, which he also recorded me for that same record, “Leave The Light On”. So yeah, I’ve definitely worked with him, and I love him dearly. He’s a very, very sensitive and beautiful songwriter/producer/musician. He’s just a really talented guy.
Well, his portfolio is impressive: From Paula Abdul to Kesha to the classics – Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin…
Hart: And he’s done a lot of great work. I was lucky to get to work with him again, no doubt about it. And it was funny, too, because recording “Better Than Home” was such a painful experience, because one of the producers – Michael Stevens – had been diagnosed with cancer. And he was really battling it, and he wasn’t winning. And so when it was over, I just called the label, and I said: “Can you please let me go back into the studio? I’ve got a lot of songs that we didn’t end up using on ‘Better Than Home’.” And then also I’ve been writing a lot, even during the making of “Better Than Home”. And when I’d gotten home for those first couple of weeks, and I said: “I just would love it if you guys would support me in making another record.” And I know that that was an outlandish thing to ask. I mean even big pop stars that have a major label and have all the money in the world – they don’t even really go in and do something like that.
But it never hurts to ask, right?
Hart: Yeah! So I just asked, and I was pretty desperate. And the head of my label, Ed, is really a spectacular human being. He’s really like the guys used to be, way, way, way, way back in the beginning of the music industry, where he just signed people that he liked. He doesn’t sign people that he thinks is going to be a big radio star, or make a ton of money – it’s not about that. He just signs people that he likes to listen to play their instruments or write their songs or sing their songs. So he backs you, and he was like: “Absolutely. You can go write into the studio.” And I’m so thankful that he did. And then I didn’t know if Oliver would want to do the record or not, but I – again, you know, it doesn’t hurt to ask. So I asked David Wolff if we could call him and see if he was available. And he said he absolutely was. And then I went in and I played him like tons of songs. And he just was like: “Let’s do this record.” And he put together an unbelievable, unbelievable group of musicians. Maybe the greatest group of musicians I’ve ever had for any album, you know? And we made the record in three days! I mean, you know you got to be working with great musicians when you can make an album in three days. So yeah, it was a pretty beautiful experience to get to do that. I’m so, so thankful, so thankful for it.
Well, this time you got, as you said, one of the best bands available – featuring Michael Landau and Waddy Wachtel on guitar. How did you get them involved?
Hart: I didn’t get these people, Oliver got these people. He knows all of them. He called them individually, and then they said they would be happy to do it. So yeah, that’s all Oliver.
Is there a chance that they might join you on stage, at least for a one-off?
Hart: Oh god! No, no, of course not, no. They’re in their life, and they’re doing their thing, and – yeah, no, no, not at all. But my band is playing the work fantastically. We’ve had a bunch of rehearsals, and then we’ve been – we just finished a US tour. And during that tour, we didn’t get to play all the songs from the record, because we haven’t released the record, so that wouldn’t be a very good idea to do. But we did get to do a small handful of them. And the band just kills it. My band is playing so beautiful, and I love them so much. They’re such good musicians. And they love the record! So, when you love the music that you’re going to play, of course you’re going to do your best. And they really are kicking it out of the ballpark, it’s fantastic.
Also, you´ve been working with Jeff Beck – on a song that ended up as the bonus track on the CD. How long do you know each other? How did you meet?
Hart: So it’s kind of a funny story. I had done a song called “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues” with a wonderful harmonica player named Toots Thielemans, who has since passed away. He was already in his 80s when I made the one song with him on his record. And it was just – it’s a wonderful song. Old song, jazz song that Billie Holiday did. So anyway, I guess then somehow Jeff had heard it. And that he was interested in getting together and doing some songwriting. So, I went to England and we did some writing together. And then he invited Scotty and I to stay at his house, which was so amazing to be there in his studio, and just the most nicest guy. Anyway, that was it. And then he saw a live DVD I did years and years ago – right around the time when I last talked to you, actually – called “Live At the Paradiso”. And he liked it so much that he said would I be his singer on his upcoming American tour. So, of course I said yes. And I got to go out with him and – I don’t know, I just have a real, a special bond with him, you know? He’s very kind, and I really… there’s something about people that are really super sensitive that I just love, you know? I feel safe with them. So yeah, that’s how he makes me feel.
Is there like a wish list of people that you would love to work with if you only had the chance to?
Hart: Oh god, yes. I’ve always said – when I get a question similar to that – is that I’d love to work with Tom Waits. He’s so great. Yeah. And also Leonard Cohen. I would – oh my god – even if I could just fetch his coffee for him when he’s making a record or while he’s writing a song, I mean, I would be there with bells on. Leonard Cohen is probably the greatest lyricist for music that’s ever lived, you know? So I would, I would love that, too.
We need to talk about some of the new songs in detail, like “Jazz Man” for example…
Hart: Yeah, so the funny thing about “Jazz Man” is that it’s not typically something I would do. And when I say that I mean the narrative as a fantasy. So I’m not of one to write songs of fantasy. When I write it’s usually 99.99.99 – whatever the fucking thing is! – of personal feelings or experience or personal hopes or personal fears, whatever. But it’s something that’s personal. Whereas “Jazz Man” is not about that really at all. “Jazz Man” is a fantasy about me stumbling around in the woods, trying to find something in life that’s cool, that’s meaningful, that is real. And I’m in this fucking world of just plastic, and I’ve decided to go into the woods – which I would never go into the woods, cause the woods scare the crap out of me. I come across an old jazz joint, that’s in an old, rickety, wooden, falling apart thing down by this river. And there’s all this voodoo and wickedness going on, but inside is this group of people that are so fucking (chuckles) having the best time! And it’s jazz – but it’s jazz when it was in the beginning, when it was punk rock, when it was rebellious, when it was not a music anyone knew of or heard of. So like most societies when they come across something that’s new, what do they do? They call it wicked, they call it evil, they call it bad.
Because they don’t know it.
Hart: Yeah. It’s scary to them. So that’s what it was. It’s the beginning. And like, I’m the one who discovers the joint. And it’s so bad ass, and I can’t even go in, and be like who I am ´cause they’ll see me, and then they’ll kill me, like, cause I don’t belong. So I come in like as a ghost. No one can see me, and I get to check out the joint. And it’s just such an amazing discovery of something new and something real. So that’s what that song’s about.
“Jazz Man” is followed by “Love Gangster”, which is another fantasy, isn’t it?
Hart: Let me tell you the story about “Love Gangster”, OK? Really fast. OK. So one of my therapists – I have a psychiatrist that I do therapy with as well as him prescribing me meds. And he’s a very difficult person to impress. You basically can’t do it. And like he’s turned me on to Keats and Thoreau. He had me reading Walden. He really set the bar really high. When I met him, he was like: “You’re a joke as an artist. You’re not nearly well educated enough”, and ba, ba, ba, ba, ba. And he was just up my butt all the time. So one of the things we were working on was the type of men that I would choose in my life after my childhood with stuff with my dad. And my dad abandoned me as a kid, and then he wouldn’t have anything to do with me, and it was just – it was very traumatic. And he went away to prison, and when he got out of prison he married a woman that wouldn’t allow me in his life.
Yeah, you told me in our last interview!
Hart: Ha! So the kind of men I started choosing at a really young age were assholes and very abusive. And we were working that out through music. And he said: “I want you to write about it. I want you to write”, and cause I have a hard time – he thinks – talking it out? So he says it’s better for me to just write music about it. And it’s easier for me to connect to the truth, and not be in so much denial and protecting myself. So I would be better at writing a song than talking it out, right? So, I was kind of working out some music. Anyway, I happened to see an interview of Leonard Cohen! That day on YouTube, when he was releasing “Popular Problems”. And the interview lady was saying: “Well, how did you go to that monastery or whatever it was, and give up the drinking and the smoking, and the women, and lay on a mat and have a master that you know you were under for six years, and – you know, how did you give up all the sex and the drugs and all that?” Right? And he said: “Well, it wasn’t like I was a love gangster.” I was like: “Whaaaaat?! That’s great!!” And so then I went to the piano and I wrote that song that day. So anyway, thinking – again, it kind of comes from truth, but it’s also like kind of a fantasy, right? So I´m not thinking much of anything of that song, I just happened to bring it in that day and play it, knowing that he would hate it, because Dr. Davidson hates everything I write. And I played it for him, and he said: “Wow, that’s lovely.” And I’m like: “WHAT?!” And he’s like: “I love that.” He goes: “You’re writing your truth.” And he goes: “And I also like the music.”
Do you believe that?
Hart: I couldn’t believe it! Because I would’ve never ever in a million years turn in “Love Gangster” to a producer to make a record out of. I write a lot of stuff that I don’t turn in. That’s just either for me personally or it’s just like an exercise – like exercising your writing that day, right? But because of Dr. Davidson’s response, I was like: “Cool!” So I turned it into Oliver. And Oliver really liked it! And I was like: “Really?! You love this ‘Love Gangsters’?” He was like: “Yeah, this is going to be great!” So I was surprised. I was very surprised. And then, the way it came out was even better than what I could’ve even imagined, so I just thought: “Well, frick, I’ll just put that on next.”
Next is “Coca Cola”. Is that you applying for an endorsement deal? I mean, you could’ve said “coke” instead…
Hart: (laughs) No, I know! No, I know. And it’s funny because when I’d written it, my manager said: “Oh my god! You can’t do that, we’ll get sued!” And I’m like: “David, you know what? Don’t rain on my parade, man. I just wrote this song, I really like this song. Do not bring bad vibes into the room.” So he went, I guess to my lawyer or whatever. And he asked him, and the lawyer said: “Nope. It’s totally legal, she’ll be fine.” So when I was writing it, I was thinking of “Sunday In The Park With George”, which is a very old, very, very old kind of American songbook style musical. And I just thought: “I want to do something musical that reminds me of that time.”
Then there´s a song that´s pretty funky and has almost like a Motown vibe to it: “Let’s Get Together”…
Hart: Oh yeah, isn’t that fun? Now, that’s a co-write, and that’s someone who’s been a long time friend of mine for years, named Rune Westberg. I actually made a whole album with him called “My California”. And he and I have a really cool thing. Like in the beginning, I think that we wrote terrible songs together. But over time, we just for some reason kept running into each other, and he’s adorable, he’s from Denmark, and I love Denmark – I did a lot of touring in Denmark. So yeah, so that day we were just having fun, and we were messing around. And then that song just kind of wrote itself, real fast. And I didn’t even finish the lyric – we didn’t finish the lyric in time. And then I thought: “Why? Why finish the lyric? Fuck it! It’s just a fun, light, little ‘let’s get together’ fun song.” And so we just left the vocal that I did at Rune’s studio a year and a half prior. And then Oliver broke the track up around it.
Also, there’s the big ballads about being lonely, being hurt or neglected. Is there a button you press and there it is?
Hart: I would love to be able to do that. I would probably make a lot of fucking money. But I just can’t do that. What I do is: I might ignore the piano for a long period of time. I might only go to it to practice or to just enjoy playing songs through that I’d written, that have yet been made to a record, and see if I tweak them a little. But that’s it. And then all of a sudden I’ll fall into a space where something will ignite me. Something will happen, like either something tragic – like with Michael Stevens – or I’ll be struggling with alcoholism again. Or someone that I love is… Or someone I know – someone I love or just someone I’m aware of – is going through some form of great struggle. And I’m afraid.
So it’s sort of a privat thing…?
Hart: So some kind of intense negative feeling will usually drive me to the piano. And sometimes an extreme feeling of peace or an extreme feeling of excitement – joy, happiness – that will drive me to the piano. But that’s not very often. Maybe peace will drive me to the piano 10% of the time. Maybe joy and excitement will be 10% of the time. And the rest is usually some type of struggle. And the reason why I go to the piano is just for that reason – to look for help. To look for a blanket to make me feel better. To look for God. To sing to God, to try to communicate to God, and see if he can help me out of what’s going on. And that’s why I go. So there’s no way I can plan to go write, you know, if I’m going to make a record. And not trying to “create! create! create! create!” Instead just living life – go paint, go cook, go garden. Go hang out with friends, you know? Go get messy and in the mud. Live! And then that well will get refilled again, and you can pull from that again.
And your husband is used to the emotional Beth by now?
Hart: Oh, my god. My husband, that poor guy. I’ve driven him so insane. I’m not an easy woman to live with. He really is a saint – he’s a saint. I don’t know how he puts up with me. I try though, you know? I really do, I try and be really loving, and really complimentary, and I’m always thanking him for saving my life. Saving my life over and over again.” You know? But I’m not a difficult, you know, I’m definitely very emotional, and I have a lot of ups and downs, and so I’m not a very stable person to live with. But you know, it is what it is.
You’re said to be a good cook, though. Are you?
Hart: Yeah, I think I am kind of, yeah. I mean, I love it, so I think any time you love something and you do it enough, you’re bound to get kind of good at it. I mean, I’d like to think that I am, but maybe I would cook for you and you would hate it! I don’t know! But my best friend Ron I just made some killer meatballs that my mother gave me the recipe for. And he just freaked out. He was like: “Oh my god! These are the best meatballs I ever had!” But he’s my best friend, so you know what I mean? So I don’t know. I just know I like to do it. I like to do it.
If Trump gets elected, would you consider leaving the country?
Hart: Yeah, I just said that very thing to my dad last night at dinner. Last night it was my dad’s birthday, and my dad loves Trump. And I could just wring my father’s neck – I’m like: “Are you kidding me with this?” But you know what? People have their own reasons for being Democrat, being Republican, liking this candidate, liking that candidate. Obviously, Trump is insane, he’s a psychopath. And it would be very, very sad if he were president. But I do think that if he were president – or at least I’d like to think, I’d like to believe that if he ended up being president, that this country is strong enough to even survive him.
And that we won’t go down with him. So, that’s what I want to believe. The thing that scares me is like when he talks about wanting to have other countries with nuclear weapons? You know, that is just really terrifying. And he obviously has a really difficult time controlling his temper, you know? His ego’s a big one, so he doesn’t like anyone stepping on his ego. And if they do, he really strikes back fast. And you can’t have a leader that leads with their own ego, you know? You have to have a leader that leads with the people. With what is best for the people. You can’t have a hot tempered leader, that’s just not going to work. That’s just going to cause more chaos, more war. Like look with George W. Bush, you know? So, I’m just praying that whatever is meant to be is meant to be. And sometimes what’s meant to be is something that’s really hard – for who knows what reasons. Maybe we learn. Maybe we get humbled. I don’t fucking know. But I really hope that Hillary is the one. I really do.