By Poppy Tohill
Earlier this year, Blues Blast Magazine likened interviewing Beth Hart to, ‘flying a kite in a hurricane.’ A perfect description of the crazy whirlwind that occurs, as you’re strung along on a thoroughly enjoyable ride by Hart’s infectiously loveable energy. On the other hand, the struggle that would come with ensuring a strengthened grip in this situation could best describe the roller coaster ride of suffering the American songstress has endured.
From anorexia, bulimia and drug and alcohol addiction, all whilst struggling with bi-polar disorder, Beth Hart whom we last talked to following the release of her emotionally-heavy, critically acclaimed record Better Than Home in April 2015, admits, at 44 years of age she’s now in a place where she’s able to look back and see that the really difficult times were in fact some of her greatest gifts, rather than beat herself up for her mistakes.
Continuing to ride a creative tidal wave over the last fifteen months, whilst building her breakneck momentum, Hart released her nothing-short of brilliant, eighth studio album, Fire On The Floor on October 14th. Alongside a new agreement that allows her to tour no longer than six weeks at a time, vitamin therapy which Hart confesses has considerably improved her day to day lifestyle with bi-polar, performing auspicious sets at the Royal Albert Hall and Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, not to forget her recent celebration of one year and nine months sober, it’s fair to say Hart deserves every ounce of success that is bound to come her way following this release.
“It’s so fucking crazy isn’t it!” Hart enthusiastically responded when commenting on Fire On The Floor’s sense of emotional release following the heaviness of her previous hard-hitting record, BetterThan Home. “Remember when Better Than Home was first in the press and being advertised as this positive record, which both you and I know is a load of shit!” she chuckled. “It was all the producer trying to give it some kind of new image. Yes, there are songs on that record which are positive, such as Might As Well Smile, but there’s also some really heavy stuff on there. It’s funny because while it [Better Than Home] was supposed to be the happy record, it wasn’t, and now Fire On The Floor has become the fun, light one. While there are points where I talk about heaviness on this new record, it’s more about love, not ‘oh my god, I’m a loser addict who is going down,’ she concluded lightheartedly.
“I had some rough hits on this last tour,” Hart confessed. “I had a mental collapse which was so bad I had to come home for a while, but praise be to god, I did get through it. It was a nine week tour which is far too long for someone like me, I shouldn’t burn it that hard for so long,” she declared. “So it was rough, but the good thing that came out of it was that if you survive something terrible you do learn what not to do and that was something I definitely learnt,” she admits.
“I’ve gotten really involved in my church lately which has been awesome and I’m also one year and nine months sober!” Hart proudly announced. “I never went back to the drugs 16 years ago, but I did struggle with becoming completely sober for eight years. I would get off the booze for a few months and then fall back into it, so I’m really proud and thankful to have been off it for so long now,” she vowed. “The most beautiful thing too is that I don’t ever want it! No matter what happens. Even when I told you I had this terrible psychotic fit on the last tour, I had no want for alcohol throughout it, which is a gift I’m so thankful for.”
Packing ever-larger venues in major cities on the Better Than Home tour including her largest club show to date, filling Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall with 5,500 fans, Hart reminisced the moment she was told she’d be playing London’s Royal Albert Hall, a lifelong dream.
“The Ryman was beyond,” Hart gushed, still clearly dreamy about the whole ordeal. “I’m obviously from the States so I’ve seen the Ryman my whole life on television, in movies and some of my most favourite heroes from Patsy Cline to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and all of those motherfuckers played there, so when we played the Ryman I was over the moon excited,” she relayed. “I cried and hugged my manager who has been with me for 23 years, I just felt so thankful and proud of my whole team.”
“But let me tell you something that happened recently!” Hart excitedly squealed. “So right before I left for this last tour my manager came over to me in rehearsals to talk about some upcoming things and he said, ‘you’re booked for your own show at the Royal Albert Hall in London,’ and I started crying right then and there,” she chortled. *Re-enacting her sobbing response* Hart continued, “Oh my god, it’s so nice, I don’t believe it. Are you sure we can fill it? Why did we book it? What if we only get a few hundred people?” she concluded with another cheerful cackle.
“I’ve always wanted to play the Carnegie Hall in New York,” Hart revealed. “Because to me that is the creme de la creme. That’s where Billie Holiday played right before she died, but the Royal Albert Hall is basically London’s version of the Carnegie Hall, so I was thrilled to bits,” she proclaimed.
“I don’t think being a good artist is represented by a lot of people applauding you,” Hart exclaimed. “I don’t believe in that at all, because I think there are so many artists out there who are geniuses, but unfortunately didn’t catch a break so nobody knows who they are and therefore don’t have a deal or a manager,” she continued. “I also don’t think money or fame determines your worth as an artist at all, whereas booking the Royal Albert Hall and realising I survived the music business is representation for me,” she admits. “The music business came so close to killing me, but the fact that I survived and was somehow able to learn how to do so is something I’ll always be thankful for!”
“It was never enough for me to just play music at home” Hart announced. “Bringing my music to other human beings and performing for them was something I loved the idea of as a little girl, but when I started doing it in the real world at a young age, it almost killed me,” she confessed. “The anorexia, bulimia, fucking alcohol and drugs and all of the self-loathing, sick thinking and feeling like a fake where any second people would find out. It’s just so nice now at 44 years of age, to know that while I still get sick-thinking it’s not real, it’s just a part of the crazy brain and what is real is that we all belong, we’re all worthy and we all deserve to be happy and healthy.”
With an underlying theme of love throughout Fire On The Floor Hart happily revealed the story behind a few of our favourite tracks and what she hopes people gain from this record. “I just want people to have fun with this record!” she enthused.
“ 'Jazzman' [the album’s opening track] is all about having fun. You’re out somewhere in New Orleans and you get lost in the woods and stumble across this totally hidden away place where people are doing wicked shit and just having so much fun playing jazz,” she explained.
“ 'Fat Man' makes fun of the whole thing about over-decadence and over-consumption. Whether you call it addiction or shopping, American addiction to over-consumption is what Fat Man stands for.”
“So the record kind of jumps around in terms of different themes, but when it comes to love and heartbreak my mother was a big inspiration on this album because her husband had left her for the woman down the street, which is where 'Baby Shot Me Down' comes from,” Hart went on to explain. “But my mum is such a badass, that she was broken-hearted at first but then totally hung in there and not only came back from it but she got her man back. So it’s a Yeah, fuck you! song, because he then ended up leaving the woman he initially left my mum for,” Hart chuckled with a sense of triumph.
“Then 'Fire On The Floor' is about an old addiction I had when I was in my 20s, to sex with a guy I was with for about 8 years. We didn’t have a real relationship but what we had was a total addictive sexual thing,” she explained.
“ 'Love Is A Lie' is about my first boyfriend Mike when I was 14-18 years old who was really, really abusive. I fell for him because he was giving me attention, which I wasn’t getting at home from my dad. So I went with the first jerk off I could find and it was nothing but pain.”
“But then you have songs like 'Picture In A Frame' which I wrote for the Producer, Michael Stevens, who died during the making of Better Than Home. I loved and adored that beautiful man, but he also drove me up the wall,” Hart snickered.
“Then 'No Place Like Home' is a total reflection of me wanting to be on the road so badly my whole life and get a career going, but now I find there are moments where all I want to do is cook, garden, be with the dogs and be a wife to my husband by taking care of him and those kinds of things,” Hart went on to explain. “So overall I think the record has a well-rounded theme that’s not nearly as heavy as Better Than Home.”
As our time ran out in reflection of Hart’s entire career from the highs as well as the lows, she confessed, “I feel like I’m in a place where I’m now able to look back and see that the really difficult stuff was actually some of my greatest gifts and maybe 65-70 percent of the time, not beat myself up for my mistakes.”
“There are still times I look back and do have such shame and regret, but I think that might be a part of the bi-polar,” she acknowledged. “But I do have this sense of so much more gratitude and also a sense of not taking it all so seriously, which I think is a thing that comes with age,” she exclaimed. “I’m really liking getting older. I may not be as cute as I used to be, but you’re definitely more relaxed in the mind, which is kind of nice.”
With no plans of touring New Zealand in the near future, sit tight, get your hands on a copy of Fire On The Floor and enjoy burning a hole through the repeat button, as we may or may not have done so already.