Kenny (my photographer of the night) and I had the pleasure of being granted interview time with Beth Hart right before her sound-check at Amager Bio. Due to the casual nature of the interview, the flow came to be more like a conversation than an actual interview, featuring questions and the like from the both us, which Beth Hart would gladly answer. Due to the free flow of the conversation, the interview starts quite abruptly with a chat about blues music.
Photo by: Kenny Swan
RF.net: What artists have you seen perform, that stand out?
Beth: Have you seen a Buddy Guy show? Let me tell you something, man. You've got to go see a Buddy Guy show. You have never seen the blues played and sung on guitar like that in your whole life. He is 80, and he's SO bad-ass that he puts the mic down on the stage, backs up and I mean a whole festival can hear him. He's running around the stage, the guitar is brilliant, and he knows how to work the shit out of that crowd. To this day, every time I see Buddy Guy perform, I can see how Jeff Beck's hero is Buddy Guy. - Because it's just dumbfounding. He's a legend. And you talk to him and it's like he's a kid. He doesn't have any age in him at all. Even though he's got an old number, it's like he's five. It's incredible.
RF.net: Have you played with him yet?
RF.net: Is there anybody you haven't played with? I mean, Slash, Jeff Beck, Robert Cray soon, Joe Bonamassa, obviously.
Well, I've made two records with Joe and then I've done a little bit of touring. I sang on Buddy Guy's last record. Then I did some songwriting with Slash.
RF.net: And Jeff Beck?
Beth: I didn't do anything on record with Jeff. I've just done touring with him. - As his singer, though, not as his opening act. Then obviously I did the Kennedy Centre with Jeff. God, he's so fucking great. I mean, every one of his shows, it's like you can't even believe it. Isn't it mesmerizing? How does he do it? You look at this man, getting this sound out of the guitar, and go 'what the fuck is that?' It's like he makes it another instrument. Brilliant. And he's the nicest, sweetest, funniest person in the World.
RF.net: He's quite a quiet guy, isn't he?
Beth: Well, if you know him, he's not. I think that he's guarded because people who are legends like this… They've been taken advantage of. They've had long careers, and of course people take advantage when you're famous. And I think after a while... I've never had this experience, because I've never been famous like that, so I'm not all jaded with that. If I'd been super-famous for like 25 years, I'm sure I'd be like 'man, I ain't going to tell you shit', you know? I'm going to hold back my shit. But if you know him, he's just Mr. Talk, talk, talk. - And Mr. Laughing. He's so enthusiastic with whoever he's playing with. If you just touch your bass, he's like 'Oh my God, that's so fucking great'. He's just like that. It's like when you're with your friends in high school and how everybody digs on each other, and saying 'yeah man, that's fucking killer'. That's what he's like.
RF.net: Do you have any plans to ever record with Jeff?
Beth: I sure would love to. The last time I did some work with him, not too long ago, maybe a month or two ago...no, three months ago. We were in Australia, and he had mentioned us making a record together; a full record. He mentioned it, but you know that even if people genuinely want to do something, sometimes with the schedules and other things, it just doesn't work out. So, it might happen, it might not happen.
RF.net: You should call him. You're famous enough now to be able to call up Jeff Beck.
Beth: He's great. We're good friends. I go to stay at his house, my husband comes with me and he's amazing. He comes out to my gigs. You know, one of my guitar players, PJ, has only been with me for like 2 years. I had him learn some songs. PJ says I had him learn 110 songs but he's such a fucking exaggerator. I had him learn like 60 songs in like 2 months, which is not that bad. Our first night was a big place in London, well, big for me, like 2000 capacity. - Which is big because the year before I played for like 250 people, so it was an important gig. Jeff shows up, and he sits on the stage, 10 fucking feet from poor fucking PJ. Here PJ is, first gig with me, it's in front of all these people, he's got to know all these songs and he's got Jeff Beck sitting right there. Now you tell me that's not a bitch.
RF.net: I would just quit. It wouldn't be worth it. Or at least just give the guitar to Jeff.
Beth: I wouldn't even touch my guitar. I'd be like 'Beth, guess what? Fuck you, man. I'm outta here. You do it'.
RF.net: So, is there anyone you'd like work with that you haven't yet?
There're so many people I would love to work with. One of the people I always mention is Tom Waits, because I think he's just the coolest person in music, and I think he's been the coolest person in music for so many years. There's no compromising with him. It's pure integrity. He can't help but be off the wall artistically, which I love. His lyrics are intelligent. They make you think, but they're still filled with so much passion, tenderness and humor. It's like when I see a great movie, and someone says 'was it a drama? Comedy? Action movie?' and the best movies are when I can incorporate all this into one. And that's what Tom Waits does. He incorporates all human emotion into one album through lyrics and through music. He's very innovative and creative. I don't know all his records, but the record that turned me onto him was the “Mule Variations” record. It's brilliant. Have you ever heard it?
RF.net: No, I don't think so.
Beth: “Mule Variations” is bad-ass. Daniel Lanois is the producer, who is just a killer producer. He's eccentric and unique and a guy who thinks outside the box. So, I heard that record and I was just like even if all his other records before it had been shit and every record since then had been shit, this record keeps him at the top for me. You should check it out, it's really cool.
RF.net: Have you ever met Tom?
RF.net: Would you like to, or would you rather not?
Beth: It's funny you ask me that, because I've always been a huge fan of Aretha, and when we did that Kennedy Centre thing, my husband and I got to go into the White House and she was there in this area where they had food and drink and stuff. She was as far away from me as you are right now and my husband says 'you have to shake hands with Aretha Franklin'. I said: “if I do, I will fucking die”. I couldn't do it. With Tom, I think I could. It's not because I think any less of Tom, I think he's right up there, but I just couldn't do it with Aretha. It's not that she means any more than Tom, but I grew up listening to Aretha. Tom I didn't discover until I was 27.
RF.net: I'm always afraid if I meet someone that they'll be an asshole and then when I hear the music I loved, I just hear that asshole now.
Yeah, I worry about that too. It's funny that you say that, because I was talking with my agent, my US agent, who I've been with since I was 22 and I said 'you know, in this business, no one has ever really fucked me around'. - No one on the business side or on the creative side. I said that, what has really fucked me around in this business is my own head and the way I perceived things. Also, in the way I've been afraid of certain things and in the way I've been self-destructive to myself and my career at times, too - and to those who I love. I can't put it off onto anyone else.
RF.net: So you think what the US label did to you in the beginning of your career was a good thing for you?
Beth: They were fucking great to me. They paid for that rehab, which didn't work, I had to go through three or four before I got sober, but they paid for it and if they hadn't dropped me from that label, I would be dead. No doubt about it. It wasn't until I went to jail, even though I was only in jail for a night, and all my family are bail bondsmen, so to get bailed out of jail, it was like 'holy fucking shit, what am I doing?'. And it wasn't my first time in jail. There was another time when I was a teenager, but it wasn't a big deal because I was only there for like 6 hours or something. But this one was different. I was taken downtown into South Central and put in one of the hardcore jails. And the way I behaved, it was disgusting, you know, the way I treated the jailers and stuff. It was bad. I was out of my mind. And so that did it for me. That night, I had my drug of choice on me, and when I got out of jail, I threw it out. It was a prescription. It was actually an illegal prescription, because I had started forging them. When I got home, I called two pharmacies that I had prescriptions with and I cancelled them both. So I knew I was done.
RF.net: And you stuck to it?
Beth: I stuck to it then.
RF.net: When was this?
This was one week before I got married, and I was married, March 15th, 2001.
RF.net: You remember that time well?
Beth: Yeah. That drug I would have done anything for, but I've never touched that drug again. I've had drinking slips, but I've never gone back to the drugs.
RF.net: Do you think that the music industry in LA is different to the industry anywhere else?
Not really. I think people like to say it is, but it's not really. First of all, there are music labels in LA, but the predominant labels are in New York. That's where all the distributers are. So if you're signed to a label in LA, all that shit is being distributed out of New York anyway. So if you're doing okay on your label, you'll just talk with your local label, but as soon as you have a record that they think might have a hit on it, they'll fly you to New York and that's where you'll meet the big boys, so New York is where the hardcore guys live. You've still got some big ones in LA, but it's different. I think that LA is great in that it's got great weather and it's got a lot of talented people who are really hungry. You've also got the dancing, the singing and the acting. That's what's really big in LA, the acting. That's where all the big studios for that are. I mean, we've got some big labels in LA like Capitol and stuff like that, but when I think of LA, I think of it as more of an acting community. I also don't really think we have a sound in LA any more. We had a sound back with The Doors, and then Seattle had their sound when the whole Grunge thing happened...
RF.net: And the hair metal thing in the 80s...
Beth: Yeah, but that was horrible. Wasn't that just the worst shit ever? You can't even call it Rock N’ Roll, it was pop. I Hated it. "She's my cherry pie", do you remember that? It was all so bad.
RF.net: Some us were just at the right age for that, though. I got suckered into it.
Beth: Did you? How old are you?
RF.net: I'm 35.
Beth: And you got into that? Really? Fuck. I just hated that shit. I was into so much other music at that time. The Grunge movement came and I just thought 'thank God someone came along and saved Rock N Roll'. Still, that didn't last as long as I thought it would have, but I guess everyone started dying. Everyone was just so into heroin at that point. That became the big drug. So many people died. - So many of my friends died, too.
RF.net: LA must have been a tough place to live at that time when you had addiction issues?
I don't know. The kind of person that I am, if I want to do something, I'll find it. It doesn't matter where I am. I remember at the age of 24 or 25, I hated LA so much that I just ran away and ended up living with a band that I met on the road down in Alabama. We partied there too and the same sort of shit happened there. You can find drugs anywhere. If that's what you want to do, you can find them anywhere. It doesn't matter where you are. It’s all about having a nose for it.
RF.net: I guess that helps when you're on tour and need to find something.
Beth: I guess. I don't see that sort of stuff on the road any more. The only thing I come across is that now and then someone will have a joint, or alcohol, obviously. You're at the gigs with alcohol, but I never see the drugs any more. No one in my band is into drugs either.
RF.net: Do you find it hard to tour and stay clean?
Sometimes it's difficult to stay away from alcohol because I see it so much around me, but I notice that when I'm in a good place, I don't want it. I can see my husband or one of my band members having a cocktail and I'm fine, but I'm still a recovering addict, so sometimes that thinking shifts and I think 'shit, maybe I should have one of those because that looks really fucking good right now'. That's just a typical part of being an addict.
RF.net: And that still hasn't gone away?
Beth: That will never go away. That will be with me for the rest of my life.
RF.net: That must be tiring.
Beth: It's not as tough as the bi-polar shit, I have to be honest. I think mental illness is a whole other thing.
RF.net: How does touring affect your bi-polar disorder?
It's interesting that you ask. I remember my doctor said 'if you stayed home, just took care of your dogs, cleaned the house and made dinner for your husband, you could probably not take any medication'. He said 'if you're going to have a job of any kind, then you'll have to because the stress sparks the chemical imbalance'. And then once I put myself on the road, where it's constant time changes, that really exasperates it. And then there's a lot more stress on road, too. There's a lot more socialising. So, it is what it is. No one's making me do anything. I've decided to make the decision to take medication and just work really closely with my doctor and deal with it. Most of the time I'm pretty fucking lucky. I have a good time, I've got my husband with me, my band is really supportive, my family is supportive back home, I talk to my doctor twice a week on the road and it's amazing that I have that kind of support. And sometimes it just sucks and I have to just suck it up and get through it and say 'okay, in three or four weeks I'll be home and this will pass', but sometimes I don't even have to wait that long and I'll come out it after a week or two.
RF.net: It must be a scary thing to never know when it's going to change.
Beth: Yeah. One of the things though that I have to remember is important is every morning and night, do just a little bit of meditation, or prayer, whatever you want to call it, and I remind myself that things could be so much fucking worse. So whatever your problems are, be grateful that you've got them and be grateful that there are answers to them. For instance, 70 years ago, if you were diagnosed with bi-polar or schizophrenia, you're fucked. There's no meds and they just lock you up.
RF.net: It's amazing that you can stay so positive after all that you've been though.
Beth: I have to, man. What other choice is there? I'm not going to go crawl underneath a rock and give up. Fuck that. I'm alive. I just have to keep getting out there in the middle of the street, and sometimes I'm going to get hit a little bit, and then I'll just scamper off to the side and then get back into the street. I have to. Life's too awesome to let our little shit keep us out of the game completely. Sometimes we have to get out of the game for a little while, though.
RF.net: You still seem to work hard. You seem to tour a lot?
Beth: Yeah. We used to be in Denmark all the time. I remember one year that I did 62 shows in Denmark, but I wasn't touring anywhere else. The only countries I was touring, after all my drug shit with Atlantic and I lost everything, was I did a small tour in the states, which didn't go anywhere. I went to New Zealand and went to Holland and suddenly I was working regularly in Holland and I was able to pay my bills. And then we had the “Learning to Live” hit in Denmark and the next thing I know I'm working here like mad. And then went on for 5 years.
RF.net: What is it about those countries? Why success here?
Beth: To be honest with you, I don't think it has anything to do with any fairytale story. It's very simple and has to do with business. I happened to get the trust and the belief from a record company from here, from Holland and from New Zealand. So when you get a machine behind you that's going to support you with promotion and all the stuff that lets people know you exist, then they may come down and see a show or a festival. If you don't have any machine behind you of any kind, not even from that area, then people can't come to see you if they don't know that you exist and I think that's why. But I also think having that hit didn't hurt. That helped. But then it was amazing. It was like into our eighth year of coming to Europe, and then all of a sudden Norway blew up and Germany opened up. And then I made the “My California” record and England opened up. And then I made the “Don't Explain” record with Joe (Bonamassa) and that was it. All of Europe opened up. And then 'Bang Bang Boom Boom' started opening up the States for me, and then Canada and now Australia. Then the “Seesaw” record with Joe got the Grammy nod, and it was like 'holy fuck, this thing is opening up'.
RF.net: Do you think that success scares you?
Always, yeah. It's interesting that you're asking me that, because my psychiatrist says that...well, one of the biggest triggers for me to drink is not when something bad is happening, it's not when I'm in a depression, but it's when I'm happy. I'll give you an example: About a week ago, for two weeks prior, I got bronchitis and I was coughing all the time which kind of fucks with your voice. I was like 'holy shit, I've got no voice'. So I'm doing some different shows, and I'm getting through it in a way that maybe people wouldn't notice, but I notice and it makes me very anxious. No problem not drinking. Then, the other night, we did a show and my voice was great. I felt so happy. So good. And the moment I walked off the stage, I wanted a drink so fucking bad. So bad. I called up my psychiatrist the next day and I said 'this is what's going on' and he said 'so this is what it all comes down to.' As a kid, my father abandoned me, my step father after that abandoned us, my next step father abandoned us, and it was abandonment, abandonment and abandonment in a row. So then what happens is, you grow up and if you have any kind of happiness...'oh oh'. Before someone takes this away, I've got to take it away, because then I get to be in control.
RF.net: So it's self-destructive behavior?
Beth: Yes. It's about “I'm going to fucking ruin this before you take it from me.” That's the thinking. It sucks, but the upside is that it can be unlearned. That's one of the things I dig about therapy is that you get together with someone who re-raises you and changes how you believe in things. If this is really how my thinking is, how am I going to change this? This is what I've thought my whole life, but it is possible.
RF.net: I wish you success with all this. I hope you'll keep coming back to us.
Beth: Thank you! Even if this blew up and we went onto a whole other level, of course I'm coming back to Denmark. Why wouldn't I? It's a gorgeous fucking country, people love music here and this country has been so good to me. Who doesn't want to come to Denmark? Everybody comes to Denmark, because it's the shit.
Shortly after this, our conversation came to a halt as a fan was dying to get Beth Hart to write a lyric on a piece of paper, so she could get it tattooed in her handwriting.