Beth Hart released her eagerly anticipated latest studio album Fire On The Floor this week.
Hart recorded sixteen songs for the record inside of three days with top producer Oliver Lieber, and a studio band featuring Michael Landau (guitar), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Brian Allen (bass), Rick Marotta (drums), Jim Cox (piano), Dean Parks (acoustic guitar) and Ivan Neville (B3 and organ). Beth Hart will also be embarking upon a UK tour in November in support of her latest offering.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Beth Hart whilst in London to talk about her new record, how she manages to keep her voice in shape and the impact that her first live music experience had upon her as an artist.
NRR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us here at National Rock Review, we really appreciate it. Your new album Fire on the Floor is released on the 14th October, I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the album and the inspiration behind it?
Beth: Ok, so there’s nothing in particular that inspired the album other than the necessity to go in and make another record right away. I had just finished doing like a year of pre-production for an album called Better Than Home. When I say pre-production I mean just a lot of meetings, a lot of turning in songs and the producers I was working with had very specific ideas at the time.
It was a very difficult time because one of the producers had fallen ill and was battling cancer and so we had made the record in seven days and then I came home just like a blubbering idiot and I just couldn’t take it. So I called Ed at the label and I said I need you to get me some more money, I’ve got to make another record and he said why? I said I think that Better Than Home is going to be great you know, I mean we haven’t even started mixing yet, but I really need to make another record and these are the reasons why. They kind of already knew what was going on so it was the craziest thing, but he didn’t even have to say anything, he was like you’ve got it.
He said do you know who you want as a producer? I said well yeah, I’d like to make a whole album with Oliver Lieber, I said I’ve never made an album with Oliver before. I’d only done a few songs here and there you know for different records, but I said you know I need to do this right away.
So Oliver you know he was right there, he knew I was in a really bad way mentally and he was so sensitive to that and we just did like a couple of weeks of me turning in songs, we had a few meetings, he had me come in and record all the songs down on piano for the band. Then the band came in, a brilliant group of musicians, probably the best group of musicians I’ve ever gotten to work with on an album and we recorded sixteen songs. Of course we didn’t know which ten or twelve or whatever it was of those sixteen would go down until all the mixes were done, but we didn’t have any reason to start mixing yet, because I still hadn’t mixed Better Than Home or done any promo, or the tour or anything for it.
So I got to sit myself down on the floor, and just take time on going back and forth on mixing you know over the course of like a year and a half. So it was really great to not have any pressure to get it done.
NRR: Obviously you deal with some very personal subjects in your music and I was just wondering to what extent do you find songwriting to be therapeutic?
Beth: Oh not even to an extent but fully and completely it’s always personal, I mean it’s so rarely a made up imaginative thing. I think that the only song and it’s funny, the only song that I think in my career that was imaginative is a song called “Jazz Man” that’s actually on my latest record Fire On The Floor, but otherwise it’s always extremely personal.
Not that an imagination can’t be personal, but it’s more something that you are making up in your head and there’s always your own deeper feelings connected to it obviously or you wouldn’t be imagining it. But yeah it’s always personal and it’s definitely a way of trying to survive the different crazy cycles of the mind getting into music and kind of letting that spirit flow through to hopefully give you some answers you know, so that’s the reason why I go to it.
NRR: When writing about these deep and emotional topics, are there any songs which you find are so personal and that you are so connected to the subject that it almost becomes too painful to perform live?
Beth: No, I think if that were to take place that would just mean that I couldn’t complete a song, but once I’ve completed it if I can say it to myself I can say it to anybody else. I think the hardest person to tell the truth to is to yourself, so if I can get that done then I think the other part of sharing it with someone else is easy you know.
NRR: Having listened to the album, the sound on the album it’s genre-defying. You’ve got Jazz, blues, rock, gospel, there’s soul. I was wondering did you have a particular sound in mind for the record when you went into the studio or did it all come together organically?
Beth: Well I kind of write in a million different directions because A) I love the challenge, but also B) all the genres I grew up listening to are just so many, it’s a crazy amount and every genre I’ve ever come across I absolutely fall in love with and marvel at. So it’s kind of natural that I go in different directions, but when it comes to making a record I never have an idea of what kind of record I want to make, I think that the songs are gonna tell their own story.
So what I do is I just turn in a tonne of songs to the producer and it has to be a producer that I absolutely trust and then I just go with them. If they say hmmm I like this one, I like that song, I like this song, how I look at it is that they like it because they believe that whatever they are gonna do in the production is gonna be really beautiful, so I trust that.
So that’s like why for example the song “Fire on the Floor” I turned it in for Better Than Home and it was passed over. I also turned it into a different producer for the record Bang Bang Boom Boom and it was passed over. So I never for a second took it personal of oh they don’t like the song, I don’t even care about that, if I love this song that’s all the matters to me, but what I do is I trust that if they think they can do a great job, then they are going to do that song.
Like I was saying before like if that song doesn’t end up in any producer’s hands ever then I trust that that’s not meant to go out there. So it’s a lot of stages involved once I write something to just trust if it wants to show itself it will if it won’t it won’t and I don’t feel about it, either way, I’m totally indifferent about that.
NRR: Do you have a particular favourite song on your new album and if so which song and why?
Beth: No I love them all equally the same, I really do, I swear to god yeah. I mean if like I had to choose one to take with me, maybe I would choose “No Place Like Home” but I really love them all.
NRR: You are about to release your first video from your new album, which is for “Love Is A Lie” and I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that song and the concept behind the video?
Beth: So the song is an angry song. It’s a woman who discovers in the video anyway, it’s a woman who discovers that her husband is cheating on her. What is so painful is not that he is just cheating on her, but it’s that when she lets him know that she knows he is he doesn’t care. He doesn’t have any kind of passion or desire to lie about it, cover it up, he doesn’t care, he is completely cold. So I think that to me is the greatest betrayal you know.
So the song was a very, very fast write though and I didn’t even think that much of it, I liked it but it wasn’t like I worked on it or I had some deep heavy connection to something confessional that was happening that day. It was more me reiterating kind of what I saw in childhood with my father and my mother and then other men after that in my childhood growing up that would kind of do these things and it would rip my mother’s heart out and they just didn’t even really care, you know they were indifferent about it. So I think that that’s where that comes from for me.
NRR: So you are actually going to be returning to the UK for your full headline tour in November. You seemed to have built up such a strong relationship with the UK, you must be really pleased about that?
Beth: It’s been kind of surprising how it’s suddenly built up the way it has because you know I started out in music as a young person and I did a lot of touring and kind of coming in and out of different territories but nothing really connected. Then all of a sudden some years back, I did a record called My California that kind of got some radio play here and it kind of opened things up here.
Then I did a record with Joe Bonamassa and that furthered it. Since then I guess just from us getting to tour through and play so often, we just got really lucky that we are connecting with some of the people here, so it’s just kind of surprising and lovely.
NRR: Obviously you’ve got an incredible voice, and I was just wondering how do you keep your voice in shape, particularly on a long tour, do you have any particular vocal exercises that you adhere to?
Beth: Oh yes, I’m beyond neurotic about it. I do smoke that’s like the only really bad thing, but I don’t smoke a lot, I only smoke three or four cigarettes a day. But still I mean I shouldn’t be a smoker, but every time I try to quit smoking and I’m not exaggerating, I end up going to the psych ward. So I just can’t handle not smoking, so I just keep them down really low.
But otherwise yeah I train a lot with a coach that I’ve had since I was a teenager and I try not to talk when I’m in the midst of doing an actual tour of show shows. Promo tours obviously you have to talk but when I’m doing the singing I just try and save using my voice at all for the day of the show. Like once you get to soundcheck and you do soundcheck. Then if you are having any meet or greets or anything like that, but then, after all that’s done I will just be quiet until the next thing. Also, I don’t play five/six nights a week, I do four nights a week, sometimes I do three nights a week, so I don’t overextend it for that.
Then also as I’ve gotten older I think I’ve gotten a little more particular about preserving my voice, even more anal than when I was younger. So now instead of doing a nine or twelve-week tour, I have an arrangement with my manager that it’s six, never more than seven weeks at a time and then I get a minimum of three weeks off following that.
So things like that kind of make a big difference, but I’m a high strung person and I’ve always liked to push when I’m onstage, like kind of scream or just push my feelings out but it’s the worst thing in the world for your singing. So often times here I’m getting to do things that I really love, but it’s also really frustrating because I’m always having to hold myself back. So that can be after a course of six or seven weeks it can be kind of exhausting because you want to give everything but you know if you do you are going to screw up your throat, so it’s a little bit of a struggle in that way.
NRR: I was just wondering who was the first artist that you saw perform live and what kind of impact did that first experience have on you?
Beth: So the very first performing live thing I saw was when my mom took me to see Annie when I was 6 years old and I just thought it was amazing, I love the songs, I loved the little girl who had this big powerful belting voice, I loved what it was about and so that really turned me on.
When I got older my mom took me to see The Temptations and the Four Tops and I thought that the music was incredible, but I also liked the way how they danced together and would work off of these different microphones and their whole vibe with this soulful music, it was really cool.
But what really blew my mind was when my best friend Ron took me to see Patti LaBelle and that blew my mind. I mean her voice, she’s not human, she is literally an alien from another fricking universe, her voice is just ridiculous. But it wasn’t just that, you know what blew my mind was that she would talk about the most personal heavy duty stuff right there on stage. About her sisters who had all died of cancer and she would talk about it in a way that was so faithful and lovely and compassionate, never though feeling sorry for herself or that the darkness was winning and her taking her soul away from her, but always from a place of gratitude. She could somehow take a tragedy and make you look at it as a blessing, it was so powerful it was as if she was a preacher or something.
Then all these fans who are just clambering around her on the stage, here she goes she starts pulling off her eyelashes and giving them to a fan, and then she takes off her pantyhose and she gives it to a fan, and she takes off her fur coat and she gives it to a fan. I’m not shitting you and it was like oh my god this is just love, love, generosity and a beautiful human being and that was very humbling to watch, very inspiring.
NRR: Obviously, your song book is really vast and there’s such depth to it and I really love your early work. I was just wondering do you still enjoy playing those sort of heavier numbers like “Immortal” and “Sick” and “Waterfalls” or do you find them harder to fit into the show these days?
Beth: Sometimes I will because you know all of my shows every night is a different show. So every night we have a different setlist when we are on tour, so the band always has to know at least 70 songs so that we can mix things in and out.
So what I like to do is each night I kind of do a little bit of social media where I kind of find out that particular area that we are playing, what are the favourites, because I never assume that anyone has any one record or has all of the records. So I try and make sure I get a couple of songs that I know people like from different records and then I only play a few songs off the newest record out until I know if it’s gone over really well and then I will play more of it the next time I come through.
But like “Immortal” it just depends on my mood, lately, I’ve been playing “Isolation” a lot on the bass, because I wrote it on the bass. So I just come out and I do an acoustic thing on my acoustic bass and Jon will play the guitar and we will do like “Isolation”.
Then sometimes I will play “Blame The Moon” with the band and I will be on piano. Once in a while, we will play “Immortal” but then all of a sudden we might play “Immortal” all of the time. So it just kind of depends on the mood, it depends on where we are touring, that kind of thing.
NRR: That’s great, well thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, we really appreciate it and we are really looking forward to your show at the Sage Gateshead on 13 November, so we will see you there.
Beth: Awesome, thank you so much, have a good one.
Beth Hart’s new album Fire On The Floor (Amazon)
is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. Beth Hart tours the UK in November with tickets are available from the 24 Hour Box Office: 0844 871 8819 or Alt Tickets
Beth Hart UK Tour Dates
Fri | 11 Nov | Birmingham Symphony Hall
Sun | 13 Nov | Gateshead Sage
Mon | 14 Nov | Glasgow O2 Academy
Thu | 17 Nov | Bristol Colston Hall
Sat | 19 Nov | Bournemouth Solent Hall
Mon | 21 Nov | Manchester Bridgewater Hall
Wed | 23 Nov | London Royal Festival Hall (SOLD OUT)
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Photo: © Mona Nordoy