COVER STORY – Beth Hart: Riding the Wave of Hard Won Success

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INNOCENT WORDS APRIL 2015 COVER STORY – Beth Hart: Riding the Wave of Hard Won Success

Photos by Greg Watermann


When last we spoke to Beth Hart the powerhouse vocalist had just completed sessions with Joe Bonamassa for their second hard soul collaboration album ‘See Saw,’ which would go on to garner them a Grammy Nomination. At the same time she was doing promo for her fifth studio release, ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom,’ which hit #3 on the Billboard Blues Album chart and earned her Blues Music Award nomination. She gushed about the life changing experience of appearing with Jeff Beck at the Kennedy Center Honors to celebrate Buddy Guy performing the Etta James classic “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which has become a must-see-to-be-believed sensation. The night proved to be even more significant as it gained Hart the opportunity to team up with show producer Michael Stevens and musical director Rob Mathes on her new album of all original material, ‘Better Than Home,’ due out in April.


Innocent Words spoke to Hart from her nearly snowbound Boston hotel room in the midst of her U.S headlining tour that has sold out ten shows in a row to a ravenous growing fan base who shower her with love and affection in tribute to her artistry.


Innocent Words: Hello Beth. I went to your show in San Francisco. It was fantastic.


Beth Hart: You did, oh great, I’m so glad you liked it. We had great time in San Francisco. What a great place.


Innocent Words: It was packed. Did you know there were fans from all over the world there? I met many from up and down the West Coast and a guy who flew in from Paris to see you.


Beth Hart: Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that; it’s so great. Sound was really good there too, huh? Isn’t it the best when you get good sound? When there is good sound it is so much more powerfully effective of a show. It makes all the difference.


Innocent Words: I could tell you were really manipulating that dynamic and bringing it way down and having everybody sing along. That’s got to be a lot of fun.


Beth Hart: Absolutely. That’s so much fun.


Innocent Words: So how is the tour going? You are in snowbound New England.


Beth Hart: It has been so frickin cold, man, we are trying to stay bundled up. In Minnesota it’s so crazy I think it got up to 30 below one night. Crazy.


Innocent Words: But everybody brings the love and warms up the room.


Beth Hart: Yeah, the rooms have all been good. I got this new drummer [Julian Rodriguez]. I think tonight will be his seventh show with us. He is playing so great, and he has learned all those songs. I am so proud of him. Every show it just gets better and better, and we’re getting closer and closer. You know, I’m changing up songs each night with him, so it’s not like he’s getting to play the same songs again and again. But he’s fuckin’ right there, man.


Innocent Words: You said something about that at the show, that the band learned 50 songs in a couple weeks.


Beth Hart: I sent him 72 songs, and then I felt bad and I scaled it back to 54. He made 54 charts and learned 54 songs, and then he had only eight days of rehearsal, so he’s just great.


Innocent Words: You have been working with a bunch of musicians recently, on tour and in the studio. Do you enjoy putting on the hat of band leader versus featured guest?


Beth Hart: You know, when I was young I didn’t want to be a band leader. It made me way too uncomfortable; I was way too insecure. I was afraid of confrontation to be able to lead anything. So I always put it on someone else, either a band member or a manager. I don’t know what happened, but in the last maybe seven years, I really fell into feeling much more confident and having no fear of conflict. I’m sure it’s connected to getting older and doing a lot of therapy. I don’t have that fear now, and I really have a lot of confidence in how I hear it and what I want from it. I also know that I am really kind with how I do it with people. I also don’t hire people that are assholes. I hire people that are great at taking direction, that are very talented and cool people. It’s easy. I really enjoy it.


Innocent Words: You’ve also got to work with some amazing band leaders; Jeff Beck, Joe Bonnamasa and Buddy Guy. You must have learned a lot from them.


Beth Hart: Yes, they’re incredible. You know, one of the things I learned from them, and they all equally have it, instead of them dictating what they want, they get the people that already give them what they want in the first place. Then they inspire them with kindnesses. Jeff is the king of that. He is the most kind, inspiring, joyful person. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say we’re all rehearsing in a room, and the keyboard player plays something, and Jeff just loses his shit and says, “Oh my God, that is so amazing!” It’s like he’s got this enthusiasm of a 12-year-old, it’s just incredible. He just makes everyone in the room feel so good within themselves. Of course, they’re gonna give more and play better. So they get a great group around them by inspiring them instead of dictating to them. It’s just lovely.


Innocent Words: Kill ’em with kindness.


Beth Hart: Bring the best out in people by showing them you see them, you love them, you respect them, and you’re excited.


Beth-Hart-credit Greg Watermann

Innocent Words: Matt Anderson is opening the show for you. Have you spent any time with him?


Beth Hart: (Sigh) I am such an asshole, man, because this guy has been blowing our mind night after night, and I have yet to go back and see him and tell him how grateful I am, and he has been kicking our ass. I shake before every show, thinking “Holy shit, are we gonna be able to come up to this guy,” his voice, playing and his personality? The first thing I’m gonna do tonight is pull him aside and say “My God, you are so brilliant. You’re the shit.”


Innocent Words: I’ve been listening to the new album ‘Better Thank Home’ for a week now; it is so beautiful. The last album was a triumph, and the album with Joe Bonnamasa led to Grammy and BMA nominations. It’s been quite a ride the past two years.


Beth Hart: Thank you, it is so wonderful to be working so much and be working with such great people. To have the audiences that are growing and expanding, its a lot of joy to me. I’m pretty neurotic and always thinking the worst or the best, and it has been nice to be thinking more in the positive. I’m so thankful, you know, I’m no spring chicken, and it’s nice to have things expand in the last couple years. It has made me feel really happy.


Innocent Words:The album is very personal and revealing. Are the songs all new or a collection that has been hanging around a while?


Beth Hart: A couple have come from the past. I wrote “St. Theresa” and “Tell Them to Hold On” a couple years ago. I started “Tell Him You Belong to Me” years ago, but it took me a couple years to finish that. Quite a few of the songs I wrote right after I finished making ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ with Kevin Shirley. I was challenged by the producers, Michael Stevens and Rob Mathes, to pull away from the blues and really go back to a singer-songwriter. I didn’t want to do that, and I didn’t know why in the beginning. I said to myself, “Why am I so not wanting to do this? I can’t just chalk this up to I’m really into writing blues and soul right now. There’s got to be more than that.” I arrived at the point that it hurt more to write singer-songwriter stuff. I have to pull those denial doors open. I have to look inside and face my stuff. I don’t like to do that, I’m a human being and I like to feel happy sometimes. But they were adamant, and I said “fuck it,” and I started working on it. And songs like “Better Than Home” and “Mechanical Heart” came out.


Innocent Words: Is it scary or freeing making a softer, introspective album?


Beth Hart: It’s both. It is the scariest, and it’s the most freeing. When you’re really scared of something and you say “I’m not going, I’m not going,” then you finally go there and go, “Oh my God, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be,” that’s what it was like writing this record. It was really freeing and really cool.


Innocent Words: The tour is sold out. That must also feel great.


Beth Hart: It is the longest run I have had in the States in many years. It’s been a long time, over a decade.


Innocent Words: I will speak for the legion of fans saying it is long overdue. I hope it continues. You are going to Europe for the summer. Do you have plans for a fall U.S. tour?


Beth Hart: Up until now I’ve been in Europe 90 percent of the time and the States maybe 10. We are going to switch that ratio to maybe 60 in the States and 40 everywhere else – Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. We are also working on opening up Asia. Why not venture into new place and see if you make a connection? It’s great, you get to tour and meet new people and make a little money. I’ll be back in the States in the fall.


Innocent Words: I am so happy for you, that you are riding this wave of success after working so hard to get here.


Beth Hart: Thank you. Do you think it’ll last a little while? I hope it lasts a little while, man.


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