Interview: George Alexandrakis
We spoke to Beth Hart, on the occasion of her concert in Athens of Greece, on June 30, but also days after the release of her new album, titled “Better than Home” -an album that brings Janis Joplin back to life, with the particular timbre of her voice, the meaningful lyrics and beautiful music.
Spontaneous, with no reason to hide anything, she responded to our call at once, speaking with absolute sincerity during a recorded interview.
Could the difficult times of the past -or the demons, as you call them- be the driving force for creating or obtaining artistic maturation?
I don’t feel that the demons ever go away, the ghosts ever go away, but that doesn’t mean they have to terrify you and make you run. I think as you get older in life, as you do therapy, or praying, or a collection of many things, they can help you understand that you really are the one in control and you can depend on you as you have faith in yourself and in the loved ones around you. I think that it depends on the individual of what it is that brings them despair.
You have met and you still do meet the acceptance of the world, you have global recognition. How do you use your artistic status to raise awareness on social issues?
It’s very important to me to talk about my difficulties, as I feel very blessed to have had them. And when I say that, I specifically mean that my difficulties have brought me into different awareness throughout my life. For instance, drug addiction: after I went through it I had a great shame and I felt that I humiliated my family, my friends and myself, and I had a very difficult time forgiving myself. But because I had to walk through that time, I did not give up, through that work I came to see that I am simply a beautiful human being, and human beings go through great difficulties, human beings, from time to time, fall and get lost, and that’s totally OK, that’s a part of life, no one is to blame, blame doesn’t get you anywhere but to have anger and resentment; and having anger and resentment is the bitterness in life, and I don’t want to have any bitterness in my life. Instead, I want to have my life filled with gratefulness .
Of course, like anyone would want to have happiness and peace. And although we know to obtain that all the time is next to impossible, it’s still so wonderful when you have those moments of happiness and peace. To be able to cherish them and know that it will not last, but as they do you can bask in that shine, and when they become dark again, it just means that it’s time for a new lesson.
In terms of raising awareness, it’s also important to me to talk about bipolar disorder, as it is a disease with a high death rate, and I am still alive. I take medicines, I work with a great doctor, I have great faith with God, I pray regularly, I’ve learnt how to eat and what things I can drink, what things I can’t, in order not to mess with my brain chemistry, and I feel that it’s a great story of hope to share.
What is the mission of every artist, except producing art?
I can’t speak for other artists, but for me it’s about getting to the core of truth and sharing. I think it’s important to share what each individual’s truth is, to reflect as honestly as possible your feelings on the world, your feelings on yourself, feelings of love, feelings of hatred, feelings of fear, feelings of faith. I think it’s a wonderful way to bridge people together and to help us all not to feel so alone. I think it’s so important to not feel alone in this world; it’s funny we’d think we would never feel alone as they are so many of us, but in actuality we are all aware of the fact that of course we do feel that way, there is a separation. And when we bridge that together, it is such a wonderful feeling.
You’ve been nominated for a Grammy award for the album ‘Seesaw’ with Joe Bonamassa, undoubtedly a very important moment in your career. What is the most important prize you got in life? What was the one that made you happy and fulfilled?
Well, the most important thing I’ve ever received in my life, is my husband by far. There is nothing that compares, he has brought me happiness and fulfillment every day that we’ve been together.
What do you carry with you during a world tour? What do you want to pass on to your audience and what do you get from each place you visit?
What I carry with me and I hope to pass to my audience, is my truth and my unwavering faith in life. I wanna bring that to the audience, I wanna share it with them, I want them to let me know that I am not nuts and that we are together, that we come together for the sake of love, peace and connection.
One of the things I love so much about touring is I really get to see this beautiful planet we live on, it’s so gorgeous, and every country is different from the next, from food to architecture of course, just certain cultural ways of life. But one common thing is the need for love and the need to connect. I see this in every country I go to and it makes me feel so honored to do what I do.
“Immortal”, “Leave the light on” and “Do not Explain” are some of your song titles. Do you feel that every title has its own story or is it just a random choice?
I think every album title has a story. For me, the majority of the time, I will title a record off of a song that’s on the record already, and the song generally tells the story.
In your recent album ‘Better than home’, released on April 13th, I get the impression that personal moments are narrated; a moment of hope that the past is behind you and today is a day of hope. What is it that might have helped you proceed and turn the page, so that you can now sing songs with positive energy?
A collection of things: you know, obviously I came to a place in my life where I was willing to try something else, even though it felt really uncomfortable to write from such a place. I don’t think it’s because I don’t believe that it existed inside me, I think I’ve always had positive energy inside me and I’ve had many great moments of happiness in my life, I am very thankful to say that. But in terms of songwriting about it, you see, the majority of time when I go to the piano, is to write and get my pain out and figure stuff out that I’m confused about and afraid about, it’s a fantastic therapy for that.
So, generally, when I’ve been happy or celebrating, I tend to not write on them, I’m just off doing whatever it is I’m celebrating at the moment. But, that’s not always the case, I would say the majority of my career it has been. Whereas on this record, I had two producers, Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens that I have never worked with before, and they were major contributors, they encouraged me to be able to learn to write from a different place, a place that, again, I was very afraid to do, because I wasn’t very comfortable doing, and I hadn’t done it before, so I wasn’t comfortable doing this on a consisting basis. So, I turned in a ton of songs, I turned in a well over forty songs and I guess I was still trying to whistle my pain in there. I don’t know how protected I felt, you get used to something and it protects you, even if it is something uncomfortable, so yes, it was a real challenge.
A stop of your world tour is Athens. What do you know about Greece, which part would you like to visit? What would you like to tell to your Greek fans?
I’ve been to Greece and I had the most wonderful time with my husband on a wonderful vacation that we took to Athens and then we took a lovely little boat over to an island.
“What was the name of that island Scott?” asking her husband.
Oh, it was a wonderful time, we ate fish and we swam and we met all kinds of wonderful people, it was just great! So we are looking forward in coming back to that.
You are often asked what would you advise the young artists. I would like to reverse the question and ask you what is it that you receive from young artists, how important is for an artist, with a long career, to listen, observe and get energy from new artists?
I think it’s very important, I think it’s very inspiring. Amy Winehouse has inspired the hell out of me, from the way she was taking a music that sounded old, like for instance, her jazz music on Frank as well as her music, especially the one with the old style, that she was taking from the 60’s girl groups. But you see the way she wrote the lyric was totally different, she wrote the lyric as a modern day punk, a street girl from London. So when you take this kind of language and you mix it with this old music, there is something fantastic and new, I would compare her to Nina Simone.
Nina Simone’s first love and true love was classical music, in fact, she didn’t even consider herself as a blues of jazz artist, she would get irritated when people would say that. She would say I’m a black classical pianist, that’s what she would say. And she would take classical music and sing jazz style music and lyric over classical music that she’d play on the piano. So, again we have a brilliant artist taking two totally different things and bringing them together. This is powerful, it breaks the rules. Thelonious Monk was famous for this. He broke all the rules. Even though I could never in life come near to his understanding with his vocabulary on the piano, what I can connect with, is in breaking those rules and say wow, if he can do it, why can’t I? It’s very encouraging.
Was there any point in your career where you wanted to stop everything and dedicate yourself to something else and, if so, what kept you from doing it?
I’ve never wanted to do anything else, if anything I’ve wanted to add on, like, I have. I wanted to learn to cook so I did and I love to cook, I wanted to learn to garden, and my husband help me to learn how to garden. I wanted to learn how to paint as a kid, I only took a few classes in school. I love to paint, it’s so wonderful to do, but I would never ever turn my back on music. However, there was a time in my life where I did. It was in my late 20’s and I was very sick and very drug addicted, and instead of giving myself a break, which took me a long time to learn how to do, I punished myself by taking away the music, I didn’t let myself go to the piano for nearly about a year, I felt ashamed of all my lyrics I had written, works that I’ve done, paintings I’ve done, I ripped them and threw them in the trash, I just felt that I didn’t deserve to get to make any kind of art. So I did stopped for a little while.
In one word, could you describe your feelings towards the following artists? We are aware of your admiration towards some of them. Some others have not been referred in previous interviews of yours, however their lives were equally difficult and they too have managed to overcome their own demons.
Aretha Franklin – Faith
Amy Winehouse – Courage (Some people would say what are you talking about? She was hiding in drugs. But just because you hide from something, doesn’t necessarily means that you don’t have courage, it means you are taking a little vacation from your courage)
AC/DC – Balls
Billie Holiday – Class
Etta James – Mountain
Black Sabbath – Beautiful darkness (I have to give two words)
Sia – Brilliant
Nina Simone – Genius