It sounds selfish to say, but honestly I so much want people to have a reaction – a beautiful reaction – so that I don’t feel alone, you know? I’ve been through my ups and downs, so I often feel I’m just crazy and alone in the world.
What? This is Beth Hart we’re talking about. Beth Hart with ten albums, the huge and lasting hit ‘L.A. Song’, world tours, Star Search winner, blow the roof off the Kennedy Center Honors performance Beth Hart; if she feels lonely where’s the hope for the rest of us?
She elaborates, ‘But once I get to come and perform for that audience, or they buy that record, and I see them connecting with it, it’s like I’m part of their family and I’m not alone in my life and in my head. So that’s what’s really important.
Family members tend to give gifts to loved ones, and Beth Hart’s latest release is a fantastic jewelry box of an album called Bang bang Boom Boom whose every track is a surprise, each successive song just a little bit different in tone, style or subject from the one before it. Take for instance the song “Swing That Thing Back Around” which has all the feel of an old Ella Fitzgerald number with a swing band back-up.
Yeah! I just love that song! That was one of the first songs I wrote and it’s a style I’d never, ever approached before on the piano. But it’s stuff that I’d loved hearing from Big Band stuff from Billie Holiday to Big Band stuff from Joe Turner. I love that kind of stuff but I never, ever thought I would ever write it. I didn’t know I could. I didn’t know how to do those changes on the piano and what not, but that was so much fun.
Bang Bang Boom Boom was produced by Kevin Shirley, who has engineered or produced Iron Maiden, Rush, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Joe Bonamassa, the last of which features on guitar on Beth Hart’s most recent albums. His tremendous knowledge of music lends Boom Boom Bang Bang a richness and indeed a wit in the arrangements that make it one of the best-sounding albums in years. When asked how they collaborated to make this depth and variety happen, Beth Hart explained:
One of the ways I just fell madly in love with him about was when I worked on the record Don’t Explain (her 2011 release – Ed.), how he does it is: I’m going to play piano and sing and do it simultaneously together with the band. Everybody always plays the simultaneously, together. I just fell in love with that. I’ve always loved live performance so much, but I didn’t really care so much for the studio. It’s just something I didn’t have the attention span for it – layering and getting drum sounds and oboe and getting this together. It just never did it for me. But working with Kevin, it’s like the old days! In the old days, they’d just come in and sing right!
Of course, in discussing Beth Hart one cannot overlook her voice – it growls, it roars, it purrs, it displays the full dynamic range and often within the space of one song. How does she take care of that magnificent instrument? What advice would she offer?
Yeah, number one, go to a good vocal coach who will teach you how to get up there on those highs and all that fun stuff; how to do proper placement and have proper air. I think all that’s really important, especially if you want to have a long career and not ruin your voice as you get older, I think it’s really important to have a good, steady coach and someone you go to check in with regularly.
But some of the tricks that I do – I don’t scream a lot on stage. I have moments and the reason why, not only to take care of my voice but it’s also to take care of the audience! I find if you do too much hollerin’ and gookin’, they get bored. It’s like it’s no more fun thing; and really the focus should be on the lyric, talking to the audience, moving your body, getting them involved, giving them those stories and really, trusting your band! They’re working their ass off to set down a great groove.
So not make it all about you. I think that’s really important, because then the pressure goes off and when you don’t have pressure, you relax and then your voice – you can sing so much better without hurting yourself. When you’re all tense, and filled with pressure, you can really hurt it.
And then the last thing I do, is I really try and not talk during the day, so I just use my voice for work. I do my sound check before the show and then I’m quiet.
It is always interesting to ask an artist what he or she would like to say about the media, the judges that sit behind keyboards and microphones passing judgment on a work. What are Beth Hart’s feelings on that?
Well, it’s been a great dream of mine for so many years now, to come back to the United States, releasing an album of original material and getting to meet the press again. I haven’t talked to the press here in so many years and I’m glad to get a relationship going with those guys again. I find that helps you to grow a lot. You get a lot of constructive criticism and I think that’s a good thing. Being in this business, you can get narcissistic. It’s very easy, you can make it all about you. I think that’s one of the cool things about the press is – the press can be very kind and the press can be very tough on you. I think that’s a good practice in being able to grow instead of being suspended.
Beth Hart – coming to a room or Festival near you. You’re part of her family.