It's a cold, wintery afternoon in London, United Kingdom when Bluebird Reviews goes to give the award as Artist Of The Year for 2016 for our website to Los Angeles singer/songwriter Beth Hart. The past 14 months have been certainly among the most intense and rewarding for the American artist; while still enjoying the huge commercial success of the 2015 Better Than Home album, here comes, totally out of the blue, a brand new record and perhaps one of the most inspired one that Hart has ever made in his career, called Fire On The Floor.
It's a bit of a mystery how Beth Hart could have found the time to write and record a new album shortly after the successful Better Than Home, given the intense touring that the American singer/songwriter faces every year. "Check this one out, because, hand on heart, I am telling you nothing but the truth! It took less than two weeks between meetings with Oliver Leiber and then three days in the studio to record, that was it! That was all it took to make the album. This album was made directly after Better Than Home and the reason why it was made in that time, it was because before we left the New York Studio, where we later spent about seven days for the recording of Better Than Home, we got back home in L.A. and I was starting feeling a bit of anxiety, given what was happening at the time. Better Than Home was a very painful record for me to do and I was aware that Michael Stevens, one of the producers of Better Than Home was dying (he then sadly passed away in October 2015). As a result, even before we started the mixing process for Better Than Home, I called Ed Van Zijl at Mascot (Hart's label) and I said to him: "Dude, if I don't get in the studio right now and make another record, I'll probably never go back in there ever again, after the experience I am living". He said to me "What's happening? Are you not satisfied with how things are going with Better Than Home?" to which I replied "I haven't got the faintest idea because that album has not even been mixed yet but I am positive the Team mixing the album will make a great job. The bottom line is that I need to get back again in the studio, now, please". When I then got the "Go Ahead" from Ed, I was very excited again and I couldn't quite believe I was given that chance. Then it's me back on the phone with Oliver Leiber, telling him "Man, can I come and see you? I need to talk to you". I went there and and he could spot something about me, asking if I was ok and I told him I was feeling ok but having a tough time lately. I asked him if I could make another record with him and he said "Sure, just send me the songs".
Oliver Leiber's professional relationship with Beth Hart goes back a long way. Hart has been working with him as a producer a few times in the past on her albums and their understanding and Hart's trust on Leiber's skills has grown on each passing record. "He was spot on in choosing the songs that ended up on Fire On The Floor, although I wasn't sure about a couple more I wanted to include on the album but I understood and respected his decisions. Oliver made a great job in gathering together a fantastic band, a group of musicians I never worked with before and that did not certainly stop all of us connecting almost immediately in the studio. In 3 days, we did 16 songs, which was amazing in itself but we didn't get to mix them because, at the time, I still had to finish the mixing, photo shoots, promos etc. of the Better Than Home album and then to go on tour! While I was fully involved in the Better Than Home's promotion and the tour, Oliver added the final touches to the album and I asked him to send me the rough mixes of what myself and the band recorded in those 3 days. I was genuinely happy with everything he sent, because I trust implicitly Oliver's work. He is a phenomenal producer and songwriter and I wrote one of my best song, Leave The Light On while working with him. We did not have the greatest connection when we started working together, back many years ago. Our working relationship was rather a slow burner one but I know for sure now that, when I want something I really care about like, recording an album because I feel like doing it, he would follow my instincts. He could certainly sense that I wanted all those songs recorded in Fire On The Floor. The songs were bursting out of me and I couldn't hold them for too long and I knew that I could trust Oliver's work. Michael Stevens and Rob Mathes, at the time of the making of Better Than Home, were not totally happy with the songs present on Fire On The Floor for reasons unknown. Despite my initial disappointment, I felt humbled and challenged by their critics, because working with those two guys taught me that I can get even more out of myself as an artist, if I push myself a notch up. I do not think that Fire On The Floor would be as good as it is without working with people like Rob and Michael that did not actually anything about this record at the time and were totally honest about it! Isn't that funny? Sounds like the story of my whole career! (chuckles)".
Fire On The Floor is almost like a tale of two halves. In the first part, Hart showcases in full her fabulous versatility as a singer, no matter the genre she is interpreting. The second half of the record sees a more intimate side of an artist fighting against her personal demons with the only weapon she knows, the music. It must have been difficult for this wonderful artist to strike the right balance about the many sides of her eclectic personality on this splendid record.
"I can't take any credit for that, because that was all about Oliver's doing. I just turned in everything that I wrote and loved and then he chose what he thought it was the best that he could produce with the band and with me being there. I have to be honest with you, that's really how it goes for me every time, that's the way I do it for pretty much every album. I would never turn in a song that I don't love. I just give to my producers all the songs that I love and I let them choose the material they think it's the best to feature on my records. Quite frankly, I don't give a s**t about what they choose. Sometimes I might say: "Oh, you are not choosing this song, is there any particular reason why? Could you include it, please?". But at the end of the day, I have come to believe that, as I got older, if a producer is attracted to work on certain songs and not attracted on certain others there must be a reason. Very likely, because they know what they are doing with those songs and they know really well that they can capture the best of me as an artist on my songs, based on the material they have decided to work on. So, instead of me trying to force someone to be something they are not, I just let them do their job. If I have chosen them as producers, it's because I know I can trust them. Also, I believe that, at the end of the day, it's always all about the quality of the songs. It doesn't matter about the power of my vocals, the ability of the players or the choice of producers. If the songs aren't right, you cannot turn something terrible into something good, you know! If I choose to work with a producer, it's because I am pretty sure that he can turn something good and make it sound even better. And that is exactly what Oliver and the musicians working on this album have done with my songs. I was so worried, initially, about the impact I would have experienced working with a band I never worked with before, which would have potentially screwed up my songs. Instead they made them sound even better. Ah, the beauty of when things go right! (smiles).
One of the album's songs, Fat Man, was something that the American artist started writing long time ago with a songwriter called Glen Burtnik but the song was left unfinished in Hart's musical draw until now.
"I always liked that song. I turned it in when I went to do the Bang Bang Boom Boom album but the song was rejected at that time. Even though Glen and I didn't manage to finish it, because we didn't manage to have time enough together to do so, I liked the song so much that I really wanted it desperately to be on Fire On The Floor. I worked my ass off, got the lyrics down and wrote some new music, new bridges and stuff like that and got the melody together. I am glad that finally the song made it on one of my albums, after various rejections by producers like Kevin Shirley or Rob Mathis. Oliver Leiber liked the song straight away. He is a big Beatles fan and a big rock'n'roll fan, therefore Fat Man was right up his alley! He loved every aspect of the song and I am delighted that the song finally saw the light of the day."
Fire On The Floor contains some of the best songs Beth Hart has ever recorded on any of her albums. Woman You've Been Dreaming Of is, among many others on the record, one of the most intense and poignant tunes that the L.A. singer/songwriter has ever written in her career and Bluebird Reviews is just wondering which word Hart would choose to better describe what that song really means to her.
"I can tell you for sure a word I would choose and that is strength. What inspired me to write that song was me witnessing at the tender age of 4 what my mother went through with my father. They have always been both very strong people with strong personalities. My father was a big moneymaker, he was a mover and a shaker and he liked to do crazy s**t in ways you shouldn't be doing and that was the reason he was then sent to prison for. My mother was this kind of beautiful but strong trophy wife and in all this happening, she kept the house immaculate, provided phenomenal dinners for us kids and she was such a wonderful, caring mother for us kids. I couldn't believe my dad left her for his secretary and gambling our house away. When I wrote the song, I remembered those days and saw in my head this charismatic woman going through those hard times, times in which she couldn't even get out of bed, due to the emotional distress she was into. Because heartbreaks can sometimes shut down your body completely and for a young kid like me, at that time, it felt very traumatizing to see her like that and feeling that situation on my own skin. As I got older, the trauma got worse, because I got to feel what it does really mean to be in love with someone and I can just start to imagine how heartbreaking must have felt all this for her, not just like as a woman but as a mother too. The strength to survive all that and to raise us kids, to get back to work to allow us to have a good life was unbelievable. I must confess that I had my differences with her sometimes, which made me nuts in several occasions but it's all in the past. She is a true survivor, therefore Woman You've Been Dreaming Of is like me slipping into her skin and I wrote that song from her place at that time".
Who knows and admires Beth Hart is fully aware that, since Day 1 of her career, this incredible artist has always been very passionate in her live performances, giving every time every ounce of herself. Through the years, we are just wondering how emotionally and physically draining does it get for Hart to go through such a deeply emotional roller coaster with her audience, night after night.
"The interesting thing is, and I don't know why this is, I was more exhausted when I was younger than now that I got older. I guess that I must have developed more and more courage to be myself on stage, through the years. I think I have come to a spot where I am no longer afraid of my vulnerability or thinking of boxing shadows while I am on stage, something that I was very embarrassed of, when I was younger. Now, at my age, through the help of therapies, medications and most of all, through the love and care of my husband Scott, I have reached a stage of my life where I am more at ease with my fears and my vulnerability. I find myself crying more on stage now, I do tell to the audience way more intimate stories about me now, although I must be careful on the latter because sometimes I may take them too far and start to use the audience as my therapist, which is not fair to them at all. I think that, by being more open and willing to be vulnerable, life is becoming much easier for me, as a person and a performer. As a result, instead of me walking off stage and feeling tired, I walk off stage with way more energy than I did before I went out there".
Beth Hart's popularity worldwide has increased enormously in later years, deservedly so. Among all the countries that have embraced the music and the passion for music of this vibrant and passionate artist, United Kingdom has been loving more and more Hart's hard work, sincerity and, most of all, her enormous talent. The American artist still struggles to believe how much love she gets from the British fans.
"Man, I have got to tell you that this is just luck of the draw all day long. There is no way I can figure out why it connects and how. I know that for as long as I have been doing this, I have never had a connection in that respect here in the United Kingdom and all of sudden, now here comes this wonderful and unexplainable bond between us. It's like: "Who knows what that is?". I do believe that God gets you where you suppose to be and I don't think that my career is so important in the grand scheme of all God's beautiful creations. Still, though, it's such an important aspect in my little life to have and to feel this connection. It's just so nice how, through all these years, the way you connect with part of the world when you less expect it. I remember the time when my second album came out (which was Hart's first one distributed in America by Atlantic Records) in the States and, for obscure reasons, the only part of US where I connected with audiences was just the East Coast one. The other part of the globe where I had that same emotional response was South Africa! As you can imagine, back in those days, they were the only places in the world where we toured. The way things unfolded in other countries years after is not something I am able to explain but I do believe that God is in every single thing happening in our lives, in our thoughts, in our choices, circumstances, perspectives, misperceptions. He is everywhere".
To be in the company of such a disarmingly honest and highly talented artist is such a honor that one doesn't quite realize how quick the time flies. Before parting company with this extraordinary singer and songwriter, Bluebird Reviews cannot leave without asking Hart what is her idea and definition of love right now for her.
"I think that love is the truth, no matter what moment of your life you are in. For instance, right now, I have just been hurt by someone or something terrible has happened where some people crossed a line and those people knew that was the ultimate line to break my heart. That would mean, for me, Love Kills, a truthful although almost brutal definition of love. But then you get also to experience the beautiful highs of that big word called love. This may sound really stupid but take the other day, when I went out walking with Scott and we didn't necessarily do anything crazy, it was just perfect to be with him. Even if sometimes he drives me nuts, just to be with him, the feeling to be with who you love it makes me feel the happiest person alive. Even more when you see someone like him sitting down patiently for two hours while I was trying on clothes in a store (chuckles)! What better definition of love could I give than being with that patient and kind person that my husband is (smiles)? I do think though that, at the beginning and at the end of it all, despite all the possible definitions of the word, to me love is creativity and perfection. That means that love is God, pure and simple".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato