She Leaves a Light On
By Aaron Alper

Originally published in The Eckerd College Triton, April 2004.



Throughout her career singer/songwriter Beth Hart has always exuded a bluesy fire that has inspired comparisons to such singers like Etta James or Janis Joplin. Her searing vocals and grit rock compositions provide a much needed rawness to an industry that floods itself with over-polished vocals and manufactured riffs. No matter the subject matter, Hart always makes it real; never compromising her emotions, no matter how sad or happy. On her latest release, “Leave the Light On”, Hart sounds like a new women, embracing life and love, and for an artist who has built a catalogue on darker side of rock, Beth Hart, for the first time, sounds happy.
But it wasn’t always this easy.
After her last record “Screamin’ for My Supper” (which heralded the hit “The L.A. Song”) took off Beth, like some many artists before her, found herself in a bad place from the pressures of success. Hart soon began abusing drugs and alcohol, which led her to a depression that she wasn't sure she would be able to survive.
However, Beth did survive and “Leave the Light On” is the result of coming out of that darkness. Clean, sober and newly married, “Leave the Light On” still showcases Hart’s ability for affection and honesty, yet this time around Hart’s emotions aren’t quite so heavy. Hart may be a changed woman, but she still remains a talented musician with a lot to say.

Aaron Alper: What is the main theme of your new record?

Beth Hart Beth Hart: I think the theme is embracing life and it's a lot of the expression of kind of like going through a downward spiral and getting a chance to live. It’s very spiritual to me. It is like a second chance.

Kind of like a resurrection?

Yeah.

What is ‘Bottle of Jesus’ about?

It’s about drinking.

Out of all the songs you’ve written is there one that holds a special place in your heart?

“Sky full of clovers” is the song I’m most proud of.

Why?

It’s the first song that is specifically for god…like saying to god, 'dude thank you. Thank you letting me live'. I think back on the crazy shit of done and I am glad I’ve survived. It’s like, life is rad.

How has marriage affected you as a writer?

It’s definitely inspired me to write love songs. I used to think love songs were really corny, but now it’s so wonderful. I used to look at people who were married, and think “fuck, that is not for me”, but being in love has really opened me up to writing about it.

There is a big absence today of women musicians in the music industry. Do you find this disheartening as someone who plays and writes her own material?

Oh no! Do you really think so?

I really do. It just seems like there is an absence of women musicians on the popular scene.

Well...maybe because in the last 6 and 7 years super pop music is considered to be cool, so it’s drowned out a lot more alternative stuff. But it’s cyclical and it comes around and goes around, and the underground people will have their time. But yeah, it is a bit disheartening.

Do you feel pigeonholed when people compare repeatedly to Janis Joplin?

Yeah. For the most part I usually take it as a compliment because she was a truly marvelous white rock singer, but if you really listen to my voice I don’t think I sound like Janis. Honestly last night this girl kept on telling how I sounded like her and it was pissing me off (laughs).

Who are some other women musicians that you respect?

PJ Harvey is great. Tori Amos is special and wonderful. And Etta James. Her voice...she changed my life and made me get into music and specifically sing.

How have you grown emotionally since ‘Screamin’ For My Supper’? Are you still that girl in ‘The L.A. Song’?

Yeah, you know its funny you ask. I still am. A lot has changed, and I have grown…thankfully. I have been working my ass of on it. I got into a real bad place with the drinking and drugs. I could’ve either died or gone to jail, but instead I started facing my insecurities and fears inside. That growth had showed me a lot, and I can have life where I don’t have to numb myself out. Now I can open my mouth, and say ‘I’m having a hard time today, and I don’t trust you or me’, and opening my mouth relieves that big bubble. I never talked about my personal stuff and I was so embarrassed, and then I would drink and get high or stuff myself full of food or starve, or you know, whatever. But I’ve found this realization that these insecure voices don’t go away and I am learning to accept that side rather than telling myself to shut up.

I agree. Everyone feels like we have no one talk to, but it simply isn’t true.

The key thing is we’re not alone.

Done any good drugs lately?

I’ve done all the good drugs, and it’s all over for me now.

Who is in your CD player right now?

Queens of Stone Age, Audioslave, and a Bonnie Raitt one, which sucks. Oh, and Mad season above Lane Staley [from Alice in Chains]. It was one of his side projects from 1998-1999. They did a record called “Above”. Phenomenal heroin rock and roll music.

Yeah, heroin rock is good.

Although, I’m not at all for pushing drugs and writing. It’s only dangerous if you are an addict. If you’re not, you can get away with it. The only thing is you have to do drugs before you can tell you’re an addict. And once it gets you it doesn’t want let you go.

You’ve had some rough times with drugs?

Yeah. It’s still a day to day fight. It’s always saying [whispers]“hey, let’s get high, let’s go”. It just was some of that partying stuff I did took away my inhibitions, and then your own mind gets away. You just say it when you’re high, instead of saying the things were programmed in society in think we’re supposed to say.

They saw the only time a person tells the truth is when they’re drunk or scared.

Wow. Yeah, I agree.

You played alongside with quite a few talented people over the years. Do you find it a good experience?

Absolutely and always. It’s wonderful, you don’t have to play with the big boys, you play with people who are just starting out and it’s just wonderful. Even if it’s music that you don’t like, there is always something to learn and inspire. We opened up for Black Crows, and I like them, but I wasn’t insane about them. But then I saw them and it was like no way. They fucking rocked. And when we did Lollapalooza we worked with Soundgarden and Metallica, and I was almost nervous about going up and performing because they were so good.

If you weren’t making music for a living, what would you be doing?

There is a couple of different things. I’d like to do horse training, or to train people how to ride. Cooking. I love watching the Food Network. Or painting, or trying to get involved with cool paintings.

Well Beth, thanks for letting me talk to you.

Oh thank you. I am having a better day already.

Me too.


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