Beth Hart is a singer-songwriter, storyteller and survivor all rolled into one. Hand-picked to play Byron Bay Bluesfest after director Peter Noble saw her earn multiple standing ovations supporting Stephen Stills, the Californian will help the festival mark its 25th year.
“We put on an eclectic show,” Hart says. “It has blues, jazz, soul, rock’n’roll and some singer-songwriter stuff. I’ll usually play a couple of songs from all my past records and then focus on the last two or three. There’ll be lots of energy and hopefully it’ll be a good time. I do a different show every night anyway, so it’s fun to play with it at a festival. I’ll watch the audience a little bit and kind of get a feel for what the vibe is or what kind of festival it is. Then we’ll work up a set before we go out and hope it works.
“It really drives some of my band members crazy when I change things around halfway through, but it’s important to be in tune with what’s going on, put on a good show and give people what they want. If I get the feeling they’re wanting something a bit harder or more aggressive I’ll change the set and throw something else out.”
As Hart speaks candidly about her past battles with the addictions that sent her spiralling out of control and saw her spend a stint in jail, she remains pleasantly upbeat.
“It’s a one-day-at-a-time thing,” she says. “Thanks to being involved with people that have come before me and have gotten sober, I’ve had a lot of help. It’s been a little over 13 years since I took drugs, thank God. I still have my little slip-ups here and there with alcohol but I’m healthy and married to a wonderful man, and I thank God I still get to make music and I’m still really excited about it.
“In the last couple of years I’ve gone in some different directions as a writer and that’s been really challenging, in a good way. When I was on drugs it had got so bad that I wasn’t able to leave the house. When I was going through early recovery I had agoraphobia, so it was definitely a rough recovery, but I think that’s what’s kept me from ever going back. I would never survive it again. Is there a part of me that wishes it never happened? Sure. Who wants to deal with being a recovering drug addict? It never really goes away, but I think of it as a real gift and I mean that. It’s an opportunity to share something, and they are the points in my life when I lean on people I love and my ego gets smashed. It’s like, ‘Holy crap, what am I going to do?’ It changed me and it still does, but the changes I’ve found are things like the ability to care for other people who are struggling instead of judging. It’s been a blessing.”
Since going sober, Hart’s resume has boasted a series of A-list collaborations with Slash, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy, and two albums with guitarist Joe Bonamassa.
“It just kind of clicks with Joe,” she says. “He and I really get off on similar genres of music. We both feel very passionately about the music, and when it comes to the songs that we chose for theDon’t ExplainandSeesawrecords we were both so invested in trying to bring something that was honest. I love him for that; he has such integrity and total commitment. I think he’s such a great artist – just fucking fantastic.”
Another positive aspect of having a sober and rehabilitated Beth Hart back in business is the prolificacy of her musical output.
“I’m making a new record in August with [producer and songwriter] Rob Mathes. I should be making another record with Joe Bonamassa a little bit after that, while simultaneously writing the following record after that as well, as it’s going to be with Kevin Shirley instead of Rob Mathes. So I’ll be doing lots and lots of writing in the upcoming months, which I love, so I’m having a good time and it’s flowing.
“There’s nothing worse than trying to write and being in one of those stalemates where I can’t move or come up with a thought; that’s always terrifying. I’m having a good time with that right now. I’m going to be touring, making a record, and then back to touring in the fall. That’s how I make my living – lots of time on the road. Last year I got a bit rundown, so I took off with my instruments into the mountains where there was no TV or anything like that. Getting away from everything and everybody was really helpful for me. I’d never really rejuvenated like that before.”
Despite mixing it with big names in North America, it’s in New Zealand where Hart has had her biggest chart success to date, hitting the top spot in 1999 with single ‘LA Song (Out Of This Town)’. Her explanation for her success there?
“Oh God, I would be the last person to ask that. I have no idea; I’m just happy when we can connect in some way.”