A Journey Through Her Mind: An Interview with Beth Hart
Powerhouse blues vocalist Beth Hart teams with producer Rob Cavallo to confront her own sense of spirituality on her intensely personal new release, War in My Mind. She tells us that story.
War In My Mind
27 September 2019
"I had had five years, five months, and six days of sobriety once when I was young and I lost it," Beth Hart tells us. "When I lost that sobriety, I couldn't get sober again for eight years. I was struggling. It got so bad that I decided one day I'm going to kill myself. So I woke up and I got on my knees, I didn't really want to because if I really wanted I wouldn't have gotten on my knees and begged God. I said, 'Listen, you got to help me out here, man because I'm going to take myself out, I can't do this anymore. I can't keep running off and hiding in bushes of leaving my husband, abandoning people.'"
Beth Hart is nothing if not brutally honest. From her earliest recordings, such as 1996's "Spiders in My Bed" through to the title track of her brand new record, War in My Mind, Hart has never shied away from sharing her struggles with her fans. As she explains, the music arrives easily, but the introspective, personal lyrics sometimes take a while.
"The music comes very fast for some reason, and then the lyric I usually have to work really at length on," Hart notes while speaking to PopMatters. "When I say 'at length' it's maybe over a year because I'm such a stickler about words, and it's not just that I'm a stickler about words, I'm a stickler about finding the truth because I know me. Basically, I lie to myself just to keep me in a false sense of security. I know that you can't do that if you're ever going to heal. If you're ever going to get better, you got to search for it and keep searching for it. But every once in a while, the lyric comes fast, and it came fast on that day, and I think it was just because it was obvious. I've been up and down with my head so much here comes the war in my mind."
Another hallmark of Hart's writing is exploring her spirituality across many different levels. While it is a large part of her life and her writing, from the plaintive, prayer-like "Without Words in the Way" to the gospel stomp of "Let It Grow", she is quick to point out that "I don't believe in running around and preaching to people about what to believe in and have a god. I've met some atheists that are some of the most spiritual people. They hate me saying that to them, but they're living right.
"To me spirituality just comes down to taking responsibility of how important it is in your life to not show how great you are through accomplishments of work or accomplishments of things, or what you look like and vanity, but accomplishments in reaching out and loving people that you don't even know, that you've never been taught you're supposed to love. People that, in fact, taught to hate, and you love them. That to me [is] spirituality. So to make a gospel record, I think it would be so amazing to stand up for real love and try and write about that, to seek that out and see maybe if little angels come in and help us to write that."
Once you spend any amount of time in her presence, however, you realize that alongside the personal and spiritual, there is also a playful and musically experimental side. That is the side that collaborators such as producer Rob Cavallo and co-writer James House bring out in a song like "Sugar Shack" from the new record. Hart explains that this was a song she had worked out for a few previous records but could never quite finish until now. In the middle of an intense record comes this slice of pure pop, which she particularly loves because she gets "to be really soulful, it's not depressing lyric. It's a sexual kind of naughty lyric which is fun, it's something different, and it's energy, a lot of energy and that would be great to add."
When asked about working with a legendary producer like Cavallo on War in My Mind, Hart says that it was a relationship that started tentatively before growing into a full-blown record. "He loves 'Sister Dear'. It was the first song of mine he heard. I played it at a party at his house. We had no agreement to work together at all. I was at that party because my best girlfriend, Erica's sister, is married to Rob. I had just written 'Sister Dear' that week, I had 'War in My Mind' from, I don't know, a month or so prior and I had also been working on 'Rub Me For Luck'. So I played all three on the piano. He came up, and he said 'Sister Dear' I like even better than (2015's) 'Mama, This One's For You'. He goes, 'I love this song. I want to produce it.'
"So we only had a plan for him to produce from one to three songs, those three that I played at his house. I was a little reluctant because I'm always worried. Okay, so I always want to work with new producers, but I'm also scared of the change. But I know it's important to open you up to new records, never repeating." She also credits Cavallo with bringing a sense of encouragement that allowed her to be open with her playing and writing.
Soon after the record comes out, Hart and her long-time band will hit the road for an extensive tour beginning in Europe. She credits her band with being able to keep up with her as she often creates her setlist on the fly. "I never have a palette in mind. I go with just what I'm in the mood for that night. The band is so great because my band knows everything. They basically know every record, and they're really great guys, and I also don't mind mistakes because I make them all the time. I can't get mad at them if they make a mistake, especially when I'm shifting the list up pretty much every night. So yeah, I'd go with the mood I'm in."