Chandler Center for the Arts staff sent a Q & A to powerhouse vocalist, Beth Hart, to find out more about who she is and where she's heading.
Recognized as one of her generation’s most talented voices, GRAMMY-nominated powerhouse vocalist Beth Hart is as real as it gets with her raw, powerful blues-rock sound. Most recently, Beth Hart took on one of her most profound undertakings to date by channeling the legendary voice of Robert Plant on A Tribute To Led Zeppelin. The nine-track album highlights the incredible musical spectrum that Led Zeppelin operated in.
Things clicked into place when Rob Cavallo of Green Day was producing Hart's previous album, War In My Mind (2019), and she did an impromptu version of "Whole Lotta Love" in the studio. He later asked about doing a whole record. Beth said, "I'm not doing this whole album. To do Zeppelin, you've got to be pissed off to hit that right. I can't go there; I've worked years to put my rage away.”
She continues, "Then the pandemic and all the things around it hit. So now I'm pissed off. I called my manager and said, ‘Have Rob and Doug send me all the music because I am ready to do this.’” If you were to rewind, you could say the story for a Led Zeppelin album started further back; in May 2004, Hart prowled the stage at the Paradiso in Amsterdam for an incendiary performance of "Whole Lotta Love." The song became a semi-regular fixture in her setlist over the years, including a memorable performance with Slash.
At 50–and proud of it–Beth is basking in a golden period. The success of 2019's War In My Mind album has garnered yet more critical acclaim, growing sales and sold-out shows. New fans might know Beth as the all-conquering global icon, dubbed "extraordinary" by The Times and "daring, brooding and angry" by The Guardian.
Don't miss the incredible and one-of-a-kind Beth Hart at Chandler Center for the Arts on September 9th, 2023.
*This Q+A was transcribed from a verbal response from Beth Hart. While it is as close as possible to the audio version, there are certain phrases and words that were cleaned up for the purposes of a written Q+A.*
CCA Staff: What made you want to become a singer, was there a specific instance that you knew?
Beth Hart: It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be a singer, I really just wanted to play piano and cello. And I started really young, and I knew I wanted to do that forever. I was four when I started playing piano, fourth grade when I started playing cello. And then I went and saw the Broadway show Annie, and then I saw Grease with my older sister, Susan, she is twelve years older, she took me to see Grease when I was a little girl. And I really loved that movie/musical, I thought it was killer. So, both Annie and Grease I would learn and sing them for my mom at night when she was getting ready for bed. I liked the feeling of performing, making my mom happy. I didn’t much like my voice, but I liked the feeling of singing. Not so much the way it sounded but just the feeling. When you cry, when you laugh, or when you scream, or when you yell, you are getting all your stuff out. I think that is what I love. I fell so in love with that.
How would you describe your music and who are your influences?
There are so many influences I have across the board. From reggae to blues to jazz to hard rock to metal to death metal to punk. My mom played a lot of jazz, a lot of classical music as a kid, you know, because of cello and piano. And, to me, I group in the singer-songwriters, like Lana Del Ray I think is a phenomenal singer-songwriter. But also early on, when I was young-young, Carole King and James Taylor and Ricky Lee Jones and so many like that. And then I really got into Otis Redding, Robert Johnson, Etta James, a lot of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan. A bit of Zeppelin, not a lot of Zeppelin, I was more of a Rush fan, a way bigger Black Sabbath fan. And lots and lots of reggae, my brother turned me onto a ton of reggae music. Everybody in the household played a lot of different styles of music and a lot of different artists. So, I kind of grew up in a house where everyone was really into playing a bunch of stuff. I think that my music kind of shows that – it’s kind of across the board, with a lot of different style influences in how I write. And it’s probably because of that, I would think.
How do you think your sound has changed over the course of your career?
I think it really began to change a lot after I did a cover record with Joe Bonamassa called, “Don’t Explain.” We did a couple of cover records together, but particularly that first one, because I was getting into my heroes, and I never learned the chord progressions of my heroes. The chord progressions I knew were based in singer-songwriter, some blues, and a lot of rock. I didn’t know how to do, like, jazz chord changes. I didn’t know how to do a lot of that kind of vibe. And when Nina Simone’s “In the Dark” started blending classical and blues/jazz together – after that record, I really dove into the piano and really started to work on that: on broadening my vocabulary on the piano when it comes to chords because I think it really made a huge difference in making a shift as a songwriter. And I think that was an important thing to do because there is only so long you can pull from the same pot.
Can you tell us about your songwriting process?
It’s kind of all over the place. If I co-write with somebody, that’s different. I can show up, we have a cool conversation, it’s usually a good old friend, we write and can get a demo done that day.
But when I write alone, it’s what I actually prefer, because there is no compromise, there’s no walking on eggshells, you just kind of do what you whatever you want to do. Sometimes I’ll write real fast alone or sometimes it will take me a year to write a song alone. So, it just depends. But usually, I’ll just go down to rehearsal, to practice, something else, and I’ll make a chord mistake. Once I make that chord mistake, I’ll hear a whole new song from that chord. Then I’ll get the music done, like the chord changes and get an arrangement, a melody, with those chords and then once I do that that’s when I usually put a lyric to it.
Once in a while I’ll write a poem and put music to it, but not often. Like, today I wrote a new song. I finished rehearsal and I just went into the bathroom and when I was in the bathroom, I started to hear a melody with a lyric, so I really fast put it in my notes. And then went downstairs and put music to that. But usually, it’s the music I write first and then the lyric and then I work on a definitive arrangement.
What is your favorite Led Zeppelin song and why?
So, I don’t know all the Zeppelin songs but the ones I learned for this album were songs that Rob Cavallo sent me, and it was a bunch. Some stuff, you know, didn’t make it to the record. But I was always a fan of “Black Dog,” when I was a kid, and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” But for this album, my favorite is “No Quarter” into “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and then “When The Levee Breaks,” which they didn’t write.
“The Crunge” is really cool, and it was my least favorite one of all the ones that Rob wanted me to learn, but I ended up falling crazy in love with it. And he told me I would too, he’s like, ‘just stick with it and work on it.’ Because I didn’t get it, it was so crazy in my head, I was like ‘I don’t get this song.’ He was like, ‘just keep listening, you’ll get it, and you’ll love it.’ So, I would probably say “No Quarter” into “Babe” and then “The Crunge” and “Levee.”
If you were not a musician, what other profession would you want to have?
I fricken love bull riders, man, those guys are bada**, race car drivers are bada** too. I love race car, football players, bull riders, I really really like dragsters, so like dragstrip? I would have liked to be a dragstrip racer; that would have been cool. Maybe boxing, something aggressive where there is a lot of adrenaline. But, there is just something about bull riding. I think it’s just the best; so cool.
Are you listening to anything to any new music right now, we love recommendations!
I have been listening to a lot of rap. The last couple of Too Short Records are so great. The last couple of E-40 records from 2019. It is so good; I can’t stop playing it. Practice Makes Paper by E-40; that’s a great record. And, then he’s got an EP out too; it’s killer. One song goes, “I got 19 dolla’ for a lapdance, but only got a dolla’ for a cigarette.” Killer, hysterical, funny, and then this other song called “Smellin’ Like a Brick.” But, the Too Short albums from the vault – that’s a 2019 – I can’t stop listening to that. And then I discovered a rapper, who’s a very old rapper, he came out before N.W.A. He never got a record deal, his touring and everything was through tapes. Because he was the inventor of horror, clip, gang rap. So, no one had ever written rap music about gang banging. And so, he was a real Crip, he still is; 24th St. in Sacramento. But his music is phenomenal. So, I really got into Brother Lynch Hung.
But, I listen to a lot of Sepultura and Pantera too; I love really aggressive, hard rock. But the new Sepultura, like, not new, but you know, Derek Green. I think he has been with them since 2007; I’m not sure, but he has been with the band for a number of years. He’s the only non-Brazilian in the band and he comes from Cleveland. But that band, and both the drummers they’ve had in their history, so the original guitar player and the brother drummer who aren’t there anymore. But then now, the young drummer they have, he’s like 32. He’s just remarkable. And Sepultura is just bad a**. And then, you know, even though Amy Winehouse isn’t around anymore, I still listen to Amy – she’s a genius. I just love her so much, love her to death.
What do you hope attendees at your show will experience?
A gamut of emotion. I want to make them laugh – it’s important to me to make them laugh. Because a lot of my songs tend to be heavy-laden, confessional, sad stuff. That’s what I tend to write the most. Sometimes I write songs that are more attitude, more confident. But I think, overall, the reason why I started writing in the first place was a way to kind of, like, heal or confess. I tend to be the kind of person who feels a lot of guilt. I don’t know if I just get high off of it or what it is. But, it’s something to do with the way my brain chemistry works or just stuff growing up as a kid. That’s when I write. So, I try to lift and lighten the show a bit with some humor in between some of these songs that tend to be heavy-laden.
So, I hope to make them laugh and then whatever emotions. You know, if they feel empowered and we do some rock stuff or some more sensitive stuff. Yeah, I hope they can experience something that they can relate to and makes them not feel – like if they are going through stuff - I hope that they will feel what I feel from the shows, which is that I’m not alone in my head.
Oftentimes I think people that are especially dealing with mental stuff, it’s easy to feel like an alien in the world that we live in; feel separated. Even though there’s so many of us. One of the things I like so much about, whether we do a show or I go to a show, or if I go sing karaoke. I love karaoke. I love the feeling that we are all in this together. And, that’s when I feel that the most, when I go see music or if I’m playing music or if I go watch karaoke – we’re not that different from each other. We all have our hopes and our dreams and our pains and our shames, all that stuff. We are all trying to do the best we can. That’s what I like the most.
So, hopefully, if there was anything they would walk away from the show with, it would be that – that they don’t feel alone. That they’re okay, whether they think they’re good or bad. It’s okay. It doesn’t matter. They’re human and they’re alive. And we’re in this together.