Beth Hart understands the hand she's currently playing consists of the cards she's dealt to herself. After winning some cash on a latter-day version of Star Search in the '90s, the Los Angeles resident tasted fame after her 2000 hit, "L.A. Song (Out of This Town)," found its way onto prime-time shows and Hart found herself hitting the late-night talk show circuit and presumably living the major label dream.
But the visions of gold records were clouded by addiction and recklessness. Having used drugs in one form or another since her teenage years, Hart's darkest days of drug use included a stint in jail as her musical career careened off of the tracks during its peak. With the help of treatment, rehabilitation and the love of her husband, Hart has been crafting quite the comeback story, ever since the 2004 release of Leave the Light On, followed by her fantastic Live at the Paradiso in 2005.
After failing to stick with Atlantic Records in the states, Hart forged ahead and became a star in Europe, where it's not uncommon for her to draw thousands to a classic theater or large festival.
Hart brings her band to town tonight for a second appearance at Hat Tricks in Lewisville. We recently had the chance to speak with Hart from her home in Los Angeles about European musical smarts, addiction and redemption.
You are a big deal in Europe. What do they know that Americans don't know about your music? I used to think it was just something about the how I relate to Europe, but after I thought about it more, I realized that wasn't it, because people are people, you know? I think it's as simple as having a label support me over there, and also believe in my work enough to be able to sell my records over there. I get to tour consistently in Europe and we've really been able to build something there. In the states, ever since my situation with Atlantic, I've never had anyone ready to get behind me and get me out there touring. I'm not saying that would make me automatically successful over here, but I would be able to at least tour and be out there with people in the states more consistently. It's been difficult for me over here. I love this country, and God knows, I would love to tour here more often. But, I think it's as simple as having the label support, I really do.
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Do you think your issues with drugs blackballed you from the bigger labels here in the states, or do you think labels are just looking to do things differently these days? I think it's a little of both, and they're both legitimate reasons, because I did have some serious shots here and I just couldn't handle them. I guess I wouldn't blame a record label for saying, "Yeah, she's supposedly clean, but who knows?" The money to promote an artist over here as opposed to over in Europe is so much more. There's a lot at stake, and it's a totally different ballgame. Also, back then, I was promoted as a pop act, which ignored the blues and rock aspects of what I do. Maybe labels don't see that as a worthy combination of being promoted right now. I am in the middle of a possible deal in the states, and who knows, maybe that'll work out.
You received a boost from Star Search in the '90s. Now, American Idol winners are automatic pop-culture phenoms and instant millionaires. When you see young artists in that situation, do you think, "Man, they're in for a serious roller coaster ride?" Well, our situations are totally different, because when I did Star Search, it was on at midnight and it wasn't on the radar the way that American Idol is now. Even though I won the show and made a lot of money from it, it didn't really connect me to anything automatically. I don't really follow the shows these days, but if you want to succeed in this business and you can get help from a certain angle, that's great. But, if you're going to go the way of American Idol, then you better be able to do what you want musically, because just going for the fame will only keep you happy for so long.
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Now that you're sober, do you look back at your stint in jail and the worst days of your drug use and find any positives that have helped you become who you are now? For a while, I had a lot of guilt and shame about that time in my life, but I've worked really hard on my recovery and learning about my past and my mental health. I learned about forgiveness and I've reached out to others to make amends. After that period, I also learned about having compassion, for others and for myself. I don't really stay in that negative place anymore. I look at that part of my life and know that I wasn't a bad person, but there was a very ill part of my life. I don't look at it as a bummer, but I do feel grateful about it because it keeps me grounded and makes me proud every day that I don't pick anything up.
As an addict continually working on her sobriety, does playing bars or hanging around backstage ever get to be overwhelming? I don't really play bars in Europe, where I mainly play, so I don't really see it. Here, when I play in bars, the show is my job and I don't focus on that stuff. If I ever have a fleeting thought about that stuff, it's when I'm feeling insecure and I'm not staying in touch with the people that help keep me in line with my healthy thinking. I'm not perfect in my sobriety, but I haven't touched a drug in over 10 years. Another thing is that I don't make my career my whole life. I paint and I cook in order to realize all of that other shit's just not fun.
Cooking? What smells waft through your kitchen these days? I cook stuff that I picked up from my husband's mother. I thought that would be a good way to his heart, you know. I love to cook Italian and French, also. I just love it.
When you last played at Hat Tricks, [venue owner] Joe Avezzano told me people from 13 different states made their way to see you play there. That's some pretty great American support, isn't it? Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I can't tell you how happy that makes me. It really is just amazing.