You said that Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ turned you on to music at the beginning of your life. What other music did you listen to and influenced you when you were growing up?
There are a lot of different influences. My mum turned me on to a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra but she especially loved Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. So I just loved them. And my brother turned me onto a lot of reggae: a lot of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Steel Pulse, one of my favourite bands. I just loved that. Then he turned me onto the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, Suicidal Tendencies, that kind of stuff, which I felt was so much fun. But you know what? I started to get turned on to Joe Turner, Robert Johnson, Etta James and Otis Redding. That music just moved me to a whole other place and then I got turned on to Aretha Franklin and Be Be and Ce Ce Winans – I was hearing the gospel side of soul music and decided it was incredible. Then I went through my whole period of listening to AC/DC, Rush, Black Sabbath and then into the grunge scene. After that I got turned on to singer/songwriters like Carole King, Rickie Lee Jones and James Taylor and I just thought that they were unbelievable. And then it just keeps happening as I’ve grown older: I just keep getting turned on to new genres of young artists and even young artists revisiting old genres but making it new and making it a part of themselves. It’s incredibly inspirational. There’s so much good music.
You first came to the wider attention of the public with the song ‘LA Song (Out Of This Town)’ from the soundtrack to Beverly Hills 90210. What do you remember of those days?
That was a really, really hard time for me – probably the hardest time of my career. I wasn’t on medicine for mental illness at that time so any kind of high pressure can really force that to go in a really bad direction, which it did for me. I just kind of went down and it took a while for me to get back up on my feet after that.
What impact has bipolar disorder had on your music-making as well as your life?
Well, my doctor says it’s a blessing and a curse because certainly most people with bipolar are usually pretty creative or pretty easy with math or science and things like that. But when your mind is going at a too fast rate the next thing you know is you’re paranoid – and the worst thing is seeing and hearing things that aren’t there and there’s so much rage. It’s just terrible. And then there’s the other side, which is scary dark and not having any energy and the thought of leaving your bed is terrifying: as soon as you just wake up you wish to God you could go back to sleep. It’s that kind of thing. But the beautiful thing is that in modern medicine if you get the right doctor who happens to get lucky and find the right meds for you it can be amazing and change your life. But it’s really hard to find the right meds because each brain is different and it’s very important that you never take medication that is addictive so you can only take stuff that just balances you but is totally non-addictive. That’s really important. Then you can get out and do things again; you can talk to people you don’t know and not feel so terrified or be in a room that’s got people and not feel like you’re not going to explode because you’re so freaked out. It’s really lovely. It’s like getting a second chance at life. It’s been so great for my marriage.
That feeling’s reflected in your new album as well, I think.
Yeah, I feel that way but I’m wondering if it’s because I’ve been on the medicines now for about four years. When I did ‘My California’ I was on my medicines and that had a pretty dark lyric, so I’m wondering if the reason there’s so much optimism in my lyrics now is really because I’m just so excited about the new road I’m travelling down. I think that songwriting from a new place is so fucking exciting. I didn’t know if that would happen but now it’s happening I’m filled with joy for that.
On your new album you got Kevin Shirley producing you. What qualities does he have as a producer that you admire?
Oh my God. Kevin is somebody special. He has many qualities about him that I think are just incredible but one of my favourite things about him is instead of him having his bag of tricks as a producer and putting those tricks on every different artist he works with, he lets you be yourself. Sometimes I think producers – no matter what genre of music they produce – always try and put their own sound on you. With Kevin you don’t have it. I think with Kevin he really wants to make the artist sound their best for what they do. I think that’s just amazing how he does that because he’s going to make you feel like “hey, what you naturally do is rocking, man – do that, and we’re just going to take you up to the next level. We’re going to push you a little bit.” And when he pushes you he does it in a most inspiring and sensitive way. He’s also a musician and he’s a songwriter. He’s got unbelievable ears and he mixes too: he really does everything but he’s just so sensitive and so that makes for such a safe and beautiful environment to be creative in.
How does Kevin Shirley compare with someone like David Foster, for example, who you worked with earlier in your career?
David was very, very kind as well. I was working with David way in the beginning when I still hadn’t found myself. Kevin Shirley works at such a fast pace, whereas with Foster – who was a darling by the way – it took over a year to make the record. I was fighting against that because the music I wanted to make was very aggressive and they pulled it back a bit, so I think that I was a bit unhappy with that.
Looking back at your career, what’s been the highlight to date?
It’s so hard to say but right now I think. I think it’s my whole life and where I’m at. It’s in such a beautiful place right now. So the highlight of my career is really coming from the way I’m feeling inside even when I’m not working. And then when I am working it’s that much better. I like getting older and I like being married for all these years and being so close to Scott (her husband). I like meeting all these new people and new territories are opening up for me. The relationship I got to have with Joe (Bonamassa) is so important to me. He’s been so amazing in my life and helped me so much. I just have so much to be thankful for and there’s so much work to be done but it’s exciting work. It’s coming from a real place and not from a manufactured one so it feels comfortable and sincere.
What’s in the pipeline after this album? Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions, music-related or otherwise?
I think that my unfulfilled ambitions are absolutely where I’m at right now. I’m just diving into the half of it. And that’s what I feel about this latest record. Since I’ve been home, right before I came out on this press junket, I was at home and I’ve been doing a lot of writing to keep me going further down this new road. So I think I’m going to be challenging myself in all those genres that are within that genre – blues, jazz, swing, soul, and really see how far I can go with that. So that has not been fully fulfilled because I feel like I’ve got so much to learn in those areas, so that’s something I’m really going to be chasing down and putting all my energy into.
Beth Hart’s new album ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ is out now on Mascot Records.
Catch Beth Hart in London at the HMV Forum on November 16th. More UK tour dates follow next year (see below).