Beth Hart feels like she has returned from the dead.
“I’ve been in some dark, dark places, man. I was so terrified of becoming successful — that people would see who I thought I was, as not good enough or strong enough,” she says. “I just let the fear take me down. I’m a champion of self-sabotage.”
It has been a long road with many lessons learned for the confessional singer/songwriter, whose raw, profoundly personal songs reveal the tortured soul of a woman who has been to hell and back more than once.
Now clean and sober after repeated bouts with substance abuse, Hart is ready to show the world all that she is capable of accomplishing, through the Koch Entertainment release of her third album, “Leave the Light On,” due Oct. 21.
The 11 songs showcase an uphill journey, marked by the raucous down-and-out enthrall of “Bottle of Jesus” and metallic garage rock anthem “Broken and Ugly,” countered by the stunning beauty of the hopeful piano-driven title track and the soft ode to reliance, “I’ll Stay With You.”
“Music has been my loyal friend,” 29-year-old Hart says. “No matter how freaked out I was, I could still sit down and write on the piano. I’ve been able to work out a lot of the sadness, but more so examine the awe of talking about things in a positive way.”
Hart’s first brush with success came with the 1996 release of “Immortal” on Atlantic, which attracted the attention of such producers as David Foster and Hugh Padgham. The album was not successful, but the label stuck by for 1999’s “Screamin’ for My Supper,” which featured the adult top 40 hit, “L.A. Song,” a gripping story song about moving past failure and deception.
The first single on the new album is the title track, which, like “L.A. Song,” is produced by Oliver Leiber. The lyric addresses the universal need for security against the unknown.
“I had finished recording all of the songs for the album, and I was trying them out at the Mint,” an intimate club in Los Angeles, Hart says. “Then I wrote ‘Leave the Light On,’ and people started reacting to it immediately. So Leiber and I worked on it for a couple days, and it turned out to be a beautiful thing.”
“She pulls you in to whatever she’s feeling, which not every artist can do,” Koch president Bob Frank says. “After you sit through one of her shows, you’re winded. You feel like you’ve worked out.”
Hart’s return, however, was precipitated by an intensive period of solitary searching.
After her run with Atlantic ended, she retreated behind her fears, developing an addiction to the anxiety medication klonopin. “I really thought I had to be perfect and always on the ball,” Hart confesses. “I was trying so hard to be someone else, and God forbid anyone see who I truly am. The only way I could deal with it was to be numb.”
One night, Hart mixed alcohol and drugs and made the mistake of getting behind the wheel: “The cops pulled me over, and I spent the night in lockdown. I figured I was either going to kill myself or be this jailhouse chick. It was good for me to see that side, because [the police] don’t give a s*** about your woes. It was time to fight for my life. It was the last time I ever took klonopin.”
In rehab, “I had two trauma specialists trying to figure me out. I was really crazy for a while. Forget about working — I couldn’t walk or talk.”
Fortunately, Hart had good people on her side, including roadie friend Scott Guetzkow. “He is a walking f***ing miracle,” she says. “He took me in, fed me and loved me long enough to love myself.” Today, the two are married.
Hart hopes that the songs on “Leave the Light On” will serve as an example to those battling their own demons. “I want to tell people what I’ve been through and inspire them to go for their dreams. It’s OK to be who they are and not hide,” she says. “It can be a horrible and dark world, but there are so many angels out there walking around who want to help people.”
The gospel, hand-waving “Sky Full of Clover” personifies the hope that now infuses Hart, with its nod to the glory of faith. The soulful hymn was commandeered by Bradford, who produced more than half of the set. Likewise, the psychedelic “Lay Your Hands on Me,” produced by Danny Saber, explores the sensuous, primal side of being in love.
“It has been an amazing journey,” Hart says. “I’ve never sold a million records, I’ve never become a star, but I’ve got something better. I became myself.”
Excerpted from the Sept. 27, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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