Beth Hart freely admits that she does not like change. So making her new album, Better Than Home — which comes out April 14 and which Billboard is premiering exclusively below — with new producers was “hard and scary,” but ultimately worth the risk.
“I worked with Kevin Shirley for the last three records, and that’s where I was really happy,” Hart tells Billboard. But for Better Than Home, her manager David Wolff and husband/road manager Scott Guetzkow pushed for the team of Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens, who Hart had worked with when she performed at the Kennedy Center Honors for Buddy Guy. “They really talked me into doing it,” Hart confesses. “If I wasn’t mentally ill [she’s bi-polar], I would probably have just stuck with my gut no matter what.
“But the upside of being mentally ill is you do get to question your gut ’cause your brain is probably in the wrong place. So I said I would give it a shot, and I was really happy with how it turned out.”
It wasn’t easy, Hart acknowledges. Mathes and Stevens challenged her to move away from the darker themes of her nervous albums and “write more about my joy and what I believe in and what my love is. That was really uncomfortable. It’s not what I’m used to doing. I would always use music as a way to figure things out or find my way back or cure myself in some way. Certainly when I was happy or having a good time, the last thing I’d do is go to the piano and write a song.” The producers persisted, and after more than 45 songs arrived at the final track stack for Better Than Home.
“Along the way I kept trying to convince them, ‘Let’s make a blues record! Let’s make a jazz record!'” Hart recalls. “I kept turning in these little pieces — totally jazz, totally blues. They were like, ‘No, no. Come on; we know you can do this. Stop trying to hide’ — whatever that meant. Eventually at the end of the day they were like, ‘Omigod, you did it! We love the songs so much! We’re really proud of you.’ They both were incredibly nurturing and patient and inspiring and so sensitive. There’s no way to describe how much patience you have to have to work with someone who’s bipolar. It’s kind of funny how I was so scared to do it and thought it was the worst decision in the world, and at the end of the day I came out feeling like I’d become a much better writer because of them. I love them forever, and I really want to make another record with Rob and Michael.”
That, however, will come after “a lot of touring” to support Better Than Home, with dates already booked into early August in Australia, North America and Europe. Meanwhile, she’s already thinking about future projects — and not just with Mathes and Stevens. “I may be making another record with Joe Bonamassa? in 2016,” she says (that would mark her third collaboration with the guitarist). “That’s something cool to look forward to. I love working with him. I don’t think I’ll ever go too long without making some music with him, too.”
Beth Hart Tour Dates
May 17 Dana Point, CA Doheny Blues Festival
June 10 Austin, TX The Parish
June 12 Dallas, TX The Kessler
June 13 Houston, TX House of Blues
June 16 Atlanta, GA Center Stage Theater
June 18 Cincinnati, OH Taft Theatre
June 20 Munhall, PA Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead
June 21 Harrisburg, PA Whitaker Center
June 23 Rochester, NY Rochester International Jazz Festival