Beth Hart just released her ninth album, Fire On The Floor. It exemplifies her signature, raw, bluesy storytelling about women down and out, surviving and taking control. But Hart, 45, says that when she was younger, she herself wasn't in control. She started drinking and doing drugs as a preteen; that exploded into full-blown addiction after she launched her career from the Los Angeles rock scene in the '90s.
"With [my] second record, Screamin' For My Supper, there was pressure," Hart tells NPR's Audie Cornish. "I was getting calls, and I guess 'LA Song' was doing super good. We were doing lots of music videos and all these things. So that really triggered me, and that's when the things the I'd kept kind of in control — they say 'functioning alcoholic,' a 'functioning addict' — all of a sudden, I couldn't function anymore. It was daily drug-taking, daily drinking and starving to the point where I was just skin and bones and my hair was falling out."
Hart says "LA Song" wasn't as massive a hit as "Back To Black" was for Amy Winehouse, another star who famously battled addiction. If her song had been that big, she says, Atlantic Records wouldn't have dropped her or taken her off the road. She believes that's part of the reason she survived.
"People who do care about you and love you — even they can be in total denial and are saying to themselves, 'Look at all these great opportunities around you! Look at all this that's happening! You're strong enough, you're stronger than what you think.' Instead, you're not hearing me when I say, 'That's too much for me,' " Hart says. "So it's a majorly important thing for young artists, as well as older artists like myself, to know that not only do we have the right to say no, but if we don't say no, we're gonna die."
These days, mainstream artists are becoming more public about their mental health struggles. Kendrick Lamar has talked about depression, and Selena Gomez took some time off last year, saying she just needed a break. But it's taken a long time to get to this point, and Hart says that the public stigma attached to mental illness is the reason the music industry has had trouble addressing it.
"You're in a business where you're taught that your image and the way people perceive you is important," she says. "But at some point, you realize it's not important at all. Fame doesn't matter, people approving of you doesn't matter. And if it does matter, you're in store for something very difficult and painful."
Hart is healthy now, and says she's focused on the challenge of songwriting, singing and performing, as well as setting boundaries with her label and management.
"Something I would stress the most to any artist is number one, don't ever allow success [to] determine your worth as an artist or as a person," she says. "And number two, do it because you love it. Don't do it for the applause or anything else, just do it because you love it. 'Cause it really is a gift to enjoy, it's nothing to prove. And you have a lifetime to learn and grow and search in music. It's not a business, it's just something to enjoy and love and have a good time in."