Beth Hirsch interview March
is probably best known to many as the female vocalist on Air's
classic album Moon Safari. Beth sang on and contributed to two of the tracks
on that hugely well-received album, All I Need and You Make It Easy.
the benefit of that initial exposure, Beth has gained a faithful and
strong international following who appreciate her magnificent
melodies and distinctive delivery. Albums like Titles And Idols and
Wholehearted, both a long time in the making, contain
irresistibly memorable and delightful material from a songwriter who
maintains a consistently high standard, stays true to her roots and
who works with only the best musicians and technicians on both sides
of the Atlantic.
new album and European tour is in the offing. If the sample track
Something To Tell is anything to go by, this next one is another
This is the interview that
Beth kindly gave to www.retrosellers.com
Beth: Hello David.
Digger: Iím just looking at the list of questions I sent through
and thinking ďGod, did I send that many?Ē
Beth: (Laughs) Iíve been unwell as you know, so I havenít had
much time to look them over.
Digger: Sometimes no preparation can be an advantage. How are you
Beth: Iím much, much better, but it will be a week before Iím
back on form.
Digger: When will you be out on the road again?
Beth: I have a new band and weíre starting to play in April in
L.A. and then Iím coming to France in May with some European
Digger: Any chance you might be here?
Beth: You know, thereís a slight chance and I will definitely
let you know.
Digger: Are you ready for the questions?
Beth: Sure, however you want to run with it is fine with me.
Digger: Good, have you got your cup of tea?
Beth: I do.
Digger: Who professionally and personally were your inspirations and
influences in becoming a singer-songwriter?
Beth: Itís interesting because I didnít start singing and
songwriting until I was 25. It wasnít something that I envisioned
for myself. But the music that influenced my life most was the music
of the 70s. Soul music like The Fifth Dimension, The Jackson Five
Ė who else?... I also remember seeing Gladys Knight and The Pips
and The Four Tops. My family was into the commercial, bigger acts.
The Stylistics - You Are Everything and You Make Me Feel Brand New.
The reason was that my Godmotherís nephew was the manager for The
Stylistics. So Iíd get a record or two.
The Jackson Five
Digger: What were you up to before that?
Beth: I studied theatre actually since I was six. I was doing
stage performances, all sorts of plays from Shakespeare to the
modern. Then I moved to Paris and the reason for that was that Iíd
gone to Boston University at a sort of conservatory-type school for
theatre. And through my dresser at the school I heard she was going
to be working in Paris with some British theatre ensembles who were
touring schools. I was inspired by her.
Digger: Yes, thereís quite a tradition of Brits working over in
the Paris theatres and shows.
Beth: And the same thing I noticed when I was in London. The
French absolutely love the English culture.
Digger: Even though we pretend we hate each other!
Beth: Yeah, there is that (Laughs) but thereís also the other
side. So after my fresher year at school, Iíd gone to Paris one
summer Ė actually just for the weekend as I was studying in
London. I thought ďWow, what a magnificent place, I have to live
here.Ē And a few years later, I did.
Digger: That was very brave, to up sticks and go over there. Not a
lot of people would do that.
Beth: Itís interesting because, at first, I was only preparing to
go for a year as an au pair.
Digger: What's the French for that?! How was your French?
Beth: Not good at all. Iíd never studied French, EVER. And I
donít think Iím a linguistic person, even with me being musical.
It took me many years to learn the language. People said ďOh, in
two years youíll have it down, no problem.Ē But it took me four
Digger: Canít be good at everything.
Beth: (Laughs) Thatís true.
Digger: I did French at school and didnít use it again until ten
years later when I had to go to Paris and train some people. I
opened the training room door and there were thirty-plus French
faces staring at me. At first, they thought my French was hilarious
but within two weeks they had stopped laughing and seemed to
Beth: I love the way the Brits speak French. The accent.
Digger: Iíll have to take your word for that. (Both laugh)
Beth: THEY donít think so, but I do.
Digger: Youíve been compared to a number of other performers as
being like so-and-so or in the same vein as such-and-such. What do
you think of these comparisons and pigeon-holes?
Beth: You know, itís such a good question because it applies to
just about everybody. It doesnít apply to Joni Mitchell,
necessarily, although her inspiration was Joan Baez. I think itís
a very natural thing for human beings to want to familiarise and so
it doesnít hurt my feelings at all. I find it kind of funny
sometimes if somebody compares my music to, say, Norah Jones.
Because I would see her as a commercial phenomenon, and a wonderful
artist too, but she hasnít influenced me. But people would tend to
describe certain songs of mine as a cross between Norah Jones and
Sarah McLachlin. So I think it helps people to be able to understand
what you do and I donít find myself being the least bit offended
by it. As an artist I donít appreciate it all Ė I donít like
their music or their voice or donít dig them and people still say
ďOh, you sound just likeÖĒ (Both laugh)
Digger: Somebody told me I looked like a soap star once Ė they
actually stopped me in the street and I was really insulted. But
what can you do?
Beth: Yeah, thatís the same thing. So funny.
Digger: Where would you like your career to go in the future musically?
Beth: Geographically, Iím doing some cool stuff here in L.A.
The people and the connections, and there are just a few here, but
theyíre strong. And Iíd like to continue that but also I plan on
definitely doing more in Europe because I have a following from
there. I feel like the people really get my music there. And itís
just such an extraordinary place to be, London and Paris.
Digger: Apart from the weather?
Beth: Apart from the weather. L.A. has the most amazing weather.
Digger: You spent some time in Paris and London and I assume
therefore that you're a Francophile and Anglophile. Can you tell me
the main similarities between the French, the Brits and the Americans
and what are the significant differences between them?
Beth: Thatís a tough question.
Digger: Weíre all quite nationalistic arenít we?
Beth: Yeah, and quirky.
Digger: Have the French got a good sense of humour?
Beth: You know, I enjoy it, I really do. Sometimes itís really
out there and bizarre, but on the whole I think, yes, theyíre very
funny. Do you?
Digger: I donít really know what their sense of humour is. We
understand that the Europeans think we have a famously eccentric
sense of humour. I can only think of Jacques Tati and Monsieur
Hulotís holiday and Chocolat and things like that.
Beth: I tend to think of it as not just one thing. The French
have this superiority/inferiority thing going on all the time, so
they have a real caustic sarcastic sense of humour but also a
Digger: Theyíre just like us then.
Beth: Theyíre so natural in so many ways. Sensual, passionate,
very natural and where I find the similarity with Brits is they can
laugh at life. America Ė this is such a great description I heard
one time, Iím not inventing it. Americans in a scene, they will
orchestrate the scene to make the star look good and the star will
have one line and everything will be leading up to that line
emphasising the starís power. We always have those one-liners
here. Particularly with the Brits, and also the French, the
situation is the star and it can be so funny. Monty Python or Fawlty
Towers are perfect examples Ė the situation is so embarrassing or ridiculous
that itís hysterical, but John Cleese is just a part of it, heís
not having to stamp his imprint on it. Do you understand what I
The Python team
Digger: Yes I do.
Beth: We are smaller than life, we are smaller than the
situation. Americans donít tend to do that. The star is the focus.
Digger: Americans donít, in my experience and as a rule, tend to
be self-deprecating. And if I take the Mickey out of my American
friends and use playful irony or sarcasm, often they take me
literally. And it leads to confusion and much worse!
Beth: Thatís so true.
Digger: You canít say ďNot you again, you ugly old bastard, why
donít you bugger offĒ to an American friend. They may well be
mortified, whereas itís a typical greeting between two British
Beth: You know what it is too? This French writer called Romain
Gary, whom I love. He was married to an American actress called Jean
Seberg. "He wrote "La Vie Devant Soi" which was
then adapted into a film starring Simone Signoret. He talked about
how, in American culture, we always have to show we're winning. I
notice that here, with showbusiness you always have to be on top of
everything and you can't be vulnerable. I think in Europe you can
be. You can have weak moments and it's okay. I even felt
vulnerability was welcome.
Digger: Thereís also an age thing in America too. Youth is very
Beth: (Laughs) Yeah, thatís a good point.
Digger: What makes you laugh? Sorry (Teasing, says it the American
Beth: (Laughs) Kind of the sweet innocent happenings
of life that bring people together. Maybe weíre both standing at a
bus stop or something and we watch someoneís shopping bag overflow
and (laughs) everything falls out. Things that we share make me
laugh. Silliness and just our vulnerability. The very little things
in life make me laugh.
Digger: It doesnít have to be sophisticated or wordy?
Beth: Not at all.
Digger: What makes you cry?
Beth: What make me cry? UghÖ Feeling completely powerless. Over
situations that I donít like.
Digger: What makes you angry?
Beth: People who donít take responsibility for who they are and
what they do so I have to deal with it.
Digger: What makes you hopeful?
Beth: Oh, I would say just about everything. I think itís what
wakes us all up in the morning.
Digger: So youíre an optimist?
Beth: I am.
Digger: You wake up with a grin on your face?
Beth: It gets there at some point.
Digger: I can go either way depending on how the first half hour
Beth: On the whole, when you show gratitude in the morning it gets
you in a good mood.
Digger: You collaborated with a number of people, most notably with
Air on the Moon Safari album. How did that project come about?
Beth: (Laughs) We all happened to be living in Monmartre at the
time but I didn't know them. One day, when I went over to record at
a producer's house who also lived in the neighborhood, Nicolas was
sitting on the couch waiting to meet me. They'd heard my demo and he
invited me to sing on the Moon Safari album. Then I wrote the lyrics
and melody for what became All I Need and then they asked me to do
another track "You Make It Easy."
Digger: Itís just an unusual thing for them to have somebody else
involved in that process. What was their thinking there?
Beth: I think they were musicians, composers and producers and felt
they needed a vocalist to come on and add some more colour.
Digger: That album, for me, has got such a retro feel. Would you
agree with that?
Beth: Yes I would.
Digger: They wouldnít be insulted if someone made that
Beth: Not at all, I think itís complimentary. They are more
influenced by 80s music than I was. I was very influenced by 70s
music and to me thereís no greater compliment.
Air - Nicolas
Godin and Jean-BenoÓt Dunckel
Digger: Which songs have given you most pleasure?
Beth: Do you know? Iíll be honest, thereís a song I have
written pretty recently, itís called Your Eyes and itís now my
favourite song Iíve ever written.
Digger: Thatís not yet released?
Beth: Not yet.
Digger: Because I enjoyed that MP3 that you sent through the other
day - Something To Tell.
Beth: Thank you, I donít know when thatís gonna be released,
but itís on your turf.
Digger: Where did you record that?
Beth: I recorded the vocals here but all of the music is done in
London. Alex Pilkington, Mark Tucker and Caroline Daniel at Ho Hum
Digger: The technology is amazing these days.
Beth: Caroline orchestrated all the strings on that. Which is
pretty incredible. I worked with them on my second album, Titles And
Digger: What songs that other people wrote do you wish youíd
Beth: Ooh, hard... Letís go back to that one!
Digger: You are a child of the sixties (just!) Are you nostalgic or
do you like to look forward?
Beth: Iím both. I feel that nostalgiaís one of my
sensibilities but I also definitely look to the future. I donít
want to go back to the past and live in the past.
Digger: No, a lot of people, particularly in my line, do. They dress
as mods, or as teddy boys or they like the forties fashions and
paraphernalia around them. Their home is furnished with all that
stuff. You couldnít do that sort of thing?
Digger: Who are you favourite songwriters and performers?
Beth: Steely Dan are one of my favourites. Speaking of nostalgia,
Iíll play them every day. I think they are the most talented group
I have ever heard in my life.
Digger: What is their appeal?
Beth: Their originality and sophistication and their melodies are
just so brilliant. Their compositions, theyíre just so musical.
Theyíre just off the hook. To me theyíre from another planet.
Whatís amazing is that theyíre so constant and consistent.
Itís not like they have two or three amazing songs and twenty
really good songs. To me they have fifty amazing songs. They are a
machine, theyíre amazing.
Digger: Praise indeed. Iíll have to give them some time.
Beth: I like Todd Rundgren a lot, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee
Jones. I love Karen Carpenterís voice. She had probably my
favourite voice of all. I loved Olivia Newton-Johnís voice back in
the 70s - Have You Ever Been Mellow or Sam.
Digger: I remember when she came over here, as lots of Australian
acts do, to try and make it and she used to be an item with Cliff
Richard for a while.
Beth: Oh yes, thatís right.
Digger: Then she went Stateside and then it all took off.
Beth: You know who else I like? I love English musicians. Sandy
Denny. Iíd like to cover some of her songs. Some of these bands
are a mixture, but I always think of Yes as British.
Richard and Olivia Newton-John
Digger: They were British Ė Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman and so
on. Rickís a real Londoner. So, who would you have at a dinner
Beth: You know I was thinking about that this morning. People I
really admire I wouldnít necessarily want to have dinner with
them. Do you know what I mean?
Beth: I wouldnít know what to say. I was thinking, for example,
Jimmy Connors, I just idolised him when I was a little girl and
thought he was so fantastic but after ten minutes I donít think
weíd have that much to talk about. Iíd listen to his experiences
but I donít need to meet him (Laughs)
Digger: Itís a good point, because often theyíll interview a sportsperson
immediately after they have just played a match or run a marathon or
done whatever they do well. And theyíre out of breath and full of adrenalin.
And the interview is inane because they havenít really got much to
say. Their actions speak louder than words, as it were. They canít
communicate or be interesting on another level.
Digger: How about important leaders or fictional characters, like
Beth: (Laughs) I tend to gravitate towards people who share my
values more. You know what? I think Ryan Gosling is a fascinating
actor. He was nominated for an Oscar playing a teacher addicted to
crack in the film called Half Nelson. He was also in Lars And The
Real Girl and The Notebook which made all the women swoon.
Digger: Would you have him there as eye candy or would you ask him
about his acting technique?!
Beth: He is very handsome but he is an astoundingly brilliant actor.
He was in a mystery with Sandra Bullock called Murder By Numbers and
he is phenomenal. He played the bad kid who seduces Sandra Bullock.
I would like to talk to Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Rickie Lee
Jones about music.
Digger: Are you planning on touring here and when's the next album
due? Iím assuming all these tracks are building into a new album?
Beth: I donít know any exact dates. I do know Iíll be coming to
Europe in the spring and I will definitely let you know some
Digger: What sort of fan base have you got over here?
Beth: Itís been a while since Iíve done anything over there, but
in England, France, Germany thereís just people there that really
seem to understand. Here, and Iím speaking very generally, we look
at music as such a global brand and the criteria are different to
what you have over there. Although you guys have that too Ė
Digger: Itís like the TV. Weíve got the BBC which is not
commercial and youíve got the big commercial networks over there
and thereís a sort of theory that TV is dominated by the sponsors
and so it canít allow real innovation. But thatís not exactly
true these days, as there are lots of great American shows. They
didnít used to take risks and they only went for safe stuff that
would be commercially successful.
Beth: (Laughs) I have just thought of a song now which I would like
to have written. Do you want me to tell you it? (Laughs) I really
like Pink and thereís a song called Glitter In The Air Ė she
just performed it on the Grammies and David, you have to Youtube
Digger: I think Iíve heard it because my girlfriendís daughters
are into Pink.
Beth: Watch this video. Itís fantastic.
Digger: She has some naughty lyrics.
Beth: Sometimes, but these are not.
Digger: I still canít quite deal with rude lyrics. A lot of Lily
Allenís lyrics are expletives. I think itís unnecessary.
Whatís your view?
Beth: I agree. That's not my favourite thing to hear, for sure, but
sometimes they are the stages in life that people are going through
- if it's because they're at an age where that's how they have to
express themselves it doesn't bother me. I've been there and gone
through them. But, if they're like a one-trick pony with it then it
turns me off. There should be more respect for music, in my opinion.
Digger: What are you currently working on?
Beth: I have been working with a Frenchman called Umberto De
Digger: Doesnít sound very French to me!
Beth: Iím doing a lot of cool collaborations right now, working
with Simone Sello, another Italian (Laughs) and Forrest Robinson. We
are working together on some new tracks that I am very happy with.
There's nothing I would change right now.
Digger: To me, you donít sound how you sing.
Beth: Really, how so?
Digger: Youíve got quite a distinctive and idiosyncratic sound
when you sing but your speaking voice is not like that. Iíve got
Wholehearted and Titles And Idols on CD and if they were vinyl Iíd
need to buy new ones because theyíd be worn away. (Both laugh) You
can hear the influences Ė soul, folk that you mentioned but also
some of the Beth Hirsch niceties that are on the Air album. Do you realise
that youíre doing that?
Beth: (Laughs) I made Titles And Idols in 2001 so I probably have
changed since then. On the track Something To Tell did you find I
sounded like I had changed or did you still, recognise me?
Digger: Still very much recognisable as you. But Iíve got an ear
for accents and sounds. Youíre a Florida girl originally, arenít
Digger: Did you move to L.A. because thatís where the work was?
Beth: When I came back to the States, yes, that was my only viable
Digger: Is your family still in Florida?
Beth: Yes, they are.
Digger: In California you have the extremes of sun on the coast and
snow in the mountains. Do you ski?
Beth: I havenít had that experience but Iíd love to. But I am
very sporty, or I have been in the past. I like running, volleyball,
tennis, throwing a football around.
I saw you painting a wall accompanied by a young man on Youtube. The
All Together video.
Oh yes, how true!
Beth, please let me know when you're coming over so I can book the
I will and it's been such a pleasure talking to you. It will be
London for sure. Let me ask YOU. Do you have a favourite biscuit?
At the moment it's chocolate digestives. I dunk them in cold milk
and you have to wait until the exact moment to take them out.
They're very more-ish. Sometimes Jaffa Cakes or Hob-Nobs.
Yeah, I know those.
It's got to be dunk-able. Do you get any decent biscuits over there?
No, we don't get the biscuits that you have.
Is there not a Brit shop in L.A? Seeing as there are so many ex-pats
I haven't seen it. You have the BEST biscuits.
If I sent you some, your customs people would confiscate them, the
Yeah, if I come to London we'll share a cookie.
Good. So take care until then.
Thank you so much David.
Many thanks to Beth for
her help and kindness. Beth Hirsch interview
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