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Beth Hirsch interview

 

 

 

Beth Hirsch interview March 2010

 

Beth Hirsch

Beth Hirsch

 

 

Beth Hirsch 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.

With 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.

A 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 winner.

This is the interview that Beth kindly gave to www.retrosellers.com

 

 

Beth Hirsch

  


 

Digger: Hello Beth.
 
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 feeling now?
 
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 musicians.
 

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.

 

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The Stylistics

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The Jackson Five

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The Fifth Dimension

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Gladys Knight

 

 


 
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 years.
 
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 understand me.
 
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 self-deprecating one.
 

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 mean?
 

 

 

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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 blokes.
 
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 important.
 
Beth: (Laughs) Yeah, thatís a good point.
 

Digger: What makes you laugh? Sorry (Teasing, says it the American way) Laugh.
 
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.

 

 

Beth Hirsch

 

Beth Hirsch   Beth Hirsch

 


 

Digger: I can go either way depending on how the first half hour goes!
 
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 observation?
 
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.

 

 

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Air

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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 records.
 
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 Idols.
 

Digger: What songs that other people wrote do you wish youíd written?
 
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?
 
Beth: No.
 

 

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Karen Carpenter

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Steely Dan

 

 


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.
 

 

 

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Yes

  

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Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John

  

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Some images courtesy of and © copyright www.rexfeatures.com

  

Sandy Denny

Rickie Lee Jones

 

 


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 party?
 
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?
 

Digger: Yes.
 
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.
 
Beth: Yes.
 

Digger: How about important leaders or fictional characters, like Batman?!
 
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 specific dates.
 

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 commercial expectations.
 

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 this.
 

Digger: I think Iíve heard it because my girlfriendís daughters are into Pink.
 
Beth: Watch this video. Itís fantastic.

 

 

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Some images courtesy of and © copyright www.rexfeatures.com

  

Joni Mitchell

Romain Gary

  

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Some images courtesy of and © copyright www.rexfeatures.com

   

Todd Rundgren

Ryan Gosling

 

 


 
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 Martino.
 

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.
 

 

 

Beth Hirsch

 

 


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 you?
 
Beth: Yes.
 

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 option.
 

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.

Digger: And decorating? 

Beth: Huh?

Digger: I saw you painting a wall accompanied by a young man on Youtube. The All Together video.

Beth: Oh yes, how true!

Digger: Beth, please let me know when you're coming over so I can book the show.

Beth: 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?

Digger: 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.

Beth: Yeah, I know those.

Digger: It's got to be dunk-able. Do you get any decent biscuits over there?

Beth: No, we don't get the biscuits that you have.

Digger: Is there not a Brit shop in L.A? Seeing as there are so many ex-pats there.

Beth: I haven't seen it. You have the BEST biscuits.

Digger: If I sent you some, your customs people would confiscate them, the buggers.

Beth: Yeah, if I come to London we'll share a cookie.

Digger: Good. So take care until then.

Beth: Thank you so much David.


 


Beth Hirsch

 


Many thanks to Beth for her help and kindness.  Beth Hirsch interview March 2010.

More information can be found at:

Beth Hirsch

Ho Hum Records

Air

 

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