Kitchen Conversations: Beth Head, Hestia Resident Artist

Last week, the bed and breakfast I manage, Diamond Oaks Treehouse, became part of a nomadic artist residency pilot program, called Hestia. The program has three artists in town for a 10-day immersive residency, which you can read about in detail in this killer feature story my buddy Kris wrote for Do Savannah.

Hestia paired the awesome Alexandria Hall with our house. Chad, the homeowner, is a poet and music nerd. Hall is a poet and musician. I write, sometimes, too. I guess I like music as well. So yeah, the pairing made sense.

Hall performs under the name Beth Head these days. Formerly, the solo, electronic project was under the name tooth ache, which released an album on Father/Daughter Records. The kick-ass Phillip Price brought by several of his old-school synths and keyboards for Hall to play around with as well. Chad and I set her up a space in our sunroom and she’s been jamming this week, while I do laundry.

I sat down with Hall in our kitchen and did a little Q&A as a preview for her show on Friday with Jeff Zagers at Sulfur Studios, which is part of First Friday.

Here’s our conversation, which as been lightly edited for clarity and length:

JP: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into music? How did this whole project start?

HALL: I started playing music when I was young. When I was in high-school, I played the bar, cafe thing and did acoustic stuff. Then when I was 18, I started playing music with a friend. I started using his gear to make more electronic stuff. That’s when I started tooth ache. I did that for about 8 years. Then, I started feeling like I had boxed myself in with my expectations for that. I just felt like I need to reinvent myself a bit. I ended that project and started something new. It’s still me. It’s still my solo thing, but it’s more I am trying not to limit myself or censor myself.

JP: So, for you, Beth Head and tooth ache are two very different things in your head?

HALL: Yeah, they’re pretty similar, as far as my songwriting style. But, I think, because I used to be all about hardware and using my synths and stuff—I started using the computer more and paying attention to producing things. Just experiment with different sounds that I was interested in. In a way, they are similar, but it’s like Beth Head, for me, is more about doing what I want to do and not listening to that self-censor.

JP: What drew you into writing electronic music? Was it playing with all the different stuff?

HALL: I always wanted to do that and wanted to know more about it. When I was young, I didn’t know anyone who did that kind of stuff and it was intimating to get started. I had friends who knew some stuff and had gear I could play around with.

JP: Was there a particular album, or artist in that genre that catapulted you into it?

HALL: Around that time, I was listening to The Knife a lot. That kind of stuff. There was always lots of different stuff, but that’s the one that sticks out for me.

JP: It seems like a fine line to be able to write something musical with all the noises and stuff, instead of a stringed instrument. It seems like it’s a different approach to writing music, right?

HALL: Yeah, in some ways. It depends. Especially now, that I am just doing whatever I want to do. Now, I will just write a piano song and it’s a Beth Head song as much as anything else is. Or, I wrote a song two summers ago that was on guitar and then I turned it into more of an electronic thing. But, that was the first time I’ve done that.

JP: Do you start with a beat then?

HALL: Yeah. Usually, I’ll start with making a beat and building it up, layer by layer, which for me, is really because I like to work alone, I like to collaborate too, but since I end up working alone a lot, it’s nice to be able to work on things in a layered way like that. I’ll usually start with a beat. Sometimes, I’ll start with a chord progression as well and work from there.

JP: I am always curious about process. I think it’s a little different for everybody, but there are a lot of similarities.

HALL: I always like to hear about it too. I always have this weird nagging feeling that I am doing it wrong. (laughs)

JP: Right? Same. But, maybe there really is no wrong or right way. As long as you get to the end, it’s kind of like whatever.

HALL: Yeah, as long as you’re doing it.

JP: How does your poetry blend into this project? Are the two separate in your mind, or are they linked?

HALL: They’re usually pretty separate in my mind, but I do think they’re linked. Because, I think, the music definitely feeds into how I think about words and poetry. I think also, lyrically, whatever I’ve been wrestling with in my poetry mind I feel like that comes up in lyrics.

Writing lyrics is very different than writing poems for me. If you just put one of my poems to my music, it wouldn’t—they’re different.

JP: Do you sit down with more intention to write poems as opposed to lyrics? Or is there a crossover? Like, you’re writing, thinking that something is a poem and think, this would be better as lyrics?

HALL: Usually, if I sit down to write something, it’s a poem. If I am writing lyrics, it’s usually just that I am listening to it back, or playing it and singing it. Sometimes, I’ll have a line and think about it later. It’s never really, I am sitting down to write lyrics.

Although, sometimes that’s happened. Actually, the other day, I was in a coffee shop here in Savannah and I was trying to write a poem and I couldn’t focus and I started hearing the melody from one of my songs that I haven’t finished the lyrics for and I was like Oh! Ok! Sometimes, if I write a poem that is not a very good poem, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a very good lyric.

JP: You have one track out for Beth Head. Are you working on new material?

HALL: Yeah. I am a real slow worker when it comes to stuff like that. I had this whole plan for this past summer. I am going to have the album finished by July. But, none of that happened. Now, I am in a place where I am actually settled. I have a little apartment. I have a studio space, so now I can work on things.

JP: You have a bunch of new songs, then?

HALL: Yep. It’s just a matter of, sometimes I get lost in the big picture. I remember I have to sit down and actually work out the details of stuff. Like, actually make the recordings sound good.

JP: That’s the work part. I think that’s true of a lot of art. In my experience, there’s this artistic, flow part that is just pure creativity. Then the other side of it, is more logical work. You have to hone in and change things. It’s not very creative. You just have to clean it up. Then you start to miss the fun part.

HALL: Totally. Sometimes, I’ll get into that zone and then I’ll start to feel guilty, I should be doing something creative. Then I don’t do either of them and go to the movies (laughs).

JP: Same! So, Hestia is pretty cool. What’s the experience been like so far you?

HALL: It’s been amazing. Everyone involved, yourself included, has been so nice. It’s been really nice to get to know Savannah and get to know the people, and the places and the art and stuff. That whole taking in of things has been really good. I haven’t spent much time creating. It’s a little overwhelming, but in a good way.

JP: Yeah, you’ve been busy. Then asshole hosts (me) ask for interviews in the middle of your day?

HALL: Yeah, god damn it! (Laughs). It’s really nice to be able to be away from home and work. It’s been so nice. I feel like, since it’s the kind of residency that doesn’t expect you to produce something by the end and show what you’ve done, it’s so good, in that you feel taken care of and it’s supporting you without demanding.

JP: That’s kind of brilliant, I think. I feel like, it’s the afterward of an experience that you get the most creative influence. Like, once you get home and digest everything.

HALL: Absolutely. I feel like I have a slow metabolism for most things that I end up creating. One thing that I was thinking about with Hestia is going to another place, I never end up writing about that place while I am there. Oh, now I have the perspective to write about home while I am away from home. It’s also, I am going to stew in this thing.

JP: I think that’s part of the creative process. Feels like, for me, it’s hard to get a line on things until you get away from it. When you get away from it, it seems clear, maybe still murky, but you know what it is.

HALL: Exactly. Because you’re too close to it. Which is nice! It’s a whole other experience.

JP: I’ve been doing artist dates, lately. I see similarities between that Hestia. I feel like this is something that will spur creativity later in the artist in residency.

HALL: Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I’ve just been recording sounds form the synth that Phil brought. I can’t possibly do everything I want to do with this right now, but I can use these sounds to like come up with something later.

JP: You should sample our washer. It has the weirdest tones.

HALL: I know! They’re so pretty and cute.

JP: Let’s end it there. That’s perfect.

HALL: Thank you!

JP: Thank you!