Interview With Stuart Smith Of Heaven & Earth!

4009(PCM) Taking up where iconic bands like Deep Purple and Bad Company left off, Heaven & Earth is on a mission to resurrect the sanctity of classic rock in its purest, most accessible form on their third studio album titled Dig. Due out on Quarto Valley Records, Dig was produced by Dave Jenkins, who’s worked with everyone from Metallica to Tower of Power – and features special guests Howard Leese (Heart, Paul Rodgers), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), and David Paich (Toto).

The band’s highly anticipated album title “Dig” is set for release on April 23rd!

The band’s founder and visionary, Stuart Smith spoke to PCM’s Kristyn Clarke about the upcoming album, the band’s current line-up, album guest appearances, and more!  Check out the full interview below:

Q: Certainly the big news is that your amazing new album “Dig” is due out this April, how excited are you to get this into the hands of listeners?

STUART SMITH: Very excited! I wish it was earlier! It took us fourteen months of really hard work to do this and we were lucky enough to have Bruce Quarto the president of Quarto Valley Records behind us and he said ‘I don’t care how much it costs or how long it takes but if you can go into that studio and the next day and you feel you could have done better, go in and do it again!’ That was very true for the crafting of the songs. We spent a lot of time of this to make it the very best we possibly could and I’m very happy of course with the album, but very excited for it to get out to the people so we can see what they think.

Q: Absolutely!  I think the album does a fantastic job at showcasing every possible side of the music that you as a band can create. For example from more ballad type songs like “A Day Like Today” to more upbeat tracks like “Good Times”.

SS: Yeah. It’s funny because you mentioned the kind of upbeat thing and what happened with this was when we started this album, Joe (Retta) ended up moving and selling the home he was living in and I said ‘I’ve got this house in Woodland Hills, why don’t you just move in with me?’ ‘We are writing the album together and I have a spare room.’ I, at the time, had been through a really bad break-up, so he moved in and I was pissed off, angry and depressed and that poor guy had to put up with that! The first song I threw at him, I gave him the riff and said ‘alright, here’s the first idea, it’s called “Back In Anger” and he said ‘Well, I’m not really an angry person’ and I said ‘Oh, yeah you are…just look at the news and the television and these politicians are getting away with all this and that, this Wall St scandal…’ and he said ‘Oh yeah!’ So, he went away and wrote it and I think the next one was “House Of Blues”, “No Money, No Love” so you can see where we are going with all this; it was all the real dark side of it.

Q: Definitely!

SS: Then what happened about half way through the album because you know playing music heals you and you get over these things, and because of that we were on a hike and we said something about Ronnie Dio, who’s a great friend of mine…we played at his memorial with Joe singing, and we said we ought to have a song like Ronnie did with “Long Live Rock n’ Roll”, that sort of thing because it’s like society hasn’t saved me, the church hasn’t, religion hasn’t , politics hasn’t, but rock n’ roll did so we came up with the song “Rock & Roll Does” and that was sort of the turning point of the album where everything from there was just upbeat.  You have “Rock & Roll Does” and “Man & Machine”, “A Day Like Today” and “Good Times” ending up with “Live As One” so, it tells a story in a way from this depression to anger and everything else to healing and elation.

Q: Absolutely!  How therapeutic was the recording process? Was it hard for all of you to put some much of yourselves out there because it is a very honest record?

SS:  It is very honest. We are not writing about dungeons and dragons and witches and demons, it is all stuff that is relevant to everyone’s everyday life. The band was great and they were right behind this all the way.

Q: That’s great. I know the band has definitely been through some line-up changes and things like that over the years .How do you feel about this current line-up?

SS: It’s great! The problem in the past was the first Heaven & Earth album I didn’t have a band, I was playing in a band with Keith Emerson and then Keith went off to tour with the ELP and I got offered the deal and I didn’t have a band so I called up everyone I knew just to come and play on it. The second one I dropped my name from the title and went and did an album with Kelly Keeling, we played a few shows but it wasn’t really going the direction we wanted there and we started touring with Kelly Hansen and at that point we just started to get traction in the States and people were starting to pay attention to Heaven & Earth.  Then he got the offer from Foreigner and of course I said ‘Well, you have to take it’ with it being every singers dream gig and the money was going to be insane, so it’s always been a problem that there’s never been enough money behind Heaven & Earth because really at the end of the day that’s all it comes down to, to hire the best musicians you want, pay everyone a living wage and go on tour with a really first class production. That has been the problem all along! The original deal I signed to Samsung and it was fairly good deal but they had a 20 million dollar distribution deal with WEA and half way through the recording process they lost their distribution deal so there has always been this problem. Now, thankfully, we are with Quarto Valley Records and we have someone who believes in the band, I think he is a bigger fan than I am of the band. (laughs) He is prepared to go to bat for everything with this and we’ve got the money  behind us to do it so it’s great. That is what the difference is from the old days was not being able to keep a band together  because the musicians you want to play with are professionals and they are going to go where the work is!

4010Q: That is definitely understandable.  It is great to hear that you guys have someone behind you now that does share that same passion for Heaven & Earth.  The music industry itself has probably been through more changes than we can count, especially with the up rise of social media and the way that people are learning about new artists. How has that been a tool for you?

SS:  It is completely different now…you can’t get away with anything now (laughs). Obviously the biggest effect has been the downloading thing and once and album’s out you can get it free anywhere on the internet which has hurt the music sales. This is going back to the whole thing with the record companies again; the record companies now won’t put enough money behind a project to really make it successful unless you are talking about a really top of the line act. The record companies aren’t going to get behind it and support it, they’ll support it in a way but they’re not going to hire the best publicists out there, the best social media team or put a lot of money into the advertising. They are just going to put it out there and see if it flies and starts to do traction on its own.  There is less time being spent on really crafting the songs and making the album the very best it can truly be.

Q: I think that artists have got to be so creative now in the way that they engage fans. They release these video teasers, vlogs, and all kinds of extra stuff to kick start their own promotion.

SS: You’re right. Social media is a new game and we are learning it. We have a great team behind us with Mitch Schneider Organization for publicity and Total Assault for our social media, but it is a new battlefield out there and you can’t make money on just selling music. You have to get out there tour and marketing…those various types of things.  It’s getting the presence out there and also for us it is important to just have the music that came first. Originally when we signed, we were just going to license the album out to other companies, but he was so into it by the third song that he said ‘Look, let’s not go with a record company.  Let me form our own and we’ll hire the best of the best people so we are sort of more in control of our destiny.’

Q: Absolutely! You do have some special guests that appear on the album, correct?

SS:  Yeah, Howard Leese because he has been on every Heaven & Earth album and we always have a thing when there is an acoustic track to be played we always do it together. So, he’ll play the 12-string and I’ll play the 6-string then you have a nice resonance of the guitars. He is a great string player and arranger as well! David Paich, from Toto, he’s been a great friend of mine for years and every year I go to his Christmas Eve party and in 2011 I went to his Christmas Eve party with Joe the singer and at the end of the night we went into his studio and played him the song “I Don’t Know What Love Is” and he said “Oh, my god! You have a total hit here! You got to let me play some strings on it”. So, we got together with David and he played the strings on it and it was a great honor to have him on there. Then there is Ritchie Sambora. Richie used to be my brother in-law and we’ve remained friends ever since and he sang on the first album and the fans loved it. I went down to the studio where Ritchie was recording his solo album to borrow a guitar off of him because I needed a Gibson SG and I don’t have one, so I’m down there and we both had to sign a guitar for a charity thing and we had a picture taken that went out on the internet of the two of us standing there with this guitar and all the fans picked up on it and were like “Are you and Ritchie going to collaborate on something again?’ ‘We really loved what you did before!’ I called Ritchie and said the fans are asking us to do something again, what do you think? He said “I get more attention playing stuff on your album, then I do my own album” (laughs). He said yeah, and Ritchie is so great, he is just incredibly busy between touring with Bon Jovi, he had his solo album out, he was doing interviews, TV show, touring and the one day he had off in three months he came into the studio and spent six hours with us, so I love him to death for that!

Q: That is great!

SS: He is the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet in this business!

4033Q: That’s awesome! I am so glad to hear that it was able to work out! I see that Glen Wexler was the one who did the album’s absolutely gorgeous artwork.

SS: Yeah, he is amazing.

Q: He did the video as well, correct? Are you allowed to announce what song that is for?

SS: He did our EPK as well! What happened was, Chuck Wright our bass player and Glen have been friends for years and when we were talking about our album artwork Chuck suggested to go to Glen, so we went and saw him and Glen heard the music and he just got way behind it and said ‘This is like the best album of the seventies that got locked in the vault’! He said that he really wanted to be involved so of course we were more than happy to have him aboard. First of all there was the cover artwork and this was originally an idea that he had for Led Zeppelin, I mean, that was a Zeppelin being dug out the ground, and I think at the time Jimmy Page’s art director nixed the idea and Glen has always wanted to do that piece but no one really had the kind of budget needed to do that kind of thing anymore until we came along! Then he just got involved with every aspect of it from creating the EPK and he wanted to do the video and he had all the ideas so the two videos are “No Money, No Love” and “I Don’t Know What Love Is”.  We have also shot the green screen for “Man & Machine” as well but we don’t have the narrative for that yet.

Q: Do you have a target date for the video premieres?

SS: Yes, it’s actually in about a week or so…it’s a very risqué concept kind of like David Lynch meets Stanley Kubrick type thing and when thinking of trying to get the videos on TV it’s like ‘there’s no way we are going to get this on TV’ (laughs).  He is in the process right now of doing the edits for a PG-version but we are of course on the internet going to put the naughty one up there (laughs)!

Q: Nice!  That’s got me intrigued now! We definitely have a lot to look forward to! Are there any touring plans coming up this year for you?

SS: Yes, definitely. We start rehearsals soon and hopefully sometime in April we are going to do an album release debut party at a place in LA called The Music box and just have a big event which we are going to play at of course and then after that we will be headed out on one of the tours. We are not sure yet, we are talking to a few people to try to figure out which tour at this time.

Q: That’s great to hear!  I said to myself while listening to the album that I absolutely can’t wait to hear this music in the live setting. I think it’s going to be fantastic.

SS: The great thing about this band is that the musicians can actually do that live. The problem a lot today is that you’ve got those silly bands out there that go into the studio with ProTools and the computers putting the drums into time, putting the guitars into tune, the vocalist into tune and of course they go out to play and they sound nothing like what they do on the albums. I have to say these guys can play literally everything that is on the album.

Q: Personally, I view music as a universal language that we can all speak and understand, even if we take different messages away. Is there anything in particular that you hope the music of Heaven & Earth will say to listeners?

SS:  Well, we are on a mission to bring guitar driven rock n’ roll back, I mean it’s been gone for far too long. Now things like the Grammy’s are a bit of a joke. I have never seen so many posts on Facebook about anti the Grammys. The Grammys should be given out for experts in music but really now they are being given out for experts in performance. It more about the publicity and how much mess you can make in the press rather than whether or not there is any substance to the music because half the acts I see, if you take away the hundred dancers that are on stage and all the big light show, all the effect and everything else and you put them on the stage with real musicians they are just going to sound average. There are exceptions to that of course but what we’re trying to do is bring rock n’ roll back with this album and what I’m hoping the message that we give to the fans and record companies is ‘Look, this is good music, it’s been ignored for too long and you need to take some of those dollars you put behind these other “performers” and put them behind a really good rock band’!

4012Q: Absolutely! It breaks my heart that even during the Grammys telecast the Rock category isn’t even shown on TV anymore.

SS: That is what brought all of this to where it is today.  It is just completely ignored!

Q: We always go out and cover some of the country’s biggest rock festivals every year like Rock On The Range etc and I always tell people when they say that rock is dead that they have not been out to one of these rock shows and seen the reaction of fans at these performances. They are definitely hungry for rock n’ roll!

SS: It’s funny because I was just on my Facebook page and where people have heard the snippets of the EPK they are saying ‘My God, this is just the perfect time for this’ so people are definitely hungry for this type of music.

Q: Exactly. As soon as I got sent the album and I listened I said ‘Yes! This is what is missing’! Thank you so much for taking a few minutes out to speak with me today!

SS: It was a pleasure speaking with you!

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