Interview with Stuart Smith of Heaven & Earth

May 3, 2013 by: admin

April 26, 2013

Heaven & Earth

Stuart Smith (Guitars)

Woodland Hills, CA

By: Shauna O’Donnell

On April 10th I had the honor and privilege of attending the CD release show for the band Heaven & Earth. They were celebrating the release of their new album titled Dig at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, California. Upon arrival we were met with magician David Minkin who performed tricks that I still cannot figure out. He is a brilliant magician. There were performances from Dilana and Tonya Kay before Heaven & Earth came out to perform their album for the first time. The performance was one of incredible musicianship and high energy. I highly recommend catching a show if they play in your town. All in all it was a great night full of rock n roll and magic. A bit later I caught up with Stuart and we chatted about the party, the record and touring. It went something like this…

Hi Stuart, thanks for talking with me today. How are you?

Stuart: I’m not too bad. I’m a little jet-lagged. I just got back from Santiago, Chile. It was a long flight.

I was at your CD release party and it was the most fun I’ve had in a while.

Stuart: Yeah, it was a blast that night.

Your new album titled Dig released on Tuesday, April 23 via Quarto Valley Records. Congratulations on that! It is a great record.

Stuart: Thanks! It was several months in the making, but it was worth it to us. Nowadays it is really hard to get a record company to support you as Bruce from Quarto Valley Records did. He said at the beginning that he didn’t care how long it took or how much it costs, he didn’t want just a great album, he wanted a phenomenal album.

Are you the only band on Quarto Valley Records?

Stuart: Yes, at the moment.

Is this the album you have been waiting to put out your entire career?

Stuart: Yes! It really is. We spent a lot of time crafting the songs. When I got the idea for the first record, I didn’t have a band, so I just invited everybody I knew to come and play on it. Richie Sambora sang on it and it featured Glenn Hughes, Joe Lynn Turner and different musicians. It was more of a guest thing on the solo album. On the second one, there was no real money behind it, so it wasn’t that well produced, but this one is a real cohesive band effort. It is what I’ve always wanted. I wanted a band as opposed to a solo thing.

So you are saying that this is the first time you’ve wrote together as a band?

Stuart: Yes, well it is the first time we were all together as a band. Everyone put their ideas in and it all came together. We spent a lot of time crafting the songs. When I say that I mean we would record everything, then we would take it home and make CD’s of it so everyone could listen to it and make changes. We were constantly working them just to make sure all of us were really satisfied with them.

I had a party the other night and I played the record. The first thing that people said was that the record reminded them of the band Deep Purple. I found that interesting because early on you were mentored by Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore. It really does come through on the record. How did you meet him?

Stuart: I’ve played guitar since I was 7 ½ years old. My father was a jet fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and that is what I wanted to do. I was given a guitar at 7 ½ and took classical lessons. I had no interest in rock music. Guitar playing was just sort of a hobby for me because I wanted to fly fighter jets all my life. My father was like Top Gun of England. Some friends of my parents got some concert tickets and asked my parents if I wanted to go. I said “No” and my father said “get out of the house, go on and give us some peace.” I was about fourteen at the time and went to this rock show. The final band that came on was Deep Purple. This guy dressed in black came out and played with so much emotion and volume. It just blew my mind and that is what turned me on to Deep Purple. That is what turned me on to rock n roll, but still that is not what I wanted to do for a living. When I was in college they said they would take me on as a fighter pilot, but then they gave me a physical and said “You are color blind. You can’t fly.” After various different jobs, I drifted into guitar playing and that is where I have stayed all my life. I wouldn’t change it for a thing now. I used to go see Deep Purple whenever they played and after one of the shows, there was a party at this big house. We went there and I met Ritchie. We hit it off and became good friends. We kept in touch and when I was over in England, he came out. I was complaining about England because it is so small that if you are not playing what is in fashion then you will starve. Ritchie said “Why don’t you move to the states? It is so big that whatever you play, there is always an audience.” I took his advice and moved over to where he lived in Long Island. That is really how I got to the States. Ritchie really taught me a lot about music and playing.

The record was produced by Dave Jenkins who used a Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor (CLASP). Explain a little bit about how that works.

Stuart: It’s really new technology. Van Halen used it, but I don’t think the people using it sort of knew what they were doing. They weren’t happy with it. Aerosmith used it on their last album. You forget how warm recording to the old 24 track tape sounds when you compare it to ProTools and everything. That has been the industry standard for years. It is very convenient. When you’ve recorded a few takes, there may be so much more magic in the second half of the song on the second take, so you can just slice it and dump it onto the other one. You can do that with tape, but it is a very laborious process. We wanted to get the warmth of tape. The CLASP technology takes the signal from the mixing board and records it onto the upper sync head on the 24 track tape machine and then into Pro Tools. You get the tape saturation and the warmth that you get from tape and it is in real time, so you can actually drop a whole band in on the fly. Your band can play along with the track and they can hit record. It works! It sounds very warm and big. It was Dave Jenkins idea and we went with it. We rented it, tried and we liked it, so we ended up buying one. We did the main tracks at Ocean Studios in Burbank and then we did the overdubs at our own studio.

Right, you have a wine cellar where you did the overdubs.

Stuart: That’s right. At our drummer Richies’s house on the ground floor there was a wine cellar. We ripped everything out and put our control room in there. We made the actual studio in the basement. It is a bit laborious when you record there because when you finish doing a take you have to walk out of the recording studio, down the steps, into the backyard, along the backyard, up the steps into the house and then into the wine cellar. You get there and say “No, that wasn’t a good take” and then you have to walk all the way back and plug in again. It’s not like walking through a door, but it’s good for us.

Were there guest spots on the record?

Stuart: We weren’t going to have any guests on this record, because the first one had a lot of guests. The whole idea of this one was to have the band. It has sort of been a tradition on every album we have. Howard Leese (Heart, Paul Rodgers) is a great friend of mine and a great player. When we play an acoustic track, we generally play together. He plays a 12 string and I play a six string, so you get that really nice, thick acoustic sound together. So we had Howard come in and he played acoustic with me on some of the tracks. I have known David Paich (Toto) for years. I go to his Christmas Eve parties. I play acoustic, he plays piano and we would play Christmas carols. No one can ever really sing properly. A couple years back I took our singer Joe with me and at the end of the night we went into his studio that he has at his house. We played him “I Don’t Know What Love Is” and he said he would love to play some strings on it. So we had David play the strings on it. Richie Sambora is actually my brother in law. I used to be married to Heather Locklear’s sister Colleen when Richie was married to Heather. On the first album I called him up and told him I was doing a solo album. I told him I didn’t want him to do it just because I was his brother in law, but I really wanted him to sing a track on the album because I love his voice. He said “I’d love to. No one ever asks me to sing.” All the fans just loved it because Richie has the most beautiful, soulful voice. With this album, I called Richie up and asked him if I could come down to the studio where he was recording his solo album. I went down and hung out for the afternoon. I asked him if he wanted to do a track on the new album and he said “Sure, I’d love to.” He finished up his album and then he got really busy. He was on a huge promotional tour, he was playing with Bon Jovi and was on an insane schedule. He was flying all over the place. On his one day off in three months he said “Alright, I can do it.” I said “Oh God! I love you to death!” He came here for six hours and played some slide guitar on “Man & Machine”. He did the talk box as well, which is his signature sound from Bon Jovi. I love Richie. He is one of the nicest human beings on the planet.

All of your artwork is so elaborate. Glen Wexler is an artist genius.

Stuart: He is great! He is one of the most exact people I know on this planet. He is an incredible talent and he is the artistic person for the band, so he is in charge of anything to do with us. I love him to death. None of us have such a fine eye as he has. The album cover was amazing with the guitar being dug out of the ground.

The video for the album’s first single called “NO MONEY, NO LOVE” is also incredible. I thought I saw some of the people in the video at the release show.

Stuart: That’s right! The main lead female actors were there, the guy on the stilts and the short guy was there handing out coins. Tanya was there, she was the grinder girl. I don’t think she was allowed to do the fire dance. I missed all of it because I was at the hotel getting ready, so I didn’t get to see any of the show. A lot of the credit goes to Chuck Wright. He brought in a lot of the magicians. He hangs out a lot at the Magic Castle, so he knows all those guys on the magician side. Between Glen and him, the two of them put that thing on. It was their idea to have this mix of music and magic for the night. It’s how a show should be. I did not want an opening act. I don’t want to play with another band because the problem with that is you spend all day getting a great sound not only on the PA, but also on stage. I don’t like it when they stick six bands on in one night. It is such a load of crap up there half the time. That is why we hired the Fonda Theatre. We wanted to have that control. A lot of bands were saying they wanted to open up for us. I said “I’m sure you do, but you’re not going to.” I didn’t mind the acoustic act because you just have to put three microphones up there and that is it. I don’t want a band up there moving microphones because even moving a microphone an inch can make a difference. We spent four hours getting the sound perfect that afternoon and I want it to be there when we play.

Are you guys planning on touring?

Stuart: Yeah we are working on that. When I was in Santiago I talked to a friend of mine who is one of the big promoters out there. He has worked with bands like Elton John, Sabbath and other majors. When I was playing with Sweet he put us on opening up for Journey on a South American tour. He loves Heaven & Earth. The whole idea of playing this show was to find an agent and I’m waiting to see what the reaction was from the agents that came down. We need an agent to start booking this band and getting us out on a tour. On this album, the production is first rate and I personally don’t think there is a weak song on the album. Every song has been crafted well. We had the freedom to do that with Quarto Valley Records. They said they didn’t care what it cost, they wanted it to be phenomenal. The labels do not give advances anymore unless you are a major selling act. People go into the studio and just sling anything together so they can get out there. The labels have sort of cut their own throats. Back in the 70’s it was all for the talent. There were development deals where they would say you are not ready yet, but we are going to sign you now and have you refine the act. Then it just got stupid. Major labels are not known for their creativity. If you throw enough money at somebody you can make anything a hit. Of course one would have a hit with something and then every band and every record company would go look at them. I guarantee you if this does become a big success, every major label will be out trying to find bands that have a Hammond organ and are playing rock. They don’t get it. Also they want everything done for them now. They want a band that has half a million fans and they do not have to do any work on the promotions side. In the old days they would get a really good artist and build them up until they are ready, record them with a first class producer and have first class people behind it.

Thanks so much for the interview.

Stuart: Thank you!

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