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Interview: Heaven & Earth Resurrect Classic Rock With “Dig”

The critical choice between selecting a career rooted in fame or in expressive music has become more apparent in the music industry due to the a variety of outlets an artist can address his or her opinion. The widely heard remarks about Justin Bieber from the Grammy winning musician, Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, further prove the rift between being a celebrity and being a genuine artist. Reiterating this comment purely for its undying entertainment value, Carney stated, “Grammys are for, like, music. Not for money … and he’s making a lot of money. He should be happy, I guess.”

Oddly enough, Carney can be placed in the same position as Bieber when comparing The Black Keys to classic rock bands of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Some might argue that rock music is on the rise again, but with a listen to the band, Heaven & Earth, it will become immediately obvious that current artists of that genre hardly hold up to the caliber of music produced by Heaven & Earth and others who truly lived and breathed classic rock music.

Consisting of guitarist Stuart Smith, singer Joe Retta, bassist Chuck Wright, drummer Richie Onori and keyboardist Arlan Schierbaum, along with special guests Howard Leese (Heart, Paul Rodgers) and David Paich (Toto), Heaven & Earth re-instill the music industry with timeless tracks off of their upcoming album, “Dig”, which will drop April 23rd via Quarto Valley Records. Following the release of their self-tilted debut and sophomore release, “Windows To The World”, “Dig” resurrects the era by emphasizing the instrumental and lyrical diversity of classic rock. To be categorized as an artist of this genre doesn’t mean only playing one similar rock song after another. Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton dabbled in a wide spectrum of musical categories, but let rock n’ roll be the glue to an album. In 2013, Heaven & Earth have brought this technique back into the limelight with “Dig”.

To say that it was an honor to speak with frontman, Stuart Smith, would be an understatement. Discussing the origins of rock n’ roll, his perspective on the genre nowadays and the creative process behind “Dig”, Smith re-validated for me why music continues to be a driving force in my life.

Check out the interview below. For more information on Heaven & Earth, head on over to the band’s official site.

Throughout your career, you have played with many iconic musicians. Have those experiences influenced your own sound?

SS: Well, it certainly has. It is pretty obvious that my biggest influence is Ritchie Blackmore. He was sort of my hero growing up then we became friends and he mentored me. The same goes for playing with Richie Sambora. He is such an incredible musician and has such an amazing voice. If I could sing, I would love to sing like him.

Have your other groups, such as Sweet and Sidewinder, given you insight on the direction of Heaven & Earth? Or do you treat these bands separately?

Ya, everything I have done in my life is instrumental in bringing out the sound we have now with Heaven & Earth. With Sweet, we weren’t really creating, just playing older songs. I still learned a lot from that and same for playing with Keith Emerson and Sidewinder. Any band I have ever had has led up to Heaven & Earth.

Do you listen to any current rock artists?

You know, I don’t. I’ve recently heard the bands Rivalry Sons and Snake Charmer out of Europe, but there is really not a lot of good stuff out there. I was lucky enough to grow up listening to music in the 70s. The guitarists I listened to were Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton and singers like Paul Rodgers and Ian Gillan.

I think most musicians today are out there for the wrong reasons. They are out there to be famous and the record companies are catering to that. It is all about the performance they put on and not any sort of real talent. Of course we got the computers now that can make anyone sound good. I really don’t think there is going to be anyone from the last 10 or 15 years that is going to be remembered in the way that the artists I mentioned before are.

Do you consider current bands like, The Black Keys, to be classified as rock artists?

A lot of people rave about The Black Keys. A friend of mine had an executive box at The Staples Center. So, I went to see them and I just don’t get it. It doesn’t mean they are bad. They are similar to this generation’s Grateful Dead and I never got the Grateful Dead either. But you can’t argue with success. They sold The Staples Center out and I haven’t. I sort of get Muse more than The Black Keys. I tend to prefer more structured songs than jam sessions, unless it is done really well, like Zeppelin or Deep Purple. When they go off into a jam session, it was stunning and brilliant.

Do you think the music Heaven & Earth put out, like on “Dig”, are albums that could have been released decades ago?

Ya, I think if “Dig” was released in the 70s, 80s, it would have been very successful. I am hoping it will be today. I am hoping it is going to turn people back on to rock n’ roll, which has been buried
for way too long. Our main focus is to bring that sound back today.

Do you think “Dig” also has a contemporary twist to it?

While we were recording, we didn’t consciously say lets make a 70s album. It is just what came out of us. That’s the main period of music that we love, but we tried to have a sort of modern edge to it. I say there is nothing I really listen to nowadays, but you absorb things everyday. As you do that, these sort of things are put to your own music. So, we tried to give it a modern edge, but with that 70s feel and hopefully that comes across.

What’s the meaning behind the album title, “Dig”?

Originally, we were going to go with one of the songs on the album, “Back In Anger”, but then Glen Wexler, who made the amazing cover art, said “What do you think of the idea Dig?” We are digging up this guitar in the ground that has been buried for a long time. So that’s the idea of it and I am a great lover of the single phrase.

How do you think this album differs from your debut release and “Windows To The World”?

There are a number of things. The first album had four or five good songs, but the album did not get a magnitude of promotion. The other album we did on the label, Frontiers and I thought it was a good album. We used the money from that advance to buy our own recording studio and we didn’t know what we were doing. We made it work, but I wouldn’t mind getting in there one day and remixing it and try to bring out the best in it.

This album, “Dig”, is a huge leap mainly because of Bruce Quarto of Quarto Valley Records. He said from the beginning, “Look I don’t want you to just write good songs; I want you to write phenomenal songs. I want every song on that album to be a hit. I don’t care how much money it costs. If you go into the studio and think you could have done better, go in and do it again.” And we did. That’s a dangerous thing to say to people like us because we are all perfectionists. It took 14 months, but a lot of that was crafting the songs into what they are now.

One word that stood out in my mind when listening to “Dig” was diverse. Each track is unlike the others.

I remember growing up in the 70s and listening to Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Zeppelin would have a blues song, a rock song and a pop song. They even went into Jamaican reggae. The same thing with Deep Purple. They had a blues song, the hits, the hard rock song and even a country western song on “Fireball”. It shows the diversity with the musicians. I think it makes it interesting for the listener and that’s the idea, to entertain other people as well as yourselves.

On that note, can you tell me what it was like recording the eclectic song, “Victorious”?

That main riff was influenced by something Jeff Beck did on “Blasts From The East” on the “Who Else!” album. It was slower and he was using the Eastern scale. I thought I would love to do that. It’s like a tongue twister on the guitar. That’s really hard to play because it is more of an opener string exercise, especially the first part.

So, I came up with the riff and I had a variation of the riff when I went into the studio. I started playing it and everyone joined in. I went into the chorus and Chuck started putting more punctuations to it and then we went into the bridge, which Chuck came up with. That one was really a band effort. Everyone putting their best in to make it happen.

My favorite song off of “Dig” is “I Don’t Know What Love Is”. Can you tell me about its lyrical meaning?

When we got a deal for this album, I had just been through a really bad breakup. I was in a very dark place. Joe Retta, our singer, sold his house up in Ventura and was looking for somewhere around here. He said, “Look I got this house, move in with me and take the spare room. We can write the album together.”

The song was originally called “I Don’t Know What Love Is Anymore”. At the time, it was how I felt. I think maybe a lot of people have felt that in their lives sometime, where you are just so confused by the relationship that you don’t know what love is anymore. Halfway through this album, I started to heal, which is what rock n’ does and how it saved me. Same for Joe.

Then we moved into lighter songs, like “A Day Like Today”, “Good Times” and “Live As One”. The album is very elating as you go through it to the end. It is an honest album. That is what I was really feeling throughout the whole recording.

Now, knowing the importance of the album’s tracklisting, I can really understand the story behind “Dig” and “I Don’t Know What Love Is”.

Ya, the funny thing is when Joe was visiting his parents in New York, I thought I wanted to make an acoustic ballad very similar to “Heaven & Earth” (on the debut). The whole 3 weeks while he was away, I didn’t touch the electric. I just sat there with the acoustic and played it. I had the title for a long time and I remember writing it on the back of this business card and I put it in my nightstand. At that time, I was seeing this girl and when I came home she was gone. I called her and said, “Where are you?”. She said, “I am home. I saw what you wrote on this business card.” Firstly, I said, “You shouldn’t be going through my drawers. Secondly, it’s a song title I didn’t want to forget it.” At the time, I wasn’t feeling that. I just thought it would be a great title that no one’s ever said before. I always thought that song will surface at the right time and it certainly is the right time now.

What are Heaven and Earth’s upcoming plans in preparation for the release of “Dig”?

Right now, the album is coming out on April 23rd. We shot two videos. The first one will be released in a couple of weeks and the second one will take another month. The first is “No Money, No Love”. The second one will be for “I Don’t Know What Love Is”. The video is sort of like a fairytale.

At the moment, we are in rehearsals. On either April 9th or 10th, we are going to have a big show in L.A. Our record company hired The Music Box and we are going to be having a big invite-only show there for the industry. After that, we hope to go on tour and go around the world.

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