If you’re a fan of classic rock, and you’re looking for a new band to get excited about, look no further than the melodic rock quintet – Heaven & Earth. This band is the brainchild of veteran rock guitar star/songwriter – Stuart Smith. In addition to Smith, the Heaven & Earth line up consists of high caliber musicians – Joe Retta on vocals, Richie Onori on drums, Chuck Wright on bass and Arlan Schierbaum on keyboards.
Heaven & Earth will be releasing their highly anticipated release; “Dig” on April 23th. This 12 track, epic retro-rock masterpiece is an uncompromising throw back to the vintage sounds of bands such as the 1980’s versions of Rainbow and Bad Company, in sound, style and musicianship. “Dig” also features guest appearances by Howard Leese, David Paich (Toto) and Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi). This record will be released on the new imprint, Quarto Valley Records.
What follows is an exclusive RockMusicStar interview with Heaven & Earth’s Stuart Smith. During this interview, we discuss the “Dig” CD, the formation of Heaven & Earth and much more.
RockMusicStar: Heaven & Earth started off pretty much as solo project. What were the events that transpired which transformed your solo project into becoming Heaven & Earth?
Stuart Smith: I started Heaven & Earth in 1994. Before that, I was playing in a band called, Aliens of Extraordinary Ability, with Keith Emerson. We were offered a record deal with Samsung, but Keith decided to go back to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I then got involved in the reformation of the band Sweet, which ended up not happening. Then one night, I was jamming with some friends in a bar and a rep from Samsung was there. He heard my songs and soon after, I was offered a deal with Samsung. I really had no band at the time, so I had some of my friends play on the album, such as Richie Sambora, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Carmine Appice, Howard Leese, and Kelly Hansen.
When we did the second album, it was much more of a band project. And on this current one, “Dig“,this is a firm line-up. It’s an actual band, as opposed to people just coming in and performing their parts. The album was written, played and recorded together as a band.
RMS: I did not realize that you were involved with Sweet.
SS: I was with Sweet from 2008 – 2012. I recorded a live album with Sweet and we played a bunch of gigs in South America, opening for Journey. We also headlined some festivals to over 10,000 people. But going forward, Sweet bassist/vocalist Steve Priest did not want to do a new album. So when I got a new record deal with Quarto Valley Records to do another Heaven & Earth album, I completely left Sweet to fully concentrate on Heaven and Earth.
RMS: I really love the retro 70’s vibe on the rock. Was that intentional?
SS: No, we really didn’t set out to capture a certain retro or 70’s sound. That is just where we come from.
RMS: Well, I really love the sound. I hope that many people get to hear this, because this CD definitely deserves to be heard.
SS: Quite frankly, there really isn’t very much new music out there right now that is good. We get a lot of younger people (18-25 years of age) writing to us, and telling us how much they love our music. It’s funny, because it’s kind of like what their parents listened to with classic rock. Many bands, currently, just aren’t doing anything different or really new. Some of the other guitar driven bands like us, such as Mother Road and Snake Charmer are playing similar music to what we are playing, but they really aren’t getting much of a push because they are on smaller labels. But I’m hoping that we can help change that. If one of these bands can just break through, the American record companies will respond and start signing and promoting these type of bands.
It’s really up to people like your readers to help promote this type of guitar-driven, retro influenced rock. If they like it, they should post the videos on their Facebook pages and help spread the word, because that really could help change the face of music.
RMS: Yes, that would be awesome to see a band like Heaven & Earth on the charts. Who knows, maybe you can even replace some of those shit bands on the Grammy Awards next year. (Laughs)
SS: I would love to see a guitar driven band replace all the bands that are basically just dancers at the Grammy’s next year. And I’m hoping that we can in some way, help to change this. Maybe we can. We are on the best label that I’ve ever been on in my life, Quarto Valley Records. They are just as excited about the band as I am. And they have the resources to really get things out there. We also have a great publicist (MSO) so I know we can get the word out. But without any of that, it’s very difficult to succeed no matter how great your music may be.
RMS: Yeah, your new album is so well crafted. Every song can stand on its own and sadly, that’s really not very common nowadays.
SS: You’re right. A lot of bands don’t really take the time to craft the songs. And that’s what really matters. It’s not how fast you can play a solo or anything like that, it’s the song. If you have that, you don’t even need to have a good singer these days. We’re lucky because we have one of the best singers in the world with Joe Retta. He has a deeper voice like Paul Rogers, and that fits in really well with the music.
RMS: One of your major influences is Ritchie Blackmore. You’re also good friends with him. How did that relationship develop?
SS: I was originally classically trained. And then was I was 14 years old, my parents had tickets for a Deep Purple concert, I really had no interest in rock music at that time. But I went anyways. And when Deep Purple came out, there was the guy dressed in all black that came to the front of the stage, and started to play all of these amazing classical riffs – with so much volume and so much emotion. It really blew my mind. And then a few years later we met and become good friends. He really helped me find my own style. But even more on a psychological level in regards to the way that he approached the guitar. And he has had three successful careers in this business, one with Deep Purple, one with Rainbow, and now with Blackmore’s Night.
But Richie is great. To me, he is still the best guitar player in the world. He plays the guitar like it should be. He has a great technique. It’s blinding. He also has a lot of passion. A lot of guitarists either play with too much passion and not enough technique, or too much technique without enough passion.
RMS: Many rock fans aren’t really into his Blackmore’s Night project. What do you think of it and that style?
SS: I love it. Ritchie and I both love medieval and classical music. But I would love to hear another rock record from Ritchie, or even a blues record. Maybe even something like what Paul Rodgers did with the Muddy Waters tribute album that he recorded. I’ve jammed blues tunes with Ritchie many times, and he’s incredible playing that style of music and I would love to hear that again. But he can do whatever he wants, because he’s Richie. If he is happy, then I’m happy for him.
RMS: I think he owes his fans one more traditional rock record.
SS: It would be really interesting, because of the different guitar scales and modes that he plays now. He could incorporate all of that and it would sound really unique and innovative.
RMS: You have a new video out for the track “No Money, No Love” off of the new record. There are some fine looking women in that video; it must have been fun to make it.
SS: No, (laughs) it was actually a lot of hard work and very long hours. We actually filmed for two videos, and we had to cram all that into four days. The mansion that it was filmed at had no heat, not that L.A. ever gets too cold, but it was still quite cold in there. However, we are very please how the video turned out. Filming a video seems like fun, but it’s really a lot of waiting around and drinking coffee. One day I got there really early in the morning and I didn’t get to shoot my part until much later in the afternoon, and then it took all of four minutes. But it was a very high budget and professional video shoot. So, it was cool to see all of this for a song that we created.
RMS: Last question Stuart; are there any tour plans for Heaven & Earth at this time?
SS: We are working on that now. In fact, we are doing an invite only show in Los Angeles, at The Fonda Theatre on April 10th. That is going to be a fun night. There has been talk about us getting on a tour, so we are getting the band in shape, and getting all of the gear ready that we need. For several weeks we have been rehearsing every day and now the band really sounds great. We’re ready to go!For more on Heaven & Earth, please visit www.heavenandearthband.com