Heaven & Earth: All Is Revealed.
Guitarist Stuart Smith talks Heaven & Earth - past and present - that re-release and missing lead singers included!
Stu, I guess the main objective of this interview is to promote the re-issue of the debut Heaven & Earth release
itself a bit of a classic.
Now, why the need for a new version - especially as it's already been released in Asia and Europe separately?
As you know we started our own label Black Star Records that, for the time being, is focusing on the States. The worldwide rights to the first Heaven & Earth album have finally reverted back to me and we felt that this would be an ideal first release as it's never been brought out officially over here.
Did copies of the initial release make it through to the USA at the time, or are you finding fans are picking it up now?
There were copies of this album in the States as the companies that released it in other territories had exported it over here, which was expressly against the contractual agreements we had with them but it's no use blaming a shark for being a shark. The sales have been going really well and things seem to be taking off so I guess we made the right choice.
The bonus tracks are an obvious attraction, but there will be a few annoyed that a CD they like is available again with extra tracks. What can you say to those?
I saw the comments on the Noticeboard and wanted to address them at the time but was so busy I never got round to it so now things are relaxed a bit I can answer the critics.
Firstly, nowadays every record company throughout the world asks for a bonus track for their own territory. It started with the Japanese companies and now I believe the European labels have jumped on the bandwagon. I personally don't like the idea as I feel the fans get the short end of the deal as they have to pay anything up to $40.00 for an import but when you're a new band struggling to survive, in a position of having a record label say they won't give you a deal without the bonus track, there's not much you can do about it. With our Black Star Records releases I'd love to find a way around this and would certainly be open to suggestions any of the Melodicrock.com readers have on this subject.
Secondly, apart from the original advances from the above mentioned record labels, which were very small, we have seen no money whatsoever and in some cases are still to this day trying to get our publishing money from them from when it was originally released back in 1997. For those of you that are unfamiliar with what publishing is, on every CD pressed 8.5 cents per song has by international law to be paid to the writers of the songs. This is how musicians survive. Now I know most people think that because someone has a record deal they're rolling in money but this is not the case. Generally you're lucky if the advance you get covers the cost of recording the CD and you have to survive on that and what you can make on gigs, which until you achieve superstar status, is not very much. I still play for the love of it but I also don't want to have to starve while I do it.
Next, the first Heaven & Earth album was never released and in the States and was never given the chance to do what I feel it could have done given the publicity and promotion that the labels that released it abroad did. Our release was targeted at the States and some distribution companies throughout the world wanted to purchase copies that we, at least, had the legal right to do. We did everything we could to make it up to the loyal fans that wanted the extra tracks to complete their collections like making them available on iTunes, etc. Re-releasing albums with bonus tracks is not something we plan to make a habit of and as I said before if any of the readers out there have any realistic ideas on how to overcome this bonus track issue I'd be glad to hear them.
Lastly, regarding the comments made on our launch party I'd like to say, Thank you to those of you who were supportive and to those of you that weren't, Shut the hell up!!
I assume you're participating in this forum because you love melodic Rock & Roll and want to see it come back in a big way. We at least are trying to do something about bringing good songs and well played music back to the forefront again as opposed to just talking about it and whining about what's out there. We spent a year of our lives putting together a business plan to get some investors to back us in our ventures as well as putting a lot of our own money into it and we made it happen. There has never been a better time than right now for the Classic Rock sound to re-emerge and all it takes is money behind it to get it there. You don't seriously think someone like Ashlee Simpson is where she is right now because of her staggering talent do you? All it takes is money and we are putting the kind of finances and effort behind all our releases that a major label would for a successful rap artist. We have hired a full time publicist, a full time radio promoter, a full time distribution consultant and we pay for listening stations and end caps in Tower Records, Boarders and all the independent chains throughout the country as well as internet advertising and full page color ads in magazines and we'll do the same for all our artists, not just Heaven & Earth. Some of you may not like me or like Heaven & Earth's music, I don't really care, but surely we're all on the same side here and want some changes in what we hear on the radio and television. The way I see it is that if you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem. When nearly every commercial on television in the States is featuring Classic Rock music and Heaven & Earth is picking up radio play over here and being one of the few bands ever to be invited to be on the nationally syndicated Rockline on our first album and seeing a standing room only crowd at our show last Saturday with Blue Oyster Cult I believe with all my heart that this music is coming back and thank God because I'm sure I'm not alone in being sick and tired of the same 200 songs being played on Classic Rock Radio. Everyone right now needs to work together and that means supporting the bands you like by actually buying their albums as opposed to burning a copy from a friend, calling and e-mailing your local radio stations and asking them to play a song you like. Do something to make a difference!!!
Something a little unusual with these bonus tracks too - they were actually recorded recently and have been added to the CD, not tracks that weren't used originally as is the normal case with bonus tracks. What was the thinking behind that?
The backing track for Life on the Line was originally written and recorded during the original Heaven & Earth sessions but Still Got The Blues was recorded especially for this release.
Ok, let's go thru those couple of tracks:
Life On The Line, featuring the brilliant Bobby Kimball
Life on the Line was a song that Joe Lynn Turner and I wrote for the original Heaven & Earth sessions and it was recorded back then but didn't have any vocals, guitar solos or keyboards on so we brought in Arlan Schierbaum to add the Hammond organ again. Richie Onori had played with Bobby Kimball in the past and called him up to come in and add vocals. I think both of these guys did an incredible job. I added the solo afterwards, which, for once, I was really happy with.
An inspired cover of Gary Moore's Still Got The Blues with Joe Lynn Turner -
Still Got The Blues is a song that I have always loved and have played with various people over the years. Back in 93 Joe Lynn Turner and I had a band called Midnight and we did a show at the China Club in Chicago that somebody bootlegged and a version we played of this song made the rounds. After Heaven & Earth came out I had so many people e-mail me asking us to do a version of it so we did. We recorded the tracks at our Wine Cellar Studios here in Woodland Hills where we've just installed the new Pro-Tools system and sent it to Joe Lynn on the East Coast where he added the vocals.
We decided to make this track our first single as a way of getting into the Classic Rock stations in America. They won't add songs by new bands but we took a calculated risk and pressed 1,000 copies that we had our radio promoter send out to all the program directors. We felt that as it was a familiar song with a known Classic Rock voice they might be more inclined to add it to their play lists or at least give it a few spins. The gamble paid off and we had program directors wanting to hear the full album.
When the Blues Catch Up with You featuring Al Mirikitani
When Frontiers signed Heaven & Earth they wanted a few bonus tracks as the original Samsung release had already been exported, again, against my agreement with them so we went in Al Mirikitani's Dog House Studios with Howard Leese producing and added Howard's and my guitar to an existing track Al had already recorded and sung.
Howlin' at the Moon featuring Paul Shortino
Same deal with this one except we added Paul's voice as well as my guitar.
That makes for a very complete album now doesn't it?!
I'm not sure. Perhaps we should release it again next year with two more bonus tracks.J
For those that are new to the album and yourself as a performer - let's go back just a little bit. First off, you are English - how did you end up in LA?
In 1983 I got tired of the British rock scene which was not really going anywhere at the time and on one of his English tours with Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore suggested I move out to the States as you could at least make a living there. I took him up on the suggestion and packed up my guitars and moved to Long Island, New York where I formed the first version of a band called Midnight. In 1984 Ritchie reformed Deep Purple to record the Perfect Strangers album and when they went on tour for that he invited me along with him for the Australian tour dates. On the way back we stopped in LA and Ritchie introduced me to a friend of his called Anna Fraley who was one of the Penthouse Pets. I ended up going out with her and she came and visited me when I was back in Long Island. I'd been offered a deal to do some recording back in England so I flew back out there and she joined me. It turned out to be an incredibly tempestuous relationship with Anna, every 3-4 months we'd break up and she'd fly back to LA. and I'd fly back and get her and she'd come back to England again and then after the 3-4 months we'd have the usual break up. On one of these stays back in England we got the crazy idea that things would work out better if we were in LA so in 1986 we packed up and moved there. Of course the location changed nothing and after 3 months we broke up again. She ended up leaving L.A. but I liked it so I stayed here till this day.
That wasn't an answer I was expecting, but thanks anyway! You made a lot of big name friends along the way - how did you rope those guys into being a part of the album, which turns out to feature an amazing line-up?
Well I had pictures and videos of them all in compromising situations and threatened to make them public if they didn't come and sing on my album. Also, its amazing how agreeable people can be if you send a couple of big lads round to have a chat with them. Seriously I had called Joe Lynn and Richie Sambora and once they'd said yes it was sort of like a domino effect, everyone wanted to get involved.
And the album sounds a million bucks and features some amazing names. The story of how it got made and it's original release it another great tale - can you run through that briefly.
Richie Onori & I were playing with Keith Emerson in a band called the Aliens of Extraordinary Ability and the guys from Samsung, the Korean electronics giant, had opened a record label that was going to be distributed worldwide through WEA were at one of our live shows and offered us a deal for an album. We couldn't do it as Keith was going to go off to do the ELP reunion tour with Jethro Tull and I was slated to be the guitarist for the reformed Sweet. Sadly Brian Connelly died so that didn't happen and then about 2 months later the top guys from Samsung heard me jamming at the Baked Potato with Teddy Andreas and the Screaming Cocktail Hour. They came up and talked to me afterwards and then came to my house for a late night drink where they heard the material I'd written over the years. They offered me a deal on the spot but it took 3 months to finally get it signed. Half way through the recording of the album the Asian economy collapsed and Samsung lost their distribution deal so when the album was finished it was only released in Korea. I bought 8,000 copies off them myself and sent about 300 of them off to anyone I knew in the business and the rest I sold off my web site, which I'd just started. After them seeing the review on your page I got the offer from Frontiers for Europe and after Richie Sambora had mentioned the CD in an interview in Burrn Magazine in Japan I got offered the deal from Pony Canyon for Japan.
I remember getting a package from you and reviewing an advance tape for the site - not even a CDR, an advance tape!
I know, it was all that I had at the time, as the Samsung copies weren't even pressed then.
And now it's back in your hands - Black Star Records is your own label. Who else is involved in it with you?
Apart from myself there's Richie Onori and Kelly Hansen dealing with the day to day running of the company and we have our publicist, Kathy Arnold, radio promoter, Kim Langbecker, artwork co-coordinator, German Arbelaez, producer/engineer, Dave Jenkins and distribution consultant, Clay Pasternack. We also have a few ancillary office staff.
You touched on this briefly before, but let's talk why you would want to start your own label.
There were a number of reasons but mainly it's because we were not happy with the amount of money the record companies make in relation to the artist. Record labels today are still working off a business model that's over 60 years old when records were made on vinyl and there wasn't the Internet to help with publicity. Manufacturing, publicity and shipping costs have gone way down yet the record companies out there are still taking a huge percentage of income, which we feel is grossly unfair to the artist. Also, once the labels have made about three times their money back they don't put much effort into further promotion such as live touring etc. We intend to change that.
Now, this just isn't a vanity project to get your own record into the market place is it? You have definite plans to develop the label and create
a roster of artists don't you?
Most certainly. We originally had a two year business plan with Black Star Records to release this first Heaven & Earth album, record and release the next one, Screaming for Redemption and do the same for Howard Leese's solo album but since we're gotten this label started and generated as much press as we have we've been approached by quite a number of artists, both well known and not so well known, to sign them so we're in the process of talking to investors right now so that we can expand earlier that we anticipated.
Can you reveal any of those plans yet? You have already announced Howard Leese's solo album....
Unfortunately I can't reveal anything new at the moment as we're still in negotiations but you'll be the first to know Andrew.
You just played a few live shows too
We just played our first official show last month opening for Blue Oyster Cult at The Canyon Club that went really well. As we brought in a good crowd they asked us back so we're co-headlining with Mountain on May 21st which should be quite an interesting show as after we did Rockline last week we went out with Bob Coburn for a drink afterwards at our local hangout the White Harte British Pub and when he told us he was going to come to the show, our manager John Malta asked him if he would agree to M.C. it. He said he'd love to so I suggested that they should have a monthly Bob Coburn's Rock Night at the Canyon Club where it could be promoted on Rockline and KLOS. We talked to the club and they went for it so this gig on the 21st May is actually going to be the first one. We're also playing at Paladinos in Reseda on April 23rd and opening up for Europe at the Los Angeles House of Blues the day after, April 24th. Alice Cooper is interviewing us for his radio show this week as well so I feel we're on the right rack with this New Classic Rock idea.
Who's in the band for the show and is that the same for the next album?
For these shows at least the band will consist of Kelly Hansen (Vocals),
Me (Guitar), Richie Onori (Drums), Joe Petro (Bass), Stu Simone (Keyboards). As most of you already know, Kelly has the gig with Foreigner and we're in the process of looking for a replacement so it doesn't look like he'll be with us on the next album. It's come at an awkward time as everything seems to be finally moving for Heaven & Earth but I'm very happy for Kelly. I can't really be mad at him, as I know it's every singers dream gig and we'll still be working together with Black Star Records. If we can't find another singer I've got a hit man set up to pick Mick Jones off at one of their shows.
Any other live shows in the pipeline?
There are quite a few being offered as we have a new manager in John Malta who manages Pat Benatar but we don't want to commit to too many shows until we've sorted out the new singer as we're going to be running into conflicts with the Foreigner shows.
You have recorded and released one other album after this debut and last
year released a new 4 track EP. Featured on that EP, as he is on one of the new bonus tracks here was Paul Shortino. He was announced as the new singer for Heaven & Earth, but it didn't work out. Can you explain what happened?
That EP was really put together for a July 4th show we had out here playing to 40,000 people so we thought it would be good to have something to sell there. We brought in Paul to record the songs and sing at the show and wanted to try to work with him but it turned into the usual nightmare. Paul and I have tried to work together many times in the past and it always blows up but this will be the last time. I guess you could call it personality conflicts.
Kelly's a very versatile singer can you two still plan new material?
Although Kelly is in Foreigner now I'm sure we'll be doing some writing together at some point and there's some tracks we wrote in the past like Everybody's Girl that we may use on the next Heaven & Earth album.
And what is the timetable for a new album?
I would really like to get recording it soon but we have to wait till we've sorted out the singer situation. I'd also like to get out and play the songs live a few times before committing them to tape as I feel you get a lot more magic down that way. I do hope to have it out sometime this year though.
Tell us about Richie Onori's involvement with yourself, the band and the label.
Richie has been my long time friend, drummer and business partner. We first met back in the 80's when I was asked to come and audition for a band he was playing in with a singer named Larry Greene. We remained friends to this day and he is really the behind the scenes driving force with Black Star Records. As well as being a great drummer he has a fine business mind. You should interview him one day; he has a lot of interesting things to say about the music industry.
You have done a bunch of press in recent weeks - what else have you got
coming up where folks can read more?
We keep the Heaven & Earth and Black Star Records websites pretty well updated so people can see what's going on there. We also have a One-list which people can subscribe to by putting in their e-mail address on the H&E website which automatically updates members as to what's new and exciting.
Recent times have seen three more rock stations switch format in the USA. Although the underground following for rock music seems to be building, the powers behind the money, or the corporations seem intent on continuing their quick fix/instant payoff policy. How can you get around that?
Probably by doing what we're doing right now. We find that having a good publicist and drawing everyone's attention to this New Classic Rock idea is paying off. There are a lot of people out there that are tired of the same old crap and want to hear some new well-played guitar driven rock. For the last 10 years we've had to put up with Alternative, Rap, Hip Hop and whiney Female singers and they come out with nothing more musically substantial than a hot dog. Now it's our turn!
Outside the current line-up, you did start working with a female singer and previewed one track on my site year or so ago. What did happen with you and that singer Doah?
Ahh Doah, the wild elemental force. What can I say? I first saw Doah when I was actually out on a date and went to a bar where they had Karaoke. As I came out of the restroom I heard this absolutely amazing voice singing My Heart Will Go On from the Titanic movie and I was completely stunned. When I turned the corner and saw who was singing I was even more blown away. I ended up going back to the same bar every night for about a week but never saw her again then one night when they had karaoke there again, the guy who ran it came up to me and told me he was a big fan of mine.
I told him that I was a big fan of the girl with the long curly red hair and amazing voice and he knew exactly who it was and told me he'd call me and let me know when she was in again. A few days later I was in a recording session when he called and told me she was there so I dropped my guitars, drove down to the bar, walked right up to her and introduced myself. We started working together writing songs with Howard Leese who loved her voice and recording them. Within a few weeks we stared going out together and she eventually moved in with me. We had this incredible chemistry going together and wrote some really great songs, which just came out naturally. The material we wrote was a cross between Bad Company and Heart, very bluesy and melodic but after a while it became obvious that that was not where she was coming from musically although she could pull it off incredibly. We then started working on new material, which was still very good but it wasn't happening fast enough for her and we eventually parted ways. There was a lot of personal drama that went down as well but I'm not going to get into that and although there's still some good songs we wrote together that I'd like to rework and possibly use with the new Heaven & Earth album, I can't help feeling I got a bit used on this one but as the saying goes There's only one thing better than the love of a good woman and that's the love of a bad one and Doah was a bad one. J
Is there anything else you are working on Stu, either for the label, Heaven
& Earth or outside projects?
There are a few other things and one great idea that we have in the pipeline but as usual I can't talk about them just yet. Of course I may not have absolutely anything going on at all and am just saying that to keep you all guessing.
Anything you would like to add Stu?
Yes, I'd like to say thanks to all the MelodicRock.com readers who've supported us and hope we get to see you out on tour soon and to the bands out there, make an effort to write songs that the everyday people can connect with so we can bring the music we love back to the forefront. Unless your stage act depends on it like Dio, stop singing about wizards and dragons, they're not the kind of thing people run into in the everyday course of their lives.
I'm going to shoot the next person I hear using the words River of destiny in a song.
And there you have it thanks Stu!