I’ve heard it said: Rock is dead. But I declare the opposite, that rock and roll is not only alive and well, but thriving more than ever.
Taking up where classic rock bands like Deep Purple, Foreigner and Bad Company left off, one of my favourite bands in recent years, Heaven & Earth, will release its third studio album, Dig, on April 23.
From the moment I heard an advance copy of Dig a few weeks back, I connected with the warm ’70s vibe of songs like Waiting for the World to End, A Day Like Today and Live as One. So I tracked down Heaven & Earth’s founder and visionary, Stuart Smith, to chat about the inspiration behind Dig.
“That warm and vintage sound you hear was refined using something called a CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor), which integrates real analog tape recording into digital tools,” Smith recently told me over the phone from Los Angeles.
“And I think that warmth is what’s missing from music nowadays. Aerosmith did their last album with it, and Van Halen, I think. And it certainly works for us.”
Like their first two albums, Dig is a wonderfully diverse fusion of hard rock, blues and bits of classical music, featuring special guests Howard Leese (Heart), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and David Paich (Toto).
“When I was growing up listening to bands like Deep Purple, Zeppelin and Floyd, they wouldn’t just bring out an album of rock songs, because they could play everything else,” Smith told me. “Zeppelin albums would have blues songs, pop songs, rock songs and even went with a Jamaican feel at times. Deep Purple, on Fireball, would add a country western song. And I love that diversity.”
I told Smith what I love about Heaven & Earth is their dark, evocative lyrics and powerfully operatic vocal harmonies on songs like Victorious, Back in Anger and Man & Machine.
“Our singer, Joe (Retta), for me is like a young, powerful Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company),” said Smith. “When he was 19, he was being slated as a top singer, but then his wife died and he had two daughters, so he left the business to raise them. He’s played in Dio, Zeppelin and Queen tribute bands, so he can emulate anybody because his voice is that powerful.
“But because he left the business, nobody had heard of him, so he’s not one of these guys who has been on a hundred albums and passed around like a hooker at a convention,” he said with a laugh. “But good singers are a premium, and he’s also a first-rate lyricist.”
I was thrilled to learn that Heaven & Earth is planning to release Dig on vinyl.
“Vinyl went up something like 46 per cent last year, as it’s becoming very popular again,” said Smith. “The cover art for Dig by Glen Wexler (Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Michael Jackson) is phenomenal, and will be so great to see on a big ol’ double gatefold LP. And our mission is to resurrect the sanctity of classic rock in its purest form.”
Thanks to bands like Heaven & Earth, rock and roll will never die.