I knew very little about HEAVEN AND EARTH so I had to interview them to get to know more about them. Anders Ekdahl ©2014
Is the name important in establishing what kind of metal it is that you play?
-I think so. I don’t think it would exactly work if you’re playing really hard rock and the band is called something like “Hearts & Flowers” but that being said, people tend to identify whatever name you give the band with the sort of music you play.
Just so we know what we are dealing with could you please give us a short introduction to the band?
-The first Heaven & Earth album, back in 1998, was originally a solo project. As I didn’t have a band at the time I got the record deal I just called up all my friends to play on it. On that album I had Richie Sambora, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Kelly Hansen and Bobby Kimbal singing so it sort of became a cult classic, which established my name as a guitarist. The second album “Windows to the World” had one singer, Kelly Keeling on and I removed my name from the title of the band, as I’ve always preferred a band situation. After that we started touring in the States as Heaven & Earth with Kelly Hansen as singer but then he got the offer to join Foreigner and I couldn’t find anyone at the time good enough to replace him so I put the band on hiatus and joined up with Steve Priest to reform Sweet. I did that for a few years, then in 2011 got the offer from Quarto Valley Records to record another Heaven & Earth album so I quit Sweet, got together with Joe Retta, Richie Onori, Chuck Wright and Arlan Schierbaum and started working on our new album “Dig” which was released in April last year.
How do you find your sound? Do you take a whole bunch of influences and mix them together to make it your brew?
-Pretty much. I will generally start off with a guitar riff and play it to the band then everyone joins in and adds their ideas and that gets us the basic structure of the song. With the deal with Quarto Valley Records we had the luxury of having a record company that believed in us 100% so we could take as long as we wanted to really craft the songs. Joe Retta would record the rehearsal/writing sessions and then send us all MP3’s so we’d all come into the next session with new ideas for that particular song. We would keep reworking songs anything up to 50 times and wouldn’t go into the recording studio till we felt every song was ready. This way we could feel there were no fillers on the album.
Is art work and lay out still as important when more and more people download legally music to their phones or ipads/computers?
-Probably not but Quarto Valley Records wanted to do everything first class so they hired Glen Wexler to put the package together including the incredible cover. We also brought the album out on 12” vinyl which looks incredible.
What are your feelings on this development of digital replacing physical?
-Mixed. In one way I think it’s good because it makes music more accessible but on the other hand it makes it a lot easier for people to share the music illegally and it’s got so commonplace that people don’t even think about how it hurts the artist financially when they forward MP3’s to friends.
Do you agree that digital is killing the music scene as we know it now?
-Totally. If we’d have released “Dig” 15 years ago, judging by the reviews we’ve had, it would have gone multi platinum but now a CD is reduced to nothing more than a calling card. It’s also made it a lot easier for anybody to produce and distribute music which in most cases is not a good thing as there’s so much crap out there muddying the waters it makes it harder to find quality music
How important is playing live today? Is there still a live scene to talk about? Do people still go to shows? To me it seems that it is all big tour packages or festivals that are left.
-Playing live is really the only way left to make a living nowadays but that in itself is a double-edged sword. Radio stations do not play anything by new artists in the rock genre, in fact they don’t even play anything new by established artists and to be picked up for a major tour the promoters feel they have to add only bands to the bill that will draw a large attendance. This, to my mind, is a big mistake. It’s not seeding for the future. For instance, in the States, Live Nation will put the same old packages together, ie Journey, Heart,and Styx or Foreigner, Styx and Night Ranger etc, and at the end of the day that third act on the bill is only going to bring in another 75 or so fans because the fans of the first 2 bands are already fans of the third band. A healthy alternative would be for them to put on a new relatively unknown band that would fit the bill so that they get exposure and after a couple of years would be able to move up the bill and eventually tour on their own. A newer band would also do a lot of self-promotion that an established band wouldn’t and would probably bring in a lot more new fans to the event.
How has the Internet changed the feeling of community in being a local band playing local shows? Does it still feel that you are a product of your surrounding area?
-Not so much. This is one of the real positive aspects of the Internet. It makes it a lot easier for bands to get the word out and develop their fan bases.
I guess that most bands go through one or two lineup changes. How do you as a band contain your sound when one member leaves and a new one arrive?
-Generally there’s always one person or a couple of people in each band that are the main writers and they dictate the sound so one person leaving will not effect the overall sound too much unless it’s the singer and you replace them with someone with a completely different style. Also any new members brought in would be picked for their ability to recreate the sound of the band.
What would you like to see the future bring with it?
-I would like to see the world’s governments taking a lot more of an active stance against illegal file sharing. The day after “Dig was released it was available for free from a ton of pirate sites throughout the world which cost us a fortune and this can be stopped. Starting with the States, they should pass laws that require Internet servers to be very heavily fined if they host sites that offer free downloads. Believe me, artists would report them in a heartbeat and if the server didn’t cut off the site within 24 hours then they get hit with a huge fine. Then, if that works, have delegations go to other countries and persuade their governments to do the same as it’s hurting their musicians too. If this kind of problem was affecting the oil or drug companies this would have already been stopped. I think what it’s going to take is for someone is to get enough big names in the music industry together to make enough noise to make the politicians get off their backsides and do something to earn their paychecks.
Maybe I’ll make a few phone calls next year.
Back in 1997, guitarist Stuart Smith got together with a rather large group of musicians to record an album of Classic Rock music. Together, this group of musicians (which included the likes of Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes and even Steve Priest of the band Sweet) created several different musical formations of the same band which came to be known as Heaven & Earth. Some of the participating musicians in the recording project lent their talents to only one or two of the resulting tracks, while others (including bassist Chuck Wright, drummer Richie Onori and keyboard player Arlan Schierbaum) were a bigger part of the recording process as they lent their talents to several of those tracks.
After the self-titled album from Heaven and Earth was released, the band later added to that album and the resulting 2004 re-release easily stands as strong as any Classic Rock/Hard Rock release from The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin or even Steve Priest’s band Sweet. It’s the talent of the musicians and the strength of the music that you notice; you would never know the album took seven years to become a reality.
Now, almost a decade after that first album was released, Heaven & Earth have returned. While that first album had its unique circumstances with how it was created and by whom, this new release, entitled Dig, has been written and performed by five main musicians who finally feel like a band. The quintet that brought Dig to life consists of: Guitarist Stuart Smith, bassist Chuck Wright, drummer Richie Onori and keyboard player Arlan Schierbaum, all of whom participated in the recording process that led to that first album. The final piece is newcomer Joe Retta who adds both vocals and lyrics to the songs.
Dig from Heaven & Earth begins with the track “Victorious”. “Victorious” contains a slightly different feel than anything that was contained in the band’s self-titled release. While it does have a Hard Rock approach as the basis to the music, there is also a very prominent and unmistakable Middle Eastern flavor to it, as well. In fact, the beginning of the track with the inclusion of the Middle Eastern flavor feels almost symphonic in nature. Once the intro to the track plays out, the song launches into a strong Classic Rock vibe that will remind you of a mix of Queensryche-inspired and Aerosmith-inspired music. The song feels vast in its musical sound and because of that, it is the perfect way to start off the newest release from Heaven & Earth.
The second track on Dig is “No Money, No Love”. With the track, Heaven & Earth bring a more typical Hard Rock feel to the music that feels like something that might have been created by either The Cult or the later versions of the band Great White. If you’ve been looking for a solid Hard Rock song but not finding it in today’s modern music scene, this track does a fine job of reminding us of just what Hard Rock can sound like.
While the “power ballad” had its day back in the late eighties and/or early nineties, there still seems to be a definite need for it, especially when much of today’s music is so cold and hard. The track “I Don’t Know What Love Is” finds Heaven & Earth taking a more acoustic approach on this track, which helps to reinforce the sadness in the lyrics that are sung with both passion and strength by Joe Retta. The inclusion of strings and a sizable chorus to handle the background vocals helps to add to the beauty of the track that was already there in the initial tracks of the song.
Like the best Classic Rock bands that came before them, Heaven & Earth includes some of the Blues in their style. The track “House of Blues,” an appropriately-named song, is proof of that. The slower pace of the music and the soulful vocal approach of Retta bring forward that Blues/Rock combination that embodied much of that classic style of the music. The keyboards by Arlan Schierbaum really help to add that Blues flavor to the song. “House of Blues” feels like a modern take on the old standard of “House of the Rising Sun”.
The album Dig from Heaven & Earth comes to a close with the track “Live as One”. The song has a very uplifting message and also feels very positive as you listen to the band and the Agape Love Ensemble deliver that message of accepting each other as we are.
The twelve songs that make up the album Dig from Heaven & Earth combine to make one great album of Rock and Roll. While the band’s 2004 self-titled release was a very well done album, the new album Dig feels much more solid and finds the band of Stuart Smith, Chuck Wright, Richie Onori, Arlan Schierbaum, and Joe Retta truly feeling like the band they always should have been.
- See more at: http://rockandrollreport.com/cd-review-heaven-and-earth-dig/#sthash.gqCiQqgr.dpuf
by Celtic Bob
I would like to begin by saying that DIG is a fantastic album. It received many plays throughout the year.
Thanks Bob. Glad you like it.
What initially prompted you to release a new Heaven & Earth album in 2013 rather than a solo album?
I’ve always preferred a band situation to a solo album and when I got the deal from Quarto Valley Records to do this, all the players that I wanted to get together with were available. In fact the second album was meant to be a band situation as I’d dropped my name from the title by then.
How did you find this line-up especially Joe Retta? His vocals are amazing and bring a lot to the music.
Heaven & Earth’s Stuart Smith
Yes, Joe is amazing. To my mind he’s the best singer in rock today. I’d known Joe from around the L.A. music scene for a few years and when I reformed Sweet with Steve Priest I brought Joe into that project. It was during the course of working with Sweet that I discovered Joe and myself were kindred spirits in the sense of wanting to write new material. Richie Onori has been the drummer on nearly all the older Heaven & Earth material. Both Chuck Wright and Arlan Schierbaum I’ve known and worked with over the years and when we all got together in the same room the chemistry was right there.
Was he the missing piece to make DIG the album to put Heaven & Earth on the map and in the public’s eye?
He was certainly one of them. I really feel it was a combination of things from Joe’s voice to the support of Bruce Quarto from Quarto Valley Records to the amount of time we spent crafting and writing the songs, to the players involved, the production and the stunning imagery provided by Glen Wexler.
Not really. We all just got together and wrote and felt what we love which is music from the 70’s era. We didn’t consciously set out with any clear overall sound in mind.
How is your relationship with Ritchie (Blackmore) these days? Do you see or speak to him often?
I haven’t seen Ritchie in a few years but would like to make more of an effort this year to re-connect.
Any discussions on working together on a future project?
No but I would love to.
How has the support been for this new album?
From the press it’s been incredible. Every single review we’ve had has been calling “Dig” either, “The best rock album in the last 10 years” or “Album of the Year”. Unfortunately that doesn’t translate into sales. There’s a huge problem with piracy and bootlegging right now. People don’t buy your albums anymore when it’s available from some Russian site for free the day after you’ve released it.
The debut single “No Money, No Love” had such a ‘colorful’ video that really caught your eye with the visuals. This was my introduction to your music and made me get the album. The next video single; “I Don’t Know What Love Is” was more subdued but still a great piece. Was the old-time, renaissance look a bit of a Blackmore influence or coincidence as both videos work really well with the songs?
Coincidence. I had nothing to do with the scripting of the videos. They were written and directed by Glen Wexler.
Will there be another release from the album?
No, what you have on there is all we did.
Any plans to have the previous albums (HEAVEN & EARTH and WINDOWS TO THE WORLD) repressed and reissued in the near future for those of us that just discovered your music and want to purchase more?
Yes, we have the first album as well as the “Making of” DVD available from the bands website and we’re in the process of creating the artwork for “Windows to the World” so we can make that one available as well.
Have you begun thinking about or writing for the next release?
Yes. Joe Retta and I have started laying down some new ideas.
With the fantastic new line-up and LP out last Spring do you see Heaven & Earth continuing on releasing albums and playing shows?
Definitely. We’ve got our agent working on booking us some work for this year and then I expect we will record another album.
That’s all I have for you and I would like to say Thank You for taking the time in answering a few questions for us. In closing is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
Thank you for all your support over the years and I look forward to seeing you all on the road later this year.
Thanks again and looking forward to hearing more great music in the not too distant future. Cheers!
5) Heaven and Earth – “Dig”
I can’t say enough about this band. Their sole mission is to save rock music. I love the Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire etc as much as anybody, but I miss the virtuoso’s. Heaven & Earth is lead by guitarist Stuart Smith, but the band is made up of ridiculous talent. The lead singer sounds like a combination of Paul Rodgers and Chris Cornell…yeah that good.
See the full list here
HEAVEN & EARTH–guitarist STUART SMITH, singer JOE RETTA, bassist Tony Franklin, drummer RICHIE ONORI and keyboardist ARLAN SCHIERBAUM–are ending 2013 on a high note after taking home the award for “Best In Rock” at the 2013 Hollywood Music in Media Awards ceremony at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on November 21 and now working with Affliction Clothing.
On band taking home HMMA Award and working with Affliction, Stuart noted, “It was a great honor to be nominated for this award and we’re very proud to have won it considering the resumes of the other nominees. Heaven & Earth are very proud to have been offered this opportunity to work with Affliction. I, myself have worn their jackets and shirts for years and love the style and quality they bring to the table.” Clif Chason, a founder of Affliction Clothing, adds, “Affliction is happy to be working with such a talented band as Heaven & Earth.”
HEAVEN & EARTH–which fuses elements of hard rock, blues and bits of classical with bravado and a razor-sharp focus—released their critically acclaimed album Dig earlier this year (4/23) on Quarto Valley Records. Dig was produced by Dave Jenkins–who’s turned the knobs for everyone from Metallica to Tower of Power—and features special guests Howard Leese (Heart, Paul Rodgers), Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and David Paich (Toto). HEAVEN & EARTH’s music comes together explosively on the album’s first single “No Money, No Love” and its controversial video which has logged close to 470,000 view and can be viewed here: http://tinyurl.com/cdopr5d. As the band’s founder and visionary, Smith says about Dig, “I feel that with the crafting of the songs on this album, the incredible band we’ve put together, especially with powerhouse vocalist Joe Retta and the unwavering support of Quarto Valley Records’ President, Bruce Quarto, we really have a shot at getting Heaven & Earth the attention it deserves. This album is by far, the best thing I have ever done in my life!”
About HEAVEN & EARTH:
The origins of HEAVEN & EARTH align the band’s founder and visionary, Stuart Smith, with a rich lineage of rock’s most celebrated musicians. Kelly Hansen (Foreigner), Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow) and Kelly Keeling (King Kobra) all fronted the band at various junctures. Guitarists Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and Howard Leese (Heart, Paul Rodgers), singer and bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Country Communion), bassist Steve Priest (Sweet) and drummer Carmine Appice (Jeff Beck Group/Vanilla Fudge/Rod Stewart), among others, have each contributed their extraordinary talents to HEAVEN & EARTH’s first two albums: Heaven & Earth Featuring Stuart Smith (1994) and Windows to the World (2000). HEAVEN & EARTH’s groundbreaking debut album, Heaven & Earth Featuring Stuart Smith, is considered a cult classic and brought Smith to the forefront of the guitar elite being compared in the press to Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page and garnering Smith the award for “Best Guitarist” and “Best New CD” for three years running at the Los Angeles All Access Music Awards. In the summer of 2012, the guitarist set out to mold HEAVEN & EARTH into a world-class recording and touring band which led to the recording of their new album Dig and now the future has never looked brighter for the band.
Download Glen Wexler’s cover art for Dig (above) here: http://tinyurl.com/lfpup9n
Dig–the critically acclaimed album from HEAVEN & EARTH–is available here: http://tinyurl.com/k23rsco
More Praise For HEAVEN & EARTH’s Dig here:
“…the album does a fantastic job at showcasing every possible side of the music…a band can create.”
– Kristyn Clarke, POPCULTUREMADNESS.COM, March 12, 2013
“The songs are utterly amazing with incredible vocals and hooks that lodge themselves on the brain and refuse to leave for days.”
–Gerry Gittelson, METALSLUDGE.TV.COM, April 5, 2013
“Heaven & Earth is a band that has the true spirit of real rock and roll running through their hearts and souls…Dig…will have fans of guitar driven hard rock wetting their pants with excitement upon first listen.”
–Jeb Wright, CLASSICROCKREVISITED.COM, March 25, 2013
“Tapping into the methodology and madness of old-school rock with a new-school attitude, Heaven & Earth are shaking their classic rock roots down to the very core on their newest effort, Dig…”
– Robert Cavuoto, GUITARINTERNATIONAL.COM, February 21, 2013
“…it has been quite some time anyone has heard a solid album’s worth of this particular style of music — majestic, triumphant, straight forward rock, without any of today’s assembly line, paint-by-numbers blandness…Dig offers up 12 compositions, that will…satisfy…fans of solid musicianship, excellent songwriting skills, and music that stands above whatever is being passed off as rock music today…Retta’s vocals are dynamic, and strong, an excellent choice to deliver these songs. He sings with confident conviction, a trait necessary for this style of hard rocking, but always melodic, rock and roll…Music of this caliber deserves to be heard.”
–Bruce Forrest, VINTAGEROCK.COM, April 8, 2013
“Dig truly is a ‘band’ album. The mix, with guitars audible, focuses on presenting all instruments on an equal level and provides the framework for Retta to lay down his vocals…The music on Dig is bold, deliberate and powerful.”
–John Kindred, HARDROCKHAVEN.NET, March 11, 2013
“Heaven & Earth re-instill the music industry with timeless tracks off of their upcoming album, ‘Dig’…‘Dig’ resurrects the era by emphasizing the instrumental and lyrical diversity of classic rock.”
–Lonnie Nemiroff, SHOCKYA.COM, March 7, 2013
“This is an album that absolutely must be heard by any purist and old school rock fan. With those piercing and psychedelically hypnotizing riffs, licks and solos, the calming and chilling vocals and more, Heaven & Earth are one of those bands that make you say “where has this been?”
–Reggie Edwards, THEFRONTROWREPORT.COM, March 4, 2013
“A new era has begun, folks. Or, should I say an old era has resurfaced…this new era has a fresh new face building a solid rock fortress upon that foundation. It’s Heaven & Earth.”
–Scott Itter, DRMUSIC.ORG, March 17, 2013
“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 [Dig] 12 track, epic retro-rock masterpiece is an uncompromising throw back to the vintage sounds of the 1980’s versions of Rainbow and Bad Company, in sound, style and musicianship…Every song can stand on its own and sadly, that’s really not very common nowadays.
–Thomas Orwat Jr., ROCKMUSICSTAR.COM, March 22, 2013
“‘Dig’ is twelve songs deep with each and every offering creating another facet of classic rock and roll performance.”
– East Chapman, MAINEMUSICNEWS.COM, March 17, 2013
“Their new album ‘Dig’ sums up the last forty years of rock music. You can hear their influence from the seventies, but it has a very modern energy and attitude, but most importantly these guys know how to play their instruments. Singer Joe Retta’s voice is a combination of Paul Rodgers and Chris Cornell.”
–Bob Zerrull, ZOIKSONLINE.COM, April 2, 2013
“Heaven and Earth got it right…from the production, to the riffs, to the incredible keyboard sound, the propelling vocals, the concept, the artwork it all just fits and puts every classic rocker back in time where this music once rule the land…”
–Denys Jaime, MYGLOBALMIND.COM, April 12, 2013
“…Dig is clearly a strong candidate for album of the year.”
–Joseph Suto, ROCKSHOWCRITIQUE.COM, May 14, 2013
“The new Heaven And Earth release, Dig…is a future classic that will influence the bands of the future. With its heavy guitar driven sound and thick Hammond organ, Dig is a masterpiece.”
– Jeffrey Easton, METALEXILES.COM, May 21, 2013
“Heaven + Earth has created a masterpiece.”
–Adam Waldman, HARDROCKDADDY.COM, June 5, 2012
Heaven and Earth, put together by ex-Sweet guitarist Stuart Smith in 1996, have a third outing, Dig, for 2013. The band’s style of music is a pleasant mixing pot of old school/70s arena rock (think Foreigner, Deep Purple, Bad Company), with a heavy saturation of pop and blues. Although Dig presents little musically new or ground-breaking, it has been quite some time anyone has heard a solid album’s worth of this particular style of music — majestic, triumphant, straight forward rock, without any of today’s assembly line, paint-by-numbers blandness. Read more >
Heaven And Earth has been around since the 1990s, releasing two albums (a self-titled debut in 1998, and “Windows To The World” in 2001), one EP (Taste Of Heaven in 2006), and a DVD (Making of Heaven And Earth in 2007). The lineup has shifted over the years, but founding member and guitarist Stuart Smith has been around throughout. On “Dig” he’s joined by Joe Retta (formerly of Sweet) on vocals, Chuck Wright (known from Quiet Riot) on bass, Richie Onori on drums, and Arlan Schierbaum on the Hammond organ.
These guys certainly have some serious musical chops, and “Dig” comes loaded with some very well-crafted melodic hard rock, decked out with fine touches of classic rock, and melodic rock as well. A quick look at the list of guest musicians hints at some of the band’s influences, for example, there’s Howard Leese (Heart), David Paich (Toto) and Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi). Several tunes also bring Deep Purple to mind, and not just because of that Hammond organ – there’s just an attractive 1970s sensibility to the music, infusing all that hard rock with a lot of groove and blues.
You get the feel for that 70s-vibe right away on opening track “Victorious”, a rousing rocker that feels like an epic battle hymn, with a melody that swings and grooves with Schierbaum’s terrific organ playing. It’s one of the album’s best tracks, showing off Stuart’s huge and skillful guitar work, the power of the rhythm section, and Retta’s strong and impressive rock’n’roll pipes.
Second track “No Money, No Love” is a great hot and heavy rocker, and the band revs its hard-rocking engine again on the speeding “Man & Machine” with some serious rock’n’roll howls, and beautifully heavy drums.
Other standouts include the passionately bluesy “House of Blues” with excellent vocals and dazzling guitar work; and the riffy and groovy “Back In Anger”, touching on some of the doomsday news currently making headlines. My favorite tune on the album is probably the dark and evocative “Sexual Insanity” which switches easily and effectively between slow and smoldering heat, and hard-driving, hard-rocking passion.
While I prefer Heaven And Earth’s heavier tunes, there are some good ballads here too. The best of the bunch is “I Don’t Know What Love Is” – the kind of tune that tugs at your heartstrings with a gorgeous acoustic intro, and tender vocals. “Waiting For The End Of The World” is a keeper as well – it has a folk-rock tone, starting out with some softer vocals before the band fires up and reveals the tunes heavy rocking heart.
A couple of the ballads towards the end are a bit too soft for my liking, but this is still a solid and inspired album. Fans of melodic hard rock and classic rock will definitely find lots to love here.
|About Heaven and Earth:|
| Taking up from where iconic bands like Deep Purple and Bad Company have left off, Heaven & Earth is on a mission to resurrect the sanctity of classic rock to its purist, most accessible form. Heaven & Earth fuses elements of hard rock, blues, even bits of classical, to create a potent blend of high-powered anthems, melodic rockers and introspective ballads that evoke the spirit of a magical era.
Tapping into the methodology and madness of old-school rock with a new-school attitude, Heaven & Earth are shaking their classic rock roots down to the very core on their newest effort, Dig (Quarto Valley Records). The album, produced by Dave Jenkins — who’s turned the knobs for everyone from Metallica to Tower of Power — and scheduled for an April 2013 release, features 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) and Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi).
As the band’s founder and visionary, Smith says Dig is “the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
The origins of Heaven & Earth align the guitarist with a rich lineage of rock’s most celebrated musicians. Kelly Hansen (Foreigner), Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow) and Kelly Keeling (King Kobra) all fronted the band at various junctures. Guitarist Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi), singer and bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Country Communion), and drummer Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge) have each contributed their extraordinary talents to the music of Heaven & Earth.
Early in his career, Smith distinguished himself by making the acquaintance of Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, who mentored the up-and-coming musician. “I’m probably one of the few people in the world who grew up with a poster of someone on their wall, ended up meeting them, becoming friends with them, and getting mentored by them,” Smith notes. “I feel I owe everything I do to Ritchie. He taught me a lot about the guitar.”
Heeding Blackmore’s advice, he migrated to New York and after three years jamming around Manhattan and Long Island, headed west to Los Angeles, where he’s been ever since. Smith established himself as an in-demand guitarist in L.A., playing countless sessions and joining up with other British expats like Keith Emerson and Sweet. Around the same time, Heaven & Earth was conceived as a side project, something to cultivate Smith’s creative juices between stints working with others.
A few false starts and random gigs in, he recruited Richie Onori and singer Kelly Hansen to record the first album, Heaven & Earth Featuring Stuart Smith. He also invited along a few heavy friends like Richie Sambora, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes, Carmine Appice, Howard Leese, Chuck Wright, Arlan Schierbaum, Robbie Wykoff and many more to appear on the record.
Windows to the World, produced by Howard Leese, followed in 2000 and featured Onori, Wright, Schierbaum and singer Kelly Keeling. Four years later, when Smith and Onori started their own label, Black Star Records, to reissue the first Heaven & Earth CD, they recorded a four-song EP called A Taste of Heaven with Paul Shortino handling the vocals.
Joe Retta entered the picture when he joined Sweet in 2008. “I wanted to write and record new music and so did Stuart,” the singer recalls. “We discovered eventually that Sweet did not.” Smith adds, “After touring with him in Sweet and recording with him in the studio, there was no other choice. Everyone else was second best.”
In the summer of 2012, the guitarist tendered his resignation to Sweet bassist Steve Priest and set out to mold Heaven & Earth into a world-class recording and touring band. Having Retta, Onori, Wright and Schierbaum committed and on board, Smith says Heaven & Earth is now a “real band,” ready to unleash its unique brand of classic rock upon an unsuspecting public.
Dig is very much a collaborative effort. Quarto Valley Records has been integral in allowing the band to develop and nurture the album without pressure.
“We are incredibly lucky to have Quarto Valley Records president, Bruce Quarto behind this project,” Smith says. “He told us from the very beginning that he didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost. If we come out of the studio and feel we could have done better, he wants us to go back in and do it again. We’ve been able to take our time crafting the songs. It’s very rare to have that kind of support and belief in what you’re doing.”
A good portion of the music on Dig was brought to the band by Smith. He came up with riffs and the band worked up songs as Retta wrote vocal melodies and lyrics. On one occasion, Smith and Retta went on a hike and discussed the idea of putting together a song in the vein of a Rainbow classic co-written by their friend Ronnie James Dio.
“We both played at his memorial service,” Smith recalls. “I thought we needed a song like ‘Long Live Rock N’ Roll.’ But instead of saying society hasn’t saved me, the church hasn’t saved me, school hasn’t saved me, religion and politics haven’t saved me… rock and roll has. So we wrote a song called ‘Rock ‘n Roll Does.’ That was a turning point of the album.”
The music just kept coming. Smith might throw out a title or a concept for Retta to run with, or the singer might have an idea to develop on his own. Or they may turn to the other band members for input — especially Wright, whom Smith describes as a “great part writer.” The bassist known for working with rock music icons, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Greg Allman, Gene Simmons and Slash concurs, “Stuart brought in a riff that had a real Middle Eastern flavor, and I jumped right in with a lot of parts that basically rounded out the song.”
That song is “Victorious,” one of the more intense and heavier tracks on Dig — mightily driven by a surly, dominant guitar line, magnificently sustained by Schierbaum’s inimitable swipes at the keys. “He’s the most amazing Hammond player I’ve ever seen in my life,” Smith raves. Quite an impressive endorsement from someone who was in a band with Keith Emerson.
Where does the inspiration come for such an epic piece? Retta says “Victorious” was originally called “Arabia.” He and Smith decided the lyrics should appeal to a wider audience, so they went back to the drawing board and recast the song. “The music feels violent to me,” the singer explains. “The ‘Arabia’ version gave me visions of men at war on horseback in the desert. It was already about battle. So a transition to the pre-battle scenario that you hear now is more natural.”
According to Smith, when work began on Dig, he had just gone through a nasty breakup, which set a dark tone for the first few tunes. “Back In Anger,” “No Money No Love” and “I Don’t Know What Love Is Anymore” all reflect the emotions the guitarist was experiencing.
As work progressed, Smith’s mood started to lighten, which affected the direction of the music. For the final number, the uplifting “Live As One,” a choir was added to sweeten the melody, ending the record on an extremely high and positive note.
Dark to light, hair-raising rockers to intense ballads and all things in between — Smith believes the diversity of material on Dig is inherent even in the Heaven & Earth moniker. “I think it sums up the music,” he says.
“Dig is very different from the first album I was involved with,” Wright adds. “That first album was more of a Stuart Smith solo record. This one is truly a band effort.”
All the backing tracks on Dig were recorded at Ocean Studios in Burbank, California, and all the overdubs were done at the band’s own Wine Cellar Studios in Woodland Hills, California. To further refine the record’s sonic reach, Jenkins used a Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor (CLASP), a device that integrates real analog tape recording into digital tools like Pro Tools to create a warm and vintage sound. Both Van Halen and Aerosmith enlisted a CLASP on their most recent albums.
In the same tradition, Heaven & Earth brought in photographer/creative director Glen Wexler to create the cover art for Dig. Wexler has shot and designed over 300 album covers, including records by Van Halen, Black Sabbath and ZZ Top. He’s also directing the music videos for Dig, planned for release in January 2013.
The future has never looked brighter for Heaven & Earth. After years of stopping and starting, adjusting and shifting, Smith feels his time has come. “Everything sort of fell into place for this — the songs, the players, even the old-school approach to recording. I couldn’t be more excited.”