Heaven & Earth
HEAVEN & EARTH READY TO RISE TO TOP
Here is a Metal Sludge exclusive with founding guitarist Stuart Smith
By Gerry Gittelson
Metal Sludge Editor at Large
HOLLYWOOD– He is not quite a household name, but he will be soon.
Meet Stuart Smith, a late-blooming guitarist who has come “this-close” to making it a bunch of times but is now ready to set the world on fire with Heaven & Earth, a 70s-influenced rock band with an incredible new CD and a ground-swell of support.
Heaven & Earth has been around for quite some time, actually, but Smith and drummer Richie Onari have been busy the past few years with Sweet, the ground-breaking Britsh glam band with original bassist Steve Priest.
Sweet is just a part-time gig these days, so Smith resurrected Heaven & Earth, then pulled in Sweet singer Joe Retta – the guy sings like a God and, like Smith, is ready to break out internationally – and then Smith added legendary bassist Chuck Wright from Quiet Riot, a move that gives Heaven & Earth total credibility in the rock world.
There aren’t many new rock bands with true talent that are willing to dedicate their lives to one project, one band, one album, one dream. Outside of Steel Panther, which is in its own class, there was Black Country Communion, perhaps the new Burning Rain project and perhaps London, and this, Stuart Smith’s last stab at stardom.
“Dig” is the new album set for an April 23 release, and there is big money and a big publicity firm behind Heaven & Earth. The songs are utterly amazing with incredible vocals and hooks that lodge themselves on the brain and refuse to leave for days.
Smith still has that British-rock-star-cool vibe, and the curly-haired guitarist always seems to have a smile on his face. But Smith was bullied as a child, and beneath the surface lie deep feelings of failed romance and rejection that have transformed themselves into a batch of unforgettable songs.
And soon the whole world will know exactly what we mean.
METAL SLUDGE: The CD is incredible. This band is really on its way, Stuart.
STUART SMITH: Thanks Gerry. It’s the best thing I’ve done in my life. It’s actually the third full CD for Heaven & Earth but the first one with singer Joe Retta on it. The guy is great. He is a killer singer.
SLUDGE: Was it a big decision to quit Sweet? Did the decision weigh on you?
SMITH: Not really. I had been in Sweet for a while, and when we got an offer to do a new album, but Steve Priest didn’t want to, I knew that I’d be eventually moving on. He said he didn’t want to do another Sweet album, so I talked to the record company and they made the offer for Heaven & Earth instead. There was a lot of work to do for the Heaven & Earth album, so I quit.
SLUDGE: The interesting part is the others in Heaven & Earth that also play for Sweet — Joe, and drummer Richie Onori – they’re still hanging in there with Sweet, too.
SMITH: Well, they are for now but they are not as involved in the everyday business and the planning and running of the Heaven & Earth as I am. I really didn’t have time to be in both bands.
SLUDGE: It looks like you’ve got a huge budget. At the run-through the other night at that rehearsal room, I saw the head of record company pull up in a new Ferrari.
SMITH: That’s Bruce Quarto. He originally invested in just the recording the album, but once we started writing the songs he asked me why we needed to license it to a record label. I told him that they had all the necessary infrastructure such as marketing, publicity, radio and advertising departments. He then asked me why couldn’t we just hire them individually and I told him “You can, but I’ve got to warn you that doing it this way, it can cost at least a million dollars just to get a band noticed and even then there’s no guarantees”. He just looked at me and said “So”. He then formed Quarto Valley Records and it’s certainly the best label I’ve ever been with. Bruce is 100% behind the band and is so committed to making it a success I think he’s a big a fan of the band than I am, (Laughs)
SLUDGE: So there are big plans in the works. I love it.
SMITH: Yeah, we’ve been in rehearsal for the past few weeks, and we’re doing a special showcase April 10 at Henry Fonda Theatre – we rented out the whole theatre, and it’s a private event for all the agents and everyone else – and then we’re going on tour as soon as possible. The record comes out April 23. We had brought Sweet out with Journey for a promoter in South America, so we’re talking to him about bringing H&E out to South America. He’s looking into who he’s got coming out this year that would be a good match for us.. We really want to get on a big tour, and we’re aiming for that. We’ll see who bites.
SLUDGE: This band is truly an exception. This band has unlimited potential.
SMITH: Yeah, there is a lot going on.
SLUDGE: And the CD. The more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. There is a lot going on, so it takes a few listens for the songs to really sink in. It’s been playing in my CD player in my car for a long time, Stuart, and I like it more and more every time I hear it.
SMITH: Yeah, there is a lot going on, a lot of layering in there. There are various things you don’t hear the first time.
Stuart on stage with Sweet
SLUDGE: Innovative songs, too. Very, very different from Sweet. I mean, Sweet was great, but this is a much different style.
SMITH: Yeah, it comes down to the songwriting and the way the sound is mixed with the whole band. I generally come up with an idea, a riff. That’s how some of the songs started.
SLUDGE: I love song No. 5, “House of Blues.” It’s amazing.
SMITH: Yeah, the blues track. It’s funny how everyone has their favorites. They’re all different. But on “House of Blues,” Joe does an incredible vocal performance.
SLUDGE: You grew up in England and your life changed the day you saw Deep Purple, right?
SMITH: My father was a jet fighter pilot, kind of the “top gun” in England, and we moved around a lot, like every two years, and when I was seven, he bought me a guitar. I learned to play but didn’t have much in rock music until I saw Deep Purple when I was 14. I was blown away. That really turned me onto rock, and years later Ritchie Blackmore and I became good friends. It was his suggestion to move over to the United States because in England back in the 80s it was all dance music and Duran Duran. And over there, if you’re in a band that’s not in fashion, you starve, so I moved to the States.
I first arrived in New York and eventually moved to Los Angeles, and when Heaven & Earth first got signed with WEA, we were a victim of circumstances because halfway through the record, the economy collapsed. It was a comedy of errors. My thinking has always been that as long as I can live and pay the bills by playing guitar, that’s what I was going to do, and I’ve managed until now. I consider myself lucky, and hopefully this album is going to be a breakthrough.
SLUDGE: I’ve got to ask more about Ritchie Blackmore. I know you’re really good friends with him. But Ritchie Blackmore’s reputation, he has received a lot of criticism for his personality. You probably see a different side. What are your thoughts?
SMITH: Well, most of the criticism has come from people that he fired. He is incredibly professional, and when he hires musicians that get wasted or do not give 100 percent to the show he fires them and then they complain about him in the press. If you’re the type who is more interested in partying than performance, that’s not going to go down well with Ritchie at all. Also, he is actually very shy. When he first started, he was too shy to do interviews, but in some ways that worked in his favor because the moody, dark image worked for him. He’s very intelligent.
SLUDGE: Plus, there is Richie Sambora, another good friend. He played on the new record, right?
SMITH: He came down and played slide guitar and voice box on “Man & Machine.” Richie’s family to me. He’s my brother in law as I was married to Colleen Locklear the same time he was married to Heather.
SLUDGE: I have to interrupt. Is Heather’s sister super beautiful just like Heather Locklear is?
SMITH: Of course.
SLUDGE: That’s what I figured. OK, go on.
SMITH: Richie is still one of my good friends and is certainly one of the greatest guys in the business. I really appreciated him coming down and recording with us because he was super busy recording his own solo album. We had actually collaborated before on the first Heaven & Earth album, but of course he got so busy with Bon Jovi. He’s always touring. I think he had one day off in three months on the day he came to the studio, and I love him to death for it. He’s a super nice guy.
Stuart & Richie Sambora
SLUDGE: And you have Chuck Wright on bass. He will always be a legend because it’s his bass line on the Quiet Riot song “Metal Health.”
SMITH: Chuck is great. We brought him in, and he came up with some great parts as a writer. He can take a riff and bring it somewhere else, a great guy who is really involved with the band.
SLUDGE: The drummer, Richie Onori, he does a good job, too.
SMITH: He’s been my drummer for 20-odd years. We’ve always stuck together even though I can’t stand him (laughs). He’s one of my best friends.
SLUDGE: What are your favorite songs on the CD?
SMITH: Oh god, it changes every day but today I think it’s “No Money, No Love.”
SLUDGE: The video is on youtube. You have more than 100,000 hits, and it’s only been posted for a week. There is a huge buzz on this band, Stuart. I remember telling you you were crazy for leaving Sweet, but now it’s looking like you really knew what you were doing.
SMITH: Well, Sweet wasn’t really going anywhere, just playing the same songs every night. There was no improvising, no fun, no new material. I mean, it’s a certain amount of fun because the songs are well-known, and you play hit and after hit and everyone jumps on their feet, but it’s not musically challenging without any new material.
SLUDGE: Was Steve Priest mad when you left?
SMITH: Not really because he knew it was coming. I told him we needed to do original material and to make a new album, but he didn’t want to move forward. I mean, obviously Steve Priest is great because he’s the main writer for all those Sweet hits. Sweet is something I just didn’t want to do anymore.
SLUDGE: He just turned 65 years old. I just don’t think Steve Priest wants to do Sweet full-time.
SMITH: He kind of vacillates. He wants to do Sweet, but it’s just a hobby. For me, Heaven & Earth is my living, my whole job, and I love playing and being out there all the time. And the one thing I’m certain about is I have to write new music. That’s what keeps me going.
SLUDGE: Also, I know you do Mixed Martial Arts training, and you take it seriously. You’re a black belt, too. Are you a dangerous person?
SMITH: I guess if someone pisses me off, I can be. (laughs) When I was growing up, I was small and skinny and used to get picked on a lot. Then I saw a Bruce Lee movie and said, “Hey, he’s small and skinny, too, but he kicks ass.” So I started learning Shotokan when I was like 13 years old, and all of a sudden everyone left me alone without even knowing I was doing it. I just carried myself differently I guess. I’m studying mixed martial arts now, and I have a new trainer, Josh Brenner, and he works me hard. He’s the best teacher I ever had.
The guys in studio listening to some mixes.
SLUDGE: One last thing: The video for “No Money, No Love” depicts a brothel. Is this a statement about Los Angeles women or women in general?
SMITH: Actually, it’s a statement about my ex-girlfriend.
SLUDGE: Really? Does she know the song is about her?
SMITH: No, I don’t think she does.
SLUDGE: Really? Do you enjoy the fact she doesn’t realize it?
SMITH: Yes I do. It’s kind of a sick irony.
Gerry Gittelson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Heaven & Sludge