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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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