Have you ever wondered what a songwriter
was thinking when they wrote a certain song? With the inside track it
will no longer be a mystery as we speak with the musicians themselves and
they give us the inside story on songs, their inspirations, the stories
behind the songs and more.
of Heaven & Earth
Inside Track interview by Keavin Wiggins
For this edition of Inside Track we have
a very special interview Heaven & Earth founder, lead guitarist and
chief songwriter Stuart Smith. If you fellow melodic guitar rock then there
is a good chance you already own the two previous Heaven & Earth releases.
Stuart's prowess as a gifted guitarist and masterful songwriter have been
lauded by critics and fans alike. During his career he has had the good
fortune to work with many f the musicians that have become household names
in rock. Many of those collaborations appeared on the first Heaven &
Earth CD and some appear on the new EP "A Taste of Heaven."
Not one to rest of his laurels, Stuart
has also branched out to help others achieve their dreams of stardom. Using
his insight experience he has now launched a new record label and is moving
forward with a clear vision of where he'd like to see rock head in the
In the following interview Stuart not only
gives us the Inside Track on the new ""A Taste of Heaven" EP, he
also catches us up with what he is up to and his future plans, as well
as looks at the current state of rock and what he hopes to do to changes
Inside Track: Heaven & Earth has
undergone some changes since we last spoke. Can you fill us in on what
you've been doing and where the band is at now?
Stuart Smith: After we brought out
the last album, "Windows to the World" we went on tour to support it even
though it wasn't officially released in the States. During that time
it was becoming increasingly difficult to work with Kelly Keeling, our
singer at the time. Kelly had definite ideas as to where he saw the
band going and unfortunately they didn't coincide with where Richie Onori,
(Heaven & Earth's drummer), and I saw it going. It came to a
head when we started writing material for the next album so we decided
to take a break for a while. Richie started work recording a solo
album that is now finished and as some of you may know I met and started
working with a female singer called Doah. We spent a year writing,
recording and playing a few shows and came up with some really interesting
material. She had the most amazing voice but sadly it didn't work
After that I spent the next year writing
new material and putting together a solid business proposal to form our
own record label which we managed to do in June this year with our partners
George and Tina Altuzarra. As far as where the band is right now
we've recorded a few tracks with Paul Shortino singing and released
an EP called "A Taste of Heaven." We've also recorded a couple of
tracks to use as bonus tracks on the Stateside release of the first Heaven
& Earth CD. Next we'll be getting on with the next Heaven &
Earth album which will be entitled "Screaming for Redemption."
Inside Track: We'll get to the
new EP a little more later on but I wanted to know how the idea of doing
this EP came about? What made you decide to go with an EP now instead of
waiting and putting out a full length?
Stuart: We had a show to play here
in Woodland Hills on July 4th to 40,000 people and thought it would be
a good idea to have something to sell there. We'd just got the financing
through for our record company about a month before so we went into
our studio and recorded a few more tracks as we'd already started recording
for the new album. Our drummer Richie Onori thought of the idea of
adding 4 tracks from the first album and calling it "A Taste of Heaven."
Inside Track: I hear a lot of
influences in your playing and songwriting. Having known you for quite
a few years I know that Ritchie Blackmore is a big inspiration to you.
But what other guitarists and equally important songwriters do think had
a big influence on you?
Stuart: Ritchie was slightly more
than an just inspiration as he actually taught me but as far as other guitarists
go I'd have to say Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, Dave
Gilmore, Angus Young, Paul Kossoff and Brian May.
Songwriters? I'd say Don Henley,
Jamie Kyle, the team of Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore,
Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs, Bryan Adams, Roger Waters, The Beatles, Melissa
Etheridge, Gary Moore, Plant & Page, Joe Lynn Turner.
Inside Track: This is a bit of
the spin on the cheesy old desert island question but it has to be asked.
What three albums do you think directly contributed to the evolution of
rock? I mean if they would never had been made, rock would have gone
off in a different direction.
Stuart: Deep Purple In Rock,
Led Zeppelin 2 and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon.
Inside Track: As a songwriter
where do you draw your inspiration from?
Stuart: That's a difficult question
to answer because it comes from so many avenues.
There's time when I'll think of a good
line like "Screaming for Redemption" and I'll base the whole song around
that one thing. There's other times when I'm playing the guitar at
home and will come up with a catchy riff and look for ideas to go with
Sometimes it's just something I hear that
inspires me to come up with a song, it can be a drum pattern or series
of chords on a commercial on television. There are also times I'll
be jamming with the band and something will surface from the depths or
I'll sit down with someone I work well with like Jaime Kyle, Doah, Howard
Leese or Joe Lynn Turner and the magic will start to flow.
Inside Track: What is the prime
motivating factor when you are writing a song? Having something to say
or crafting a hit? Or does it just flow our naturally and go where
it inevitably is supposed to end up?
Stuart: Definitely having something
to say, if it turns out to be a hit all the better. Some songs do
just flow naturally and some are like giving birth to an elephant.
I've had some ideas that will sit around for a year or more before I find
a reason to bring them to the surface or find myself working with someone
who'll bring a complimentary idea to the table. Sometimes it ends
up where it's meant to and sometimes you're at the mercy of the wind and
it turns out very different than what you originally envisaged.
Inside Track: What first inspired you
to become a musician?
Stuart: I started violin lessons
at age seven then someone gave me a guitar and I was just kind of natural
at it. I originally had no desire to be a musician as my father was
my hero. He was a jet fighter pilot in the RAF and that's all I wanted
to do, fly fighter jets and blast things out of the sky but sadly I was
colour blind so couldn't do that. As things progressed I found that
colour blindness was stopping me doing a lot of the things I wanted to
and when I was seventeen I had one of those weeks you hear about in blues
songs. I lost the job I had, I smashed my car up in an accident,
my girlfriend at the time cleared off with one of my friends and I was
arguing with my Dad about what I was going to do with my life. At
the end of that week I went into a bar in Bedford where I lived and a local
band was playing jazz fusion which was the cool thing at the time.
The place was packed and everyone was sat on the floor nodding their heads
to the music. I saw my ex-girlfriend with my ex-friend there together
and at the moment I walked in the band saw me and said over the mic, "Here
comes our three chord heavy riff merchant," (I had a rival band in town
that played hard rock at the time). Something inside just snapped
and I walked onstage and said to the guitarist, "Give me your guitar."
Like an idiot he did and I proceeded to go into "Good Golly Miss Molly"
at a breakneck pace and the band joined in. I've probably never played
with such passion and aggression since but I was going crazy, playing over
the top of the neck and pulling out all the stops. At the end of
the song as the drummer was doing the final roll I threw the guitar in
the air and caught it on the last hit. The people in the place exploded
and I just stormed off and sat at the back of the pub.
Suddenly I was surrounded by everybody,
there was a girl sat on either side of me, my ex was coming up trying to
talk to me, people were ignoring the jazz fusion band and everyone was
saying I should go professional. I got in my car, drove off into
the hills and sat and thought for a couple of hours, drove home, woke my
Dad up at 3.00 am and told him I was going to be a professional musician.
He looked at me and said, "Do it well" so that's what I've tried to do
Inside Track: What do you think
of the current state of rock? Are the kids being short changed by
the current crop of "rock stars"?
Stuart: It's a mess. People
who have no right even being on a stage are getting signed and having huge
amounts of money put behind them simply because they have a famous sister
or are seen on television on a regular basis. I was watching the
one of these entertainment shows on television last night and they were
interviewing the ex-wife of the guy that Brittany Spears is going to marry.
She said at the end of the interview that she was now going out as a singer.
I can guarantee that by the end of next week she'll have been offered a
record deal and will have all kinds of press weather she has talent or
not. Just wait and see. The industry is such a joke at the moment.
If the major labels would actually get behind someone who could really
sing or play and put the massive amounts of promotion and publicity at
their disposal into them as they do with half the yo-yo's they sign we'd
have some half decent music out there. The trouble is that the industry
is run by a bunch of lawyers and accountants and not by people who really
have a love of music like Ahmet Ertegun with Atlantic Records did in the
old days, they're signing people who have no talent but a high profile
for whatever reason.
Yes, I think the kids are being short changed
when it comes to the current crop of rock stars. There's no-one really
out there right now that's going to be remembered in ten years the way
that bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Free, Yes, Pink Floyd and Robin
Trower are today.
Inside Track: What do you think
is the biggest obstacle that musicians face in their quest to "make it"?
Stuart: Money, pure and simple.
It's incredibly difficult to survive and play music for a living.
It always has been, it's not like when you tell your parents that you're
going to be a musician they start jumping up and down for joy, but I think
it's even harder nowadays. Musicians have to deal with "Pay to Play"
which we never did when I was starting out. Some clubs in England
tried it but most of the bands refused to do it and we'd all gang up together
and beat up the musicians that did when they turned up to set up their
equipment. That way the clubs had to book bands who were good and
not because someone had a rich daddy.
Even with running our own label it's down
to how much money you're willing to spend to get the visibility you need
in places where I feel you shouldn't have to. It seems to me that
if you have enough financial backing you can make anyone a star.
Don't get me wrong, I know it's the way the system works and I'm not complaining,
I just wish a bit more attention was given to musical content as opposed
Inside Track: If you could change one
thing about the music business, what would it be?
Stuart: As Shakespeare said, "Kill
all the lawyers" there again that's probably a good start in any industry.
I think I pretty much answered this question in my last answers, bring
back some well played music as opposed to the drivel we have to listen
to at the moment.
Inside Track: You've played with a who's
who of rock over the years. Aside from the current Heaven & Earth line-up
which collaborations do you look back most fondly on?
Stuart: I've enjoyed playing with
virtually everybody that I've been with but I would have to say playing
with Keith Emerson in the "Aliens of Extraordinary Ability" was a blast,
playing with my long time drummer Richie Onori and the collaboration with
Inside Track: Is there anyone
that you haven't played with yet that's on your list of "people I'd love
to jam with"?
Stuart: Probably Eric Clapton or
Inside Track: What interests do
you have outside of music?
Stuart: I study martial arts, go
on hikes, watch movies, have dinner parties, go to jam with friends at
various clubs and traveling.
Inside Track: Now we get to my
favorite part of the interview, the Inside Track. This is where you
get a chance to tell the fans a little bit more about each song on the
album. Maybe the inside story, the inspiration, something that happened
while recording or writing it. I'll give you the song title and you
tell us a little more about it.
Screaming for Redemption
This is a song Paul Shortino and I wrote
and is going to be the title track for the new CD. I came up with
the title, lyrics and music for the chorus, Paul added the same for the
verses, I added the bridge and Paul modified the chorus during recording.
It was written when I was going through a relationship break up and is
basically about how someone can manipulate a situation to make you feel
you were in the wrong although you did everything right.
Heaven was an idea I had musically which
I wrote on the 12 string acoustic guitar. Jaime Kyle was in town
and came round to my house along with Howard Leese. We all sat by
the pool together and Howard added some more musical ideas while Jaime
came up with the lyrics. Howard then made a demo of the song in his
home studio which we e-mailed to Jaime in Nashville. She put a rough
vocal on it then we worked from that.
Nasty Piece of Work
This is a song put together under pressure
which is sometimes a good thing. We had to get these 4 songs recorded
before the show we were going to play out here in Los Angeles on July 4th.
We needed an extra track and I'd had the lyrics sat around for about 6
months so I sat down the night before we went in the studio, threw the
music together and we recorded it the next night. Interesting lyrics
though, comparing someone to every dictator, mass murderer and serial killer
throughout history. Obviously it's about someone I was very pissed
off with at the time.
It'd Be True
This is a song that has been around for
a while and has gone through quite a few incarnations before reaching
what you hear here today. Back in 1998 Kelly Hansen and myself wrote
the chorus and bridge so that we could submit it to Bon Jovi for inclusion
on their "Crush" album via Richie Sambora who was my brother in law at
the time. We left it unfinished as we felt there was a better chance
of Bon Jovi picking it up if they had something to do with it. Unfortunately
Richie felt it might have been better suited to Rod Stewart than Bon Jovi
so nothing happened with it and it sat around in the vault of my mind for
a few years. When I got together with Doah and we decided to work
together, this was the song we picked to start with. We went over
to Howard Leese's house and played it to him and he came up with the music
for the verse and cut down the bridge. Then Doah and I sat down with
it and she wrote the lyrics and melody for the verse which she excelled
in so it's kind of a four way effort.
"It'd Be True" is about developing close
feelings for someone that you've only previously seen as a friend before
and not knowing how to tell them.
Dreams of Desire
This was inspired by J.S. Bach's "Jesu,
Joy of Mans Desiring." I've always loved that piece of music and
was going to play it strictly as a classical piece on the album and then
Keith Emerson said I should rock it up which is what I did. Pat Regan
and I sat down and wrote out the score for it and I went into record it
with Howard Leese producing. It's an intensely technical piece and
I had to get it down perfectly so I was relaxed enough to play it in the
studio and add some emotion to it and what you hear there is mostly one
When a Blind Man Cries
This song has always been one of my favorites
songs, very soulful. It was originally a B side to a Deep Purple
single and it was never included on an album or played live till many years
later after Ritchie Blackmore left. I always wanted to record a version
of that song so when I got the deal for Heaven & Earth I decided to
include it. I've always loved Richie Sambora's voice so I called
him and asked him if he'd be willing to sing a song on the album and he
was really excited, he said "Yeah, no-one ever asks me to sing."
I think he did an incredible job with the song.
Heaven & Earth
This song was written a few years back
when I was on a skiing trip with Jay Schellen and Kelly Hansen. I
twisted my knee on the slopes so I had to spend the next day in the hotel
room on my own. I came up with the basis for the song and Jay and
I finished it up on the 15 hour drive home. Joe Lynn and I have been
friends forever so he was the first call I made to sing on the album and
this song was taylor made for him.
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
This is an old song by Blind Lemon Jefferson
which I first heard on the movie "Leadbelly." Originally I wanted
Paul Rodgers to sing this song but he was
off on tour. When I asked Glen Hughes
to sing on the album he listened to a few tracks and when he heard our
backing track to Grave he said "That's the
one for me."
Inside Track: What tracks are
you most proud of?
Stuart: That's another difficult
question to answer as I'm proud of virtually everything I do, I wouldn't
release it if I wasn't. I would have to say "Dreams of Desire" is
still one of my favourites and some recording I just did recently which
will soon be released.
Inside Track: I heard some rave
reviews of your recent House of Blues show in Hollywood with MSG and Uli
Jon Roth. From the band's perspective how did that show go?
Stuart: I wish we could have had
time for a decent soundcheck but apart from that we had a blast and I was
blown away by how many people had come to see us, the place was packed.
Inside Track: Any chance of a
full blown tour for Heaven and Earth to promote the new EP?
Stuart: I would love to do a full
blown tour but financial concerns have ruled it out until now. It's
virtually impossible to go on tour and survive unless you either have a
label supporting you or are a big enough name to draw enough people to
fill a decent sized venue. Now we have our own label I can see the
possibility of going out with a couple of other acts using a lot of the
same crew and equipment. We'll see what happens.
Inside Track: This is a bit more
out of personal curiosity, I understand that you always want to go forward
with your career, but I have to ask. You've recorded a lot of material
with a lot of different bands and musicians over the years. In fact,
we first meet while you had one of your previous bands (a few moons ago
and you gave me first real glance at the inside of the business), and to
this day I still love some of the songs from that band and era. Would
you ever consider putting out an anthology type album that spans your career?
I know I'd love to hear "Mandy" again among others.
Stuart: I'd be very much into the
idea if I had the time to sit down and put it all together. A lot
of those songs were not recorded or if they were not with very good quality
equipment so they'd have to be cut again. Obviously most of the material
is pretty dated and to give them the modern touch might destroy what made
them work in the first place. It might be interesting though to give
it a try.
Inside Track: What do you hope
people get out of your music?
Stuart: Laid :-) There is
a great line in the movie "Immortal Beloved" where Beethoven asks his to-be
assistant "what is music?" and after his reply, Beethoven says "No, it's
the power of the composer to transport the listener in to his state of
mind when he wrote it." I think this is a good description of music.
If I can manage to do that and share my emotions, ideas and feelings with
other people then I've succeeded. When I was younger listening to
music would give me hope to carry on and I hope my music does the same
Inside Track: Finally, what's
next for you and Heaven & Earth?
Stuart: With Black Star Records
we are re-releasing the first Heaven & Earth CD with two previously
unheard bonus tracks. We now have the States and Canada distribution
sorted out so this will be our first official release and it hits the stores
on November 2nd. The first song "Life on the Line", which was written
by Joe Lynn Turner, Bobby Held and myself, was recorded back in 1997 during
the original Heaven & Earth sessions and has been updated to feature
Totos Bobby Kimball on vocals. The other song is a remake of Gary
Moore's "Still Got The Blues", which features Joe Lynn Turner giving one
of the best performances of his career.
After that we have another artist that
we're in the process of signing to our label starting their album and we'll
be getting down to recording the next Heaven & Earth CD. I'd
like to get out and play some shows in the New Year as well.
"Heaven & Earth" for yourself and visit Stuart's homepage to learn
more and purchase the new EP.