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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. 

Stuart Smith
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 coming years.  

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 things. 

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 out.  

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 that riff.  

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 ever since.

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 to image.

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 Doah.

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 Jimmy Page. 

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 take.

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 for others.

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 Toto’s 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.

Discover "Heaven & Earth" for yourself and visit Stuart's homepage to learn more and purchase the new EP.

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