Heaven & Earth's new album, Dig, celebrates the sound of iconic '70s rock music, a time when rock was at what some consider its purist, most accessible form.
Originally an all-star project for guitarist Stuart Smith, Heaven & Earth has since evolved into a full band that includes Joe Retta (vocals), Chuck Wright (bass), Richie Onori (drums) and Arlan Schierbaum (keyboards).
Picking up where iconic bands like Deep Purple and Bad Company left off, Heaven & Earth are on a mission to resurrect the sanctity — or lat least the sound — of classic rock.
I recently spoke with Smith and Wright about the new album, their gear and more.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this album come together?
WRIGHT: Stuart called me and told me he was doing a new Heaven & Earth record and asked if I wanted to take part. I had played on the other Heaven & Earth albums, but those were more like solo records for Stuart, with a lot of guest stars on them. For this one, he wanted us all to get together in a room and hash things out. Get a real band sound going and do it for real. So we partnered up and came together as a band.
SMITH: Joe Retta [vocals] and I have been playing in Sweet for a while. He has such an amazing voice and reminds me of a young Paul Rodgers. Chuck is such a great bassist and also an amazing writer.
How would you describe the sound of Dig?
SMITH: It's a very '70s-sounding album; it's a period we all came from and can relate to. We really spent a lot of time crafting the songs to bring some of the "new" classic rock sound back to the forefront. It's become our mission statement. Chuck was the one who said it best: "It's something that has been buried for far too long!"
Let's discuss the origin of the song "No Money, No Love."
SMITH: I had just gone through a breakup in a relationship and remember having all of these emotions when I came up with the title and riff. It was from personal experience.
How did you come up with the concept for the video?
WRIGHT: We all got together with our creative director, Glen Wexler (Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Black Sabbath). He's known for creating situations that are both unusual and wonderful. That's how we came up with the album cover and the idea of a Stratocaster being pulled out of the ground.
For the video, Glen brought in the idea after we had discussed a few others. It really represented bringing back rock and roll to us. It takes place in a Victorian bordello where the female character has to choose between love and money. In the end, she chooses money and winds up being suffocated by it. It’s a storyline we'll be keeping throughout our videos; a couple that can never connect, through time.
When did you both start playing?
SMITH: My father was a jet fighter pilot who lived on the base. When I was 7, someone he knew was being transferred overseas and had a Spanish guitar hanging on their wall. He asked my dad if he thought I'd like it. So my father got me the guitar and gave me classical lessons. I played for several years, never really having any interest in rock music.
Then one night, I got dragged by some friends of my parents to a Deep Purple concert. Suddenly, I saw this guy all dressed in black come running up to the end of the stage and start tearing up these incredible classical runs with such emotion and volume that it just blew me away. I instantly became a huge fan, and that was what turned me on to rock music and bands like Free and Black Sabbath. Years later, I met Ritchie [Blackmore], and we became friends and he mentored me. I couldn't have asked for a better teacher. He's the best in the world.
WRIGHT: I started when I was 14. I was in military school for almost nine years, and my first gig was at a fraternity party. I made $75 that night, drank my first beer and remember all the girls said I was cute. That was when I told my mom, "I think I want to do this instead of military school!" [laughs].
Stuart, what's your current setup like?
SMITH I like to use old '70s Strats with the big headstocks. I modify them quite a bit including having the necks slightly scalped, which is Richie's idea. I've also been using a Marshall Major, which is one of Richie's old amps he gave me.
What satisfies you the most about Dig and Heaven & Earth?
SMITH: The biggest satisfaction for me is that it’s a band, and I’m really looking forward to getting this group out on the road and touring.
WRIGHT: We tried to go for a very analog, '70s rock sound with polish. It's definitely an old-school record. I like to say it's one of those albums you'd discover deep within the vaults at Atlantic Records. One that was recorded way back then that no one had ever had a chance to listen to, until now!
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.