Uriah Heep's latest album, their third studio outing with producer Mike Paxman, and first for the Frontiers label is "Into The Wild". The album boasts eleven great tunes, with I'm Ready, the title track and Lost being three classic Heep rockers; as well as the epics Kiss of Freedom and Trail of Diamonds. The band lead by guitarist and founding member Mick Box, bassist Trevor Bolder, keyboardist and key writer Phil Lanzon, Canadian singer Bernie Shaw, and drummer Russell Gilbrook [who's the band's newest member] now in his fourth year with the Heep. Here Mick Box takes time during a short break in the band's current world tour to answer my questions about Into the Wild and the band's latest happenings. Check out Heep's latest releases and tour dates at www.uriah-heep.com and check out Mick's blog at www.mick-box.net.
You've completed 2 albums of new material [plus the Celebration and live releases] with Mike Paxman. Actually, this would be the first time the band's had the same producer and line-up since for 2 studio albums in a row since Abominog & Head First.
What can you tell me about working with Mike that has kept the band working with him through a number of releases?
Mike is an inspirational person to be around! He is very UP as a person, and is full of ideas. He gets the best out of us all, with this sort of positive energy. He likes the band to play as a band, and therefore it sounds like a band, rather than having things pieced together individually. He goes on feel as well as sound, and lives by the saying that if it feels and sounds good now, it will always be that way. He does not as a producer choose a take, and then put it on Pro Tools to perfect it, by putting the bass with the bass drum and then the guitars and the keys. Lots of producers in search of perfection, lose all of the magic that was there in the first place. Mike understands this perfectly.
Keeping with the same producer, line-up and the good reviews of WTS, was it that much more easy and exciting to get back in to the studio so much sooner?
[2 studio albums, Celebration, etc... all in 3+ years -- Heep seems to be on a roll].
Yes it was easier, but we always said that once we had found a template to record that we were happy with, we wanted to have more output. Also being with a good label helps.
In keeping with the previous question's line.... With the band being on a roll the past few years and [dare i say] age, is there a sense of keeping the ball rolling or urgency to get more projects [and hopefully including new studio material] while everyone is in good health, willing and able?
I think if we looked at it in that light, it would all be over anyway. As long as we have the passion and energy for what we do, there is no reason to think otherwise, and therefore we take things one step at a time. Everything we do is all part of a natural progression, and we never look too far ahead or too far behind.
Since Bernie & Phil joined 23-24 years ago, you have used several producers before Mike Paxman. And it seems with each album and producer there is almost a different angle to Heep each time. For example -- with Sea of Light and Kalle Trapp the band came out with a very classy [and classic!] '90s hard rock album, Pip Williams seemed to lighten things up with a lot more acoustics, etc on Sonic Origami, and Mike really created a very heavy [in your face] sounding album with WTS. Into The Wild is also heavy, albeit with a bit more variety and a few lighter moments.
How much of an album or direction is sorta pre-planned with the band [ie - "let's make a very heavy album" or "let's make a more contemporary album"] before you go in the studio and/or how much of that does the producer bring out?
It is all very natural, and we do not plan ahead like that. When it is time to do a new Heep CD, we put the songs on the table, and then see what is missing, and perhaps write a few songs to give the CD an overall feel. On ITW we did have a directive from the record company Frontiers, to produce a rock CD. To bring it in line with the songs already written, whilst in the recording process, after sessions, Phil and I worked into the small wee hours of the morning writing more rock based songs. An example of that would be “I’m Ready,” and “Into the Wild,”
Do you mean "I'm Ready" and "ITW" were the last tracks done for the album? And was the explorer any one in particular?
They were the last ones written Kevin! They were written on the spot in the studio! Re: Explorer, not that I know of!
One thing Mike has done well with these albums has brought the bass up in the mix [where as it's less noticeable on say Sonic Origami], giving the albums a heavier & livelier feel. Is this something you guys have noticed or intended and is Trevor happier with the outcome? :-)
Yes on all counts Kevin!
Regarding the tracks on Into The Wild....
Nail On The Head was perhaps the most obvious choice for a single, a catchy chorus, almost reminiscent of the early 80s stuff [ala Stay On Top]. What inspired this track musically & lyrically and who would've suggested it as the lead track [w/ video release ahead of things]?
It was certainly the most accessible track for sure, which is why it was chosen as the lead track. It also has radio airplay possibilities written all over it, and is the track that most radios stations play out of choice. The song took a few turns before it ended up like it did, but we were very happy with the finished result. The video idea was driven by Frontiers.
I'm Ready is a great rocker, my favorite Heep track since Between Two Worlds, and sounds like it'd be [and is] a great concert opener. Can you tell me anything about this song?
It is indeed the concert opener, and it works very well. It has a very positive lyric that people are relating to!
Trail Of Diamonds is an epic tune, and almost comes together like separate tracks from the beginning to the guitar riff [which is reminiscent of the Abominog era, love it]. Was this written originally to be a lengthier piece, or was it a few ideas put together?
As writers so often do, you sometimes like to let some songs evolve naturally. This is one of those songs! It could have remained as a ballad, but on the day of writing we took it elsewhere, and let it grow. The middle section is still very much a part of the song, especially lyrically, and it was a tip of the hat to the instrumental section of Magicians Birthday, with the guitar riff.
Trevor's only track is "Lost", and it's a very unique, intense stand-up rock song, much like Fear of Falling [plus he sings it].
Yes it is a double lead part with Trevor and Bernie singing. This is a typical Trevor song, with a good groove.
Can someone tell me a bit about what influences Trev's writing and how did it work out that Trevor sings this one [who's idea and decision]?
When Trevor brings in a song he usually sings a guide vocal for Bernie to learn on the backing track. He did such a good guide vocal, that we decided to keep it, and add Bernie. Trevor usually comes in with his songs and we tweek it from there. He usually has a very clear idea of how it will end up.
ITW features a number of story-based tracks and lots of more melodic tracks [ITW, Southern Star, T-Bird Angel, Believe, I Can Hear You, Down For The Money...] Can you guys give me any antidotes or comments on some of the tracks, favorites?
The I Can Hear You, lyrics are about how you lose someone on this earth, yet you feel they are still with you and guiding you through life. I feel this about my mother and recently my wife Sheila lost her mother, and she feels the same. We then wrote the lyrics from a perspective that everyone could relate to. Believe is just that, you must believe in yourself. It has a very positive message, that hopefully people will get something from. T Bird can be taken two ways and either be about a car or a woman. Southern Star was written about an explorer. Money is about a dancer.
Kiss Of Freedom is a great track to finish the album, and Phil really makes it a classic with the keyboard solo that plays out the last few minutes.
Yes Phil really shines on the end of KOF with that solo, and highlights what an excellent keyboard player he is. He is seriously underrated.
Can you tell me what this song is based on and how it developed in to such an epic?
KOF is about ultimate optimism!
The band has recorded 4 strong pile of albums since 1995, yet tend to drop previous album material from the live set. Why would you guys not keep in a track or 2 from each of these albums to boost this period of the band?
To be honest they come in and go out, but we have to keep the hard core of songs that people expect to hear, and sprinkle this with the latest CD’s efforts, otherwise we would be on stage for hours on end.
[Lastly], the band has gotten a good foot back in the door in the US the last 2 years, with more dates to come. Any chance someone could put together some dates for us Canadian fans in the near future?
We certainly hope so and we have agents working on this as we speak.
Take care. Best wishes.
Interview: ©2011 Kevin J. Julie / Universal Wheels / Travellers In Time