Stuart Smith is back with a new Heaven & Earth project and more on the horizon. The new version of the band features singer Paul Shortino.
For a review of the band's new mini-disc, check it out elsewhere at Universal Wheels And pick it up at
Here Stuart gave me an update on the band, the new tracks, re-releases and forthcoming album. Thanks again to Stuart for being a cool guy in taking the time to answer [and type!] my questions.
Q - A lot has changed in the past 4 years since the previous Heaven & Earth disc. Can you tell us what happened with singer Kelly Keeling and why he's no longer working with H&E?
SS - Kelly Keeling is a great singer and did a tremendous job on the last album but we were never really sure where Kelly was coming from, musically so to speak. He had a lot of good ideas which worked very well with Heaven & Earth but also had a lot of ideas that didn't. Eventually we came to the mutual decision that it was best that he go his own way and we go ours. He went on to do his solo album where he was able to have free reign to implement his creative ideas. It was an amicable parting though, I had a drink with him at the Key Club here in Los Angeles just recently when he was in town singing for George Lynch.
Q - Paul Shortino is well known, through Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot and his own
stuff. Were you quite familiar [or friends] with him and was he an easy candidate to take over the vocal spot?
SS - I've known Paul for almost as long as I've been out here in Los Angeles. The first time I heard him sing was at The Palace here in Los Angeles when he was singing with Rough Cutt. Steve Priest and I were looking for a singer for Sweet at the time and somebody recommended we check him out. When we walked in he was singing 'Piece of My Heart' - accapella and we were just blown away. Over the years Paul and I always got together and either jammed at shows or put something together for various events. We've always talked about doing something more concrete together so I guess this is our opportunity. Paul has an amazing bluesy voice which I've always loved and is a great songwriter as well.
Q - You also have a couple of other newer band members with Scott Warren & Dave Chamberlain. What can you tell us about these guys?
SS - Scott and Dave are not really full time members of Heaven & Earth, they were brought in to help us out and play a big show we had on July 4th although Dave Chamberlain came into our studio and played bass on the new songs on the 'Taste of Heaven' EP. Scott Warren is an old friend who I've known for years. I met him when he was playing for Warrant and he played on a couple of tracks on the first Heaven & Earth CD. We were up in Lake Tahoe together a few years back writing for an album which unfortunately never saw the light of day but we had some pretty interesting times up there. If any of you run into him you should ask him about the Lake Tahoe Flat Nosed Grays. Scott is on tour with Dio at the moment but has played for 'Berlin' and played with myself and Joe Lynn Turner back in 1992 in Midnight. Dave Chamberlain is a great bass player that I've met just recently and has played bass with Glenn Frey amongst others. He tends to play bass guitar properly in my opinion, unlike most other bass players I've come across out here, he plays for the song as opposed to running all over the neck trying to be too clever.
Q - Howard Leese is not credited as a producer on the new songs. Are you still working with him at all [will he be on the full length CD]? And what can you tell us about Dave Jenkins?
SS - I still work with Howard a lot as a co-writer and arranger but I think he' s a bit too busy playing guitar with Paul Rodgers to produce the new CD. If I was playing with Paul Rodgers I know I'd not be wanting to produce a nobody but as well as being one of my best friends, Howie has an amazing ear and incredible chord knowledge so whenever I write a song, I run it by him to see how we can make it better. He's got a very British sense of humor so totally he gets mine and we always have a good laugh. Dave Jenkins will be engineering and producing the new Heaven & Earth CD. Dave has a great ear as well, sometimes too good. There's times I'll pull off one of those rare licks that you know you'll never get again and he says, "It's out of tune!" - at which point I want to shoot him as I'm not hearing it at the time but if I take a mix of it away and listen to it, he's always right. He has worked with Tori Amos, Tool and Metallica and is great to work with in the studio. He produced Richie Onori's solo album which is how I met him.
Q - Paul Shortino co-wrote one song here with you [the best one, I might add].
Were some of these other songs ones you've had for a while [I notice Kelly Hansen, Howard Leese,... in the credits] ? And will the full length album feature many more collaborations between you & Paul?
SS - The main track, 'Screaming for Redemption' Paul and I wrote together at my house in a couple of hours one day and I agree with you that it's the best song we have so far. 'It'd Be True' is the only song that was sitting around for a while, the other 3 were written just recently. I'm hoping that most of the songs on the new CD will be written between Paul and myself as we seem to have good song writing chemistry together.
Q - Can you tell us a bit about each of the new tracks on Taste Of Heaven?
[Musically & lyrically] Screaming For Redemption being a classic hard rock H&E song.
SS - Definitely my favorite so far, as just stated this is a song Paul 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.
Q - 'Heaven' being a great, memorable almost aor rock tune.
SS - 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 my 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 sent to Jaime in Nashville. She put a rough vocal on it then we worked from that.
Q - 'Nasty Piece of Work' being a more guitar & drum based slow rocker, with
SS - 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 song and I'd had the lyrics sat around for about 6 months so I sat down, 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.
Q - 'It'd Be True' being a classic light ballad, with a great heavy solo from you.
SS - 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, (The singer), 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.
Q - How far along are you guys with the rest of the songs for the full album "Screaming for Redemption"? Any surprises, guests, covers... songs you can mention?
SS - Just really in the writing stage at the moment but everything will go pretty quickly once we get a few more songs ironed out as we're pretty quick in the studio. I don't think there'll be any special guests on the next album but you never know with us. As far as covers go there's a couple of songs I wouldn't mind covering now Paul's in the band as I know his voice would do them justice. Sometimes I'll hear someone's voice and think, Oh, I'd love to hear them on that song.
Q - 'A Taste Of Heaven' features 4 new and 4 from the first album, but none from Windows To The World. Where did the idea for a mini-album come from, and why nothing from the WTTW album?
SS - We had a big show to play here on July 4th to 40,000 people and wanted to have something to sell at the event. About a month before the show we got the investment money through for our record label so we rushed in the studio to get the new songs recorded. It was our drummer Richie Onori's idea to add 4 songs from the first CD and call it 'A Taste of Heaven'. We only used tracks from the first CD as that's the only one we have the rights to at the moment.
Q - What can you tell us about Black Star Records? Will there be other acts
released through it?
SS - Black Star Records was formed just recently by Richie Onori, myself and our partners Skip McCracken, and George & Tina Altuzarra. We finally got tired of the way record companies distribute the profits so we decided to form our own label with a more equitable financial split for the artist. The reasons for forming our own label are financial, pure and simple. I like to make good albums and unfortunately the companies out there can not offer us a large enough advance to do it properly even with owning our own recording studio. The other problem is managing to stay alive after recording an album. The whole business is very one sided for the label and I'm not pointing any fingers, all record labels operate this way. It's just the way things have always been and no one seems to have questioned it before. If a label, (for sake of argument), gives you $30,000 to record an album, they really only have to sell around 5,000 CD's to make their money back but by the time they've done that, you as an artist (if you've agreed on a standard point structure of 18 points), have only recouped $9,000 of that initial advance and won't recoup and receive any royalties until the label has sold around 17,000 CD's. At this point the label has made around $170,000 but all the artist has got out of it is the initial advance which he has had to spend on recording the album anyway. It's grossly unfair to the musicians and how anyone can do that and survive is beyond me. As we're finding out along the way it does not cost that much to press and distribute the CD's and with the internet today you don't necessarily have to spend a fortune on advertising. What we intend to do with Black Star Records is start paying royalties to the artist as soon as we've recouped the money we put in to record the album in the first place. That way everyone makes a living and we get a chance to bring some more good music out. It's going to be a label run by musicians for musicians. We have quite a few acts that we are going to be releasing in the near future but I can't say anything about who they are at the moment as we haven't finished contract negotiations but you'll all know who they are.
Q - You guys do some live shows, but mainly out in California. Is there any plans to play further afield in North America or Europe?
SS - I would love to play a full world tour, but again it's down to financial limitations. At this stage in my life I'm not prepared to lug equipment round, travel and sleep in a truck so to arrange a tour with a full road crew, hotels, etc. would be cost prohibitive but there are plans for us to arrange a tour with all of our Black Star Records artists together sometime in the near future. That would probably be viable as we'd have our own label backing it.
Q - What else have you been up to these days? Any other recordings, guest
SS - Well apart from the period of writing, recording and playing I did with Doah, not too much really. I spent the last year of my life putting a solid business plan together so we could get the financing for our record company which has finally happened and since then it's been none stop crazy but it's all good. We've been really busy with writing, recording, dealing with contracts, producers, publicists, artwork and looking at new artists we're going to sign. I was still writing ideas and jamming with friends on the guitar during that period to keep my chops up though and keeping up with my martial arts studies.
Q - Can you tell me anything about the 2 unheard of bonus tracks for the re-release of the "Heaven & Earth" album? [When will this be out?]
SS - As this CD was never released in the States and we have our own label now, this is going to be our first official release. We've just signed a distribution deal for the States and to make it a bit more interesting we're adding two new bonus tracks. The first is a song called 'Life On The Line' that was written by Joe Lynn Turner and myself and was originally recorded back in 1996 during the original Heaven & Earth sessions. Back then it never got further than the rhythm track of bass, drums and guitar so we went in to our Wine Cellar Studios, replaced the bass guitar with Dave Chamberlain, added Arlan Schierbaum, who some of you will be familiar with from the last album, on Hammond and got Bobby Kimball from Toto to sing, so it's turned out monster. Also I added a solo of which I am very happy which is unusual as I'm very rarely satisfied with anything I lay down.
The other song is a version of Gary Moore's 'Still Got The Blues', which we are just finishing up with Joe Lynn Turner singing. On this we again brought in Arlan and Dave. I think people are going to be blown away with this track.
We will also be making both these tracks available on iTunes and Napster for those fans out there who already have the first CD and don't want to buy the whole thing just to complete their collection. Release date in the stores for
this will be around the first week of November but we will have copies for sale off our web page earlier.
Q - What are you listening to these days?
SS - Not too much new music at the moment, there's really not a lot of good stuff out there. Here in the States we're being force-fed rubbish like Ashlee Simpson, who is on television solely because she has a successful sister. It's certainly not because of her overwhelming musical talent. It's very sad that there's not more exposure given to decent artists, there again I haven't heard anyone really worthwhile in a long time. All the guitarists sound the same to me, none of them seem to concentrate on getting a good tone out of the instrument, it's all being left to digital effects which for me destroy the passion of the guitar to begin with. They should learn to make it speak without the toys then add them for color. Mind you there's a distinct lack of solos in popular music today so, it's hard to even tell.
As far as singers go there's quite a few good female vocalists out there but the guys are seriously letting the side down. There's not one of them that's emerged in the last 10 years that's going to be remembered the way Paul Rodgers, Ian Gillan, Robert Plant, etc., will be. I mean come on guys, get on it!!! Chicks like Avril Lavigne are kicking your collective asses out there in song writing and singing. Give them some competition.
As for me, lately I've been listening to 'Chris Robinson and The New Earth', Mud, Aerosmith's 'Honkin on Bobo', Eric Clapton's 'Me & Mr. Johnson', Christopher Parkening 'Plays Bach', and I've been watching Deep Purple's 'Making of Machine Head' on DVD, which is incredible and of course our own EP 'A Taste
Review: © Kevin J. Julie / Universal Wheels, September 2004