Mick Box from Uriah Heep !
An interview with Uriah Heep's own Mick Box by Martin Popoff
Back before the release of "Sonic Origami" in September (last year), I helped arrange for my friend and rock journalist Martin Popoff to interview Mick Box via e-mail. The interview was (and may still) be used, in part for a feature in Canada's "Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles" magazine that Martin writes for. As it took more time than expected for Sonic Origami to get a release in North America, Martin will make alternate plans for a Heep article once the album is out, and has given me permission to post his interview here for everyone to check out. To check out Martin's credentials -- read on below the interview.
MP: First of all, congrats on how good Sea Of Light was! How does this one differ? Musically?
MB: THANKS. I THINK WE HAVE A SLIGHTLY MORE COMMERCIAL APPROACH AND IT IS MORE RADIO FRIENDLY. NO NEED TO PANIC HERE WE HAVE NOT SOLD OUT, IT IS STILL TYPICAL HEEP.
MP: Production-wise? (Tell me a bit about Pip.)
MB: PIP IS A WONDERFUL PRODUCER AND A JOY TO WORK WITH. HE BROUGHT THE BEST OUT OF EVERYONE. HE HAS SUCH A VARIED CV WHICH I LIKED AS HE PRODUCES SUCH A DIVERSE ROSTER OF ARTISTS.URIAH HEEP HAS SUCH A WIDE RANGE OF MUSIC THAT HE WAS MADE FOR THE JOB SO TO SPEAK.
MP: Could you give me a quick run-down of the line-up? Who are the players on it, who does what?
MB: WE ALL PLAY OUR OWN INSTRUMENTS ON EVERY TRACK. WE DO ALL THE HARMONIES OURSELVES. THERE ARE NO OUTSIDE MUSICIANS.
MP: How would you describe your skills on the guitar?
MB: I LEAVE THAT UP TO OTHERS TO DECIDE, BUT I HAVE ALWAYS HAD A NATURAL FLOWING STYLE AND I HAVE NEVER HAD THE NEED TO SIT DOWN AND WORK THROUGH THE SCALES ETC..GOOD EARS, GOOD FINGERS, PLENTY OF HEART AND SOUL!
MP: Was this a difficult album to put together? Is it taking a long time? What has your writing/recording methodology/procedure been?
MB: THE MOST DIFFICULT THING WAS FINDING THE RIGHT RECORD COMPANY. ONCE THIS WAS DECIDED WE WORKED PRETTY QUICKLY. WHEN WE HAVE DIRECTION WE WORK FAST. REHEARSE FOR 3 WEEKS RECORD & MIX FOR 2MONTHS 1 WEEK.
MP: How did Sea Of Light sell worldwide? How about Spellbinder?
MB: IT IS VERY HARD TO SAY AS THEY WHERE NOT RELEASED IN USA/CANADA AND THE PACIFIC RIM. IN THE TERRITORIES THEY WHERE RELEASED THEY DID FINE. WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A STEADY SELLING BAND.
MP: Can you tell me a bit about the artwork for this one?
MB: THE ARTWORK IS BY A GUY CALLED DAVE MARSHALL UK. WE WANTED A FRESH SIMPLISTIC COVER TO GO WITH THE FRESH TITLE. IT WILL BE VERY EFFECTIVE ON T SHIRTS AND BACK DROPS ETC. IF YOU IMAGINE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE TICK FOR NIKE -- THAT WAS THE DIRECTION I WANTED TO GO.
MP: What does the title Sonic Origami mean to you?
MB: ORIGAMI IS THE JAPANESE ART OF FOLDING PAPER. WHEN WE MAKE A CD WE FOLD SOUND -- HENCE 'SONIC ORIGAMI.' PIP WILLIAMS GAVE US THE TITLE WHEN WE HAD FINISHED A TRACK HE SAID 'YOU GO DOWN THE PUB WHILE I DO SOME SONIC ORIGAMI.' WE THOUGHT IT WAS A COOL TITLE.
MP: Where do you guys all live?
MICK - LONDON / SYDNEY; LEE - LANZAROTTE CANARY ISLANDS / LONDON ; PHIL - LONDON ; BERNIE - LONDON / VICTORIA, BC CANADA ; TREVOR HUMBERSIDE, ENGLAND.
MP: After all the success and everything, do you find the most important thing comes down to family,
MP: Or do you think your legacy is more-so the works you've created?
MB: WE ARE VERY PROUD OF OUR LEGACY AND WHAT WE ARE PRODUCING TODAY BUT IF YOU HAVE YOUR FAMILY AND THEY ARE ALL HEALTHY THIS IS ALL YOU COULD WISH FOR.
MP: What do you think Heep's legacy to rock has been. What did you guys do well, or better than anybody else?
MB: I THINK WE WERE THE FIRST BAND TO USE 5 PART HARMONY IN A VERY EFFECTIVE WAY. PRIOR TO US IT WAS THE BEACH BOYS WHICH WAS VERY SOFT AND SWEET. WE GAVE IT AN EDGE. WE WERE ONCE CALLED 'THE BEACH BOYS OF HEAVY METAL' :-). WE ALWAYS HAD COMPARISONS TO DEEP PURPLE, BUT MY STOCK ANSWER WAS THAT THEY ONLY HAD ONE SINGER AND WE HAVE FIVE.
MP: If you were to briefly describe the stylistic phases the band has passed through since '70, how many and what would they be?
MP: I've always contended that Heep 1, Sabbath Paranoid and Purple's In Rock (if I had to pick one, In Rock would be it) were the three records that invented the modern form of heavy metal. Agree or disagree? Where did you guys get your metal?
MB: I AGREE!! WE JUST PLAYED HARD-PROGRESSIVE ROCK. THE TERM 'HEAVY METAL' WAS INVENTED WAY AFTER ALL THREE BANDS YOU HAD MENTIONED WERE SUCCESSFUL. HEAVY METAL WAS JUST A JOURNALISTIC PIGEON HOLE.
MP: How have your lyrical hot-buttons changed over the years? What would you like to write about in the future? What do you like to read about?
MB: I LIKE TO WRITE ABOUT LIFE -- THE POSITIVE ASPECTS. I JUST GO THROUGH LIFE TAKING ON BOARD ALL OF THE EXPERIENCE AND IT JUST FLOWS OUT THROUGH THE PEN. SOMETIMES IT IS VERY EASY AND OTHER TIMES VERY HARD BUT IN THE END IT IS ALWAYS FULLFILLING. BOOKS I AM READING AT THE MOMENT > 'HIDDEN AGENDAS' (JOHN PLIGER), 'AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A YOGI' (PARAMAHNSA YOGANANDA), 'THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY - MICHAELANGELO' (IRVING STONE), 'THE TIBTAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING' ( SOGYAL RINPOCHE), 'THE COMPLETE BOOK OF TAI CHI CHUAN' ( WONG KIEW KIT ), 'STONE ALONE' ( BILL WYMAN ), 'HAPPY BOYS : A ROCK HISTORY OF THE SMALL FACES & HUMBLE PIE' ( ULI TWELKER & ROLAND SCHMITT). THIS LOOKS LIKE RATHER A LOT BUT I READ BOOKS TO THE MOOD I AM IN AND I LISTEN TO MUSIC THE SAME WAY.
MP: Do you have a good backlog of lyrics or a well that you choose from when you go to do a record?
MB: GENERALLY WE HAVE LYRIC IDEAS WRITTEN DOWN AND WHEN THE NEED ARISES WE GO TO THE WELL. OTHER TIMES IT JUST COMES FRESH.
MP: Would you mind picking out three or so favorite tracks from the new album and give me a couple anecdotes about the writing/recording of them?
MB: THIS IS A BIT EARLY FOR ME TO REFLECT ON BUT HERE GOES > 'BETWEEN TWO WORLDS' - A VERY TYPICAL HEEP SONG WITH ALL OF HEEP'S TRADEMARKS ; 'QUESTION' - I ENJOYED WRITING THIS WITH PHIL AND I LOVE THE LYRIC. THIS WAS THE FIRST SONG WE STARTED WRITING FOR THE NEW CD IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.
'HEARTLESS LAND' - THIS SONG ACTUALLY STARTED ON THE SEA OF LIGHT SESSIONS BUT WE NEVER GOT ROUND TO FINISHING IT OFF.
'ONLY THE YOUNG' ONE OF TREVOR'S I LIKED FIRST HEARING, A GOOD GROOVE.
MP: Could I ask you about Demons And Wizards in a bit of detail? ie. starting with any remembrances of the recording of that album?
MB: YES WE KNEW THAT WE HAD SOMETHING SPECIAL WHEN WE WHERE RECORDING THIS ALBUM. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT THE MUSIC AND COVER FITTED PERFECTLTY.
MP: Working with Gerry Bron?
MB: SOMETIMES GOOD, SOMETIMES NOT SO GOOD.
MP: Can you give me say one track-by-track anecdote each?
Look At Yourself?
MB: GOOD ROCK SONG. WE WERE STILL EXPERIMENTING AFTER SALISBURY IN WHAT DIRECTION WE SHOULD GO AS A BAND AND WE DECIDED THAT IT SHOULD BE MELODIC HARD PROGRESSIVE ROCK. OSIBISSAS'S EYES POPPING OUT OF THEIR HEADS AS THE TRACK GOT FASTER AND FASTER AT THE END.
MP: I Wanna Be Free?
MB: COOL SONG.
MP: July Morning?
MB: MAGIC. A VERY POWERFUL SONG THAT ENCOMPASSES EVERYTHING THAT HEEP STANDS FOR THEN AND NOW. BEAUTIFUL DYNAMICS FROM THE BAND. MANFRED MANN PLAYING OVER ON THE END SECTION WITH HIS MINI MOOG. NO PRACTISE -- HE JUST PLAYED IT AND WE RECORDED IT IN 1 OR 2 TAKES FROM MEMORY.
MP: Tears In My Eyes?
MB: GOOD ROCK SONG -- GOOD SLIDE GUITAR FROM KEN.
MP: Shadows O Grief?
MB: GOOD ROCK SONG.
MP: What Should Be Done?
MB: NICE VOCAL AND JAZZY GUITAR PART.
MP: Love Machine?
MB: FULL ON ROCKER, NO PRETENCE -- JUST GO FOR IT. WORKED WELL LIVE.
MP: How about the mirror cover art? Was that a pain to get the label to let you do that? How did it come about?
MB: THAT WAS MY IDEA. THEY COULD SEE THE IDEA WAS WORTH THE EFFORT.
MP: Your favorites on it?
MB: JULY MORNING, TEARS, WHAT SHOULD BE DONE.
MP: Why was Salisbury so different from Heep 1 and Look At Yourself?
MB: WE WERE STILL EXPERIMENTING AS A BAND. WE CAME FROM A BACKGROUND OF ROCK/JAZZ & BLUES AND SO WE WERE STILL SEARCHING FOR OUR IDENTITY. LOOK AT YOURSELF GAVE US THAT.
MP: What kind of stuff have you been liking music-wise over the past year or so?
MB: TEA PARTY, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS, DYLAN'S LATEST CD, BONNIE RAITT, JOE SATRIANI, CROWDED HOUSE, BETH NEILSEN CHAPMAN, INDIAN MUSIC ( MEDITATION ), CHINESE MUSIC (TAI CHI), AND MANY MORE.
MP: Who do you consider an inspiration on Uriah Heep musically? Personally? Artistically?
MB: VANILLA FUDGE. WHEN I FORMED THE BAND I LOVED THEM.
MP: I take it this is pretty much your dream job, but can you think of anything else you'd still like to get into (career-wise), totally outside of music?
MP: What about just hobbies or recreation? Are you a fanatic about anything else besides music?
MB: MEDITATION, TAI CHI, GYM, SOCCER, FOOTBALL.
MP: What about the other guys in the band?
MB: LEE - FISHING; PHIL - HISTORY; BERNIE - HIS HARLEY DAVIDSON; TREVOR - HIS HOME STUDIO.
MP: Why do you keep doing it?
MB: MUSIC IS MY LIFE FOR LIFE -- SOMETHING THAT STARTS AS A HOBBIE ( A HOBBIE IS SOMETHING YOU LOVE) AND THEN BECOMES YOUR CAREER. THIS PUTS YOU IN A VERY ENVIABLE POSITION. THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE OUT THERE IN JOBS THEY DO NOT LIKE JUST TO PAY THE BILLS. HEY WHEN WE FINISH WORK EVERYBODY STANDS UP AND WANTS SOME MORE -- THERE ARE NOT MANY JOBS YOU CAN SAY THAT ABOUT. I ALSO GET TO SEE THE WORLD PLAYING MY MUSIC AND IT CAN'T GET ANY BETTER THAN THAT.
MP: Do you feel you have to have this other non-music life to be well-rounded and not go insane?
MB: NAH. I AM A PRETTY LEVEL HEADED PERSON. MY MOTHER DID A GOOD JOB. ( GOD BLESS HER).
MP: How about the music business in general. Has it been more or less a pleasant experience, or a pain in the butt?
MB: BOTH. YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS BOTH MUSIC & A BUSINESS. THIS IS VERY HARD TO COME TO TERMS WITH WHEN YOU FIRST START OUT AND ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS PLAY YOUR MUSIC.
MP: Any advice for young budding rock stars out there?
MB: PRACTISE!! WRITE YOUR OWN SONGS AND DEVELOP YOUR OWN IDENTITY. BUT MOST OF ALL BELIEVE IN YOURSELF; AS ONE DOOR OPENS ANOTHER ONE SLAMS IN YOUR FACE, BUT IT IS THAT BELIEF THAT PULLS YOU THROUGH EVERYTIME.
MP: That's it!
Martin Popoff, (Power Chord Press: Riff Kills Man!,
The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal, Hard-Radio,
Guitar World, Maximum Guitar, Live-Wire, Brave Words
& Bloody Knuckles, Brave-Words-Radio on Virtually Canadian On-line, Chart, Glass Eye).
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Martin Popoff Interview September 1998/May 1999
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Interview September 1998/May 1999
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