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INTERVIEW: STUART SMITH of HEAVEN AND EARTH – November 2017

According to a recent press release: “Los Angeles hard rockers HEAVEN & EARTH HARD TO KILL, October 6 on Quarto Valley Records. It’s available to pre-order via HEAVEN & EARTH’s PledgeMusic campaign. In addition to pre-ordering HARD TO KILL, fans can purchase a range of exclusive merchandise and special offerings from the band, including signed albums, guitars, posters and lyric sheets, Skype lessons with each band member, and even a Skype cooking lesson with singer Joe Retta. A lyric video for “The Game Has Changed” was recently released and can be seen on the band’s official YouTube page. It will be available on iTunes September 22. are set to release their highly anticipated fourth studio album.” We were able to grab some time with guitarist Stuart Smith ahead of a a couple tour dates…

Toddstar: Thank you so much for your time today. I know you’re busy out promoting your latest release Hard to Kill.

Stuart: Well, it’s been a relaxing day today. No real hassle. We’ve just got to back and then we leave tomorrow for our show in Detroit.

Toddstar: Excellent. Well, let’s jump right into Hard to Kill from Heaven And Earth, your latest release. What can you tell us about this release that a fan might not grab the first or second time they listen through?

Stuart: Nothing that comes to mind. I think any album that comes to mind that has anything decent on, people need about three listens to a song before they sort of really gets into their heads. But, I don’t know, a lot of people have said that some of the songs grab them right away. I don’t think we’ve put any hidden on there. No backwards masking tracks.

Toddstar: Well, thinking back over this album were there any songs that fought you tooth and nail during the writing or recording process?

Stuart: Well, we had about 23 songs that we came up with ideas for basic ideas that we didn’t go the studio and record. How we generally work is when I sort of play it, at night, when the phone stops ringing. I sort of start playing about 7-8 at night. And I’ll play sometimes until 4 in the morning. If I get good idea, I’ll get my iPhone out and record a 30 second idea. And then, when we get together with the band to start an album, I go through all the riffs. I play them all to everyone and someone says, “I like that one.” So, we just start jamming on it. And it works and everyone sort of puts in their contributions and then like on like Dig, the album before. So this time when people were on tour and everything and Joe Retta and I sort of step in and write mainly ourselves. But, we sort of pick the songs because we had so many. We picked the songs that, like you say, they flowed easily. And, personally, I just when we started playing them and I started doing the solos… “all right, this one makes me sound like a brilliant guitarist. We’ll do this one.”

Toddstar: Well, you mentioned the term “brilliant guitarist” and I know one of those guys that kind of made you want to be a rock and roll star, is in his own way a brilliant guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, whom you’re friends with. What was it about Ritchie and the way he played that influenced you and made you want to be a rock musician? Because before that you were classically trained.

Stuart: Yeah, Ritchie was as well. What happened with me is I was classics trained from about eight and really hadn’t not much interest in rock music. I mean, I liked the Beatles and that was about it. And my father was a jet fighter pilot and on the REF base where we lived, when I was 14, some friends had a ticket to a concert and they said, spare ticket, and they said, “Does your son want to go?” And, I was like, “No, not really.” And my parents were like, “Go and get out give us some peace.” So, I went and I sat there bored all day. And then they announced… we were right down the front… they announced the final act and it was around the time of Deep Purple in rock. And they announced Deep Purple and Ritchie comes running to the front of the stage really just tearing these classical… I mean he’s pulling off these classical runs and with just so much volume and emotion. It just blew my mind. And that’s what turned me on to rock and roll. And then when I was about 19, we met and became very good friends. We’re both into a lot of the same things… have a lot of similarities and everything. And, for some reason, he decided to sort of take me under his wing and mentor me. And I was lucky enough to have him share a lot with me in that sense.

Toddstar: It’s hard to top that kind of story as far as how you build a friendship with somebody.

Stuart: It’s funny ’cause I don’t of anyone else that sort of grew up with posters of a guy on his wall as a kid and then met and became best friends and had him mentor them. When he came around my house and my mother met him for the first time, she said, “Oh you’re not just a cardboard cut out then.”

Toddstar: Well, that said, and Ritchie aside, who are some of your other influences that still have a slight hold on how you play?

Stuart: Oh, I love David Gilmour. To be able to put the solo like that he does together is very hard. Because he’s very melodic. He’s not using a lot of speed or to sort of compensate. I love Paul Kossoff. He was another early influence, he had an incredible vibrato of his and his feel. Jimmy Page. Eric Clapton, definitely. Jeff Beck. And I think you absorb a lot of things just musically from everything. From just life, I mean there was when Hendrix did “Crosstown Traffic” it was written after just driving through New York and hearing all the horns going off and everything and the taxi cabs. Influences come from everywhere. Brian May was a great guitarist as well. I loved the way he put solos together. I like The Who as well, but I was always more into the sort of lead guitarist type driven players. As opposed to Pete Townsend who was more of a song writer, rhythm guitarist.

Toddstar: Earlier you mentioned there’s a show here in a couple days. I’m just outside of Detroit. You’re playing the Token Lounge in Westland which is a very close Detroit suburb. When you guys hit the stage there, what songs from the new album kind of have you itching to play? Which songs are you excited to play from the new album from a live perspective?

Stuart: That’s a hard question ’cause the albums, in a sense, is new to me. When I finish an album, I don’t really listen to it because you’re just sick and tired of it. I mean, to do one song, you’ve played from conception to the finish, you’ve basically played that song about 500 times. What we do is we’ll go in and we’ll work on a song and our singer Joe will get his 8-track out and put a couple mics up and record it. And then make MP3’s and send around to everybody. And everybody listen and say, “All right, maybe we should change this, change that.” So, we can change a song anything up to 50 times before we’ll actually go in and record it. We’re lucky enough to have a record company that only gives us that freedom, but also insists on it. Bruce Quarto said, like he did on the first album, “Look, I don’t care how long it takes or what it costs, but if you got in and you think you can do something better… do it again.” Which is a dangerous thing to say, ’cause you’re never really satisfied as a musician. There’s always things that you think, “Oh, I wish I’d done that.” But, on this album, when we finished it … you just don’t listen to it for awhile ’cause you’ve heard it so many times. And then, after about three months, you put it on, go, “Oh, this isn’t bad.” And I enjoy playing them all. “Hard To Kill” is great ’cause it’s just the pace of it. “Bleed Me Dry” because not only was it a very personal song for me, but it’s also gives me … that’s the one sort of I can solo as long as I want at the end until I’m ready to bring the song to a close. “Bad Man” is a great song to play. And we’re also playing some stuff off the other albums as well. But we will be just about, I think we’re doing in this set we’re doing every song from the new album.

Toddstar: Very cool. This is your fourth release. So, you definitely have other tracks in your catalog that will fit perfectly either around this one or this one woven into those older tracks for sure. You and Joe did a lot of writing on this, but that said, who’s a collaborator out there that you’d still like to do something with Stuart?

Stuart: Oh, definitely Steven Tyler. He’s amazing. We’ve jammed a few times. And, in fact, this weekend we had a boy’s day out. Went out shooting, had some lunch, went back to his house and just jammed. And he’s just incredible talent. And one of the biggest hearted people I know. And very intelligent, very funny, and I’d love to someday to do something like a blues album with him or something.

Toddstar: Earlier you mentioned things that you might look back at, especially as a musician, say I wish I’d have done this different, I wish I’d done that different. Over your career, Stuart, are there any moments or situations you feel were missteps that you wish you could have a do over on or that you would change in order to maybe change your career the way it’s turned out thus far?

Stuart: There was in the early days, I had my first band which was called Sidewinder. We were out touring with that and were well known around England and Europe. And there was a few bands that weren’t as big as us that had lost a guitarist and asked if I’d be interested. And I turned it down because, basically, we were it at the time. We were in a bigger band. And now, some of these bands are huge, but I don’t regret it. They say if anything was different, everything would be different. And I’m very happy with where I am with Heaven And Earth.

Toddstar: You’ve always kind of stayed true to the original sound. While moving forward and bringing in modern sound and keeping everything from being dated. That said, if you could go back, Stuart, through the history of music and be part of the recording session for any one album, what would it be? And why would you choose that album?

Stuart: I would have loved to have been around when they recorded Dark Side of The Moon. That was just a miracle – the technology that they came up with to do it. And, of course, if you gave me the option to have been part of the playing on it, considering it has been in the charts for like 20 years. I wouldn’t have turned that down. I was, actually with Deep Purple when they did Perfect Strangers which is an amazing experience from the writing side to the recording to the mixing and the touring. I was with Richie throughout that period and that was a very exciting time. The band were all getting on well and there was a lot of ideas floating and flying around, it was very creative. So, I sort of lived my dream as far as that goes.

Toddstar: Any plans on expanding the tour a little bit to try and expose a lot more of rock fans out there to the new release Hard to Kill by Heaven And Earth?

Stuart: We’re itching to get out and play. Nothing is going to really start until the new year because we’ve just got everything finished and all the affects like the band photo and the sizzle reel together and the videos for the agents to see. But we’re looking for agents or the right agent that can get us out there and working. And the management have been having meetings with various people. So, we’ll just see what the new year brings. We’re planning to do something in early or middle of January or something like that in L.A. at the Avalon. And the idea is it’ll be like Heaven And Earth plus special guest, Steven Tyler. And we’ll go on and do our thing. It’ll be a benefit concert for the L.A.P.D. Memorial Foundation to raise money for the families of officers killed in the line of duty. And, so we’ll do our set and then go off and then come on with Steven and do a few Aerosmith songs and maybe some covers. After that, I expect we’ll be out. By that time, the agents will be sorted out and we’ll be out and hammering. ‘Cause I’m ready to get out and tour constantly. I love playing live. I enjoy the recording process for the first five minutes but I love playing live. I love that feedback from the audience and that sort of energy you get.

Toddstar: I would think that would be probably one of the better parts of being a musician, Stuart. I appreciate, again, your time. And I hope that we can help spread the word and get a copy of Hard to Kill by Heaven And Earth in everybody’s hands.

Stuart: It’s funny because when we’re at the range, at the gun range, on Saturday just shooting. They were playing, they always play good rock music there – the range master is a big rock music fan. And he was playing some Heaven And Earth and Steven said, “You know, the only problem you’ve got with this band is exposure. You just need to get out. ‘Cause once people get out and hear it, they’re gonna love it.”

Toddstar: That’s great. We wish you safe travels and, unfortunately, I’m out of town this weekend so I can’t catch the show here in Detroit, but I’m hoping when you start up full speed in January that you guys make your way back to the area and we can check out a Heaven And Earth show.

Stuart: I’m sure we will. I’ll look forward to meeting you.

Toddstar: Same here. Safe travels and best wishes, Stuart.

Stuart: Thanks.

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INTERVIEW: STUART SMITH of HEAVEN AND EARTH - November 2017

Filed Under: Interviews

About the Author: ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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