Into The Wild of America The Return of Uriah Heep
An exclusive interview with guitarist Mick Box
“We’ve always had a saying in the band, that if people can’t come to the music, we’ll take the music to the people. We still keep doing it today it’s something we live by.” ~ Mick Box
Though Uriah Heep celebrate 41 years as a band, they still struggle to proclaim their genius on the fickle American public. Indeed they have tried reaching marginal success with radio hits “Easy Livin” and “Gypsy” but the elusive career making multi-platinum bread winner has remained out of reach. Along the way they have endeared many to their magical, mystical powers combining progressive and heavy rock to produce fan’s favorite LPs Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday. This year (2011) they return to US soil with their 23rd album made in England for an Italian label but catering to an American audience. Into The Wild is slick and polished with big rock numbers “Nail on The Head” and “I’m Ready” as well as a return to form with the massive “Trail of Diamonds”. After spending the first part of the summer touring the East coast. They brought their glorious show to the mid-west and finally Vegas in the setting sun of August. We were able to catch up with band’s founder and guitarist Mick Box for an exclusive chat after a sweaty soundcheck that included Beatle covers and a rousing “I’m Ready.”
The Cutting Edge: You’re finally back in America did you know there are fans that have traveled from Mexico and South America to see you tonight?
Mick Box: Really, that far away? We better talk to our agent (laughing). Actually we’re just now getting back over to the States. We’ve got our house in order so to speak, changed labels and such. We were here last year for about two weeks. Then we came back for another few shows. So we’ve come back twice last year and twice this year so far - and we’re coming back again in October. Next year we will do a long tour of the States in July. I think the venues have made it the most enjoyalble. We’ve been booked in several old theaters with fantastic acoustics. They have their own atmosphere, some are like mini-Grand Old Operas. We love those places, they make you feel right at home and very comfortable.
TCE: You were one of the first bands to tour Russia even before the wall came down. What is it like touring there?
MB: Very little is modern in Russia. We play basically sports halls all sorts of buildings, municipal buildings that have been converted into music halls. Very few theaters. If we did a month tour over there it would be a few theaters but mostly cold concrete halls. Travel over there is challenging. We ride on overnight trains, so we do a show and right after, travel overnight only to get to the other end and do another show. It’s arduous touring. We do more than just play Moscow and St. Petersburg. We travel to the other side of the country that’s on the same dateline as Japan. We’ve always had a saying in the band, that if people can’t come to the music, we’ll take the music to the people. We still keep doing it today it’s something we live by.
TCE: The fans in Russia must be hardcore to the bone.
MB: You know, our music only really reached them through the black market. They risked life and limb, being sent to Siberia, if they were caught listening to it. You hear all these amazing stories as you go along. Some people did get caught and got sent to Siberia. Just for listening to our music it’s unbelievable. We get there and start playing “July Morning” which is kind of a hymn for them really. They start crying, because they thought they’d never get a chance to see us. You don’t realize how much it actually touches people when you’re writing a song. Some songs take on that bigger picture. It means a lot to them. It feels a bit spiritual at times.
TCE: You just turned 64 and you look in amazing shape. Is it still fun out on the road?
MB: You’ve got to have a bit of discipline in your life. We all like to party, but when we need to do a show the next day you can’t be too hard at it. You need to be aware, eat right get enough sleep, and try to get some exercise. It’s especially important these days. I have to be a bit careful and save the real parting till I get home. Being in this business keeps you young. We’re lucky to have a job that we feel passionately about, believe in and enjoy. That gives you longevity right there. When you’re not happy it reflects in everything else that you do. It also reflects in our music.
TCE: You have a fantastic new album out with Into The Wild. It’s as solid as anything you’ve done. Great songs, excellent production and stamped with the classic Uriah Heep sound. How is it different recording now?
MB: We still play like a band in the studio. We don’t piecemeal it together like a lot of bands do today. That’s how you get that classic vibe it comes through. Back in the old days, before producers started ruling the world, we would all get together and knock it out in one room at the same time. Now you’ve got producers taking one bit here and one bit there and piece it all together. Sometimes the band members never even see each other during the course of recording. You lose the magic that way. It becomes very clinical that way. Music is meant to touch you, move you, take you to places. I think that’s important. We out lasted them all, punk, techno, new wave - we used to call ourselves permanent wave.
TCE: How would you explain your staying power?
MB: Longevity only really comes from the songs you write. When you have a new genre of music that comes along, only those bands that have good songs survive. Like the Clash. That’s really what it is, all the others fall by the wayside. When we sit down to write a record it’s just as exciting as it was the first time we did it. We write something every day we’re songwriters. That’s what we do. When it’s time to do a Uriah Heep album Phil (Lanzon, keyboards) and I work together to bring out the best of what we have musically, lyrically, creatively. We usually have a potpourri of ideas and we pull out the ones that we like. We work on them a bit and when the band gets a hold of them, they give it the Uriah Heep trademark sound. Phil was the dominant writer on this album. He brought some great ideas to the band and we jumped on them gave them the right sound. After all, it’s not really Heepy until we get a hold of it.
TCE: The entire record is rock solid but there are some unusual sounds you experiment with.
MB: There is the song “Lost” which was Trevor’s (Bolder, bass) song - with the middle-eastern vibe. It’s got a good groove to it. When we nail down the groove, then we feel we are really on it. The songs were written over a two-month period. We were actually writing in a different direction when we started. We went in the studio and the record label said they were looking for a more rock album. So, we looked at a few other ideas and shelved the first batch of ideas for another time. We finished the day’s recording - then Phil and I were having a bottle of wine and ended up worked till the early hours of the morning writing new rock songs. We had a few when the band came in the next day. “I’m Ready” and “Into The Wild” were a couple of those. The boys started playing them, we pressed the record button, and away we went.
TCE: What was the timeframe to write and record then?
MB: It was all done in a month, recorded and mixed, just like the old days. We work really quickly. That helps you be fresh; you don’t have time to meander. We were thinking on our feet and I think that was really cool about the record. I think that’s what gives it the accessibility that it has. The new songs sit very well amongst the classic songs. That’s my guiding light, if it works like that, then we did it right.
TCE: One thing that’s always attracted me to Uriah Heep is the cover art. There were those classic covers by Roger Dean that still stand the test of time. Even define it.
MB: Yeah, Dean was great to work with but he’s now very much into architecture. We’re using a new artist, Ioannis. He came out and did a few dates with us on the East coast in June and signed his prints of the cover art for fans. He’s a lovely guy and puts his heart and soul into his art. He gets what we do and it’s nice to have that continuity. It also has that fantasy element that we like. We always touch on that because it’s a part of us. It’s what we’re all about.
TCE: In the movie Spinal Tap what part mimic’s Uriah Heep?
MB: There is one part of the movie that was literally taken from Uriah Heep’s history - the Army base scene. John Sinclair, our old keyboard player, was in the pilot for the movie. He lived in LA at the time as was helping them out with their accents. Unfortunately he wasn’t in the movie because he was out n the road with us, but he’d told them the story of the Army base. The movie is actually more based on Iron Maiden and Judas Priest than any one band. The bass player is a carbon copy of the Judas Priest bass player, Ian Hill. There’s not a band in the word that doesn’t have a little of Spinal Tap in them.
All photos from the Uriah Heep website ©2011
Website: Uriah Heep, Frontiers Records