Hard to believe it's been 10 years since Sonic Origami, the 1998 release from legendary hard rock band Uriah Heep. Longtime fans of these veterans, who, along with acts like Rainbow and Deep Purple, influenced many hard rock, prog rock, and progressive metal acts over the years, can now celebrate thanks to the release of Wake the Sleeper, the band's first new album in a decade. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo had the chance to speak to Heep's founding member & guitarist, Mick Box, about their new label, new album, and upcoming world tour.
SoT: Wake the Sleeper is the band's first album in quite some time. Can you talk a little bit about how the album came together, as far as when you decided to actually write and record a new one, and how it took off from there?
Mick Box: Well our last CD Sonic Origami was loved by the fans, press and the record company. However when we put an 18 month world tour together the record company did not support it as they promised in the 53 markets that we toured. We said then that we would not give them another CD. It is heartbreaking to put your life and soul into something and have it ruined like that. It took a while to get out of the contract and then
the record industry went into free fall with the internet explosion. First they attacked the internet and took Napstar to court but they found out there were millions of free downloads and it was impossible to police. They then had to embrace the internet and in doing so the record industry could never be the same again. Companies folded up,
disappeared, amalgamated and there were plenty of firings and not many hiring's. With the industry in this fragile state we could not find a new recording home. So we did what we did best and hit the road. We did release many DVD's which we had not done before and we put together Acoustic Shows and had guests like Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull as a guests and we even set up a London show each year for all of the Heepsters and fans to come and see us with members from previous line ups which was fun. We also had along the way milestone anniversary box sets so there was always something in the market place. Eventually when the dust settled, Sanctuary Records UK who own our back catalogue decided to offer us a contact to make a new CD. We thought that this was
a good idea and we recorded a CD which they loved and we could not wait for the fans to hear. However such is the fragile state of the business before it could be released Universal bought out Sanctuary. We then had a 1 year nail biting time to find out if Universal were going to release it. When they heard the CD they loved it and wanted to release it so it was a huge sigh of relief and we are very happy with them thus far. When
it came to writing the new material Phil Lanzon and myself looked at the well of material we had stockpiled over the years to see what would best suit Heep. A couple of those ideas were used but in all honesty we wrote most of the material 2 weeks before going into rehearsal and fine tuned it there. We wanted to capture the excitement and energy of the time. Mike Paxman was given the job as producer and he was inspirational about
the making of the CD and came up with the idea that we should all play as a band to get the backing tracks and not record it piecemeal as most people do. When a take was accepted he usually left it at that which was great as most producers after choosing a take then spend hours putting all the instruments on with the bass drum and in search of perfection they lose all of the magic they started with. Mike used his ears to mix and did not look at a Pro Tools graph for hours. This made a major difference to us and we were all happy about that. It was refreshing and rewarding in every sense.
SoT: The line-up for Uriah Heep has for the most part remained very stable for many years now, and though some fans look at the 70's version of Heep as the classic line-up, since the late 80's the band has been very stable with the existing line-up. Can you touch on that a bit, as well as the situation with Lee Kerslake leaving and Russel Gilbrook coming in?
Mick: Yes we have been pretty stable since 1986. Lee's departure came after a very long year of hard touring. We ended up in December and I sat down with Lee to discuss how we can move forward before we took our Xmas break. Lee had some health issues and other things that he really need to get control of. It was decided that if he got off the UH carousel he could spend time getting everything sorted. I explained to him that if you do not have your health then you have nothing. We will always be mates first and he agreed. It was almost like a big weight taken off of his shoulders. I speak with him nearly every week and before starting to answer these questions I had just finished a long 20 minute chat with him and we had a good laugh. He is in a good space right now and I am
happy for him. Russell teaches drums at Brighton Collage and is a name on the drum
clinic circuit. He did a couple of years ago a drum clinic in Trevor Bolder our bass players home town. Trevor popped down to see him and was suitably impressed. They exchanged numbers and that was that. Russell changed his mobile number and telephoned Trevor to give him the new number. They struck up a conversation and Trevor said we were
auditioning drummers because of Lees departure. Well to cut a long story short he came down to the audition and blew us away. He was prepared, and he could sing, and he made the drum stool his. I had reduced a list of 240 drummers to about a dozen who mostly came along unprepared and could not sing even though they were told that was part of the job. We were getting pretty distraught by it all but luckily Russell impressed
and we had our new drummer. He was the very last drummer to audition.
SoT: The last few Heep releases are very modern sounding, but have that classic keyboard/guitar driven feel with lots of soaring melodies. What can fans expect on Wake the Sleeper?
Mick: WTS is a straight ahead rock CD. It was important for us to show everyone that we all still had the same passion and energy as ever. There is one true epic number in What Kind of God and all the other songs bear the typical Heep trademarks. We have not used any synths and we have gone back to basics with just the Hammond Organ, my wah wah
guitar, bass, drums, vocals and 5 part harmonies. We recoded most of this CD all playing as a band in one room, on one pulse and that is where we shine as a band, playing together. It has a smile all over it.
SoT: Progressive rock and progressive metal is as popular today as it has been in years. How does a legendary band like Uriah Heep fit into the mix?
Mick: I think we have influenced many of those progressive rock and progressive metal bands. We do not really fully fit into any particular style but if I were pushed I would call it melodic rock.
SoT: The US has seen very little of the band over the last decade or so. Is there any chance that we could see Uriah Heep over here for some live shows in the near future, perhaps with a few other notable veteran hard rock/prog bands from the 70's who are also still active?
Mick: Now that we have Universal as our record company and a release date of the
26th August there is every chance. We would love to come and break the USA/Canada market again. Our management is talking to our worldwide agent about setting something up for next February. We really hope it comes off as we have had nothing but positive feedback on WTS and we feel the CD could do very well in those territories.
SoT: Deep Purple are apparently working on new material-any chance of a Purple/Heep double bill in the not too distant future?
Mick: Well we do share the same agent and both have new CD's out. We have played many shows in Europe with them and it is a great night of music. We will just have to wait and see.
SoT: Does the band stay in touch with Ken Hensley and John Lawton much these days?
Mick: I speak with both once in a while via email. They both live in Spain and I live in England.
SoT: Heep albums of the past have always featured plenty of your beefy guitar riffs and lots of keyboard textures. What can we expect from Phil Lanzon on this one?
Mick: He roars on the Hammond and does us proud in true Heep style.
SoT: The band has been around now close to 40 years-how do you explain the longevity of Uriah Heep?
Mick: I guess over the years we have had a lot of songs that have stood the test of time. Nostalgia is a very powerful drug and people love hearing these songs time and again in the arena. We are ever thankful for that as most of these songs are on the world stage as we play in 53 countries. That and the fact we have built up a following as a good live
band that delivers good honest classic rock.
SoT: Word is that plenty of live shows are in the band's future to promote the new album. Anything you can tell us as far as what to expect on the set list?
Mick: We start putting the set list together in October when we start the world tour. We are very proud of our history so we will always play the favourites coupled with new tracks of the WTS CD. We will hopefully strike the right balance.
SoT: Thanks so much, and from a longtime fan of the band, best of luck with the new CD! Everyone's been waiting and it's great to see you back with new material.
Mick: My pleasure Peter and I hope we get to see you out on road sometime. Until then 'Appy Days my friend!