British rock legends Uriah Heep
recently released their latest studio opus titled, Wake The Sleeper
. It has been ten years since group's last album - 1998's Sonic Origami
- and Wake The Sleeper
marks the group's 21st studio album overall in their longstanding career. The album has met with immediate rave reviews, and was selected as 'Album of the Month' by UK's prestigious Classic Rock Magazine where it earned an 8/10 rating, and was called "A momentous return to form.
" The album sees Uriah Heep
back to their very best and will undoubtedly become a future classic - sure to please their dedicated worldwide fan base and fans of progressive rock in general. As Heep
guitarist, Mick Box
notes, "Wake The Sleeper is an album we are incredibly proud of, and one that we hope the fans will see as one of Uriah Heep's best. We can't wait to get back out on the road to showcase the new songs.
The live arena has been vital to the longevity of Uriah Heep
. In addition to album sales of over 30 million worldwide, the band has toured in 52 countries, and in the process, established themselves as consummate live performers. The band has a series of impressive firsts under its belts too - including being the first British rock band to play Russia in December of 1987. Uriah Heep
's progressive heavy metal made the British band one of the most popular hard rock groups of the early '70s. Formed by guitarist Mick Box
and vocalist David Byron
in the late '60s, Uriah Heep
released their debut album, Very 'Eavy Very 'Umble
in 1970 and since then, has played to millions of fans across the globe. Today, Uriah Heep
remain one of British rocks most consistent and long-standing acts. Joe Matera
recently met up with Mick Box
for this interview for Ultimate-Guitar
UG: It has been ten years since the group's last studio outing, why has it taken so long?
With out last record - Sonic Origami - which was loved by the record company, the fans, and the band, we had initially put together an 18 month tour of the world to support it. But the record company didn't end up supporting the record even though they said they were going to in the first place. And that was very disappointing to us. So we went back to them and said 'look you have messed up our lives for the next 18 months now and so because of that, we're not going to give you another album'. And so because of that it took us awhile to get out of it [contract] with the legal side of things. And then at the same time, the internet explosion happened. And at first the record industry attacked the internet because of all downloading and things like Napster and piracy but it proved to be difficult to police. So in the end, they had to embrace it and in doing so, the record industry the record industry was never the same again. So now the record companies have disappeared, or amalgamated or gotten smaller, and there have been lots of firings and no hirings. It was a very fragile situation for the industry while it sorted itself out. And for us, while we were looking for a home, we did what we do best, we toured around the world. And we released DVDs which we hadn't had in the market place before, and we did a lot of acoustic shows which was something we hadn't done before. And it was great fun doing stuff like that. And then we got to a position where we were able to start making a new studio album. And so our record company Sanctuary Records who owns just our back catalog came to us and wanted us to put new material together. And so we thought 'this is great and a nice home to be in' so we went ahead and made the Wake The Sleeper album, came back and gave it to them and they just loved it. And we couldn't wait for the fans to hear it, and get it released. But then Sanctuary got taken over by Universal Music. So then there was another year of waiting to find out whether Universal was going to work it or leave it. And it was a nail biting time for us. But luckily, Universal went ahead and decided to work it and here we are today, talking about it.
Listening to Wake The Sleeper, it definitely oozes very much with a live feel throughout. Was it a conscious decision to record it live together as a band in the studio?
Yes as we wanted to get back to what we do the best and that is to play live. Our producer Mike Paxman actually came down to the rehearsals and heard us and said, 'this is exactly how it needs to sound like on the CD. We need to capture that power and feeling'. So we found a studio in Lincolnshire in the countryside, an old chapel, converted church and we put all the equipment in there and just miked it all up and recorded it as a band. And I think it paid dividends for a band like Uriah Heep to do it that way, because doing it piece meal wouldn't have really gotten the feel of the band.
When it comes to guitars, you recently started playing a signature model Dot On Shaft guitar?
|"We couldn't wait for the fans to hear it, and get it released."|
Yeah how that came was through a photographer friend of mine, Patrick Cusse. He sent me over a link for this company called Dot On Shaft and I looked into them. They're a Canadian based company and I was impressed with them so I got my guitar tech to get in touch with them. And they sent me over a Carparelli model, named after the founder of the company to try out. I've been a Gibson man for many, many years now, the Gibson Black Beauty has been my main guitar of choice for years but I wanted to try out this new guitar for a few shows but I found that, after about a month I felt totally at home with it. I thought it was a really tasty guitar and thought it may be a good time to retire the Gibsons off the road. So we got together and discussed a signature model and they were into it. And so I got the guitar made. It's nice to finally have my own signature model guitar after all these years. It also has signature pickups too, from a company called Shadow pickups based in Germany. And they too rule and they should be out on the market soon too.
What gear did you use for the album?
I always keep it simple as I believe it is all in the fingers rather than the effects or whatnot. For Wake The Sleeper, I used an old 1959 Marshall SLP that goes into a Marshall Guv'nor for a little bit of overdrive. I used a chorus pedal for one song and a Cry Baby Wah Wah. I usually have one amp and one cabinet, you may see four up on stage or even two up there at times, but I just use the one, 100 watt amp through a 4 X 12 cab. And it has to be the flat one not the angled cab.
Why do you have the other cabs on stage?
It is purely for looks and to hold my drinks! (laughs)
Did you use the new signature model on the album?
No, I didn't use the signature guitar on the album, as I only recently took stock of that. On the album, I used my two Gibson Les Pauls; the Black Beauty that I've now had for years and the Sunburst Les Paul which are both 1959 reissue models. On the album, at the most, I only double tracked the guitar tracks. I did two tracks of everything, so I would use the Black Beauty on one track and the Sunburst Les Paul which has a bassier and much more rounded sound for the other tracks.
As you've mentioned you've played Gibson guitars for most of your career.
Yeah and I've had 17 guitars stolen over the years. I don't know whether I'm really unlucky or just very popular, I haven't worked that one out yet. It usually has happened while I've been on the road, and usually with flights. Like this one time, I had a beautiful Sunburst Les Paul, and the flight case came back from Greece but the actual guitar didn't! And I've also had stuff stolen from the studio too.
So how many guitars do you estimate that you have had in your collection?
I have around 40 guitars but I have them scattered all over the world. Like, I have one in France, one in Australia, one in the United States. The idea is that where ever I go, I don't want to be taking a guitar with me so I have them already sitting there waiting for me to arrive.
Over the years, Uriah Heep has been tagged as the The Beach Boys of heavy metal?
Yeah that is a quote that came from a DJ over in the States.
Yet your five part harmonies were very influential on other bands such as Queen and even King Diamond?
|"The most important thing of all is to try and find something individual about yourself."|
Yeah, all the way through really and it is quite incredible really. You see, at the end of the Sixties when we were coming out, all the harmony work was quite sweet and melodic. But we found a way of utilizing harmonies as almost as another instrument and that became our trademark really. And that also set us apart from the all the other bands that were around at the time like Led Zeppelin whom had one singer, Deep Purple whom had one singer too, yet Uriah Heep had five! So on the harmony side of things, it was done really well. But we did use it as an instrument in itself as opposed to just using it for harmony work.
I hear you are also planning to write your autobiography?
Yeah I'm putting a book together. Because I've been managing the band as well for the past 20 years, I haven't had much time to do anything else besides the Uriah Heep stuff. But now that we've got a new manager, it has freed up the time for me. It is going to be more like road stories really than anything else. I don't want to go down that boring road of what a lot of biographies go down, you know, where it gets tiring hearing about all the sex, drugsI'm getting tired of reading when I first got onto Heroin It gets really boring after awhile. So I want the book to have a lighter side to it that will make people smile. Over the next year and so with the amount of time I'll be spending on the road, I'll be able to hone it down and put it all together.
At the group's peak in the '70s, Uriah Heep used to perform to sold-out arenas in the States?
Yeah we were part of that whole bubble of bands, and one of the first bands to have the Lear jets, and taking over whole hotel floors and having bodyguards outside each room at night. And it all got pretty silly at one point. But I'm glad to have lived through it and come through to the other end of it.
A lot of artists tend to become jaded and bitter over the years, but you don't seem like that, talking to you, I sense and feel you still have the fire and passion.
I don't see that bitter side of it at all. We are blessed that we're still able to be doing this and it is wonderful that we have a new album out and are really excited about it. The whole idea of the album was to show that the passion and the energy is still there and will forever be there, because we really believe in what we're doing and we live it. We don't just do it. And I think that is the major difference with a lot of people.
Have you any advice you could impart to other aspiring guitarists?
The most important thing of all is to try and find something individual about your self. I think a lot of guitarists today are brilliant, but they all go to guitar school, they go through the front door and then come out two years later playing fantastic guitar. But they all sound the same and have all been taught the same. There has been no attention given to the individual. There are very few that stand out and I think you have to find something that stands out. So always try to find something that is individual. The greatest compliment I have been given on my playing over the years has been that when you hear me on the radio, you know it's me immediately. And I think that is something that all guitarists should strive for because you don't want to sound the same as anyone else.
Interview by Joe Matera