In 2019, Uriah Heep is celebrating a major milestone, their 50th year as a band. Through innumerable personnel changes, Uriah Heep have managed to thrive, both as force in the touring field and as a recording act. Living The Dream marks the band’s 25th album and mines the prog/hard rock/metal style that remains their signature.
Kicking off a major North American tour with Judas Priest in early May, Uriah Heep continue to live the dream.
— Judas Priest (@judaspriest) April 30, 2019
Rock Cellar: Uriah Heep recently released its 25th album, Living The Dream — and given its title and a career spanning decades, the title seems apt.
Mick Box: Yes, 100%. I had that title in my notebook for a long, long while, and it was just time to use it. It’s one of those things that lots of fans talk to you after the show and say, “Where have you been? How was Japan?” Somewhere in that conversation they’ll say, “You’re really living the dream, aren’t you?”
And you have to say, “Yeah, thank you guys, we are.” (laughs) when the other thing is, with the amount of work the band does, ‘cause we’re constantly touring in 61 countries around the world and doing over 150 shows a year, the fans think we’re living the dream and they’re right.
It’s amazing. A lot of people I know that are musicians are stuck in England or in France and we’re worldwide, so the title kind of fits every level of conversation.
Rock Cellar: It’s your 25th album, that’s more than double The Beatles’ recorded output. How do you continue to tap into that creativity and still be able to surprise yourself and come up with material that’s worthy of the band’s legacy?
Mick Box: There are two principal writers in the band, myself and our keyboard player Phil Lanzon, and we both write constantly when we’re not on the road and or when we’re on the road, whether it be a riff, a title a verses or a chorus. So when it’s time to go in and record, we just get together and pool our ideas.
We’re kindred spirits in as much as we work very quickly. The songs start coming together and then we start playing them to the band, and we can normally narrow it down to songs everyone is excited about. Then that’s the time to hone them done and rehearse them as a band. And then we go into the studio and record it. We recorded our latest album in 19 days with Jay Ruston, he was fantastic. But we work so quickly because we play as a band in the studio all in the one room.
We don’t even use a click track because we feel the human feel is everything.
Rock Cellar: Has that always been the process since the beginning of the band’s career?
Mick Box: It has been for us. We veered off a little bit in the late ‘80s and the ‘90s. What I used to hate was with a producer’s search for perfection, they used to lose all the magic as far as I was concerned.
Music isn’t about perfection at all.
I love it where we’re playing and you speed up because it’s a natural thing. Jay Ruston was great because he understood that with us. He said, “If your backing track sounds that good now, it’s gonna sound that good forever so I’m not gonna mess with it.”
Rock Cellar: You spoke about the band playing 150 dates a year. Uriah Heep made their name the old fashioned way with an exhaustive slate of touring, year in and year out.
Mick Box: Apart from making music, our job’s about communication, and that’s a very important aspect of what we do. We’ve got the fans that we love and they love the band for that reason. We’re very approachable. Even onstage, there’s a lot of communication going on between us and the audience. We don’t just stand there and look at our shoes. (laughs)
We go out and play every show like it’s our last show. The other thing is years and years ago when bands in the ‘70s were just going to America and Canada and mainland Europe, we had a saying in the band, “if the people can’t come for the music, we’ll take the music to the people.” So we went to East Berlin when the wall was up, we went to Bulgaria. We were the first rock band to play there.
We went to Czechoslovakia before it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We went to all of these eastern Bloc countries and played our music and these people were just in awe of it because they’d never seen it before. They never thought they could see our music live in their lifetime because of all the regimes they were living under. All they could do is buy our albums in the back market and pay two months of wages to buy one album. And if they were caught listening to it they were sent aw to awful sorts of places, I think that’s why because of that foundation that we created, when all the walls came down our music was part of their folklore, if you like.
I think that’s the reason when we were invited in December of ’87 to be the first Western rock band to play in Russia. Glasnost sent us an official certificate which is hanging up on my wall in my office. We went over there and we were pioneers. We played to over 180,000 people over a ten-day period. It was just incredible. I didn’t realize how big we were.
We’d walk into restaurants and everyone would stand up and applaud us and a string quartet was playing our song in the corner. It was just an amazing feeling. First of all, you never thought you’d get a chance to go to Russia in our lifetime and here we are going over there playing our music to them. It was just an amazing experience.
Rock Cellar: What’s the biggest career highlight for Uriah Heep in the States?
Mick Box: We toured with Three Dog Night for our first introduction to touring in America, so we came in big. They were bigger than sliced bread at the time. We thought we’d die a death because they were pop and we were rock but we went over fantastic. So that’s started us off.
Rock Cellar: “Easy Livin’” is the band’s best known track in America. Was that a song the band felt could help you land in America on a commercial level?
Yeah, that particular album, Demons and Wizards, really took us onto the world stage and of course “Easy Livin’” appeared on that record. I think we hit on a fantasy lyric idea, which captured everyone’s imagination and also with Demons and Wizards I felt the audio and the artwork were for the first time intrinsically linked. Everybody loved the artwork and the album.
The song “Easy Livin’” just took off around the world, which was fantastic. We’d just finished a long tour and drove through the night to go into the studio to do a few overdubs and then get limos to take us straight to the airport to go to America for an another nine month tour and somewhere along that line someone said as a joke, “Well, this is easy livin’, isn’t it?” (laughs) Ken Hensley, our keyboard player, remembered that and came in with a song that was half finished and we just jumped on it and it was done very quickly.
It was one of the last songs we recorded for the album. The thing is it’s a shuffle as well which has become a very Uriah Heep shuffle. Our drummer, Lee Kerslake, played a shuffle like anybody else. I’ve seen loads of bands cover it like Wasp but they never quite captured that shuffle that Lee does. It’s very unique to him.
Rock Cellar: What separated Uriah Heep from your fellow hard rock bands?
Mick Box: I think the first thing is we weren’t one-dimensional. We did hard rock, we did folk music and then we had these metal/gypsy riffs going on. We kind of had a bit of everything going down.
The other thing that set us apart is Hammond organ, which is then template for Uriah Heep in many ways. It’s a fantastic instrument because it can be very gentle, it can be very church-y, it can be very aggressive; it covered every nuance of our music.
Also, my wah-wah guitar became a signature to our sound, and then also the fact that we had five singers in the band, which made harmony a big part of what our sound was. The fact that we used harmony as an instrument, not just sweetly singing the chorus; lots of band jumped on that one.
I was speaking to Brian May last year at a festival in Holland and he came in to say hi and he said how much that aspect of what Uriah Heep were doing influenced Queen. That was kind of neat that we had an influence on a lot of people based on our vocals alone, which is wonderful.
That’s why people call us “The Beach Boys Of Heavy Metal.” (laughs)
Rock Cellar: If you could have written any guitar riff in history, which would you choose and why?
Mick Box: Oh my God (laughs), there’s millions! (laugh) How about “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. That one is really earthy. What a riff that is. “Smoke On The Water,” c’mon, those sort of riffs have a life of their own, don’t they?
Rock Cellar: If we rifled through your record collection what would be the most surprising records we’d find?
Mick Box: Oh my word … Probably a bunch of jazz stuff, things like Django Reinhardt, Barney Kessel, Tal Farlow, all those guys, My guitar teacher who I had for only six months because I couldn’t wait until the next lesson (laughs) was the second guitarist with Django Reinardt, so obviously his teachings were very jazz-oriented.
I listen to everything; I’ve got quite an eclectic taste. There was an American band called Touch who I loved back in the ‘70s. They were very experimental in the day and it was amazing some of the stuff they did. They’d do a drum break and they’d cut in the sound of someone walking up the stairs. (laughs)
Rock Cellar: Uriah Heep has played thousands of shows through the years. What’s the strangest concert bill you ever appeared on?
Mick Box: Well, there’s two that come to mind immediately. One was at a prison. We played in Rothenberg, Germany. We were playing a festival called “Rock Of Ages” the night after and the warden knew about it and asked us if we’d like to play a show in the prison. It was very weird.
Rock Cellar: It was a captive audience.
Mick Box: (laughs) Yes, it was a very captive audience. But the great thing about it was while we were playing, there was the warden and all of the prisoners with their fists in the air singing along with us. So that was quite a sight. And the other thing is I had to say to the warden, “We’ve got a few song titles that are a bit dodgy in terms of where we’re playing” and he said, “What are they?” And I said, “Well, one of them is called ‘Free Me.’’ (laughs) and we’ve got another song called ‘Too Scared To Run.’” But he said, “No, no, play them all, no problem at all.”
So it was really funny, the actual line in “Free Me’ is “free me from your spell” and we got Bernie (Shaw) to sing “free me from your cell.” (laughs) The other strange bill was in salt mine in Germany. It took an hour and half to two hours to ferry the audience in. We did an acoustic show and it was absolutely amazing and evidently it’s where Hitler stored all the gold. It was amazing because everyone had all these white hard hats on and it was like playing to a thousand bald eggs. (laughs)
Catch Uriah Heep on the road with Judas Priest — tour is on now! The remaining schedule:
May 9th: Kent, OH – Kent Stage *
May 10th: Kent, OH – Kent Stage *
May 11th: Kent, OH – Kent Stage *
May 12th: Washington, DC – Anthem
May 14th: Huntington, NY – Paramount Theater
May 15th: Huntington, NY – Paramount Theater
May 16th: Uncastville, CT – Mohegan Sun
May 18th: Albany, NY – The Palace
May 19th: Albany, NY – The Palace
May 20th: Sellersville, PA – ST94 *
May 22nd: Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
May 23rd: Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater
May 25th: Chicago, IL – Rosemount
May 28th: Austin, TX – Moody Theater
May 29th: Austin, TX – Moody Theater
May 31st: Dallas, TX – Bomb Factory
June 1st: Little Rock, AR – Riverfest Ampitheatre
June 3rd: St. Louis, MO – Stifel Theatre
June 4th: Kansas City, MO – Knuckleheads *
June 5th: Colorado Springs, CO – Broadmoor World Arena
June 8th: Saskatoon, SK – Sasktel Centre
June 10th: Lethbridge, AB – Enmax Centre
June 11th: Edmonton, AB – Rogers Place
June 13th: Dawson Creek, BC – Encana Events Centre
June 14th: Prince George, BC – CN Centre
June 16th: Kelowna, BC – Propera Place
June 17th: Abbotsford, BC – Abbotsford Centre
June 19th: Spokane, WA – Northern Quest Casino
June 21st: Seattle, WA – Showare Center
June 22nd: Portland, OR – Moda Center
June 24th: San Francisco, CA – Warfield
June 25th: San Francisco, CA – Warfield
June 27th: Los Angeles, CA – Microsoft Theater
June 28th: Ontario, CA – Citizens Business Bank Arena
June 29th – Las Vegas, NV – The Joint
*Uriah Heep Only