They were happier times when we hooked up with Russell Gilbrook, the URIAH HEEP rhythm machine who came on board in 2007 and gave the band a sharper edge. Happier times because, six hours before the New Year, nobody could tell that 2013 would bring such drastic, and tragic, changes into the group’s fold on the bass and vocal fronts. So this conversation, originally meant for the paper rather than for the site, is a snapshot of that smiles-filled moment.
– Russ, what’s the current mood in the HEEP camp?
Oh, the current mood is fantastic! We’ve had a really great year, played in over 20 countries; and the year before [it] was over 23 countries. And the things just seems to be getting better and better for URIAH HEEP, since we got a new management, a new recording contract, we play to more places, and the band is playing very well, indeed. We’ve got what we consider and the fans consider two great albums – two last albums, "Wake The Sleeper" and “Into The Wild”: they’ve been received very well. So that’s kept us very excited and enthusiastic; and the fans across the world have been very, very good to us, so it’s just kept us very happy.
– How much of that could you attribute to your input into the band?
Well, the good thing was, when I joined the band the guys were not looking for a Lee Kerslake clone. I think they decided that that wouldn’t be a very good move, because you can’t replace Lee. Lee’s a phenomenal drummer, a great guy, and he was a part of the band for so long that it’d be silly to get someone else in to be identical. They wanted a bit of a fresh input but didn’t know exactly what kind of person they wanted to get in. It just happened to be me. I love playing drums, I love the music, and I love rock – hell of a lot. And it’s nice that I can incorporate my kind of drumming, that I’ve built up over the years of doing so many different styles of music, into the URIAH HEEP sound without destroying the crux of what URIAH HEEP sound is all about. So it was very lucky for me that they allow me to play exactly the rhythm that fitted their stuff and to come up with quite a few rhythmical ideas into the new material, which obviously excites the band and the producer, and excites me as well, because I have a lot of musicality that I like to out into the band.
– And what about songwriting? I mean, Mick [Box] writes with Phil Lanzon, and Trevor [Bolder] writes separately, but I don’t see you in the credits, and Bernie, despite all the encouragement, still hasn’t brought any of his songs into HEEP. So why don’t you write?
(Laughs briefly.) It’s very difficult to come into such a band that has been having a writing format for so long. And I don’t live ’round the corner to Phil or Mick, and they to write together as a team because it seems to be a preferred thing – they get a lot of ideas for songs together simply because they’ve been doing it since 1986-87, when Phil joined. And so, therefore, it becomes a little more difficult for me. I tend to write well with people when I’m alongside them, and I do write with them, but in this instance it doesn’t seem to transpire and work out that way. Trevor lives a long way from me, and he tends to write on his own or with another fellow person, and it just seems to go that way. It’s not that they don’t want anybody else to write, it’s just that they’re used to that kind of format: it makes them feel comfortable.
– Being the newest member of the band, could you provide a critical look at what’s going on with URIAH HEEP?
Oh, most definitely! That’s been going gradually ever since I joined the band. You know, I joined them and I said, “Look, guys, we need to sort out our image and get it a little bit more up to date”. Also, I play a double bass drum kit, and I wanted “Wake The Sleeper” to be rich, and for the middle part of “Tears Of The World” I brought in the Afro-Cuban 6/8, because I play this kind of music as well, to give that song a different dimension. So in lots of different ways, I bring in different things within those songs on the last two albums that the band wouldn’t necessarily think about, simply because I have done a lot more work outside of classic rock, and the guys haven’t as much, because they’ve been involved with URIAH HEEP for so long. And it’s been great, because if I excite them with different ideas it makes me feel good.
– So it wouldn’t be an overestimation to say that you make the band sound heavier, and therefore modern, and therefore the last two albums have been so widely acclaimed critically and, I hope, done well in commercial terms?
Yes. I mean, at the end of the day if you’re a band that’s going out touring in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, you have to compete with the fantastic bands that are out there and still not lose the fact of what you’re all about. URIAH HEEP will always be a classic rock band, mainly because of the instrumentation with the Hammond organ sound, because of the five voices with harmonies – it’s always going to be URIAH HEEP. But you still have to realize that in the years 2000 and beyond you have to give your music some futuristic ideas and to keep moving forward as a band: that’s the whole idea. There’s no point in standing still playing the old stuff all the time because, as an artist, you’re always striving to move forward and trying to create better music and be inspired. So when I joined the band, I played very, very powerfully and I was hoping that the guys would welcome that, which was what they did. And of course, I’ve heard from thousands of fans how it has made the band sound as they used to in the early ’70s, when they were very heavy, powerful classic rock band. And that pleased me, because it allows me to relax and be Russell Gilbrook behind the drums, which I love, and give URIAH HEEP that energy, which, perhaps, the band was losing ’cause, due to poor health, Lee wasn’t able to play such fast and heavy songs.
– If you’re such a motivator and have such great ideas, then why your mascot is Animal and not explosive Gonzo?
(Laughs.) Well, Animal’s a drummer, isn’t he? And Animal is the mad one, and I do get rather mad on the drums. And he’s my favorite drummer as well, so it had to be him.