It’s the name of a cult, URIAH HEEP. They’re loved by many artists, yet who’s to admit it? They’re loved by the fans, but it’s only the truest who proudly wear the band’s logo on their long sleeve. They’re a legend that’s pretty much alive and invigorated with a new drummer, Russell Gilbrook, who took over the very big stool left empty by inimitable Lee Kerslake who retired due to health issues. The new energy is preserved for posterity on HEEP’s new album, “Wake The Sleeper”, that was to be out in September but is delayed till the next year due to the label’s perturbations. So what’s up with the quintet now? The leader, the voice and the newcomer are here to clarify.
– When “Wake The Sleeper” is out, it’ll have been almost a decade since your last studio album. Do you think the band changed somewhat since “Sonic Origami”? I don’t mean the change of drummer…
Mick Box: Not really. URIAH HEEP will always be URIAH HEEP. There are traditions and trademarks that will always remain.
Bernie Shaw: I think if anything has changed it might be Mick and Phil’s writing. Subject matter is always a first and foremost, and with this album they have some very interesting songs. Trev’s songs are a bit “darker” than before, but still interesting.
– After the twenty years in HEEP, could you imagine fronting another band now?
Bernie: HEEP has been my family and my life for so long now it would feel very strange indeed to not be with them. It would be different if you just meant to do a solo project, but not to be with HEEP would feel very strange
– Russell, how does it feel to be a part of such a legendary band with such a faithful following?
It’s a great feeling. I’m so pleased to be involved in such a great band that makes great music and performs from the heart. This is classic rock at its best.
– Did you feel the fans accepted you from the very first show with URIAH HEEP, or did it take longer?
As far as I’m aware I feel I have been excepted by the fantastic fans. I think this is a result of my energy and passion.
– Do you remember the first time you heard a HEEP song and which song that was?
It was probably around twenty years ago, and it was “July Morning”. I thought it was a great song and wondered why it hadn’t achieved bigger success in England.
– Which of the band’s classics you find the most interesting to play live?
“July Morning”, “Sunrise” and “Stealin'”. More up to date ones are “Between Two Worlds” and “Words In A Distance”. However, there are many other HEEP tracks that I would like to play, but they haven’t yet found their way into the live set.
– How demanding working with this band, requiring from drummer a good part in the vocal harmonies, is?
Yes it was quite a challenge. However, doing backing vocals is something I am used to, so it was just a question of learning the correct vocal lines.
– Is your stint with HEEP what you hoped for when you joined – so far?
Yes, I enjoyed getting the gig and then immediately recording a great rock album. After recording the album, I did some cool gigs which allowed the band to get used to the way I play, and me to their playing. Unfortunately, due to the delay of the album release, we are unable to launch the new, revitalized URIAH HEEP, which is so exciting and vibrant, that 2008 is going to be an amazing year for HEEP fans everywhere!
– Could you reveal, please, what does the album title mean?
Mick: It has been a long while since “Sonic Origami” so we refer to it as “Waking A Sleeping Giant”!
– Are you disappointed with the record’s release delay or do think it’ll be for its good?
Bernie: I’m pretty disappointed to be honest because we’ve waited so long already to get the deal we wanted and with the company we thought would do a good job. We had an eighteen-month world tour in the making, and now it’s all been put off till the new year… Very frustrating, to me at least.
Russell: Of course, I am dissappointed! We want to get out there and play the new material to everybody. However, the business side of things means that sometimes we have to take the appropriate measures for the band’s best interests.
Mick: All things happen for a reason, but we are all very unhappy about it. We really want the CD released and to be able to play some new music in the set. We really want the fans to hear the new songs.
– Are all the new songs really new – or have been written over all these years?
Mick: Mostly new! Phil and I had a few ideas knocking around, but really until the deal was set and Mike Paxman the producer came on board, it was only then that we really came up with a lot of the material. It all happened very fast.
– Would you, please, before the CD’s out, do a brief run-through of its key moments?
Bernie: It was pretty “key”, actually, from start to finish. We recorded very fast with Mike, and the performances I think are brilliant. We were all just so keyed up for this album, it just kind of leapt out of the band on and on to the tape.
Mick: It is a rock CD in every sense. There are lots of highlights and some really good playing on it, and some surprises. We are all very happy with the end result.
– Do you perform any of these songs already?
Mick: No, we do not. In today’s world it would be up on the Net before we had played the last note.
– Did Bernie, who’s matured as a writer over the last ten years, took a part in a composing process this time?
Mick: Not this time, but the door is always open.
Bernie: I’m not much of a writer so to speak, but we all had major input at the rehearsing and arranging stage of the project. I don’t think one song remained in its original state after being in the rehearsal room.
– Anyway, who’s been writing vocal parts for him to inhabit before?
Mick: Most of the vocal parts are written by Phil and myself, or Trevor. There are very definite vocal parts written in each song.
– How did you feel recording without Lee – a prominent vocal force as well as skin-hitter – for the first time since 1982?
Mick: It was very strange and very weird indeed but Russell did a magnificent job, and there was a renewed energy that I think comes through on all of the tracks.
Bernie: We had a few weeks at the beginning to get Russ well and truly ready before recording. The two weeks of rehearsal went extremely well and we were all buzzing with the new blood and energy that Russ brought in to the picture. He has a good harmony voice that blends well with the rest of us, so it was a lot of fun. But it’s not to take anything away from Lee, as he’s a very different drummer and personality: I will always look back on the years with Lee with great pride and memories.
– What did Russell bring into the band by way of both music and personality?
Russell: I think I have brought in energy, excitement and a modern twist.
Mick: There was no way we were ever looking for a Lee clone as there is only one Lee Kerslake, and if we chose a clone we felt we would only sound like a lesser version minus Lee. We were looking for somebody to make the drum seat theirs and bring a multitude of ideas and energy. Russell did just that on the audition. After spending a lot of time auditioning Lee clones he was a breath of fresh air. His personality, which was always an important factor in the HEEP family, fits extremely well and he is a consummate professional.
Bernie: He’s a very different character from Lee. Both in his drumming and musical background. He is and was a teacher and clinician, and it shows in his approach to his drumming with HEEP. The power he has at his command is scary, and his dedication to his craft shows more with every gig we play together. He has a wicked sense of humour, and fits in very well with the HEEP family.
– Bernie, did the new family situation somehow influence your approach to the new songs?
Not really, my wife and little girl are very understanding about what I do and where I must go to be at work sometimes. It’s not a nine-to-five, see-you-at-the-office kind of job, and they understand that. But I do miss them both terribly when we go away on tour.
– It’s surely too early to speculate yet but, with a new management and a new recording contract, is there a hope the next album won’t take as long to be out?
Mick: We are hoping that this is the case and that we can produce more new music more frequently.
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