Uriah Heep are at it again… or is it still? A Uriah Heep interview

Uriah Heep are coming back to Australia once again. With a bag full of classic hard rock songs a new album and a band leader that clearly enjoys what he is doing Australian fans are in for a treat. I had the pleasure to catch up with Mick Box. Here is what he had to say.

Marc: Hi Mick, the new year has started and you are preparing for new shows around the world. You have played your songs from your new album last year already a fair bit. How has the new material worked for you live?

Mick: It has been brilliant. On the release of it, from media, critics and fans alike, it had a big thumbs-up. We were delighted. We’ve been playing it out on the road, four, five tracks of the new album, and it has been going down like dynamite. In the main part of our set where we have a lot of the classic Heep material they fit in quite well. It’s a good journey through our career that set list.

Marc: Can you run me through your touring schedule?

Mick: We start in Russia. Then we go to Israel. Then it’s over to the Rock Cruise which goes from Fort Lauderdale in Florida. That’s with Alice Cooper and the Doobie Brothers and many others. That should be a laugh. Then we get back to Fort Lauderdale and start an American tour. We’ll start on the East coast all the way up to New York and then we go over to the West coast. When we are finished on the West coast we fly out to Australia. After that we’ve got a UK show, the summer festivals and then we are looking at Brazil and Japan and all sorts of other places.

A working band is a happy band. When you see us on stage you see us smiling a lot.

Marc: That sounds like a very busy year for you again.

Mick: I thought at that stage of our career it might slow down but in fact it sped up (laughs). But never mind, there’s no complaints there. A working band is a happy band. When you see us on stage you see us smiling a lot.

Marc: 2015 marks the 45th anniversary of your first album. You had all the chart successes, you still release albums on a regular basis. What makes you still going at that pace?

Mick: I think it’s a simple answer. We still got the same passion and energy for what we do. I think as long as you got that, that’s what keeps you going. We love what we do. It starts as a hobby and all of a sudden it becomes your career. You get no better than that. (Laughs)

Marc: Last year there was a lot of talk about rock is dead spiked through a Gene Simmons article. So you wouldn’t agree with that, would you?

Mick: I’ve heard rock is dead so many times. (Laughs) I think it’s just something that’s said but it never goes away. It’s the music of the people, isn’t it? I still love it.

Marc: Have you already made plans for writing and recording a new album?

Mick: I was just talking about it with our manager. We will probably set some time aside later in the year or early next year. It usually takes us two years to tour through all the countries that we do, 58 countries with the present album. We might schedule recording early next year.

Marc: After such a long time in the industry and with that much experience, how do you write songs and record an album these days?

Mick: Phil Lanzon and I write all the songs. Basically I write a little bit all the time and document it on the iPhone or iPad or something. Then when I get all the ideas together I add some drum tracks and try to make sense of all the ideas. Once the samples are good I work on those. Phil does a similar thing. Then when we get together and work very quickly. We are very in tune lyrically, musically, the same humour and everything else. Writing with him is a pleasure. On this particular album what we did was we went into the studio with two lyric sheets and probably half a song and we played ideas to the rest of the band.  The one thing that you can’t do with a band like ours is – you can write on a song for six months and in six seconds it’s thrown in the bin if they don’t like it. That doesn’t mean it’s not good but it doesn’t suit them. So what we do is we take our ideas and work on those where the band gets excited about. Let’s say day one we walk in and play the ideas. We choose a particular idea they think was good. Then Phil and I write the main body of the song. The band comes back in the afternoon. We rehearse it up to the point where we are happy with the arrangement and then we press the record button. We play live in the studio. Within two or three takes we have a backing track which is fantastic. Then they would go away and Phil and I would fine tune melodies and lyrics. Then the following day we would start another idea. That’s how we did it. We would work like that for ten days. We had a break and went to Greece. Then we came back and we did the vocals and lead vocals and guitar leads. It was all done very quickly. The good thing about it is it sounds fresh. The band plays together and it keeps us writing on our toes. You don’t have the time to deliberate over things. You make decisions very quickly. Sometimes you can over think things. Doing it that way keeps it fresh.

I’m in a great band and record and play live. That is pure joy. That to me is success.

Marc: The new album is actually quite heavy. That is really something that happens in the creative process. You don’t plan it that way, do you?

Mick: We don’t plan for it, not at all. I’ve got a million ideas, at least one every day. That’s how it was done (laughs). There is really no great science to it. We are lucky that both Phil and I write all the time. We have a potpourri of ideas between us that we can always call on.

Marc: What do you actually do on a day when one of your albums is released? Do you have a special routine?

Mick: It’s an exciting time because you are trying out to the world, aren’t you. It always is a bit of a trepidation as well. You are not quite sure because basically what you do – it sounds quite selfish – when you write an album you tend to write things that get you off and get the band off and that we are get excited by and hopefully that comes through. With a band like Uriah Heep we have an established sound in terms of guitars, the Hammond organs and the vocals. You apply all that to new songs it all becomes Heep very quickly. So we know we’re in the ballpark once we’ve done that anyway.

Marc: What can your Australian fans expect from your shows?

Mick: We’re a band that is very proud of our history although we got out a new album. We love playing the songs that stood the test of time for Uriah Heep and that the fans like to hear. We play in 58 countries. We kind of get an overview what most fans like and what their favourite songs are. Generally ‘July Morning’ and ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Easy Living’ and songs like that. We use that as the nucleus of our set. Then we bring in four or five songs from the new album.  Then we go and revisit some of our old back catalogue, maybe even songs that we haven’t played for a long time. The set list is a good journey through our career.

We can’t wait to get to Australia. We love it out there. I mean I used to live there for nearly ten years or so. I could have a guest list that filled the Opera House. We’ve got lots of friends and family out there. So we cannot wait to play these shows.

Marc: Where do you see Uriah Heep going in the coming years?

Mick: We never build brick walls in front of us. We tend to look at the next thing and enjoy ourselves in the moment. At the moment we are touring. As I said before we have lots of countries to play our music to and that’s gonna take up a lot of time. Then we look at another album. It’s just what we do. So we just keep doing that and hopefully building and building and building. It’s our live. We are travelling musicians and what a great job it is too. (Laughs). People ask me about accolades and gold discs and all that stuff. The greatest reward for me is when a young kid comes to our show.  I’m in a great band and record and play live. That is pure joy. That to me is success.

Official band website