Interview with Uriah Heep guitarist Mick Box
By Greg Prato
British classic rock vets Uriah Heep recently issued their first studio album in almost ten years – and 21st studio album overall – titled ‘Wake the Sleeper’ (on Sanctuary Records/Universal Music). Recorded last year, the album was produced by Mike Paxman (Status Quo), and has thus far received rave reviews, as it was selected as ‘Album of the Month’ by Classic Rock Magazine (in their June issue), where it earned an 8/10 rating, and was called, “A momentous return to form.” Founding guitarist Mick Box recently took the time out to discuss the album, as well as Uriah Heep’s future plans.
Left to Right: Russell Gilbrook (Drummer), Phil Lanzon (Keyboards), Bernie Shaw (Vocals), Mick Box (Guitar) and Trevor Bolder (Bass)
How do you compare Uriah Heep '08 to earlier versions of the group?
Ah that is a tough one. I would say though that this line-up has the same chemistry as the classic early version of the 70’s line-up. I feel the ’08 version has the same creative output and passion for our music that we had back then. Good melodic rock songs and a strong lyric has always been important to us.
How did 'Wake the Sleeper' come about?
Well it has been a long time between studio albums. We have a saying here in England that is “Wake a Sleeping Giant,” and we thought that pretty much summed us up in the new album stakes after a 10 year hiatus. We shortened that to ‘Wake the Sleeper,’ and that became the title. Also, the cover by Ioannis fits perfectly with the female Buddha awakening from her meditative state with the glow of enlightenment in her hand. The first track on the CD comes in with immense power, passion, and energy, and sets the tone for the rest of the CD. Apart from the chant of ‘Wake the Sleeper,’ it is all pretty much instrumental.
How about some stand out memories of the 'Wake the Sleeper' sessions?
Stand out memories of us all being in the same room recording the backing tracks as a band. We did not want to do this piecemeal - whereby the drummer gets his parts and you slowly build up the track, by adding each instrument as you go along. We wanted to play as a band on one pulse, and this captured the band in full flight. It was great as you had to be on top of your game because if you made a mistake, then you had to do the whole thing again - as the mistake could be heard on every microphone so there was no safety net. We chose a track and rehearsed it to the point where we were all happy with it. Pushed the record button, and between 1-3 takes we had it in the bag. Boy, it was loud in that room though. This was Mike Paxman the producer’s idea, as he heard us in rehearsal and said that’s the power he wanted on the CD. Mike did not sit in the control room like the usual producers do, he was in the room with us in the heart of it soaking up the vibe.
What are some favorite songs from the album?
That is a hard one! “Tears of the World” and “What Kind of God” at the moment. I am a Gemini, and that could all change in 30 seconds from now!
How did the recent Rottenburg Prison gig come about, and what are some memories of that show?
We were headlining a huge show in Stuttgart, Germany called the Rock of Ages festival. The prison was 10 minutes from the festival site. The warden asked us if we would play in the prison the day before. As it was easy to arrange logistically, as all of the equipment was there, we agreed. It was a very strange experience because you cannot expect all of the prisoners to be Uriah Heep fans. However, by the end of the show, they were all shouting for more, waving their fists in the air, and crowding the front of the stage. The memory that will always remain with me is that one of our most famous songs in Germany is called “Free Me.” So we played that, and there was the warden standing by the prison guard, who was standing by the prisoners all singing “Free me” at the top of their voices. Bernie changed the lyric to “Free me from my cell,” and they loved it. Such is the power of music. At least we gave them escapism of the mind for 1 ½ hours.
What was your guitar set-up for the album?
I used a 50 watt Marshall head going through a Marshall 4 x 12” cabinet (straight front) for all riffs and rhythm work, and a 100watt SLP 1959 Marshall head for solos. I had a cry baby wah wah through a Marshall Governor distortion pedal, and that was it.
Guitars, I used a Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty and a Gibson Les Paul Tobacco Sunburst. I did a track with the Black Beauty, and then tracked that with the Sunburst.
For one song I used a Vox AC30 for one rhythm/arpeggio parts.
Who were some of your early guitar influences, and which modern day guitarists do you admire?
I loved jazz players like Django Reinhardt, Barney Kessal, Tal Farlowe, Les Paul and Mary Ford, and Chet Atkins. These were my early influences. Jeff Beck is my favourite guitarist of all time bar none. Joe Satriani is great as is Stevie Vai, but Joe Walsh (solo albums and James Gang) and Paul Kossoff are right up there as favourites. Derek Trucks has a wonderful touch. John 5 solo albums are cool. Eddie Van Halen is amazing and Slash has some great moments.
What are Uriah Heep's touring plans and also future plans?
As ‘Wake the Sleeper’ is now released worldwide, we are putting together an 18 month tour programme. We have a fan base in 53 countries, so we will play as many territories as we possibly can to promote this CD. We are heading in another 2 years towards our 40th Anniversary, so there are many exciting things that will happen along the way. We have the same passion, energy, and love of what we do, so we cannot wait.
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