Mick Box - guitarist, Uriah Heep
On the phone with David Lee Wilson - 1999
 
Uriah Heep has a history long and grand enough to fill several volumes in any rock encyclopedia. Heep has had it all, the chart hits, the alternatingly loving and spiteful critical attention, the seemingly endless sea of members and most memorably, hours and hours of some of the best progressive hard-rock ever recorded. That tradition continues on, and perhaps is taken up a notch, with the group's latest "Sonic Origami" disc.
 
Each time an artist releases an album he/she/they tend to speak of it as if it is the best thing that they have ever done and the same is true here but seldom have I seen truer justification for the claim. "Sonic Origami" has all of the elements of a classic Uriah Heep disc but is taken to a completely new level by the absolutely seamless melding of raw rock and production qualities that anywhere else would have been far too much. This is a very big and complex album with enough depth to bury any comparison to previous works.
 
As if a single release were not enough, Uriah Heep have also licensed their last two records, "Spellbinder" and "Sea Of Light" for distribution in North America through Spitfire Records. "Spellbinder" is a stellar live album and the final word in the debate amongst hardcore fans who would compare current vocalist Bernie Shaw with original frontman David Byron.
 
Founding member, guitarist and all around happy chap, Mick Box, fielded a half hour's worth of questions about the history of the band and how "Sonic Origami" may well warrant its own chapter in any chronicle of the legend that is Uriah Heep.
 
DAVID LEE: There's lots be excited about around your camp?
MICK BOX: Absolutely, new single, new album, new record companies. It's all good. It's just nice to play here and refocus the band in America, which is very important for us. We've come over and done tours before but we never really had the support of a record company and now we've got Spitfire with us. It's great because they feel as passionately about our music as we do, so it's really cool.
 
K2K: They are giving you tour support?
MB: Absolutely, for starters they've flown us out from London for a week in New York to not only meet them but to discuss things in full, and get plans together and marketing plans and that sort of stuff. So it's a start you know. It's really cool.
 
K2K: They certainly picked a great album to release. Actually, I haven't heard the last couple of albums yet but I know they're going to be released by Spitfire as well.
MB: Yes, Spitfire actually had our last couple of albums "Sea of Light" and "Spellbinder", the album we recorded in Germany. They're putting them out too. "Sea of Light" is a great album; it's just a shame it never got any kind of release over here. It was never really imported into the country by those record shops that import things. So it's a shame that we really didn't get that album the support it needs in America, but never the less it will be on the market and be accessible now.
 
K2K: Right, I'm particularly looking forward to hearing it because I've just been completely blown away by "Sonic Origami."
MB: Cool. Well, "Sonic Origami" was actually the natural point of moving on from "Sea of Light", funny enough we actually did it for the fans. Because what we actually did was went back and listened to a lot of old Heep and really got off on it. We sat down with a beer and went "Yeah, that'd be a cool area to visit again". It was like a 25-year anniversary to thank the fans really. We went through all our musical journeys we had over the years and tired to include all that on the album, include all the mystical fantasy lyrics and stuff like that. "Sonic Origami" is just an extension from there, which is cool. The one thing we did try, probably more than on any other album in a long while was to make it, those horrible two words, "Radio Friendly."(laughs) We attempted to do that and I think that's why a song like "Across the Miles" is on this particular album. We felt when we first heard the song, it was given to us, it would be a hit for somebody and we decided our version was justified in being out there and on the record, and hopefully it will become a hit.
 
K2K: Especially when you're talking about a hit for yourself rather than someone else?
MB: Absolutely we want it for us!(laughs) The nice thing is though, that on the single we included other versions just to remind people that we still rock with the best of them.
 
K2K: This version of the band has actually been around for ten years now?
MB: Yep, we're actually going into our 13th year.
 
K2K: So it's kind of like a different life, but of course you still have to go out there and play the old songs.
MB: Sure, but we're proud of our history, we're not one of those bands that's trying to avoid the situation. We love it, because the buzz we get from playing the old songs and the reaction of the audience is different every time and every night. It's really cool. There's nothing better than to start the riff of "Gypsy" and have the crowd go up with it, it's just wonderful. It's really special and with our live set we tend to combine a lot of old favorites, with a lot of new songs off the latest studio album, we do about 7 of the new album. It's quit a long set an it's quite a journey, but it's a great one. One of the things that I have kind of picked up on is, if you haven't heard of us and you have never bought any of the CDs and you come to a show, from a live standpoint anyway, they would (the songs) all be the same caliber an that's how it is in the end. If we have to analyze it, that's how we'll do it.
 
K2K: With 30 years of material, I have to think that you could almost play two shows without repeating any material at all?
MB: A lot of fans came in from the beginning. A lot of fans didn't come in until "Innocent Visitor" and "Fallen Angel." Other people came in when we had a top 40 album and with the advancement of MTV us having a video on high rotation, "The way that it is," so people came in from different angles all the time. We do our best to cater to everyone. We're just a lucky band because here we are still doing it; we love it, as passionately as we've always loved it. And the band is great, we have a great humor and it's really cool. There's no major animosity going down, like some bands have. A good working atmosphere, down from our management to our crew to everyone. It's a big happy family.(laughs) DL Well, you say 13 years; I imagine that's time for everybody to know which sides of the bed people like to sleep on?
MB: Well, it's the longest surviving lineup which is fantastic.
 
K2K: No doubt. I mean how long had it been that you had a stable lineup before that?
MB: Well, we had one solid lineup that lasted nearly from about '73 or late '72 to about '76 or '78, something like that.
 
K2K: That was the "Fallen Angel" period?
MB: Yeah, after that period when David left, the band brought in John Lawton for "Firefly", then it went "Firefly" into "Fallen Angel" and then we go into the next era. If we were to rent the Royal Albert Hall we could fill it up with musicians alone!(laughs) The greatest thing about it, and I think what's given the band it's longevity is, with all the musicians we've had in and out of the band they've all been of the highest caliber and I think that's the nicest thing I can say about it really.
 
K2K: Being a music fan, a perpetual fan fantasy is always to see an all night jam where every surviving member of the band is able to get on stage. Do you keep in contact with many of the people who have passed through the group?
MB: As much as we can, yes. I still speak with Ken (Hensley), he lives in St. Louis now. He's been there for years and years now. He works for a music company called St. Louis Music Company. Initially he just started getting sponsorship for bands, handing out flyers and stuff like that but now you pick up records and there will be "Thanks to Ken Hensley" on it. He has helped tons out in that regard, but he's still playing and writing. He has got some interest in the studio, but he's a Born Again Christian, so he's got a band called VISIBLE FAITH and they go out and do the churches and things of that sort of stuff. He kind of supports that lifestyle now he's come a long way.
 
K2K: Still debauchery for yourself though right?
MB: If you say so .nicely put!
 
K2K: It's funny, because I'm about 32 now so when I'm not playing the rock and roll fan I have to be dad to 3 here so I can understand it when anyone comes to the point where they want to slow down a little, a very little I should add! (laughs)
MB: I have a baby, but he's 21 years old, he's in a band playing in New Mexico this week, he's out and running.
 
K2K: What's the name of that band?
MB: I can't remember the name (laughs) He'd kill me! It's Soul something, it's not SOULFLY, and it's, it's soul whatever. Soul something, I can't remember. He's changed it so many times. The first name of the band was BOMB THREAT. I said, "That is a great name" but I thought you'd have to travel and you'd never get through the security at the airport with a name like that! Then they changed it to BLIND and I thought "There's a limited audience!" Braille on the CD covers and things like that! Now it's Soul something and I just can't remember. But don't get me wrong, I'm a good Dad, really! I just bought him a new drum kit so I'm the best dad in the world right now.
 
K2K: Does he get much tutelage from the other guys that hang out with dad?
MB: Whenever I see him I live in Australia and England and he lives in New Mexico with my Ex-wife, but when I do go down there I'm as proud a parent as any. I talk with him about all the latest music and he feels really comfortable about it which is really cool. Other parents tend to put down the sort of music that their kids listen to and all that because they're parents an it's music for kids, music for different generations whereas me, I Know all about it, I work with it and I listen to it so it's cool. He loves that side of it.
 
K2K: You originally were going to come through with John Entwistle last Summer but you pulled out of that, what happened?
MB: We were going to do the whole realm with John, but unfortunately what happened was we couldn't make our release date sit with the tour, so basically if we'd come out and played we'd been way ahead of our tour and release schedule therefore we wouldn't have had the support of the record company, so it was really important that once the actual release dates were set for the single and the CD we'd then come out and support the whole thing in the correct manner an so we decided to delay for a little bit. I think that in the big picture it was a painful decision to make at the time, we just wanted to come and play, but in the big picture it obviously worked out for the better.
 
K2K: When you do come out are you going to be headlining now?
MB: I think we're just going to come out and do 3 months and yeah we'll be headlining. We'll be playing at House of Blues, theatres like that, I think venues that hold 1, 2, or 3 thousand seats and just generally with the record company Spitfire, we'll generally build the awareness of the band and then come back and do an onslaught throughout next summer.
 
K2K: Same album or do you have more material for another album?
MB: No, we won't be doing a new album yet. We've got so much depth and longevity with this stuff. We're going to explore, so that's our prime objective, to give this the best chance. The nice thing about this CD is the fact that a lot of people are choosing different tracks as their favorites, which shows you the depth and strength the CD has. The awful thing is it makes it hard for us to find one common denominator to release as a single. But it's been very good too, because they're looking at it with the same passion we are. They can see the longevity in the whole thing so we're just going to start building on that and when it's time for a new album we'll definitely deal with it then. We don't want to rush anything or half ass anything. We need to really explore it to its full extent.
 
K2K: Personally, I am very glad that you will be coming through as headliners because then we will get to see a much longer set?
MB: Absolutely, that's the major benefit. We'll be able to perform the whole set and the whole show as opposed to coming through on a package and only being able to do half of it. DL I was looking through my little file here and I found this quote about the band, "If this band makes it I'll commit suicide" who said that and did he follow through? MB It was a lady actually. It was a very funny comment to make because in the same paragraph she also compared us to a third rate JETHRO TULL. Now how she made that comparison I have no idea, because just for starters, no one in this band is capable of standing on one leg and there isn't a flute anywhere near our music and if she hasn't committed suicide, she should send me an email and I'll arrange it for her!(laughs) Some people have gone on record throughout the years and make these statements and it's quite incredible how they stick isn't it? I find it just incredible, but people are going to do that as you go along life's way. You can't please everyone. It's quite funny because where is she today? We have no idea, no one can find her, no one even knows if she's still in the journalistic world anymore and here we are nearly 30 years down the line still doing our bit. We sold 30 million albums, played 47 countries, we're really still here.
 
K2K: You have a song that has been remade a countless number of times, "Easy Livin,'" are there any versions of that number that rise above the rest?
MB: It's hard for me to be objective with that. I've heard it by various artists. There have been bands in Europe that have done it. In fact, there's a cover band called EASY LIVIN' that recorded "Easy Livin'." I really have no idea, I've never heard anything that I really like, and I don't mean that as a detrimental to anybody that's tried. A song like "Easy Living" is 3 minutes of power riffing, which can't really go anywhere else, so you can't really add too much to it. It sort of stands on it's own. Maybe one day, we'll do our own acoustic version of it, that will show them... with a flute... on one leg ... Easy Peggin.(laughs)
 
Written by David Lee Wilson

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