Heaven & Earth/Sweet
If you’ve been with us for a while here at Blast you know that in recent years, the name Heaven and Earth has become a household one , but as fans of the 70s UK-based Sweet, we were stoked to hear that members of the former (founder and guitarist Stuart Smith and drummer Richie Onori), were joining forces with original Sweet songwriter/bassist, Steve Priest, vocalist Joe Retta and keyboardist Stevie Stewart to bring us a new line-up of The Sweet Band. We caught up with Stuart on happenings within from the nationwide feedback to the band’s explosion onto the live scene this past year to their first collaborative release, Sweet: Live In America, which features a collection of Sweet classics and a peek into the future with one brand new track. Stay with us for more on that, Heaven and Earth and Black Star Records, as well as Stuart’s part time work with the LAPD and an account of his early and dramatic shift in career choice…we’ll let him take it from here…
Blast: Stuart, you’ve got a lot going on right now. Congrats on the new baby and the success of the live CD.
Stuart Smith: Thank you, yeah there’s quite a bit happening.
B: Let’s start with a little bit about your past, and where becoming a musician began for you.
SS: Well, my father was a jet fighter pilot and that was really all I wanted to do, though I’ve played guitar since I was seven.
B: Was music and guitar something you grew up around, too?
SS: No, I just did it. Oddly enough, my best friend at the time was guy named Ronald Blackmore, same initials, which is kind of funny.
B: But being a pilot was your primary career choice?
SS: Yeah, that’s really what I wanted to do. I always played guitar in different bands, but I went to college and they said ‘Yeah, you’re grades are good enough, we’ll take you on.’ Then they gave me all the tests, including the medical, and they said ‘Oh, you’re colorblind, you can’t fly’. 76% of all males are colorblind, but I never knew I was. I’m actually red/green colorblind and it’s very slight, but it’s enough that if I were flying and they were shining a red laser onto a hot target and a green laser onto a school and I put a missile into a school, that’s not going to work.
B: Yeah, that could’ve been a problem.
SS: Right, so I went and joined Texas Instruments over in England and I worked for them building and designing computers for three months and they said ‘Ok, you passed your probation, we’ll take you on.’ Then they gave me the medical exam and they said ‘Oh, you’re colorblind, you can’t do this work by law,’ and I’m like ‘What the hell?’
B: Was the work you were doing for them something you had also studied for in college?
SS: No, but I knew enough about electronics because of the guitar being electrical and electric instruments and all that, but they put me into building transistors under microscopes, so I quit the next day, then went off and goofed around. I think about three months later I was there wondering what the hell I was going to do and arguing with my dad who was as confused as I was because we all thought I was going to be a jet fighter pilot, and I think it was just one of those weeks you write about in blues songs; I crashed my car and my girlfriend cleared off with my best friend. Everything went wrong that week, so I went to this local bar in Bedford where my parents lived at the time and I walked in and this band was playing. I remember it to this day, it was this band called Spring Offensive and they were playing jazz fusion, the sort of fashionable thing in England at the time, and I see my ex-girlfriend there with my ex-best friend. At the time I had a rock band on the side and as I walked in the guy said something stupid through the mic, like ‘Oh, here comes our three-chord heavy riff merchant,’ and I just snapped! I stormed up to the stage and grabbed a guitar and I was just like ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly, go!’ and I just played every bit of anger and everything came out. I had been classically trained since the age of seven and I just blew this band away, and the audience who had been previously sitting cross-legged on the floor and nodding off were all up and screaming. At the end of it, I stormed back off stage and sat in a booth with one girl on every side of me and my ex-girlfriend’s like ‘Oh, you know, I miss you’, and everyone’s buying me drinks and saying ‘Why aren’t you a professional musician?’ So on the way home I drove up and just sat in the hills of Bedford looking over the city for about three hours and at three o’clock in the morning I went home and woke my dad up and said ‘Dad, I want to be a guitarist, I do it well.’
B: Done deal from that night, huh?
SS: Yeah, and as far as the LAPD thing goes, I got approached about playing the LAPD celebrity golf tournament and I don’t really play golf, I haven’t since I was twelve when my grandmother used to play. But I played in it for a couple of years and got to know the assistant chief pretty well. We’d been good friends for a while and one day as I was coming out of a local market, I was in the parking lot this couple came out and two guys came running out behind them and identified themselves as store security. The girl runs and the one guard takes off after her and the guy just starts beating the crap out of the other security guard and knocking him all over the parking lot. I’ve done martial arts for a long time, so I took him down and cuffed him, and my name was flagged on the LAPD computers from the police report so they said ‘Hey, why don’t you teach some of that stuff to our guys?’ So I teach them martial arts for defense so they can get into more advanced SWAT stuff. I’ve also done some concerts for the Memorial Foundation.
B: Interesting to mix it up a little.
SS: Yeah, it is. I go up with the air support division in the helicopters chasing bad guys and stuff. Definitely keeps it interesting.
B: So have you guys been touring pretty extensively?
SS: Somewhat. Steve Priest called me in January last year and said ‘What do you think about getting Sweet back together?’ All these classic rock bands are doing so well, like Kelly Hansen is doing Foreigner, and they’re doing great. So we decided to give it a shot to see if people were still interested and just took off like a shot. The whole of last year we were playing to crowds of twelve and sixteen thousand, some of them as headliners. We did one festival with Poison, Great White and Sebastian Bach.
B: Successful line-up. When did you and Kelly start working together? What brought that connection about?
SS: I remember years ago when I was looking for a singer for what became Heaven And Earth, I called a friend at Capitol and he said ‘Well there’s Kelly Hansen, he used to be in Hurricane,’ and I remembered that song ‘I’m Onto You’ and I always thought what a great singer he was, so we hooked up and over the years became best friends. He sang on the first Heaven And Earth album and before he joined Foreigner we had just started to get the whole thing going, it had just started to take off and then he got the offer from Foreigner and of course he had to do it, it’s every singer’s dream gig and plus the money’s going to be great. So he did that and I struggled on to try to find the right singer.
B: You’ve worked with several great vocalists. Was there someone specific you had in mind to take over immediately?
SS: I had Keith St. John who was with the Burning Rain/Doug Aldrich project and it was just really hard; we sort of got this whole momentum going and then it all just fell to bits. But Steve called me in January and wanted to get Sweet going again, so we decided to give it a try, and I knew of musicians so I gave everybody a call. The first was Richie (Onori) who I’ve played with in the past, he’s our drummer, and Joe Retta our vocalist who I’d jammed with a few times, and he knew Stevie Stewart, out keyboardist, so the first line-up we put together, that was it, it was just like magic. We started playing and it’s been great.
B: When we refer to classic rock and classic bands regaining popularity with their “second comings”, so to speak, it often refers to much of the 80s, and hair/metal bands, but Sweet reaches back quite a bit further with 70s and even late 60s material. What are you seeing as far as turnout in age range at the shows?
SS: You know, it’s been incredible, half of our audiences have been between twelve and twenty and they’re all down in the front and they know the words to the songs as well as we do, better in some cases, and not to just the hits like ‘Little Willy’, and ‘Fox On The Run’, and ‘Ballroom Blitz’, but things like ‘The Six Teens’, which was never a really big hit, but they’re down there singing and holding up banners saying ‘We Love Sweet’.
B: That’s awesome, where it’s just started up again after quite a while and it‘s pulling in so many generations right off.
SS: Yeah, I think a lot of it is there’s nothing else. It’s not like when I grew up when you had people to look up to like Jeff Beck and Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Paul Rodgers, Jimmy Page.
B: Yeah, it’s gotten pretty sad.
SS: Yeah, it really has, there’s nobody that’s come out since the alternative thing started that’s going to be remembered as these guys were as just great musicians.
The whole industry’s completely changed, it’s all run by lawyers and accountants now. It’s all a money thing. I mean you’ve got one of them who’s brought in the CEO of Coca Cola to run the company and it’s like, what the hell does he have to do with music? So the days are gone where you had someone to see the potential and develop it. You don’t have that anymore and the same with promoters. Everyone wants you to come as a packaged item, with your record you made yourself so they don’t have to give you an advance and your fan base, and they do diddly squat for promotion. I mean, they’ve been hurt by the downloading thing, but they didn’t get on the ball fast enough and it’s not like the old days when they’d see potential and develop it. Of course, with computers now, we’ve got our studio with Pro Tools and we get people in there who just completely suck. I’ve heard stuff that’s just horrible and they’re like ‘Don’t worry about it,’ and they’ll have the computer move the drums into time, the guitars into time, tune it up, tune the singers voice. You know, and whether it’s Ashlee Simpson or Paris Hilton, they can’t sing to save their lives. Fame has become a currency in the U.S. more than anything else and it really pisses me off when you have these actors who suddenly decide ‘I’m going to be a musician.’ I mean you’ve got a few who can do it, but then you have people like Steven Segal who just happen to have the money to pay for the best back up musicians and all that. So many bands are out, but it’s rare that I hear anything really good. A couple of them, like Hinder, seem pretty good but you’ve certainly got no Jimmy Page or Rodgers going on now. The newer bands’ concerts that I have been to, there’s just no “wow this guy really blows me away” feeling, you just don’t have that. But I think a lot of kids today are growing up with their parents listening to classic stuff, so they get interested and start playing and then they’re playing some of the new stuff and they’re like ‘Wow, this stuff sucks, it’s easy,’ so they start listening to Led Zeppelin and Purple and they’re like ‘Hey, this is real playing!’ And also Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which has really turned the younger generation on to classic rock. But there’s nothing else for them; it’s computers doing all the work for them and lawyers and accountants running everything. It’s like, we played The House of Blues the other day, and in the old days the promoter would be at the show, he’d watch the audience and he’d say ‘Well, I haven’t sold it out but these guys had a great time and they’ll tell their friend and they’ll come back, so they’ll develop it.’ Live Nation, which runs half the venues in the country, their promoter doesn’t even show up now, they’ll literally just go by the hard facts and figures the next morning. So I don’t know where music’s going, there’s just not a lot of talent out there and that distresses me. We were lucky growing up, we had Clapton and Beck and Blackmore. And then a little later on you had Eddie Van Halen who did something a little different with the guitar, and then you had Slash, who’s not really doing anything different with it, but is a great player. But that was it. After that any sort of real virtuoso and command of the instrument just died. With Sweet it’s great because everybody’s so damn good, we can just go off on tangents with this. It’s an amazing trip and it’s a lot of fun. Plus the music is fun, too. Heaven And Earth was a very serious band, I don’t think there was a good time song amongst the set.
B: The Heaven and Earth work was so awesome, though!
SS: Yeah, I think the music was great, and definitely for me because I got to do a lot of guitar work on it. With Sweet you’re playing more of the rock n’ roll three chord type of thing, but the songs are well crafted and when I do get the chance to do a solo like in ‘Windy City’ or ‘Set Me Free’ it’s a blast and because of the audiences we’re getting where people are coming in and we‘re selling places out. At the end of the solo in ‘Windy City’ I’ve been able to get a standing ovation for the guitar solo, which is so hard to get an audience to their feet to start applauding halfway through a song. So I’ve got a couple of songs in the set that are very show-off, and everything else is really set, like ‘Fox On The Run’, the solo’s set, there’s not much you can do with it, once you’ve learned it that’s it. With the others I get to free form a bit, which I love doing, I love just jamming on the songs.
B: So you’ve got the live CD out, and are you working on new material?
SS: We are working on new material. I’m really pleased with it and the band is just incredible. Everyone gets on well, so there are no ego problems, and it works so perfectly because all the guys are such great musicians.
B: Now there’s still another band out there using the name Sweet?
SS: Well, there’s Andy Scott who was not the original guitarist, there were actually three of them, but he was there for the heyday and he wrote a lot of the songs. In fact, he wrote ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ so he’s around out there, though he hasn’t come over here at all. He’s been playing basically just around Europe and they’ve been doing a lot of the older stuff like ‘Poppa Joe’ and the stuff that we don’t really touch. ‘Wig-Wam Bam’ and ‘Little Willy’ is about as far as we’ll go back, simply because the crowds want to hear those songs. They have a lot of Sweet in commercials and they have this thing, ‘Life On Mars’, which is a series on TV about a detective from the seventies who goes forward in time or something and they play a lot of Sweet on that like ‘Little Willy’, so it’s interesting and a lot of fun. With Heaven And Earth it was just more serious. One of the things that Ritchie Blackmore taught me was when you’re doing a solo think about what the song’s about and if it’s about being angry or sad or heartbroken or whatever, you put yourself back in time to where you were in that state of your life and think about that when you’re playing the solo, it’s like a method actor in a way. So with Heaven And Earth, the songs were a bit dark, particularly compared with Sweet. With Sweet there’s not a serious song amongst them, it’s all just good fun, it’s a party band. Especially now, with all the people we’ve got coming down to the shows, by the third song they’re all up on their feet, so it’s different in a lot of ways than Heaven And Earth and generally a lot more fun. Heaven And Earth was a constant struggle for me to try and break this new band in an environment and time when it was just looking at kids that have huge following and all their friends coming down, and the people that were into Heaven And Earth were more my age and they can’t come out during the week, but Sweet is doing it now and it’s great. We have started writing new material, and there’s a new song on the live album that Steve Priest wrote called ‘Sweet Dream’ which is a ballad, so there’s that.
B: And where was the live album recorded?
SS: It was recorded at a casino up in the Palm Springs area and we did two shows that night, so we thought it would be a good night to do it and take the best between the them.
B: Are you planning to release a live DVD, as well?
SS: We’re working on it. We actually recorded for that the same night and we made a deal with K-Tel where they were given the rights to four songs, ‘Little Willy’, ‘Fox On The Run’, ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’, and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and they’ve put them up on Itunes as downloadable pod casts and if that works then we’ll probably put the music to the other songs like ‘The Six Teens’ and all that. But hopefully sometime later this year when we find a good venue that we really like with great lighting, we’ll do a live DVD.
B: Will you also do future work on Heaven And Earth?
SS: One day I may do another Heaven And Earth album, but it’ll be when I have time in between the work that I’m doing with Sweet. I’ve always got guitar solos that I write all the time and I’ve got songs that won’t fit Sweet, so I’ve just sort of stored them in the back of my mind for now.
B: Was Kelly Hansen pretty much the singer who did live work with Heaven And Earth?
SS: Kelly was, yeah, then he got the Foreigner thing. Actually we started off with Kelly and then we were signed to Frontiers Records and we played at the Gods Festival in England. The first thing the guy does after our show is offer Kelly a deal to put Hurricane back together and I’m just like ‘how dare you?’ Of course, Kelly took it, so then for the second album I got Kelly Keeling and he’s also a good singer and he can mimic anybody, but I don’t think he’s actually found who he is himself, though he’s a great musician. We did the ‘Windows To The World’ album with him and we started to tour, but then he started wanting to play guitar and if we didn’t take an idea of his, it didn’t work out well, and we did have Paul Shortino for a very short time and that didn’t work out too well, either.
B: That’s a shame, Paul fit the songs he did so well.
SS: Yeah, he really did, and it was a shame. Paul is one of the best singers on the planet. But it’s a constant thing, and it’s a matter of finding the right singer, which I did in Kelly Hansen. Joe Lynn and I also went out for a while, but you have to have something happening to ensure that people can afford to stay it if that’s what they do for a living. We also worked with Keith St. John, but again, it was like pulling teeth trying to get the whole thing off the ground and no one wanted to hear about the new acts, certainly not over here. We were bigger over in Europe and Japan.
B: Yeah, it must have been over there. Even here though, I still here quite a bit about it among the melodic/classic rock fans. It’s just one of those albums you never get tired of hearing.
SS: It really was an amazing time doing it. The studio was great, we just had all these people. We had Howard Leese and our producer, Pat Regan, and myself, and I lived in the Hollywood hills. We’d work late into the night, and when the bars closed in town, all the musicians would come down to the studio because they knew we had booze there and they could drink later, and they’d sing and doing some backing vocals. It was great recording it.
B: Did Ritchie Blackmore have a hand in the writing on some of that. I guess he didn’t record on that one, right?
SS: No, not on the first one he didn’t. Well first, when I was back in England and it really wasn’t happening, it was all Duran Duran and that kind of thing back around ‘83, and Ritchie had just gotten Joe Lynn and they’d come out with a hit with ‘I Surrender’ and they were playing and Ritchie said, ‘You know, you should come to the States, the place is so big and there are enough people that even if your music’s not in fashion, at least you have a start.’ So I came over to Long Island and stayed with him for a while, then I got my own place and then I moved to LA in’86 and I’ve been there ever since. But there are some great musicians around from that era. You really have to have something going financially to make it worthwhile to keep it together. Not only to fly the band members, but you’ve got the crew, the merch guy, etc., to get them all there. So it takes a lot of money to take a band on the road. With Sweet they have the jukebox and the name, they’ve got the songs, so the promoters will pay for it.
B: Are you still also doing Black Star?
SS: No, unfortunately not. We started it and that was when the whole downloading thing just started making the record companies crash and things started going down the drain. They’re all in trouble. And, of course, all the record companies now basically want you to give them the album for nothing and put the finished product out on Itunes. There aren’t that many record stores anymore, so running a record label is not something I’d be willing to do right now. Really a shame, because we signed Howard Leese who’s got a great album, but I had to just give him the rights back, because he’s one of my best friends and I didn’t want to tie it up, so he can find a label that will do something with it. But all the record labels really do is put it up on Itunes and Amazon and hope for the best and we can do all that ourselves.
B: Would have been nice to have a record label out there actually encouraging younger generations to set some standards for themselves, though.
SS: Oh yeah, well there’s a few out there that are prepared to do that. But I hate sending MP3s. When we finished mixing this album they said, ‘Well send the MP3s,’ and I hate that. This needs to be played loud, on a decent system, like in a car. So I like to wait until they have the CD, then they’ve got to listen to it in their car, rather than on their computer at the office on their tiny little speakers.
B: Yeah, that doesn’t really do a great CD justice the way blasting it on a good system does. We don’t see very much of you here on the east coast. Are you guys planning to stay in the US for now?
SS: For now. We really do want to go out to Europe, though. Andy Scott has really sort of kept the Sweet name alive over there, though I’m not sure how well he’s done because he’s playing a lot of stuff like ‘Poppa Joe’ and we’re a harder edge band, were more about the B-sides of Sweet. When Sweet came out I remember listening to ‘Wig-Wam Bam’ and thinking, ‘What is this?’ and I was into Deep Purple and Zeppelin and Cream, and a friend of mine said, ‘Hey listen to this!’ and I was like ‘Who’s that?’ and it was Sweet, but it was the B-side, ‘Set Me Free’ was the B-side to something and I was like, ‘Wow, this is incredible!’ So that’s how I got into the band, but they’d already started down that road. In England they had this show, Top of the Pops, which was with them, David Bowie, T-Rex, Slade and they’d all try to outdo each other at being more ridiculous with the glam thing so they got caught in with that stigma, where Purple and all the other bands were just going on in regular clothes, so Sweet never really got the credit they deserved as musicians or as writers, because they engineered that whole sound. Without that, there would have been no Def Leppard or Queen. But anyway, yeah, this is our first trip to this side of the States; we were doing more festivals and things like that last year. The other thing with the shows, though, is that people don’t always know who did the songs. They know ‘Ballroom Blitz’, of course, but that’s it. You’ll get people who think ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ is ELO and we’ve had these promoters who’ve booked us for shows like this one in Michigan where they had Grand Funk Railroad headlining and when I was having a drink after the show with one of the promoters, he said ‘Man, I should have had you guys headlining, I knew every song, I just didn’t know it was Sweet!’ So it’s a bit of a building process and we’re kind of trying to educate everybody that these songs are by Sweet. The radio’s been very good to us, but even that’s in trouble now, like Clear Channel going under which is good because it was not too big, it’s probably going to be broken up into smaller things. The whole classic rock thing just became a nightmare, because they were playing the same two hundred songs over and over again when there was certainly plenty of new stuff coming out of Europe, even Heaven And Earth, but it couldn’t get airplay.
B: That really would have taken off on the radio, too, stuff like ‘Don’t Keep Me Waiting’ and the title track; a bunch of them, really.
SS: Yeah, Kelly sings ‘Don’t Keep Me Waiting’ really well, but the stations don’t play them. Even from the major ones like Def Leppard and Bryan Adams new material gets ignored, they just keep playing those same two hundred songs constantly. So even if well-known classic bands put out something new, it doesn’t get heard anyway. It’s got to be very frustrating for those who were there throughout the whole heyday who have continued writing and there’s just no one to pick it up and push it. So hopefully when we have some new stuff out towards the end of the year, maybe things will have come around a bit and they’ll be playing some of it. It took Foreigner a year and a half from when they got Kelly to actually get it together and get out there.
B: They’re playing their new track ‘Too Late’ as part of the set now, and it’s been really well received.
SS: Yeah, that’s a great song, but they’ve been at it for three years and it’s at that stage where people are really taking notice and the contacts build up. We’ve been at it a little less than a year, and it’s been great so far. I think, also, when we get the new Sweet album out it will be interesting. I love the direction we’re taking with it, it’s the like the harder edge stuff, like ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘Windy City’ and the new song, ‘Sweet Dream’, which is a power ballad. Steve wrote it years ago and we said ‘We should do this one’ to show people that we’re not just standing still, we are planning to go somewhere.
B: Well you’ve got great musicians and everyone’s bringing something a little different to the table.
SS: Oh yeah, the players are unbelievable. And again, we’re not even a year old. We did our first show in June last year and, like Kelly said, it took Foreigner a year and a half to really get it going. Their manager said the it was similar in that not everyone even knew who did the songs, aside from the really big ones. And with us, the only one they’re a hundred percent sure is even Sweet is ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and everything else they think is by other bands. So we’re really happy to get out there and put on a good show.
B: Are you working on any other projects while you’re doing this?
SS: I don’t really have time right now. For now, all my energy is going into Sweet. We’re really having fun, and it’s very disheartening with something like Heaven And Earth, you go to play somewhere and there’s about thirty people, just the die hard rock fans, who will turn up. Whereas, with Sweet some of the festivals, we’re selling out in the thousands and they know and love the music.
B: There must have been a huge difference between the States and Europe with the whole Heaven And Earth thing, though, with those crowds.
SS: We actually only went over once, for the Gods’ Festival and that was with Frontiers, which, they’re based out of Italy, so what are you gonna do? But I told them ‘Look, you need to align yourselves with some European promoters and then put a tour of Frontiers bands together.’ At the Gods’ Festival we came out with Kelly and absolutely killed, but we only did one show, and that was really a failure on their behalf, they really should have gotten to know all of the promoters over there.
So it was frustrating, as the music business can be, and the economy absolutely sucks right now.
B: Yeah, it’s been in better shape.
SS: Yeah, you know there’s the whole 9/11 thing. There are always conspiracy theories out there and you don’t know what to believe. Like why the hell we went into Iraq. The guy was just a blowhard to them, he wasn’t dangerous. There were no nuclear weapons there. I mean, I could see from the satellite photos that there were trucks rumbling across the desert, but you can’t tell me that they were biological weapons. There were no spies on the ground, no intelligence out there. The thing is, if you study history, Iraq was a bunch of warring tribes and you get one guy who rises to power and terrifies everybody, and everybody keeps in line. Baghdad was a peaceful place before we went in. So we went in and took the one guy out that’s keeping them all in line and now they’re all at each other’s throats and ours. It’s like Ireland, it all comes back to money. And with 9/11, like flight 93, we shot it down. I’m the son of a jet fighter pilot, I know what a missile hit looks like, and we had to do it. It’s understandable, the jet has been high jacked, and we don’t know where it’s going. But some of the stuff they came up with, I mean have you ever tried to get a cell phone signal in a plane? Absolutely impossible! Plus there was an engine found eight miles away. An engine can bounce half a mile, but when it’s found eight miles away, that means it’s been hit by a missile, the engine’s come off. There was a plain white F16 with no registration seen around the area at the time. And it just would have been better if they had come out and said “we had to shoot it down, we had no choice” we’d have appreciated the honesty, but to come up with a story just makes everything else suspect about the whole thing and using that as an excuse to go into Iraq when there wasn’t one damn Iraqi in the whole thing, they were all Saudis. And Afghanistan was understandable, we had the support of the whole world, but to go into Iraq just drained the country’s resources, not to mention the men and women out there getting killed, we’re up to four or five thousand now, plus the Iraqi civilians. So the world’s a mess. I wish Obama luck, I like the guy.
B: Are you confident in the direction it’s taken so far?
SS: I don’t know. I think it’s still to early to tell. He’s still busy cleaning up the mess this country’s in. But I’ve found a corner of the world that works for me, which is music and I love playing it. Same with the LAPD; the older you get, especially where I’ve got a kid now, you realize that maybe in the old days when you were younger the police were the enemy. Now it’s like, whether you think fighting a war on foreign soil is going to improve our homeland security, the first line of defense belongs with the men and women in blue and you really come to view it differently. When you get to know the police officers and you go out with them and you see what they have to go through every damn night, the abuse from people. They go out each night knowing that there’s a fifty/fifty chance they won’t be coming home. So with that side, I really help out where I can because I can’t really be full time, but I love it.
B: When did martial arts become an interest for you?
SS: When I was eleven years old.
B: Martial arts, guitar and jets; that’s a well rounded kid.
SS: Well my father would get posted somewhere different every two years and we’d have to move and he felt my education was suffering, so at eleven I went to a boarding school. I was very small and skinny and used to get picked on by the other kids. Then I saw Bruce Lee, and I thought, wow, he’s small and skinny and he kicks ass, so I started doing it and I didn’t tell anybody. All of sudden about three months into it, everybody just started leaving me alone and it was more the fact that I just carried myself differently, I didn’t look like a victim. I never had to prove it, except for the one day the school bully decided to notice me and he was like ‘What are you looking at?’ and I was like ‘Nothing,’ and he was like, ‘Lunchtime, the playground!’ So, of course, everyone knows there’s a fight and they all show up, and the kid was just a big, lumbering guy but really slow. I had been doing martial arts for about a year and a half and I just put him down fast and we became very good friends after that.
B: Point taken, and kept in the cafeteria from that point on?
SS: Yeah, but it’s funny, it’s more of an attitude than anything else. If someone is angry a lot or losing their temper, it’s easier to just back down and let it go, knowing you can kick their ass anyway and just walk unless it escalates. The whole thing gives you a sense of confidence in yourself, too, and you stop carrying yourself like a victim and people will leave you alone. I walked the streets of New York late at night when I lived there and no one came anywhere near me.
B: That’s about as convincing as it gets. You also did a film, right? Last year?
SS: Yeah, ‘Four Christmases’
B: How’d that happen?
SS: A friend of mine, Marc Ferrari from Keel now runs a music company that makes music for movies and he was doing this movie with Dwight Yoakam as a preacher and he called me. So I got Richie Onori, Howard Leese and Sean McNabb, the bass player who was with Great White and is with Dokken now, and Stu Simone, the keyboard player from Heaven And Earth and we did these rock Christmas carols. If you watch the movie, we’re over and done in about a minute. The thing took us like a week to shoot.
B: Was it a good time?
SS: Yeah, it really was, it was interesting. It’s amazing how much money goes into it, though.
B: Was that the first time you’d done a movie?
SS: Yeah, of that magnitude, a major motion picture.
B: Any interest in doing more?
SS: Absolutely, I’d love to. I think as far as bands go though, they generally want the younger kids who look the part, but playing music for movies, I’ve had a few offers and since I’ve been doing Sweet, it’s raised my profile a bit, and now people are coming back to the old Heaven And Earth stuff and saying they’d like to use it in movies.
B: What else do you listen to?
SS: Actually, this! The Sweet stuff, which is funny because normally when I do an album, I don’t listen to it for three or four months because by the time you’re finished with it, you’ve just heard it so many times. With this it’s different, though, because I didn’t have that involvement where it’s a live album, it was mixed in the studio and I wasn’t even there, so now I listen to it, and I’m like ‘Wow, this great!’
B: Are you actively in the studio now?
SS: Not yet, we’re still kind of wrapping our heads around this and talking to record labels right now, as well. We need to have a deal for this album to include an advance that will allow us to take the time off from touring to spend the time in the studio. Writing we do even at sound check. I’ll start something and everyone will just join in and it works.
B: Where will you be recording?
SS: We’ll be at Richie Onori’s studio. We live about two miles from each other.
B: Looks like he’s been pretty busy, too. Does he still have an accessory company?
SS: Yeah, Onori Accessories, he’s got guitar straps and gig bags, so he’s got that going on which is doing well, and he worked with us in Heaven And Earth and now he’s in Sweet with us. You should talk to him, too.
B: I’d love to. Do you guys go back before Heaven And Earth?
SS: Oh yeah, way back. We met years ago and we’ve been playing together for the last ten or fifteen years.
B: Heaven And Earth, Sweet, LAPD, new baby…think I’m going to scratch the ‘is there anything else on tap in the near future for Stuart Smith’ question!
SS: (laughing) Yeah, it’s quite a bit, but it’s all good!
B: Well Stuart, thanks very much for taking some time out for this today, very interesting stuff.
SS: Yeah, it’s been great, thank you. Hey, so do you want to interview some of the other guys?
B: Yeah, let’s do it!
Ok, so that wraps up a very informative 90 minutes on the record with Stuart Smith. Cool, huh? So is their CD, Sweet, ‘Live In America’. If you don’t have it yet, click on one of the links below for info on how you can grab your copy, and don’t forget to check tour dates while you’re on their site to find out when The Sweet will be in your town.
Thanks, as always for hanging with us, and don’t go away, ’cause Richie’s up next…