Vital Vinyl: Heaven and Earth Talk ‘Dig’ Double-LP
An album that might’ve flown under your radar in 2013 is one that all vinyl collectors and rock fans need to get their hands on in 2014. Heaven and Earth’s double-LP, ‘Dig,’ combines several different musical influences with a gorgeous album cover to make for an unforgettable experience.
“‘Dig’ was in the making for 14 months,” Heaven and Earth founder and guitarist Stuart Smith tells Loudwire in an exclusive interview. “With this album, we signed with Quarto Valley Records, and they believed in the band 110%. They gave us the luxury of being able to work on a song until it was ready. They told us from the beginning that they didn’t care how long it took or how much it cost, this album was going to be phenomenal.”
In addition to giving the band as much studio time as necessary, they fully supported a significant vinyl experience for fans. “Vinyl was discussed when we first started the project. Someone actually had an idea - and it would’ve been a really ballsy move - to only release ‘Dig’ on vinyl,” Smith says. “Vinyl sales are up, obviously, but we sort of chickened out on the deal. In this day and age with all of the new record players, someone would’ve just put the mp3s on the Internet anyway.”
Smith remembers his first listen of the album on a record player as a very powerful moment. “I suddenly heard what we’ve been missing all of these years,” Smith explains. “I was blown away by how warm and deep it sounded.” Part of that warmth and depth comes from the recording style Heaven and Earth implemented with ‘Dig.’ “When we went in to record the album, we went into Ocean Studio simply because it is one of the few studios left that has the big two-inch tape,” he says. “We used something called a CLASP [Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor] system which takes the signal from the board and routes it into the tape. We had the advantage of Pro-Tools to edit things, but we got the tape saturation sound. Digital just sounds so much more brittle compared to analog.”
Aside from the warm sound of the 180-gram double-LP, the experience of ‘Dig’ is centered around the fantastic cover art designed by Glen Wexler. “When we were talking about this record, Chuck [Wright, bassist] wanted to bring in Glen,” Smith says. “He loved the music and identified with it. Glen actually came up with the title to coincide with the art that he created.”
“Essentially, when I first heard the music, I got the sense that I was listening to something that maybe was lost in the vaults for 40 years, maybe a Deep Purple collaboration that was never released,” Wexler tells Loudwire. “It really sounds like it can hold the test of time and it has this rock and roll familiarity. I pitched a number of ideas to the band and the label, but I was thinking something a little more modest, something similar to what I would do for an indie band. Bruce Quarto [President, Quarto Valley Records] kept pushing me and asking what else I had. I had this concept that I had been thinking about for a number of years, this rediscovery of rock and roll. It turned out to be the perfect image and icon for these guys. I did a sketch and showed them the idea and got their blessing.”
Both Wexler and Smith agree that the experience of working together was a memorable one. “There’s great camaraderie with them,” the artist says. “They clearly understood and appreciated the artistic relationship between us.” Smith adds on, “Chuck and Glen are perfectionists. I was very happy with the artwork. Glen’s reputation speaks for itself.”
The artist and rock and roll star may have somewhat different careers, but they each have their own personal respect for the significance vinyl has played in their lives. “When you’re younger, all your friends come around and you put on an album, read the liner notes and experience it,” Smith fondly recalls. “It is the way music is meant to be played. With vinyl, you intentionally listen to the music and read along with the lyrics and gaze upon the cover art.”
Wexler tacks on to the discussion, “As a kid, my album covers were my art collection. That was really influential stuff. I’ve learned more from album covers than I did in art school, that’s the stuff that really influenced my work. I lived for getting my hands on vinyl and having that experience of unwrapping it, you know, the full visual aspect of pulling out the disc and putting it on the turntable. It’s a whole different experience than you get in the digital world.”
With Smith and company pouring their hearts and souls into the sound of 'Dig' and Wexler doing the same with the the visuals, the album proves to pack a lasting and satisfying adventure beneath the shrink wrap. "To me, an album without the visual is not the entire experience," Wexler states with absolute confidence. "Unfortunately, that relationship is being affected today by the combination of digital distribution and the fact that physical products aren’t money makers. The perceived importance has fallen by the wayside. It’s unfortunate, everybody loses. Working on this album was really a rewarding experience. It just doesn’t happen that much in the rock work today."
‘Dig’ deserves a spot in rock fans’ stacks of wax, not just for the beautiful cover art, but also for the music. With a classic rock foundation, fans will hear tinges of progressive metal, blues and even southern rock and roll. “It’s really just us playing what we love, the music that we love,” Smith concludes. “It’s the best thing I’ve done musically in my life.”
Heaven and Earth - 'Dig'