Heartland: Moving On To Better Things
Heartland's Steve Morris and Chris Ousey discuss the band's cracking new studio album Move On. Steve is highlighted in green and Chris in blue.
G'Day Chris and Steve,
Great to take this opportunity to talk to you about the smashing new Heartland album - one which I have a lot of enthusiasm for.
Chris - to you first - not too many people are still in the business closing in on 20 years since their debut album. We all know this business doesn't work on talent alone - how have you managed to stay in it for so long?
Has it been that long? That's truly scary, but I don't think a passion for music can ever be discarded. I also class myself as very lucky that there's always been people interested enough in what I do, to want to help and encourage me to continue.
I know I certainly hold this opinion, but do you consider yourself unlucky not to have broken into a wider audience and acclaim? You have a great standing within the melodic rock community, but with a voice such as yours, I think you are unlucky not to be a household name.
It's nice of you to put it like that, and it can be a little frustrating at times not to reach a wider audience. However it's impossible to be in control of that side of things, so you soldier on and hope the ripples will continue to spread outwards.
Steve - you have had an equally colourful career working with major labels and also major names such as Ian Gillan. You have also tasted success - do you prefer life as you have it now - busy always on different projects, but somewhat less intense than life under the pressure of a major label or artist?
I really enjoy working with Ian Gillan. I have written 3 albums with him, and a fourth is ongoing. Recently I played some guitar on a project with him, that looks back on his 40 years on the road. ['Gillan's Inn'] He's re-recording his old classics with such people as Joe Satriani, Jeff Healy, Ian Paice, Jon Lord, Don Airey and a host of other names, so it was an honour to be asked.
I re-recorded 'Loving on Borrowed Time', a number I co-wrote with him on the
'Naked Thunder' record. And also played 'Smoke', as did all the guitarists.
It's gonna be a killer record.
Or do I have it wrong - is it equally as pressurized no matter who you are creating for?
There is no pressure at all doing things like that, as all the people are so cool to work with. With 'Heartland' it's a different thing as not so many people will hear it.
Which is a shame as it's such a good record. So any positive vibes from it is a bonus.
Chris, you started out with Virginia Wolf on Atlantic and then Heartland on A&M Records in 1991, do you think your career and perhaps even your sanity were saved by the advent of the Independent label?
When Heartland parted company with A&M I did consider going to college to study psychology. At that time Khalil from Escape Music approached me and it seems I didn't need much persuading to get back in the saddle again.
What do you think might have been an alternative path for you after Heartland were dropped from A&M?
There's no way I'd still be writing and recording this style of music, if I'd had to continually rely on the support of a major record company. It's made it more possible for writers to have a greater say in their direction.
You have been with Khalil since Wide Open on Long Island Records and with Escape Music since Heartland 3. It's obviously a very strong relationship. I love sparring with Khalil, he is one of the most passionate music lovers in this business - what about you - do you creatively spar and argue over the direction of the band?
Steve and I have worked with Escape for a long time now, and though there are always going to be differences of opinions, I'm always right!....only kidding. The main thing is we always put the interests of the band first.
How about you Steve? You work with Khalil on several projects for Escape - you also seem to have a good understanding of what is required and/or desired by the label.
I have to say I prefer working at the very top, because of that fact. But playing guitar and recording music is no problem at all. Whoever it is with.
I enjoy working with Khalil, because he is so enthusiastic about our music. Sometimes we have to rope him in a bit as his passion obscures things particularly if he doesn't like the sound of some of the demos. But on the whole he sees the broad picture, a lot more than a regular A&R guy at a major.
Chris, you have been working with Steve for some time now - how would you describe what he brings to the band?
Steve is a truly accomplished musician and is the more organized side of the writing duo. When he sends me a backing track there's rarely any need to juggle the thing around. It's usually all there musically. I hope I then bring emotion to the proceedings and I like to think I've a good ear for a lyrical and melodic hook. After working together for this length of time, we have a good idea from the start where a song is heading.
What is the song writing process for you guys - separately or collaborative?
Steve sends me a few musical ideas and I work at my place to try and flesh out the tunes lyrically. Then I'll travel up to the studio and we'll rough out a demo. If it's working at that stage Steve will refine things and then it's into the main studio for drums, bass, vocals and guitar overdubs.
I always come up with the initial musical idea, which Chris will then add a rough lyric to We will then record a demo, to see how it is shaping up. If it looks promising we will then arrange it and polish it before re-recording a master.
To jump forward, I think each album has shown slight improvements each time, with Communication Down a highlight - but Move On seems to be a major jump forward again.
As regards 'Move On', we didn't set out to record anything in a different way, but the sound of the record changed when Tommy Hansen mixed it. He brought a freshness to the sound. But I also think the songs are stronger.
When formulating a plan for this album - what did you guys discuss?
We wanted some strong band sounds and heavier grooves on this record. I wanted to sing out a little more and we where looking for some gritty, ampy guitar sounds. Other than that I think an album kind of has a life of its own.
I must give huge props for the energy of the record. It seems the band gets a little heavier each release, but this one seems tight as hell. Credit to whom for that?
I'd say a lot of the credit for this being a tight album has to go to Steve for setting up some very strong guitar grooves from the outset. Also Mathias really holds down the bottom end on bass.
And best of all I think - some of the best songs ever on this album. And choruses!! Great choruses, which is something I have previously mentioned you guys could improve on. But this album has some killer choruses. What's your secret? :)
I tried to keep verses and bridges simpler on this record, leaving the strongest melodies for the main chorus lines. I think the contrast between the two make the songs work.
Something that stands out for me is the delivery of the choruses - the vocal arrangements and the extra pomp and harmonies surrounding all the vocals on the album. I'm told the guys from Grand Illusion helped out in this regard. Can you walk us through that?
Had a lot of fun recording the backing vocals in Sweden with Peter and Per (Grand Illusion boys). I'd finished all my lead tracks which always brings a sense of relief, so the sessions were very relaxed. In the past I've tended to do most of my own harmonies, and maybe not always given them the attention they've maybe deserved.
Anders did a great job directing and arranging.
I mentioned that the band has got increasingly heavier - or at least tighter on recent albums. Do you envisage yourselves getting any heavier?
There may be a limit to how far you can go and still pack a lot of melody into a song. Don't think I'd want to compromise on melody just to heavy things up. Having said that, if the two things can walk hand in hand then there would be no problem.
This is a myth. I have this argument with Khalil all the time. I don't care about getting heavier, but I do care about writing good songs, and if the song requires a bit of beef, all well and good. But not for the sake of making a 'heavy' record.
Chris, your vocals on the new album are some of your best and most powerful ever. Especially the extended high notes towards the end of several tracks. How did you warm up for this album?
I recorded all my lead vocals in just over four days, so I had to be careful to warm up well before heading off to the studio. I use a warm up tape which takes me around half an hour and usually freaks out the maids cleaning the adjoining rooms.
Have you Chris ever thought of returning to the style of the Heartland debut, which remains the only album you have recorded in that lush keyboard drenched AOR style?
I'm pretty happy with where the band are right now musically and don't really see the point in trying to recreate the first record.
Now...Heartland HAVE to perform live...this album is too good not to at least give it an airing via a few shows...is there any possibility of this happening? Perhaps a live CD/DVD at some stage?
I miss live work a lot and I for one would love to get out and gig. I'm going to be pushing hard for some live dates to promote this album.
Chris, what do you work on in the down time between Heartland albums? Do you have anything coming up in 2005 or even next year?
I'm working at the moment on what may end up going out as a solo record towards the autumn. It's early days with it but I'm enjoying getting the material together.
What are the chances of a new Distance album? Kenny has been locked away for far too long...time for him to get out again.
Well I'm going to be busy getting songs together for my record for a little while
I hope to be able to confirm some live work in the not too distant future also.
Steve - you are always busy...tell us about your current work on the new Change Of Heart album. I'm told it's going to be a good one!
I am in the middle of writing the new Shadowman record with Steve Overland. It's sounding really good. Strong songs with a different approach than the last one. A bit more rockier. I am also finishing off the 'Change of Heart' production of their new album which is sounding very good indeed.
What are the immediate plans for Heartland and the long term plans?
Heartland is always my major project so Steve and I will continue to write together, and look towards our next release.
Does it frustrate you both at all to see such great music ignored by mainstream media? There are so many great albums in this genre that you just know so many people would dig - but never get the chance to hear.
Do you just accept that and do what you can, or does it still bug you? (It bugs me!! haha)
I think I've probably accepted that there's always going to be a lot of great music out there that won't always get the airing it may well deserve.
On the other hand it's gratifying to get feed back from fans. It's what makes the effort involved in writing and recording worth while.
I don't get frustrated at all about mainstream media neglecting melodic rock. Why should they. People who buy CD's (10-18 yr olds) aren't interested in a form of music that has had it's heyday. So I accept that if we can reach anybody under the age of 20, we're doing bloody well.
But what bugs me is England. Its so fashion oriented. I was talking to Birgitt from 'Rock it' [German rock mag], and she says the German charts are much more objective. Now that really annoyed me.
It's been great catching up again and I appreciate your time to do the interview. Look forward to doing this again!
Thanks for your interest