Phil Lanzon of Uriah Heep: Living The Dream at The Rose in Pasadena
The legendary Uriah Heep recently rocked out The Rose on Pasadena, unleashing selections from a vast and glorious music career. Songs performed within their tremendously well received set included favorites such as The Musician’s Birthday, Lady In Black, and Easy Livin’. Prior to Uriah Heep’s dynamic performance, Highwire Daze Online caught up with longtime keyboardist Phil Lanzon for an all encompassing interview. Topics would include the upcoming 25th Uriah Heep magnum opus Living The Dream on Frontiers Music Srl, Phil Lanzon’s recently solo endeavor entitled If You Think I’m Crazy, a blast from the past with Grand Prix (which also featured Uriah Heep vocalist Bernie Shaw), and a whole lot more! Read on…
How has this current tour been going, and what have been some of the highlights?
Well the tour has been going great. We’re in the sixth or seventh week of the tour now. We’ve covered just about everywhere from the east coast to the west coast now, as far down as Florida where we did the Rock Cruise with Sammy Hagar and all those great artists. Had a great time there. Then we moved back into the Midwest towards Saint Louis and the Michigan area and all around there, we’ve been around. Now, we’ve been to Texas, now we’re here in LA, Pasadena. Really enjoying it, its been going great.
What can one expect from a live Uriah Heep show tonight?
Well, a lot of noise. A lot of loud things and as much rock and roll that we can manage in an hour & a half.
Is it still exciting for you to tour and play these shows after all this time?
Yes it is, because we bring the music to the audience, to the people really. And that’s what we get the buzz out of doing, is performing in front of a crowd, and that’s what we do. It’s our living. It’s the thing that we do, it’s the things that we enjoy the most.
The upcoming Uriah Heep album is called Living the Dream. Is there any overall concept or story behind that title? What does living the dream mean to you?
I think the best way to describe it is, you’d have to look at the overall picture of Uriah, and the fact that we have been around for forty nine years or whatever it is. Coming up to the big five-oh. You have to realize that there are not a lot of bands that have that longevity if you’d like. That’s why we say we’re living the dream because we’re still doing it, we’re still here and very pleased to be.
It will be the 25th Uriah Heep album. What goes through your mind when you think album number 25?
Well, haha. Good lord. Well, you kind of sink back and think well, 25 years of studio albums and it’s been dispersed by so many bootlegs, live recordings, this and that all over the world. There’s a lot more than twenty five, but studio albums, yes, twenty five. It’s great. This is brilliant, this is our history and that was written in the book and that’s it there, 25 times.
You’re working with Jay Ruston on this album who’s credits include Anthrax and Steel Panther. What was it like working with him?
\Well, it’s a bit of a different thing for us actually, because producers we have used in the past have not really dabbled so much in that area, and we thought it would be great to have someone with that fresh approachfor a change, and so far so good, I think it’s worked out brilliantly. The final mixes are actually just about through now. That’s fresh off the press information. It’s sounding very big, very rocking and we’re really pleased with the outcome of the whole album.
Going back to the past now. Bernie Shaw is the lead vocalist for Uriah Heep, but you also worked with him on one of the three Grand Prix releases. Compare working with Bernie Shaw to Robin McAuley on the Grand Prix albums.
Well its hard to say because we started with Bernie, as you know, we went through the first album and everything seemed pretty fine and working on the second album, the direction musically was changing, and that’s why we felt we needed a change in the vocal area. That’s why we went with Robin, who had a more suitable voice for what we were doing on the second and third albums. So really, both singers have their own rights and their own colors of vocal range and sound. Both good – but some fit better for certain material. You see that’s the thing when you’re writing songs or writing an album, you have a vocal sound in mind and you tend to have to go to that because that’s what’s dictates the song.
You’ve obviously kept up with Bernie [laughs].
Have you kept up with Robin McAuley?
Yeah, in fact spoke to him today. He was going to be here but he has to do a video shoot in Vegas with The Rock Vault. So he couldn’t make it, unfortunately. He was going to come with his wife tonight, but he couldn’t make it.
Let’s talk about your solo album. Is there any story behind the title, If You Think I’m Crazy?
Yeah, it’s dictated by the cover. The cover was like, I mean really, what I meant to say was, if you think I’m crazy look at my sister. That’s basically the humor side of it. People will take a different angle when they think of that, but that’s what it actually means. And by coincidence that is one of the choruses in one of the songs.
Select two songs from that LP, what inspired the lyrics for you?
I think the second song, “Kelly Gang,” I wanted to bring the outlaw – The Australian outlaw Kelly – into the song. I was always intrigued by his story and I read some information on his background and it just inspired me to write the song.
The other song was, the last song, “Forrest.” Not intentionally, but I had this idea of a person who has lost loved ones for example, and is distressed so much that they have to run away and pretend it never happened or try and put it behind them. But as their journey to wherever it is they want to go takes them into this Forest, the voice of the loved one calls him from the Forest. I thought it was a spooky idea, so that’s why its got lots of fantasy sounds in it on the journey. I just thought it would be a great thing to do.
The producer, Simon Hanhart. He’s worked with Asia and Marillion among many others. What did he contribute to the overall recording process?
Oh, he contributed a lot because on the outset, Ive known Simon since the 70s and I wanted to say “Simon, here’s my songs. I don’t want any part of any routining or getting musicians. I don’t want to know any of it at all, I want you to go out and find people to make the album. I didn’t want anything to do with it, I wanted it to be just the songs. There’s the songs, you go off with it. We then started working together – (along with Richard Cottle – co-producer and arranger) , but for Simon he’s the one that brought the names up. Then I would OK each one as we went through it. He would present them and then I would chose them. That’s how we got the musicians, the orchestra, the choir together, through his recommendations.
Do you think you’ll do any solo performances of your own work?
Not really. My main interest is writing and recording, that’s it. In regards to performance, I’m not really that interested unless something gets picked up and played on the radio and becomes a big hit or something, that’s a different scenario. Apart from that, I’m not particularly interested. My enjoyment is writing and recording, making the thing happen. Making it sound great. Then I can say, well that’s the next one and so on.
What do you think has kept you so passionate about Uriah Heep after all these years?
It’s the music. There’s nothing else. It’s not the drives and flying, that’s the worst bit but of course the passion comes from playing and the communication you have with the audience. It’s really important to understand that the passion, the communication with the audience is there every time. It doesn’t disappear because if it did, you wouldn’t be able to do it. [laughs] Once you lose that you can’t perform. That’s my feeling.
What’s up next for Uriah Heep?
Well apart from the album quite a bit of touring going on. We got the whole summer of festivals coming up in Europe. Europe, Scandinavia, Russia places like Estonia, the whole of that area followed by a possible run in South America is September and definitely a long tour starting in mid October through mid December. All Europe.
You’re going to be busy.
We might have Christmas Day off!
Do you have any messaged for Uriah Heep fans who are reading this now?
Oh, crickey. We appreciate you following the band, we appreciate you coming to hear the music. We appreciate that you love rock and that’s what we live for. What can I say? And for any up and coming musicians, kids who want to start to learn to play, it’s not an easy place. It’s a minefield as you may well know already but just reiterating. It is a minefield, it’s tough. But the thing that will get you through is the passion to do what you do. The passion to play. If you don’t have the passion, it’s gonna be hard.
Uriah Heep is:
Mick Box – guitars, backing vocals (1969–present)
Phil Lanzon – keyboards, co-lead vocals (1986–present)
Bernie Shaw – lead vocals (1986–present)
Russell Gilbrook – drums, percussion (2007–present)
Davey Rimmer – bass, backing vocals (2013–present)
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Edward Brandon)