Hot off the Press

Joe Retta of Heaven and Earth

by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Columnist —

Heaven and Earth band 2013

One of the most anticipated hard rock albums of 2013 was Heaven & Earth’s new release. Dig definitely met expectations of those who awaited for a full-length band’s release since 2001’s Windows to the World and marked an important change within the band’s line-up as well. Started as an all-star project in the late ‘90s, now Heaven & Earth enjoys a new found stability with Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot) on bass, Richie Onori on drums and Arlan Schierbaum on keyboards, the guitarist and the band’s founder Stuart Smith at the helm and – last, but not the least – Joe Retta on vocals.

The Sweet fans know the guy well – alongside the aforementioned Smith and Onori, it was Joe Retta who joined Steve Priest in his “version” of the legendary glam rock act. And it is Joe Retta who discussed all the important issues – his input in Heaven & Earth’s current incarnation, his status in Sweet and more – with Hardrock Haven.

HRH: A tough question first… Dig introduced a new Heaven & Earth line-up, but still – remains not too drastically different from the band’s overall style. How would you recommend the album to those who haven’t listened to it yet?

JOE RETTA: In a sea of hip hop, boy bands/girl bands and other soulless noise there is still some reminiscent rock ’n’ roll with a little bit of soul that just might speak to you.

HRH: Any personal highlights of the record?

JOE RETTA: I like the percussion on “Good Times” It’s a different musical spice from the rest of the recipe. Also, I like our Agape choir vocals on “What Love Is”. The power of it.

HRH: “No Money, No Love” was chosen to be the first single of the record. Could you tell us more about making the video clip to this?

JOE RETTA: The video is zoo of imagery, characters and debauchery… my Mom did not appreciate the unedited version (laughs) For my part, I had to sing solo and pretend I was in an environment that wasn’t there. It’s a little weird singing in a green screen studio. You have to do a bit of acting. I enjoyed the whole process.

HRH: On Dig, the guest musicians that were involved in the process of recording are the old friends of the band – David Paich, Howard Leese, Richie Sambora… Any comment on their participation?

JOE RETTA: It was super cool of them to help us out. These guys still love the craft. I’m a big Toto fan so it was especially cool to work with David Paich.

HRH: One of the most interesting songs on Dig is “Man and Machine”, with its lyrical ego enchanted with his “machine” – his car, I guess. Isn’t this a bit worn-out concept already, with all these songs like “Highway Star” or “Lovedrive” etc.?

JOE RETTA: “Man And Machine” to me is like a rowdy surf song on steroids. That song is about any man or woman who has strapped themselves into an amazing combustion propelled machine and fell in love.

HRH: Which influences have you, as a new Heaven & Earth singer, brought into the band’s music?

JOE RETTA: My influences? Holy crap, pick a genre. I listen to everything. And I do mean everything. This planet is full of amazing music on every continent. I’m not sure which parts became a part of “Dig.” Probably just my love of ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

HRH: You co-wrote most of the material for Dig, which lyrically is very diverse album. What were your and the guys’ lyrical inspirations during the songwriting process?

JOE RETTA: All of the lyrics came from my twisted brain (except for “Day Like Today”) but the song titles and writing challenges came from Mr. Smith. He would give me a song title and I would conjure the story supporting the “thesis” of the day. It was a like a writing exercise. Especially because a few of the titles I did not relate to at first wiew (“I Don’t Know What Love Is Anymore”, “Back In Anger”). It was like writing a song to the title of a movie. However at the end of the process there was a bit of self-discovery.

HRH: Are you familiar with the previous two Heaven & Earth records? In what way Dig differs from or resembles them?

JOE RETTA: I am and they sound completely different to me. Which is a good thing. I really enjoy the first record with Kelly Hansen, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes and Bobby Kimball. These guys can sing their asses off.

HRH: Is the new found stability of the band (which, all in all, started as an all-star project) somehow reflected in the band’s music?

JOE RETTA: We are all old friends. Three of us have been members of Sweet for many years – Stuart, Richie and myself. We all have similar tastes so… yes.

HRH: Now let’s talk about the things that led to formation of the current Heaven & Earth line-up. You, as well as Stuart Smith and a longtime Heaven & Earth’s drummer Richie Onori, have performed mostly throughout the States as the Sweet (or, Steve Priest’s Sweet, not to be confused with the ‘other’ version of the legendary band which frequently tours Europe). What is the current situation of the band – did you left, or is it just a hiatus?

JOE RETTA: I am still proudly the lead singer of Sweet. We are still playing festivals throughout Canada and the U.S. I have been a Sweet fan since I was a youngster and the age diversity of Sweet fans is mind-boggling. We get 11 year olds right alongside their folks singing every word. The shows are always a party!

HRH: One of the things that are somewhat emphasized in your biography on the official Heaven & Earth website is that your passion towards music developed early in spite of coming from a non-musical family, differently than the majority of musicians. Can you pick a particular moment in time when, or a particular reason why you got interested in music?

JOE RETTA: My Mom was a fan of jazz and was always playing her records or had the radio on. The “bug” was nurtured at a very young age. Music was always a part of our celebrations growing up. So I equate songs and singing to good times.

HRH: A significant part of your career was spent in various cover bands. In covering someone else’s material, what is more important – strict and precise approach to the original so that the cover version is no worse than the previous one, or maybe, the complete reworking of the original in order to show your own “voice” and style?

JOE RETTA: I’ve always felt a loyalty to the artist and the audience. And being a bit of a mimic it was fun to imitate. People are sometimes very moved by a close representation. I would only put “me” in it if it was a re-recording of one of my favorites. I wasn’t just doing “tribute” work. I did a lot records overseas that were never released here.

HRH: Please name the most important influences throughout your career – bands and artists that shaped your attitude towards music as well.

JOE RETTA: Wow. I can never answer this question easily. There are far too many influences in this jumbled brain to pick out only a few. My list would be long and convoluted (laughing)

HRH: In your career, you have performed or recorded with members of Journey, Foreigner, Toto, ELP and, of course, with the original the Sweet member Steve Priest, a glam rock legend on his own. Impressive though it is – are there any specific bands or artists you’d love to collaborate with in the future?

JOE RETTA: Well, if Sir Paul McCartney isn’t too busy, I like to do some writing with him. Seriously I’m open to anything or anyone (almost). I like funky grooves combined with nasty guitar and organ. But I also dig more organic sounds and instruments sometimes. As long as I can lay a little soul on the musical canvas, I’ll be smiling.

HRH: What are your near future plans?

JOE RETTA: I’m looking forward to taking our music on the road and writing record #2.

HRH: Thank you for the interview! Any last words to Hardrock Haven’s readers?

JOE RETTA: Rock and Roll can, Rock and Roll will, Rock and Roll does.

Visit Heaven and Earth online: