Reaching out with new music is difficult but not impossible: interview with Phil Lanzon
Having been a key member of Uriah Heep more than 30 years; a solo career was not what most rock fans exepected from keyboard player Phil Lanzon, but that’s what we got with the 2017 debut If You Think I’m Crazy! The album was most celebrated, and since then we have got a new Uriah Heep album (Living The Dream, 2018) and now finally 48 seconds, the brand new Lanzon solo album. Stargazed Magazine had a chat with Phil about the new album, Uriah Heep, earthquakes and starting a solo career at the age of 67!
You were 67 years old and had been a member of Uriah Heep for over 30 years when you suddenly two years ago released your solo debut If You Think I’m Crazy!. How come you decided to begin a solo career at this stage?
I didn’t really decide, it was something that happened over time. I had an awful lof of material that I’d written from years before, and a situation had arrived where I had the time think about to do something with extra songs that I had at home. So I thought now’s the time to do it. Because over the times and all the decades, I had written some of these songs and a lot of ideas, a lot of them used by Uriah Heep obviously, but there was other songs that were not suitable. These are the ones that I took and made the first album from.
Having been a member of such a classic rock act for so many years, what do you want to express with your solo career?
I want to express other genres of music, experiment in other areas – that’s why I use the orchestra and the choir – and other styles of writing. I’m interested, as usual, with strong melodies, important lyrics, and to give that material to other musicians to express their idea for me and that’s how I build my ideas. Also, must remember that I work closely with my arranger Richard (Cottle) and producer Simon (Hanhart) on all of the songs that I’ve written. So when I pass the songs over to them, we then get a team working. And that’s how I’ve moved into other areas.
How long had you planned to make this?
Oh, not long! It was a sudden idea. The opportunity came along when there was time to do it, and that’s when I felt “why don’t I do it now?”, and I did. That’s the reason!
The album recieved very good reviews. Did it live up to your expectations?
Yes, it got very good reviews! In fact, I’ve got a very big database on my computers with all these fantastic reviews and I’m obviously very happy about that. That means I’m doing something right, I guess. And I will carry on doing that until I’ve had enough doing it, but I’m enjoying it so I probably won’t stop until I’m ready to stop.
Making an album within just two years is quite fast these days, especially when you’re a member of a band that’s touring like Uriah Heep. But on top of that, Uriah Heep also released an album in between your solo albums! How do you find the time for all of this?
That’s a question that everybody in every interview is asking. There’s a very simple answer: Because our travellering time is so exstensive and our playing time is so minimum, there’s a lot of time when you are free to do something. Whether you write something or whether you arrange something, you have plenty of time to do that. And also you must remember this: Uriah Heep doesn’t tour twelve months a year. We have smaller short tours here, and a short tour there, a festival time comes here and there, and between those gaps, all the arrangements for the recording was made. And that’s how it’s done!
The Uriah Heep album, Living the Dream, was also a celebrated album and by many people considered somewhat of a comeback. Do you feel there’s any connection between your solo act and this vitamin injection in Heep?
Not really, I don’t get that feeling. I think the Living the Dream album has come out of something that’s very hard to explain; how something like that comes about… Because when we were wrtiting the songs for Living the Dream, the idea in our brains was Uriah Heep. Not me. So I don’t know how to explain that really, it just came out the way it came out, naturally. I don’t know how else to explain.
Were you involved less or more than usual in the creation of Living the Dream?
Oh no, we’re always involved to the same amount! When I write my stuff at home and Mick comes along to my house and we put down ideas together and work on them and decide what we want to do and what way we are going to go and in what direction… It’s always planned the same way for every album we’ve done together, and I think it’s album number nine for us up til now. It’s always the same procedure, I should say. We do select the songs that I’ve written, and the ideas and riffs and stuff that Mick’s written, and we put them down and say “this is Heep”, “this is not Heep”, “we’ll work on this”, “we’ll leave that”, “we’ll leave the lyrics to last”…It’s very methodical, you understand.
Did you find it hard to follow up If You Think I’m Crazy?
No I didn’t, funny enough, because I had some of these songs and ideas already sitting in my computer. It was not to difficult to find another ten songs, and right now I am planning on another album with probably ten new songs! They are not completed yet, but over the next six months or so I will be looking at that, as well as I’m looking at ideas for Uriah Heeps next album. And also, I don’t know if you have the information about my book, because I just had a book published, so I am know a published author! It was released in april this year, it’s called Curse of the Mudchalk Devil, and it’s aimed for young readers from the age of 9 to 14, but it also follows the type of style of writing like Harry Potter, so adults can also read it. And it’s available from your shop!
So now we have 48 Seconds, which feels even more grande and big than If You Think I’m Crazy. Did you set out to make this album feel bigger and more massive than the debut?
Yes I did! I’m a very big fan of movie scores. I listen very carefully when I’m watching a movie, I listen very carefully to the music and I always loved the style of writing for visuals. So I wanted to use that thing. In other words, I used a bigger orchestra on this album. And I worked a lot closer with my arranger to bring out the dramatic style movie writing. So that’s the reason it turned out like that, and that’s my favourite thing to do.
On both albums, you share the vocals with John Mitchell and Andy Makin. Considering how good you sing your own songs, how come you don’t do it all yourself?
I never really wanted to be a singer, its not my natural… No I don’t mean natural, wrong word… It’s not what I plan to do. I will sing, yeah, but only if the song is really suitable. But I like to use other singers, because I like other voices. I don’t want to hear my voice all the time, I want to hear somebody else. And that’s also why I used female voices as well. And she’s (Miriam Grey) got a great voice, so… For me, I have a good selection of voices on one album.
The album concept is centered around the San Fransisco earthquake of 1906. What’s your relation to that event?
When I was a young boy, about ten years old, I used to read. I’d go to the library and picked up books. And as I walked around the library looking for something, it was something that caught my eye because of the title. It said “San Fransisco earthquake 1906”. I wasn’t interested in earthquakes at all, but I read the book and for some reason I’ll never now, it left a mark on my conciousness. And so as times went by, and I joined bands and started writing, I thought I’d use that event in a song. This was many many years ago, decades ago. But it never worked out, so I put it on a shelf and forgot it. And then time went by, I tried it again and still it didn’t work out… until last year, when I found an old song of mine which had the right emotion in it, but the wrong lyrics. So I took out the lyrics and wrote the song again with the idea of the San Fransisco earthquake in it. And I incorporated characters into the story, so you could relate to the story as it went along. And with the wonderful help of my arranger, the orchestra and words that we decided to write, it came out the way it did and I’m very happy about it! But I will say, to end this question, I have a strong feeling that I might have lost a relative in the fire, in that event, in that disaster. For a strange reason I’ll never know, I have the sense that I have lost a family member in the fire, so maybe there’s a connection there.
You release your albums on your own label. Is this for you to access creative control?
Yes, it’s not actually a lable, it is just a name. I am the record company! It takes a lot of time to organise, but yes, the idea is to not be signed to be a record company or anything like that. It’s unnecessary. If a record company wants to buy the rights, maybe in the future I might think about it. But right now, I like to be independent. But I should say at this point that the albums are available through musicglue.com, and phillanzon.com, and also digital and psysical is distributed by Cargo Records.
It must be hard to reach out to a wide audience making albums these days.
Yes, yes, very good question! It’s not impossible but it is difficult, of course. I am not Uriah Heep, therefore it is not possible for me to reach that far, but I have had a lot of coverage radio magazines, especially in America. I had a lot of results on chart toppings, I’ve been up on number one on a Spotify chart. Rock N’ Roll Children was actually number one on a Spotify chart in Holland! That’s kind of the best coverage I can get for the time being, so you get what you can.
Finally, when do we get next album?
Which one, Uriah Heep or Phil Lanzon?
Well, both of them!
Well, next year is Heeps 50th anniversary, so we’re gonna be busy touring and playing festivals. We’ll discuss when that will be, but it won’t be next year. Most possibly it will be 2021. That’s for Uriah Heep. As for me, well, maybe the same. I don’t know, we’ll see. I look for gaps in the work and maybe I can do it sooner!
48 seconds and If You Think I’m Crazy! is available through Phil Lanzon Ditties.