Our journalist Lisa Sunshine interviews Patrick Kennison of Heaven Below in a personal setting in Los Angeles. Patrick talks to Lisa about his life, inspirations and the group and the plans for a rocking future.
Lisa: How would you describe your songwriting process?
Patrick Kennison: It usually starts with me, and by the me and by the time it goes through ringer of all the band members playing it and recording on it becomes "Heaven Below", but for me lately I've been drawing on personal experience and frustration of being an artist to the pleasure of playing on stage so I don't really have preconceived notions when I write a song. I am a guitar player originally before I am a singer so I try to find the "all mighty riff", as we call it. Usually once I've got the riff and I'm grinding and grooving on it and I program a drum machine, or whatever is working at my place at the moment at that point I will put vocals on it usually I will have a song at the end that I can present to the band, but at the same time sometimes I just do lyrics. I've been a vocalist, I've been fronting this band for a few years now so sometimes I will sit on my iPhone and something will spark my interest about a certain lyric or a certain idea and I will put it in my phone, so it's really not that left of center compared to what other artists do sometimes I see a movie, and I get into the character and I will be like, "What would this character say if they only had three and a half minutes to convey it?".
Lisa: What drew you to music in the beginning?
Patrick Kennison: I am the youngest of 7 kids; my parents are still together after more than 50 years, they had me when they were in their 40's, I was the "happy accident" that's what my mom calls me...and all my older brothers and sisters as far back as I remember there was music in my house I remember hearing Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Kiss, I remember hearing this stuff literally when I was getting out of the crib, I didn't know what it was I just thought it was cool. I was totally the awkward kid in school, the second my mom got me a guitar it was the first time I actually excelled at something and people said, "Wow you are good at that!" I was never good at anything I didn't know how to get good grades, I couldn't play sports, I was a girly boy that wasn't gay. I know that sounds funny but I was the guy that couldn’t throw a football but I didn't want to be in theater and I wanted to be a "bad ass". So by the time I got a guitar, I learned how to play "Shout at the Devil", by Motley Crew, and Dokken "Breaking the Chains" and I haven't even hit puberty yet I was playing these songs and people are like "OMG you are AMAZING", as a little kid that is weird to hear but also very inspiring so I just stayed with it my mom was excited I finally found myself... I could do something.
Lisa: What do the members of HEAVEN BELOW bring to the table both musically and creatively?
Patrick Kennison: Heaven Below is definitely a group, a lot of people say, “Hey you write all the songs, is this the Patrick Kennison solo project?" It's not, everyone brings something. Jesse is our youngest guy he's still in his 20's he’s our lead guitar player, and he is a mega talent, the guy can play all instruments. He's a great producer and a pro tools master. He brings the technical end to the band, he’s not scared to do a lot of harmony's and shred guitar solos and keep me on my toes with my guitar. He kind of brings that cutting edge, “let's play like an orchestra or let’s do something like Dream Theater would do". Our bassist John, who I grew up in San Antonio and moved out here with years ago, he’s more of the simple player, he's the guy that is NOT trying to shred on his instrument, he's the guy that keeps the groove together he's the bass player like Nikki Six, or like the guy from Judas Priest, Dean Hill, he holds it together, he knows that Jesse and I are going to shred and our drummer is going to play crazy so he keeps the whole thing together, I know it sounds cliché but it's true but the best players, it’s what they don't play. He's not trying to be Steve Harris or Geddy Lee. He's just trying to hold it together. Our drummer is the newest member, Shad Wilhelm he is a total shredder he is like Neil Peart meets Danny Carey from Tool. He's amazing he can play anything double bass and he's kind of like how me and Jesse are, he can shred, he can play people under the table, but he can still play to a click track he can play "Back in Black" he knows how to be simple, but he can still play a Rolling Stones song if he wanted to so that's why I think our band works, everyone has their place both musically and personally.
Lisa: Can you give me an example of a song that was difficult to write and took a while, but built itself over time?
Patrick Kennison: There is a new song, on our EP called "Tomorrow Never Comes", it opens the album, it's on the Deadlight Sessions it's the first song and we have already gotten great response form it that song was nearly impossible, it almost didn't make our album, I had written and rewritten that song probably seven times Jesse came in and helped me arrange it and we re-arranged it 3 or 4 times easily. Tomorrow Never Comes was nearly impossible I didn't think it would make an album, I was ready to throw it away and Jesse too, he was like, "What are we going to do with this song? the parts are there but its' just not working", so I got away from it for months, like six months or more, and I knew the chorus was good, I knew the intro riff was good, and so I just dissected it just one last time, I said I'm going to dissect this song or I'm throwing it away if it doesn't work, and low and behold, I feel like I finally got it and I was so excited about it I told the guys, we need to put this as the first song on The Deadlight Sessions. It has finally found its way, the way I got it to work is I put it on acoustic guitar; it was an electric song initially. It never was powerful enough but it wasn't delicate enough either, it was weird it was that in-between weird shit, and when I put it on acoustic guitar and I changed the drum arrangement, and I added some different lyrics it came out to what you hear now, it's probably version number 8 of Tomorrow Never Comes.
Lisa: What is your goal musically? What would be your dream gig?
Patrick Kennison: My dream gig is just for people to know all the lyrics to every one of our songs, buy our T-Shirts, and tell us what each song means to them, that is my idea of a dream gig. I have my friend that plays in Guns and Roses, my old roommate DJ Ashba, and I love him to death, and I still talk to him, I don't want that gig, I don't want to be in Guns and Roses, I don't want to be in 6 am, I don't want to be in 5 Finger Death Punch, I want to make my own music ONLY. I've turned down a lot of high profile gigs because I want Heaven Below to be that band. I'm proud to say that I would never sell out even if Rob Halford called me right now and said "Patrick, we are going to pay you a lot of money", I would say, "Rob Halford, I'm sorry, I have this band called Heaven Below, and it's going to be the coolest thing ever".
Lisa: What would you like for a person to come away with after listening to your music?
Patrick Kennison: I just want them to feel cathartic, because that is how I feel playing it and writing it. A cathartic experience and I just want to be a genuine band, I don't want to be the heaviest band, I don't want to be the most successful band, I just want to be genuine, the same way I saw Pantera in 1992 on The Vulgar Display of Power tour, and they were GENUINE. I did not think they were the most heavy band, I didn't think they were the "catchiest" band; I just thought they were genuine. That's all I want people to take away from a Heaven Below show and say, "That guy believes everything he is singing and I understand and feel everything they play", it's just a sense of GENUINE and that's hard to find in this day and age.
Lisa: It was amazing to have this time to chat, tell me a little about what you have coming up...
Patrick Kennison: Short Texas run end of September because we are from there and we get a lot of love and we get radio play there we are really excited to go back there and play. And I'm not going to lie we make a lot of more money there than we could ever in in LA at this point, so yeah, of course we are going back to Texas. I want to give it up to Jagermeister who still support new bands like us, as well as BC Rich Guitars, Checker Basses, these are people that support Heaven Below even though we are not on a major label... they treat us like we are. Jesse and I have a crazy BC Rich Guitar collection and we have never paid a penny for them because they believe in what we do, so I think we just have to give it up to all those people.