Heaven Below’s Patrick Kennison Set To Rock With Lita Ford
BY: Bear Frazer
The musician cut his teeth in Union Underground, then went on to lead Heaven Below and, along the way, picked up a gig in Lita Ford’s band. And, despite the semi-hazy memory, he remembers living with Papa Roach and Linkin Park getting booed off stage.
Kennison co-founded San Antonio, Texas nu-metal act Union Underground in 1996 with lead singer Bryan Scott, and they achieved their biggest success when they released their debut album, An Education In Rebellion, in 2000 via Columbia. Amidst singles like “Turn Me On ‘Mr. Deadman'” and “Revolution Man,” and securing a slot on the 2001 edition of Ozzfest, they became well known for their song “Across The Nation,” which served as the theme song to WWE’s Monday Night Raw.
But after getting dumped by Columbia, and inner turmoil, the group disbanded and Kennison retreated to Los Angeles, California. Though he did some studio work, he “found his balls” in 2008, formed hard rock troupe Heaven Below, and decided to step up to the mic and try his hand at frontman, in area where he continues to excel to this day.
Though Heaven Below are currently putting the finishing touches on their third full-length album, he is now pulling double duty as he joined Lita Ford‘s band as one of their guitarists back in October. Together, they are working on her next studio effort, due out sometime next year.
He stays busy, but if you ask Kennison, he isn’t busy enough, nor does he sleep much at all. In this Arena exclusive, Patrick talks about becoming a full-fledged member of Lita Ford’s band. He also reflects on his days in Union Underground, remembers whenLinkin Park was booed off stage, recalls living in the same apartment complex withPapa Roach, and reveals what’s next with Heaven Below.
Arena: You’re from San Antonio, and now you’re living out west in Los Angeles. That said, what’s it like for a Texas boy out there in Cali?
Patrick: Well the first shocker is L.A. is a lot more expensive than San Antonio (laughs). I was born and raised in San Antonio, and by the time Union Underground got going, I don’t want to say I conquered the city because no one ever conquers the city, but I went further than I was expecting to, so it only made sense I moved to Los Angeles after Union Underground.
Arena: I must to admit, I almost didn’t remember that you were in Union Underground at first because it’s been so long.
Patrick: Those were good times, from what I can remember (laughs).
Arena: Right? Well let’s spark your memory. Talk to me about the meteoric rise of Union Underground because it was short-lived. You guys blew up in the late 90s, along with seemingly everyone else in the nu-metal movement, but disbanded around 2002 and then you went out on your own. How would you describe that time?
Patrick: The way I describe it to everybody is … remember that show Behind The Music, the show about all your favorite legendary bands?
Arena: Dude, I’m a music journalist. Every day for me feels like Behind The Music.
Patrick: (Laughs) Exactly! Well Union Underground managed to do all the Behind The Music clichés. Instead of cramming it into a career, we did it in about two years (laughs). It had just ran its course. I started the band with the singer (Bryan Scott) and by the end of it, we got along so awful and we were arch enemies practically. I wasn’t ready to live like that and have it go south any further, so I was like, “Oh man, I got to put the brakes on this,” and so I moved to Los Angeles and did something else.
It was fun while it lasted. Starting a band is one thing, and keeping it together is a whole other thing. It was great and all that stuff, but after a few months, it’s like, “Wow, this is like a drunk night in Vegas.” Not that Union Underground was like that at all; it just ran its course in a small amount of time.
Arena: Most memorable time … thought I know you said you don’t remember much from the alcohol-fueled nights, there had to be some standout experiences you’ve had …
Patrick: There were a few things. Getting chosen to play on Ozzfest was huge because we were a very self-aware band. We knew how many bands were out there trying to do what we did, just trying to get a record deal and get on radio, and so we were surprised, even though we were signed to a major label, to get on Ozzfest. We didn’t think they would have us. Like why would they want us, ya know?
I remember Marilyn Manson getting into our band and putting us on his tour, and I thought that was a joke. Whenever someone I’m a fan of likes my band, [it’s hard for me to believe]. My manager said, “Marilyn Manson wants to put you on his tour,” and I’m like, “Shut up. Let’s go drink. Stop bullshitting me!” And when those things turn out to be real, it’s very humbling and gratifying, so those things stuck out — just making friends with the bands on Ozzfest.
And I remember this one band that used to open for us and get booed on stage. I really liked them a lot because I thought they did their stuff well, but our audience hated them. They went on to be Linkin Park — they were called Lincoln Park back then. You never know what band is going to be huge or fade into obscurity.
I genuinely thought Union Underground would go on to be the next Motley Crue without the bullshit hairspray, and we didn’t. I didn’t know Papa Roach and Linkin Park would be the ones to survive, so the moral of the story is never count your chickens. You never know who is going to be on top in 10 years and who is not.
Arena: You mentioned how Linkin Park opened up for Union Underground and got booed off the stage. But how did y’all know Papa Roach? Was that through touring too or was that something else altogether?
Patrick: Back then, Union Underground lived with Papa Roach together at the Oakwoods, this apartment complex/corporate housing thing labels would put bands in. You’d be hanging out at the Oakwoods, or as I called it, the Cokewoods, and one of our neighbors was Papa Roach. We immediately got along really well with them, especially Jacoby, and we recorded at the same studio and lived in the same complex.
I knew those guys were going to go on to greatness. They were the real deal. They weren’t acting like spoiled kids, they weren’t acting like rappers. They weren’t acting like anything. They were just acting like they wanted to make a great album. I told the guys in my band, “Look, these guys are the real deal” and sure enough, they surprised all us other nu-metal people. And Jacoby is the same guy then as he is now. I love that guy. He’s a good man.
Arena: Something I always admired was Papa Roach’s ability to stay ahead of the curve and seamlessly transition from nu-metal, to punk-inspired metal, to heavy rock. As far as you, though, you went from nu-metal’s Union Underground to a more rock and metal direction with Heaven Below and, now, playing with Lita Ford. You ever sing. What were these transitions like for you?
Patrick: You know, it was a natural transition for me because, even in the Union Underground days, I would sing on some of the demos, but I would never have the balls to be the frontman, and our singer did have the balls. That worked out great, but when Union Underground ended, I was like, “Maybe it’s time for me to sing, but do I have the nuts to be the frontman?” Talent and how well you sing is only 20% [of it]. The rest is how big your balls are.
I decided if I was going to sing for this band, I am going to have to look at other great frontmen who play guitar, like James Hetfield, Dave Grohl, people like that, and I thought, ‘Well if I put the same energy into my vocals and I do my guitar playing, then it will be genuine,” and I did not want to look like the guitar player who was shy hiding behind the guitar. So I grew my balls and started fronting the band.
Now you take my guitar off, it’ll be like the David & Goliath story in the Bible where I’ll lose all my powers. But yeah, it’s natural for me to sing and play my guitar with Heaven Below, and it’s a band that affords me to be more creative than what I did with Union Underground.
Even though I love what I did in Union Underground, it was limiting with parameters. There weren’t guitar solos in the early 2000s, and I remember recording in ’99 with Union Underground, and the producer was like, “No, no, you can’t do a guitar solo, you just got to make noise with your pedals.” I was like, “Ok, I’ll do that,” but it was very liberating by the time I did Heaven Below to have guitar solos, to shred, to do stuff I learned in my bedroom and stuff like that.
Arena: Speaking of which, now that you’re with Lita Ford, is Heaven Below still a full-time project?
Patrick: Absolutely. The whole thing with Heaven Below is we’re working on a concept album. We got really ambitious, especially after getting “When Daylight Dies” out on radio and all the attention, we decide to do this concept record because we love [Queensryche’s] Operation: Mindframe and Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and amazing concept records.
The band laughed because we’re like, “We have no business making a concept record. We’re not Metallica or whatever big name band,” but we did have a story and I put the story together. We even had some people close to me [help] finish it and it all started making sense, and we got ambitious and got a choir on this. It’s kind of got a European metal vibe to it, and the only thing about it is it’s been taking a long time because we’ve been putting orchestration.
We just secured three legendary vocalists who are on it. I’m not allowed to say who they are yet, but when people look at the press release, they’re going to be like, “How the hell did Heaven Below get these people on the album?” The hardcore fans who get into the story, I think they’ll be blown away by it. I don’t get goosebumps all the time listening to my music, but this one definitely gets me excited listening to all the tracks.
Arena: When’s the Heaven Below album slated to drop?
Patrick: We’ve been really bad about a date for it. Usually I commit to dates, and on this album I’ve been saying, “Well guys, it’s done when its done.” But yeah, we’ll have it released by summer next year at the very worst. We’re trying to get it bumped up, but we have some big singers on there, we have orchestration and a choir on there, so it sounds very much like the apocalypse stuff. So hopefully summer next year we’ll have it out.
Arena: Can you tell me about one of the song’s that’ll be on the record?
Patrick: The only thing I can release, or let anyone know, is there is a sequel to our song “When Daylight Dies.” Our fans really liked that song and the lyrics re very conceptual. I don’t know if that’s the single yet, but the “Daylight” sequel sets the pace. So everyone who likes that song will probably gravitate towards that as well.
Arena: Moving along, how did the opportunity to work with Lita Ford come about?
Patrick: I’ve been friends with Lita Ford because the original Heaven Below bassist, Marty O’Brien, plays in her band, and I hung out with them before. Also, her and I are both endorsed by BC Rich Guitars. I got a call from the president of BC Rich, who is my buddy, and he said, “Hey, Lita is looking for a guitar payer and I told her you would be perfect.” I said, “Well, ok, let me see if I even have time to do that.”
So her people contacted me, and I went ahead and learned a bunch of songs. I got a lot of details for the gig, and it seemed like a situation where I could still do Heaven Below and, you know, there’s 24 hours in a day and we don’t all need to sleep 8 hours (laughs), so I figured I’ll do both. I went ahead and tried out, and we both got along immediately. Even before we rehearsed, she was checking out all my cool BC Rich guitars. So we began playing and it felt all organic and fun. I felt 14 again, playing all her songs with her, and so it’s been a great marriage so far. We have a bunch of dates starting up in December.
She just started working on a new album and I’ve already been collaborating with her on two songs. There’s a big named producer involved, and then I’m finishing my Heaven Below album at the same time. I’m not happy unless I go to sleep working on whatever is in my head.
- Photo Credit: Adam HendershottVia: Arena