An Evening with Patrick Kennison
Most of us go through high school without a clear path ahead but with any luck, some questions answered about what we’d like to do with our time and life. Then again, some people just know early on and have never looked back.
“My first band was in middle school” started out Patrick Kennison, front man and creative force behind rock band Heaven Below. “we played half covers, half originals, won several battles and I even won some guitar competitions.”
This could well have been cemented in high school by an errant guidance counselor.
“By the time I got into high school, I knew what I wanted to do but, as usual it was met with resistance by my high school counselor. I think that resistance made me try even harder to succeed at my dreams” said Kennison.
Starting out in San Antonio, Texas, his first major band gaining national success was Union Underground.
“We built our own pro studio in the mid to late 90s where we honed our craft at songwriting and recording ourselves” Patrick said, recalling how this band came together.
“We put money and thought into our live show, and we even marketed ourselves like we were a force to be reckoned with. All that finally got the attention of major labels. After 6 of those labels said “great band but no”, Sony/Columbia said “Great band. Let’s do this”.
“I guess 7 was a lucky number.”
The national success was not happening only in the music scene to be sure. Even the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) called upon their song “Across The Nation” to be one of their anthem songs.
“After the success of Turn Me on Mr. Deadman, one of the wrestlers approached us about writing him a theme song. We came up with the song and he played it for the WWE, they then insisted the song be used as the theme for RAW.”
“Who were we to say no?” Kennison said busting into laughter.
The professionalism and creativity was even coming alive in their videos when they went to the Universal Studios lot to record “Revolution Man”. When asked how this video came to live Kennison grinned.
“The director Sean Foster came up with the concept. I remember shooting it took like 3 days to shoot it.”
Not all fun and games however, shooting videos is indeed work.
“I found the process annoying because you have to mime playing the song like 72 times or more so they can get all the camera shots for editing. But it came out cool and people love it so I’m glad we put the time into it.”
Ego, drugs and an overall lack of a sense of clarity were the reasons Kennison cited for the eventual fall of Union Underground. Thankful for what Kennison recalled as his “formative years” he is certainly thankful for the experiences gained from this overall.
As one “life” can end another one is lined up ready to go if you know where to look. In this instance the next path came to Kennison in the form of Rob Zombie hiring him to play studio tracks for inclusion on his greatest hits record.
“I loved working there so much I just decided to stay” Kennison stated when asked about moving from San Antonio to Los Angeles.
Next up in bands for Kennison is the one he’s still fronting today, Heaven Below. Starting around 2009 with “When Daylight Dies” (with music for this track going back even further) 2012 brought the song to life with a full lineup for the band and their work would soon begin on some adventurous projects in the future.
The cover tunes a band chooses can say a lot about the band and their influences. In 2013 the band covered 4 rock songs including Dream Theater Pull Me Under and Rush, Subdivisions. If you listen closely you may *think* you hear the legendary William Shatner and to be honest, you did.
“Shatner recorded an album called Seeking Major Tom in 2011. His producer hired me to play guitar and sing backing vocals on the album. Shatner was so gracious that he said to call him if I ever needed anything. So when Heaven Below recorded Subdivisions a year later I thought “Who should do the spoken word part? OMG, Shatner needs to do this!!!” I called him and he said “Absolutely!””
Anyone following this rock and roll star over the last year has seen him “go global” while on tour as Lita Ford guitar player on her worldwide tour and all the amazing places he’s been and crowds he’s played in front of.
But how do you go from recording cover tunes with Shatner to global rock and roll domination with a rock star like Lita Ford?
Apparently, it’s just another day in the life of Patrick Kennison.
“I had been endorsed by BC Rich guitars. The president calls me one day and says she’s looking for a guitarist. I show up to the auditions and her and I connected immediately. Plus, Bobby Rock was on drums & Marty O’Brien was on bass. I couldn’t say no.”
When asked about life on the road with such a figure Kennison was all smiles.
“She’s a badass every single day. A true legend. No wonder she’s been around so long.”
Having toured heavily in Europe, Kennison does note distinct differences in the crowds.
“European audiences are a bit rowdier in that they really love all metal and embrace the whole genre. America is amazing but sometimes a bit to confined to certain genres. I think we suffer from “flavor of the week’ here at times.”
When asked about coming through and playing at the incredible Gas Monkey here in Dallas as a part of this tour, Kennison replied “That night was the opening night of the Halestorm/Lita/Dorothy tour. All 3 bands are friends and there’s so much inspiration to kick maximum as with a lineup like that. It was just a culmination of excitement and a family like atmosphere within the bands.”
While on the road with Lita Ford, Kennison is still hard at work on what would be the next release for Heaven Below in Good Morning, Apocalypse. A concept album based on the story of Dr Fraustus.
“I’ve wanted to do a concept album as far back as Union Underground but the creative process in that band was way to limiting and confining to ever think outside the box.” Kennison started when asked about how does one come to such an undertaking.
“But years later now, Heaven Below embraces ambitious and daring ideas. With the success of When Daylight Dies I wrote a follow up sequel song called Nightfall Comes to Life that utilized the characters from the lyrics in When Daylight Dies. I realized there’s a whole story there so I started to run with it.”
“My father and my brother even helped pen the storyline, Kennison laughed. “Some of it is based on a play/book from the 1940’s called Dr. Faustus, a Dr. that sells his soul to the devil. The story is so sinister and dark. It felt like the songs wrote themselves once we based them on this play.
It’s very evident even Kennison assumes a “role” in this release by altering his own vocals to take on the darkness such an album would require. If you listened to his vocals on the cover tunes its silk smooth with a touch of an edge when needed.
Good Morning, Apocalypse is certainly a different emotional experience across the board.
Early reviews for this undertaking have been through the roof. This was even coming as a mixed surprised to Kennison as he sifted through what he hoped it could be and what people were hearing once released.
“The album was such a massive undertaking that at one point we got lost in all the creative madness and excitement for a while.” Kennison pondered, wondering how all this was actually affecting their work.
“I wondered if it might come out like a Chinese Democracy in that it could be bloated and creatively all over the place. But once it was finally completed we felt it was focused and to the point. We purposely made sure the songs and story were not drawn out or lost on the listener.”
However, when you work on an effort such as this while on the road with Lita Ford, you have to consider the possibility of getting her into the mix. Asking about her appearance on the album Kennison cracked his huge rock and roll smile, sat back and laughed “Funny story. I’m a huge Accept fan and when I joined Lita I found out she’d use Accept’s Balls To The Wall as her intro music to the show,” he said.
“I thought that was awesome. We’d already had Udo record his vocals for Black Sunrise/War of The Gods at this point so I was excited to play the song for her. After I did I asked her if she would also sing on a track. She said yes. the song she chose was Running Under Satan’s Hands.”
Life on the road can bring many surprises and when asked about his top 3 moments on the road (he *can* really talk about) Kennison brought up Union Underground opening up for Marilyn Manson on his Hollywood tour, Nikki Sixx giving him one of his signature basses and then Robin Zander of Cheap Trick fame giving him a signature guitar as a Christmas present.
While success seems to be following Mr Kennison around these days, such success never comes easy and while almost all see the rock and roll on the stage, so few see the work it takes to get there.
When asked about how he got his “toughness” to succeed, Kennison quickly attributed it to his upbringing.
“I was taught early on by my parents that if you want something, you work hard for it and you will get it.”
“Once a skill or talent is honed, it’s all about networking and coordinating your efforts to give that talent even more opportunity to grow. That being said, I came up in San Antonio with many talented people, but I saw how lazy and complacent some of them were and I consciously decided that I would not fall into that black hole. It’s all about having a plan but being able to improvise when things don’t go exactly as you want. The smartest don’t always win, the most driven do.”
With the changes the industry has gone through over the years, sometimes even months, Kennison just stays flexible in order to keep succeeding.
“It’s changed so much since the early 2000’s and still changes every day,” Kennison said when asked about the state of life today as a musician. The template that worked back then does not work today. But the playing field has leveled in some ways now that anyone can release music. But it requires some tact and chances to get new music actually heard. When pushed on how to stay relevant, Kennison replied “That’s where thinking outside the box comes in to play. We’re always trying fresh and exciting ways to approach releases.”
At this point Kennison and Heaven Below are poised to start their assault on the radio waves and internet stations around the world in 2017. We’ll be waiting here in Dallas, Patrick. We wouldn’t miss this show for the world!