On the Line with Patrick Kennison [Heaven Below]

Patrick Kennison started out as the guitarist for The Union Underground. From there, he has formed and is fronting Heaven Below and he also plays guitar for Lita Ford. With all that said, we had a great interview covering all of those projects, as well as live music, Alice in Chains, Mayhem Fest, Steel Panther, food on the road and more.

Alex Obert: When you formed The Union Underground, what led to the band taking on the particular genres of nu-metal and industrial? Is it because it was getting big at the time?

Patrick Kennison: It was pretty natural. I remember in the nineties we were huge Pantera and Alice in Chains fans. And it seemed like it just started going that way. We were into producing our own demos in the studio. We would program drums, we experimented with guitar sounds and it just naturally led to that. People started calling it nu-metal, but when we got into it, we didn’t have a name for it. We just weren’t interested in being a grunge band or being a death metal band or something. We found our own way which was somewhere between Mötley Crüe and Pantera. It was natural for us, it just ended up that way.

Alex Obert: How did The Union Underground end up providing the theme for WWE RAW with Across the Nation?

Patrick Kennison: The WWE approached us about having an original song on their album. We just got started working on it and I think one of them from the label came to the studio and said “Man, this song’s really cool! It shouldn’t be at the back of the album, maybe it can be the theme song.” Once their music director got involved with it, they ended up bumping ours to the theme song, whereas everyone else had remixes and stuff. It was just timing, we just happen to have a song that they really dug.

Alex Obert: How was it set up that you performed the song live on RAW?

Patrick Kennison: The WWE contacted us and said “Hey, you guys gotta come play the theme song here and televise it.” We’re like “Hell yeah! Tell us when and where.” We just flew up there and knocked it out.

Alex Obert: Through that, did you meet any wrestlers backstage?

Patrick Kennison: We did, we met a ton of them. I’m sorry to say that I’m not a huge wrestling fan, so I didn’t know who a lot of them were. We saw a lot of guys wearing their sausage suits or whatever. (laughs)

Alex Obert: I’ve always been curious because I’ve never been able to find it, does an uncensored version of Across the Nation exist?

Patrick Kennison: Yeah, somebody else made me aware of that too. The censored version appears on the album and it’s hard to find the one that’s uncensored. It’s out there, I probably have it on one of these hard drives I’m looking at right now. I have to go dig it up.

Alex Obert: Moving past The Union Underground, how did you get the opportunity to join Lita Ford’s band?

Patrick Kennison: I was endorsed with BC Rich Guitars all through Union Underground and for a long time. The president of BC Rich Guitars, he’s a buddy of mine, he said that Lita was looking for a guitar player. He said I’d be perfect for this gig. He connected us and it just took off right from there. At first, I wanted to see what she was up to. It turned out she had the amazing Bobby Rock on drums and my buddy Marty O’Brien was on bass. So it made sense to play with people that were badass like that. It’s good, it’s consistent and it’s a great way to keep making music.

Alex Obert: Did you get a chance to see her on Chopped recently?

Patrick Kennison: I haven’t seen it yet, she told me she was on it. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ll make sure to catch it.

Alex Obert: Do you cook at all?

Patrick Kennison: I try, I cook a few things. Just a few things my mom taught me to cook when I was a kid, but nah, I’m not that good. I can only make like three dishes.

Alex Obert: When you’re on the road, what are your staples to go to?

Patrick Kennison: I usually try anything that I can’t get here in LA. I’ll always try restaurants that are not chain restaurants. I think it’s goofy when people travel out of state just go eat at the same restaurants they have in their hometown. I always make it a point to go to something I’ve never heard of.

Alex Obert: I’m pretty jealous because LA has In-N-Out Burger and there’s not one anywhere around here. What’s your opinion on the place?

Patrick Kennison: I got one right down the street from my house. I like it a lot, but it’s one of those things where I can only eat it once a month or something. I get burnt out on fast food, man. Fast food gets old real fast.

Alex Obert: You recently posted about doing shows with Dee Snider. What’s the story behind that?

Patrick Kennison: That was Lita Ford and Dee Snider. We opened for Dee over the course of a few dates. I never got to see Twisted Sister when I was a little kid, I wasn’t going to concerts yet. I was blown away at how amazing that guy is. He’s like sixty years old, he’s an amazing shape and he’s an amazing frontman. I was just blown away by the whole thing. Just to be able to hang out with him and talk shop, it was pretty cool.

Alex Obert: So on that note of you opening for him, I also read that you saw a young Alice in Chains opening for Extreme.

Patrick Kennison: That was one of my first concerts. It was crazy. It was my hometown in San Antonio. Man in the Box wasn’t even on the radio yet. The only song I’d really heard was We Die Young, it was on a station called Z-Rock. I remember the riff on We Die Young was really cool and heavy, it kind of sounded drop tuned. They came out and I remember thinking this is amazing because they have vocal harmonies over Black Sabbath music, that’s how I heard it. I think Layne Staley made a joke about steers and queers and everybody got pissed off and booed him. (laughs) A few weeks later, Man in the Box hit the radio and the rest is history. I guess I’d make a pretty good A&R guy because I was blown away by them when I saw them.

Alex Obert: What was the first concert that you attended?

Patrick Kennison: My first concert was Iron Maiden on the Powerslave Tour with W.A.S.P. opening. I was eleven years old. It was enormously amazing and I figured that all concerts had that much production. And boy was I disappointed to find out that not everybody puts on a show like Iron Maiden.

Alex Obert: What’s your favorite venue to see music?

Patrick Kennison: A few come to mind. One of my favorites is one that Union Underground played a couple times, it’s called Red Rocks in Denver, Colorado. That’s an amazing venue with a lot of history. There’s one out here called The Greek Theatre in LA. I haven’t played it yet, but it’s an amazing outdoor venue. The thing about LA, these aren’t sports arenas, they were built to have concerts in. The acoustics at the Hollywood Bowl, you go there and realize that the concert sounds amazing. But if you go to the Staples Center or something, it just sounds like a big reverb Grand Canyon full of crap.

Alex Obert: How do you feel about the closing of House of Blues out in LA?

Patrick Kennison: I was bummed because that’s where a lot of my shows have been out there. But I heard it’s gonna reopen. I think it’s sad they’d rather put a hotel there, but I get it from a business point of view. If you put in a hotel, each person pays hundreds of dollars to be there. From a business point of view, you’re supposed to do that. But as far as music, I think that sucks. I heard they might open it elsewhere.

Alex Obert: The last band to play at that location was Steel Panther. Do you have any history with them?

Patrick Kennison: Of course. Heaven Below has played a lot of dates with them. They’re cool guys and they can all play really well. People see the novelty, but the truth is, they’re all amazing players and can really kick ass. Russ Parrish is a killer guitar player, he goes back to the Rob Halford days of Fight.

Alex Obert: Who else have you connected with through touring? Who do you strongly admire on and off stage?

Patrick Kennison: Well the first one that comes to mind is Drowning Pool back when Union Underground did Ozzfest. They were from Dallas and we were from San Antonio. We were like one big band, you could go to either band’s tour bus and any of the guys would be hanging out. That was the first band I really connected with. I’ve been lucky enough to play with all kinds of bands that are amazing. The guys in Queensrÿche are killer. Heaven Below’s played with them. Todd La Torre, their new singer, is amazing. I hang out with the guys from Stryper, they’ve been to the Lita gigs and we’ve played shows with them. Those are some really cool guys. All kinds, man. I have a super long list. Those are the ones that come off the top of my head first.

Alex Obert: Did you ever have a disappointing experience meeting a band or musician?

Patrick Kennison: Yeah, Lars Ulrich. Union Underground opened for Marilyn Manson on the Guns, God and Government Tour in the early 2000s. A bunch of celebrities were back there. Lars was back there in Manson’s dressing room. Twiggy Ramirez and I had penned a song called Napster of Puppets. (laughs) We sang it for Lars and he didn’t seem very impressed. Maybe it was a bad night for him, but he came off kind of arrogant and cocky. I was little surprised by that. I guess maybe I shouldn’t have been. I don’t think he plays drums good enough to act arrogant or cocky. Metallica is huge and they have great material, but that’s just my opinion.

Alex Obert: Being backstage at shows all these years, what have you learned about treating the backstage crew properly? They put in just as much time and effort, if not more, than any of the bands.

Patrick Kennison: I have a huge appreciation for them. I always tell people the show would suck if we didn’t have good tech. All the behind the scenes people are the reason that it even comes off great. I place huge emphasis on having great crew from the guitar techs to the front of the house soundman, everybody.

Alex Obert: You recently made a statement about bands releasing subpar music videos. Can you fill readers in on that?

Patrick Kennison: I don’t want to point any fingers, but music videos are not as cutting edge and they’re not as captivating as they used to be. It seems like they just throw together live clips and a few little tidbits and they call it a video. Sometimes they’ll just do a lyric video and call it a music video. I feel like that’s half-assing it. I think that music video should capture not only the band playing, but at least leave you with a story or something to hold onto and go “Wow, that’s pretty fuckin’ cool!” And it seems like I haven’t been seeing that from a lot of big bands lately. Technology is at a place where music videos should be amazing and some of them are. As long as you have a good crew, a good director and a good story, it’s a lot easier to make and capture that than it’s ever been. You don’t need half a million dollars and the Warner Bros. lot. You just gotta have good ideas and ways to execute them. I feel like a lot of the newer bands are making better videos than the established bands.

Alex Obert: How did you feel about playing Heavy Montreal earlier this month?

Patrick Kennison: It was an awesome, weird blend of bands. I thought it was gonna be weird at first, but it really had a Lollapalooza kind of feel. You’re able to check out bands that you normally wouldn’t see. I think it’s cool to turn people onto other styles of music because we all get stuck on our Facebook and our YouTube channels. We get stuck in our crop of the same crap. I think any show that brings together different genres is pretty cool, given that you have an open mind about music. I think it’s a positive thing. I think live music in general is a little underrated cause all this music is rammed down their throats on YouTube or their Facebook or the Apple streaming. It’s not a bad thing, but it tends to make people a bit spoiled. It’s good to get out there and see some bands you might not have checked out. Gojira was amazing. NOFX was really good. I even got to see Iggy Pop, who I’d never seen. He was really good. And of course, Faith No More, I had never seen them before.

Alex Obert: There was controversial news regarding another festival recently that I would like to get your thoughts on. How do you feel about the end of Mayhem Fest?

Patrick Kennison: I was bummed to hear that. I’m a monster Slayer fan and I like King Diamond. But on the other side, I have noticed that certain tours, whether it was this or Ozzfest, they would come out real strong at first. You remember when Ozzfest had Pantera on it, you had Slipknot, Manson, all these killer bands. But then as time would go on, it was like the bigger the festival got, the less amazing lineups they built. Maybe Mayhem was a little bit guilty of that, but it doesn’t change what I think of King Diamond or Slayer. They just needed to keep the bill fresh and not rely on the fact that it’s called the Mayhem Fest. They built this big scene for everybody, but if you don’t keep all the bands on there, it’s gonna die.

Alex Obert: In its seven year history, it was the third time that Slayer headlined. That was one of my main criticisms. But I don’t know what the future will hold for touring festivals in the metal scene.

Patrick Kennison: Maybe it will make room for Ozzfest or something to come back.

Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, where are we currently at with Good Morning Apocalypse?

Patrick Kennison: It’s gettin’ there, brotha! (laughs) It feels like our Chinese Democracy. (laughs) It’s really close to being done. Everything is recorded, we’re just going through a few mixes and were putting some dialogue on it. It does have a little bit of dialogue like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Operation: Mindcrime. And that’s a new animal to me, so I’m making sure that that’s being done right. We’ve got some great celebrity actors on it and we’ve got some amazing legendary singers on it. Udo Dirkschneider from Accept is on one of our songs. Of course Lita Ford is singing on one of the songs. Kobra Paige from Kobra and the Lotus is featured on a song. And my buddy from Texas, Jason McMaster from Dangerous Toys, Watchtower and Broken Teeth is on a track as well. It’s a pretty star-studded album and definitely the most ambitious thing I’ve ever touched. It’s been a long time in the making, but I think it’s really the most important album I’ve ever made.

Alex Obert: Well it sure sounds like it and it sounds like it’s going to be a big deal. I look forward to the release. I’d love to thank you so much for your time and a great interview.

Patrick Kennison: Awesome, man!

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Photo Credit: Adam Hendershott
Cover Photo Credit: David Castillo

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