I’ve been a fan of San Antonio’s own Patrick Kennison for a long time. I love what he did with THE UNION UNDERGROUND, and I’m a big fan of current band HEAVEN BELOW. So after months of scheduling snafus on my part I was finally able to have a chat with him about the new covers EP Sleeping Giants featuring songs by ACCEPT, RUSH, DREAM THEATER, and JUDAS PRIEST for starters. We also talked about his writing process, what new albums he’s digging right now, and the work he’s doing with GABBIE RAE, a young singer who he’s been tearing up the interwebs with, doing some great acoustic stuff. Check it out:
Amps: What’s the plan now that Sleeping Giants is out?
Patrick: We have a show planned with William Shatner at the Viper Room and that should be sometime in January. And William Shatner is gonna perform with his own band, he does a spoken word poetry kind of singing and entertaining thing and then we’re gonna come on after that. I hooked up the Viper Room and William Shatner, so they wanted us to play, too. We also have the NAMM show in January and after that we’re probably just gonna play around the west coast here while we kind of figure out our next move.
Amps: Are the lead vocals on all four songs you?
Patrick: I do three of them. The ACCEPT cover (“Losers and Winners”) is our bass player John Younger.
Amps: When I listened to the EP I was like, “Wow! This is a different side of Patrick Kennison.”
Patrick: Yeah, our guitar player Jesse (Billson) is kind of responsible. When we started recording he was like, “Can you just sing it real clean, with not a lot of overdubs, and just really raw and basic?” That was different for me, so I tried it, and everybody in the band seemed to love it, so we went with it.
Amps: I may be in the minority, but the Moving Pictures to Hold Your Fire era is my favorite RUSH stuff. So when someone goes to tackle one of those songs, like “Subdivisions” I’m very, “Alriiight…don’t screw this up, or I’ll be on a plane!”
Patrick: Exactly! RUSH fans are a picky group of people. I’m a huge RUSH fan, too, but I’m more into the early stuff. I just now got more into the 80’s era. But people are really loving it. It seems that a bunch of the fans on the forums and all the RUSH fan sites picked it up and we don’t spend any money on publicity, we’re not paying people to get us press. These people are doing it on their own! We started reading all the comments, and I gotta tell you, 98% of the comments are nothing but people loving it. It feels really good to be accepted by people that know good music. We’re crazy RUSH fans, and it was our drummer Shad (Wilhelm) that decided to do that song. We each picked our favorite band and a song from that band, and the other members weren’t allowed to influence that, you know? I told Shad, “If you pick THE VILLAGE PEOPLE, we’re gonna have to record THE VILLAGE PEOPLE. (Much laughter at this point) pick a song by a band you really like, and make sure it’s the one you really like!” and that’s what he picked.
It’s funny, when he first said he wanted to do “Subdivisions” I thought, “Oh man! I wanted to do something off of Caress of Steel or 2112, something real early” but man was I wrong, because he picked a great song. And by the time William Shatner got involved and we had tackled it, it sounded really natural. Plus, it was the first song we recorded that I didn’t play any guitar on, I just did vocals. Having someone like Jesse in the band that can do that kind of stuff is liberating for me, so I can really concentrate on singing and not have to be a jack of all trades. That’s all Jesse on guitar AND keyboards.
Amps: Well, you picked a group of songs from bands that are very technically proficient and you guys pull it off effortlessly. You guys are good, man!!
Patrick: Thanks! You know, I was telling the guys the other day, and I’m not trying to knock on the bands in Hollywood, that I am so tired of that sleaze rock sound. I love Appetite For Destruction, don’t get me wrong. I love stuff from the 80’s and when I was growing up. But living out here, I mean, how many songs about whiskey and partying with a gravel throat singer do you really wanna hear? It’s that same riff in 4/4 time and as musicians we get bored with that. Our EP turned into songs from bands that can really play, and us guys in HEAVEN BELOW, we CAN play like that, do 7/8 time, tune our guitars to open tuning; we’re pretty much dorks (laughs)!! We might not look dorky, but we are dorky. We’re just trying to cut some new ground for US. There’s nothing new in the music world, we’re just trying to challenge and push ourselves. Sometimes pop/rock music is like McDonald’s. You can’t stomach that shit for too long. You gotta get a little deeper. And I’m not a guy who’s into crazy prog rock or anything, but I love to be challenged on my instrument just a little bit.
Patrick: I love it! We’re all really big into ACCEPT. And it’s really uncommon to get four ACCEPT fans in one band. When I was a kid I got Restless and Wild on vinyl and that changed me forever. When we play ACCEPT stuff I always feel like I’m 12-13 years old again playing guitar for the first time. People think of the 80’s as big hair, make-up, and POISON and all that stuff. For me the 80’s was ACCEPT and heavy cool stuff like that.
Amps: What’s the writing makeup of the group?
Patrick: It is mostly me. Jesse and I have collaborated a little. The guys always call me a writing machine. I don’t think of myself like that, but writing music and songs is just what I do. Since UNION UNDERGROUND I’ve always worked on stuff, and when I hear other people’s new stuff it makes me excited to go home and start working on new songs. I don’t know man; it’s my strong suit so I just go with it.
Amps: That debut record from THE UNION UNDERGROUND, man…I used to work in a machine shop in the early 2000’s and we would play that album all the live long day!
Patrick: Nice, I still play it too! Just because it was my band doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of it, you know? Listen to your own stuff, sing along, I say. The second somebody acts weird, guarded, or dismissive, they’re doing the wrong thing. You gotta be excited about your own music. We still break out “South Texas Deathride” sometimes onstage!
Amps: Speaking of which, when are you coming back to Texas, mister?
Patrick: Definitely by summer 2014 we’ll be back to Texas again. Everybody always says, “Why are you always goin’ back to Texas?” Obviously half the band is from there and we still get a lot of love down there. So it’s financially sound to be able to do that. Last time we were in Dallas we played Trees in 2010 or 2011.
Patrick: Man, I was telling somebody the other day how I’ve neglected video games. I haven’t played since around 2008. I like watching movies; I have an 8-foot movie screen in my living room. I love to crank stuff up and I’m a Netflix junkie. But when I’m not doing HEAVEN BELOW I work with people like this young girl named GABBIE RAE that I’m working with. She’s a 15-year old powerhouse singer! I just wrote a song with a TV producer. I’m always working on music. When I wake up I’m always haunted by the riffs or lyrics I couldn’t finish. I like to go out and drink, watch other bands, and act a fool just like anybody else.
Amps: When can we expect some new material, either an EP or full-length?
Patrick: That’ll be 2014. We already have all the drum tracks cut to the next HEAVEN BELOW album. It’s a concept album, like an Operation: Mindcrime, PINK FLOYD The Wall type of thing. We laugh at ourselves because this is REALLY ambitious for us to even attempt that. We’re very self-aware of who we are and where we are, but we have a killer storyline and we’ve already cut the drums. It’s not some bloated double-length album with a bunch of little weird segueways; it’s all ass-kickin’ with grooves and tempos. Shad knocked out 14 songs, we’ll whittle that down to 10 or 11 and we’ll be working on that all through January. Who the hell would do a concept album at this time? US (laughs)!!
Amps: What albums this year really caught your attention?
Patrick: I definitely liked the new QUEENSRYCHE, and I was disappointed with AVENGED SEVENFOLD. Here’s my take on that. I don’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t as good as previous efforts simply because The Rev had written so many songs on Nightmare before he passed away. And it’s clear to me as a songwriter that his songwriting touch is not present on this record.
Amps: To me it sounds like GUNS N’ROSES/METALLICA riffs all the way through.
Patrick: It sounds premeditated to me and their other stuff did not. Even though the drum production on City of Evil was terrible I still love that record. I have pretty diverse tastes. I really loved STRYPER’S first single, haven’t heard the whole album yet.
Patrick: You know, I’ve always been like that. The band that taught me to be like that was PANTERA in the 90’s. And I was like, “Oh my God! These guys are handing me drinks backstage, and wanting to talk about metal music like MERCYFUL FATE and stuff with me.” And I thought that was the coolest thing ever. So by the time I formed UNION UNDERGROUND that stuff had made an impression on me, so the label always knew me as a people guy, and would have me do all the interviews, meet and greets, and whatever. And I’ve been criticized for that by ex-girlfriends and bandmates, too. “You’re not drawing enough of a line between you and the fans” they’d say. And I’d tell them, “You don’t understand. There IS no line between me and the fans.” It’s all friends and family to me. I’d hate for someone to think, “I met Patrick and he was a dick!” We all have our bad days, but that’s no reason to take it out on a fan.
Amps: Tell me ONE thing that I can’t find online, or Wikipedia, etc. that fans might be surprised to know.
Patrick: I don’t know, I put all my stuff out there (laughs). The truth about THE UNION UNDERGROUND ending is that I had a huge falling out with the lead singer Bryan (Scott). It was our band and as soon as there was any success at all the guy totally changed. I definitely didn’t, and there was a huge wedge between us. That same old Behind the Music cliché crap that you read about, we managed to go through that in less than two years, and that’s why THE UNION UNDERGROUND ended.
Amps: Anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Patrick: Yeah, I just wanna give a shout-out for the amazing response to our Sleeping Giants EP. The response has been way bigger than any of us expected. The four of us just set out to have fun and record what WE want to record and sure enough that’s exactly when people got excited as soon as they heard it. We’ll be at the NAMM show on January 24 with all our endorsers, and we are living proof that you don’t need a label to make records.
Damn right, Patrick. Oh by the way, as of this writing Patrick and GABBIE have been tapped to join the Monsters of Rock cruise this spring. We here at A&GS are big fans of these two when they get together (as our Facebook timeline can attest to) so that‘s gonna be real exciting. Pretty awesome if you ask me. You can pick up all of HEAVEN BELOW’S records on iTunes, so have at it!