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Covering All The Bases: An Exclusive Interview With NIKKI STRINGFIELD And PATRICK KENNISON Of HEAVEN BELOW

By Ruben Mosqueda, Contibutor
Thursday, August 13, 2020 @ 2:04 PM


"We could call the next one I Hear Dead People."

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KNAC.COM caught up with HEAVEN BELOW frontman/guitarist PATRICK KENNISON [LITA FORD, UNION UNDERGROUND] and guitarist NIKKI STRINGFIELD [THE IRON MAIDENS, FEMME FATALE] on July 24th for a conversation to help promote their latest effort a double disc covers album titled Rest In Pieces: A Tribute To The Departed. The album is split into a disc of current material covered by the current line-up and a second, bonus disc with material that had been covered by previous line-ups. There’s a theme throughout the first disc in that it features music that was recorded by a band that has a band member that has passed on to the other side. HEAVEN BELOW will appear on THE MONSTERS OF ROCK CRUISE streamining series in August. We don’t have a date as of yet, but we’ll keep you posted.

KNAC.COM: HEAVEN BELOW issued a new album, it’s a collection of covers. The album is Rest In Pieces: A Tribute To The Departed. Was this initially meant to be a single disc worth of material?

STRINGFIELD: I started to work with the band a year and a half two years ago and they had already started working on some of these songs, What I recall it was going to be a single disc, but along the way it was decided that we would include all of the covers that the band has ever done.

KENNISON: Our bass player JOHN YOUNGER made the suggestion to the rest for the band. He said, “You remember when METALLICA released Garage, Inc. in the late 90s? Remember the first disc was all the new covers they did and the second disc was the older covers that they had recorded? Let’s just do that!” I looked at him and said, “That’s a great idea!” [laughs] So, you can thank METALLICA for the blueprint for that! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: The cover is something else, it’s iconic. What inspired that? And was that the initial concept?

STRINGFIELD: The original concept was a bunch of the ‘rock gods’ sitting around a table...

KENNISON: If you can imagine ‘The Last Supper’ but with musicians that are featured on the album that have passed away. The idea was to have LEMMY [KILMISTER] as JESUS and to the right and left of him there would be a band member from every band that we had covered. As you can imagine we ran into legal issues related to doing that. You can’t just put LEMMY on the cover of an album and put it on SPOTIFY. We just couldn’t afford to deal with legal stuff. So in the end we decided to do something else ‘biblical’, and we’d be in it! [laughs]

STRINGFIELD: I never guessed that I would ever be getting dressed up as a VIRGIN MARY to do a photo shoot! We did that photo shoot for the album at the same time that I was doing my photo shoot for my solo album Harmonies For The Haunted. I remember running back and forth changing from one outfit into these crazy costumes, it was an incredibly long day but a lot of fun.

KNAC.COM: I love the packaging and the photos inside the trifold, there’s a nod to QUEEN and RUSH, it’s fun to see and it’s fun to listen to an album like these. It’s a pleasant distraction from what’s happening at the moment between the civil unrest and the COVID-19.

STRINGFIELD: Thank you. We needed to take advantage of the downtime to get this record out. We were so excited to get out so people could hear it.

KNAC.COM: You know the downside of releasing an album during this time is that you can’t book some shows and showcase the music in a live setting. Streaming has been a good option for artists. Is that something that you are interested in at all?

KENNISON: Your timing is so good! We’re doing a streaming performance for THE MONSTERS OF ROCK CRUISE! We are so excited. They asked us and we’re just waiting on the details and the confirmed date for it.

STRINGFIELD: I can’t wait to perform the tunes off of the album, some of the heavier ones.

KENNISON: I said to the band, 'let’s just use sample audience noise and maybe we can put shots of an audience on the video screens!' [laughs]

STRINGFIELD: Having just played a show for THE MONSTERS OF ROCK CRUISE, I have to say, it was very different! It was still fun.

KENNISON: Don’t be surprised if I yell out “Freebird”! Someone has to, right?! [laughs]

KNAC.COM: I know the sets for the streaming performances average about 60 minutes. You have a two disc set here and you have previous original material. It’s going to be a task to condense things to 9,10, 11 songs for the set.

KENNISON: We had guest players on some of the songs on this album, so are we going to hire a harmonica guy? Are we going to hire KAT SCARLETT to come in and play keyboards?

STRINGFIELD: I want to do some of the heavier ones and some originals in the set. I think we have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do. You’re right about the time, it flies by. In THE IRON MAIDENS I’m used to playing an hour and a half set so an hour will go quick. When we went up there last Saturday and did an hour it was almost like nothing.

KNAC.COM: “We Will Rock You” kicks off the album and it does rock you with this pummeling arraignment.

STRINGFIELD: We played that song the last time HEAVEN BELOW was in San Antonio. It was funny that people at first didn’t even know what it was! [laughs] As we played on, the more we played the song, you could see in the faces that they recognized the song! It was different and then they got into it! I take that as that we did it right and made it ours.

KENNISON: There’s stuff like PANTERA that we didn’t want to rearrange but that one we wanted to speed it up and make it heavier. When we were selecting songs to record we challenged each other to select some of the biggest songs that we could think of. Songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came to mind, then “We Will Rock You” was mentioned. That had been done a lot, we wanted to do it but we wanted to make it our own. I approached that with the mindset that I wanted it to sound as if JUDAS PRIEST were going to record it. So that was a huge factor in how we arranged this.

KNAC.COM: You tackled AC/DC’s “Touch Too Much”, but you also did something different there. They’re basically a loud, distorted ‘blues’ band but you made it a driving, heavier song with your approach.

KENNISON: I think that AC/DC is definitely in the DNA of most of us hard core rockers, me included of course and the whole band. We knew we would have to do AC/DC but we needed to select the right song to pay tribute to both BON SCOTT and MALCOLM YOUNG. They have a huge catalog, how do you break it down to a handful of selections? I think in the end we said 'we’re doing “Touch Too Much” and this is how we are doing it'.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned the METALLICA influence for this album and you, like METALLICA, tackled some MOTORHEAD. You did have a “Motor Medley” which covers some of MOTORHEAD’s best known tunes.

KENNISON: We were doing that live with our bass player JOHN [YOUNGER] singing it. So it was something that we brought into the studio. We were doing that live for fun and we decided to cut it for the record.

KNAC.COM: With LEMMY he had/has, because he lives on. He has such a distinct tone, style to his playing and that gravelley vocal. You have played this live but to record it, then you’d have to probably keep this in the set, did John want to kill you guys for that? And let’s not forget you also covered RUSH on this, so there’s also some GEDDY LEE on the album.

KENNISON: [laughs] Well, our bass player is a huge MOTORHEAD fan and our drummer is a huge RUSH fan, so they know that stuff inside and out and they were up to the task. With John I said, “Listen, you go up to the mic and sing this! Let me hang out and drink beer”! [laughs]

STRINGFIELD: We have a local Karaoke place here where we go out and have a few drinks and John always picks a MOTORHEAD one and he does it well.

KENNISON: I figured if people liked the live version, let’s bring it into the studio and see if we can pull this off. I think we did. It was as easy as hitting the record button on that one.

KNAC.COM: There’s some surprising selections. I wasn’t surprised to see DIO on the album but I was surprised to see “Hungry For Heaven” on here. It turned out great, but it wasn't an obvious choice.

KENNISON: I wanted to do “We Rock”! [laughs] I wanted to do “Rainbow In The Dark” but everyone has done it. You can thank John for that one too, that was on a movie soundtrack or something and he mentioned that one.

KNAC.COM: You cut the JUDAS PRIEST classic “Desert Plains” on this record. I was curious what you’d do with this vocally. There’s some killer notes on that.

KENNISON: On that one I envisioned ALICE IN CHAINS covering “Desert Plains”. When I did that, I could hear it in my head and that is what you hear on the album. Then you came in and laid down vocals and the guitar on it and that’s when I was sure this was going to make it onto the record.

STRINGFIELD: That almost didn’t make the album. We had to take a song off to put that on the album. I thought it sounded so different that I thought that we had to have it on the album.

KENNISON: The connection there with the ‘theme’ of the album is DAVE HOLLAND the drummer is no longer with us. As you know there were some bad circumstances that happened in his life before his death, but I had to put that aside and look at that band’s body of work.

KNAC.COM: You have “Pull Me Under” on the second disc. That’s the song that broke DREAM THEATER. Who suggested that one?

KENNISON: That was our drummer SHAD WILHELM, he’s a huge DREAM THEATER fan and our former guitarist who also did some of the production work on the album. That was early on and by early on I’m talking about 2013. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not the biggest DREAM THEATER fan, they’re great, wonderful musicians, but it was the other guys that wanted this on the album. I remember being asked, ”How would you do the vocal”? I replied, ”I think I would do it like this!” And that is what you hear on the album. I think JESSE BILLSON and SHAD [WILHEM] made it sound rad, so I just had to do the vocals to match their music. Shad cut that in one take!

KNAC.COM: You cut RUSH’s “Subdivisions” and you have a special guest on that track doing a spoken piece. What’s the story behind that song selection and how did you get the special guest?

KENNISON: What a great story. I’m blessed that I get to do studio work, there’s some great artists living out here in L.A. A good friend of mine produced a cover record by WILLIAM SHATNER. My friend called me in to help lay down the guitar tracks and a guide vocal so that William would know where the vocal would go. So I went in, I did it, he liked it and then I got a call back asking me to come in to lay down some background vocals. By the time it’s all said and done, I’m all over Shatner's record. So, I see William in passing as we wrapped things up and he says to me, “Patrick, if you ever need a favor, don’t hesitate to call.” I was like, ”Wow! That’s really sweet of him”. So a few months later we’re talking about covering “Subdivisions” and I’m like, “Well, yeah, but who is going to cover the spoken part”? No sooner did I say that, it came to me: I could call WILLIAM SHATNER! Within an hour I had WILLIAM SHATNER ready to do the spoken word part on “Subdivisions”.

KNAC.COM: You covered “Out In The Cold”, which is my personal favorite tune on Turbo.

KENNISON: That’s a simple, killer story. I’m a monster JUDAS PRIEST fan. JUDAS PRIEST was my first concert, I must have been about 12 years old or so, it was the Turbo tour. DOKKEN were opening, I liked DOKKEN, they were good. JUDAS PRIEST opened their set with “Out In The Cold”, it was an interesting choice because it wasn’t a fast song right out of the gate. It was a great atmospheric opening song, it was mesmerizing. Can you imagine? They opened up their set with a song that is almost a ballad. So when we first started talking about doing a covers album, I made my case for “Out In The Cold”. It’s a fantastic song, I’ve always been a fan of that and it’s never left me. JESSE [BILLSON] our guitarist at the time did this great orchestral arrangement for it that really works well. We tried to make the final version sound like an opus, I like it alot.

KNAC.COM: You covered “Going To California”. Who doesn’t like some ZEPPELIN?

KENNISON: That was Nikki’s doing. She made me put that one on the album! [laughs]

STRINGFIELD: Yeah, that had to go on there, come on! [laughs] It’s a change of pace and I think it worked well within the sequence of the album.

KNAC.COM: The MOTLEY CRUE cover isn’t an obvious choice. You didn’t pick something from Shout At The Devil or Too Fast For Love. You cut “[Tonight] We Need A Lover”.

STRINGFIELD: I know what you mean. Too Fast For Love is my favorite MOTLEY CRUE album. The more obscure MOTLEY CRUE songs are usually my favorite.

KENNISON: I told the guys, Theatre Of Pain has some good songs on it. It suffers from the lack of a sonic production”. I challenged the band to record something from Theatre Of Pain, because I felt it would sound better because we would get the drums to sound better and the vocals to sound right.

KNAC.COM: Again, it sounds heavier and different, which is how a cover should be.

KENNISON: Thank you.

KNAC.COM: You closed out Disc Two with METALLICA’s“Nothing Else Matters”, which is right in your wheelhouse of modern hard rock and metal.

KENNISON: That’s another song that we were screwing around with. I was playing around my acoustic guitar and started playing “Nothing Else Matters”. I think it was Nikki that said, “Hey why don’t you record that?” I said, ”I don’t want to record that, this is how I warm up my voice”. A lot of times that is when the ‘good stuff’ happens is when someone spontaneously says, “Record that!”

KNAC.COM: So the second disc a bonus disc, is that right?

STRINGFIELD: Yeah, I think so. A lot of that was already recorded and was the stuff that Patrick and the guys had already recorded in the past before I came on board.

KENNISON: We even named the second disc, it’s referred to as the ‘missing pieces’.

STRINGFIELD: We’re already talking about doing another covers album.

KNAC.COM: So will there be a ‘theme’ for that one? Have you thought about that?

KENNISON: I kind of like the ‘theme’ concept. I can think of JANI LANE, CLIFF BURTON, RANDY RHOADS, PRINCE

STRINGFIELD: I think we can compile quite the list for the next album.

KENNISON: TOM PETTY! We could call the next one I Hear Dead People.

KNAC.COM: You could do a heavy version of “American Girl”.

KENNISON: Absolutely!

STRINGFIELD: TOM PETTY is one of my favorites. I’d love to record one of his songs. I’d have a hard time narrowing it down to a single TOM PETTY song.

KNAC.COM: Let’s say you decided to cover [LYNYRD] SKYNYRD, what song would you like to cover? It can’t be “Freebird”, can it?

KENNISON: Hmmmm….Well, “Simple Man” has been covered a lot.

STRINGFIELD: I think we could do a great version of “That Smell”. How about we do a tribute to CHARLIE DANIELS? We could do “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”, I'd like to take a shot at that. I think it would turn out awesome.

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