Heaven´s Basement: „Nobody wants to see a band that isn´t good live”
Back at the Dutch Into the Grave festival I had the chance to grab Heaven´s Basement singer Aaron Buchanan for an interview, and we had a nice half an hour of chatting about his life, music and the touring circus.
Alright, so you just got here about two hours ago – how did you get here? By van again?
Yes, the good old van again, this is how we arrived today. In all our glory (laughs).
So how does it feel to be always stuck together in this small van?
Well, we´re pretty lucky as being crushed together in this little van is usually just until we get to the venue. The promoters are usually really good to us, we get hotels, we get little rooms like this here, so it´s not too much of a hardship to put it that way. We´re a pretty privileged band, it´s all good.
So you played Wacken Open Air this year...how was it?
Oh Wacken, it was interesting – there´s been so many people and so many things going on. We were one of the lighter bands on the bill as the festival was predominantly a really heavy metal festival but it went really well for us. It was actually the show the next day, for me, that we played in Munich at Backstage Halle for the Free and Easy festival that kinda smashed Wacken. It´s a weird thing to say but I think it´s been because we were a different style of band, there were a lot of people who knew us at Wacken, but something about Munich just felt a bit more special.
You´re getting more and more radio play, one could say that you´re getting popular here. So how does it feel, are people getting really interested in your private life and start digging for details?
I don´t think anyone is considerably interested in my private life, because the person I am on stage is far more interesting (laughs), you know. With bands like Slipknot or Pantera and people like that, people are interested in their private lives because they have achieved legendary status. They´re absolutely unstoppable. There´s something special about them. Heaven´s Basement is working its way up and if we get there, that would be fantastic - nobody would complain. You know, if anyone was interested in that kind of stuff – if I feel comfortable talking with someone about that kind of stuff, I´ll talk. But if not, I really will not.(laughs).
So no-one has reached the point yet where they wanted to know something you weren´t willing to come out with?
No, not particularly. I think we have a great relationship with our fans, and I think we have a great relationship with press, which I never quite thought we´d achieve. We already had a good relationship with our fans, but the press is your best friend and your worst enemy, and you treat them the same way you treat the sea, because it´s got no respect for you. One minute it´s your best friend, and the next minute it´ll take your life. Y´know, fickle.
What also comes with getting bigger as a band is that fans start wanting to be like you, so they see you as a role model. Are you afraid of that happening?
No, not at all. It is my job in Heaven´s Basement to be a role model for people that want to do what we do. We´re one of the few privileged bands out there that can do this on a professional level – we´ve got a great crew, we´ve got quality promoters out there, and we have a good team behind us. So the only thing that I should ever worry about is leaving a good impression to the people that want to do what I do and I feel right now – if I put on a good show and treat the people the way I would like to be treated, then there is nothing more that can be asked. As I said, I feel like we´ve got good respect from our fans, but that´s because we´ve got respect for them. You know, when I walk around and I see people after shows or like last time, even in the show, I go down to meet people, it´s because there is a mutual trust and a mutual respect. And, you know, we´re not living in 1975 anymore. It´s not like Beatles mania or anything like that. People ain´t going to come and rip us apart. There´s a good sort of like, tip of the hat, everyone shakes hands, it´s a good time.
We were talking about treating fans with respect and in the way you´d like to be treated – but isn´t it hard in times of Social Media to handle those floods of messages that all require some attention?
From a social networking point of perspective trying to keep up with all of the mail that I now get is impossible. Can´t do it. So it´s more beneficial for me to get back to a few messages every now and then, I read most of the stuff – but I cannot read it all, because there´s so much. l get back to things where I think it´s pretty awesome or when somebody asks a really interesting question. Generally, the best way for me to meet people is around the day of show, before or after the show, because it´s a personal experience. I think Social Media is great for getting a message out - if I have something to say to people or if I have something to show, then I put it up there. It´s awesome to see so many people being a part of it and getting back to it and telling me their thoughts. But I definitely prefer the physical aspect to talk to people, I think it´s much better. So is it a necessary evil to do Social Media or...?
Oh I don´t think Social Media is an evil thing at all.
But don´t people send you messages and you know they´re most likely having the expectation that you´ll answer all of those messages?
No, as I said, we´re have a good relationship with the fans. Everyone is aware, now that the band is being pushed so hard, that it would be silly for people to not realize how many messages we get a day. So the people that we get back to, they really appreciate that. If we don´t, then it´s probably just because we miss it, it is hard to keep up and you try to keep up with everything, but it´s the volume of it – it is just insane! And I know that people understand because many messages read along the lines of “you´re probably not gonna get back to me but we understand that...” – they understand it and that´s cool.
Let´s turn over to music related topics again... so far you´ve been playing “The Price we pay” only for a couple of times, are there plans to be playing it more often?
“The Price we pay” was a song that literally came out of a relationship I was in, and it was coming to the end of it. To be honest, at the shows where we played it, I wasn´t particularly fond of the idea of putting it into the set immediately. I wanted to let it rest. Just, if people liked it and asked for it again we might play it. And if they didn´t I was quite happy to leave it until we did some really quality big shows with a nice stage production for it. But it did get asked for, it got asked for a lot. The first two shows we did on the UK headline tour we didn´t play it, and there was such a volume of people that asked for it, so we were like “oh okay...”. It´s gotta happen. The other boys asked me about it and I said “yeah, fuck it, why not” – so we play it from time to time but not at a festival like this, being a pretty heavy festival. I don´t think it would be something that people would get into, but when we´re playing to our own audience and when we´re doing a longer set, then we may play it now and then.
But it seemed at times you weren´t that happy about people wanting you to play it...
No, that´s not right, I was happy that people want us to play the song, I just want to play it at the right time.
So are there gonna be any longer shows in Germany and around?
Yeah, there will be. Eventually. I mean, the only time that you can pull off an hour headline show is when you´ve built up that fan base and Germany is a massive country. So many places, four or five times as many as in the UK! So it takes us a little bit of time, once we get there, of course there will be headline sets and we´ll come and play for longer ...
How do you feel about supporting and supporting again other bands?
It´s the best way for us right now, because it´s the first time ever that we have released an album and although there are already a few key areas where we´ve got a good fan base, we need build it. And the only way to build it, is to work, because you can play to a thousand to six thousand people a night, supporting a really good band, and stealing their audience or at least a part of their audience – or, you can play a fifty or sixty people in various places where people already know who you are. I´d rather go and steal some more fans and then come back and have a good headline show with five or six hundred people, that´s how you build.
You´ve been playing this summer at Bochum Total, Wacken Open Air and now the one in Munich, too – you´re playing many festivals in central Europe. How is it different to the general touring, if there is any difference at all?
Festivals are just great. I love touring in general, but the festivals are just amazing – you get great food every day, you get ridiculous amounts of alcohol every day, you get to meet so many people each day – I mean, the touring circuit, in general. There are so many bands, that we now know, just because of this one year and next year we´ll go back and there´ll be more bands to meet along side the ones we already know. It´s like a massive touring family, especially from America all the way to Europe – like Stone Sour, Five Finger Death Punch, and even bands like Kiss you just get to know. It´s all bands that we massively looked up to when we were kids, and now they´re just hanging around, having dinner with us, it´s crazy.
What kind of a feeling is it when you´re meeting all these people that you were looking up to in your earlier years?
Initially, it´s insane. (grins) The first band that I met with Heaven´s Basement, that was huge, was Papa Roach. I think it was in Manchester Arena. And I was like “wow” because as a kid I never really had the money to properly go and see bands all the time. And Papa Roach I always wanted to see... I had played in bands before but we had never played alongside these bands. The first experience with Jacoby Shaddix was him shoving a banana all the way down my throat. It was frankly bloody gross; I hate bananas (laughs). It was hilarious, Jacoby was putting me to the test. It was great, it´s a good feeling because you spend so long working and putting time into your music, but to go and finally get the yield from it is a great feeling.
So were there times where you were close to dropping it or have you always been convinced that this is something you wanna be doing?
Never during my time in Heaven´s Basement. There was a time, where I had a band for a couple of years before Heaven´s Basement, I put my heart and soul into it, same as with this. Obviously, it didn´t have the privileges of what Heaven´s Basement´s got, doing everything single-handedly. But it all diminished over the course of a couple of weeks and I was just like “wow, what am I gonna do” because without music I´d be back to selling shoes in a store – that´s what I did before (laughs). Before I was in Heaven´s Basement I had something people would consider to be a real job, with a weekly wage... hopefully I won´t have to go back to that, we´ll see (laughs).
So that would be what you´d be doing if there was no music for you anymore?
Yeah, well, probably... If I wasn´t in the position I am in, then probably, yes. But I´d always have my eyes set to do something like this. I really feel like I´m mentally charged into doing music, I really don´t know life without it. I´ve never known it, I´ve done music since I was like a five year old child. I worked for various companies and many bands, but Heaven´s Basement is the one that gave me the chance to do it on a professional level and it´s something I wouldn´t give away. So, yeah, I´d be pretty lost (grins).
You mentioned you were doing something with music from an early age on – is your family this typical musician family?
No. My family isn´t musical at all. My grandfather was an organist, he used to play the organ, and in his later years picked up guitar and ended up being pretty good at it. My sister Laurie, because of that, picked up guitar and I´ve always been some kind of a vocalist, we just jammed out and had a good time. My family wasn´t particularly musical, it´s only this generation, being my sister and I that picked it up and went along with it.
One of these days I was looking through Heaven´s Basement songs on Spotify and had to realize that many were censored... How does it feel that they´re turned all around to make them sound harmless?
Well, I feel like… I feel like it´s a necessary evil. We don´t really want, like, 5 and 10 year old kids hearing some horrendous stuff on the radio, and stuff like that. But after watershed and all that, please play the songs the way they´re bloody well written! (laughs) You know, “Heartbreaking Son of a Bitch” had to be changed and that song wasn´t even supposed to be a single. The radio was like "We want to use that song as a single, can you change it for us?"… NO! Leave the song as it is! It was written that way. (looks annoyed) But I do understand the other side of the story, this whole PC world, having to make everything so easy listening for everyone. Unfortunately it´s the only way to get radio play. To be successful you need that, I just wish it was a little bit more hard chinned. The songs are written the way they´re written for a reason… and you know we´re a fucking rock band!
Do you have these things in the back of your mind when writing songs?
No, not the fuck at all. A song gets written the way it is. If the radio wants to use it, great, if they don´t, tough luck (shrugs). We just got very lucky with this album, people wanted to use it, they asked us, and we agreed to cut the swearing and stuff like that. It´s coz we got it, we understood it, there is no point in being ignorant towards it. It is just... no band really wants to mess their songs up. It´s just one of these things.
I realized that music videos for singles are becoming more and more important to sell the actual music...
Yeah, because a band should be a product, a whole product. If you want to do it on a professional level, if you want to do it and be successful with it, you need to give your audience a product. You got a look the part, you got a sound the part, you gotta be good – nobody wants to see a band that isn´t good live, and the live show is the main thing about Heaven´s Basement. The album is a souvenir of it and the video is a thing to get people into it. So, I think videos are great then.
How come videos are actually gaining importance over the past few years?
Hm, I don´t think it´s necessarily gaining importance. It´s always been there. Bands were producing videos twenty or thirty years ago or even longer. It´s something bands have always done. To let people into the world of what the band is all about, because people wanna see it. If you´re producing music, of course they wanna understand it and they want to get a vibe for the songs and a vibe for the music, so putting an image to that, putting a mental image to that as well as physical images, it´s quite a big deal.
So how are you personally approaching video making? How is the story line created?
We say that we are going to do a video for a song, we talk to various producers and directors and we get dozens of bits of paper with what they wanna do and their storyline and such. Eventually, we pick one we like and say “we like it, can we do this with it” and change little things. It´s not always like that, you know, but if we think it has great potential and the director has a great vision of what he wants to do, then we go with it – it´s the best way to collaborate on visuals.
Last but not least, some funny things to think about. I am going to give you four words and want you to tell me what comes to your mind first when hearing those...
Okay, the first one is “banana”, without knowing we´d have talked about bananas already earlier on...
(laughs) My first association is instantly Jacoby (Shaddix, singer of Papa Roach).
Don´t have one! (laughs)
Now, please finish the following three sentences...
The first is: The craziest thing I have experienced this year so far has been...
(silence) Hold on, hold on...The craziest thing I experienced this year was David Dearing, our sound engineer, being sick into a Captain Morgan´s hat naked. The second one is: The weirdest thing that happened to us on stage has been so far...
Chris Rivers getting nearly blown up by pyrotechnics. We were standing at the side of the stage for Kiss... And the last one is: My least favorite ice cream as a kid has been...
Strawberry, probably. Or banana, urgh. (pulls disgusted face)
Alright, choose a fairytale and put each of your band mates and yourself into the roles...
Oh, a Disney fairytale? It is your choice...
Oh okay...I´m gonna go for “The Lion King”. I´m probably gonna put Rivers (Chris Rivers, drums) as Simba, because he is...well, he´s never even seen the Lion King to begin with. And he is a fifteen year old boy trapped in a thirty year old person´s body. I would put Sid (Sid Glover, guitar) as, damn, what´s the parrot called? Oh damn, I can´t remember. Oh I love The Lion King so much, damnit. (laughs hard) Whatever the bird was called (It´s called Zazu, thanks to google) And I´d put down Rob (Rob Ellershaw, bass) as the father of Simba, Mufasa. Me? I´d be the evil one, Scar...(grins)
If someone comes to visit you at home, what´s the first thing you´re trying to hide from the visitor´s eyes if you can just hide one thing?
Probably condoms (laughs). So yeah. So, logical conclusion: they´re flying all over your room...(grins)
(laughs) Hahahaha yeah! (laughs even more)
Last but not least – being asked so many questions, is there anything you haven´t been asked but always wanted to be asked?
Damn, it´s one of those questions where I always got a great answer after I had left... (silence) Oh If you had a festival what would you call it… and the answer to that question would be House of The Cannon Festival, because that is what Buchanan means, it would be insane and it would be awesome! (laughs)
And if you had that festival, which five bands would you put into the line-up?
I would have: Slipknot, because I absolutely love and adore Slipknot. I would have Muse. I would have ...I would have Down, I don´t know much about them but I´d have them as a mystery for me to watch and be entertained by. Let me think...probably Kiss, just for the laughs...and, who else? Black Sabbath...
That´s it – thanks a lot for taking the time for the interview!
A big “Thank you” goes out to Aaron Buchanan for the great interview, Chris Rivers for setting the basis of the interview arrangement and David Hazle for the arrangement.