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Heaven Hill

Heaven Hill: Rehearsing, Rocking, Showcasing, and Waiting

A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Louisville's Popular Hard Rock Band

By Jason Ashcraft

Back in the fall of 2006, Louisville's hard rock scene got a bit of a jolt when former members of the widely popular bands Breckinridge and The Constant announced they were joining forces to form Heaven Hill. Like a shot of whiskey at the midnight hour, Heaven Hill exploded onto Louisville's original music scene with simple and pure rock-n-roll…southern style. They've had a few changes over the years on drums, but without a doubt managed to improve their overall sound and image every time. Continuing this tradition of improvement, Heaven Hill most recently added Louisville-based drumming icon Ivan Arnold. Arnold comes with plenty of experience and contacts in the industry from playing and recording with FLAW, Silent Q and Five.Bolt.Main. Rounding out the rest of the band are founding members Chuck Willis, vocals, and Teague Ridge, bass, both formerly of Breckenridge, plus guitarist Chris Evans of The Constant, and rookie Kris Kerr, guitar.

Rehearsing…

Heaven Hill rehearses in Teague Ridge's house, located in one of Louisville's East End golf course neighborhoods. Rehearsal is serious business for the band and not open to outsiders or friends who want to just stop by. Ridge's basement has been transformed into a mini studio, complete with a full PA and equipped with an HD Pro-Tools console, so they can record and carefully analyze everything they write.

Heaven Hill rehearsals begin with last minute phone calls and text messages, and swigs of Red Bull, Bud Light and Sparks. Ridge will usually signal the beginning of practice by plugging in his bass, tuning it, and getting the attention of his band mates. The rest of the band quickly forms a huddle and thereafter, the atmosphere is all seriousness. Cue: the sticks crack, the guitars squeal, Chuck screams, and rehearsal has begun.

They bang through most of the album cuts from Somewhat Civil in one take, with no obvious mistakes or new ideas on changing the songs' arrangements. Arnold, a fast learner, keeps pace with the recently learned songs.

After rehearsing Somewhat Civil, mini-jam sessions revolve around writing new songs. The first song the band has written with Arnold is dubbed "Excuse Me," and it's style and tempo is consistent with Heaven Hill's other material: hard guitar licks, Chuck's blues-y, grungy vocals, and a smooth rhythm that Ridge matches to the start-and-stop elements of Arnold's drumming. The rest of the song works around these change-ups. It's clear that something good is definitely going on with "Excuse Me."

Rocking…

Heaven Hill is a get down-and-dirty, Southern hard rock band with melodic, driven tunes featuring spirited and sometimes raunchy lyrics - but not too raunchy. Most of their music is mainstream radio-ready, with earsplitting, Southern guitar playing, smooth and soulful bass and in-your-face percussion. Think Mötley Crüe meets Stone Temple Pilots meets Lynyrd Skynyrd meets Buckcherry.

Heaven Hill

Arnold has brought a renewed sense of energy and a noticeable boost of confidence to the band. As a result, they have already begun writing new music for a planned follow-up to 2008's Somewhat Civil. That album's first single, "Going Down," cracked Billboard's Hot Mainstream Rock Track chart at #38 in April, and remained in the top 40 for several weeks. "Going Down" is still a regular fixture on FM radio's 93.1 The Fox, where it has peaked at 38 spins a week, second only to Metallica's "Cyanide."

When Heaven Hill plays a rare live show in Louisville, they generally manage to sell out the venue, be it Headliners, 4th Street Live or that other music venue on Baxter Avenue.

Although Heaven Hill has not yet begun to tour outside of the immediate area as aggressively as they could, they have started building a regional fan base, playing Nashville and Jackson, Tennessee; Cincinnati, Ohio; Greenville, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; Chicago and Lafayette, Indiana.

Showcasing…

With the success that "Going Down" has generated, Heaven Hill has caught the attention of several major record labels. The band has met with and showcased for Warner Bros., Universal, Reprise, Wind-Up and Sony Records.

From Left, Chris Evans, Tegue Ridge, Ivan Arnold, Kris Kerr, Chuck WIllis, Photo by Aaron Smith

Major label attention is nothing unfamiliar to Willis and Ridge, who were with Breckenridge when several major labels were interested in that band. Now these Louisville-bred boys are on their second credible effort at building a career in the music business; this time with a more realistic shot at achieving that goal.

Waiting…

With all this momentum, Heaven Hill sat down with Louisville Music News to address a few questions about the recent changes on drums and what the future holds.

LMN: Why is Steve O'Reilly no longer part of the band?

Evans: He's not in the band anymore because we had a big difference on what we thought being in a band meant. Meaning dedication and how often we needed to practice and needed to write and just getting together to take care of band stuff, business stuff. We feel like, and not news to anybody, he just didn't want to practice, he didn't want to come, he didn't want to be here as much as we wanted to be here.

Willis: The long and the short end of it, I think, is that there were no musical differences. It strictly came down to the time thing. He couldn't devote the time that the rest of us wanted to. It was just very, very, very much a time thing.

Ridge: Chris (Evans) said it really well. Steve had a different idea of what being in a band was. He just looked at it differently. We're writing and we have to be here every night. Now, Ivan's here!

LMN What does Ivan Arnold bring to the band that's different?

Willis: Collectively as a band and our crew, [and] the people around us, Ivan was our number one choice. We had heard from people back-and-forth on whether he would do it, or couldn't do it, whether we wanted him, all that stuff. So, long story short, we started looking at videos of him; trying to get a scope on if we should to even call him. But, one of the videos that we saw, Ivan said something like, "I'm Ivan Arnold, and if you don't know who I am, then f**k you!" (laughter) Immediately, all of us were like, "He's in!!" He's just like us.

Ridge: I kind of have a serious answer on it. Everybody that knows Ivan and knows him musically, knows that he's a great drummer. We didn't lose anything in that aspect. But what he's brought outside of playing music has been the biggest surprise…and the best thing so far is, not only can we hang out with him, but he fits with the five of us perfectly. He brings experience from other bands, connections from other bands and stuff that he can network us in with to help us progress our career. He's really stepped up to the plate and done a lot of that.

Kerr: I think one more thing that's been amazing is when we get new ideas, like cutting new songs, he's been there, he's worked at studios, and he's got a great ear for music. So we've been wanting to record some new songs and he's helped us out and he's been there. On our newest song, "Excuse Me," we've been working on a demo and he's been there to see through all that and help us so that it sounds amazing. All thanks to Ivan and the amazing guitar playing by me… just kidding.

LMN: Is there a new album in the works or are you guys only concentrating on pushing Somewhat Civil still?

Willis: Yes, absolutely, there is going to be a new album and that's all we're doing is writing, writing and writing. We're actually getting well into a second album. But also with that said, Somewhat Civil is by no long shot done. There's a lot of time on our hands. We can push Somewhat Civil, play Somewhat Civil and still integrate new tunes when they're ready, when they're written well, and work them into a lot of shows and what not. So, we're doing both.

LMN: Why are you NOT touring extensively right now, considering your Louisville-based accomplishments?

Ridge: The conception is that if you wanna make it in a band, you go out and tour and you play for ten people. You go out and just do whatever you can. And all of us have done that. It can ruin your life if it's not done with the proper backing, proper marketing and proper promotion. You can't just go out and say, "Oh, I'm gonna play thirty cities" and then go and expect to do any good. There has to be some serious finances behind it to do any good. So, the direction we took is we're going around backwards. We want to get radios playing our CD, and then go out to play cities and where we're known a very small amount, that way we can build on it a little bit. If we've got a radio station that will back a show, then that automatically gets us in the club, which gives you more of a guarantee, which gives you more people to the door - yada, yada, yada. It's tough, but because of the success we've had locally with the song, we're able to get into some smaller markets and that's the way we're taking it. We just don't feel the need at this point to go out and just break the bank just to say, "We're touring."

Arnold: I think a lot of bands, especially younger bands, they put a lot at stake in the whole touring experience and it's almost like they do it just so they could say that they've toured. Without really focusing on what it's actually meaning to them. And I think all of us know, not just bands around here not just from this scene, 'cause I've known other bands too, they borrow money, they beg, they steal. They get whatever funds they can together and they just hit the road and in the end, you know, a year-and-a-half later, they're still not any closer to breaking through any kind of market- and now they're fifty grand in debt and they're just as far from any kind of significant record deals then when they started. I actually think what Heaven Hill does is a lot smarter. Try to build push and actually bring the people that can actually help get it where it needs to go.

LMN: Where do you expect this band to be two years from now?

Kerr: I expect to be on MTV Cribs with a bunch of strippers, sponsored by Budweiser. Plenty of penile piercings and uhhh….that's all I got. Does anybody else have anything?

Willis: (laughing) How do you say that better really, minus the penile piercings?

Evans: (laughing) I hope that a couple of us are alive in two years. I don't know. Hopefully still writing music.

Willis: I think I would like to say, making an honest living and writing music with this same line-up. I don't care if it's a massive killing. But obviously, I would love the Budweiser sponsorships and the MTV Cribs, but I'd love to be able to see this band just make a damn living. You know? A good living at that.

Teague: Same thing. Hopefully making a living playing music.

Arnold: Headlining the Family Values tour in Japan and Korn's gonna open for us.