It's been an interesting five years for the band now called Heaven's Basement. They started off life as Hurricane Party, only to have their party cut short when a breezy lady called Katrina made it rather poor taste to name your band after a destructive natural force. So goodbye Hurricane Party (but not, oddly, Katrina & The Waves, which is MUCH worse), and hello Roadstar, as the band took the name of arguably the best song they produced. Masterminded by manager and songwriter Laurie Mansworth (once of Airrace), the band hooked up with shedloads of famous bands, did many festivals and produced two stonkingly good albums. To the fans it looked like all was cosy and lovely, but to everyone's surprise the band split after the (under promoted) release of their second album “Glass Mountain”, only to re emerge with the same line up and a new name, Heaven's Basement. This time, however, it's all about the boys, with Mansworth consigned to the bin marked 'History', along with all the songs from Roadstar. This a start fresher that an angels armpits, and I caught up with singer Richie Heavanz and guitarist Johnny Rocker when they played recently in the British seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare...

Weston-Super-Mare is not the sexiest bit of seaside that we have over here. The sea is rather muddy and the whole place is still trying to hang on to it's glory days. Mind you, it's still a fun enough place, especially with the opening of a new venue, the Rock Gardens. Festooned with rock memorabilia, the place is just gagging for some cool bands to come and play, and the first of these is Heaven's Basement. Okay, so they're not massive at the moment, but they are certainly cool. Upstairs, I chat to Richie Heavanz and Johnny Rocker as the first support band plough through a noisy set beneath us. There's two immediately obvious things about these guys, and that's that they are both far too good looking as well as being really nice blokes. I've met them several times before, but this is the first time we've actually sat down for an official chat, and I decide to start by digging up the past a bit, asking Johnny about the origins of Hurricane Party way back in 2003.

“I was working at a guitar shop in Essex where I live,” he explains. “Through the shop I met our manager, or the guy who became our manager. At the time I was in a band with Robbie (Randell, HB bassist) and a couple of other guys. He started managing our band and over a period of time it was like 'Let's start a new rock band'. Between me him and Robbie we formed an early incarnation of Hurricane Party. I don't think we had a name for about six months, but that was the first name we had. We had a few different members at the time, we had a different singer, drummer and guitar player. After a couple of years the singer left and we set about finding Rich.” “Hello” interjects Richie with his sexy Welsh lilt. “And we was looking for him,” inists Richie. “We knew exactly who we were looking for.” “I was hiding,” says Richie with a smile. “He came up for an audition, and that set about the next part of Hurricane Party and that's when it led on to doing a deal and doing the EP.” It's a bit odd sitting talking to two guys who call themselves Mr Heavanz and Mr Rocker, and I inquire as to why they have such, well, silly names. “I know for me it was always quite important, still is, to have a stage persona.”, Richie explains, quite reasonably, I have to say. “It helps sort of switch you on... when you go onstage you're gonna be this person. You get into that mode and when you go onstage all your inhibitions go.” “Mine was kind of a nickname that I had for a while,” chips in Johnny “And it sort of just stuck.”

It's odd that Johnny, possibly unconsciously, possibly not, seems reluctant to speak the name of ex manager Laurie Mansworth. Perhaps he's like the Devil or something. I have no fear of the supernatural, so I invoke He Who Must Not Be Named, asking if he was responsible for all the writing for the band at the time. “Early on, during the first incarnation of the band it was pretty much my writing,” says Johnny. “Over time we started writing together and them it became more... as time went on.”

One stumbling point for the band was a deal with Sanctuary records that suddenly fell apart, and I ask Johnny what the hell happened. “We were kind of kept in the dark a little bit and we didn't really know exactly why it ended,” he admits, sounding genuinely confused. “We just knew that it did end. We got told that we left before the album was released – whether that actually happened I'm not sure. It was at that point things started to get a bit more... we didn't know what was going on too much.”

It sounds like this could be where the structure of the band started to crumble, and I turn to Richie to find out exactly what happened to Roadstar. “We obviously don't want to get into the specifics that everybody wants to know, because nobody wants to go down to that level where you start mudslinging. The honest truth is that we'd reached the point where the partnership between us and the management didn't seem to be going in the same direction any more. Individually, as members in the band it wasn't something that we'd discussed, there was just a general feeling of unease running through everyone. When we finally did start to speak about it, we were shocked to find that everyone was feeling the same way. The plan was originally to just discuss it with the management and find a course that we were all happy with. When we sat down for that meeting it was made pretty apparent that no compromise would be made and that it was one way or another. That was it, really.”

It must have been a brave step to just walk away, and I ask if there's ever a temptation to stand on stage and blast out the opening riff to “Roadstar” again. “We loved being in Roadstar,” Richie asserts, “and playing the songs, otherwise we wouldn't have done it. It was a general feeling when it came to and end and we all went our separate ways for a bit. When we came back it was the desire to move forward, which is the main aim, and we've gathered momentum through that mental state of going forward. Whenever we think of the Roadstar songs now they always feel like a slight step backwards.”

Never one to be afraid of a cheesy question, I ask the pair what, for them, was the highlight of that first part of their professional career. “That'd be the first Download festival for me,” says Johnny “I think for me it was,” agrees Richie. “Not the gig but because it was what it was, was playing Monsters Of Rock. Just to play the Milton Keynes Bowl - I wouldn't have given a shit what the event was. To go out and say 'I've played the Milton Keynes Bowl' is a pretty cool thing.”

“The best feeling I ever had on stage was the night after Monsters Of Rock when we played with Queensryche,” adds Johnny. “Sid had only been in the band for a week. Monsters Of Rock was okay, but it's the first time doing something like that, and you're not quite as relaxed about things... it didn't go great cause we had a few technical problems. The night after we played with Queensryche and the sound was great, and it was the first time the five of us just seemed to connect. It felt like there was a great energy that night. Now it happens every night.”

I can't resist throwing in one more question, Columbo style, as a few years ago I met up with the band at the Guilfest Festival, where Johnny had a plaster cast on his arm due being run over by a Land Rover whilst lying on the grass. I ask how the bloody hell this was possible. “He reversed over me!” he splutters defensively. “I was reading a book.” “You choose to sunbathe behind a land rover - it's gonna happen at some point!” laughs Richie. “The law's decided that it was his fault!” states Johnny, and the book is finally closed on the pre Basement days.

So now it's a new chapter, with Heaven's Basement picking up the pieces of Roadstar and putting them carefully back together. Richie explains how the band came about. “I don't think there was a specific thing that made us get back together. After the Roadstar thing ended there was a general feeling that everyone just needed to go and do their own thing for a bit. Fundamentally we were all friends and we all enjoyed being with each other. As time went on you give each other a call, see how the others are doing, have a few beers... that started to happen more and more regularly and then, being a group of musicians, you have a few drinks, guitars come out and you start jamming on things. It was just a feeling that something was there.”

What fans are after, of course, is product they can hold in their sweaty paws, so I ask whether there has been interest from record companies. “To be honest at the moment we're not really putting ourselves out there because we still don't feel that we're ready,” explains Johnny “This is still early days for us, it's been a month since we've started playing gigs. We're not in any rush because when the time's right we want to do it right this time. There was a lot of things that we did in the past that probably weren't done right and kind of held us back a bit. We've been saying to people that there's definitely not gonna be an album this year. I would have thought that there will be some kind of EP that we'll do, just so that people can have something in the meantime. We've already started recording various bits so that could potentially be out in a couple of months.”

What they have done is a couple of videos, simple but effective black and white affairs that basically show the band hammering out a couple of their new songs. It is, I venture, an unusual move. “It was a friend of mine, Ben,” says Richie. “He runs a company and he's got a finger in lots of pies. He loves the band and said anything to help with promotion and that. He's got another side of his company that does adverts and he said would you like us to film you doing a couple of songs.” “I think the initial thing that he came to us with was 'Let's make a video',” furthers Johnny. “We had a think about it and decided we don't need to do a video. We want people to know it's all about the live thing, that's where we feel comfortable, so what better way to show people a couple of new songs than us, in a room, playing them.” They certainly seem to be having a good time, and from reports I've read the current tour is winning over a lot of people. “We're still sort of tweaking the songs every night,” says Johnny of the tour. “It was quite a time between doing the last Roadstar gig and the first Heaven's Basement gig, so we still trying to find ourselves on stage but we're having a lot of fun doing it. It's a completely different energy on stage now and a lot more fun.”

Perhaps the biggest difference between Roadstar and Heaven's Basement is that the boys are now in control of their own destiny. “That's a phrase that we've used quite a lot,” agrees Johnny. “It's quite important.” This approach has allowed them to choose their new manager carefully, landing them John Germinario from across the pond. The band are understandably chuffed. “It was last December, the week that we filmed the videos,” explains Johnny. “We booked out a studio in South London for a week, and that was the week we recorded 15 or 16 songs, we made the videos and we showcased to 5 or 6 managers that we wanted to work with. He flew over from New York to see us and we kind of knew from the moment we met him that this guy would be great for us. He looks after Medina Lake and Aiden and a couple of other bands like that.” “It was just an instant sort of thing,” offers Richie. “Soon as he walked in everyone had a smile on their face.”

One thing that has been gnawing at me is the band's name, because no one over here has a basement any more. I ask Richie to expand on the story that it comes from the band going down to 'Heavanz basement', because I don't believe he really has one. “It wasn't so much a basement,” he confesses. “That was just a turn of phrase that Sid (Glover, HB guitarist) used. Basically I live in Brighton in a house with three tiers. My living room is one of those that's actually under the pavement, below ground level. We were at a party one night and were going down just to have a mash with the guitars and that, and Sid shouted 'We're all going down to Heavanz (sic) basement', and we just though it was cool.” “It was never a conscious decision,” Johnny adds, “and that was why it felt so right to do it. That night we'd all had a few beers and by the time we got downstairs we had a name, which we didn't realize at the time! Two or three hours later we had three and a half songs written.”

One thing that has struck me is the similarity between HB and the ex Darkness chaps Stone Gods, with both bands rising from the ashes of successful pasts. I say to Johnny that I think the bands would go well together, and this results in a bit of a scoop! “I'll tell you a funny story about that...” he says. “We went down to Richie's two or three weeks ago. On the last night we were there we went down to the beach, got a couple of beers and just chilled out in front of this bar. When they called last orders we went in to get a beer and Dan Hawkins was just sitting there with one of his friends so we said hello and started chatting. He said grab a drink, come and join us, and that escalated into a whole night of drinking in various bars around Brighton. We talked quite a bit that night about doing something together.” You read it here first, rock fans! It seems that Heaven's Basement might just be around for a while, as the drive is evident in every one of them. Of course, it helps that they also have the talent to go with it, and with a few crossed fingers they should be a band to look out for. I'll leave the last words to Johnny Rocker: “The thing is, it feel so much more right this time. The feeling around the band, and the way people are reacting... it feels completely different than it did before. We're doing it ourselves, we're doing things the way we want to do it... it feels really good.” 'Nuff said...

Interview and "Garfield" photo by Alan Holloway, alan [at] RockUnited.Com
(c) 2008 RockUnited.Com, 9 June
Band images borrowed from