Heaven's Burning is ready to "Shake
By Naughty Mickie
Photos by Mary Russo, Karen Jones and Ronald Vaughn
When I received Heaven's Burning's CD, I expected to hear just another "girl band," using their gender to their advantage. Their bio describes them as "alterna-pop/noise-pop," but their music is full of layers, kind of like them. Pasadena, California residents, Kristy Jones (vocals and guitar) and Angela Santiago Chung (vocals, guitar and bass), are young, vivacious, intelligent and determined, but they're also wise and deep beyond their years.
We met at Starbuck's in Claremont, California. At first, I was confused, as I thought the band was a trio.
"It just didn't work out with our drummer, it's just one of those things,'' explains Chung.
She went on to tell me how a recording session last summer was interrupted by a series of gigs in Mexico. An engineer suggested that they put the bass track on a CD.
"We do have a drum machine sequencer," says Chung. "For the last album we recorded, we have the CD with the drum and bass tracks and for the other songs we have the sequencer.''
Let's take a step back and find out how this band got their start.
"I actually met the ex-drummer first." Chung recalls how she to a church with friends and saw Myrna Trevino playing drums in a band there. The two got together and were looking for another member to complete their act. Chung found Jones through musician want ads on the internet, she chuckles as she explains that she had a friend with her when they met, "Okay you look pretty normal'' Chung said of Jones. And so, Heaven's Burning was formed. But how did they get their name?
"You know how you looked at our lyrics and you said you can see a lot of double meanings?" asks Chung. "It's something like that. We like plays on words. We know that some people will take it one way and others another way. For us, we just wanted it to communicate the intensity of God's presence. We know a lot of people say 'What does that mean?'''
"If heaven's burning, then I certainly don't want to go there,'' smiles Jones.
I asked them to explain their creative process.
"We usually write in pieces," says Chung. "It starts with a riff. I work with it for a long time and then I hum a melody over it. But what I've been doing lately is piece together. I like this piece and this piece comes from, it sounds like a different genre and I make the thing fit together. And Kristy says, 'It doesn't sound right,' and I'm like, 'No, it'll fit, it'll fit.' And you have this nice pop groove, then a jazz thing, that's my latest thing.
"I write mostly things that are happening in my own life or that I notice happening outside of my life. Lately I've noticed they tend to be a little more nonsensical, but with meaning,'' Chung laughs. "That's kind of an oxymoron. Like there's this one line in one of our songs called 'Shake This World' where I go, 'there she goes staring at the flies again' and really that just came from my dog. She was just sitting there in the sun watching the flies go around. But I know that that could be taken at another level, so I threw that in and mixed it with some other stuff.''
Chung writes most of the lyrics and boasts that Jones "is a good musician.''
"I play guitar and Kristy came along and you know how sometimes you can get that competitiveness, but I had to concede that she is a way better guitarist than I am. You have to figure out what is your forte and appreciate what the others in your band can do. And that's okay because then you complement each other.''
The two trade off on the vocals. They have also been studying voice with Angelique Burzynski for the past three years. They giggle as they explain that Burzynski says Jones' voice has "honesty," while Chung's is "sweetly honest.''
"She lets us have freedom," says Jones. "But what she's mainly trying to do with us is not to link us to a certain style, let us have our own style, but help us change healthily.''
No strangers to music, Jones and Chung started out early.
Jones took piano lessons between the ages of seven and nine.
"I never took to it,'' she states. "I've always had an interest in music.''
Jones also played flute for two years in high school. Following a family tradition, she went for band instead of choir and the teacher gave her flute to play.
"I don't think I practiced more than I really had to. But when I turned 16, was impassioned with pop music. I was like, 'I'm going to get a guitar.' My parents were like, 'Uh-huh, sure, whatever. You didn't like the piano, you didn't like the flute, whatever.' So I sold the flute and bought a guitar. And for some reason, as soon as I got that guitar out of that box, I was glued to that thing for the next two years.''
Jones is mostly self-taught, but her father's friend taught her how to play by ear.
"He taught me some really important things, like how to change my strings,'' she says.
Jones would try to play what she heard on her CDs and by using guitar tabs on the internet. She took lessons for four months to learn lead guitar in addition to working her way through a book.
Chung took a similar path.
"I'm like every Asian kid," Chung explains. "They learn either piano or violin at five, mine was piano. My father liked it but I stopped at 11, I ran into a block; I didn't take to it so easily. Then I saw some group on TV and it was all girls and I went, 'If they can do it, I can do it.' I told my parents, 'I'm going to take guitar' and they pretty much laughed at me. Kristy's like a rule-breaker, but I'm very methodical. So I went and took lessons and I've been taking lessons the whole time.''
Heaven's Burning has played all over, but their perspective on the local scene has a familiar ring to it.
"I think it's sad that people don't just go out," says Chung. "Like the Internet is a good thing, but it's also a bad thing. It's kind of sad that people don't go to clubs just to watch bands, they'll only go if they know the band. In order for that promotion to take place there has to be money and that's where the record companies come in. It's hard. There's a few bands that I think are good, but unfortunately there's a lot of bands out there that, well, we're not quite sure of them, but the same thing could be said of what is playing on the radio.''
"I think everybody's really just kind of waiting," adds Jones. "We're all listening to the radio thinking there must be something new just on the horizon. The radio's kind of dead right now. To expand on what Angela's saying, the question right now is every band comes in with their own built-in little audience and when they walk in the door, so do they and when they leave, so does their audience.''
"Everybody seems to be for themselves even though we talk about a music community," agrees Chung. "There are pockets of community happening, but like the venue owners, I understand they have to make money, but to sock it to the artist with pay-to-play, that's just another form of using and abusing artists. There are artists that are so desperate that they'll do it, it doesn't make sense.''
As a two-woman band, they also have a unique view as musicians.
Jones tells me, "When you walk into a club sometimes you do get people who are sizing you up and you get one of two responses-- they either go, 'Aw, they're chicks, they can't do anything' and then they'll walk out or sometimes it will work for you, 'oh, it's chicks, let's see what they can do.' It can either work for or against you, it depends on the crowd and depends on how you either try to use it to your advantage or not.''
We all burst into laughter about how hard it still is for a woman to go into a music store and be taken seriously. This happens all too often, but Jones and Chung say that their problems have decreased as they become recognized as serious players, yet their audience response at gigs has been mixed.
"We just try to play and have fun and talk to people,'' says Chung.
We have all noted the same strange reception that our "sisters" sometimes give us.
"Sometimes the women will start to move closer to their dates and watch them to make sure they're not looking at you to hard," says Jones. "And when you walk by, they give you the cold shoulder.''
"Or you're trying to move your equipment by their chair and they won't move even though they know you're right there," adds Chung. "And you end up hitting them with your case and they look at you like it's your fault.''
Heaven's Burning understands the importance of the internet to musicians.
"The internet levels the playing field, you can reach people that you might not be able to,'' states Chung.
"All of sudden you find that it's possible to be accepted by people on the East Coast and other countries. It can be cool,'' pipes in Jones.
"You have to use it" says Chung. "I think a lot of people think when they get a Web site, 'Oh, the people going to pour in,' but it does take a lot of work.''
"Cross promotion," nods Jones. "Go into other Web sites I think, either list your information there, be sure they have a link back to you, you know, things like that. I think our main strategy is 'Well, let's get our name on the 'net in as many places as possible.'''
"There's a plethora of stuff out there on the internet," Chung goes on. "I don't know if many bands are aware of that. The good thing is that people will offer you opportunities and stuff and because maybe it didn't work out for your situation or you don't trust them or whatever the case may be, it's okay to say no to that opportunity because you know there's a million other opportunities on the internet.''
Jones explains that people find Heaven's Burning in a variety of ways, including links and search engines. She also recognizes the power of sites like Napster.
"I think it's obviously bad for bands or artists like Celine Dion, she has this huge machine behind her and their main goal is album sales, to have people ripping off your songs it's not advantageous," says Jones. "If part of your need include exposure, if you're just a 'baby band' starting out, then it can help you. It's good to get your name out there and you're not particularly concerned about album sales yet. I think there's a line that you cross, where, I'm not sure, but there's a line that you cross where eventually you have to be concerned about who is getting your stuff for free because that's going to take away from your livelihood and your sales.''
Chung talks about a recent interview she heard with Courtney Love and how the RIAA complains about piracy, but they're the ones abusing the artists. She says that they're complaining because they're not getting any money and cautions other musicians to hang onto all their rights.
Heaven's Burning has just released their second effort. Their first, was a five-song EP. The new work, "Free Agents Soul'd Here," is a concept album with a spy theme.
"It came out as a concept album," explains Jones. "We didn't really plan it, but the whole thing just came together just without even trying. So it has a spy sort of feeling.''
"We like the free part too," says Chung. "Because we're really not spying, we're really just free agents. Or you could look at it on a spiritual plane, we're not really enslaved or in bondage to things, so it has different meanings.''
By now, you probably think that Heaven's Burning is a Christian band.
"We're Christian," Chung states. "We do believe in Jesus Christ, but the problem is when you say Christian band, I think people automatically tend to come up with.''
"They come up with a box,'' finishes Jones.
Chung continues, "If people ask like, 'Are you a Christian?' we'll say we're Christian. If people ask 'Are you a Christian band?' we ask them to define what that means to them because, unfortunately, it does tend to come up with a pigeonhole and everybody doesn't like to be pigeonholed. They need to look beyond those borders. We would say we are a band of Christians.''
"Some people can't handle not having everything in a nice little compartment," says Jones. "If somebody happens to go beyond one small facet, they get scared and they have to put them in some kind of compartment.''
Currently, Chung works as a tutor both through an agency and privately. Jones teaches computer class at a job resource center and also provides tech support. They work together to maintain the band's Web site.
Between work, rehearsals, recording and gigs, I had to find out what the two did for fun.
"Sleep," laughs Chung. "You never seem to get enough. I like hanging out with my friends; playing with my dog. I like reading. Lately I've been reading the 'Left Behind' series. I don't know if I like the writing style, but I like the ideas. It's thought provoking.''
Jones sits up tall with her hands folded in her lap, "I like to cook and clean and sew, all you men out there." Then she giggles, "No, I'm just kidding. I like to go rollerblading.''
Jones used to play roller hockey, taking the forward "right wing" position.
"I really stunk at defense, people would just roll me over,'' she says.
She searched rinks for a girls' team and ended up playing on an adult men's team when she was 16 and 17.
"It was cool. I definitely had speed on my side. It was an adventure.''
Finally she found a women's team and went to that.
"I was playing with the guys, but I was looking over there going, 'You know what, I think I'd rather go play over there with the women.' Just because of the camaraderie. When you're playing with the guys, they have their egos in the way and everyone wants to be the hero. I was like, 'C'mon, let's all play together.' I saw the girls over there and everybody was just having fun together as a team because no one was taking it like 'this is going to be my future career and I am Wayne Gretsky.' So I went over there and I played with the girls for a while and then I ended my hockey career.''
The band also has a mascot, Chung's Dalmatian Alaska. She researched all the breeds and decided on a Dalmatian, naming her Alaska because she visited there and thought it was a beautiful place and nice name for a dog. Alaska is really intelligent and will do tricks only as a courtesy. Alaska also comes to practice and seems to like it, although once when Jones was singing, she started howling.
Heaven's Burning has a full schedule this summer. They will be gigging along the Pacific Coast with stops at a festival (www.tomfest.com) and a fair in Washington in July and the Girls Rock Camp in Portland, Oregon in August.
They will be donating their time to perform and answer questions at the camp and doing some free giveaways. Girls Rock Camp (www.girlsrockcamp.com) is a volunteer-run, not-for-profit summer camp for girls ages 12-18 that celebrates and empowers girls through rock and roll music and self-defense workshops.
The band will also be playing in Italy in September.
Heaven's Burning could let all this traveling and recognition go to their heads, but instead their goals remain simple.
"(We want) to go as far as we can go," says Jones. "But I don't think we have an end goal.''
"We're just like any other musician," Chung answers. "You want to be able to buy more than five boxes of macaroni and cheese.''
Jones adds, "And to pay your bills and not have to work five jobs at the same time.''
Chung gets serious, "For people to enjoy your music and find meaning in it. We like to entertainment people, like if they come in feeling down, they leave with a smile on their face.''
Jones follows suit, "I think for me and everybody who loves music, it makes you feel a certain way. It either brings to it a catharsis or listening to music either lifts your spirits or brings them to a point in your life where they can become pensive and maybe figure some things out. I think, for me, that's why music means a lot to me. We hope to contribute to that too.''
Somehow, I think they will.
For more information visit www.heavensburning.com
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