Interview and Photographs by: Brandon Marshall, SongExcess.com
Kirk Windstein is arguably the Godfather of the NOLA Sludge Metal scene and undisputedly a key figure. Forming the first inception of Crowbar, back in 1989, Windstein has proven to be one of the heaviest power chord players. With his signature low-key doom guitar tone, melancholic lyrics and growls, Crowbar has gained much attention and influence, while maintaining status in the underground over recent years. In between masterminding Crowbar, Kirk has gone on to play with NOLA super group Down and Kingdom of Sorrow, alongside Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed and Derek Kerswell. On February 8th, Crowbar will release its ninth studio album, entitled Sever The Wicked Hand, Crowbar’s first studio album in over six years . While gearing up for a tour with Down, only to go back out on the road with Crowbar for a month long tour billed as The Metal Alliance Tour, Kirk had a chance to speak with Sonic Excess, a name that this site blatantly ripped-off from Crowbar’s album title with the same name, for an honest and insightful interview.
Sonic Excess: Sever the Wicked Hand is Crowbar’s first album in six years. Did this recording take so long because of your commitments with Down and Kingdom of Sorrow, or have you been waiting for the right time to release?
KIRK WINDSTEIN: A little bit of both. It did take so long because of the commitments with Down and Kingdom, and coincidently, it was a good time to release it.
SE: When writing Sever the Wicked Hand, did you have to set-up outside the worlds of Down and Kingdom Of Sorrow entirely? Did you find yourself writing material that would be best suited for those bands?
WINDSTEIN: I didn’t have to step out of the Down and Kingdom worlds. After doing this for so long, it’s easy for me to change my mind set in a second. It’s not uncommon for me to write, or be involved, with all three bands in one day. So, I’m able to separate them.
SE: Was Sever the Wicked Hand the first album you wrote sober? Was it therapeutic?
WINDSTEIN: It was. I mean every Crowbar guitar riff ever written was recorded sober. When it came to singing, I would be pretty tanked. Instead of getting a sore throat with the style I sing, it’s more comfortable bringing an ice chest full of beer in the booth. Singing sober, I never had done it. If it takes me two or three hours to record vocals, I would pound beers the whole time, and I would have a nice buzz by the time it was over. It took a little adjusting doing it sober. I guess I mistakely thought that alcohol brought out emotions; I would get more emotional vocals, because I was pounding beer. I found it was a false emotion. Once I became comfortable with my singing, I loved it. It’s been six months tomorrow since my sobriety and a lot to learn. I have reprogrammed my entire way of thinking on everything. I mean, I’m not a poster boy or anything like that. To each his own, and you have to live and lean. People are always asking about what I think about young kids experimenting. It’s normal. They are going to. Unfortunately, people are going to die from it, but that life, a dark part of life. Each person has do decide what’s best for them. To me, it was like “Why am I a slave to this shit. Why does everything revolve around beer o’clock?” Normally, if I would have press days, I would find any excuse on God’s green earth to drink. “Ohh I’m going to be doing interviews from 12:00 to 6:00”, and I would say the same shit over and over again. “Ohh fuck it. I’m going to get a case of beer and make it fun”. I realized the world does not revolve around beer. It’s difficult because down here in New Orleans, its available 24-7, 365 at any place you go. That’s what makes it hard. I had issues with cocaine years ago, and it’s the easiest drug to get off of. Erase the fucking coke dealer’s number from your phone, and stop going to the bars where you know it’s at. So, no big deal; there goes coke. But, trying to deal with alcohol, beer especially, it’s almost sacrilegious not having beer watching a football game.
SE: Jamey (Hatebreed/Kingdom of Sorrow) hasn’t drank in years, and I know Rex (Down/EX-Pantera) had to give it up recently.
WINDSTEIN: Jamey hasn’t drank in 5 years. On football days, we get what we call fake bombed on O’Doul’s, and it kind of gives you a placebo buzz. To me, it does taste pretty damn close to a real beer. Before I quit, I literally drank a case a day, chasing a buzz that wasn’t going to happen.
SE: Congratulations, and it really shows on …
WINDSTEIN: Thank you. I appreciate that.
SE: Working with bands like Kingdom and Down, how has that had a positive impact on your songwriting?
WINDSTEIN: When you surround yourself with talented people, something is going to rub off, something good. It’s just a side effect of working with talented people. It’s only natural that they rub off on me, and I rub off on them. So, it’s good for everybody.
SE: For Sever the Wickhand, Crowbar released through E1. Why did you not release with Housecore Records (Phillip Anselmo, Down/EX-Pantera frontman’s record label)? It seems many of the NOLA metal bands are under Phillip’s label now.
WINDSTEIN: It was my original intention to release the record though Housecore, but we will release stuff though Housecore like a live album we have ready to go. When we decided to do the Housecore thing, Down was my 100% band, at that time, and Crowbar became a side project. Down’s schedule started to slow down a bit, no pun intended, but it became a situation were I needed to do this on a big label that is established, has the resources, and the know how to promote it. To me, we have the best of both worlds with E1 in the US and Canada, Century Media in Europe, and with Housecore Records that we can release vinyl and do the underground in-house type stuff. So, to me, it’s the best of both worlds.
SE: The Metal Alliance Tour featuring Crowbar, St. Vitus, and Helmet will be touring the states in late March and April. How did this line-up come to fruition, and how influential was St Vitus for you?
WINDSTEIN: We had been speaking about doing the tour with St. Vitus and talked about getting Pentagram with a couple of other bands. We have had this planned since the summer. They (St. Vitus) came out at a time when there was nothing going on like them. To me, they took the (Black) Sabbath thing, the early Sabbath years and put a twist on it. When I saw them from the get-go, I thought they were great. I loved the doom and the slowness, and the fact that they had the balls to do it. They never gave a fuck what anyone ever thought about it. They did what they wanted to do, and that’s to be highly respected.
SE: Kingdom of Sorrow will be on the Mayhem Festival. Will you be on the tour also?
WINDSTEIN: Absolutely, 100%!
SE: I went to a couple of the shows and thought, “WOW, Kirk looks a lot like the guy from Type-O-Negative”.
WINDSTEIN: And thank god for Kenny (Hickey of Type-O-Negative). I wanted to do it, but I got home from Spain and my drinking just got out of hand. I wanted to do it, but Jamey (Jasta) and Phil (Anselmo) were like absolutely not. They both got me on the phone and just said look, you need to get your fucking live in order. For me, the downward spiral started, and it was all my fault, being over worked, being tired, and being lonely. All I did was tour, tour, tour, and record whatever. With Down, Phil doesn’t like to do more then three shows in a row because of his voice. With Crowbar, I just did 23 in a row. I don’t like days off. I like to play music. With Down, we would have three or four days off in Europe, and I would be fucking bored. I’m there to play music and fucking jam. I’m not there to be a tourist. It got to be where I would spend all the time at the hotel bar, and it got to be like, “What the fuck is happening?” It got to the point where I would wake up with the shakes, and I needed a drink. I got to the point where I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was ridiculous. I needed a lifestyle change.
SE: Has being clear-headed given you a new appreciation for everything?
WINDSTEIN: Yeah, this whole experience has been great. I have fallen in love with music again, because that’s all I have on that side of things. I don’t have the party side of it anymore. It’s music and business, and that’s a positive thing. Like I said, I got up at 5:30 this morning, and it’s all business. I jump on the computer, and, at that time in the morning, it’s 12:30 in the afternoon in Germany or 11:30 in the UK. So, the emails are always flying in from overseas, and that’s my schedule. I get up at 5:30AM, instead of going to bed at 5:30 in the morning everyday.
SE: I interviewed Rex recently and he said that Down would be releasing new material in “bundles” once everyone gets the “mindset”. Are the upcoming Down shows to familiarize everyone again?
WINDSTEIN: I think so. It’s put a fire under our collective asses to get the Down vibe going again. We have some ideas floating around. Down just has a way of taking it’s time, and that’s the nature of the band. Obviously, we have dates coming up, so we are going to talk and figure out a game plan.
SE: Several songs have been written. I heard it is going to be comparable to NOLA. Is that accurate?
WINDSTEIN: I think that’s accurate. The ideas we have in mind, and the approach we have taken to the writing, it’s simple stupid and don’t over think. That’s how it was in the beginning. In the beginning, it was for just us, and then, Jesus Christ it’s a real band and selling tickets, records, and tons of merch. Then, it was the normal stress of trying to top what we did before and trying to stay relevant. None of that shit was there in the beginning. I think we are literally back to square one, and we are doing this for us. I’m very proud of what we did with Down II and Over the Under, and I stand by them, but I think we are at a point with Down where we are like, “Ya know what, let’s start out simple, heavy and let Phil sing his balls out.”
SE: Can we expect new Down material in 2011?
WINDSTEIN: Yes, I would be very surprised if we don’t.
SE: I gotta ask you one stupid question. How did you end up as the Incredible Hulk, trashing the dressing rooms at a Pantera show?
WINDSERIN: One word and two syllables, Dimebag! We had talked about it one night over many many beers and Black Tooth shots. He said, “Why don’t we dress you up like the hulk and have you bash a bunch of shit up.” I thought, “Fucking great. Give me another shot.” We were playing Eagles Auditorium in Milwaukee, and we got off stage and walked into our dressing room… actually, I looked to my right, while I was on stage, and saw Dimebag grinning, and I just thought, “Ehhh something’s up.” As soon as I walked off stage, he took me into the dressing room with makeup, a wig, eyebrows, and the whole nine yards. He had a bunch of people backstage ready to roll. Literally, they dressed me up before Pantera hit the stage. I came out for did “Fucking Hostile” with them and bashed everything up afterwards. It was fun.
SE: I must have seen that three or four times before I figured out it was you.
WINDSTEIN: A lot of people did. Kids will sometimes ask, but it was definitely memorable. Thankfully, it was captured on video and will be on YouTube forever.
SE: On a serious note, how has the oil cleanup been going? Has a sense of normalcy returned to the gulf?
WINDSTEIN: It’s normal. I was in Europe for a majority of it, over the summer with Crowbar and Down, before it was fixed. So, I was away from the everyday news about it. For the most part, it seems like things are kind of back to normal. They are still out cleaning it up. Who know how long it’s going to take. We were in England, and we stopped at a BP. Our driver wanted to fill up, and we said, “Fuck no.” I’m not putting BP fuel in this buss. Fuck them. We have a BP down here, not far from the house. It’s the only one by us. They are lucky it didn’t get blown up, but it’s out of business now, and that’s a good thing.
SE: How does it feel to be a source of influence for the new generation of bands Black Tusk and HAARP?
WINDSTEIN: It’s cool. Anytime anybody digs what we’re doing, it’s cool, whether we do it for ourselves, or for people to enjoy.
SE: Any last words? Anything you want to say or anything you want to get off your mind?
WINDSTEIN: Thanks to all the Crowbar fans and supporters over the first 20 years. Let’s keep rocking. Get out and support metal and all music. People don’t understand the mindset of what’s going on. They really don’t understand that people are going to make music for themselves, if the industry continues to keep going the way it’s going. They think it’s cool that they can illegally download your shit, but keep doing it and watch what happens. I’ll make my own fucking music to listen to and give to my friends, whatever. I’ll sell it myself online. If shit doesn’t clear up in the next five years, I think we are going to be pretty fucked. People think it’s all fun and games. They think it’s the easiest job in the world, and they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s a great job, but it’s how I make my living, pay my bills, and how we feed our families.
SE: Then, the same people bitch about high ticket prices.
WINDSTEIN: No one makes money selling records anymore, unless it’s fucking Lady Gaga or Eminem. I like Lady Gaga by the way, and no disrespect to either of them, but regular bands like us don’t make money from selling records anymore. You wonder why the price of the merchandise is the way it is.? Number one, you gotta print it up; number two, most venues have a tax. They will charge 20% in a lot of venues. If people don’t want to pay for a concert ticket, they will watch you on YouTube. Years from now, bands will be doing pay-per-view concerts once a year and that will be it. That said, thanks to everyone who has supported Crowbar and real music, and fuck you to those who don’t!