The Texas Independence Fest takes place March 4-6, and that marks two milestones of sorts: First, Southern dark, sludge metal supergroup Down is one of the bands playing (March 5 at The Cotton Gin in the town of Maxwell) after a couple of years off. Second, it means guitarist/singer Kirk Windstein is back doing what he loves.
New Orleans natives Down (Windstein, former Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, Corrosion of Conformity guitarist Pepper Keenan, ex-Pantera bassist Rex Brown, Eyehategod drummer Jimmy Bower) are hitting the road while working on a fourth album that follows 1995's NOLA, 2002's Down II: A Bustle in Your Hedgerow and 2007's Down III: Over the Under. All indications are the record will be out sooner than later and may even be previewed a bit at the Fest.
But that's not all that's going on in Windstein's world. The leader of longtime sludge metal act Crowbar will be playing SXSW at Dirty Dog Bar in Austin's 6th Street District on March 18 with his main band, sharing the stage with Saint Vitus -- one of Down's big influences -- and Helmet on the Metalliance tour.
Just the fact Windstein is playing again is a major victory.
Windstein, whose Kingdom of Sorrow project with Hatebreed singer Jamey Jasta isn't to be outdone, had to forego KOS' Ozzfest tour last summer due to some personal demons. Windstein, however, has not only overcome those struggles. He's forged ahead musically. Feb. 8 marked the release of Sever the Wicked Hand, Crowbar's first album since 2005.
Windstein, 45, discussed his bands, and his plight, when he phoned me last week:
Q: It's great to see the return of Down. How much are you guys looking forward to this Fest?
A: Very much, man, it's been a good while. We've been jamming a little bit. Phil came out and sang in practice the other day for the first time. We'd gotten together before and played a little bit but not really jammed that good.
Q: What's the progress of the new album?
A: It's kind of -- let's see. To explain that, it's kind of difficult. We have more than enough original songs that we think would make good material, but it tends to take time. We've recorded new material, and we'd like to play a couple songs out there, and fans obviously would want it as well. But it's moving along. We're trying to get something out as soon as we can.
Q: You go back nearly 20 years with Phil having produced one of the first Crowbar EP's, and several years with Rex as well. What were the initial conversations like in the early to mid-90s when you guys contemplated forming Down, as far as what the band would sound like?
A: Actually, me and Phil go back to being friends, I don't know, (to) 1983 or '84, and we were still kids. He was living in Texas. In Pantera, they were getting the idea rolling. Basically, Phil called Pepper. Me and Jimmy lived in the same apartment complex. And it just seemed to make sense: "Hey man, let's do a band that's influenced by Sabbath." But also Saint Vitus and Trouble that take a lot from Sabbath. In all honesty, the whole rest of '70s rock -- Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Let's do something different." We wanted to be able to grow and bring out all the influences that helped us get into music in the first place.