Interview with guitarists Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein
By Joshua Bottomley
Photos by Jodie Cunningham
When DOWN’s debut, NOLA, dropped way back in 1995, everyone thought it was a flash in the pan one-off by a stoned-out supergroup. Even if the members of The South’s “Big 4” (EYEHATEGOD, CROWBAR, C.O.C., and PANTERA) did manage to reconvene, they’d never come close to copying the doom inflected swagger of that seminal LP. Fortunately, everyone was wrong, and DOWN is still somehow going strong. So strong in fact, that their fourth LP won’t be a traditional album, but a series of four separate EPs, each exploring a different facet of DOWN’s southern style. The group’s axemen Kirk Windstein and Pepper Keenan took some time to talk with Hails and Horns about DOWN IV: Part 1 aka The Purple EP.
Gentlemen, who’s idea was it to release DOWN IV as a series EPs as opposed to a full-length?
KIRK: Someone threw out the idea and Phil [Anselmo, vocals] and Pepper were really high on it and then the rest of us were sold on it. It’s a fresh approach, all things considered, with the way the music industry is these days and how fickle the public is about buying the actual product. This way it’s more affordable. A lot of times if you put 10, 12, 13 songs up on iTunes, people won’t buy them all. This way we have an affordable EP and we can concentrate on one element of the DOWN sound at a time, and Part I is the heavy one.
PEPPER: I guess it started about a year ago. We had discussed the idea of doing records, but things are so different nowadays with the music industry. We were trying to figure out ways to worm our way out of obligations like that. We felt that we’d have more freedom on the back end with a series of EPs, because we can shift dynamics on the EPs and not have to worry about it being one cohesive record. If one EP is a mellow EP we can get away with that.
Part 1 reminds a lot of NOLA because it is so heavy. Did you feel that while you were writing and recording it?
PEPPER: Yeah. We didn’t do a lot of guitar overdubs, kept it super stripped down, kinda like the NOLA record. It’s not very elegant.
KIRK: We went back to the roots of what got us started in the beginning and went with a little looser and jam oriented vibe the way we did with the NOLA record. To me it was a lot more enjoyable to do it this way. We wanted a jam room vibe. We wanted people to feel like they were in the room with us with a joint or whatever, just feelin’ it. It’s a little more raw. Most bands these days are really trying to polish everything to the Nth degree. We took the opposite approach and just went old school.
Do you like to write and record the heavier songs as opposed to the more layered pieces?
KIRK: It depends on what mood we’re in, because there’s a lot of different elements to the DOWN sound. On Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow we brought in some elements that we had barely touched on. We brought in more bluesy, mellow, and acoustic things. We don’t like to be pigeonholed or have a genre tag put on us. We just wanna make killer music.
Why did you decide to call this The Purple EP?
PEPPER: No reason other than the color of the EP. It really has no name at all. It’s not supposed to have a name. It’s just EP number 1. I guess it’s just so people can identify it. I would assume that down the road people will end up calling it The Black Cross EP or whatever. The image that we come out with will make sense.
So the artwork will tie in across all the EPs?
PEPPER: Correct. That was kind of the idea, just another artistic edge.
Have you recorded songs for the other EPs already, or will you record them as you go along?