The Finely Balanced, Multi-Purpose Tool of Metal... That Never Dies
CoC chats with Kirk Windstein of Crowbar
by: Paul Schwarz
Their history now clocks in at a veteran-status-worthy twelve years and still the heavy but infectious tones of Crowbar haven't caught on in a big way. Still, Crowbar have seen enough trends come and go to not let ambition get in the way of their appreciation of where they have got to. New album _Equilibrium_, on Spitfire / Eagle Rock [reviewed in this issue], amply displays Crowbar's lack of care for what others are doing, but more importantly exemplifies the kind of quality riffed-up, beefy, and sludge-tinged metal they can produce. On their recent trip to Britain, a few days before they flattened me senseless at the Underworld [see Chaotic Concerts for review], I caught up with guitarist and vocalist Kirk Windstein to talk about personnel changes, musical direction and the musical history of their native New Orleans, among a few other intriguing topics. Here's the story from the man who aspires to be "The Lemmy" of his generation.

CoC: You've sort of taken a bit of a different direction from _Odd Fellows Rest_ [CoC #33]. Last time you went in for a more melodic, more traditionally song-structured approach; Todd Strange compared it to AC/DC. This one is a bit more like _Broken Glass_ or _Crowbar_.

Kirk Windstein: It's kind of more raw than the last one -- I really like _Odd Fellows Rest_ a lot, I really do. Some of the changes that we made on _Odd Fellows Rest_ -- songs like "Odd Fellows Rest" and "Planets Collide", which is one of my favourites that we've ever done -- I've tried to take some of the good melodic and positive things in the songwriting that were really good on _Odd Fellows Rest_ but also throw it back, like you said, to some of the older shit and make it a little more raw and aggressive. I mean, it's got its mellow moments as well but it's definitely more aggressive; songs like "Down Into the Rotting Earth" are fuckin' heavy. I love it, it's killer.

CoC: It's got a lot more of that groove there. It's quite a good mixture, because "Dream Weaver" is very much in the "Planets Collide" kind of vein.

KW: Right, like "Command of Myself" is one that everybody at first was kind of weird on and now they're really into it -- I like it a lot. It's cool because we made a couple of changes beginning with "Nothing" on _Broken Glass_. That was the first song we ever wrote -that- way; melodic vocally. I really got bored with all the barking-type vocals thing. For some of the faster hard core ones it's cool, but for some of the riffs -- the riffs are getting more melodic even though they're really heavy --, it's better to do something melodic on vocals on top of it. We've been doing this shit for twelve years, we'd get bored doing the same thing over and over again. We always want to stay true to what Crowbar's about, but we feel that we've made subtle changes over the years that enable us to do different stuff now: to not feel like we can only play this one style. We can branch out and do some different stuff and it's cool.

CoC: It's made you into more of a -band-. Originally Crowbar was kind of like an oddity in the sense it was this incredibly heavy band with -big- guys in it from New Orleans and I think this album is very well-rounded. Again, along with that you've now moved on, you've got a new drummer and Sammy [Pierre Duet] is doing more writing. Do you think that affected the album a lot, did Sammy's contribution affect it much?

KW: Somewhat. I mean, we've got Craig [Nunenmacher, drums] back in, actually, from the first couple of records. Sammy definitely has some cool stuff to it. I wish he could do more, I mean he's so busy with all his other bands and that shit, but the stuff that he did do is very cool. Just him being in the band changes the approach to stuff a lot 'cause he's a really good player, so it's pretty happening.

CoC: With the tour you're doing with Eyehategod and Soilent Green, which is the same line-up of bands as it was in the States, they come from the same place...

KW: Right, fuckin' ten minutes away.

CoC: So is it really quite interesting going on tour with all these guys who you've known for so long.

KW: Yeah it makes it cool because number one, I love both of the bands and number two, you already know you're going to get along with the other bands -- otherwise you're always wondering whether these guys you're touring with are going to be assholes. We usually get along with everyone; we're pretty laid back, but it makes it cool. It's definitely going to be fun, because we're going to have fifteen people from New Orleans on the same bus. We'll probably be bombed the whole time, so it'll be cool.

CoC: How are things shaping up with Down?

KW: We've got a lot of stuff written. We've got ten songs of rough stuff written, nothing major at all. A couple of them are closer than others to being finished but we're definitely going to do it this year, maybe not record it but finish up all the writing and demo it and everything and maybe early next year or something, depending on the Pantera schedule, we'll fit it in for sure. Definitely, without a doubt we'll be doing another one, so I'm excited about that.

CoC: Lyrically, the album certainly comes from a different direction than you were coming from seven years ago...

KW: Yes.

CoC: _Crowbar_ is quite a lot about yourself. What would you describe this album as being about, generally?

KW: I mean a lot of it is still how it always has been. People are always like "Jesus, you must be one fucking depressed dude", or "Why is everything so doom and gloom?", and all this kind of shit. But if you really listen to the lyrics, in the past maybe they were that way, but now a lot of the stuff is more about -- it's -about- difficult times in your life or whatever, it's -about- going through rough shit and all, but it's always a positive message. Basically, the whole album is about finding strength in yourself to overcome whatever bullshit. It might be fuckin' old lady problems, drug problems, you ain't got no money, whatever it might be: it's about overcoming that and finding inside of you what you need to do, to be strong, to fuckin' get through it.

CoC: One thing I found quite bizarre was the twelfth track, the strange bluesy weird thing. How did it come about and what is it?

KW: You mean the thing after "Dreamweaver"?

CoC: Yeah.

KW: It's actually my friend Moon, who I've probably known since I was six years old. It was his birthday while we were in the studio. It's supposed to be "Anna Gotta Davida" by Iron Butterfly [Iron Butterfly fans correct me if I'm wrong on the spelling of this song --Paul] like <imitates chords in song>. He's like all bombed, like on three hundred pills, smokin' weed, he's bombed out of his mind. So we taped him. He's like all drunk tryin' to do the riff and then he starts singin' it. At the very end I grab the mike from him and say like one line or something. But basically Keith [Falgout], the producer, took his voice trying to do the guitar riff and then looped it underneath the vocal thing or whatever to make it like him singin' over his own guitar. It was supposed to be like twenty minutes after "Dream Weaver". It's just my friend drunk, on his birthday, a joke. It's just to let everyone know we're serious about what we're doing but we still like to have a good time.

CoC: Would you say as a band you feel any differently over the last twelve years or do you feel like you've just developed the same band? Have you ever consciously sat there and gone, "Right, we need to make Crowbar different"?

KW: Not for any reason other than our own sanity. You know, when things become stale it's like, let's do something different. I mean basically like the whole starting point was "Nothing" off of _Broken Glass_ and a few things on _Odd Fellows Rest_ were a lot different. A song like "Planets Collide", which is one of my favourite songs we have, we never would have done it. I mean, I wouldn't have presented it to the band four or five years ago. It wasn't a Crowbar song, but we made it into a Crowbar song. It's no longer got to be, you know, everything played on the bottom three frets and you're ready to kill yourself and all. You know, it doesn't -have to- be that way any more. We've grown, you know, as people, as musicians, everything. There's a lot more riffed up stuff than what used to be in the past, which we've always been capable of playing; we just strayed away from it for whatever reason. But I don't want to put any more barriers up on what we can and can't do. I want to be able to do whatever the fuck we want to do. As long as we write fuckin' good, original sounding, heavy shit, then it's Crowbar.

CoC: What are your thoughts on the Celtic Frost reunion?

KW: Really!?

CoC: Yeah, 'cause I remember two years ago you guys were at Milwaukee and you played "The Dawn of Megiddo" as a kind of compensation for the possible 'Frost reunion [that was rumoured early on in line-up possibilities to be happening --Paul] that never happened. They have reunited for an album and a tour theoretically sometime this year and of course they just re-released the 'Frost back-catalogue.

KW: Well, I mean, they were totally an early influence on what we did. I mean I don't know about all this Apollyon Sun, I haven't heard it, I've just read something with Tom Fischer recently and, you know, people change and there's nothing wrong with it. I still totally worship what they used to do. But I'm all for it, I hope if they do do it that they do the old shit and stay true to that and not do the _Cold Lake_ era and stuff, not one person I know likes it, they're all like sittin' they're tryin' to cut their wrists like "What the fuck happened?".

CoC: Well, when they did the re-issues they didn't re-issue _Cold Lake_ and Tom said that he'd never deny it was Celtic Frost but just that it wasn't -essential- Celtic Frost. It was just plain bad. They also said they would do the old shit. It's interesting, though, because Celtic Frost are very much an influential band to the whole black metal scene and they're all sort of done up in armour, but all these bands like yourselves and other very heavy, sludgy bands from New Orleans and around the States really like 'em and I'm curious why you think Celtic Frost are like this anomaly?

KW: I was just into them 'cause number one, it was an influence on Crowbar because they were extremely heavy but they weren't too thrashy or speed metal-ish, which I'm into -- I love fast, good shit --, it's just when we started Crowbar we were trying to go against the norm of the time which was playing double kick thrash shit. That wasn't Jim Bower's style at all when he was playing in the band, he was more of a John Bonham [Led Zeppelin]-type dude, which is my favourite drummer anyway, and Celtic Frost was one of the bands that stuck out, to me, as being super fuckin' heavy but without going two hundred miles an hour. To me, you could play as fast as you want, if you're not putting it from your heart and from your guts and your balls, you're not heavy. Heaviness is an emotion. It's a feeling. "Solitude" by Black Sabbath is one of the heaviest songs I've ever heard in my life and it's so fuckin' quiet. But it's fuckin' heavy. Loud doesn't make you heavy. Fast doesn't make you heavy. Slow doesn't make you heavy. It's an emotion. Whatever you do. Some bands people don't think are heavy I think are fuckin' heavy. Me an Jim [Bower, ex-drummer and Eyehategod guitarist] always say that. AC/DC are heavy. Angus Young full of fuckin' spit and sweat, all cut up and bleeding. He's into what he's doing: that's heavy.

CoC: I'd say the same thing about something like Rollins Band, which a lot of people would kind of downgrade as being "mainstream" or "rock" or whatever.

KW: Fuck no! If you're up there screaming your balls off it's fuckin' heavy. It's not about anything other than emotion. Whatever you pour out in your music; that makes it heavy. That's what we try. We really strive to do that in Crowbar. Try to sing with a lot of emotion, try to play, and it's from the heart and it's real. And, you know, that's just all there is to it.

CoC: You've been doing this now for twelve years. When you see bands like Slipknot or Korn who are twenty-odd years old and they make one or two albums and then get a number one in the States -- having done this for so long and done so many albums and having had a lot of fans who've really stuck with you for a long time, do you see Crowbar as ever suddenly becoming big now or do you just see yourselves as an underground band?

KW: Well, when we started doing what we were doing we never expected to get this far. So, you know, it's not like we're crying about the fact that we don't have a platinum record or something, but at the same time it makes me still be hungry to get somewhere because I think we deserve more than what we've got as far as a level we should reach. But I've no -problems- with it or anything. I mean, as far as the future, my goal, my main goal, when I started the band, was that if we could just get to where Motorhead is or something... You know, not like mainstream, not on the radio, not on MTV, not on none of this shit, but able to just go on for fuckin' twenty-five years. I want to be the Lemmy of my generation. I want to be fuckin' fifty years old and three hundred fuckin' pounds. Full of tatoos, drinkin' beer and fuckin' jammin' my balls off because that's all I know how to do. That's all I ever wanted to do -- I'd like to make a little more money --, basically be able to survive playing the music that I love to create and play and do it 'till I die, which hopefully is a long time down the road. That's all my goal was. We've been on MTV. I didn't even think stuff like that would happen. It's no big deal, we just want to jam, period.

CoC: With record labels, you started off on Pavement, which didn't work out, and the last two records you've moved and ended up on Spitfire/Eagle. It's a much bigger record label. Are you pleased to move onto a label with James Brown and Dio and Deep Purple?

KW: A friend of mine said it was funny we were on the same label with Dio and whatever, but I said so what, 'cause Pantera's on the same label with Whitney Houston or something, what's the difference? If it's a label that's got money to promote you and to push you properly and if it's got good distribution -- which are all things we've had problems with in the past -- I don't give a fuck who's on it. As long as they believe in Crowbar and they're cool -- and Paul Bebo, who's the president in America, is a good friend of mine and he's totally into the band, really believes in what we're doing. To him, this is our first record, it's a brand new record. He got the _Odd Fellows Rest_ album which he re-released and he's trying to get the rest of the back-catalogue, so we'll have it all under one fuckin' roof finally, where it belongs. And to him this is our first record because he says that's he's going to do things and promote things that we've never had done for us before. I mean, being on Pavement we could have put out _Led Zeppelin IV_ and it probably wouldn't have sold that well. You could've put out fuckin' Nirvana's _Nevermind_, you could put out an album that quality and no-one would know you fuckin' existed. I'm not saying if we were on fuckin' Columbia we would have sold five million, 'cause this is not for everybody. We know what we do is not for everybody. We don't make it for everybody.

CoC: Absolutely, but there are lots of bands out there who are doing similar things. The thing that's really annoying about the world is that there's a band who becomes popular, and then there'll be a band who does what they do, better, but they're on some small label.

KW: I know where you're coming from. The average music fans, they don't even really look, you basically have to drop it on their lap for them to really find it. People who are really into music, the hard-core fans, go out and search for the shit and find it and they find the bands that influence these other bands or whatever. I understand what you mean. Hopefully, by being on a new label, we can at least jump to the -next- level, which is totally within the realms of possibility. We recently did some shows in Hawaii, which was very cool. We had a really good time, got drunk, hit the water. I did an interview with the Honolulu newspaper or whatever and the lady's like saying, "Having been successful..." and I'm like "Back up: we never were successful". We have no place to go but up. I mean, we are an underground band, we've always been an underground band. To me, I haven't lost confidence in what we're capable of doing. I told her it would be one thing if we were like Poison, that ten years ago were selling five million records, playing arenas in America, and now they play the same clubs Crowbar plays. Then I'd be saying that something wasn't really too cool here, but as we've always played the same clubs and we've never got up to the next level we have no place to go but up: that's our attitude.

CoC: Back in '93/'94 when you were on MTV...

KW: Right, that was the biggest hype era of our career.

CoC: To be honest, I knew about you through that. Then I got into you 'cause I saw you play with Napalm Death, At the Gates and Face Down four years ago. That was the clincher. But I originally knew about you as "this band who knew Pantera". That's how people generally tend to pick stuff up, unfortunately. Kids don't read enough magazines or look around the underground.

KW: I don't blame them, but people don't go search long and hard to find good music, they basically accept whatever is dropped in their lap. That's the problem with the whole music scene. There's so many great bands that for the most part, as far as the general public's concerned, they don't even exist. There's tons of great bands who are like that, and not just in heavy music. I mean there's tons of great blues musicians or whatever who don't even get noticed until they're sixty-five years old. They've been doin' it since they're fifteen, ridin' in an old pick-up truck with a guitar and -finally- this guy's a great blues legend. What took everybody so long? He's been great for fuckin' fifty years. Not that I'm sayin' we're great, I'm just sayin' that's the way we perceive everything. It's like, we're on a new label and it is a new beginning. You don't know what's around the corner. All you can do is just continue to jam your balls off every time you play live, write good fuckin' original music -- we don't want to sound like anybody else, we just want to sound like Crowbar and we think we do a good job of that -- and just see what the hell happens. And that's all you can do... and drink beer. <we both laugh>

CoC: I think Crowbar has a lot of the feeling of blues. What you were saying about heaviness has a lot of resonance in terms of either bar-band blues or traditional Memphis blues. Would you say the legacy of New Orleans, even people like Dr. John and things like that...

KW: He's on our label too, I was just goin' through the back catalogue.

CoC: I got into him just recently when I got _Gris-Gris_ and it's not like it sounds the same, but it's got the same feeling of heaviness that you were talking about.

KW: Yeah, totally. We're subconsciously heavily influenced by all the New Orleans stuff, which is what we grew up on. On the radio, if I do have to listen to the radio, I'll listen to classic rock shit. I heard "Such a Night" the other day by Dr. John. Whenever it's Mardi Gras time, and there's crawfish bars, and parties and stuff like that, everybody listens to Dr. John and Neville Brothers and Funky Meters. That's what we grew up on. Since I was a little kid. I remember hearing all these Mardi Gras songs. I work for a sound company, Jim [Bower] actually works for it too, and we do the Neville Brothers sometimes, and we've done Dr. John. If you watch these motherfuckers -- fifty-five, sixty years old --, they jam their fuckin' balls off. They've been playing since they're fuckin' fifteen and they fuckin' smoke. You go watch Mean Willy Green, the drummer from the fuckin' Neville Brothers and your jaw will drop. This guy is so fuckin' awesome. These guys know how to lay it down and play in a pocket. And you can't help but get influenced by them. Especially the fact that they're a bunch of old fuckin' dudes. That makes it even more killer; they're playin' from their hearts.

CoC: It's great when older bands really show up bad new bands.

KW: Yeah, while we're on the subject, shit like the Neville Brothers and all, it took them until maybe the last eight years or ten years really to even get noticed and they've been around since the sixties. It took maybe 'till the late-eighties or early nineties for them to basically get noticed. The guy's fuckin' fifty some years old. It took that long for them to get noticed and they've been there the whole time doin' it. Every Saturday night playin' one of the clubs, doin' it for real. Sometimes shit takes a while to come around.

(article submitted 25/5/2000)

9/1/1998 P Schwarz Crowbar: From Behind the Black Horizon
4/19/2005 J Smit 8.5 Crowbar - Lifesblood for the Downtrodden
8/12/2001 A McKay 8.5 Crowbar - Sludge: History of Crowbar
5/25/2000 P Schwarz 9 Crowbar - Equilibrium
9/1/1998 P Schwarz 9 Crowbar - Odd Fellows Rest
8/12/1995 A Bromley 7 Crowbar - Time Heals Nothing
5/25/2000 P Schwarz Crowbar / Eyehategod / Soilent Green God Hating Human Beatings
3/14/1999 M Noll Bolt Thrower / Crowbar / Totenmond Zeus Himself Would've Been Proud
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