Kirk Windstein : “We are what we are”

A few weeks ago, Metal Sucks published « 15 things you didn’t know about Kirk Windstein » written by Kirk himself. We are about to learn a 16th fact about him. After interviewing him (at different times throughout the day to avoid scientific exhaustion), studying him and performing a series of brain numbing calculations, we have come to the following conclusion: Kirk Windstein is constantly awake. Whatever time it is, he is out of bed and constantly yawning (proof on video).

It’s clear to say that Kirk is always his natural self. This explains his self-assured comments on the raw quality of Down’s latest live album: “It wouldn’t have been right to re-master it”. The fact that he is so rigorously spontaneous, to the extent that they never considered re-touching Phil Anselmo’s mediocre vocals on this album, is respectful proof honesty. This comment isn’t even out outweighed by a statement such as “we are what we are”, using the same freedom of speech he chose to employ whilst describing his relationship with alcohol and recent sobriety.

Kirk also admits having fully exploited Down’s commercial potential in order to, I quote, “pay the bills” and by placing Crowbar on standby to achieve this. This absence, which provoked such a following, explains the excitement surrounding the release of their excellent latest album Sever The Wicked Hand. A new page has been turned and the guitarist predicts a busy future for his three bands Down, Crowbar and Kingdom Of Sorrow.

« I like good hip hop a lot but a lot of the modern stuff is just crap, so I don’t really like it. But I like anything except this formulated, lip-synching, teeny bop crap that just has no place in music.« 

Radio Metal : The last time we had an interview with you, in April 2008, you had 5 songs ready for Crowbar. So how come it took you another 3 years to write 7 new songs and put the album out?

Kirk Windstein (guitar/vocals) : Basically I was just busy, my priority was Down and touring with them. It’s a time consuming thing and out of the five songs that I had back in 08, I probably threw two in the garbage and re-wrote them, so it’s just a matter of the timing you know. I’ve been so busy with Down, all over the world, for the last four and a half years so when I find some time for Crowbar and I’m in the Crowbar world, I can think very quickly. I’m just happy that it’s done and it came out great and now we’re all good. I’m very happy to have the record, I’m very proud of it and I’m very happy that it’s done.

Last year Crowbar played numerous shows, most of them in Europe. Did you feel that the crowd have been missing the band? I know that many were delighted with your show at Hellfest festival…

Hellfest was great but it does seem that way. It seems that the fans are interested in Crowbar more than ever, which is great. It’s been very cool. The response to the new record has been great and the reviews are great. You know there are a lot of people who are interested in Crowbar right now, which for me is obviously a wonderful thing.

Exactly 6 years separates Sever The Wicked Hand from its predecessor and both were out on the same day, the 8th of February. Is this just a coincidence?

Yeah that’s a coincidence (laughs).

6 years is a long time, but what exactly motivated you to revive Crowbar right now?

Some of it had to do with the interest in Crowbar. We supported Sepultura in April of 2010 and then over the summer when we did Hellfest and we did twenty four shows in a row, doing open air festivals and headlining clubs. Because of the interest in Crowbar it was like “wow!” and so we thought let’s do a record and see what happens. It has been overwhelmingly positive so it has been really cool.

Did you feel any pressure from the other band members, were they eager to get back on stage and do a new record?

They were but at the same time they understood that I’m busy with Down and Kingdom of Sorrow as well. I just told them to be patient and it was… (big yawn) excuse me. I’ve had a long couple of days doing nothing but business… It can be fun but it’s tiring. Anyway, no, the guys understood you know what was going on and I just told them to be patient, because it would to be worth the wait and they were all like “wow” when I showed them everything and we pieced the songs together. They thought it was great and I think that everyone was pleased so they had no problem waiting to put out Sever The Wicked Hand since it came out so good and we are all so very proud of it.

Steve Gibb left the band in 2009. What was the reason for his departure? Could it be because he couldn’t ait anymore for the band to get back on track?

No. Steve lives in Miami which is a very far drive, 17 or 18 hours away by car and a plane flight away. It worked for a good while but Steve got really into training, like working out so he became a certified trainer and opened his own gym and began his own business. We speak all the time, we are great friends and he’s great friends with all our guys in the band. But he’s got a wife, two kids, a house and now that he has his own business; as much as we would love to have him, it just didn’t make sense for him to be in the band any longer, especially not living out here in New Orleans.

You have often expressed your pride to hear young bands cite Crowbar as their main influence. Is it important to you, to see your work respected and highly valued by the new generation of musicians?

It has become important to me because I had never thought about it, maybe only when I was starting the band you know. For the first… (another big yawn) excuse me again… For the first few records, I never thought much about people being influenced by it or whatever, but then a couple of years ago, all of these bands started talking about Crowbar and how much they loved and it became very important so I was impressed. I don’t need it for my ego, it just makes me proud and it makes me realise that what I’m doing is not – even though we are not huge commercially and I’m not getting rich off of it – it’s well worth doing it because it’s obviously influencing bands and bringing people joy listening to the music. And that is what it’s all about you know. That is what people who love music want to do.

Can you find me a band that cites Crowbar as their influence but you really hate their music?

There aren’t many bands where I can say that I hate their music. I mean I try to find something good in everything. There are things that are not to my taste or that are not my type of music, but you can’t please everyone, nothing was made for everyone to enjoy or like. There are certain styles of music that I really don’t like. I mean I don’t like techno stuff. I like good hip hop a lot but a lot of the modern stuff is just crap, so I don’t really like it. But I like anything except this formulated, lip-synching, teeny bop crap that just has no place in music. That’s probably the only type of music that I don’t like.

I can hear you yawning, why are you so tired?

I get up before dawn every day. Lately, it’s because I’ve had so much work. I’m leaving for a UK tour tomorrow and every day there have been one hundred emails and interviews all day so I’m very busy. You know, I feel really good and I just got home, I’ve been doing interviews all day long and running errands. Life’s been going out, doing grocery shopping and working out, all that kind of stuff and I’m sitting in the car all day. In fact I just sat on my couch at home so it’s probably because of that. I probably just need to stand back up (laughs). As long as I’m moving I’ll be fine.

Too many interviews for today?

It’s ok though. I’ve got two more and this is number seven.

« I honestly think that if I only had Crowbar and that I released a new record every year and a half so I would have about fifteen records by now, I think that it probably wouldn’t be as good as it is.[…] You can’t put a time limit on creativity or you won’t come out with the best product. Obviously, the stupid thing like Axl Rose taking 9 or 10 years or something like that to release Chinese Democracy, I mean that is ridiculous, especially since he wasn’t doing anything else.« 

Do you think that the long pause in the band’s activities these past years helped increase the band’s legendary status by creating need amongst the audience? It’s a phenomenon that we often see; when a band is absent from the scene for long enough, it gains a kind of cult status…

I think so. I think that it did us some good to sit back. I mean, I didn’t do it intentionally but when you think back at it that way, I think that it was probably a positive thing to not put out anything new and to let people talk about it. I’ve done interviews with guys who are like “I just love the new record and I love the band and I only just found out about you maybe two or three years ago”. It’s kind of crazy but it’s good you know. If you can make new fans everyday then you’ve accomplished something very important. I think that stepping away from it, concentrating on Down and putting out a couple of Kingdom records in between really let the whole Crowbar thing and the mystic of it build up. A lot of people were talking about it and a lot of people were looking forward to the record, so I think that it’s a great thing.

Do you think that it is a good rhythm for a band? All bands should wait a good 3, 4, 5 or 6 years before releasing a new album?

No I don’t think that it’s a good idea. I had no choice. I mean, I had no time. I was so busy with Down. It simply became that Down was my main band so I was busy doing that. When I wasn’t busy doing that, I was so tired and so I wanted to be away from it. I didn’t want to be away from music, but just to have a break while I was at home. I didn’t need to deal with everything; I just needed a break so you know. But I wouldn’t suggest it for other bands to do that.

Do  you think that there is some kind of universal way of entertaining people with the band’s activities, if there is a good rhythm to release new albums or tour etc.

I think that it works differently for every band. For example, bands like Metallica, obviously they are huge and for them it works to take long breaks. For other bands, it’s good that they put out a record every year and a half you know. I think that it depends on the individual band, I really do. With Crowbar, for the longest time we were in that rhythm of putting out a record every year or year and a half and then as things came in with Down in 2002, that kind of put a halt to my rhythm. But that was fine because of what happened with Down and how successful it has been. Right now, I’m at a point where I would like to be in a rhythm with all three of my bands, I want to be doing Crowbar, Down and Kingdom of Sorrow constantly. Not overkill, not running myself ragged or making myself crazy with it but keeping it going at a nice rhythm.

So do you think that if you just had the band Crowbar and not the other bands then you would perhaps release more albums? Do you think that these albums might not be as good as they are?

I honestly think that if I only had Crowbar and that I released a new record every year and a half so I would have about fifteen records by now, I think that it probably wouldn’t be as good as it is. I think that it sounds cheesy to say that it’s art and that art takes time but it’s the truth. You can’t put a time limit on creativity or you won’t come out with the best product. Obviously, the stupid thing like Axl Rose taking 9 or 10 years or something like that to release Chinese Democracy, I mean that is ridiculous, especially since he wasn’t doing anything else. But in general, I think that if you’re not feeling it, like with Down we kind of step away from it and we all get that spark. You need to be in the right mood and have the right feeling. Musically, emotionally, mentally it all has to be there for you to make the best music that you can make. You can’t just force it and say “ok we are going to make a record, we are going to start writing now and then in two months we will enter the studio”. For me, I don’t think that you would come out with a good product.

« I’m learning how to live my life without drinking every day, even if it’s not to get drunk, just drinking to relax in the evening and I’m also learning how to not to do drugs or anything and I’m enjoying life you know. It’s good.« 

Apparently many songs on Sever The Wicked Hand detail various aspects of your sobriety process. Has writing about it helped you with this process?

Absolutely, that’s my therapy. I don’t really go to therapy or anything, writing the music, playing the music; that has become my therapy. I think that it’s a very positive thing. It has been for me, I know that.

Isn’t it a bit difficult to stay sober as a metal musician? I mean alcohol is everywhere in this environment and I’m sure that many fans often want to buy you a drink…

Yeah I mean they do, it is difficult. It can be difficult you know to stay sober. I mean I’ve only sober not even quite 9 or 6 months you know. But for me it’s more or less… I’ve already, if you want to say maybe… I’ve already jumped into the fire. I’ve already done 9 out of 30 shows sober with Crowbar. That’s 30 shows in venues with alcohol and everybody, like all of the fans, who are drunk, trying to buy you beers or whatever. It’s like, I’ve done that. It gets easier every time because I’ve been doing it. It is difficult. I mean, in reality the perfect way to do it is to simply go from your hotel or tour bus to the stage, walk on stage, perform and then leave you know. That would be the best way to stay out of harm’s way so to speak. But for me I’ve been able to jump in the fire and accept it and deal with it. And it is hard at times but it’s what I need to do. I needed to step away from this and change my life around. That’s what my goal was. Will I drink again? I don’t know. I’m not drinking today and I’ve learnt to love and really enjoy performing sober which is something that I know no matter what. Even if I do in years to come or whatever, I might go back to drinking beer after the show or something maybe. I’ve learnt that you play better, you sing better and you enjoy the show better if you are doing it with a clear mind you know.

Do you think that being sober in the metal scene and in life in general is something that is accepted? Do people make fun out of you because you just want to drink Coke or orange juice or etc?

Well if they want to then they can laugh but they also have to realise that I’ll be 46 years old in April you know. I mean I have been drinking legally in New Orleans, I’ve been drinking every week-end since I was 18. (Starts counting) That’s 18… 28… 38… I’m going on 28 years of drinking. It’s not that I’ve had enough; it’s just that I’ve learned. So if they want to laugh because I’m having a Diet Coke, then so be it because they haven’t seen or experienced the dark side of drugs and alcohol abuse the way that I have and the way that I’ve seen friends and lost friends due to it. The people who have died, their health has given out or whatever it might be. You know, if they’re my age and they see all of that and they still laugh at it, then I think that they are foolish. Everyone has to experience it for themselves. I wouldn’t suggest to someone who is 20 years old to go “oh you need to stop drinking right now!”. You need to find out and you need to live it, you know, and hopefully it won’t bring you something bad. I have a lot of fun, but at the same time, when the bad outweighs the good, which is a point that I got to a long time ago, then for me it makes sense that it’s time to stop.

Maybe that’s the danger because those people don’t realise that you really don’t need to drink again so they still say to you “oh go on, just have one drink” but they don’t realise that you can’t even have one drink because they think that only one drink is not bad you know?

Well for me it’s not one, it’s many. You never know. I have plenty of friends who have successfully stepped away from drinking for a long period of time and then you realise that there is so much more to life than getting loaded or getting fucked up. That’s what I’m in the process of doing. I’m in the process of re-learning how to live life without alcohol or recreational drugs. I’m learning how to live my life without drinking every day, even if it’s not to get drunk, just drinking to relax in the evening and I’m also learning how to not to do drugs or anything and I’m enjoying life you know. It’s good.

Would you say that you enjoy life better since you have been sober?

Absolutely! Let me put it this way: I enjoyed certain aspects of my life but the majority of it was not happy and that’s when it became a problem. It didn’t become a problem overnight; I didn’t become immediately an alcoholic. It built up over 25 years. Playing music and being in bar rooms every night or whatever. It just got to be to the point where I just said “you know what, this is not fun anymore”. I go to bar rooms and I drink the non-alcoholic beers that they have. They taste like beer or close to beer but they don’t have alcohol in them, and I can have those and mingle with my friends while they are drinking the real thing. Then I look at them getting drunk and I’m like “Jesus! I can’t believe that I’ve been like that so many thousands of times!” you know. I don’t desire to be that way anymore.

Do you that perhaps young people nowadays don’t know how to have fun without drinking?

Yeah but you know what, that’s how it was when I was young too. I think that you have to learn. It’s like everyone glamorises the partying, and hey it is fun, I mean fuck I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t you know! (laughs) But you know, some people can do it forever and a lot of people die from it, and I don’t want to be one of those people. For me, I have lived the negative side of it so I know what it can do. I’ve lived it myself, I’ve seen my friends live it and it’s not a pretty thing you know. So to the young people: you have to live and learn. I mean I don’t preach, I don’t want to tell young people to not… I’ll say don’t drink and drive, don’t try hard drugs or whatever, because that’s the kind of thing that can kill you or kill someone else immediately. But as far as people drinking and deciding if they enjoy it or not, or drinking and decided it they are going to have a problem with it, well you just have to experience it you know.

« Down was my main thing for years and it was my life because to be honest, it is a much bigger band. And to make a living with the music, I had to where the band would be bigger to make more money, pay the bills and survive as a musician.« 

It was announced a while ago that Crowbar’s back catalogue was going to be re-released under Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Records, as well as a new live album. When are they coming out exactly? I guess it would have been a good idea to make it coincide with the release of the new album…

Well I think that we have finished up with it. The live record was recorded a while ago, but I think that we are going to do two never released songs on the record as well so we will probably try to do that when we get back from the UK. It will be some time in February that we’ll try to knock up these new songs and try to have everything packed up and hopefully get it out by the summer you know. Then the back catalogue will start coming out little by little over the course of time.

Can we expect any bonuses on the re-releases?

Not the re-releases themselves, but on the live record which has never been released, we will have a few additional tracks. We are going to write two more tracks for the record, but not for the re-releases. We just want to get them out because they are still difficult to find and they have been illegally re-released by so many record companies around the world for so long. For it’s just to get the stuff out through Phil, that way we know it’s out there, we know that we are going to get paid for it properly, we’re not going to get screwed over and that will be a good thing you know.

The last time that we had an interview with you, you stated that Down was your business and your career and that the rest, including Crowbar, was just for fun. Why wouldn’t Crowbar also be your career today? This band was actually your career many years before Down…

Today it is part of it. Now Crowbar, Kingdom Of Sorrow and of course Down are all my business and my career. Down was my main thing for years and it was my life because to be honest, it is a much bigger band. And to make a living with the music, I had to where the band would be bigger to make more money, pay the bills and survive as a musician.

Have the popularity of Down somehow dictated the fact that you put more of yourself into Down lately?

No lately really. Now I’m putting everything into Crowbar but at the same time, we are writing stuff for Down and I’m talking to Jamie every day about Kingdom Of Sorrow stuff, so I am going to be involved equally in all three bands.

In 2009, Phil Anselmo announced that Down had planned to put out an EP. However, in the end this EP never saw the light of day. Why not?

It’s just because the timing wasn’t right. I mean we have enough songs for two or three EPs right now you know. So we’ve been talking about it and starting to play shows again come February and hopefully people will see it very soon.

« Nous aurions pu faire comme tout le monde et retoucher, il aurait rechanté, on aurait re-mixé ou quelque chose comme ça. Mais pour quoi faire ? De nos jours, tu n’as pas besoin de talent, tu n’as pas besoin de savoir chanter ou de jouer d’un instrument parce que tu peux tout arranger électroniquement. Mais nous sommes un groupe old-school, et ce n’était vraiment pas une option. « 

Last year Down released a live album entitled Diary Of A Mad Band. On this live album Phil’s voice is not very in tune. But you are not the kind of guys to go back into the studio and re-record some parts for a live album, are you?

No that’s the whole thing; it’s a true live record. I mean 99 percent of the records that you hear out there, people go back and they fix the voice or the guitar solo and it’s really not meant to be a live record, it’s a live DVD. When you are watching and listening to it, it doesn’t sound nearly as raw. But when you listen to the audio alone, it does sound very raw but we didn’t think it would be right to fix it you know. That’s what it is. Down are a raw rock’n’roll band, it is not perfection; we are not Dream Theater or whatever. That is not what we set out to do. So what it is, is what it is.

So you were not frustrated that the voice on this live album is not very good?

No not at all. It is what it is you know. Like I said, we could have done like everyone else does and we could have fixed it, he would have re-sang it, we could have re-pitched it or whatever. But why do that? Nowadays, you don’t need any talent, you don’t have to be able to sing or play or sing because you can fix everything and re-pitch it all. But for us, we’re an old-school band you know and that just was not an option.

A friend of mine who is a big fan of Phil Anselmo once told me that he saw Down a few years ago and Phil was completely sober and he was a really good singer, but for him, it wasn’t really Phil because for him he needs to be completely drunk, crazy and not singing as well. Do you agree with that?

No I don’t. There was a certain period of his life when that was the way he was, but he’s grown from that. I understand where your friend is coming from, but at the same time, the bottom line is that he is singing great now. He’s not completely sober you know. He likes to smoke his weed and have a couple of beers, but I mean come on, he’s sober when he’s on stage and he is performing better than ever now. I mean he is singing so much better now, and that was recorded back in 2006 you know. It was only 6 or 7 months after the back surgery and he wasn’t nearly back to full form. When we heard it and so it we thought “wow he is so much better than this now” but we thought that this must be what the fans want to see.

I think that what he meant was that when he saw the band that day, he felt that Phil was too quiet and he prefers live shows like in Diary Of A Mad Band where Phil is completely crazy and it doesn’t matter if he sings or not.

Yeah I know what he means because I’m that way with certain bands too you know. But it is what it is so I’m just proud of everything that we’ve done and I like to think that all of my bands continue to grow as live bands as well as song writing bands and as musicians. For me it’s never fixed. It’s not necessarily broken but it’s never fixed. It’s a constant work in progress.

By the way, when is the next Down album coming out?

I don’t know. We have a bunch of stuff ready to record, we have talked about it and we will probably start recording in February or something. When it gets out will be whenever, since we don’t really have a deadline or a time frame on it.

How many songs do you have?

We have a list of 13 or 14 songs. It’s just a matter of putting them together and figuring out which ones are best. We have so many songs that we haven’t even touched upon that have been lying around for years that are really good. We are just looking for a time to use them. With Down it’s very easy because you have five guys who write, so coming up with new songs is not difficult at all.

Interview conducted by phone by Spaceman & Metal’O Phil in january, 2011.
Transcription : Izzy’ & Sandra

Crowbar’s Website : www.crowbarmusic.comr
Down’s Website : www.down-nola.com
Kingdom Of Sorrow’s Myspace : www.myspace.com/kingdomofsorrow

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