Down divide their palette into four pieces

Down certainly took their time to release a successor to III: Over The Under. And yet, the most malicious among us would say the reward is bittersweet, because said successor turns out to be Down IV Part I – The Purple EP, the first in a series of four EPs. The six tracks that make it up are said to “go back to the roots” by the band, even though the above-mentioned malicious people would say that Down never put their roots behind in the first place. The band is probably referring to the rawer, “muddier” aspect of this EP compared to its more polished predecessor, by the standard of the New Orleans stoner/sludge scene. “We don’t like to record our albums like ‘the L.A polish way’”, said Kirk Windstein, the band’s guitarist, when we met during the Motocultor Festival (France), where he was playing with his other band, Crowbar. “We prefer Phil’s home where we jam and drink some beers. This is the jam room vibe that we’re looking for”, he explains.

A year and a half ago, the same Kirk Windstein told us that the band already had a list of thirteen or fourteen songs, but he didn’t seem to know exactly what they were going to do with them. In truth, the possibility of releasing an EP to make people wait had been in the air since 2009. But “the timing wasn’t right”, he said to justify this delay. Four months later, we met the guitarist again. At this point, the band’s plans were much clearer: they had realized that the music industry was undergoing serious changes, and as a consequence, they were considering other options. The result is a series of four EPs, each with a distinct musical orientation. “It’s kind of gonna be one giant album”, said Pepper Keenan, Down’s other guitarist, who we interviewed a few weeks ago on the occasion of the record’s release. “It’s just that we have several different styles that we kind of want to meander into, so we’re gonna push it in different directions in the following EPs. […] We’ve been doing it for a while now, so we kind of have the whole thing mapped up.”

« We’d still be in the studio right now if we were working on a whole album. So the EP gives us more freedom to tour around and get new material out and not be so regulated with one giant record. »

As if trying to placate people’s concern regarding the lack of productivity within the band, Windstein, for his part, goes for the “less music, better quality” approach: “Instead of doing 12 songs on a one hour long record, you’ve got here the cream of the crop in 30 minutes. You’ll have the best of the band on every EP : no fillers, just killer tunes.” “There are six killer tunes on it, and it’s heavy.”, he adds regarding the first record in the series. Pat Bruders, the band’s new bassist who accompanies Windstein during our conversation, puts in: “Our concept will also be a collector’s thing: all four works will go together.”. Speaking of which, Windstein explains that all four EPs – that’s a grand total of twenty-four songs – could be released together in a special package when they’re all done.

But we’ll have to be patient. When we ask Windstein if one EP will be released every year, or even at a shorter interval, he answers: “Oh, I doubt that, dude. Maybe every year and a half.” In other words, Down will not get rid of the relatively slow release schedule they’re known for. In this respect, Phil Anselmo did mention that the fact they didn’t have to write sixteen to twenty songs in one go took a huge pressure off their shoulders. Down definitely looks like a band that has trouble finding the way to the studio and that feels much more at ease on stage.

Keenan explains Anselmo’s statement and confirms exactly what we suspected about their feeling towards the stage: “For Down, we worked – how many years? – four years on the last album, you know. So we decided that it would be a lot better for us if we didn’t put as much pressure on ourselves and do eight at a time. That way we can get back on the road and tour a while which we love to do anyway, and not be so strapped down. You know, we’d still be in the studio right now if we were working on a whole album. So the EP gives us more freedom to tour around and get new material out and not be so regulated with one giant record, you know? It makes sense for us and for our touring schedule.”

After pointing out that III: Over The Under is already five years old, Windstein adds that the bandmembers are all caught up with other projects, as well as long tours: “We don’t want that to happen again, but at the same time, Phil has done two albums with Arson Anthem since then, he’s got his own record label (Housecore records) and he produces lots of bands, he’s just finished his solo album, we put out a Crowbar record, so there’s a lot going on. We also toured a lot for Down’s last album: I think we played in more than 36 countries during two years!”

Pat Bruders: « Working with my friends, hanging out and having a good time with them is great. I can’t complain about anything. […] Phil [Anselmo] said to me: ‘Rex wants to go and do his thing, would you like to come along and play bass ?’, so I said yes. It worked out good. »

For his part, Keenan affirms that, for the bandmembers, “Down seems to be the main thing right now. Everyone seems to be focused on that”. He also explains that the overabundance of side-projects is not a necessity and happens naturally: “I think – especially down here in New Orleans – everybody in the scene plays lots of different stuff. It’s just something that we all do. We love music, period. Down happens to be one thing, but there’s lots of other things that everybody does.”. It allows them, among others, to do things that Down doesn’t necessarily allow from a musical point of view: “Phil’s got some extreme stuff that he wants to do on his side. I’ve got some weird bluesy acoustic stuff I’m working on”, he says, adding: “we know what Down’s supposed to do. So our main focus, for me personally, is revolving around Phil and his lyrical and singing capabilities”. However, he does admit that Down has been trying to push back their creative limits through the three upcoming EPs, compared to the one they’ve already released: “There’s certain things in Down, with the other EPs, that we’re gonna push and stretch out a little bit more in different directions, further on down the EP list. But for this first EP we wanted to get back to kind of the NOLA style thing and just go backwards, that’s pretty much what we did.”

Speaking of which, the first EP comes with a purple cover that earned it the name of “The Purple EP”, following the example of Metallica’s Black Album or the Beatles’ White Album. “It’s not really named anything, that’s just what people seem to be calling it, because there’s purple on the cover. But it really doesn’t have a title. You can call it the Black Cross for all I care”, says Keenan, before concluding: “You’ll see when the next ones come out, it’ll all kind of play together”. It should be pointed out that Keenan is behind the visual identity for the four EPs. Windstein and bassist Pat Bruders explain: “Usually, Pepper comes up with this kind of stuff and all the visual concepts. […] He’s really creative and does a great job.”.

This EP also happens to be Down’s first release with Pat Bruders. The bassist joined the band following the departure of former Pantera member Rex Brown, who wanted to concentrate on his new band, Kill Devil Hill. Needless to say, the man is quite happy about his newfound situation. “I tell you, man, I couldn’t ask for a better job!”, he says enthusiastically. “Working with my friends, hanging out and having a good time with them is great. I can’t complain about anything. I knew Kirk and Tommy years before joining Down, so it was like a ‘right place at the right time’ situation : Phil said to me ‘Rex wants to go and do his thing, would you like to come along and play bass ?’, so I said yes. It worked out good.”

In practical terms, what changes did his arrival bring to Down’s music? “I guess the main thing with Pat is that he plays with his fingers”, ventures Keenan. “So it’s got more of a Geezer Butlery kind of sound to it, you know. Kirk (Windstein, guitars) and I did the rhythm tracks first and he came and played on top of Jim (Bower, drums) and it sat right in there, we were very happy with it. […] It still sounds like Down. It’s just that since he’s playing with his fingers, it’s not as attacky as Rex was, you know. But it’s still brutal.” Which, when all’s said and done, seems to be in line with the “return to the roots”, especially in terms of sound, that the band seems to be aiming for.

But let’s be patient, for surprises will surely abound in the records to come…

Interview with Kirk Winstein and Pat Bruders conducted face to face at the Motocultor Festival (France) in August 2012
Interview with Pepper Keenan conducted by phone in September 2012

Transcription: Stan & Jean Martinez Traduction(s) – Net

Down’s official website: www.down-nola.com

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