Kirk Windstein’s sludge masters have returned to crush you.
“Until the phone rings, I’m yours. Just don’t take advantage of my hot anus.” So says Crowbar guitarist, vocalist, and mastermind Kirk Windstein. The amiable and massively bearded New Orleans native is running the interview gamut to promote Crowbar’s latest, Symmetry In Black. It’s the revered sludge outfit’s tenth album since Windstein first started the band with Eyehategod guitarist Jimmy Bower back in 1989. Three years later, he and Bower would join Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo and Corrosion Of Conformity guitarist/vocalist Pepper Keenan in Down, the southern metal supergroup to end all supergroups. Windstein played in both bands simultaneously for over two decades, often taking long breaks from Crowbar to focus on Down. Last year, he announced his departure from Down, on friendly terms all around, to focus solely on Crowbar—and his family. “My wife and I get up at 6:30 every morning to bring my son, her stepson, to school,” he says. “It’s not exactly rock n’ roll town.” This from a guy who used to go on booze n’ coke binges that could fell a herd of elephants. He just might be a changed man…
Noisey: Did you ever think you’d be talking about Crowbar’s tenth album and 25th anniversary as a band?
Kirk Windstein: It blows my mind. I thought I’d be dead by now, to be honest. The fact that I’m not is a blessing. Hindsight is 20/20, we know that, but looking back I guess I see myself right where I’m at. But to comprehend that as a 24-year old? I couldn’t imagine we would be where we are today. I’m mean, it’s 2014. We’re talking about a band that started in the ’80s with me and Jimmy Bower in a jam room. I just turned 49 in April, and a lot of my friends haven’t made it to this age. When I get to 50, I wanna throw a big party because I don’t live the life I used to live as far as substance abuse and all that. Now I’m more worried about a prostate exam and making sure my cholesterol is okay. So I feel really blessed to have been able to accomplish what I’ve been able to do with the people that I was able to accomplish it with. It’s a tough, tough business, you know? But I’m sitting in my car right now and it’s a beautiful day. Not the great U2 song, but you know what I mean.
I would never peg you as a U2 fan.
That song, “Beautiful Day,” changed my life. It did. I woke up at 2:30 in the afternoon after a cocaine binge, and I happened to put on VH1. They happened to be playing that song. I got in my car, drove straight to the record store, and bought it. That song is one of my favorite songs of all time. Fuck anyone who thinks it’s gay. You know what? Philip listens to the Smiths and Morrissey, which are obviously a little off the beaten path of what you would expect. So am I really supposed to listen to Motörhead on ten all the time? They’re my favorite band, but I’m already half deaf.
Have you been following the reviews for Symmetry in Black? I feel like Crowbar hardly ever get bad reviews.
I’ll take that as a huge compliment. But I agree with you. I don’t like to put my name on something that I don’t believe in. I’ve seen a few reviews for the new one, and they’ve all been so positive. With me and the Down guys parting ways, I knew how important this record was. This one was literally do or die. I could be driving a forklift at Home Depot, or I could make this work. So we all put 200% into this. Before we started working on it I was talking to Dwayne, our co-producer, the guy who engineered the record. I said, “Dude, good is not acceptable. This one has to be great.” I’d be in the vocal booth singing my nuts off and Dwayne would say, “I think that’s a good one.” And I’d go, “I can do better.” We really pushed to the nth degree.
Like you said, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket now. Were you more nervous going into this one than previous Crowbar records?
To be honest, I was less nervous. I can be a weak person about a lot of things in life, but when I make a decision, a huge decision, like leaving Down… I should point out that I didn’t quit, and I didn’t get kicked out. It was a mutual thing. Philip and Pep and the boys knew my heart was no longer in it. And if your heart isn’t in it, you don’t belong there. So I talked to Philip and I told him, “Look, I wanna be the captain of my own ship. I wanna control my own life—where I play, when I play, how long I play—the whole nine yards.” And by no means is that a knock on Phil. Most people are very intimidated by Phil, but I’m not. And I say that with love. I’ve known him since he was a skinny little kid—I was a skinny little kid back then, too. [Laughs] He’s actually a very easy person to get along with. All I can do is observe and learn from him. He is, in my opinion, the best frontman in heavy metal. And we have a close friendship. There’s only three other people who can say they spent 22 years in Down—Philip, Pepper, and Jimmy. But for me it ran its course. And like Phil said in an interview I recently saw: “Kirk simplified his life.” That’s exactly what I did.
It must’ve been a difficult decision, though.
Well, my life is hectic. I’m married, I’m a dad, I’m a stepdad, and I’m a grandfather now, too. For me to be able to control my life is such a big relief. I wasn’t able to do that in Down. I’d open my computer and there would be an email, “You’re going to South America.” I didn’t know what was going on half the time. That’s no knock on Down—but now I know everything that’s going on.
Down also have a lot of days off built into their tour schedule, which I know you’re not a fan of.
You know, I ran into King Buzzo from the Melvins out at the Scion Fest in California a couple of days ago, and he and I are alike in certain ways. He wants to play every day. I do, too. Down’s schedule is not like that. Philip needs to rest his voice between shows in order to give the best performance, and I totally respect that. But I don’t have that kind of voice, and I don’t need to rest it. I just did ten in a row in the UK, 15 in a row in Europe, and now we’re leaving again and I’m gonna do 19 or 20 in a row. To me, if I’m away from home and I’m not performing, it’s a wasted day in my life. And I ain’t gonna live forever. I don’t need to sit in a hotel. I respect Phil and that he cares enough for the fans that he needs to rest his voice. But he’s a different type of singer than I am. So I understand why half the Down tour schedule is days off. But for me it doesn’t work.
Have you heard the new Down EP? It’s the band’s first release that you’re not on.
Me and my wife went and bought it last night. Which is kinda weird, to buy a Down disc, but we did. And it kicks ass. It’s in my CD player right now. I grew up with these fellas—they’re my brothers, and I wanna support ’em. I don’t expect them to go buy the new Crowbar, not that it makes a difference, but I wanna support Down because they’re one of my favorite bands. That said, it was an extremely easy transition for me to not be part of it anymore. I work every month now. I work for three or four weeks and then I take three weeks off. I’m in control of my life, and I don’t feel overwhelmed. I feel great. We just tore a new asshole at Scion Fest, and that’s Crowbar.
During all those years you were concentrating on Down, Crowbar had to take a back seat.
Oh, absolutely. It did take a backseat, and I don’t apologize for that. It took a backseat because I wanted it to take a backseat. But as time went on and we all got older—I mean, Pepper’s a father now, Jimmy’s a father, I’m a father—it just got to be that the majority of the year wasn’t touring. But my time was still taken with my dedication to Down. No disrespect to those guys—that’s the way they do business, and they’re fine with it. It’s me that’s got the problem. It’s me that wants to play 20 shows in a row. 20 shows with Down would take a month and a half. I can do 20 Crowbar shows in 20 days.
Idle time isn’t a good scenario for you.
It’s no secret that I’ve had issues with drinking. When I have the responsibility of a show every day, I tend to be strong and dedicated to the music and the task at hand. With Down, I might have two days in a row off and that’s not good. I’m not earning money, I’m away from my family, and I have time to hit the sauce. When I talked to King Buzzo, he got it. He’s been sober for 20 years or something like that. Now, I’m not sober, but he knows the mindset: You’ve got to work. I don’t want to compare myself to him, because I don’t feel I’m at his level, but the fact that he understood where I’m coming from makes me feel good.
Were your long stretches with Down for so many years a source of tension among the other guys in Crowbar?
We never really talked about it, to be honest. That was the thing with Pat Bruders, our old bass player, who joined Down a couple of years before I left and is still in Down. When I told everybody that I’m only doing Crowbar now, he seemed to not get it at first. So I said, “Look, Pat—that means you gotta make a choice.” He chose Down, obviously, and I don’t blame him at all. But I think everything happens for a reason. I don’t know the reason for Pat leaving, but I do know that he’s the baddest bass player I’ve ever played with besides [former Pantera and Down bassist] Rex Brown. But we’ve got a new bass player now, Jeff Golden, and we call him the “Gentle Giant.” He’s 6’3” and wears a size 16 shoe. His hands are massive—twice the size of mine. I’d hate to see his dick. But he’s a gentleman, and what he brought to Crowbar is immeasurable. Pat is technically a better bass player, but the attitude Jeff brings is incredible. He was in the band without hitting a note.
Did you try out a lot of people before Jeff came along?
We only tried out three people out of hundreds from around the world who sent stuff in. One of the guys we tried out, Danny Cook, is my stepson’s father. [Laughs] I know that sounds weird, but we’re a close-knit family. I like to say we put the fun in dysfunctional. He and my wife had a great kid together, and I’m very good friends with Danny. When he drops his son off back at our place, it’s an hour or more of us just talking shop. He’s a great guy and a damn good bassist. But we ultimately decided it wouldn’t work because my wife goes on tour with us doing the merchandise. If Danny was with us, too, what do we do with Chase, my stepson? And Danny understood that.
Do you think all those years you spent with Down ultimately benefited Crowbar?
Yes. You cannot put a price on what I learned from Philip, Pepper, Jimmy and Rex. These are things I learned while I was writing songs with these guys. They’re all brilliant musicians and songwriters in their own right. So I learned a lot, especially from Phil. He basically taught me how to write a song, and I mean that. He taught me how to not glue four riffs together and call it song. He showed me that if you’ve got one killer riff, you’ve got a song. When he produced our self-titled record 20 years ago, he showed me how to trim the fat. And that’s been the mantra of Down and of Crowbar for the last 20 years. They probably learned a thing or two from me as well—I would hope. But together we all learned how to create music.
J. Bennett has tattoos on his hands, plays in Ides of Gemini, and is not on Twitter.