Crowbar – All About LongevitySunday, 1st April 2018
Pioneers of a sound critics term ‘sludge metal’, Crowbar are an entity onto themselves. A rare breed if you will in a heavy music scene where it’s difficult to distinguish originality, once you hear a riff or song from this Louisiana act, it’s hard not to succumb to the power of their impact. Since the early 1990’s they’ve gained the respect of musical peers as well as sustained a healthy audience who continually return album to album, tour to tour, to get more of that Crowbar fix.
Their 11th studio record The Serpent Only Lies came out in the fall of 2016, and the band are still touring behind this effort – revving up for another slate of dates with Hatebreed. Catching the band at one of their headlining shows before that tour started, we got the chance to sit down with guitarist/vocalist Kirk Windstein who was very engaging and happy to discuss what was on my mind. You’ll learn more about the man’s love of the genre, the uniqueness that is Crowbar, observations about the scene today, and a little Beavis and Butthead talk as well.
Dead Rhetoric: You are still touring behind the eleventh Crowbar record The Serpent Only Lies, released in October 2016- a record where you strive to recapture a fresh version of some of your more classic, early catalog. What keeps the fuel going to perform this many dates all around the world, this deep into your career?
Kirk Windstein: First and foremost, I’m a fan. I’m excited- you are going to see Saxon tomorrow, I wish I could be! I love the new Judas Priest album, it’s a 10 out of 10, a great record. I like to mingle with our fans, and I love the atmosphere and being a part of the whole thing. I love writing riffs, and creating music to make a record. My love of music and heavy music in particular, it’s never gone away. If you would see us, myself and my band guys, at a Saxon show- we are on the side and screaming every word as if we were 15 years old, you know what I’m saying? I have a passion that will never go away. It’s one of those things – my love of music and heavy music, I don’t ever see it going away. I don’t ever see me not feeling like a kid when I first discovered all these great bands that I still listen to today. That’s the key to it for me.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a preference when it comes to the studio or the stage- or do you enjoy both equally for different reasons?
Windstein: Both are equally exciting. The older I get, not that I mind the stage any less, but the more I enjoy the creative part of going into the studio and making a song. If I’m sitting at home, banging on the guitar in my chair making a riff, and video myself, this riff turns into a song down the line. I love layering the harmony guitars, coming up with the vocals and the melodies, and going ‘wow’- it started from one simple riff. I love as the songs come together, the creative part of it. It’s equal- it’s two completely different things, it’s totally black and white. Our studio is like 10-15 minutes from where we live, I go over there in the afternoon and do my thing. It’s not hard on you physically like touring of course.
Dead Rhetoric: When looking at the Crowbar discography – do you have a personal favorite that still makes you beam, as well as possibly an underrated one that you think more followers need to dig deeper into and appreciate more?
Windstein: I don’t have a personal favorite. I am excited that it’s the twentieth anniversary of Odd Fellows Rest, that was the first record to me that was a conscious thing to throw the Crowbar rule book out the door and introduce some new elements. I listen to all styles of music, and I didn’t want us to be painted into a corner where we couldn’t do different stuff. That one is kinda of one of my favorite records. As far as one being underrated, I don’t know. I believe all of our records are strong records. It’s hard for me to go back and listen to some of the old stuff because of the production and my singing style has changed, in my opinion for the better. When we do the older stuff live, I like the way that we do it now, better than the records back then. Odd Fellows was nominated for the Decibel magazine Hall of Fame, so that means a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: Crowbar has toured with many diverse packages through the years. Do you believe this has helped develop a broader, multi-generational fanbase because you play with bands of all genres of metal as well as hardcore and outside the box acts?
Windstein: Yes, I think so. For us, we like the fact that… some people call us sludge, we never called ourselves that- the press made the term up. We don’t really fit in with anything, it’s just Crowbar. We are not a stoner band by any means, we aren’t a doom band in the truest sense of the word, like a Saint Vitus or whatever. We have a lot of elements of hardcore, and aggressive stuff. We start with Hatebreed on tour tomorrow, and we fit fine with Hatebreed. Obviously I do Kingdom of Sorrow with Jamey (Jasta), we are great friends. We’ve toured with Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Hatebreed, Pantera, you name it. To me Crowbar is just Crowbar. It’s like Type O Negative, who are one of my favorite bands ever. There’s only one band that ever sounded like Type O- the second you heard that, you knew who they were. Were they really goth? Sometimes they were hardcore, sometimes they were pop – it’s a brilliant potpourri of all different styles of music and it made this brilliant thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe the same thing happened to Crowbar in terms of developing your own sound, especially given the area you were from that’s always had a love of various music styles?
Windstein: In a way. All of us from the New Orleans bands talk about it. None of us sound like each other, but we all have something in common. We don’t know what it is. Crowbar doesn’t sound like Eyehategod or Down or Acid Bath, Exhorder- who are back again, thankfully. We all have certain things in common. I know growing up in a music city and a diverse city like New Orleans, it is one of the best music towns in the world. We listened to so many different styles of music growing up, at family barbeques, it had a lot to do subconsciously with expanding our tastes for different styles at a very young age.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve mentioned in interviews the oversaturation that seems to be taking place in the metal scene as of late – comparatively speaking in terms of the number of bands, products, tours/shows, then when you came out in the early 1990’s. Do you believe this contributes to the struggle for metal followers to keep up with things given the speed and rate of new information and new product coming at them from all sides?
Windstein: Yes- people ask me all the time what new bands do I like- and to be honest I don’t know many new bands, unless we are on tour with them. I hate to say I don’t have the time, but being my age, being a family man, kids and grandchild, when I am at home- I’m not rocking out, I don’t have the time to check out new bands. When I am on tour, it’s a structured thing which is really good. I’ll check things out, we had three opening bands in Brooklyn and I liked checking them out. For me, there’s too much going on – bands go up and down, falling off the face of the earth every day. It is to me oversaturated. There’s so many genres and sub-genres – it’s either metal or heavy, we don’t need 300 different sub-genres, just play what you play and do it.
Originality like we talked about before with Type O Negative and Crowbar, it’s really missing in a lot of the younger bands. When a kid comes up to me and asks me to check out their band, and they say we sound like this, this and this. And they are right- they do sound like Pantera meets this meets that. (laughs). It’s okay, and I understand with younger bands you have to develop, but for me the originality and what makes you stand out from the pack is so important. It’s missing in most of the new bands I’ve heard.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you think there are times that bands put out products too soon instead of developing their songwriting and style a little bit by playing out more?
Windstein: I do. And the thing is, the whole business has changed so much. When I was growing up, our whole first record was written and played live. We did the flyering all over town, self-promotion, without the internet. We’d open up for bands that came through town, we were happy to play for free. You have bands now that haven’t even played a gig that are getting deals now. I’ve been playing live music since I was 16, it’s going on 37 years now. We played a lot of music when I was in my cover band. We played every Friday and Saturday every week, and then it started to get to where we would travel and play five or six nights a week at the same venue, three or four sets a night, throwing in the originals along with the metal covers.
I’m not talking about getting your chops up as far as sitting in your room and practicing, you get the experience of being on stage which is… the way to describe it is kind of an oxymoron, it’s doing the same exact thing every night just totally different. You need that experience, the band gels better. We rarely ever rehearse, we ran through the set twice and then played these shows. We are seasoned musicians and a band that tours often – it’s important though as you said for younger bands to develop, to play out more, get some shows before coming out with something. A lot of times these bands put out a record, maybe it doesn’t catch on, but they start writing better stuff and as they get more experience, but then it’s kind of too late.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of activities, hobbies, or passions do you like to pursue in your down time away from music when you get the chance to do so?
Windstein: I am a big football fan, especially college football – and sports in general. I’m so busy, and (we) are on tour during football season-sometimes in Europe, you can keep up on the internet. In my down time at home, I like to do family stuff. I love going grocery shopping. When I am at home, I want to be a normal guy- sure Robin and myself, we go out. We go out to some bars- I don’t know if it’s because we are in our 50’s, our approach is if we have nothing to do for say two days in a row, we will go out in the day as day drinkers. Why sit around until 10 o’clock at night to start- we will start at noon and be done at 6 or 7, catch an Uber home. We may go to the French Quarter during the day, the weather is nice, it can get scary at night.
We will watch the different bands, that’s something I really enjoy. The family stuff, my daughter lives an hour and a half away in the Baton Rouge area, we will do stuff together. If there is a band I really love, I’ll suck it up with my schedule and see a show. It’s rare that I go to shows at home, because in New Orleans, it’s a town notorious for going on stage late. It’s not uncommon to see bands like Eyehategod go on at one in the morning- I’m sleeping by then! (laughs). I love the guys, but I can’t stay up until 1. If I want to see music, I’ll go bar hopping and see bands during the day time.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you handle the ups and downs of your musical career – as I would imagine your definition of success has changed from the early days to today?
Windstein: Today… well to be honesty, I got what I exactly hoped and prayed for, which is longevity. My attitude is kind of like The Melvins, or Motörhead, where they didn’t give a fuck about anything – they just do what they do, go on stage every night, totally kick ass, they put out great records and treat your fans well. They don’t worry about what’s going on around them, what’s hot or what’s not. We are Crowbar and we will be Crowbar forever. Bands like that, The Melvins aren’t a household name but they are one of my favorite bands, and if you have ever seen them live they are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. That’s my outlook, I have blinders on. Success to me is being able to do this for a living, even though we don’t have a crew. I have to get my almost 53-year-old knees up two sets of steps to haul gear up, and that’s the way we like to do it. We have a tight knit group- Spencer our driver has been with us for quite a while now, Robin does the tour management and our merch. When we are in Europe Danny Militia is our tour driver and manager, and he’s like family to me – and Robin does merch. It works, we tour all around the world to do this- we’ve been to over 46 countries now.
Dead Rhetoric: Have you had the opportunity to play every state in the United States?
Windstein: I’ve played Hawaii, but I’ve never played Alaska – and I haven’t played in Maine or Wyoming. I’ve played 45 of the 50 states I think.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there any countries you would like to see Crowbar go to that you haven’t been able to play yet?
Windstein: The thing is, when I was in Down we went to a lot of places like Tel Aviv, Israel, and we played with Metallica in Istanbul, Turkey. I’ve been to Australia three times and Japan with Down, Crowbar hasn’t done that yet and I would like to. We keep expanding more to the east, on our tour earlier last year we did a UK and Ireland tour- then we flew to the Ukraine, we did Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia, and two shows in Russia. Even though the accommodations can be difficult, it’s not up to par with say Germany or the Netherlands, the shows are getting better, the fans are rabid and the attendances are good. The fans go crazy, because not a lot of people play there. You get your big bands that will do it- and a band that I like to use as an example because we are good friends and they are great guys- a band like Soulfly. They are an international band- Max wants to play all these odd countries, and they play in Brazil plus a lot of Central America where other bands won’t play. I’ve been to South America three times with Down, and there were a few shows in Brazil, and then fly home. They are able to play these smaller South American and Central American countries and it’s an experience, especially for the fans who love the music but don’t get the chance to see many shows.
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