By David E. Gehlke
Perhaps the most palatable of the New Orleans sludge metal bands (see: ACID BATH, EYEHATEGOD, SOILENT GREEN),CROWBAR has been guided by the steady hand of vocalist/guitarist Kirk Windstein since 1990. Since then, their sound has been embodied by slow, simmering riffs and the coarse, pained delivery of Windstein. The combination has produced several breakout moments, namely 1993's Philip H. Anselmo-produced "Crowbar", 1998's "Odd Fellows Rest" and more recently, 2014's doom-laden "Symmetry In Black".
CROWBAR is now up to studio album number 12 by way of "Zero And Below". Little surprise: It's another bruising collection of songs from a band comfortable with its sound and knows what to do with it. But as Windstein would tell BLABBERMOUTH.NET, the release of "Zero And Below" has been waiting in the wings for quite some time — prompting the frontman to make some life-altering decisions that should only further CROWBAR's career.
Blabbermouth: Your 2020 solo album, "Dream In Motion", was very well-received. That must have been a nice feeling to get that out of your system.
Kirk: "It was, big-time. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time. I'm almost done with the music for my second solo CD. I want to do it every few years. It's a lot of fun. There are no deadlines. I just do it in my free time and it's relaxing and creative and fun."
Blabbermouth: How are you now separating those solo ideas from CROWBAR?
Kirk: "It's two totally different things. Normally, I write one or two simple riffs with the solo stuff, and the rest is created in the studio. That's what I like about it — creating on the spot in the studio. When I get there and in that world, I can be totally focused on writing the songs. I listen to so many styles of music and it shows a different side of my writing. It was a lot of fun to make. It took me about two years. We've been working on this one for about a year. After the SEPULTURA tour, I can fix shit up, but we'll have to shelve it for a bit since 'Zero And Below' is not even out yet. It will have to wait for some time, probably until next year.
"'Zero And Below' was mixed, mastered and turned into the label in February 2020. It was ready to roll. It was shelved for two years for obvious reasons. We definitely made the right decision holding off on it instead of putting it out. We didn't want to put it out when we couldn't get on tour and support it. We definitely did the right thing."
Blabbermouth: That had to be hard having a finished album and sitting on it for over two years.
Kirk: "Yeah. It kinda sucked. [Laughs] The thing is, I never had that situation. The first record I put out was CROWBAR's 'Obedience Through Suffering', which was 31 years ago. Including 'Zero And Below', I will have 19 albums, but I've never had that happen in my whole career, like 'We have this record and we love it, but it's not coming out for two years.' Then again, we never had something like the pandemic. I understand why it happened, but it was tough."
Blabbermouth: I saw some pictures of you on social media hitting the gym. You're looking pretty good these days — beard included. Is that how you stayed busy?
Kirk: "Well, at first, it was the opposite. I was eating a bunch of shit, drinking a lot of beer. Since last summer or even a little bit before that — I've always loved working out and going to the gym, but I've recently started taking it seriously and trying to cut back a lot on the beer drinking and concentrating on my diet. The lifting part is something I've loved since I was a kid. That's easy. It's the diet and the no beer drinking and shit like that. That had to become a habit not to be doing it. Not that I've quit, but it's much, much less than it used to be. If I have a lot to do, including my workout in the morning, I'm like, 'Nope! No beer tonight.' It's smart. You have to get your priorities straight and say, 'I have a busy day tomorrow.' Yesterday, I was up at a quarter to five in the morning, which is a little too early for me, but today I got up at six-fifteen. I was at the gym a little after seven. It's been a productive day so far. That's what I like to do. For me, lifting is the hardest thing I will do all day. It sets my day in motion. It gets my day off on the right foot. It sets your whole day up to have a productive day. I love it. I really do."
Blabbermouth: Plus, none of us are getting any younger.
Kirk: "Very true. That's a huge part of it. I've got to take better care of myself, lose weight and watch what I eat — it all goes hand-in-hand. For me, the lifting part is something I've loved since I was a kid. That makes it easy. Other than music, sports was always a big thing for me. It works. It's a wonderful thing."
Blabbermouth: Is there any secret to writing CROWBAR albums at this point? "Zero And Below" is such a great combination of the grueling heaviness and melody you're known for.
Kirk: "It's pretty simple. People don't realize but Tommy's [Buckley, drums] been in CROWBAR for 18 years. Matt [Brunson, guitar] has been in for 15, 16 years. The nucleus in the band — us three guys — has been together a lot longer than most bands exist. That's there already. We work like a machine. That's a great thing. With Shane [Wesley, bass] coming in, he's such a good musician and has such a good attitude and he's a great writer as well. He really fit right in and he's been contributing a lot. Of course, Matt and Tommy always contribute but having Shane really expanded things. He has a lot of great ideas as well. We are really in a good spot."
Blabbermouth: Duane (Simoneaux) has done quite a few of your albums. This is certainly one of his better production jobs. What's the working relationship like with him and the band?
Kirk: "He worked on my solo record and will be doing the second. In fact, I was working on it last night. Duane, at this point, is like the fifth member of CROWBAR. We couldn't imagine doing a record without him. We have a system that works and it works so smoothly. It's one of those, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it situations.' He's a very important part of our sound and production. To me, he just keeps getting better. I love the production on 'Zero And Below'. It sounds new and fresh, but it also sounds old-school. He mixed it the way you would for vinyl. That's his approach. A lot of newer bands' production — that's their choice and by no means I'm being negative — they're bright, with no low-end. There's no depth. They're not even using the frequency spectrum, to be honest. We've always been known to have a lot of low-end in our sound and Duane captured a really clean low-end. It definitely has some bottom-end, but it's clean. He definitely keeps getting better and better. It's a win-win for everybody. He's really become a really close friend, pretty much with all of us now. We see him almost daily. I'm heading to pick up Matt now for CROWBAR rehearsals. We're either doing that, or I'm over there doing solo record stuff. Or I'm over there fooling around on the guitar. We rehearse in the same building, but you can get from the studio to our rehearsal room without going outside. They're built-in together. It's kind of like our own little complex over there. It's a great situation."
Blabbermouth: Was the "Chemical Godz" video taken from personal experience or just a commentary? It's a pretty striking visual.
Kirk: "It's a little bit of both. The actual video, Justin Reich, who shot the video and directed, already had all the footage. He had done the footage of the couple with the drug addiction and the overdose. He had done it for another band a few years back and the record label — he never told us what band, but he does a lot of big bands — they said it was too graphic and too dark and they didn't like it. I believe he bought back the footage and kept it around. He showed it to us and said, 'It really fits the lyrics' subject matter. It could work for you. What do you think?' He did such a great job. The cinematography, if you look at the footage, it looks like a movie. We looked it and were like, 'Yeah, it could be edited a bit. We love the acting and it definitely fits the lyrics.' It ended up being a killer video."
Blabbermouth: With CROWBAR being a band for over 30 years, do you have a soft spot for the '90s when you were putting out "Time Heals Nothing", "Broken Glass" and "Oddfellows Rest"?
Kirk: "Sure. We still play a decent amount of the older stuff. We feel we have to play certain songs to make the fans happy. We enjoy playing those, but the whole experience of it all, it's all about the journey. It's not about reaching the destination. This quote comes from when [former CROWBAR guitarist] Steve Gibb, his father is Barry Gibb from the BEE GEES. He told Steve, he said, 'Son, it's all about the journey. Once you reach the destination, it's like, 'What do I do now?' For us, we've constantly been on a journey where with each album, we like to try and step up a few notches as far as gaining popularity or whatever it might be. In reality, what we're trying to do with each album, is just take a few more big steps forward. It's true. I think I would be proud, I would say, but I would also be a bit bummed out if I had reached huge success when I was young and went from being an arena band to slugging along. The way CROWBAR does now, it's all we've ever known.
"It gets a little more comfortable every year; we're moving up. It's no disrespect for bands who have done it, but that's what keeps the hunger burning. I'm almost 57 years old and I still haven't achieved what I set out to do. Jamey Jasta of HATEBREED had it on one of his records, 'Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire'. If you become satisfied, start resting on your laurels and your success, it's understandable for people to do that, but it's difficult to keep that hunger. You're like, 'Hey, I'm financially set. I'm really popular. I'm famous.' I'm not saying that bands don't continue to move forward doing it that way, but I've always looked at it as my goal when I first got into doing the band, I always looked at my life as I want us to be MOTÖRHEAD where we're around forever. Never a household name. Arguably, MOTÖRHEAD was probably a bigger band after Lemmy [Kilmister] passed away than before. He becomes a cultural icon, and rightly so. They kept putting out record after record and hitting the road non-stop and doing their thing. They never changed what they were doing to try and fit in. There were times and I've read stuff and in Lemmy's book I've read, there were times in the '90s when Germany kept them alive. They'd play as many shows in Germany as often as possible because it was guaranteed sell-outs. I get it. They kept doing what MOTÖRHEAD did. That's the whole thing with the music industry. I don't even like the term 'sludge.' It's always, 'You are sludge metal.' And yeah, we stick it on t-shirts, but I don't like the term. To me, we're CROWBAR. MOTÖRHEAD were MOTÖRHEAD. They were rock and roll and they sounded like no one else. The MOTÖRHEAD analogy works in the sense that we want to be right where we are, which is continuing with each record to move forward, a few steps forward, never taking steps back, putting out killer records. If you reach a comfort zone, then it's very difficult to keep the hunger and the fire burning. For us, we'll probably never be a huge band. We know that, but we want to keep moving forward. Steps forward are a positive thing. That's what we're all about."
Blabbermouth: You've had the best of both worlds with DOWN. What's going on with that?
Kirk: "There are some shows. We got a couple of shows in May [in America]. I really don't know what's going on with the European thing. We have three festivals in Europe in June, but I just saw yesterday that GOJIRA postponed yet again their European tour. People need to understand that. We just made it public that we're not doing these Canadian dates and the reason is that this is not our decision. It's the smartest financial decision we can make because we can't afford to, with the border situations dependent on where you're playing. I read the Twitter thing with GOJIRA and they're a lot of territories they're still playing. They're a huge band, but for a lot of territories, you just can't get in there right now or anytime soon. You can't count on it. You can't have a huge chunk of your tour be shot down and lose all that money and the whole nine yards by trying to do that kind of stuff. That's the situation with DOWN in the summer. For me at this point, I know Phil [Anselmo, vocals] pushed back all his ILLEGALS stuff until next year, CROWBAR pushed back everything until next year. To me, it's the smartest thing to do. It's only three shows. If we do them, I'll be there. It's for a week. It's not like it's a long thing, so the chance of being able to pull it off, there is a good chance of making it happen.
"What really scares all the guys and I is getting into a foreign country and the situation with Canada. Bands are pulling out of Canadian shows left and right. If we get to the border and are on Canadian soil and someone tests positive, we have to quarantine. We're fucked. We're all vaxxed. We take tests on the road with us. Myself, Tommy, our drummer, with both had it even though we are fully vaxxed. With the way the world is right now, the smart thing to do with all this stuff is to hold off. Things are starting to look up and move in the right direction. I hate to use the word 'normal' in any sense, but it's like the government is starting to treat this a little more normal. It ain't going anywhere. It's maybe a more severe form of the flu. You're talking to a guy who had the shit. It lasts a lot longer than the flu and I'm fully vaccinated. It's still bad. The point is the world needs to keep moving. I don't like to talk politics, but the world has got to move forward. We sat around for two years. So many small businesses were lost forever and it just can't go on that way any longer. Let's just be smart about it and go on about our day."