Pioneers in the sludge genre, New Orleans’ Crowbar has spent the last 25 years crafting one of the most recognizable sounds in heavy metal with its unmistakable mix of slow, brooding sounds and bludgeoning riffs.
The band’s roots date back to the late 1980s when founder Kirk Windstein was a member of Shell Shock. Following Shell Shock guitarist Mike Hatch’s suicide in 1988, the band, which also featured Jimmy Bower (later of Eyehategod, Down and Superjoint Ritual) on drums, carried on as Aftershock with additional lineup and name changes (Wrequiem and The Slugs) following.
With Windstein on guitars and vocals, Kevin Noonan on guitars, Todd Strange on bass and Craig Nunenmacher on drums, Crowbar released its first studio album, “Obedience Thru Suffering,” in 1991.
To date, Crowbar has released 10 studio albums, with Windstein also serving considerable time in Down as a founding member and releasing two albums with Kingdom of Sorrow, alongside Hatebreed vocalist Jamey Jasta.
I spoke with Windstein about Crowbar’s history and continued involvement in the heavy music scene, as well as his side projects, prior to the band’s Nov. 19 show at Memphis’ New Daisy Theatre as part of the We Sold Our Souls to Metal Tour with Soulfly and Incite.
After Shell Shock (disbanded) … what was the vision and how things got rolling with Crowbar initially?
Really, Jimmy Bower and I were in Shell Shock together and then Mike Hatch, a founding member, committed suicide so, of course, the band disbanded. For a short while, we changed it from Shell Shock to Aftershock, but that was really just a transitional period from kind of a punk, hardcore thing into finding bands like The Melvins and Carnivore.
So, Aftershock was very short-lived, but by the end of Aftershock, which essentially turned into Crowbar, well, The Slugs at the time, we went through a lot of names. We even played one gig under the name Wrequiem, but it was still the same songs that were on “Obedience Thru Suffering,” a Crowbar record – the first record.
But, essentially, we started listening and just kind of getting away from the fast stuff and really getting turned on to all the super-slow and drop-tuned (Black) Sabbathy type (music). You know, The Melvins had went real avant-garde and (were) just kind of in their own world – so slow, so crazy. The first couple of records, that became like a huge, pivotal point for us and having a vision of what we wanted to do, which really turned into what became Crowbar.
Stuff like Sabbath, The Melvins, who were some of the other influences? I heard you say Carnivore, too.
Trouble was a huge influence. Saint Vitus. Basically, bands that were influenced by Sabbath. Not just actual Black Sabbath – they, of course were a huge influence on pretty much everybody – but bands that loved Sabbath. Getting more into doom. That’s kind of what got us headed into (that) direction.
So by the time you guys changed your name to Crowbar and actually got signed to a record label, you had stuff off that first album ready to go.
Oh, it was pretty much all written, yeah. The first record was written and the songs had all been played live at the shows pretty much by that time.
Can you talk about the transition from that first album into the second (“Crowbar”)? I know the second one kind of really gave you guys a push. Phil (Anselmo) produced it, video exposure and things like that. And, I guess, you really couldn’t take for granted just being on something like “Beavis and Butt-Head” … the pop culture stuff that was going on back then had to be a huge push.
It was, big-time. It was a big, big change. “Obedience Thru Suffering” came out (and) it kind of had a cult following-type thing, and had a real small, but solid following in Germany, and kind of in the U.K. a little bit. But by the time “Crowbar” came out – that’s why we named the album “Crowbar” – to me, “Obedience Thru Suffering” is nothing more than a glorified demo tape. We hadn’t really found our direction completely. And with the self-titled “Crowbar,” the second record, that was when we found – it’s almost a comparison like the first Type O Negative record is really kind of a Carnivore record. Well, “Obedience Thru Suffering” is a transitional thing between Shell Shock and what Crowbar would become. I listen to some parts and it’s like cheesy stuff I just wouldn’t want to play now. But, you know, you’ve got to grow.
With the sound, you didn’t want to just imitate and sound like some of those bands, you wanted to do your own thing, too. So, what did you want to do to set yourselves apart from those bands you said were heavily influenced by Sabbath?
Those bands – like Carnivore, nobody else sounds like Carnivore. Nobody else sounds like The Melvins. That’s what we wanted to do. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of – love us or hate us, no one sounds like Crowbar except Crowbar.
That’s a fact.
That’s very, very important to me. Especially in a world of oversaturated – the whole metal … heavy music thing is so oversaturated. You’ve got so many stoner bands that basically sound like Eyehategod rip-offs. I’m not talking just about ones on labels, but locally. There’s a ton of that. I can’t tell, that’s just me, but I can’t tell one fucking black metal band from the other.
You have bands that do make their mark and have their own sound, and that’s what we wanted to do. Everything now with all the subgenres – we were laughing about that last night, me and (bassist) Jeff (Golden) were doing an interview, actually – you know, there’s like the 10 subgenres of one certain kind of metal. It’s ridiculous.
I get lost with all that shit. I just listen to stuff that I like. If I like it, I just go with it.
Yeah, whatever it is, it is. It’s just heavy music. People, they call us sludge and all that. We didn’t come up with that, the media did. I mean, they can call us whatever they want. Just spell our name right.
(Getting into) some of the side projects you’ve been involved in, Down, of course being the most notable – you had guys who came from similar backgrounds and a similar area, but each playing, I’d say, a vastly different style of music. When you (take) Eyehategod, Pantera, Crowbar, CoC and throw all that stuff into a blender, I don’t know that you would come up with the sound that Down was then.
Really, what it was, that was the whole idea with Down. Phil used to have a band when he still lived in Texas called Gut. Just, you know, not a joke band (but) something that they four-tracked. Just him and a couple of friends that lived in Texas. If I’m not mistaken, and I’m not trying to do you wrong here, Phil, but I think a couple of the songs actually – some of the riffs on the early, early shit … I think some of the stuff came from that.
The whole idea of Down was, we’re playing in a soup of everything called Crowbar and Jimmy’s in Eyehategod and Pepper’s (Keenan) in CoC – and that was between the “Blind” record and “Deliverance” record, so there was a hiatus with Karl (Agell) leaving and … Pepper coming in on guitar, then essentially becoming lead vocalist, so, you know, they had a big transition, as well and quite a few years where they didn’t put out a record. Phil being in Pantera, which was the quintessential, you know, epitome of fucking power metal. Basically, flying the flag for metal during the ‘90s. The whole idea of Down was to take a lot of the influences of classic rock, even southern rock – bands like Skynyrd that we love – and, of course, Sabbath and all the other bands – the Troubles and Saint Vituses and Witchfinder General and whatnot. The Obsessed, you know, stuff like that that we all love and create our own band like that.
In two days, from absolute scratch, we wrote, demoed, (Anselmo) wrote lyrics (and) sang on them – we did the whole thing on like a Saturday and a Sunday. The first song written was “Temptation’s Wings” and (then) “Losing All” and “Bury Me in Smoke,” so those three songs were on the original demo in like ‘91 or whatever.
We got together and boom, that was it. We wrote the songs, basically in an evening, went back the next day and kind of fine-tuned them, ran through them a little bit, recorded them on some shitty little home (setup) – a friend of ours brought some gear and some mics or whatever – Phil sang it, took him to the airport and he flew back to Texas. Pepper went back to North Carolina.
The next demo, we did “Lifer” – I can’t remember if it had “Pillars of Eternity.” I know it had “Lifer.” Same thing. Pepper actually came and stayed over – I was living with my mom at the time – Pepper came and stayed over there for a couple of days. My bedroom was where Crowbar used to rehearse, so I had all the gear in there. We would go grab some beer at the store, fucking light up the grill in the evening and we’d just play guitar and come up with shit. That’s how it happened.
For Down, writing was a lot of fun, but also I always say, it’s really hard to get a riff in in Down because everybody writes. Especially … later on with Rex (Brown) in the band and then Pat Bruders, as well, because they both write really well. Jimmy writes for Eyehategod, obviously, I write for Crowbar, Phil writes for his own self. So then, every person automatically – it’s human nature – thinks, “Well, I’ve got a riff that’s better than all of these guys’.” So, it was a lot of headbutting, but all in all, Phil would kind of be the mediator. So, it worked.
How did the project with Jamey Jasta come about – Kingdom of Sorrow? Because that was something, again, I think musically, the sound – it’s you. You’re there, obviously. But then, you’ve got a completely different vocalist who’s been in hardcore and stuff like that. That’s kind of a unique combination there, too.
Most people don’t realize, but Jamey writes most all of Hatebreed’s stuff on guitar, he just can’t play guitar well. But he can write it. So, he wrote a lot of riffs, as well. Especially on that second Kingdom record (“Behind the Blackest Tears”).
But, what happened with that was, Crowbar – it’s no secret, (Jasta) manages the band. He co-manages us with Steve Ross, who’s his manager for Hatebreed and all his other ventures. And he’s a huge Crowbar fan.
We were on tour supporting Hatebreed in the U.K. in early 2005 and he was like, “Man, we should do a fucking band together.” And this was back when Jamey was still drinking, so me and him would get tanked every night and talk about it. You always do that with friends in other bands, but nothing ends up happening. Well, he ended up calling me.
I remember, I was painting the inside – redoing all the walls or whatever inside the house … at my mom’s house for her – and he called. He was like, “Dude, what are you doing in May?” I said, “Nothing.” This is like maybe two months after the tour. He goes, “Well, what are you doing like, you know, next week?” I said, “Nothing, man. We’ve got a tour supporting CoC coming up. That’s not ‘til June.” He goes, “Well, you want to come up here and try to start this Kingdom of Sorrow thing?”
He booked me a ticket a few days later and that was round one of it. And it just clicked. We hung out and had a good time making it. Same thing – it’s one of those things where like, he’d go, “OK, I’ve got this idea and this idea and this idea,” and I’d feed off his ideas. Or he’d say, “I have this riff, now Kirkify it,” he’d call it.
His stuff’s more … because he’s not a real guitar player – no disrespect, but he’s not – so, I’ll put different tails on it and all the bends and slides and all that. And it just works. Maybe we’ll do another one down the line. We’re in constant contact, obviously, with him managing the band. If he feels up to it.
This many years into the game, still making music. What keeps you going creatively? Staying true to your sound, but also still trying to stay relevant these days when there’s so much stuff that’s out there? What is it now, still touring, still putting out music – you just put out an album last year?
We’ve got four new songs for the new (album) already. We’ll be home Saturday. We have 19 days off. We will definitely write two more songs. Really, it’s what we do. It’s become a business, of course. Crowbar was, in the past, people have to realize, we already have 10 studio albums and (there) was about an 11-year period where I barely did anything. A 10-year period maybe, where only one record came out for Crowbar. So … when we’re rolling, we’re rolling. That’s the way we are now. There’s no stopping. This is our 11th tour. We have another tour coming up supporting High on Fire. It’s a short tour here in December in the southeast. Hopefully, we’ll be in the studio Feb. 1. And we’re already booked to play in the U.K. and Europe at the end of April.
It’s just a machine. We just had a really long break – 75 days off, or something – to just chill at home and do family shit and be regular guys. Home for the start of the football season. Me and (guitarist) Matt (Brunson) are huge football fans. It’s been a blast, but we’ve gotta work.
So, for us, really, when I made the decision – we basically together made a decision – hey, I’m leaving Down, (my wife) Robin was very supportive. Really, really supportive, saying, “You can do this. If you do Crowbar full time and give it 100 percent of your attention … you can make this happen.”
Wasn’t that part of the reason, also that you stepped away from Down? To really put more time back into Crowbar?
Well, not just Crowbar. Really, just the family. The biggest problem was – and this, of course, is no disrespect toward Phil, at all. Because, if anyone deserves to do what the fuck he wants to do, it’s him. He’s earned that. When we did the “Sever the Wicked Hand” record (with Crowbar) … Down really didn’t do – we played a handful of shows in 2010. We didn’t even really tour, we just played some festivals in the summer and it was like fly in stuff.
So, literally, I was like, well I’ve got no money coming in. I’d better do something with Crowbar. But then, when I got with Robin and getting married to her, and all, it was like, this is not working for our relationship. I’m gone all the time. I didn’t get married to not see my wife.
It works out great. We have our cake and get to eat it, too. It’s the best of both worlds working together with her with the guys. We’re never not together, which is awesome.
Being out on the road … doing different tours and festivals, who are some of the newer bands out these days that you’re really impressed by?
Honestly, I don’t keep up much. It’s no joke, I’m honestly too busy at home. We’re just starting to get, recently, where I told Robin, “We need more music in this house in the evenings instead of TV.”
Thing is, when we’re running errands all day – grocery shopping, this, that or whatever – I don’t even listen to the radio. We’re talking. She’s on the phone doing business. I drive, she texts and emails. It doesn’t stop. It’s a 24/7 thing. So, I really don’t get much of a chance.
I’ll catch an opening act or a band here and there and I’m like, “Wow, this is really, really good.” But, I’m not up on the new bands. I’m still stuck in the past. Even the bands that I grew up listening to are still putting out (new music). I’m the kind of dude who still buys the new Accept and the new Saxon and the new Motörhead, and they’re killer fucking records.
We saw Saxon Sept. 6 – (I’m) pretty good friends with Paul Quinn, the guitar player. I mean, these dudes are in their 60s and they destroy these younger bands. The younger bands can’t hold a fucking candle to them. And it’s no bullshit, it’s no samples and crap and exploding corpses and fucking naked women running around and all this kind of bullshit. It’s a bunch of fucking dudes plugging into Marshall stacks, Biff (Byford) singing his fucking ass off and they … kick ass. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.
With Crowbar being one of those bands that has … for the most part, still remained fairly underground … do you hear these days from bands that you were an influence for them?
Oh, every day. And it’s the honest-to-God truth. We get it all the time from younger bands, or just fans, who are like, “Man, you’re such a huge influence on my guitar playing,” or “my writing style. Thank you so much for the music.” That’s why, a big part of why I do it, I guess. Why we do it. Why I continue to do it.
I can’t tell you how many people are like, “Your music got me through a really bad time,” or “helped me get off drugs” or alcohol or the death of a friend or family member or whatever. It was therapeutic for them. That makes it important. People are like, literally, “I was going to take my life and I listened to” this song.
I was talking to Max (Cavalera) the other night … we just got to talking about stuff and he was like, how important it is … when you’re home writing a riff, you don’t realize the power that you have over someone’s life. Every night, it doesn’t make a difference – it can be fucking the littlest show you’ve ever played – some of these people have been waiting for 20 years … waiting forever and driving five and six hours to see the show. You have to give 110 percent, no matter what, every fucking night, to the fans.
Max was saying, “I met this guy and the guy was in a wheelchair.” And he goes, “I thought the guy might be paralyzed or whatever,” and he goes, “The guy kind of got up to shake my hand … and the guy said, ‘Yeah man, I’m at the end of this stage four cancer and this will probably the last show I’ll ever see.’” (Max) was like, “Man, when you write the riffs at home, you don’t think (about) the power you have.”
You’re talking about life and death. This is serious. Even if it’s just for those few people who, you are their favorite band or really helped change their life, that’s why you do it.
Follow Kirk Windstein on Twitter @crowbarrules.