Interview with vocalist, guitar player, and founder Kirk Windstein | By Nicholas Pendergast
Crowbar have been running the circuit as the undisputed kings of sludge for 25 years. They started as a New Orleans- based hardcore band called Shell Shock with a lineup of members who are now either deceased or have gone their separate ways, including Jimmy Bower from Down and Eyehategod. After the death of Shell Shock guitarist Mike Hatch, the band reformed around Kirk Windstein’s visceral and ear shatteringly loud guitar playing and music inspired by the likes of Carnivore, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath, and Motörhead. The band went through a brief series of lineup and band name changes, and at one point Windstein almost joined the post-thrash outfit Exhorder, popularly known for influencing the groove metal style of Pantera. Had that happened, Kirk Windstein may have never founded Crowbar, but instead we have nearly three decades of some of the heaviest metal in existence because Windstein doesn’t fucking die, and neither does Crowbar. We have the chance to talk with the legend of New Orleans doom about the new album Symmetry in Black, as well as his love for his family, his relationship with Down, and his love for really diverse music.
Tell us a bit about the new album, Symmetry in Black.
It’s a Crowbar album. I’d like to say it’s Crowbar 25 years later. It’s just Crowbar being Crowbar. It sounds fresh and it has everything we really want on it.
Your co-producer on the album is Duane Simoneaux. What was it like working with him? The new album is killer, so he must be great.
He’s a great guy. He produced it along with me. He’s a very well rounded musician. He plays piano, bass, sings, and understands music really well, which is very important and played a huge hand when it comes to my vocals or guitar harmonies and range. When we’re playing in the studio, he’ll come up to me and say, “Well, let’s see what this does here.” Very great person to work with.
“Symbolic Suicide” is dedicated to Peter Steele. What is your connection to him?
He was a huge, huge, huge influence on me, and basically on Crowbar’s sound. Carnivore’s Retaliation was so good. When I was listening to records and cassettes, that album came out. We were listening to that constantly around the time we came out with the first Crowbar record. It was a huge inspiration, and when he passed away, I had been listening to a lot of Carnivore and Type O [Negative]. I happened to be in Type O and Carnivore world and [“Symbolic Suicide”] could have been on Retaliation. That’s just how I feel. The opening line: it’s about suicide and it’s a shout out. It’s not about him. I just wanted to write an aggressive Carnivore song.
You’re influenced by Motörhead, Thin Lizzy, Carnivore, Type O… None of whom sound alike. How is Crowbar different from other bands in heavy metal?
We don’t sound like anyone else. Within one song, you’ll hear Black Sabbath, Carnviore, Motörhead, fucking Trouble, and whatever. We take our influences and embrace [them], but it’s not noticeable. It’s original. I create something out of influence. There are a lot of guys out there who are heavily influenced by bands like Pantera, and you’ll have great talented musicians in some of those bands, but everything sounds exactly like Pantera. We’ll take our influences and put ‘em in a blender and come up with our own sound. That’s what I think is special about Crowbar. We’re proud to have so many influences. Every style of music. I might be listening to Paul McCartney and Wings in the car and get some melody out of that. The broader the spectrum of music you listen to, you’ll become a better songwriter. It’s hard to explain it, because it sounds nothing like it, and I don’t know how it works, but for whatever reason, Crowbar comes out sounding super heavy aggressive like no one else. That’s what we want to sound like and it works.
There’s one song on this album that sticks out like a sore thumb called “Amarithine”…
I was talking forever about doing an acoustic album with just me and a guitar. It’s actually two guitars, but they play the same thing on that. There are a lot of songs like that. I want to bring that element into Crowbar. It’s one of those things where it’s an emotional song, but it’s eerie, and it’s heavy. It might be mellow, but lyrically, it’s the first song I wrote the lyrics for on this record, and it’s about my wife. It’s dedicated to her. She’s such a big influence on my life and has turned my life completely around. She’s my best friend and understands me. She’s wonderful and I love her, so that song was for her and she said, “That’s beautiful.” People might be like, “Oh, he wrote that about his wife. That’s gay!”
How completely ignorant for someone to say that…
I’ve always been the kind of dude to wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t try to act tough. I am who I am. I’m proud of that. I wrote a song to my daughter called “Echo Into Eternity” on Sever the Wicked Hand. I write about things that touch my life, whether it’s positive or negative. A song about my wife, my daughter, friends, drugs, alcohol, anything in life. Anything that pisses me off, whatever it is, I just write from my heart.
A lot of metal bands focus on negative things rather than exploring life, which is what Crowbar does. I really appreciate that.
To me, it’s about emotion. It’s kind of hard to write or play with real emotion when you’re writing fiction. That’s just me. There are bands that can do that, like Iron Maiden. They pull off stories in such an amazing way.
It’s fantasy. It’s like a movie and a soundtrack. It works for them. It’s great. They’re brilliant. For me, though, it’s about my emotion, and that’s where I approach it from.
When you quit Down, you discussed your struggles with alcohol. What about now? Are you straight?
It’s not about being straight. It’s about the on/off switch working! It’s what Phil [Anselmo] said and it’s true, because he is true. To be honest, I always talk about it publicly, because it’s important for younger fans or older people who may be older than me. I think it’s important to talk about things that are negative. To me, it’s having so many days off – it’s hard to explain, but the last tour I did with Down. It was so hard to have my heart in it and try so hard on stage, and I had nothing against the music, but for me – in order to have control over my life – I had to make a decision when I would tour, where I was going to tour, how long I was going to tour. When we were doing the Down thing, we’d take maybe 20 days off at a time and then go play a show, come back and then maybe take 20 days off again. I don’t like days off. It’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of money. It’s a waste of everything. I’m on tour to play. I’m on tour to be on stage and be who I am and perform. I’m not on tour to go sightseeing. It’s not what it’s about. What works for me, it’s best to land and get some rest, wake up the next day, and knock out 20 gigs in a row. That’s how it works for me. For Phil, it’s different with his singing style, he has to take days off in order to rest his voice. For me, my singing style is different and I don’t need the days off. I don’t want them off. Being away from my family, in a hotel, bored out of my mind – I didn’t want to do anymore. So I had to make the choice that was best for me and my life, and for the band as well. I’m still friends with them. I talked to them a few days ago, before they left. I have Crowbar. I’m touring and seeing the world and still jamming every night. I have the best of both worlds.
Do you have any plans to return with Kingdom of Sorrow?
What happened with Down was, though Down was the side project, Down became the head project. When Kingdom of Sorrow started, Crowbar was the main project and added Kingdom of Sorrow as the side project, but we were working too much with three bands. Trying to juggle that shit… And I had a family so it just didn’t work. With Jamey [Jasta], it works because 99% of him is Hatebreed. We tried to do some Kingdom stuff and it worked. We record mostly with Kingdom. We don’t really tour with Kingdom. We might play a few short dates or some festivals here and there. Jamey and I work together, and managing Crowbar, it’ll never be a conflict of schedule. People forever are asking how do you play in three bands and I didn’t know, but it became too much. Now, with my professional life changing for the better, I have a better relationship than ever with my daughter, and I have a family now and it’s wonderful. For me, everything works out great. I’m really, really blessed and in a good place mentally and physically.
That focus comes out on the new album too.
In the beginning of Crowbar, when I first started, I was a young dude and I had no responsibility. Just drink beers and write songs and have a good time and enjoy life. It was easy. Me now, it’s more about… If you’re in a good place and block out the distractions that get in the way of focus, it’s going to only be better. It’s going to be the best it could be. Like you said, it shows on Symmetry that the focus is there and there was nothing that stopped me from putting in all the effort and focus. It’s wonderful to be in that position.
Your album covers have religious significance. Jesus on the cross on the self-titled, the angel with the sword on Sever the Wicked Hand, a statue of Virgin Mary on Sonic Excess, a cathedral on Broken Glass. Why this theme?
It’s weird to bring that up. A lot of times, we do have religious imagery to the band. Personally, myself and Tommy (our drummer), we’re Christian in the sense we believe in God and Jesus. We don’t go to Church or follow religion. We don’t believe in the hypocrisy of organized religion. My personal spiritual relationship with God is between me and God. I don’t force it down anyone’s throats or talk about it.
That’s fucking awesome.
I don’t need to put a fish on the back of my car. I’m not being sarcastic – well I am being sarcastic. My spiritual belief is that I believe in God and Jesus, and that gives me strength. I don’t need to preach to anyone. I’m not going to force it down anyone’s throat. I’ll walk into Phil’s house and he’ll have goat heads, and I’ll be in my house with a cross on the wall, drinking a beer, and we laugh about it. That’s the way it should be. If you feel better talking to a tree, whatever, so be it, whatever makes you feel better is all that counts. We are who we are and we pray. My spiritual beliefs give me strength, and if you get it – there’s so many ways to open your mind. A lot of people jog. There are so many different things that people do to open their mind and lift their spirits. Whatever it might be, if it’s God or animals.
As long as you’re not harming anyone, right?
Exactly! I don’t want to get too far into it, because I’m not a televangelist, but anything that doesn’t harm children or animals, I don’t care. I do my own thing for me, my wife, my family, and my band. We’re all happy.