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Brutal and Evolving – A Conversation with Kirk Windstein

Synconation Speaks with Kirk Windstein of Crowbar, Down and Kingdom of Sorrow

Everything else in your life can be going to shit, but when I am up there, it’s magic, that’s what I live for.

Photo By: Sam Scott-Hunter

Fans of Crowbar, Down and Kingdom of Sorrow know exactly what Kirk Windstein is capable of. His career has produced some of the most uncompromising, brutal and at times unexpected metal of the last 20 years. Windstein’s primary endeavor, in which he plays guitar and handles vocals, is Crowbar. “The Kings of Sludge”…  If you have seen them live, you know that they live up to their billing; slow, megalithic riffs, played at the pace of a funeral dirge, juxtaposed with Windstein’s low growl make for a potent and overwhelming sonic combination. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Windstein live several times, in various projects through the years. I was recently able to see Crowbar twice in the span of a few months.

Without delving into Windstein’s personal history, I can attest to his lyrics ability to reach effortlessly into the darkest areas of humanity’s collective subconscious and relate to the undercurrents common in the thoughts of so many…  At one show, I overheard multiple fans shouting to Windstein while he was on stage “preach it,” in a sense, I could understand where they were coming from.

When I spoke to Windstein, I found him to be accessible and personable…  after a time, when he grasped my attachment to his work, and my personal admiration for him, he freely asked questions about my opinions as a fan and a fellow musician. What started as an interview, became more of an open conversation, the following however, only contains a strict depiction of our Q & A session…

Synco: You’ve been tremendously influential as a guitarist and musician.  What artists or bands would you list as your chief influences?

KW: Too many to list but, Zepplin, Thin Lizzy, early classic Kiss (before the bubble gum stuff) were  huge influences on me. Then I got into the whole new wave of British heavy metal, Motorhead, Maiden, (Judas) Priest, Saxon, etc..  And some of the older East coast hardcore stuff, Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Sick of It All, type of bands. The Melvins were also a huge influence in the late 80’s, I liked the way that when they played slow it was so, HEAVY, but when they played fast it sounded like hardcore. The last thing that I can say was much of an influence on my style, was Type-O Negatives “Slow Deep and Hard.” Around the time I heard this, Crowbar was already born and moving along. Phil Anselmo (Pantera Vocalist) had got me an advance copy of it on cassette, and I was listening to it a long time before it was even released. That was pretty much the last album that I can say was much of an influence on me.

Synco: You’ve been very prolific through the years, with Crowbar, Down and kingdom of sorrow. It seems all the music bears your distinct signature, without being too repetitive.  Where do you find inspiration?

KW: That’s a really good question, I’ve got over 14 full-length records…  It’s kind of hard not to. I just think that every time you play the guitar, for me at least, I evolve a little bit. When it comes to writing it’s the same thing, when I sit down and write a riff, I try to keep an open mind, to constantly expand where I’m going, as I’m writing a riff that’s going to turn into a another riff, that’s going to turn into a song. I’m trying to break down any barriers I have, just open up and try different things. Personally I don’t know theory much at all and I like it that way.  It works that way for me…  like for instance, Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick) he’s a great writer, it’s pop, but with balls, said one time, after being asked about all these different, weird chords he plays, he says “I don’t know, I’m sure there’s a name for them, but I don’t know what the fuck they’re called,” that’s how I am.

Synco: When can we look forward to the new Down album?

Photo from Down​-Nola​.com

KW: It’s coming man, we’ve got lots of material, we’re also talking about the possibility of just continuously putting out  5 song EP’s, boom, boom, boom, boom.. you know, because it takes us so long to get a whole album out. We just want to get fresh Down  music out there. The way the music business and the whole retail scene has changed so much, we think that just doing EP’s might be one of our better possibilities.

Synco: What would you say was your all time personal favorite concert, from a personal performance standpoint?

KW: There have been so many, with Down we tour with Heaven and Hell, we toured with Metallica, we opened for AC/DC…  I’d have to say this, we opened for AC/DC in Bucharest, Romania.  It was just AC/DC and Down on the bill, 50,000 capacity, obviously it was sold out because it was AC/DC.  It was pretty crazy, that whole day was surreal.  Malcom’s (Young) tech was super cool, I got to play his guitar, you know the one with the one pickup in it, the infamous Gretsch Jet. That show stands out. And then when Down supported Metallica on the first leg of the Death Magnetic tour, on the last show of our leg of the tour, was at New Orleans Arena, where the Hornet’s play. It’s a 20,000 seat venue, sold out, and to play there with Metallica in my home town was special. James (Hetfield) actually got up and played Bury Me in Smoke with us, he fired up his rig, it was the real deal, we had kind of gone over it a little bit. He’s a big fan, that’s why we had gotten on those shows to begin with. I’ve got a really good picture of me , Pepper (Keenan) and James Hetfield playing Bury Me In Smoke.

Synco: Crowbar has always centered around you, but it seems like you guys are enjoying yourselves up there, what is the vibe around the current line-up and how long have you been playing with those guys?

KW: It’s a great line up, the vibe is really cool, I’ve been friends with all the guys for a long time I’ve known Tommy our drummer, since ’86, so we go way back as friends. It’s a great vibe, we’re obviously 4 individuals, that’s how every band is…  you can be great friends, but your still an individual, like with Down, I’m great friends with everybody, but we 5 distinct personalities. All that matters is that you can get along with one and other, respect each other, that it IS a brotherhood and when you plug in and you’re ready to jam, everybody is on the same page and in the pocket. The line-up we have now, I just can’t see ever changing it.

Synco: Do you see any more videos or singles released from the current album?

KW: We are thinking about doing a video for Let Me Mourn, perhaps around May sometime.

CROWBAR – “The Cemetary Angels” :

Synco: Any new acts that you think a Crowbar oriented metal fan might want to look out for?

KW: All of our influences are old, so I don’t really know…  It’s hard to say. There’s a really good band that I’m friends with who toured with us and Sepultura in Europe called Armed for Apocalypse, they are along the lines of crowbar. And Haarp out of New Orleans, on Phil Anselmo’s label, Housecore Records. If you’re into the Melvins or Crowbar, you may like it.

Synco: It seems like even after the considerable time you have in, that you still love being up there, playing to the faithful. How does it make you feel to be on stage, and hear people singing your songs back to you?

KW: Really that’s the one thing that’s awesome about it all. Even at shows like last night, I’d spent most of the day on the bus hacking up shit with a headache, sore throat…  I’m not crying about it, I’m blessed to be where I am. Some days when you’re feeling great and you’re not burned out and everything’s fine, you have a great day. Some days, everything is shit, but as I heard Lemmy (Kilmster, Motorhead) say in an interview a long time ago,  “There are so many assholes in this business, they steal your fucking money, the lawyers the record companies…  they can fucking have it all.  They cannot take away that time on stage every night, THAT is what I live for.” That’s what gives me shivers up my spine, when I hit the stage and jam, that’s what I live for. Everything else in your life can be going to shit, but when I am up there, it’s magic, that’s what I live for.

Visit Crowbar’s official website to learn more about the band and to purchase their music and visit Relapse Records to learn more about Kurt Windstein’s various projects.

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