There are not many artists out there whose musical CV includes touring in support of Metallica around the world, having the living legend James Hetfield perform his music on stage and being a member of three high profile bands at the same time, right? Well, who said that Kirk Windstein is an ordinary person anyway?
Having been through a trip of self-discovery which resulted in some very important lifestyle changes, Kirk has decided to re-activate Crowbar, with whom he is about to release an album of immense quality, named “Sever The Wicked Hand”.
I had the pleasure of doing an interview with the friendly axeman at the Camden Underworld on the night of the 20th of January and, as you are soon to discover, many important topics were discussed, as a result of which, many important conclusions were reached. Life is good when you experience it with a clear head!
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Hi, Kirk. Thank you for doing this interview. It is a pleasure talking to you as you have played music in quite a few bands whose music I really love. Tonight we have a sold out show and that makes perfect sense as there are quite a few people that have been waiting for many years to see Crowbar live. How does it feel to know that, even after being away for five years, you are still capable of selling out a venue here in the UK?
Kirk: It feels very good. We didn’t know what to expect with the new record; we were cautiously optimistic, hoping that people did not forget about us and that we would get a good response and really it’s been overwhelming – both in the States and here; the hype for the new record, the excitement and everything has been very good!
• There are quite a few things that I want to ask you about “Sever The Wicked Hand”, but first I believe that we should focus on something a little bit different. You have been quite vocal of the fact that you have changed your lifestyle and improve things in your life which is quite admirable, especially when you are in this line of business. What were the reasons that made you opt for such a change?
Kirk: Not one thing in particular, just…you know, it’s just…you know, every year, you know, a lot of guys that play music for a living, a lot of guys that I know, die! And that is mainly to do with either drugs or alcohol and it was really like a situation where my life had gotten kind of consumed by…like I turned myself into an alcoholic!
I never drank as a kid and was never introduced to it early on, nothing like that, but it used to be just fun, kind of turning into where I needed a drink, you know? I would be shaking and stuff like that, and it would get to the point where I had all that potential, I was in three bands, I had the potential to have a really good career and I thought that in order to do that I needed to turn my life around.
Like I always say, I do not wave the flag of sobriety, I never say that I am not going to drink again or anything like that. But I am going on six months of this now and everything is so much more positive!
Everything is…I am able to enjoy myself every day! I drink the non-alcoholic beers, you know, but I am sure that it will be the day after the show when I will feel comfortable having a few beers but right now it is not the time. It’s amazing how many good things come your way when your life’s on track!
• This is like the curse of the scene, you know what I mean? It is the same for Metal in general, but this Doom, Stoner or whatever else scene you want to call it is like a living advertisement of the “let’s drink, let’s take drugs” attitude, so even if you are the strongest of characters, it must be difficult to abstain! Must be especially hard when you go on tour and you are constantly surrounded by people who live by that motto.
Kirk: Yes, that stuff is all around us all the time, I mean look (note: Kirk shows me the bar area of the London Underworld). Fortunately for me…I used to do cocaine and that has gotten out of my life for quite a while now – people do it in front of me and it doesn’t interest me at all!
I don’t smoke weed and that is positive – the only thing that is difficult is…you know, I never really drank any hard liquor, just beer. That is hard because I love drinking beer. So, I drink the non-alcoholic ones, tonight I have the Becks blue, and they taste good! They taste like beer, so I can have a cold one in a pub, but I know that I am going to play 100% good, I am going to sing 100% good, I am going to do my press and not fear that I am going to slip up and say something that I really don’t want to say. I will do everything with a sharp and clear mind and it makes it worth it, you know? It’s better!
• If you had the chance to communicate a message to the younger people in the audience tonight, the people who still live and breathe this kind of lifestyle, would you recommend them to stop living in such a way?
Kirk: No. It is something that people might have to go through in order to learn for themselves. Some people are able to do it; I mean look at Lemmy! He is sixty five years old now and we all know how much whiskey he drinks and the speed, you know (laughs)…it works for him, it works for Keith Richards (laughs)…it depends on the person!
I am not going to break or look down on people if I see them fall down drunk – I can’t. I have been that way so I cannot look down on it…I think that it’s up to each person, if they start experimenting with drugs and alcohol…alcohol is the hardest one as it is socially acceptable and is legal!
I mean, I cannot watch an American Football game without a hundred fu*king commercials popping up on TV. I cannot get to the store to get a loaf of bread without seeing beer signs flashing. You know, it’s different; it’s easier to quit hard drugs because all you do is quit calling the dealers and quit going to all the wrong places.
Quitting cocaine was as easy as sh*t – don’t go look for it! Alcohol is difficult! I don’t preach, though – each to his or her own! Some people can live it and live a long life and be productive doing it…once it gets to the point of not being productive then it’s time to turn your life around!
It doesn’t mean that I am not going to drink again – it just means that to me this is not simple a “oh I am quitting drinking”! Every aspect of my life has to be changed around in order for me to be the best person that I can be and be the most productive father, husband and musician and business guy that I can be, you know?
• Ok, let us concentrate on the new album now. It’s been six years since the release of your previous effort! It is almost unbelievable! Why did it take such a long time for a new Crowbar album to come out? We do know that you are a busy man and that you have all these bands going at the same time…
Kirk: That is what it was! I mean, I will keep it brief about Hurricane Katrina because that has been run into the ground but, you know, Crowbar put out a record back in 2005 (note – “Lifesblood for the Downtrodden”) starting zooming along and everything was working fine. We came and supported Hatebreed here in the UK, we supported Corrosion Of Conformity in America and, you know, when that tour ended, two months later…no, one month later, Hurricane Katrina came and so that kind of fu*ked everything up, obviously.
And right before the hurricane came, we were talking with Down as a group to kind of focus and concentrate on things. I came in the UK for a tour in January or February 06 and then from right after that until August of 2010 my life has been nothing but Down. I was able to put two Kingdom Of Sorrow records in between and, you know, that’s why I took so long. It wasn’t like I was not doing anything!
The time that I was home…I mean with Down we played something like thirty countries or something as ridiculous as that – extensive touring; eight weeks at a time in Europe and the UK and also places like Scandinavia.
We’ve been to Russia, to Tel Aviv, we have been to Istanbul in Turkey…we’ve been to Bulgaria, Latvia and all these places. With Metallica we played a lot of those eastern countries, we did Japan and an Australian tour (laughs) – you name it! So, I have been busy, you know?
But now I saw the time…I got the feeling that the time was right for Crowbar! People are talking about it, younger bands are influenced by us and are talking about it – there’s more of a buzz about the band now than there ever has been, so it was just time to do it!
• For those who do not know, Crowbar is featuring a “new” line up – you have been working with this bunch of guys for many years now, right?
Kirk: Patrick (Bruders) and Tommy (Buckley), our bass player and drummer, have been with me seven years now! Matt (Brunson), our other guitar player, has been in the band like a year but he used to be my room mate, so …what happened was that Steve Gibb (ex-guitarist) who was in the band prior to Matt, he lives in Miami and he’s got a family there at it is very difficult for a band of Crowbar’s size to have members living so far away from each other that they have to fly for rehearsals and stuff.
It got to the point where, you know, he had some issues with drugs and alcohol himself, got himself sober, ended up being certified as a personal trainer and opened his own gym and now he is married with two kids. We are still good friends and we talk to each other all the time but he’s kind of doing his own thing and, you know, we asked Matt in and it is working just fine.
• Well Kirk, the new album “Sever The Wicked Hand”, is really amazing – I cannot think of a different way in order to describe it! How did the material come together – was it an easy process for you, going through the song writing process with new people on board? What is it that you did differently in comparison to your previous albums?
Kirk: Probably work just harder at it that ever before – that’s just one of the things that, you know, laying off the booze…I mean, my mind set as far as being productive has never been this way in my life!
That probably makes me sound like a lazy fat arsehole (laughs) for the previous forty five years of my life, but really it has. I learned a whole new work ethic, not only with doing business but also with writing, the studio…I produced the record myself! I want to oversee every aspect, everybody’s performance, make sure that I liked every drum lick, everything! I threw away songs, I re-wrote songs over and over again and, you know, it really kind of just…my outlook now, the way that I do things is just better than it’s ever been, you know?
• One thing that I really love about the new album is its variety – there’s something for everybody here! We have some old-school, riff orientated material, we have faster stuff and there are also many melodic themes involved. Did you start composing the material for “Sever The Wicked Hand” with a specific plan in mind?
Kirk: I was, I wanted to…what I had in mind was to make it the most diverse…I wanted to take all the elements that I have ever incorporated in Crowbar and put them in one record. We didn’t really bring anything new to the table – we just touched upon all those elements that we’ve touched on from the beginning up until now.
My main goal was to have the CD be like a throwback to when I was a kid and record an album where you didn’t just want to listen to two songs – you wanted to listen to the whole record! A time when a record was a musical journey, when it flowed from beginning to end and that was the way that you heard it and envisioned it, you know?
That was our main goal and that is why I believe that this is our most diverse record. It was a conscious thing to make it a complete twelve song piece of work. It is not a concept album but it was meant to be listened to in its entirety.
• It’s exactly what you said here! I did find listening to it being like a journey: after the first couple of spins, I couldn’t just select a song or two to focus on – I had to listen to it the whole way through. Every song in the album seems to have been strategically positioned in order to achieve maximum effect.
• Much as I hate the idea of singling out songs, I want to ask you a question about two or three of them that I really warmed to. One is “Isolation (Desperation)”, which is exactly what you want from an opening track, as it features some really punchy, in your face riffs. A deliberate decision to have it play this ‘role’, was it?
Kirk: Absolutely! That was the last song written and it was like kind of pieced together while we were recording it. I was kind of coaching our drummer through what I wanted him to do and once he had a solid drum track down, we kind of worked on the guitar and bass parts and whatever.
We kind of wrote it and we then wrote lyrics for it. I thought, if anything, that it was going to be the weakest song of the record and then when Zuzu, who mixed the record, heard it, he kind of went back to it becoming the opener. I was like “are you serious”? That’s when I started listening to it and I thought “damn, that’s good”.
You see, because of the way that it was put together, not half arsed but so quickly and being rushed, I kind of didn’t know what to think of it but then it came out quite fantastic!
• I hope that you won’t mind if we were to focus on two more songs, one of them being “Liquid Sky And Cold Black Erath”. Feel free to call me names, if you like, but when I listen to this song, one band that really comes to mind is Solitude Aeturnus, probably as a result of those epic lead guitar melodies that are on offer and the way that they operate. Is this totally a figment of my imagination, you reckon?
Kirk: No. I know John (note: Perez – guitars), I know Solitude Aeturnus. It wasn’t by any means…what it was meant to be was just a simple low-tempo, long melodic Doom song, you know?
A lot of people call it Sludge, a lot of people call it…you know, we have Hardcore elements and faster stuff but we’re also known partly as a Doom band. I just wanted to…I wanted to make a point! It was kind of almost like a “Fu*k you, you know what? We are going to make a six-minute song that never stops from this pace and which is going to be full of melodies and dark Doom and aggression”. It really came out great!
• It did indeed. There’s one more song I want us to talk about and that is “Cemetery Angels” as I absolutely adore this one!
Kirk: Awesome, thank you!
• Now, this composition has a certain Pantera feel to it, obviously, as a result of the special relationship that you have with Phil Anselmo. I heard somewhere, not sure if it is true, that you are planning on making a video for it – is that indeed the case?
Kirk: We did, we did! It debuted on MTV in America on Headbanger’s Ball this past week, so…you can probably find it on YouTube or something!
• Now, this is the first time that rumours turned out to be true (I laugh). Tell me a few things about the video then!
Kirk: The video itself was kind of a situation where we got word that I was going to be…I hosted an episode of Headbanger’s Ball when I was in New York and which should be airing soon. It was like “Oh my God – if he’s going to be hosting it then we have to have a video for it right now”, so we kind of did it all on the fly. I mean literally, I played a show in New Jersey before I was on tour with Crowbar in the States; I got to New York City. I got up at quarter to six in the morning, it was freezing cold, dark outside, jumped in the car and…it was a Sunday thank God so nothing was going on really.
We kind of…they shot some graveyard sequences and things like this but that was shot later on – it’s mainly live stuff from the show that night and me singing in a couple of different locations. It was kind of just literally: pull the car on the side, jump out, hand out the camera, and put the computer with the playback song on it and start doing it!
The guy who produced it is called Dale “Rage” Resteghini and he has done something like a hundred and fifty videos; he’s done like Children Of Bodom, Hatebreed, he’s done a bunch of heavy bands but he’s also done a lot of the big Hip Hop artists as well, so he’s like a really good professional video guy.
Even though it was kind of hurried, the finished product was really good – he did a great job! For the next video, I think that we are going to do one for the song “Let Me Mourn” and that one’s going to be more of a proper video – one with a story line on it.
• I recently did an interview with Geoff Tate from Queensryche during which we talked about videos in general and he expressed the opinion that back in the 90s it kind of made sense to have them because labels were willing to really invest in them. In the year 2011 do you still find them to be a necessity? Do you as a musician find a video as a tool that will help you promote your job?
Kirk: Yes! It’s just done differently because MTV doesn’t, for instance, instead of Headbanger’s Ball, they obviously don’t play anything heavy. They barely play music – it’s like a reality network or some sh*t like that…in the States anyway! It’s important because with the Internet you can use it as an advertising tool. The Internet is evil but is also great!
• Depends on how you use it, right?
• As far as I know you guys are doing a few dates here in the UK which I know are quite successful in the sense that tickets are selling and people are coming to see you.
Kirk: Yeah, it has been very good and the merchandise has been selling like crazy, you know?
• Do you have any other plans for touring as far as the new album is concerned?
Kirk: Yeah! In March, Helmet, Saint Vitus, Crowbar, Kylesa and a couple of other bands are doing a tour in the States so that’s going to be cool!
• What about the ‘old continent’? Are you going to grace us again with your presence here?
Kirk: Oh, yeah! We are probably going to come back in the fall and do an extensive European, UK tour everywhere. It has to be done, you know?
• See you twice in one year? You spoil us rotten!
Kirk: Yeah, this is more like a warm-up, a test of waters, you know, and as I said before we are very pleased with having to play in London in a sold out show during a week night! That shows what the hype for the band is right now and it’s fantastic!
Once the record is out and people absorb it we will want to come back – maybe, hopefully as a main support to a bigger act, to play some bigger venues, you know, and that is what we are going to do.
• As we said earlier, you are quite a busy guy, working with at least three main bands and having various different collaborations.
People are wondering whether Crowbar will be a main part of your musical activities in the future, especially knowing that Down take up a lot of your time and is your main focus as the most commercially successful band of the three?
Is it going to work like this from now on or are your plans to make Crowbar as important as Down?
Kirk: My plans are to make Crowbar and Kingdom Of Sorrow as important as Down is! Down will always do records, will always play shows and make music or whatever – I don’t think that we will have any long extensive plans…we toured so much; we have established ourselves – we don’t have to.
We all have the artistic musical needed to create with one another through Down because it’s the most successful band obviously and financially it’s good money-wise. My intention is for 2011, which is so far so good…I am already in the UK and I am pushing the new Crowbar record even before it is out…is to do as much as I can with all three bands without burning myself out.
• This is going to be a challenge in itself!
Kirk: Yes (laughs). I do have a clear head now so I can figure it all out; before, no problem – I would go home for one day, pack up my sh*t and go over here for this tour and, you know, that’s when I got into trouble! I was burning myself out and, you know, now I have learned to pace myself out in all aspects of life, you know?
• You have mentioned the word ‘success’ and those who have been involved in the music industry long enough are fairly aware that quality doesn’t necessarily bring success. If you were to speak to any young band, any young artist that is starting now with all those dreams and hopes for the future, what would be the one message that you were to give them in terms of the decision at hand?
Kirk: Hmm…if you are going to try to do it, the main reason people like…take Motorhead for instance! They are more popular now, and Lemmy is sixty five, you know, and Phil has got to be in his fifties, Phil Campbell (guitars)…it’s like, they never gave up, you know? They never give up!
They kept doing what they love to do, starting back in the 70s, were really big in the early 80s and started weaning off in the 90s – the 90s was a lean period for Motorhead! Little by little, people started coming around and everybody my age that was influenced by them was talking about them or wearing their shirt or whatever and it was like…the thing is, be prepared for a really, really rough ride because, as you say, success is nothing to do with quality!
If that were the case, most of the bands that I love with the exception of a few were never really huge in terms of commercial success. It has nothing to do…unfortunately, the ‘quality’ don’t get paid for quality. In fact the people that make all the money put out the sh*t, because the public accepts mediocrity and they accept whatever you force feed them! They don’t say “I don’t want that, I don’t want that”, they don’t search for something special or different.
Basically, just keep at it and never give up! If you give up, you are obviously not going to get anywhere but you never know if you stick with it what can happen!
• You have toured with many different musicians throughout the years and God knows you’ve had a long career as it is. If tonight’s show was to be your last show ever, for you as a musician regardless of the band you are in, what would be the highlight of your career? Which would be the moments that you would for ever remember? Perhaps the time that you toured with Pantera?
Kirk: Yeah, I mean, that all kind of fits…when we toured with Pantera, it was our first time like in an arena! That was special! Your first open air festival is special! I have played Download twice and those two shows are always going to be very special! I’ve done…we did all the Sonisphere shows with Metallica in 09 – that will always be special.
All the dates we did as a main support of Metallica in Eastern Europe where we played in football stadiums – that was crazy! We did two Heaven and Hell tours; we supported them in Canada and we did a slot in Australia as a support act for Heaven and Hell – that was unbelievable!
Playing with Motorhead on occasion has been like a dream…probably the biggest success, not really success…the biggest thing, the most surreal moment was when we supported Metallica in the US on the first leg of the “Death Magnetic” tour with the all-around stage set, you know? We played in front of eighteen to twenty thousand people and playing at home like that and being “wow”.
Then James Hetfield got up – he loves the band and that is why we were on the tour with Down, he got up and did “Bury Me In Smoke” and other Down songs with us and that was kind of crazy (laughs)! It was!
• Kirk, I have already taken full advantage of your time! Thank you very much for talking with us. Any message you want to give to your fans here in the UK?
Kirk: Yes, just thanks for the support! If you are a long term fan thank you, if you are a first timer in terms of being introduced to Crowbar, then give it a listen as it is something different, but I think that it is very special!
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