CROWBAR – The Wicked Hand Severed
By the time the third studio full-length from North American supergroup Down – Down III: Over The Under – underwent issue in September 2007, guitarist Kirk Windstein’s other outfit Crowbar had last released material in February 2005. That studio outing was titled Lifesblood For The Downtrodden, and was the New Orleans, Louisiana sludge metal veteran’s eighth in all. 2007 rolled into 2008, 2008 rolled into 2009, and 2009 subsequently into 2010. Doubts regarding Crowbar’s future naturally surfaced as a result, but the issue of ninth studio record Sever The Wicked Hand has laid such doubts to rest. “The songwriting process started in late ’05, early 2006, which was about the time I was beginning to get busy with Down, so I laid it to rest for awhile,” Kirk Windstein confirms, founder, guitarist and vocalist for Crowbar. “I’d write some riffs here and there when I had a break from Down’s very busy schedule, but at the beginning of 2010 I started putting together everything. Down was pretty slow last year, and I had the time to get things together. We landed a good deal for Crowbar for the new record, and it needed to be an important record so I put together a lot of stuff in the first half of 2010, and then really the rest of it just came to me in the month of August 2010. I guess I finished up maybe half of it – six to seven songs were written in that one month, and ended up being the strongest songs on the record. The writing process was a little different; normally, we’d come off tour, we’d start writing, and then the songs would be written and we’d book time in the studio and record the songs. It was different on this though, but it just so happened that everything worked out well obviously.”
E1 Music is overseeing Sever The Wicked Hand’s North American issue, while Century Media Records is supervising its European release. “Really, my management which is Steve Ross – who also manages Hatebreed – and Jamey Jasta from Hatebreed had been speaking to the guys from E1, and said ‘Look, I think we can get you a really good deal on a great label’,” the guitarist explains. “E1 is basically a major label in the States; they have Black Label Society and High On Fire, and they have a bunch of different styles of music that really, really sell some records, like r’n’b and hip-hop, and just different things. It’s a payment label, and not just heavy metal or what not.
“They landed a good deal for us though, and fortunately for us E1 have been great with everything as well as Century Media. We didn’t sign with Century Media – I believe the album is licensed directly from E1 to Century Media for the UK, all of mainland Europe and what not. Really, I’ve been impressed by both Century Media and E1; everybody at both labels have done a fantastic job, so we’re very happy and pleased to be in the position we’re in. I think we’re in a really good spot, because it’s the first time in the history of Crowbar we’ve ever been signed to two labels, two labels who basically these days would be considered major labels. We’ve always had very small independent labels, so this is much, much better for us. It’s a new opportunity to get this done properly.”
As previously stated, Lifesblood For The Downtrodden was released in February 2005 – on the 8th to be exact, precisely the same date on which Sever The Wicked Hand was released six years later. “I think it’s the most important – other than our first release – simply because we’ve been away,” Kirk acknowledges. “It’s been six years since we had a record out, and a lot has happened in the music industry. A lot has also happened with me personally, with the resurgence of Down, Down becoming a full-time project for several years and obviously touring extensively around the world, doing big tours and a lot of festivals and what not. That has brought a lot of attention to Down which in turn has brought a lot of attention to me and then to Crowbar.
“Now there’s such a big interest in Crowbar that’s never been there before, and that’s why I think this album is so important. There’s so many bands that are out there now that are successful bands who are passingly mentioning Crowbar as a big influence, and it’s really brought attention to the name Crowbar. I think it’s perfect timing for us, and that’s why it’s such an important record for us. It’s now or never, but so far, so good. It seems like things have gone really well, and the hype for the record, the reviews, the response to the record… Everything has been fantastic. We were really nervous going in, thinking ‘Wow, this is it.’ It’s do or die; either people are gonna accept us, this record’s gonna be great and we’re gonna finally get this to the next level after 20 years, or no-one’s gonna know who the hell we are and it’s gonna fail miserably, and that’s gonna be it for Crowbar.”
Consisting of Pantera members Phil Anselmo (vocals) and Rex Brown (bass) as well as Corrosion Of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan (guitars) and erstwhile Crowbar drummer Jimmy Bower, Down has occupied much of Kirk’s time in the last five years or so. With that being said, is Down still his main focus? “It’s hard to say,” the Crowbar founder replies. “Yesterday I had a Down rehearsal, where today is a Crowbar business day. I think I’m in a position right now with Down, with Crowbar, with Kingdom Of Sorrow – with all three bands – where from time to time each one of the three is gonna stand out as the priority band, depending on what’s going on right now. I’m working very heavily with Down and with Crowbar because we have some Down shows coming up, and we’re also writing at the same time. I’m doing tons of interviews and press and what not to promote, so it’s really a situation for me where I think all three bands are particularly important – it just depends. Whatever band is busy at that time is my main band. We’ve all decided with Down to do other projects; for Jimmy to be able to do as much as he wants with Eyehategod, for me to do Crowbar and Kingdom Of Sorrow, and for Philip to do Arson Anthem and his Housecore label. They’re all priorities now.”
If lightning strikes again so to speak then Sever The Wicked Hand’s successor will see daylight in 2017, though luckily the frontman doesn’t feel this will be the case. “I’d like to say never, but never again that long I would say,” laughs Kirk. “We’re gonna tour as much as we can, and yeah, I think that we can get another one out hopefully fairly soon. I want to consistently be involved with all three bands, and I think Crowbar right now is as important as the other ones. I don’t see any reason why it should take this long for us to be able to get another Crowbar record out, so it shouldn’t take long at all really. I don’t want to say next year necessarily, but maybe late 2012, and if not then early 2013. I don’t want to rush it with Crowbar though because I’ve come this far and it’s been this long, so I don’t need to rush it. With that being said though, I don’t think it’s gonna take that long, not like this one did (laughs).”
During August 2010 in the midst of recording Sever The Wicked Hand, Kirk decided to become completely sober of alcohol and drugs. “Let’s put it this way: to be quite honest and blunt with you, it had gotten to the point where I was physically addicted to alcohol,” the vocalist confesses. “I used to have a very bad cocaine problem, but fortunately that problem had pretty much disappeared over the previous year leading up to alcohol becoming a problem. I was addicted to alcohol in the sense that I was drinking every day, and I physically needed a drink when I woke up in the morning. I would put it off as long as I could. I’d have a couple of drinks in the morning and then go back to sleep, and then wake up and try to pace myself so I could perform at night or be somewhat productive during that part of the day. One day the light bulb went off though, and I said ‘What the fuck am I doing? This is ridiculous; I’ve literally become a slave to alcohol.’ That’s not what it’s there for – it’s there to enjoy. I love the taste of beer and I’ll always love the taste of beer, but it’s there to enjoy. It’s not there to be abused and become addicted to, so for me it was a simple choice. My life is so much better than it was six months ago.
“With that said, I always say in interviews that I’m not the poster-boy for sobriety; I don’t go to AA meetings, and I don’t necessarily follow the rules that they set out. I do drink non-alcoholic beers, and I like ’em. I’m a beer drinker; I love the taste of beer, and I’m always gonna wanna drink. I just take one day at a time. I’ll never say that I’m never gonna drink again. The only promise I make to my bandmates and to my family is that they will never see me onstage drunk again or conducting business while I’m inebriated, or doing anything like that again. I’ve learned a lot; I’ve learned more in the last six months than I probably have in the last 20 years about drugs and alcohol. I’ve learned – just like so many others – that some people can be productive, but there’s only one Lemmy. I think I, like so many other people, tried to emulate one of my idols. Lemmy’s obviously one of my big idols, and I wanted to be that way. I wanted to be able to drink all day; I wanted to be able to just live the rock’n’roll lifestyle 24/7, but he’s the only person that can do it – maybe him and Keith Richards (laughs). You either quit, you get your shit together, you really settle down, and you get it under control or you die. It was a pretty simple decision to me honestly.”
Drug and alcohol issues have plagued the 45-year-old musician “pretty much” his entire adult life. “As a late teen, it wasn’t really a problem,” Kirk notes. “In my mid-20s it started to become a problem, so I’d say about the last 20 years I’ve had an alcohol problem. Cocaine didn’t really come into play until I was around 30 I’d say basically; I’d done cocaine a few times in my life but around aged 30 I began to use cocaine every weekend, and then a couple of times a week, and then up to the point where I was using constantly. If it was available, I was using every day. It’s obviously not healthy. There’s nothing good about it, ya’ know?”
As is the case with all addicts, Kirk’s relationships with friends and family members have been affected, and he has paid the price for his addictions. “Yeah I have,” the guitarist admits. “At the same time though I have very supportive family and friends. I’ve had a few relationships that were really ruined by it – I’ll say that – but everything happens for a reason and if you live you learn, and I have definitely learned. I’m very happy. To be honest with you I wouldn’t change a thing because if I changed things I wouldn’t be the man I am today, and right now I’m happy with the man I am today, the man that I’ve grown into, and the father that I am, and the musician that I am. There’ve been a lot of dark periods with these struggles, but if you do survive it’ll make you into a stronger, better person.”
Though the New Orleans native still drinks beer and will always “love the taste” of it, he doesn’t view cocaine in the same affectionate manner. “Cocaine is one thing I’ll never do again; I don’t enjoy it, and I haven’t enjoyed it for a long time,” Kirk states matter-of-factly. “It costs so much money and it’s so dangerous, especially as you get older. Your heart and your body makes you consume massive amounts of alcohol to try to come down off of the fucking drug, so as far as cocaine, I absolutely despise it. Like I said, I’m six months sober where alcohol is concerned. I’m not trying to jinx myself by saying ‘Wow, I’ve won. I’ve beat alcohol.’ A lot of people who quit go back to it. I take it one day at a time, and I wanna make sure I know as much as I can about it and hope that I can control it if I ever decide to try it again, because it’s very difficult. I’ve said this in previous interviews, but it’s a very simple fact: quitting cocaine is the easiest thing I’ve ever done. All you do is you delete the drug dealers’ phone numbers and quit hanging out with people who use, and quit hanging out in bar rooms and pubs and what not where you know you can buy it. Just quit it. I literally said ‘Enough is enough’ with cocaine; I started deleting drug dealers’ numbers from my phone, I quit hanging out in bars and pubs where I know I can buy it at, and I don’t even think about it. It’s easy. Trying to quit beer is very difficult; it’s socially acceptable, it’s legal, it’s plentiful and it’s expected. You go out for a few pints with the guys if you watch football and that’s just the way it is, so it’s difficult. I just take it one day at a time though. I just feel that every day that goes by where I don’t drink, I’ve won something.”
An addict deleting the telephone numbers of their drug dealers as well as staying away from the company of fellow addicts could be construed as severing the “wicked hand.” “‘Sever the wicked hand’ is just a metaphor for anything negative in your life, whether it’s drugs and alcohol, whether it’s hanging out with a bad crowd, whether it’s a bad relationship or whatever it might be,” the frontman reveals. “It’s really a metaphor for that. If it’s a food addiction, if it’s a dead-end job that’s just dragging you down and depressing you… Whatever’s negative in your life man, fucking sever your ties with that; cut it off, cut away all those people and cut away all those substances or whatever it is, and move into a positive direction with the rest of your life. There’s something better out there.”
Sever The Wicked Hand’s recording process marks the first occasion the Crowbar leader has cut his vocals in a sober state. “As far as riffs, writing and recording the guitar parts and whatever, I’ve always done that sober,” Kirk clarifies. “It’s the first time I’ve ever sang sober though. I was a bit intimidated at first and it was definitely scary, but once I found out that I can not only do it but do it better sober, I really embraced it. As far as singing sober, it really brought out a different depth in my vocals – it brought out a different emotion. My emotions weren’t masked by alcohol; they were true emotions, and it took a little bit to tap into them. Once I tapped into them though, it really did bring out the best in me vocally. I’m not a great singer by any means, but I think the best vocals I’ve ever done are on Sever The Wicked Hand. It was a very cool experience to do that sober and find that I enjoy doing it sober. It was very cool.”
And for the first time in many years, a sober Kirk is handling live commitments. “There were worries in the beginning because I hadn’t done it since I was a young teenager,” the vocalist confides. “I was very nervous in the beginning, but wow, it feels so comfortable. It feels so great to know that I am on top of my game; I know that I’m playing the best I can play and I know that I’m singing the best I can sing. I’m not gonna get up there and give less than a 100%, playing or singing. It’s a very good feeling to not think ‘Oh jeez, I hope I didn’t drink too much before the show. I hope I don’t fuck up.’ That’s a scary feeling. You’re cheating yourself, but more importantly you’re cheating the audience. You’re cheating people who’ve paid their hard-earned money to come and see you if you get up there and you’re less than a 100% because you decided to drink before the show and onstage, and maybe you’re not playing to the best of your ability. You’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating the audience and it’s just not fair.”
Though six years separate Lifesblood For The Downtrodden and Sever The Wicked Hand, the band’s captain views the latter as “a natural progression.” “I say all the records are a natural progression of where we left off, but I think the most important thing was in hindsight it seems like it was a really good thing that we did take a long time,” Kirk maintains. “That we did step away from Crowbar, and that I did personally step away from Crowbar. It’s just lit a fire that maybe started to fade a little bit and got me super-excited about Crowbar again as a songwriter. As this record has been made and is now complete, when I listen to it I think it’s the most complete body of work I’ve ever done with Crowbar because it touches on all the elements that make up the Crowbar sound. It’s got everything that was ever touched upon on any of the previous eight records – all of that is present on this album in one way or another. I think this is the most complete record we’ve ever done.”
As has been the case since September 1991 debut full-length Obedience Thru Suffering (Pavement Music), doom metal merchants and hardcore outfits inform Crowbar’s sound. “To be honest, Crowbar are influenced by all of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands and influenced by Black Sabbath,” the guitarist affirms. “And we’re influenced by American doom bands that took a lot from Sabbath as well such as Saint Vitus and Trouble and Pentagram and bands like that, by The Melvins, by Carnivore, and by a lot of the very New York hardcore stuff like Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All, Cro-Mags and bands like that. I can honestly say that the last record that had an influence on Crowbar as far as our sound is probably Type O Negative’s Slow, Deep And Hard (June 1991, Roadrunner Records), their first record. Right around the time that record came out, we were recording Obedience Thru Suffering – our first record – and they were my favourite band at the time. Since Obedience Thru Suffering came out 20 years ago, there hasn’t been any other band that has really influenced the sound of Crowbar once the sound of Crowbar was created. What we’ve always done is refine it and fine-tune it over the last 20 years, so I’m really still heavily influenced by all the older stuff.”
What about Slow, Deep And Hard influenced Crowbar, Kirk? “Right before that, the previous stuff that Peter Steele did was the Carnivore stuff. Carnivore’s Retaliation record came out in 1987 and that record heavily, heavily influenced me, and then when Type O Negative came about Phil Anselmo had gotten a demo of it through Kerry King (Slayer guitarist) or someone when I think back – the demo tape of the full record had leaked out, and that Phil had gotten it from someone. When I had that tape, it was a good bit of time before the record was actually released. It was at that time that Crowbar was being formed, and I just loved everything about it – it’s so heavy. Back then Type O Negative’s first record was much more aggressive, much more hardcore – there was still a bit of that. I think Peter Steele was still finding the exact direction he wanted to go with his project with the addition of the keyboards, with the addition of Kenny’s vocals and Kenny’s guitar playing. For me though, that’s always gonna be my favourite Type O record because to me it’s their heaviest one, it’s their most aggressive one and it was written at a time in my life where that record was the most important record in my life. At the time it was out, it really was; it helped me through a lot of relationship problems and different issues and what not. It’s just a very special record to me.”
Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele sadly died of heart failure on April 14th, 2010 at the age of 48. “I was very, very upset,” the Crowbar singer says in reference to Steele’s death. “I was in Germany with Sepultura on my birthday, which is April 14th – that’s the day Peter Steele died. I didn’t even realise at the time, because we hadn’t yet heard the news. It was my birthday, and here Crowbar was supporting Sepultura. I got up and played ‘Orgasmatron’ with them for my birthday. I didn’t get particularly drunk; I’d had some drinks with the guys, and I had a great time, and I jammed with Sepultura on a Motörhead song. It was great. I go to bed, and then I get up. Everybody was emailing, texting and calling me in Germany about Peter, and I was crushed, I really was. I knew Peter not very, very well, but I had played shows with him and had had good conversations with him on many occasions, and I knew Johnny and Kenny from Type O very well. It was so upsetting, not just as a friend. I felt for Peter’s family, I really felt for his bandmates, and obviously I felt for him because he’s no longer here. It just really opened my eyes in a lot of ways. I know he wouldn’t have overdosed or anything like that, but from things I’ve heard – and I don’t want to be misquoted or say anything out of context – I’m sure that his own struggles with drugs and alcohol probably contributed a lot to his early passing, and that was really a wake-up call for me. That had a lot to do with me saying ‘You know what? You need to turn your life around. You’ll be 48 soon – he died on your 45th birthday.’ That was very scary for me. That was actually only four and a half months before I decided it was time for me to get my shit together, so it was a very big wake-up call and a very sad experience. Thankfully, we do have tons of great music that Peter has put out that we can all enjoy.”
Despite Crowbar’s inactivity in recent years, bass guitarist Pat Bruders (ex-Goatwhore) and drummer Tommy Buckley (Soilent Green) have remained loyal to their leader’s cause. “That’s honestly the one main thing that has really let me know… We did some touring here and there, doing shows where we could, but obviously I was very, very busy with Down,” Kirk comments. “I just told them ‘Guys, be patient. There’s gonna come a time when Down are gonna take a little break, and when Crowbar’s gonna be my priority again. We’re gonna make the best record we’ve ever made, and we’re gonna take this thing to the next level.’ Both guys were patient, and I thank them for that very much. It just made us a lot closer as friends and as bandmates. None of us could be happier with the outcome of the new record.”
“Musicianship-wise, this is the best line-up I’ve ever had by far,” the frontman continues. “There’s always been a great drummer, a Jimmy Bower or Craig Nunenmacher. There’s always been a couple of guys in the band that I thought were really great, but as a complete four-piece band of musicians this is the tightest, best line-up that Crowbar’s ever had, so I couldn’t be happier with the line-up. It’s a great line-up, and it shows live; it shows the musicianship. We’re not a technical band and it’s not hard stuff, but you’ve still gotta know your shit to play and bring your A-game every night. These guys are all just great, and it shows.”
Sever The Wicked Hand was released on February 8th, 2011 in North America via E1 Music, and on the 14th and 15th in the United Kingdom and Europe respectively through Century Media Records.
Interview published in February 2011.
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