Kirk Windstein has earned a little R&R. The 44-year-old dipped his big mitts into Louisiana's underground metal scene in 1987, and hasn't silenced his bass since. In 1989, he created the genre-storming sludge-metal band Crowbar, and in the 2000s, he started up a side project with Hatebreed's Jamey Jasta called Kingdom of Sorrow.
Windstein's also a founding member of New Orleans metal quintet, Down; the band -- if you walked down the hall of heavy metal history -- you'd see on display as "Best Metal Supergroup: 1991-present."
Down's members come from some of the most worshipped bands in modern American metal: Pantera (vocalist Phil Anselmo, guitarist Rex Brown); Crowbar (Windstein); Eyehategod (drummer Jimmy Bower); and Corrosion of Conformity (guitarist Pepper Keenan) -- just to name a few. This combination of seasoned talent has given Down a back-breakingly heavy and simultaneously sorrowful sound that sets it apart from the rest with roots in southern rock, as well as sludge, grunge and groove metal.
So it's only fair that Windstein -- the musician who earns just enough money to "keep the lights on and a roof over my head" -- gets to eat like a king before heading out on tour.
"I just ate two pounds of crawfish, a pound of shrimp, a couple of crabs, and had like six beers," says Windstein in a kind, leisurely Southern drawl somewhat unfitting of his bouncer-like stature and mountain-man beard. "When I'm on the road I try to eat correctly, keep my drinking to something under control at least, and you know, warm up on guitar. But I'm not on tour yet!"
In the past, Down's genre-less sound has put them on tour with acts ranging from Brit-rock band BADDIES to prog-metal vets Voivod. The trend continues today, as Down is currently headlining a tour that bills legendary grunge metal band The Melvins as the opening act. The tour stops in Salt Lake City at In The Venue on Friday, Aug. 21 marking the band's first return since opening for Metallica last November.
"The Melvins are some of my idols -- very big influence on Crowbar, one of my other bands, and also on Down a bit," says Windstein. "I'm looking forward to hanging out with the guys, a lot of camaraderie, and a little bit of beer-drinkin' of course. Just havin' a nice time with the fellas and doing what touring's supposed to be -- enjoying yourself with your friends."
While we chat, Windstein and his girlfriend Kate -- whom he refers to as his wife because they "had our own special vow thing" -- are driving just outside New Orleans. We're bullshitting about the weather (rainy and hot), his kid (a 6-year-old daughter named Hailey) and his favorite bands ("Fuckin' Mötörhead -- sorry for cussin' darlin'."). After we're both warmed up, I dip into more sentimental territory. I ask him how well he gets along with his bandmates, particularly the insanely talented, volatile vocalist, Phil Anselmo.
"We call ourselves a brotherhood, and we do mean that," he says. "And brothers fight, a lot. We fight a lot -- I'm not gonna lie to ya -- but at the same time, we all respect one another very much and love one another very much. I'd die for any one of these dudes in my band."
Windstein lightens the mood by telling me he's excited Anselmo recently signed Crowbar to his label, Housecore Records.
"We're releasing like nine of the previous Crowbar records, and we're also releasing a new live record and a new studio record," he says. "So when I get back from the Down tour, I'm going to pretty much dive back into the Crowbar world."
Windstein says the Crowbar stuff will be "coming out a-plenty later this year and especially next year." He also plans on doing "as much as I can" with Kingdom of Sorrow. But musical ambition aside, Windstein says sorry fans, the rumored fourth Down album ain't comin' anytime soon.
"We're looking forward to getting in the studio and gettin' things rollin,' but we're not really trying to write right now," he says.
The insight is flowing like cold beer on a hot NOLA day -- until nature calls on the other line, and Windstein picks it up.
"I talked to Philip this evening about release dates -- hold on a second, I'm trying to get ATM cash out -- I need more food, I'm fat. Um, hang on ... you know what? Fuck it -- I gotta pee. Stay on the phone. The ATM wasn't workin' but that's OK. If you hear a noise, I'm tinkling."
I try not to listen to him finishing business, then fight to hear him give his wrap-up speech over the fury of an automatic hand dryer.
"Amanda, darlin'," he drawls. "Every single time I hit a chord, a part of me dies, in a good way. We're all gonna die anyway -- ain't nobody gonna escape the reaper. It's not like I'm stabbin' my self with an ax or nothin'. But if music doesn't bring a tear to my eye or give me goosebumps or something good like that, then it ain't worth a shit. That's why I hate mechanical-sounding crap because it's all computers and it's not (sighs) from the heart."
The hand dryer shuts off and we say our goodbyes. And as we hang up, he leaves me with a gem so particularly Windsteinian that I can't help but smile as I stop the recorder:
"Pretty eloquent for a fat old bald guy, huh?"