We had a chance to sit down with founding member, singer and guitarist Kirk Windstein before their show in Madison, Wisconsin. Crowbar, founded in New Orleans in 1990, is known for their heavy riffs and aggressive vocals, and for not fitting into a specific subgenre of metal. They are currently on an extended tour supporting their latest release, Zero and Below.
MSM: So this album took six years. When it came to your songwriting process, you’ve mentioned before that you write the music and then the lyrics come to you later. Did that differ at all with this one, having that extra time?
Kirk: No. Because I mean, honestly, the record was completed in early 2020 and we just sat there for two years until COVID started to go away. Which was a good thing to do. It was difficult and frustrating, but it was the right move in the end to do that. But no, I mean, my process is what it is. It’s always been that way. Like when I hear the riffs and stuff, I hear phrasing and melody or whatever, and then once I get that, I just start writing down ideas and it just kind of flows from there.
MSM: So you also mentioned before that this one had a lot of input from the other members as well?
Kirk: I mean, more so than a lot. Yeah. Shane, our bass player and Matt. Usually I come up with the main riff to all the songs, maybe one or two main riffs and then they’ll be like, I had an idea, what if we try this, you know? Matt had some great riffs and Shane had a couple of killer riffs and he came up with some ideas that I thought were really good. I’m basically the song arranger. But Shane had some good arrangement ideas on this one, so I really get help.
MSM: So you said you had this one mostly done before COVID?
Kirk: Yeah, it was done. Oh, it was mixed, mastered, turned into the label. Ready to go on tour, the whole nine yards.
MSM: So was this being written the same time as your solo album?
Kirk: Yes. I actually completed a solo album right before we started writing for this one. Like about literally two months before .
MSM: Did any songs or riffs that didn’t end up on your solo album, make it onto the Crowbar album? I know they’re very different.
Kirk: No, but in all honesty, there’s no there’s no Crowbar songs or riffs that haven’t been used. If we don’t really believe in a riff or a song, we kind of just throw it out and forget about it. We don’t have like any throwaway tracks or anything like that. If we don’t think it’s good enough for the record, we just don’t. We just forget about it.
MSM: You’re known for the darker, doomy kind of feel of the lyrics. And that “Crush Negativity” was one you had said was one of the more hopeful songs you’ve done recently. So has there been any sort of reflection or change in like moving towards a more hopeful lyrics?
Kirk: Yeah, I mean, ever since the first, I’d say three studio records, it started to change a little bit. I mean, I still write about dark subject matter and it’s still doomy-ish. But, you know, it’s kind of like when you’re young. I mean, you know, I started writing lyrics and this band probably early ’89 or something. So I was young, I didn’t really know what I was doing for the most part. I think as time goes on and you mature and you start growing up a bit, I still like to look at a band like Trouble where, you know, it was always like the lyrics were kind of dark, you know a lot of a lot of them are about drug abuse and stuff and whatnot.
It was different, different things, but it was also there’s always that light at the end of the tunnel kind of thing, a ray of light, you know, hope. If you work hard at and whatever it is that’s eating at you, if it’s drug abuse, alcohol abuse, whatever it might be, just, you know, going through a bad time with depression and just a bad time in life, whatever it might be. You know, I try to be inspirational and give people hope because I’ve been through my own ups and downs, just like everybody has. I mean, I’m 57 years old now. So how could I not have a lot of ups and downs, you know, but the important thing is to believe that, you know, you can come out stronger.
MSM: Yeah, I see a lot of that online. A lot of people saying how much your music has helped them or inspired them.
Kirk: I started saying that. I started saying to myself, you can’t just leave these people hopeless, you know…you got to give them some hope that, you know, yeah, shit’s bad right now, but it’s going to get better. Just believe and, you know, stay strong.
MSM: Since the album was fully completed, what did you end up working on during the pandemic?
Kirk: I basically completed all music and some of the lyrics to my second solo record. So I was productive, you know. So I started teaching online guitar classes and hanging out with the dogs at night and, you know, drinking beer and counting down the days for us. And then one day I just kind of said, you know what? You really got to manage it. You know, it’s time to do some of this. So, you know, I couldn’t really go out to bars so I just quit drinking. The gym was open so I started going to that, changed my diet and I really think in a lot of positive health changes in my life that I really love. That’s the great feeling.
MSM: So that the ups and downs of COVID for you might be reflected in your second solo?
Kirk: Possibly. I’ve only written lyrics for two songs, and sang on two of them, but we’ll see.
MSM: So when was your first tour or show back in front of a live crowd?
Kirk: The venue we play at, Southport Music Hall, it’s like a thousand capacity room. What we did is they were able to open at 50% capacity, so we did a Friday night and Saturday night and capped that at 500 people a night. Between the two of them it was you know, basically both sold out. So that was a great feeling. We did some livestreams with Crowbar, and we did a big livestream with Down.
MSM: How does that feel coming from the livestream show, going back to 60,000 or even going back to a thousand? Like there’s so much energy. How does that feel as an artist?
Kirk: I mean, great, it’s what we do. Yeah. Some people are studio guys and that’s fine. In fact, the older I get, the more I love the studio. But it’s still is nothing like, playing in front of a big crowd on stage. The creativity is there for the studio, and that’s a wonderful feeling in itself. But it’s a different feel, feeding off the crowd who are jamming to the tunes is just something that’s magic.
MSM: So I’m going to go back to this album real quick. Zero and Below has the first use of acoustic guitar in a Crowbar song.
Kirk: Yes, it is.
MSM: Do you see in the future any more use of acoustic or experimentation with other sounds?
Kirk: Not a whole lot. I mean, it’s possible. Anything’s possible. But that was kind of, you know, with Odd Fellows Rest we kind of threw the rule book out the window and tried a lot of different stuff, and it really worked. So we try to grow a little bit with each album. It was like on this one the diversity between the songs is really good. I like the difference in tempos, a difference in moods, some are more aggressive, some are more doomy, you know, some are more melodic, and I like that a lot. So, I mean, anything’s possible.
In the beginning, we kind of had this rule that everything needed to be this crunch and low, super slow, you know, when you’re young it’s one thing, and you start to mature, then you’re like, well, there’s so much more music than just that. So, you know, I kinda threw the rulebook out. So I’m open to anything.
MSM: I know you’ve said before that you’re “heavy music.” You seem like a genre of your own. There’s other bands, but it’s really you guys at the forefront with that sound. Not putting you in a bucket, just crunchy, heavy riffs.
Kirk: That’s what we say, thank you, because that was our goal. We wanted to be Crowbar. It’s like a band like the Melvins you can’t describe. They don’t sound like anybody. I personally love them. Some people don’t get them, and I get it. They’re intentionally kind of odd and that sort of thing. They’re not a genre, and that’s how I wanted Crowbar to be. Like love us or hate us, we don’t sound like anybody, and we never will. So I just want us to sound like when you hear it, you go “that’s Crowbar.”
I’m not really one for the genre thing. You know, we got labeled into this sludge. Looks like when we first came out, nobody knew what to call us, and somehow somebody in the press or came up with sludge metal. Because we are metal, you know, to a degree. We grew up metalheads and as we got older and expanded our musical palette, we listen to all styles of music now. But, you know, I mean, at heart, I’m always going to be a metal dude. But yeah, I like the fact that we’re just our own thing. We’re just Crowbar.
MSM: So what can what can fans expect from the rest of this tour?
Kirk: In all of these, pretty much except for Nashville and maybe Knoxville, which we played a few times. All these other towns and places we’ve never really played ever or once or twice over the years. So there’s only so many markets, you know. So we’re like smaller places that we’d never really played before. But it’s fun to play for fans that have been fans but have never seen us.
So we end at Blue Ridge Rock Festival. So that was really the purpose of extending this tour and doing these smaller markets, it was like, “why go home then turn around and just have to do a fly date or something to come up?”
Let’s just play these markets and it, you know, just give them a shot and throw it out there. Like our philosophy is just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. So some markets surprise you and in a good way and some are like, well, it was kind of weak, but we’ll try it again, you know, and you can build on that. I’m still a firm believer in you get out there and our job is just to kick ass and give the audience, regardless of how big the audience is, give them 110% every song that we play every night and that’s all we can do.