Saturday 20 February 2016

"The New Orleans Excalibur of the Almighty Riff": In Conversation with Kirk Windstein (Crowbar)

By: Marc Gaffney & Kirk Windstein

When thinking about the power of the riff, a few names come to mind; however, one name is constantly emerging and emerging for all the right reasons. Strength in the chording structures, sheer power of the down tuned movement with the gravitas to float a packed room like a trampoline funneling turbo fuel and the kinetic mass to make a roomful of fans pogo up and down as if their bodies were filled with youthful follicles of rock filled roll. The name is Windstein, Kirk Windstein.

You get lucky every once in a while to converse with Legends in the rock world. In terms of being a legend, we are not just admiring the skill of the player, thus, the legacy of work, their commitment to their trade and above all, the admiration fans and other musicians share regarding this New Orleans riff slinger. This aficionado of the riff is so incredibly worthy and after having a chance to speak with Kirk, you know exactly why the saints have come marching in,

This is a man that has given his music to the world and thus the world is indeed a better place for it. You at times hear about certain artists acting one way or another. Folks, this artist has always been spoken about with a smile and a reverence that is so respected, being able to chat with him was a true highlight.

So, sit back, relax, grab a brew or a case and enjoy the discussion I had with the New Orleans Excalibur of the almighty riff, Kirk Windstein at the end of Jan 2016.  

SL: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Kirk: Thank you

SL: So you were on the road with High on Fire how was that tour?

Kirk: It was good man, probably the shortest tour I had ever done. It was great, High on Fire was banging and we get along really well so it was a great tour.

SL: So I know last time we spoke you were starting to write for the new album, are you straight into writing now?

Kirk: Actually riff wise, what we are doing, a really good friend of mine, Mapp, we call him muscles because he weighs about 150 pounds, he started off doing front of house for Crowbar and we were on tour with Black Label’ back in 2000 and they ended up hiring him, to make a long story short, he is top of the line front of house, arena sound guy, he is on tour now with Papa Roach, he did Stone Temple Pilots, Evanescence, Paramore, a lot of the pop bands. He is actually demoing everything for us. We are actually working on song 6 in terms of demoing. As far as riffs, we have more written. Me and Mapp have been working sometimes before practice and after band rehearsal putting the material together.

We are looking for 10 full songs and probably do some kind of mellow segue way piece or whatever, we normally stick something like that on the record, as far as 10 full songs, honestly I to 2 weeks we will probably 8 or 9 even, we are really, really close to being in the studio. I need to get with the engineer and set an actual date for us to go in. I mean we are super pumped, we are kind of living and breathing the record, the writing, the riffs, so that is where our heads are at now, it is a great feeling.
SL: Lyrically, has this been an easy record to write?

Kirk:  Actually I have not started on the lyrics, I am kind of weird with it. Other than, what happened was, during the recording of the self-titled  record, Crowbar “Crowbar”, Phil produced it, Anselmo, I didn’t have all the lyrics and I was freaking out and he was like, “Man, I write a lot of my lyrics right on the spot.” He kind of taught me how to do that. Not to be overwhelmed. Honestly, he really helped me write about 30 to 40 percent of the lyrics for the CrowbarCrowbar” record. We would be driving to the studio and we would sit in the backseat together with a notebook and work on the shit and he got me to not really put such stress on myself and make it a last minute thing as chief writer and chief arranger, once we get all the riffs written and the arrangements taken care of, then I can start working and getting into it lyric wise. 

SL: Do you find that, in terms of what you write about, is it how you are feeling, the environment you are in; does it ever sway one way or the other or is it you write about whatever hits you at the moment and you go with it?

Kirk: I kind of just, whatever hits me; what I do is I will listen to the song, and first I come up with a phrasing idea, maybe a melody, to myself I am just singing, no words, just fake words over and over and I am trying to figure out a melody and when I feel good about where I am at with that, then I just start writing words and put down whatever the hell comes to my head honestly. I mean some of them are written in 5 minutes.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t put thought into it, but when I am in that zone and in the right frame of mind it just comes out, same thing with the riffs, sometimes when I pick up the guitar and if I don’t have something going on in the first 10 minutes, I put the guitar down and try it later. It either comes to you; trying to force it just doesn’t work. That is what I have found, at least for me and I take the same approach lyric wise. I mean since we do have this proper, I mean it is still really kind of rough, the playing is rough cuz we are all still trying to learn the songs, but it is a great reference to have a recording of the stuff, so now I feel like I am getting a head start. If I have 2 or 3 songs written before we get into the studio lyrically then to me I am ahead of the game. So that is where I am at.

Really we are just zooming along, the last 2 weeks have gotten 5 down in the last 2 weeks and then we will have another one down on Tuesday which is already written and arranged so that will be 6 that we have demoed and then we only have 4 to go and we kind of made the choice, the thing is these songs are averaging in the 5 minute range, our songs are a little longer, especially if it is a slow one, but a lot of the times, some of our songs are really short but recently it just seems like the songs, I don’t realize how long they are. When I am playing live I don’t realize the song is over 5 minutes long. If it flows, right! It doesn’t seem like it is a long song. Our stuff tends to be a little longer. You know Jamie co manages the band and I have talked to him about this a lot. I am like, “Dude you are in Hatebreed you are in a hardcore band and you guys have 2.5 or 3 minute songs and we don’t.” If we have 5 minute songs and 10 killer ones you know, that is our record.

I look back to when Pantera did “Re Inventing the Steel” and I remember it is a 10 song record, I remember Phil saying that at that time which was 2000, I mean that was 16 years ago and at that time everyone used up every available second of space on the cd format which was like 70 minutes and you had bands putting out 16 17 songs on records and I mean, honestly unless you take a really long time to do it, it is very difficult to have 15 songs that are all killer. So to us, I mean growing up in the 70s and even in the early 80s, bands put out records with 8 songs on them, it depends on the type of band, but bands like Van Halen, those records were 30-35 minutes. Of course we will deliver a 40 -45 minute record, but you know for us, we can do that.

You know with 10 solid songs, we actually really enjoy doing, it actually kind of started with “Oddfellows Rest”, we didn’t do anything on “Equilibrium”, we always had one song that was a little different so I am sure we will come up with one of those as they are really fun to create you know, in the studio actually, so there is no pressure on that, if we have 10 songs that are the meat and potatoes of the record down.

SL: I also think that in this day and society, no one wants to sit down and listen to 14 songs.

Kirk: I agree 100 percent. A lot of people love to look at something, like with Itunes, they may not purchase the whole record but they may have 3 or 4 songs that they really like and just grab those songs for 99 cents each and put them on their computer, phone or whatever. That is just the way people have gotten. To me, I still think of, even though it is in CD format, although we do put it out on vinyl, which is great, I am really excited that vinyl has made somewhat of a comeback, but I still think of it as an album. Side A and Side B, listen to it from front to back. You know I think you are absolutely correct, people’s attention spans these days, it is difficult you know for someone to sit down and listen to an hours-worth of music on an album. 

SL: That is why it is so smart to do 10 burning songs. You just come with a 1-7 combination a la Cus D’Amato and you knock them out by the 6th tune. Our new album is 8 tunes and about 40 minutes and I feel the 8 are strong so there wasn’t a need to do more and maybe taint what we had.

Kirk: You look at some records man, some of the old Sabbath records, I mean great records, there will be 2 little segue ways and really only 6 to 7 real songs but they are all killers.

SL: Each tune is amazing and 0 fluff. In terms of your guitar playing, for someone like me that has been listening for some time now, it feels like your riffs have a really lyrical and melodic quality to them, is that something that has just come to you after playing for so long?

Kirk: Yea, I mean it was kind of a conscious decision too, I mean you know in the beginning of Crowbar, the whole idea was just to be, it was all about Heavy. I would say, “We can’t do this, it is not heavy enough. You know it has too much melody, not heavy enough.” I started re-thinking things, we are in the year 27 now and I do think that, you know listening to the Sabbath riffs, they are heavy of course but there is an awful lot of melody to them. The same thing with Type O Negative, which is one of my favorite bands or even Carnivore, you know, there is melody, a song like “Race War”, the choruses are melodic , I just started getting more and more to where the riffs are getting more melodic.

I think as I am getting older and it is not by accident you know, it can still be heavy as all fuck and be melodic. Really it has been my thought process for a while to really write great songs and have them be super heavy. That is the bottom line as long as sonically it is heavy, you know a band like Type O, they have a lot of dynamics and pretty melodic parts, some piano and what not, but sonically when you hear the band they are heavy. To a degree that is what we are going for. I am not as good a vocalist as Pete Steele as he is one of my favorite but still I have learned from over the years singing to have more melody in the vocals as well. Certain songs man, if it is a real fast, upbeat hardcore tune, of course you do not need melody, it’s all about aggression. But if you have a slower more melodic song with riffs and everything, you gotta look back on, what would Ozzy, Dio or Glenn Hughes, Ian Gillian, what would they sing over this? Not that I can sing like these guys for god’s sake, but it’s my version.

SL: Yeah, last time we spoke I was saying that lyrically and vocally it is much more melodic and you are hitting a lot more notes. There seems to be more of an articulate approach and the meshing of the guitar with it is like sitting in front of a bull dozer and getting fucking ran over, but in a really good way.

Kirk: I like that analysis.

SL: The other thing I was thinking while watching live performances and a lot of bands won’t do this, but your set is one that gradually gains so much momentum and becomes so kinetic that by the 5th tune the crowd is actually pogoing. Do you guys run different set lists or do you have one and then try and hammer it out and go balls out each night with it?

Kirk: It depends, when we are headlining, technically we have as much time as we want, we usually play about an hour and 15 minutes, but if you have 3 to 4 bands on the bill, it is different. We get people asking why we didn’t play this or that song and I have to remind people we have 10 albums that we have to pick from and now will be 11. We have over 100 songs to choose from, and we have to pick, say 15 songs out of 100 and really some songs will kind of surprise you.

The thing is, when you are a new band, say when Crowbar did “Obedience Thru Suffering”, in order to play a set we had to play the whole fucking record if we headlined because we only had 10 songs and the same thing with Crowbar, “Crowba”r, it is not a very long record so you pick the majority from that and we would do 2 or 3 off of “Obedience”, but as you continue to grow and move into your career, we are not going to get a chance to play these songs live before we go into the studio. It’s kind of a situation where you say, okay guys which ones do you want to try  and obviously you will want to try this one and this one, some of them surprise you  and they end up being great and come across great live.

The thing is we will try and throw one out there and sometimes they won’t stick. So you know, maybe the song wasn’t made to be played live. I feel confident we can pretty much play anything we want but some just do not work but the ones that surprise you, boom, they just click. Also, you fall into a situation where there are certain songs we feel we have to play. Not that we have any hits so to speak but there are certain songs that we just feel like we have to play in order to make the crowd, you know the fans happy. That limits you know the other songs we choose from. Say we have 4 or 5 we play every show and if we are on a support slot we only have 45 minutes so we only get to play 9 songs so that only gives us another 4 or 5 to choose from. That becomes an issue too.

SL: Yea, you have to play your “Don’t Stop Believing” or people will get perturbed with you.

Kirk: Well our version of that.

SL: One of things that is impressive live is that the guitars and bass, sonically are very clear but it is all lead by a spectacular back beat. The drums are propelling but they have such a nice groove and when the 4 of you are on, after 27 years, you all are tighter than ever, can you describe the elation of that?

Kirk: For me, playing with Tommy for 12 years now, it is amazing how tight of a drummer he is and how serious, as a drummer he is a drummers drummer, a musicians musician. He does his homework, he is so crazy as far as, I don’t mean crazy but he is such a perfectionist. Even with the songs now, he will ask if this beat is a fit or another and I will say to him, whatever you prefer. We will make bass and guitar fit, don’t worry, you do your thing when we get in the studio.

Because he is such a perfectionist about the littlest things and is really hard on himself when he even makes the littlest mistake, which is very rare, he is just is as solid as they come. I have had the great pleasure to play with, really the one thing I have always played with are guys that groove. I mean, other than 2 records, “Sonic Excess…” that Tony Costanza played on and “Equilibrium”, Sid Montz played on that, it has either been Craig Nunenmaher Jimmy Bower or Tommy Buckley. It has been so fantastic to have such great drummers to lay the backbeat. I mean that is the great thing dude. The way I think about is, you don’t have to have the greatest guitar player or bass player if the songs are there, the foundation has to be the drumming, the beat the rhythm, the groove and same thing with the vocals. I get a demo basically every night on tour and Robin and I will listen to it and by no means is this any disrespect to anyone at all but when I am listening to a CD and the music is great and the vocals come on and I can’t understand a thing they are saying, it is just screaming, baw wow wow, maybe am I just too old, you know that is the other part, you are only as strong as your weakest link.

Even take a guy like you would say he is not a great vocalist, take a guy like Tom Araya for instance, his style of course, he is not a Rob Halford but he also isn’t trying to be. Goddammit, for Slayer it is perfect. He is amazing. You can hear every fucking word that Tom says. The emotion, the passion, the style, that is the voice of Slayer. That is the thing where sometimes with the backbeat, I mean a band like Slayer, you cannot mess with it; it is so fantastic, just using them as an example. Even Phil Anselmo, when he sings in his hardest stuff, it may not have melody to it, say on his solo, “Philip H..”, you can understand every word even though there is no melody to it.  That is good and is okay, just my opinion, but if I can understand the words and the aggression and all that, of course that is fine, but sometimes it is just screaming and I can’t understand it, for me and especially if you have a band that has great music that is just not my style, and just my opinion and we all know what they say about opinions. In the big picture it doesn’t make any difference but I just don’t enjoy it when I can’t understand the lyrics. 

SL: I am of the same ilk too. If it is something that I feel I am getting barked at, it is not really up my alley. Or if I feel like I am getting yelled at, fuck it, I can get yelled at work so why in the sweet fuck do I need to listen to that. So you have the writing and the album that will be out, are you guys doing any festivals this summer?

Kirk: We are going to be doing a lot. We have booked starting the 28th of April, we start in the Netherlands, then Desertfest in the UK and then Desertfest in Berlin. We will probably be on some open air stuff later in the summer. We are starting off basically a month long tour of Europe, the UK and Scandanavia. Also up in Sweden which will; be fantastic. I think it is indoor shows and festivals but we all love the old open air, always a fantastic experience, festivals like Bloodstock or Hellfest, I mean with Hellfest between Down and Crowbar I probably have played it 5 times now. It is an amazing feeling to be in front of 50- 60 thousand people, so we look forward to that. Most of that stuff doesn’t start until June, July and August. As of now we are pretty solid for this first tour. I think we will be home around the end of May, take a few weeks off and then get back out there.

SL: So you have the festivals coming up, when you guys are doing the open air and club tours, do you like to go out with another band for a tour?

Kirk: It depends, on a lot of these shows it is Crowbar and Trouble. They are one of my favorite bands of all time so I am very excited about that. Normally if it is a lot of festivals, it is really tough during festival seasons because every weekend the festivals are packed no matter where you play, so the Monday, Tuesday, Weds, Thursday are tough at the clubs you know, even when I was with Down and we were doing really well, we played Friday, Sat and Sunday and Tuesday Weds it was still difficult during Festival season to play clubs, but you gotta do it, I mean only the big bands can afford to fly in and go home after the weekend, we can’t afford that, we gotta play every night.

SL: As the songwriting is getting easier and the band has never been tighter, do you enjoy it more as you are more knowledgeable and life is different. Is it more fun to get up and play and know you love it but there are people that revere you and it must be amazing giving that feeling back to the fans, especially since the music is doing the talking?

Kirk: Honestly, people would say, you must be sick of touring now, the way we do it, with Robin traveling with me and touring managing and selling merch and working with me, it is really a situation where I really like it a lot more now than I did a few years ago, let’s put it that way. A lot more now than I did 5 years ago. It is nice for me in Crowbar to be my own boss. I can dictate when we play, where we play to a certain extent so I really enjoy it more than ever. I know that the desire, that hunger is still there, and every night when I hit the stage I am just as excited now as I was when I was 18 years old. I am 50 now and the thing with the writing, Robin will be talking to me and she will be like, Hello, and I will be like, “I am sorry babe, I was going over this riff in my head.” So I am totally focused on the writing and it is an awesome feeling at my age to enjoy it and to be able to be in top form is a great thing.

SL: Crowbar appears to be family oriented, is that one of the reasons why it is so enjoyable for you now and why the music seems to be so flowing out of you?

Kirk:  The focus, it is more family oriented, Tommy is married, Jeff is married now and has a step daughter. Matt is single but his dad jumped on with us in Gainesville, Florida and stayed with Matt through the holidays. My step son this summer flew out with a couple of friends out to California and he rode with us for 7-8 days to see what it was kind of like. He wasn’t old enough to get into all the gigs but could see what it is like on the road. It is good as it kind of breaks things up and it is a great system we got and really works well.

SL: It seems like every night you guys are having fun. Some bands you watch, it appears some guys kind of mail it in. Whereas with Crowbar, as you guys go, you get stronger and stronger. So that is obviously a testament to what you all are doing is correct and really for the right reason, and feeding the fire inside.
Kirk: Thank you so much, really appreciate that,

SL: I know you are using the Ibanez Destroyer and the Randall, how much of a difference do the Fishman pickups make as your tone is really staying the same since you switched over to them.

Kirk:  Ken Soucy from Unearth is the artist rep, in fact I am looking at a box in front of me right now that I have to put in my Sunburst because I have noticed, even though I grew up on Duncan Distortion and have used through most of my career, then the EMG’s for a while, then I got away from the active, the Fishman, the biggest thing I have noticed, when I am overseas and I am not using the Randall but a JCM 800, which is a great amp of course but it is a big difference when I use the Fishman as opposed to the passive. You know I would have a DiMarzio Tone Zone in one and a Duncan Distortion in the other, through my Randall rigs it sounds great through those but when I am using the Marshall it doesn’t sound nearly as good unless I am using the Fishman pickups. So they do make a big difference. I know how to do a few things but I am going to have to drop the guitar off with my guy that does all my setups and other work.

SL: The pickups definitely are your sound which is great.

Kirk: Yea, especially when doing fly in dates the sound really works with the Fishmans.

SL:  Are you someone that enjoys being able to have the same mic set up on your rigs live and in the studio? Also, are you pretty easy when it comes to vocal mics?

Kirk: Yea, a Shure 57 and a Seinheiser on the guitar cab works live and in the studio. Singing live, I use a Shure SM 58, which is pretty industry standard. Of course, in the studio it is different but live I sing really loud as I am not doing anything soft, it is more about the delivery. I am not picky or a Diva in anyway. Most of the time the monitors do not even work. So I have learned to do with it. That is why Europe is good, they have proper PA’s and monitors and great Engineers. Not to say we do not have great engineers here, but sometime you might get a speed freak that doesn’t know what is going on and has been up for 4 days, whatever, you gotta deal with all of it and make it work. 

SL: Do you like playing different place or as long as you are on stage you are happy?

Kirk: As long as I am on stage I am a happy bastard.

SL: When do you foresee the album coming out?

Kirk: I would guess early summer; hope to have it wrapped up by the end of March at the latest. I would think probably towards the end of June.

SL: When do you come up with the title for the album?

Kirk: That is usually the last thing we come up with. Lyrics, song titles, or sometimes I will be watching tv and something will come up and moves me. More often will be after thinking about the song titles.

SL: Will you be recording at the same studio?

Kirk:  Literally we practice in the same building as we record and it is totally comfortable, great vibe and is only about 10 minutes from my house. Dwayne Simoneau is the engineer and will mix it as well, he has continued to get better, top notch professional and has the best of everything. Has a killer day job and the studio thing is a labor of love for him. What he makes in the studio goes back in the studio. Every time I pop in he has 20 new things going on. He has all these killer new tube mics and building his own cables. It is really a great studio and a great vibe. This will be the third record with him in the last 5 years. Definitely that is our spot.

SL: Are you someone that is hands off in the studio or do you like to have a say in the mix and the mastering?

Kirk:  Mastering I am not worried about. Basically we have the guy that Mastered the album tells us to come back in 5-6 hours. There is wall to wall Platinum albums all over the studio, I mean the guy worked with Prince.  I mean he will tell us to check out a few bars, we saw some of the homes of the movie stars type shit or whatever. Had some lunch and a few beers, came back and he was like, here is your record and it sounded amazing. As far as mixing, I will be more hands on as the last 2 were mixed elsewhere. We just traded files back and forth. I would say too much delay on the vocal, guitars have to go up. I think it will be nicer this way.
SL: So pretty much sky is the limit for you guys.
Kirk:  I hope so man.

SL: In terms of guitar playing, vocally, it really transcends time and space and everything you guys are doing keeps getting better and better.

Kirk: Thank you so much.

SL: Thank you so much for taking the time and doing what you do and doing it well. Anything you would like to say to the fans.

Kirk:  Thank you fans so much, check out the Facebook page and we are going to start up something, Robin and I grew up in an era of fan clubs, I was in the Kiss Army, Charlies Angels, Farah Fawcett Fan Club, whatever. So we came up with what I think is a great package, you check on the Crowbar Facebook page and it is really something extra for the fans. We grew up liking the idea and Robin will be doing most of the work and most of the comments have been overwhelmingly positive. A few assholes, but this is for the fans, if you do not want to be part of it, you do not have too. So far it is off to a great start as it was put up Thursday night.

SL: Usually the guys complaining are the ones that live in their parent’s basement watching anime all day. They can go fuck themselves.

Kirk: You know, I spoke with my publicist and he was like, “Kirk, anything you write, you are never gonna win.” I could write on Facebook that I am out to eat with my beautiful wife and daughter and step-son and someone will comment, “Shouldn’t you be fucking home writing riffs for the new record.” So you are never gonna win. So you laugh it off and thank the positive. Again thank you so much for the Crowbar fans.


Fans of Crowbar, get ready for what seems like an album that will be putting a boot in the ass of the rock world. Heavy with a melodic focus on songs that let the groove shake and bake like a delicious gumbo just waiting to be devoured at the perfect moment.

Music is obviously a huge part of Kirk’s existence but through all of his dialogue, everything comes back to a 
relationship that has seemed to spark a new existence in this Tonal Commanders life. It is the relationship with Robin that has truly taken his legendary style and heavy regime to a better state and main.

Truth be told, Kirk is one bad motherfucker on stage and has earned every minute and note of it. He has given every ounce of sweat to the music and fans and he has been given a wonderful gift in return, a soul mate that is joining him in this eternal life of musicality.

It was a pure joy being able to converse with this Iconic musician and an even better person. I am more excited to play music and extend the heavy with the melody of ones refrain.

Thank you Kirk for all that you and Crowbar have done and certainly will do.

Eat a peach,

The End    

Band info: facebook