INTERVIEW: Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein on New Album, Touring, & the Wisdom of the Bee Gees

Kirk Windstein has been leading his band Crowbar since their 1991 debut album Obedience Thru Suffering. Between 2005 and 2011, the band took a break as Windstein focused his time in the bands Down and Kingdom of Sorrow. Since returning in 2011 with Sever the Wicked Hand, Crowbar has been at full force. Last year’s The Serpent Only Lies was one of our favorite releases and the band has been touring with Denver, Colorado’s Havok and punk legends Suicidal Tendencies in its support. This current tour wraps soon, but the band hits the UK, Russia, and Germany in March and April.

We caught up with Kirk prior to Crowbar’s gig in Dallas, Texas last week. We talked about the making of The Serpent Only Lies, the greatness that is Motorhead, and the wise words of Barry Gibb of the Bee Gee’s.

the void report: Congrats on The Serpent Only Lies, it was one of my favorites from last year. Were you happy with how it came out?

Kirk Windstein: Absolutely. It’s pretty much exactly what we envisioned. It sounds great, it’s got all the elements we wanted, some of the old-school feel. We really wanted to cut 10 solid, killer tracks and not try to do to much. I think a lot of bands are going back to that mentality. We tried to put 10 heavy-hitters on there, but it’s hard – we put out records a lot. When you put out records often, which we’ve been doing since I got back to doing this full time, it’s hard. But, we’re super happy with everything with the record and are enjoying being on the road.

the void report: How long was the process from writing to recording?

Kirk Windstein: The writing was done kind of quickly. We demo-d everything and sat on it a for bit and then we recorded all the music and went on tour. As far as actual time in the studio, it wasn’t a ridiculous amount of studio time, but it was spread out over a period. But, it worked out great for us. Duane Simoneaux, who produced it, he’s a really good friend of ours. We actually rent the rehearsal space that’s built into his studio. So, we run into him a few times a week when we’re at home and he’s great. Actually, not the record company but management was a little like “We kinda need to get a name guy on it,” and I said, “Look fellas…” and no disrespect to them. But, in all honesty Duane did most of the work on the last record and didn’t really get credit for it. So, I said it’s time for him. This isn’t throwing a friend a bone or doing him a favor, it’s like this dude is at this level. And we had 95% of what we wanted as he sent it off to get mixed and mastered. It sounds amazing and we’re really happy. And he appreciated that acknowledgement. He’s got a legit record with great reviews on a legit label – and that’s to his credit. At some point in time you’ve got to quit being the brides made and star being the bride. Or in this case, stop being the best-man and be the groom.

the void report: Did you do anything in the recording process that was different from Symmetry in Black or the other recent albums?

Kirk Windstein: Very little. It was pretty much the same formula. Nothing really that different. I would say on this one lyrically and vocally, a lot of times Robin (Kirk’s wife) – she’s written lyrics for us before – so I’ll say “I don’t have any ideas,” so I’ll grab a few lines from Robin or jot something down to get myself rolling. And then we pretty much record it. But, I love the spontaneity of doing the vocals this way. Instead of writing a story and then waiting a year or whatever to record it. But, for me I’m really into having a bunch of good one-liners or bunch of cool words or whatever that I can go to when I need them. And vocally I probably did a lot more harmonies on than I did on Symmetry. I was real pleased with the vocal performance.

the void report: I saw in a previous interview you mentioned that you had the realization that not every section of the song needed lyrics. Consequently, there are songs with longer instrumental sections. I thought that was a cool approach for this album, there’s a little more room to breathe.

Kirk Windstein: If you go back to early Crowbar, there’s some songs that don’t even have choruses (laughs). Or a one-word chorus, like “Self-Inflicted.” Well, that’s not really one word, but you know. Something real simple where….I’m not putting the carriage before the horse. I was so worried about “I need a hook for this part, I need a hook for that part.” This time I said, you know what? Let’s let this riff breathe. Because that’s what kind of…in the beginning what I used to listened to, like the Melvins for instance, they had long lines of beautiful pieces of super heavy music that go on for an extended period of time before the vocals come back. I was always drawn to that, instead of just verse, chorus, verse, verse, guitar solo, thing. Most of our arrangements are not very complex, but I was happy with how it came out, like you mentioned, letting it breathe. To me it makes it heavier. It gets to a point where you over-think things and it becomes too much.

Crowbar @ Gas Monkey Live, Dallas, TX. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch, 2017

the void report: I can see how that would be tricky when writing lyrics. I’m not a lyricist, so that’s what I would do. Try to do too much.

Kirk Windstein: I think on Symmetry…to me I had too many lyrics. On some of the songs. But, overall it was exactly what I wanted. So, on this one I gave it a little more room to breathe. In the end, all its about is the song being a powerful song. You know, for a band like us there are no solos. It’s not about Tommy doing some cool drum fill. We want great songs in the context of what we do as Crowbar.

the void report: After 11 albums now, is guitar tone something you’ve got dialed in at this point? Or do you tinker around with it?

Kirk Windstein: I haven’t really tinkered around on 11 records. Oddly enough, I recently switched…in the studio it may be a different story. I may continue with the Randall’s, but I recently switched to the Orange solid-state. I was with Orange when I was with Down. But, believe me the Randall is like heart and soul of Crowbar records. But, I recently switched and haven’t tried a solid state amp before. And to me it sounds great. It’s the same mentality and same approach as my settings as the Randall as far as settings and pedals and stuff. It’s pretty much the same damn thing. Maybe I’ll use both  on the next record But, I can see it being a situation where I can use Randall in the studio and using Orange live. We’ll see. Sometimes it’s nice to change here and there.

the void report: There was talk in 2016 about Crowbar album art. But, it was because of that stupid Metallica record. Everyone should’ve been talking about the killer work Eliran Kantor did on Serpent. How’d did that come about?

Kirk Windstein: Actually, the record company and Jamey Jasta, he manages us, and Scott Givens and the guys at eOne…What happened was, I told them I had this title The Serpent Only Lies and Scott Givens loved it and he said, “Dude, I’ve got a guy. Trust me.” So, we sent him a couple of ideas, but what I understand Eliran did everything. That was his concept. Maybe Jamie gave him an idea, but he just did it. The cover is by far our best. No disrespect to anything else, but it’s really strong. We loved it.

Crowbar’s The Serpent Only Lies. Artwork by Eliran Kantor.

the void report: He’s one of my favorites. So, whenever I talk to someone he’s done work for, I ask about it.

Kirk Windstein: I wasn’t even aware of all the stuff he had done. Robin looked him up and started talking about all the work he had done, Testament and stuff. All these great records with great covers. So, no wonder Jasta recommended this guy.  I don’t know what he got paid, but whatever it was he deserved it.

the void report: Earlier today I was thinking about all the sub-genres in metal. As the guy who has been attached to “sludge” metal, why do you think there’s so many sub-genres in metal?

Kirk Windstein: I don’t know. To me, I think of genres broadly, not necessarily to the point of all the sub-genres. I think if you take classic heavy metal, Saxon, Judas Priest, Sabbath, to me that’s just regular old metal. Death metal, black metal, stoner, doom, or whatever. We crossover into a lot of these sub-genres.

the void report: There’s a lot of overlap.

Kirk Windstein: It’s ridiculous. It’s just rock and roll. It all started from rock and roll. Some bands are faster, some are slower, some are heavier than others, some are more melodic. If you fit in anywhere within Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden or whatever – it’s just metal. We took an Uber last night and the driver asked me “Is it heavy metal?” I said most people would say so. But, I said “You’ve heard of Black Sabbath, right?” And he said, “Oh, yeah. Sure.” So, I said it was like Black Sabbath on steroids. It’s more aggressive. I’m not going to say it’s heavier, because Black Sabbath are the originators of heavy. But, it’s taking the same idea and just modernizing it a bit. That’s what I try to do is take an old-school approach. An old-school approach to riffs even and then…not polish them, but freshen them up a bit with a modern feel.

the void report: This is great tour package your on with a diverse mix of bands. Havok bringing the thrash, you guys, and then Suicidal doing their thing…I still don’t know how to classify them (Laughs).

Kirk Windstein: I call them punk-skater-thrash.

the void report: I’m glad you threw skating in there.

Kirk Windstein: A little hardcore, some of the skating thing, and some thrash-y influence. Personally, I love tours where we have three different bands and we can tour together and it works and it overlaps to the other bands audience to a degree. I much prefer a more diverse line-up of bands than 5-bands that all sound the same.

Crowbar @ Gas Monkey Live, Dallas, TX. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch, 2017.

the void report: This tour should also draw an interesting generational cross-section with Havok being the youngsters and Suicidal the elder statesmen. You guys the in-between. I expect a young and old mix in the audience tonight.

Kirk Windstein: Suicidal has been around forever. But, that’s what’s cool, too. I love when I see younger people in the audience. The other night in Tucson there was a kid this tall (motions with hand) and he had a Suicidal hat and a Crowbar hoodie and I’m like, “This is great.” He was probably 10 years-old. That’s what I like to see. We’ve been around long enough where fans are bringing their kids and the kids are digging it. And that’s the thing, I don’t want to be a band where we rest on our laurels and become some nostalgia thing where we just play our hit or some kinda crap. I want to be a band that continues to grow and make good music and move forward musically and everything else. That’s what I’m in it for.

A band like Motorhead, one of the greatest bands ever…I would argue they got more popular when Lemmy passed away than they’ve ever been. Maybe in the UK and Europe in the “Ace of Spades” era, maybe. But, as they continued to put out records, and man I’ve got them all, there were a couple of records where I thought weren’t really too great. But, when they hit with We Are Motorhead in 2000, I think it was, I thought it was amazing. To me they haven’t put out a bad album since. And they’ve continued…and they have evolved a little bit within their own barriers or whatever. They’re not going to come out and do something totally different. But, with Mikkey Dee they’ve done a lot of time change things, sounds to me like some different tuning type things. When they started out they were the epitome crossover punk-rock and roll. It was long-haired punks, basically. The attitude and the volume and the aggression and the rawness and everything. To me, I want to be a band like that. That just continues and continues…I use them as an outline almost.

Do what you do, continue to do it well and you’ll reach your goal. And my goals are right where I want them. But, a great friend of all of ours is Steve Gibb. Who is Barry Gibb of the Bee Gee’s son, he used to play with Crowbar for a couple of years. He plays with his Dad now. He was on the Grammy’s and tours with his father and everything. And Barry came to a show and he loved it. But, Steve and I were talking and he told me his father told him “Son, just do what you’re doing. Getting to the destination…” of course he’s been to the destination and he’s stayed there…”but, that’s not the fun part, it’s the journey.” And if getting to the destination happens too fast and you fuck it up that’s not the point. If you get a record deal and burn out 10-years later, it doesn’t matter. I want to be a band that just continues upward and I want to enjoy the journey. Which to me is more important. I don’t care how much money they made for making the Macarena. There are people who did that one song and it continues out there and they’re able to live off it, but they don’t really have a career. And there’s no more journey.

Crowbar @ Gas Monkey Live, Dallas, TX. Photo by J. Kevin Lynch, 2017

the void report: What kind set are y’all doing on this tour? 40-minutes?

Kirk Windstein: 45.

the void report: Are you playing material from The Serpent Only Lies?

Kirk Windstein: We’re doing one right now. We’re playing 9 songs and we have 11 records. So, there’s certain things like “Planets Collide,” “All I Had (I Gave)” that we have to play. We’re doing “Plasmic and Pure,” off the new record. That’s three and that leaves us only six songs. So, Broken Glass is one of my favorite albums, we’re going to do “Conquering” off of that. We’re going to be doing “High Rate Extinction” off the self-titled. Plus we’re on tour with two bands that are technically much faster than us, so we’re doing some of our more upbeat stuff, because Suicidal…and Havok, because they’re so young, something to give their fans a taste of something we think will win over their fans. We’re not going to play “I Have Failed” and “No Quarter” and all these…doom things, we want the crowd moving and all the  eneergy and aggression and all that going on.

the void report: Especially since you’re playing in the middle.

Kirk Windstein: Exactly. If we were opening or headlining we could do what we want to do, but stuck in the middle it’s a little bit of a challenge, but we love that. I’ve always been the underdog, I love being the underdog and love doing what people tell me I can’t do.

the void report: When this tour wraps, you are heading over for a headlining UK tour. Will that feature more of the new album?

Kirk Windstein: Yeah, because we’ll have more time. We’ll have an hour and 15 minutes. We’ll do two. It’s hard, we just picked up “Scattered Pieces Lay” and put that in the set. It’s one I’ve been loving for a long time. And we’ve picked up a few older ones. But, it’s difficult…I don’t know the number, but we have like 115-120 songs. So, how do you narrow it down to 9? It’s impossible. So, you feel off the fans. The ones they love. This isn’t a headlining show, so we have to do what we can to win over some of the fans. That’s what’s part of being the support on a bill is all about.

the void report: I hear a lot of stuff that the UK and European, German, etc, fans are better than US fans. Is that something you’ve seen?

Kirk Windstein: I won’t narrow it, but the difference is I find that you have two types of fans in the U.S. You’ve got the real fans that buy merchandise and come out to all the shows who support you and love you and they’re the real fans. And then you have the “Oh, is there a show tonight?” The casual fan that’s there to party or get laid. But, when you play overseas, regardless of which country, the ones that are there are always the die-hard’s. It’s just more of a die-hard crowd, where in the U.S. you get a mix of both. It’s different that way. But, it also depends on where you play, the size of the cities. When you play Russia or Serbia, people are crying because they don’t get it all the time. You get that in the states sometimes, but more so overseas than here.

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