Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, Down – the supergroup consisting of members of Pantera, Eyehategod, Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity – recently hit the road for roughly two weeks of dates prior to releasing their much anticipated EP. Zero Tolerance magazine was fortunate enough to speak with drummer Jimmy Bower and new bassist Pat Bruders during their stop in Houston, Texas, in what turned out to be Bruders’ first European interview as a member of Down. “Your first European interview is taking place in Houston, TX of all places. Did that just blow your mind?” I ask, to which Bruders laughed and replied “Yeah it did!”
It’s been nearly 5 years since Down’s last album, 2007’s “Down III: Over the Under.” What fans can expect from the band over the next couple of years is not just a new album, but a series of four new EPs, each one concentrating on different aspects of what Down can offer musically. So why the different approach to releasing new music? “We just wanted to do something different. They’re all going to have kind of a concept; even the artwork altogether makes kind of a concept,” says Bower. “This record is kinda old-school NOLA [Down’s first album – ed.], the third one is gonna be an acoustic record, and the fourth one, total doom ya know. We’ve been talking about an acoustic record forever, but never got around to it.” Given the passage of time since Down has put out any new material, Down fans are anxiously awaiting the arrival of this new EP. “I think people are really going to like it,” continues Bower. “It does have more of a jam room vibe. It’s been a long time since we’ve put a record out; since 2007. So it’s definitely time, and it sounds killer. We’re ready for it to come out; we worked hard on it.”
Surely with all the time since the Down III, the band couldn’t have hit the studio cold to write the whole album from scratch. “We pretty much went in as a band with some songs written, then went through them and picked out stuff,” explains Bruders. “Then he [pointing at Bower] and Phil had some ideas and riffs. But we all, as a whole, went in as a band and ripped it out.”
2011 saw a lineup change for the band with the departure of bassist Rex Brown. Brown’s departure paved the way for Bruders, also of Crowbar and Outlaw Order fame, to join the band. “He plays his ass off on it!” exclaimed Bower of the new EP. “He brought a new life into the band, and a new style on bass, and it’s fuckin’ killer man. It made total sense to get Pat.”
For those who are unfamiliar with the New Orleans music scene, the best way to describe it would be that it is a truly unique and cooperative unit that has been the home of many classic bands, such as Acid Bath, Goatwhore, and Soilent Green, in addition to Down, Crowbar and Eyehategod. The cooperative element is fundamental to the New Orleans scene, as many of the bands that call this city home share members. “It’s always been like that,” says Bower. “It’s a beautiful thing because we all go out and support each other’s shows and each other’s bands.” So when it came time for Down to find a replacement for the departed Rex Brown, there was no need to look further than to the band’s own hometown to find Bruders. It would almost appear that a musician like Bruders would be destined for Down, given his location and friendships with the other members. “I hang out with these dudes when we’re not jamming,” says Bruders. “Every now and then we’ll have a BBQ, meet at each other’s houses and hang out, watch football.”
During the course of our conversation, the dressing room door cracks open, and a pair of eyes with poofy hair can be seen staring through. Their owner happens to be New Orleans guitarist Marzi Montazeri, who has been enlisted by Phil Anselmo to play guitar on his forthcoming solo album, due to be released by the fall. Anselmo was not available to sit down with me for this interview, but Marzi was more than happy to provide insight to the album by saying “It sounds agitated and ugly, like the state of the world as it is. Phil’s got a way of saying shit we all feel, but puts it in a lyrical context. According to Phil, it’s his most aggressive record.” These words no doubt instantly make me itch to hear the new album, and are only strengthened when Bower interjects with “It’s gonna blow people’s fucking minds.”
Just a few hours later, the venue in Houston begins to slowly fill up with Down fans. Supporting the band on this particular show are New Orleans sludge band Haarp, currently signed to Anselmo’s Housecore Records, and Star and Dagger, featuring Sean Yseult (formerly of White Zombie) on bass. During this time, these two bands entertained the ever growing crowd that slowly began to gain more and more physical momentum, and the atmosphere was filled with anticipation.
By the time Down hit the stage, the venue is at maximum capacity, and as I wait in the barricade area between the crowd and the stage for photos, fans are beginning to become more and more restless. Finally, Down hit the stage and open with “Hail the Leaf” from their first album, NOLA, and immediately the crowd in Houston responds with an intensity I had previously seen at other Down shows, but which still boggles the mind to witness. A continuous stream of crowd-surfers flow over the barricade and those of us in the front of it are continuously showered with water, beer, and God knows what else being thrown into the air by the eager fans. The air is thick with smoke from numerous joints being passed around the audience and the smell of 1500 sweaty bodies gyrating to the music. The band’s set begins with a healthy mix of songs from their first three releases, including a roaring performance of the song “Lifer” dedicated to the late Dimebag Darrell. Not long into the night, in his between song commentary, Phil Anselmo quickly declares this night to be the “best night of the tour” in what he referred to as his “third hometown,” after New Orleans and Dallas/Fort Worth respectively.
Following their initial set, the band quickly takes a break on the sides of the stage and behind amplifiers to enjoy a few cigarettes and quick beers. After this breather, Down return to the stage with a surprise for the awaiting crowd, a performance of a new track entitled “Misfortune Teller.” This is the first public airing of a new Down track in many years, and judging from the crowd response, the public is going to love it. Earlier in the night, I had questioned Bower about the new track, and he quickly replied with a ‘you tell us’ retort. Well, I can tell Bower and anyone else that it’s heavy, it’s doomy, and it’s prime Down!
Well past midnight, the band end their set with a lengthy jam of “Bury Me in Smoke” with members of the road crew and friends of the band taking over instruments and vocals, not to mention providing the right side of the stage with a cabaret type dance. Everyone on the stage is grinning from ear to ear and a genuinely good time is being had by all both on stage and in the crowd. The band then shuffled backstage to the dressing rooms to relax after this intense performance.
For those unfamiliar with Houston weather, I can tell you it is incredibly hot and humid. From just taking pictures in front and on the sides of the stage, and watching the show, I am sweating bullets and appear as if I just took a quick jog around the block. But really I’m sitting on a couch backstage and gazing at Jimmy Bower, Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein sinking in to their seats. With cold beers in hand I can’t help but see that they look as if they just took a swim in their clothes and then ran a marathon. This particular Saturday is the first full day of a three day holiday weekend in America, and a damn fine one at that.
Live shots of Down’s performance can be viewed here.
Special thanks to Jimmy Bower, Pat Bruders, Ben Yaker, and Fusae (for the photos).