Pepper Keenan and Kirk Windstein from DOWN spoke to Guitar World recently about the band’s upcoming EP, ‘DOWN IV Part I – The Purple EP‘ and why those chose to release a series of EPs as opposed to a full album. Check out some extracts from the interview below:
How does the rest of the band factor into the riffs and melodies that you both come up with?
Keenan: Sometimes I try and write overly simple riffs or chord structures so that Kirk can have room to breathe and not be so structured by a technical riff. I think sometimes writing those riffs is a lot trickier than writing complicated, busy riffs, where you’re filling in all the negative spaces. So I tend to think like that, in terms of the “classic song structure; you’ve heard it before” kind of deal. Kirk will come up with things, and sometimes we’ll do variations on the same riff with Jimmy changing the drumbeat. That’s a pretty big Down trick too, where we hammer a riff into the ground and Jimmy does half time.
Windstein: I bring in riffs, but it’s very seldom that anyone’s riff is not tricked up a little bit by the other guy. Phil is in charge of arranging the songs. As far as me writing with Pepper, a lot of times I have a riff and he says, “Why don’t you do this,” or he has a riff and I do all the harmonies. The thing we have is weird; it works great, but we’re two completely different schools as far as guitar players and styles. We couldn’t be more different from one another, but when we work together, it’s magic. Certain things he does really well and certain things I do really well, but we understand one another and where we’re both coming from as players because we’ve played together so long. The very incarnation of this thing was 1991, so it’s been, like, 20 years.
We’ve done quite a bit of touring all over the world and quite a bit of writing, so it works out great. It’s like a symbiotic relationship in a way. It’s totally different, but we gel, we feed off of one another’s ideas, as do the other guys in the band. Everyone in the band plays guitar and writes riffs. In a lot of bands, one guy is the chief songwriter, but we get in there, throw around ideas, and if something clicks, we know it. Everybody puts their two cents in and we have what we think is a great final product.
For a metal band, you boys sure do have the funk!
Keenan: That comes from me! We have some pretty ham-fisted shit going on if we want to, and we’re not afraid to go backward and do that. That’s the fun thing. We’ll go back and beat an E chord to death all day long; I don’t give a shit. If a song is going a certain direction, I think a lot of bands try to control it to put their sound on it, whereas we just let the song go and take its course and try to push it as far as we can in the song’s direction. Another thing is that we’re from the South, so of course some of that slippery greasiness is part of our thing, it’s part of the New Orleans thing. That’s one of the main things about Down in terms of being a heavy band is that we’re more into the melodic.
Windstein: Oh, absolutely, and thank you! That’s very well put and I totally agree! To me, there’s one reason and that’s because we’re from New Orleans. We grew up on New Orleans music, which is funk and blues; it’s music you can shake your ass to. We play behind the beat a lot. In a band like Down, we would never dream of playing to a click track or anything like that. It’s all about being in the pocket. Jimmy is a great behind-the-beat drummer. That gives you funk. Funk is playing behind the beat. It’s got a groove. We can shift gears and go behind a groove. Live, it’s even slower than it is on record; we call it switching gears.
We like switching gears. It brings an element of funk and old school into it. We all credit that to the environment we grew up in, which was New Orleans, which was the music and booze and having a good time, and ever since we were kids you’d be at your grandma and grandpa’s crawfish boil on the weekend and you’d be hearing Dr. John and the Neville Brothers and the Meters and all these popular New Orleans bands. It’s instilled in you. We’re a product of the environment we grew up around. To me, New Orleans is the best music town in the world. The best drummers, the funkiest, badass drummers, are guys like Mean Willie Green, Russell Battiste and Stan Moore. They’re monster drummers. It’s New Orleans. There’s something in the water down there.
Down Gear Rundown:
GUITARS: One ESP Eclipse; two custom, single-pickup, double-cutaway ESPs. AMPS: Two Orange Thunderverb 50 heads, four Orange 4X12 cabs with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.
EFFECTS: Maxon Tube Screamer, Boss Super Chorus, Dunlop “Slash” Wah pedal, MXR Phase 90, Boss TU-12 tuner.
GUITARS: Two Gibson ES-335s and one Gibson Firebird for drop-tuning. All guitars totally stock.
AMPS: Two Orange Thunderverb 50 heads, four Orange 4X12 cabs with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers.
EFFECTS: Tuner, rack-mounted wah, MXR Phase 90, Ibanez Square Button Tube Screamer and the Electro-Harmonix Pog and thick-ass bass picks.