Drummer Jimmy Bower
Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
Transcription By Mike Holmes
***All live photos by Lord of The Wasteland unless otherwise noted.
The five members of New Orleans’ supergroup, Down, have spent the better part of the last two years rebuilding their personal lives after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly washed their city into the Gulf of Mexico. Add in the tragic murder of “Dimebag” Darrell and it is a miracle Down even had the wherewithal to exist as human beings, let alone professional musicians. Yet, the band has managed to write, record and now tour in support of their brilliant new CD, DOWN III: OVER THE UNDER. Part catharsis, part anger and part spite, OVER THE UNDER is a cryptic musical diary of the band’s experiences and feelings run through a filter of Down’s trademark sludge metal.
I caught up with Down drummer, Jimmy Bower, via telephone before their show in Tulsa, Oklahoma to discuss the current North American run of “An Evening With Down” dates, the new CD, complications of being in a “supergroup” and also some catching up on Bower’s other projects.
Hi Jimmy, how are you doing, man?
I’m doing good! How are you doing, bro?
Very well, thank you very much. I am up here in Vancouver, BC.
Oh, awesome. We had a great show in Vancouver, man.
You did and it was an awesome show (read review HERE). People here are still saying that it was one of the best shows from anybody that we’ve seen in the last few years.
Wow, that’s awesome, man! The crowd was just amazing.
Yeah, it was great. Even when Down was here with Heaven and Hell back in March, it seemed that you guys were totally overwhelmed with the response. It was really great to see.
Oh dude, it was awesome. Vancouver is always, always good, man. I love Vancouver.
Alright! Well, let’s talk about some Down history first. The band was started as a side-project but when did you first realize that there might be something more to this than just a side-project?
I think we all realized it the first day, man. We wrote “Losing All,” “Temptation’s Wings” and “Bury Me In Smoke” in one day. That was in ’91. I just remember having a cassette of it, driving around and listening to it thinking, “Man, this could do something.” I think we knew pretty early on of the potential of the band.
DOWN II: A BUSTLE IN YOUR HEDGEROW (2002)
DOWN II was famously recorded in twenty-eight days but OVER THE UNDER took a little bit longer. Why did you choose to spend more time on the new album than you did last time?
Well, on DOWN II, like you said, we did it in twenty-eight days and that was something that we didn’t want to do again. It was a one-time thing. On DOWN III: OVER THE UNDER, we really wanted to take our time and get the songs right and get the best sound as we possibly could. We really took our time and didn’t stress ourselves out with it. The studio can be really stressful and writing, as well. We tried to make it un-stressful and I think it paid off.
You recorded in Los Angeles this time, instead of New Orleans.
We wanted to do the record in New Orleans but since the storm [Hurricane Katrina], the studios really haven’t come back from that and the ones that have come back were either booked, or it wasn’t the right room, or something. So, we had to consider L.A. because there are tons of great rooms and stuff like that. At first, I was hesitant about recording in L.A., but I’m glad that we did it now. I had a lot of access to cool equipment in L.A. that I didn’t have access to in New Orleans, like the drums I used. The rooms that we recorded in were really nice and had great microphones. I had $40,000 worth of microphones sitting right behind me. It was cool because I’ve never recorded like that.
The drums just sounded huge on the new CD, especially on “March of The Saints.”
Yeah, I love it. I used a 1978 Ludwig that John Bonham used. It’s a chrome kit, so it’s really loud and [producer] Warren Riker was able to capture that on to tape. They re-issued the same drum kit, the Bonham chrome one—they only made a hundred of them—and I got one. It’s just sitting on the stage right now and you can probably hear it since they’re sound-checking (laughs).
Did recording in Los Angeles put a different perspective on the songs since you were away from the familiarity of your surroundings back home?
No, I can see how that could happen, though, but we did all of the writing in New Orleans, so when we got to L.A., we basically told ourselves to look at it as a gig. Don’t ponder on the fact that we are in L.A., nothing against L.A. (laughs)….but we had everything written prior to going to L.A. so we were really prepared when we went in. It was pretty convenient, though. The hotel that we stayed at was right by the studio. The weather was nice, the vibe was really good but vibe can be created anywhere.
DOWN III: OVER THE UNDER (2007)
Did you guys have any material written before Hurricane Katrina or was the album and the writing influenced by the storm and the things that happened and the other personal tragedies?
We hadn’t written anything prior to the storm at all. We had just started talking about getting back to writing and everything. When the storm hit, that put a big stop to everything, obviously. Pepper [Keenan, guitar] evacuated with me but it was six months where I couldn’t even talk to anybody. It was just text messages and all that, so that’s another reason that this record took so long. There were a lot of downfalls that happened that set us back.
I noticed that Phillip [Anselmo, vocals] looks better on stage than he has in years. Was his own recovery from back surgery and addiction an inspiration for the rest of you?
Oh yeah, I think its great, man. His back has been an issue for years and it was due time for him to get it done. I think it’s made him a happier person because the pain isn’t there. They told him that he wouldn’t be able to walk for six months and after two weeks he was up and walking around. It was definitely an inspiration. He really is a strong person.
He has done all of the lyrics himself on OVER THE UNDER. Is that something that he always handles?
Yeah, he always does all his own lyrics. I think they’re beautiful, man. Considering all of the negative stuff that’s happened to him and to us over the past couple of years, I think he summed it up pretty well. He is very good with lyrics. Why would I write lyrics or anybody else when Phil Anselmo is in the band?
One thing that I noticed in the liner notes of the new CD is that you didn’t do any writing this time. Did you opt out for a reason or was it just a coincidence that it didn’t happen?
There were a couple songs that didn’t make it to the record that I had done some writing on. I really just wanted to sit back, concentrate and play drums. I did write all of my drum stuff but I didn’t really touch any riffs or anything. Everybody was bringing riffs to the table constantly, so I just kind of sat back on this one.
One of the new songs, “N.O.D.,” features a cryptic title. I’m guessing the “N” and “O” has to do with New Orleans?
To be honest with you, I don’t know.
Maybe it’s kind of like the Black Sabbath song, “N.I.B.”?
Yeah, I guess. It’s just “N.O.D.” That song live is so much fun, it’s ridiculous. It’s got a good swing. ‘Chook…ohh bah! Chook…ohh bah!’ It really works well with the crowd.
Yeah, it was definitely one of the high points of the set since a lot of people were really getting into that song. The CD had only been out for nine days at that point and people were really getting into the new stuff.
Yeah, that’s been the cool thing. It’s really surprising that the fans already know the lyrics. That blows us away.
I mentioned the Sabbath reference in passing earlier and on one of the other new songs, “His Majesty The Desert,” I get sort of a “Planet Caravan” feel to that one.
No, I think the same thing. When Pepper and Kirk [Windstein, guitar] went to go do the guitar tracks, Pepper laid that down. Phil came back and sang over it. We did some bongos and stuff. I think Down does this style of song really cool. I think it is a style of song that you will hear a lot more of from Down, the acoustic type stuff that we do. We are really reminiscent of that kind of stuff.
I read that the band has a bunch of acoustic stuff in the can. Are you guys throwing around the idea of possibly releasing an acoustic album?
Yeah, we do have some stuff and we are definitely going to work on that soon. We have a lot of projects that we are working on, but right now we are just trying to push the record and tour as much as we can. For the next two years, we are going to be busy. I’ll be lucky to see my bedroom at home for more than a week (laughs).
On the CDs, you have Ross Karpelman playing keyboards. The new song “Nothing In Return (Walk Away)” and “Stained Glass Cross” from DOWN II both have a real cool southern vibe to them with the added keyboard. Why don’t you perform those songs live with a touring keyboardist?
We have never played “Stained Glass Cross” live. Why? I don’t know. I love that song. I actually wrote that song. On a Canadian run, we tried having Ross play with us but it was a little weird because he had other obligations with House of Shock, a big haunted house in New Orleans. It’s just not practical for us to bring him in right now. We were kind of concerned about how that would work out. It’s cool to have it on the record and stuff but I don’t know about live. Personally, I think it would be killer. It would be like [Bower’s 2000 side-project, The Mystic Krewe of] Clearlight or something. Ross has other obligations right now but I wouldn’t doubt it if maybe we do something like that in the future.
Besides being a drummer, you also play guitar in EyeHateGod and Superjoint Ritual. Does your mindset as a guitar player ever influence any of Down’s music or do you leave the guitar parts up to Pepper and Kirk?
Pepper and Kirk are pretty amazing guitar players. I don’t try and step on their toes at all or anything. I guess being a guitar player, I have the ability to understand the groove that they come up with in their riffs.
I noticed that Kirk and Pepper add a lot of background vocals live. They’re both the singers in Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity, so has the discussion ever come up to have them sing on a Down album?
This is the first time that they’ve done backup vocals, obviously, and we do “Beneath The Tides” live and it has a four-part harmony—[sings] “Rain can’t soak what is not there.” Kirk starts it then Pepper comes in, then Rex and then Phil. What’s cool about it is, if you think about our genre of music, nobody really does that. You don’t have four-part harmonies and little blues jams—the dynamics that I think we have. It’s been accepted really well and it’s cool because maybe we can turn some different people on to a different style of music. I think the whole stoner thing—and I’ve been thinking this for years—is about to blow up. I think it very well may go mainstream.
Well I know that there is a lot of bands coming out of the south, like Kylesa, Minsk, Rwake…bands that are sort of taking their sounds from EyeHateGod, Down and Crowbar, like the next generation.
Right, exactly. As a musician and a member of Down, if we can influence people to look at their instruments a little more and get into it a little more, that’s cool, man. As opposed to just grabbing a guitar and going ‘JUNT JUNT JUNT JUNT’, wearing something cool and all of a sudden you’re killer in the social scene. It has nothing to do with music, man.
It should be music more than image.
Yeah, I think you have so many bands out there that are image-oriented before their music and sometimes it shows. I’m not going to name names but you know what I’m saying. Why doesn’t everybody look all straggly like St. Vitus (laughs)?
(Laughs) The spread between the first and second album was seven years and then it was another five years in between the last two. Is this gap going to narrow in between OVER THE UNDER and the next CD?
Well, I think in the past everybody had a lot of obligations with their “real” bands. Pantera was still going, Corrosion of Conformity was strong, EyeHateGod was still going strong and Down was thought of as more of a side-band. Now that we all have come to terms and made a commitment, it won’t be five years until the next record comes out. This is our band and we plan on growing old with his band. We intend to work hard for the rest of our lives to make it as cool as we possibly can. The reason for the breaks in between the records is pretty obvious. It was scheduling and all that. “Let’s jam! Well, Pepper’s on tour.” “We could do it here but Kirk’s going to be on tour or Jimmy.” “Phil’s doing something with Pantera.” Or, “Oh, shit! There’s a hurricane in the Gulf!” You name it and it happened.
Talking about the tour now, Down is about halfway through the run of dates in North America. We talked about the Vancouver show earlier but has the response been similar at the other shows?
Yeah! Dude, I’ll be honest with you, this is the funnest tour that I’ve ever been on and we are having a great time. I think it reflects on stage and everybody’s heart is just so into it and it makes it that much cooler and easier. It’s really working out good. The reception has been great and very flattering. People are genuinely glad to see us and that always feels good.
You’ve got a video to open your set again, which Down has done before. Why do you choose to do that and not the traditional thing of having another band open up for you?
We really like the “Evening With Down” thing. It’s cool because we play a bunch of favorite videos of ours, a couple little clips and tour antics, shit like that. Being a fan of music, I think it’s pretty cool. It sets a vibe for the night. In the future, we plan on bringing bands out with us or opening for other bands but for right now, the “Evening With Down” thing is working.
I loved it. I’m a huge KISS fan and it was cool seeing the KISS clip on there and the Deep Purple clip with David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes from ’74 was awesome.
Dude, the Deep Purple clip is so bad with Glenn Hughes. It’s awesome.
What are the tour plans after this run of dates finishes up in November?
I think in January we are going to Europe. Then in March or April we are going to Australia. Then hopefully back to Europe again in June for festivals. Then we will probably do another North American run. We want to try and hit as many countries as we can and hit all the places that we’ve never been to. If you really look at what we’ve been doing before the record came out, we’ve been a damn busy band.
I was reading Phil’s blog on the website and it sounds like you guys were really busy.
Yeah, but it’s all good because it’s what we want to do. It keeps everybody occupied.
Has there been any discussion about recording the “Evening With Down” shows for release as a live album or DVD?
Well, when we were in Europe in 2006, Jim Van Bebber came with us. He’s a director—he did the Superjoint videos and THE MANSON FAMILY movie—and he came with us and shot 350 hours of footage while we were playing and some back stage stuff. We are going to get that together and edit it for a cool Down DVD. It will definitely be really unique.
Is it going to be a show, as well, or just a backstage kind of thing?
I think it’s going to be a blend.
Will there be some older stuff from the early nineties?
Yeah, we have video from that day I was telling you about where we wrote “Losing All,” “Temptation’s Wings” and “Bury Me In Smoke.” We look like kids, man (laughs). We’ll intertwine all of that together. It should be a very interesting DVD. It’s taking a lot longer than we thought but we really want to make it good.
Is it something that will be out in the near future or is looking more long-term?
No, it will be in the near future. Like I said, we have 350 hours of footage to edit, so it’s a lot of work, especially for Jim Van Bebber. He has to edit everything down, then we could edit everything together. Right now we are just trying to pump out what we can, when we can.
I said that I was going to be interviewing you today and one of our readers said that a tour with Down and Clutch together makes perfect sense. Has Down and Clutch ever discussed that possibility?
Clutch is really good friends of mine and of course it would be killer, but right now the “Evening With Down” thing is what’s happening. I wouldn’t say that it would never happen, though.
They’re another band that brought the organ in and it made a huge difference to their sound on their last two CDs.
Yeah, I’m a big fan of Clutch.
They play live here regularly, as well, and they are an amazing live band.
Yeah, I like the people that they draw. It’s kind of that “jam” crowd type thing.
And they seem to tour with everybody. You never know who they’re going to be here with—a hardcore band, a punk band, a metal band—they just seem to show up with whomever.
I was sitting at home one day and I got a phone call one day. They’re so cool that they flew me up to Flint Michigan just to play one song with them. I played “Space Grass” with them and then we did a jam session. Then they flew me back home. It was crazy (laughs)! They did that twice, actually.
So how did the tour with Heaven and Hell come about?
We got offered the tour and obviously we took it and it turned out to be one of the best things in our entire lives. What an honor it is. They’re great guys, very professional and we have learned a lot from touring with them. That’s the lord right there, you know? Tony Iommi, Geezer [Butler]…and Vinny Appice has always been a favorite drummer of mine, and Dio is so cool and such a professional live. What an amazing singer.
That was an amazing show. The tour kicked off here in Vancouver (read review HERE) and the whole world was looking at the Vancouver show for what to expect. It seemed to be a smooth show with no production bugs, completely flawless from start to finish. I was really impressed.
Yeah, I was thoroughly impressed with how they run things and how they do things. They really have a great crew and everything just runs so damn smooth. Any band would love that.
Unfortunately, Down had to leave the tour after the Vancouver show because Phillip had strep throat.
We stayed on the tour and went to all of the shows and everything, but yeah, it was the first time ever that Phil lost his voice. In the future we plan on going back to make up those shows because that sucked. We came back with a vengeance, though!
When that happened were you guys thinking, “Oh man, another thing to go wrong here”?
Well, you do one show with Sabbath and then the next morning you wake up and Phil can’t talk. It definitely bummed everybody out, but the fact that we came back and did great—redeemed ourselves—it made us feel a whole lot better. But it was definitely a very bummed-out time. But what are you going to do (laughs)?
It seems that very few bands play New Orleans, and I noticed that even Down is bypassing the city on this run. Katrina aftermath aside, is there not a big metal scene in New Orleans?
There is a huge metal scene in New Orleans. We played there twice this year and that’s kind of the reason for not stopping in New Orleans this time around. I played two shows with EyeHateGod before I left. For a while there, the metal scene in New Orleans went through a transition of age and everything, people getting older and not going to shows but there’s a whole fresh slew of kids. It’s real strong and bluesy like it’s always been.
I just wanted to quickly touch on some of your other projects. Can you give me some updates on what’s happening with EyeHateGod, Crowbar and Superjoint Ritual?
Superjoint’s not happening anymore. It was fun while we did it, but it’s over now. As far as Crowbar, well Kirk is right here [pauses]…he just summed it up good, we will never not do Crowbar or EyeHateGod, it’s just the main focus is on Down right now.
I read an interview that you did right after Hurricane Katrina and you mentioned that you were working on a solo album. What’s happening with that?
Yeah, I totally intend on doing that. I’m going to do it at my house. It’s going to be like “Doob Interlude,” just no vocals because I can’t sing. I might try and sing a little bit, I don’t know. (Laughs) Kirk just looked at me all funny. No, it’s something that I definitely want to do and I already have some songs written.
Do you have any other projects besides Down, any appearances on CDs or anything else coming up?
I produced this band from New York called My Uncle The Wolf and played bass on the record. They came down to New Orleans, stayed at my house. I got a studio, the same place EyeHateGod usually goes. It was my first time producing a band and it was a lot of fun. Kirk Fisher from Buzzov*en, he now has a band called K-Lord (??), he came down and I played drums on his record and I produced that, as well. That should actually be coming out soon on Neurosis’ label, Neurot. I really like working with other bands and giving them my two cents. It’s definitely something that I would like to do more of in the future.
As a musician, do you prefer playing guitar or drums?
I get that question all of the time, but I love both equally. On guitar, you can express yourself in certain ways and on drums I can express myself in certain ways. Both are equally just as cool. I really like having a guitar in my hand but then again I really like having drum sticks in my hand, as well. I like to do both to try and stay as well rounded as I can.
Which instrument did you start with?
I started with the drums. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was eighteen.
What made you first pick up the guitar?
The Melvins, man. Dude, I heard The Melvins and freaked out. Kirk and I have both lost our minds on bands like The Melvins, Sabbath and Carnivore. We just really freaked out on that. Kirk and I did The Slugs before Crowbar but the reason for EyeHateGod was I just started playing guitar and I learned a couple of riffs and we would just go up and have fun. It was cool because I got to cover both desires—guitar and drums—trying to rip off The Melvins (laughs).
Did you catch any of those Carnivore reunion shows that Peter Steele did last year?
No, but in ’93 I saw Carnivore at L’Amour’s in Brooklyn with Louie [Beato], the original drummer and it was awesome. I love Carnivore, dude. They are such a good band.
There was an EyeHateGod tribute album that came out that was called FOR THE SICK earlier this year. Have you heard about that at all?
Yeah, our booking agent from EyeHateGod, Chris Johnson, he put that together and got all of the bands. I think its really cool. Hank III is my favorite artist on there. It was cool what he did and it was cool seeing other people’s interpretation of EyeHateGod. It’s very flattering.
I have two more questions that I want you to settle and clear up whether it’s truth or Internet rumors. First, I read that Kirk, not Todd Strange, played all of the bass tracks on NOLA. Truth or rumor?
So Todd did the live shows and Kirk did the album.
Okay, second question…is NOLA going to be re-recorded with Rex Brown on bass?
We don’t know yet. It is something that we would like to do, but we are not sure. Rex adds so much to the band and to those songs. It would be cool to hear it on the record like that. For Rex’s sake, I would love to see that happen, it would be totally cool. How it would be received, I don’t know. But I’m sure that some people would be interested in what Rex would do to those songs.
***Thanks to Jen at Big Machine Media for setting up the interview.