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Seven years ago, a bunch of friends from below the Mason-Dixon line got together and decided to produced an album of straight-up, no-frills, down-home, Southern-tinged heavy metal. The band, made up of members of Pantera, COC and Crowbar, was called Down. The album was 'Nola', and it became a certified classic in the genre. 'Nola' was almost an island unto itself, an album of direct, Sabbath-inspired grooves that stood out like a mountain of hemp, towering between the dying alternative scene and the nu-metal market which would soon grip America. The metal throng have waited a LONG time for this, but Phil Anselmo, Pepper Keenan, Jimmy Bower, and Kirk Windstein are finally back with a new album due out in late March. With a new bassist, Rex Brown of Pantera, added to the line-up, you can bet the results are well worth the wait. Metal Update got the chance to hook up with Rex and Pepper for an interview before the album's release, and the dastardly duo gave us the inside scoop on how the new album was recorded and what fans have to look forward to in just a few short weeks.

METAL UPDATE: Since you are new to the group, did the rest of the guys ask you to play, or how did that work out?

REX BROWN: I can't remember. . . Basically, everybody goes down to New Orleans in October to just kinda hang out and stuff and they said, "You wanna come down and jam?" This is like in October '98. We wrote a bunch of stuff, put it all down on tape and we did like two or three sessions like that - just made a master jam tape. You know, we're in so many different bands that gettin' everybody in the same damn room, or in the same vicinity - just a buncha scheduling. We said, "We gotta put a fuckin' record out, so why don't we try doin' it right here at the end of 2001?" Basically, we went down to build a studio in a fuckin' barn out in the fuckin' swamps, put fifteen songs in twenty-six days, three cases of ramen noodle an' six-thousand dollars worth of booze, and that's how you make a rock record.

MU: (laugh) You talked about conflicting schedules. Is that the reason for the long wait between records?

RB: Well, it basically started coming around, we took COC to Australia and the little Pacific Rim thing that we did in May of this year. Jimmy's playing drums for COC now so, you know, like there are four of us. We're there. We kinda go, "Well, Pantera's gonna end their touring schedule for 'Reinventing The Steel' here in the fall sometime, why don't we try to get something going?" So, you know, tryin' to get the deal, and trying to get everybody down there, and tryin' to get the gear and producer and the whole bit just, you know. . . we're almost done.

MU: So, now, the record comes out in the US in March, is that right?

RB: Right.

MU: Can you give me hints? I mean, what can we expect style-wise? Are fans of the last record going to be into this, too?

RB: Totally. It's got the same vibe to it. The songwriting's a little, I wouldn't say heavier, more cohesive, you know, got down and just took these tapes and basically started arranging 'em and gettin' as heavy as it could, but it's a well-rounded record. There's acoustic stuff on it, you know? But it's definitely the same vibe of the last one, just sounds ten times better.

MU: Was it "Nodferatu's Lair"? That's what you called the barn?

RB: Yeah.

MU: This barn, is this property owned by Phil?

RB: Yeah, it's on his property out in the fuckin' swamps. It'll take ya a tank of gas to get to and from a store. I'm serious. Basically, we were there, I mean, I don't think we left that place maybe twice the whole time we were there, you know? We were workin' non-stop on this thing.


MU: Did you produce this record or did you have another guy come in?

RB: We actually produced with Warren Riker.

MU: He's not the guy who did the last record, right?

RB: No.

MU: What stuff has he done before?

RB: He's done all kinds of stuff. He really just hadn't done a whole lotta rock records, and he wanted to get into it, and Pepper had known him, used him on some other stuff for COC, I believe, and they became friends. This guy worked out perfect for what we needed to do, you know? He stayed there with us the whole time. And, you know, a lotta producers, they'd want their own damn hotel room, the car and the whole bit, and we just picked this guy and, I mean, it sounds great. He knows exactly what he's doin', but he's done like Lauryn Hill, Fugees, Santana, you know, that kinda vibe, bunch of stuff, but just not, not in this kind of heavy music.

MU: So, what made you guys decide to use that barn and not a regular studio?

RB: Regular studios are stale, and just the environment. You gotta pay for 'em, you know? We just basically got a dream to hire these cats that rent gear to come down and drop all the stuff off at the barn, dropped it off and came back later and picked it up. We used just a buncha old, you know, old, like 70's fuckin' gear, sounds killer.

MU: Has he got power out there? Did you guys bring generators or anything like that?

RB: No. Phil had started building just a jam room in there that turned into where we recorded the record. And up above, he's got bunks and all that stuff, and everybody slept upstairs, you know, on the couch or wherever you can find a place to sleep.

MU: Cool.

RB: Oh, yeah, it was killer. That's how to make a record like this, you know, not these sterile places. I mean, everybody, you gotta go to their hotel room, and gettin' the rent-a-car.

MU: Did you guys have any ideas before you came in, or did you start from scratch when you started in that barn?

RB: Yeah, we had those jam tapes that we made in '98 and a little bit of '99, and then everybody else was, you know, doin' records or on the road somewhere, just tryin' to get altogether. There's a lotta stuff that we actually wrote down in that studio during this whole session here.

MU: Did you guys finish all your writing and then record, or did you do a song here and there?

RB: It was kinda like that. Do a song here and then, you know, the whole key to that process is just the arranging, you know, get the arrangement right - go over it two or three times and we'd knock one down, you know? We got everything done in about ten days. There's quite a few acoustic numbers on this, or interludes, that go into something else.

MU: When you arrange stuff, is it all a "do-it-as-you-go-along" type thing? Do you jam and take an idea and say, "Okay, let's stop," and go away and work on it?

RB: There's a whole bunch of stuff that we didn't use. I mean, we could've easily put out a double record on this.

MU: Really?

RB: Oh, yeah, but, I mean, we can save that stuff for down the line here somewhere.

MU: Are you planning to tour for this record?

RB: Yes, we are.

MU: Do you know when or with who?

RB: No, we've got a couple things up in the air right now. We're just trying to get this record out, you know? We finished mastering this morning at six. No rest for the wicked.

MU: That's right. Looking at Down's music, I look at COC and Pantera and Crowbar and all that stuff, sort of the heavier end of music. What is it about being in Down that's new or different for you?

RB: . . .a good creative feeling when you can get away from what you're doin'. You don't have to be a certain way, you know, and I think that's with all of us. We all make these jam sessions and then arrange 'em and just let it flow freely, you know? With Pantera, you know it's always going to be about the riff, the riff, the riff, you know? With this one, it's more laid back and just kinda open. There are no boundaries that you can't touch because we just don't give a fuck. But to make that cohesive into a fuckin' record is an art by itself, and you'll know what I'm talking about when you hear the record.

MU: I know you're from Texas, and the other guys are from down in Louisiana. Is there something about being down there, especially now that you've recorded there, anything cool or special or inspirational about being in that area?

RB: No, because I mean, that's just where we grew up, you know? I mean, we're all about, you know, pretty much the same age and all that kinda stuff. We all have the same kind of influences when we, you know, listen to the radio when you're a kid, you know? It's just a style of - there's a lotta blues in Texas that leaned over into New Orleans. I think that a lot of the stuff that we do is kinda really blues-influenced, but it ain't straight-up blues, you know? You gotta twist it up a little bit.

MU: (laugh) It's a little heavier.

RB: But, I mean, there's stuff spread out all over this thing. It's not one specific, you know, no two songs sound the same on this rig. They do, but they don't, if you know what I'm saying.

MU: How did you guys get along? I mean, you were stuck in a barn for three weeks, pretty much didn't see daylight for twenty-one days. You guys are all friends, but did you go a little loopy after a while?

RB: Oh, fuck, yeah. That was the madness of the whole deal. That's what makes a fuckin' killer, energetic, somethin' to get you going record. Oh, hell yeah, we went fuckin' stir crazy there for. . . you know, your stuck out in the swamp and that's a long ways to McDonald's, you know? Better find what you can find to eat!

MU: When you guys wrote, did you work during the daytime, or were there quite a few night sessions? When was your peak?

RB: (pause) Probably in the early evening. We'd probably get everything pretty much kicked in and running. Phil would come down about seven o' clock and we'd start arranging it and puttin' it down. That's what we did with the drum tracks, see, and the drum tracks are done, and then it's a whole different schedule, you know? One day's guitar day. One day's bass day and then, of course, he's trying to - he's singing on top of these every night. So, there was a lot of stuff on here, especially bass-wise, I just left because it sounds killer, just me and Jimmy on the scratch.

MU: Compared to Pantera, did you approach your playing any differently?

RB: Yeah, because in this there's a whole bunch of stuff that's just open and free and moving, you know, with a little breath in it. So, I wanted to get a real, kind of the low end where stuff was moving around. I mean, it is a totally different feel than Pantera. When we go do one of those records, everything is just microscoped and, you know, put underneath the knife, so to speak, to make that sound. With this, it's wide open. The difference between this band and the other ones, there's no boundaries in this one for anybody, you know? You don't have to sound particularly like this or that. It's gonna come out sounding like Down.

MU: Now that you've experienced this, do you think you and Phil would go back to Pantera and say, "Hey, guys, let's try doing it this way?"

RB: No, because you can't fuck with that Pantera sound. You just - that would be kinda foolish.

MU: Do you think you'd try going out in the middle of nowhere?

RB: That is definitely on my agenda.

MU: Cool.

RB: 'Cause it's just, it's a good change of pace. We need that. You don't need it to be stale. That's another demon altogether. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.

MU: So, if you did this again, would you guys do it the same way? Would you go out into the middle of nowhere? Would you repeat that experience?

RB: I'd like to. I thought it was a hell of a way to make a record. We hadn't made a record like that in a long time.

MU: Do you have any favorite songs on the record?

RB: I think it's one of these records you have to listen to all the way through, you know? Of course, there can be ones that definitely stand out, but there's just so many killers. It's hard to pick one and say, "Here it is."

(exit Rex, enter Pepper)


MU: On this record, do you sing at all?


MU: So, Phil does everything?

PK: Yep, just like the last Down record. He's got a pretty good grip on that. (laugh)

MU: How do you feel about concentrating on guitar and not vocals?

PK: Yeah, I mean, don't get me wrong, I love singing, but I like playing guitar, too. It's cool because Phil's got a set of pipes on him, so it's more challenging to. . . Sometimes it's difficult when your singing and playing guitar, and with a band like Down I can just go fuckin' apeshit and not have to worry about learning to sing it and play it, you know? So, it's cool. I mean, I love playing guitar.

MU: About Phil's vocal work on Down, just from the last record, I read a few reviews and heard people say they prefer his voice in Down than in Pantera. It's got a little bit more melody, kind of tones it down a little bit. . .

PK: Much, much more, yeah. I mean, Phil can sing, dude. I mean, he can sound like fuckin' Robin Trower when he wants to.

MU: Does he ever talk about that? Does he prefer singing in Down than Pantera?

PK: When we first started doin' this record and, once again, it was in a whacked-out, fuckin' haze of just creativity in this fuckin' barn, you know? We're going fuckin' apeshit and then, Phil, I mean. . . Phil knows what Down is. He knows that they're different animals. But Phil sang. I haven't heard Phil sing like this since he was fifteen years old. I mean, there is some Ian Gillan things on here that are just ridiculous, you know? His voice was crystal fucking clear. It's not all razzed out and, of course, these Down songs needed something like that. Phil's very good at making it be what it needs to be and not just trying to walk all over it with some staple sound. So, yeah, he sang his ass off. Everybody's heard it says "holy shit." You know, it's very cool because nobody sings like that anymore. When Phil started singing like he did on 'Cowboys From Hell', all of a sudden there's a hundred people singing like that. And now, with this Down record, it's definitely gonna up the standards of how a person sings in this type of music, because nobody does it. Everybody growls nowadays, and that motherfucker opened his pipes up like fucking Bad Company. It was fuckin' cool.

MU: When you went into the studio this time around, was there anything about the last record that you wanted to do differently? Did you guys have any goals? Were there any preconceptions about what you wanted to do?

PK: Well, we try and not to 'cause even the last Down record, you know, I go back and listen to it and the fuckin' thing's killer. There's not a moment on there I would change. I mean, it's such a jam-orientated thing, and we try and keep that same openness to it. But on this record, we definitely pushed the parameters a lot in many different directions just 'cause we felt it's where our heads were at. We wanted to make a giant fuckin' rock record, you know, like dinosaur rock. There's some Gentle Giant sounding shit on there, just big 'ol stuff that nobody does anymore. Me and Phil were talking about how nobody in our generation of music has ever attempted to make a record in this type of setting, for one thing, and this broad and not so, you know, trend-based of what's cool and what ain't. Like, "Fuck it, let's just make our own fuckin' thing and try and up the standards of what people expect from fuckin' bands."

MU: The experience of playing in Nodferatu's Lair, would you guys do that again?

PK: Oh, yeah, definitely. You know, definitely in that type of environment is insanely creative 'cause it's not like you go into a studio with all this fancy fuckin' furniture and shit and sittin' down in this generic environment and record. I mean, we were writing this stuff at the same time, so you got to get your head straight to do that kind of thing. It's that type of environment where you don't get into your taxi and go back to the hotel and go to sleep, go back the next morning. I mean, you crawl up the steps, guitar on your fuckin' back and fall asleep and walk back down there in the morning. But it's an insanely creative way to do it because you're just surrounded, enveloped by it for twenty-four hours a day which will, in time, make you insane. I kept telling everybody it reminded me of fuckin' 'Apocalypse Now.' We were fuckin' losin' our fuckin' minds, and it was cool 'cause the deeper we dug into this shit, we didn't know what was goin' on in the outside world. We didn't know a fuckin' thing. We had no telephone. We had no TV. We didn't have shit. So, it becomes just this primal thing where we just focused on writin' this fuckin' music.

MU: The bass player from the first record, Todd Strange, why was he not on this record?

PK: Uh, well, I mean, shit, we had Rex, you know? I mean, Rex is an unbelievable bass player, and we had really upped the dose in terms of songwriting on this thing. The last record was, really tricky stuff on there, but this one, it's just more out the fuckin' box, you know? It's not standard "beatin' the E chord to death" shit. So, it was cool 'cause Rex, I mean, Rex can play, so now we all get in a fuckin' circle and there's no weak links anywhere. You just goin'. Whatever you can think of, whatever you can spit out your mind, these five guys can do, you know. . . or at least in our type of music. I'm not sayin' we're fuckin' Beethoven or anything. In that realm of rock, hard rock, I mean, you get five guys who pretty much got that section of music figured out, you know?

MU: I know you guys were using a different producer this time, but was there anything production-wise or recording-wise that you did differently on this record from the last one?

PK: Oh, God, man, I mean the last record was produced by a buddy of ours who lived down the street. (laughs) That's all that was, you know? It was nobody fancy, but, you know, when we did this record, we had to get somebody who could hang in a situation like this, 'cause we were talkin' pretty in-depth 'bout how we were gonna try and do this thing. So, we needed somebody young, for one thing, somebody who wouldn't quail when the shit hit the fan, you know, 'cause they weren't gonna be fuckin' stayin' in a hotel gettin' room service. We needed somebody who was gonna be in for the long haul. There are no showers in this place. It wasn't shit, man. I mean, you were fuckin' goin' at it. So, we had to get somebody who was willing to do all that and talked to Warren, a friend of mine who had actually done a Lauryn Hill record and Fugees and shit like that, you know, but he's a fuckin' metalhead from Jersey, basically, and he was game. He fuckin' followed through. But, recording-wise, yeah, it was a fuckin' trip. We had to rent all the gear from a place in Nashville and have it shipped down and set up in this environment that, for one, was not a studio. It was not soundproofed, didn't have any isolation anywhere, you know? So, that was either going to be a positive or a negative, but we made it positive just by cool mic placements in the fuckin' building and using the sound of certain rooms to our advantage. It was not a pre-setup place, so, yeah, it was extremely difficult to get it all mapped out.

MU: So, would you say the sound on this record is better than the last one?

PK: Oh, yeah, blows it away.

MU: Really?

PK: Jesus Christ, man, it sounds like a fuckin' Zeppelin record, 'cause the only thing we had to ship down there was we had a sixteen-track Studer two-inch tape machine to ship down and then all just vintage fucking gear - buncha old microphones. But we were playin' this crushing, heavy shit, but we weren't using modern production techniques. We're using the same shit that fuckin' Sabbath had or Zeppelin had, but not tryin' to be Lenny Kravitz, you know what I mean? I mean, it was cool, so everything's very warm and real sounding.

MU: The first record sold really well and it's put up on a pedestal. Were you surprised at the massive positive reaction to it?

PK: Uh, well, I don't want to be cocky about it, dude, but me and Phil had talked about that shit when we were making this thing. I said, "Dude, you know, somebody has got to make a fuckin' record," and we were not into what was goin' on, and the kids out there ain't fuckin' stupid, man. They're just bein' spoon-fed all this crap, and I'm thinkin' a lot of 'em don't really, they don't have any options, you know? So, we made that record and, I mean, it was not promoted. We'd only played thirteen shows, but it became this staple heavy metal record, you know? If you were stuck on an island for ten days, for the rest of your life, that would be one of the records, if you were into heavy metal, that would be on your fuckin' thing, you know? And that's basically what we were trying to do, but we weren't really realizing it at the time.

MU: You're from New Orleans, right?

PK: Yes.


MU: What's the music environment like? I know it's like blues and jazz and stuff like that - is that what's big down there?

PK: Oh, yeah. I mean, New Orleans is a strange place. When we were growin' up, there wasn't rock radio stations and there wasn't a lot of that. So, that's how a lot of these New Orleans bands got their own sound, because we weren't influenced by anything, you know? You go down the street and the fuckin' Neville Brothers are playin' down the fuckin' road. It ain't like you're in L.A. or New York, with all these heavy metal hair guys that were there when we were kids. You were hanging out with a bunch of brothers, listening to blues and fuckin' jazz and whacked-out funk music. You grow up in an environment like that, but we were fuckin' playing rock, and it just kinda bred its own thing. But, yeah, that city is surrounded with music, man. It's everywhere - just not fuckin' Warrant or bands like that. It's fuckin' real-deal funk fuckers, you know, which, in terms of being influenced by shit, New Orleans was extremely influential in the way I looked at music.

MU: When you guys went into that barn to record, what did people think of that?

PK: Well, we had told the record company that we wanted to do it, and they thought we were fuckin' insane, you know? So, it took a lot of convincing to get this fuckin' crazy idea worked out. So, once we had all that done, you know, we didn't tell anybody what we were doin', besides who was footin' the bill. We didn't tell our friends and all that shit. So, we had a couple people come by, but we really wanted to isolate ourselves. I mean, I was in New Orleans, and I was in New Orleans maybe a day. . . I was in the swamps for a month, and didn't even come back. So, we kept it pretty tight.

MU: What was the most difficult thing to get through while recording this record?

PK: The biggest problem was getting it logistically figured out. Once we were there, once we had the machines rolling, you know. . . 'cause we. . . Think about it, man. We shipped down a hundred-thousand dollars worth of rental gear to a fuckin' barn. We had to make sure the fuckin' thing was wired, that we weren't gonna blow fuses, that lightning wasn't gonna strike the building and burn the fuckin' thing down - there ain't no fire department around there. I mean, shit like that was drivin' us fuckin' crazy. We had to make sure we had enough power to power an entire band, fuckin' loud, a P.A. and all this recordin' gear without any ground problems, without any buzzes or hums, you know? It was a fuckin' logistical nightmare. We spent a lotta time on that, spent a lotta time gettin' this gear figured out, gettin' everybody down there and then the UPS dude was comin' every day droppin' off shit. Once we had all that figured out, we took a day just to kick back and barbecue, and then the next day we fuckin' hit the tapes, started goin. But the music part, recording thing, all of that was a piece of cake.

MU: Do you have any songs on the record that are your favorites?

PK: It's so hard to say, man. Down's not the type of band that puts filler songs on there. I mean, we put our heart and soul in every fuckin' inch of that fucker. You know, we wanted to make an album. We wanted to make something that flows. Basically, it could be one fuckin' song. If it was I.D.'d with one fuckin' sixty-six minute song, I'd be ecstatic, but it's broken up. There are moments that cross. There's a lotta cool things Phil did lyrically, and said a lotta things that I think he needed to get off his chest about mistakes he's made and all this kinda stuff. I mean, it's one song called "Learn From This Mistake", and it's just one of those classic, tear-jerkin' classic rock songs. But, yeah, there's all kinda moments on this thing, man. It's just, there's Down songs that people will instantly know it's fucking Down, and then when we pushed the parameters in different directions on certain things. But I probably have to say I couldn't pick one particular one. I'd feel like a fool if I did that.


review of Down 'Nola'

"Lifer" from 'Nola'

DOWN MP3 sample tracks
"Ghost Along the Mississippi", "The Seed", "Where I'm Going" from 'II'






Interview: Anthony Syme [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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