Lately, the heavy-metal environment offers some pretty interesting terrain: There are popular death-core bands with eight-stringed guitars playing polyrhythms they've rehashed hundreds of times, a full-on early Megaforce Records-style thrash revival, and more blossoming subgenres than you can shake a stick at. And while it would appear that a lot of bands have grown preoccupied with trying to write faster, heavier, and more technically challenging music than the next, there really is no substitute for solid riffs, deeply pocketed drumming, and some soulfully anguished vocals.
New Orleans-based supergroup Down has been satisfying the need for a classic take on what's great about heavy metal for the better part of 21 years now. It somehow defies the "one record wonder" supergroup cliché while indulging all of its musical whims -- which run the gamut from Sabbath-influenced doom metal to swampy, blues-influenced rock and just about everything in between. Although Down is not always the most prolific band, it does manage to deliver the goods when it comes to making music that's universally appealing to fans of all things rockin'.
If you haven't heard of Down, the band is composed of former Pantera frontman Philip Anselmo, pseudo-former Corrosion of Conformity guitarist and singer Pepper Keenan, Crowbar guitarist Kirk Windstein, and Eyehategod/Superjoint Ritual drummer Jimmy "Power" Bower. Though Pantera's Rex Brown was the most recent bass player for the group, following Todd Strange's departure, health problems have since sidelined him in favor of Crowbar bassist Pat Bruders. We caught up with the ever-affable Pepper Keenan before the band's first date of tour in Broussard, Louisiana.
"We're good! We're ready to go, we've done our homework, and we're back up!" exclaims Keenan after sound check, his excitement filtered through a heavy, bayou-bred accent. The band has not released a studio album since 2007's III, but it has recently announced plans to release a series of four EPs.
"It kind of allowed us to trick the industry a little bit and come out with something different. We have a couple of different types of songs we're working on too, so it allows us to separate them into certain EPs for specific styles of songs. And the artwork for all four EPs is going to connect to make one big image, so that's going to be cool!" explained Keenan. When we speculated about a big, final packaging of all of them like fellow supergroup OFF! did with its crop of releases, Keenan said, "Yeah! Something like that down the road. At our rate, it'll be 20 years before the last one comes out," punctuating the statement with a bellowing laugh.
Being that the members of Down all have other projects to tend to when they're not doing this, we were curious about Keenan's rather vague status with the now-three-piece Corrosion of Conformity. When we sought some clarification, Keenan was happy to oblige us with the inside line, saying "I guess they're just doing the three-piece thing for now, which is fine. I've been superbusy with the Down thing, and they had the idea to do the three-piece thing again, and it seems to be working out OK for them." On the possibility of doing a four-piece, more rock 'n' roll version of Corrosion in the future, Keenan admitted, "We're definitely talking about [it], down the road, and when we get to it, we'll get to it." Keenan elaborated on the lack of bad blood between himself and the other members of the band and explained that his bandmates in COC "are just trying to keep the name alive; they're all great musicians, and it wasn't fair to them to just sit around waiting for me."
Between Down, his family, and the bar Keenan owns in New Orleans
, the man doesn't seem to have much time for other musical endeavors like his bandmates in Down, though he did admit to being involved in a slightly less heavy gig these days. "Right now, I'm just playing ukelele with my daughter. She's my number-one fan!"
Known as a hard-partying band, Down begs the question as to whether the vibe has changed since Keenan became a father in 2010. "For me, yeah, it has. We've been there, done that, you know? Next chapter. Friends of ours are dropping like flies, the 50-something rockers are dropping like flies too, so we're trying to head it off at the pass... While still having fun."
To that end, Keenan said, "Down has played 39 countries off of this last album, and that's pretty insane. So just the fact that we can get to these obscure places and have people know what we're doing, we really appreciate that and don't take it for granted. But, you know, what goes on the road stays on the road, old boy!" capping the statement with another gut-drawn burst of laughter.
"You're in South Florida? I can't wait to get down there!" Keenan said. When we asked if he had any good stories involving our swath of paradise, the guitarist gushed, "Other than hanging out with Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees
? That one is about as good as it gets!" Keenan explained: "Barry's son was our guitar tech at the time, and we got to meet the man himself -- which was quite an honor -- and he did a bit of partying here and there. I remember sitting in his Rolls-Royce while we listened to Corrosion of Conformity!"
Down at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, tonight, June 1, 2012. Doors open at 8 p.m. with special guests Ponykiller and Stone Mountain Freeway. Tickets cost $25 via Ticketmaster.
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