Kirk Windstein is a man who has lived through countless lifetimes. Between being a founding member of Down, the New Orleans sludge-metal group that formed in the wake of Pantera, fronting his own sludge band Crowbar, and lending riffs to Kingdom of Sorrow, his project with Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta, he’s been making records and touring all over the world consistently since 1985. This year, he released his first solo record, Dream In Motion, which marks the first time in his career that he has traded in his elephantine riffs and signature cement-gargled pipes for wistful melodies and beautiful vocals – the latter of which he attributes to layering three different vocal tracks on top of one another in the studio to smooth himself out – laying the groundwork for wizened lyrics about life, death, and the fears that come with both.
“If you’re a Crowbar fan and you don’t like it, I get it. It’s not Crowbar. But I think if you really listen to it, you’ll dig it. It’s a lot more, I guess palatable,” laughs Windstein, as he hunches over a table to get his quiet, gravelly voice to carry to the recorder. “On Facebook, I have a lot of friends I’ve known since first grade who will come support Crowbar, but don’t buy the records and don’t really like the songs – they’re just happy I’m playing music which I’ve always wanted to do – who are like, ‘Oh wow I really love the video for “Dream In Motion!” This song is awesome!’ It’s just a different side of me.”
That different side of him also includes the type of spot-on cover of Jethro Tull’s classic song “Aqualung” that could only be made by a reverent fan, which concludes the record. Windstein, who has consistently worn classic rock shirts onstage throughout his career, attributes his metal leanings to why he’s so open to new things. “My dad told me many years ago, and I feel that he’s right about it, ‘People are too quick to accept mediocrity in whatever you force-feed them.’ The metal people seem to be the ones that go look for different shit. Like, ‘Wow, this band sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard!’”
From veteran metal musicianship to fatherhood, relationships, and riding the waves of hardship and occasional darkness that comes with a lifetime of touring, Windstein is an open book with endless wisdom to share – and we asked him about all of it.
The Pit: You’ve always been known as this ultra-masculine, unstoppable, unfuckwithable person. What inspires a man like that to slow it down, get introspective, and do a solo record?
Kirk Windstein: Honestly, I’m such a big fan of many, many genres, and I grew up on Paul McCartney and Wings and stuff like that when I was a kid. And Elton John. Those were the 45s I bought. My first record was Elton John’s Greatest Hits Volume 1. I’m just a sucker for pop and melody and I love bands like Seals and Crofts, England Dan & John Ford Coley, America, Bread, Poco – stuff like that. I’m just a big fan of ‘70s soft rock. And the album isn’t 70s soft rock, but it shows a lot of my influences from that genre, and it also, to me, just shows another side of my writing personality. I mean, I love listening to heavy stuff and writing heavy stuff, and I can’t write this stuff with Crowbar, really.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten more sensitive as you’ve gotten older?
Probably, but I’ve always had that sensitive side anyway. In general, I’m very laid back. I’m one of those people where, if I get mad, I get really mad. But I don’t hold things in – I let things out. The way I look at it, whether I’m right or wrong, is that I’ve already let it out of my system and it’s gone. I love the Pantera song “Yesterday Don’t Mean Shit.” I live my life like that.
I tell my wife that all the time. She’ll be worried about something that happened two or three days ago. I’ll be like, “Babe, we can’t change anything.” She and I will really only go out like once a week, but you know, she’ll have her fun or whatever, and we’ll take Ubers so we’re not drinking and driving. We get home, and the next day she’ll be like, “Oh my god, what did I say?” and I’ll be like, “Babe, you were fine. We had a blast. You might not remember some of it, but it was fine.” I’ll say, “Babe, what does yesterday mean?” She’ll say, “Yeah, I know.” She’ll text all her friends, and her friends who own the bar and they’ll say, “Oh, you were hilarious!” and she’ll have a sigh of relief.
Seems like you two have a pretty awesome marriage.
We really do. She’s an angel. We’re just extremely compatible. We do everything together. She works for Crowbar – does merch, she tour manages us in the U.S. I tell the band, “I don’t go anywhere without her.” Tomorrow’s our seventh wedding anniversary and we’ll be traveling, of course, and we’ll go out to each with the guys. Basically we’ll just be traveling. But anyway, when I was with Down, usually I’d be like, “I can’t wait to go on tour!” But as soon as I got out there and started doing the tour, I was like, I’m lonely, I’m sad, and I’m not happy. It was the beginning of the end for me with Down – it really had more to do with that than anything else.
And then I had all of these days off because we didn’t play every night. If I’m in a structured regimen where every day at this time we have sound check and this and that, I’m fine. But don’t give me two days off in a hotel in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of money in my pocket, because I’m gonna do is sit at the bar and drown my sorrows. It got to where we agreed, as Down, that we would split up.
And Robin said, “Look, just do Crowbar 100% and I’ll help you with everything. So I started that in July of 2013 and now, as all this time has passed and it’s the 25th anniversary of the NOLA record, they’re like, “Dude, we want you to come back.” And I said, “That’s fine, I don’t go anywhere without my wife.” And they don’t either – Phil goes with his wife, too. Now things have changed because of our age and the way our life is. But I’m looking forward to jamming with them again. We never had any falling outs. We were always tight and never had any hard feelings. It’s just, for me, I’m one of those dudes where if I could, I’d bring the whole family. I love it when I see guys on tour with their wife and daughter and everybody hangs out.
For me, at least – I’m not speaking for anyone else – all the crazy shit has been done a long time ago, and I’m there to play. That’s what I love to do.
It seems like the idea of, “I can’t wait to get on the road to get away from my lady!” mentality is such an immature way of looking at life.
It is! There’s nothing un-masculine about it. I tell people, “Yeah, I cry when I watch The Notebook.” If you’ve got a heart, how can you not?
When was the last time you cried?
Normally, I’m the one who gets teared up from tears of joy if I’m excited about something, or if I’m really feeling blessed about something. I’m an emotional person, but I always let out my emotions, I think it’s mentally and physically unhealthy to harbor whatever it is you’ve got going on. I think that’s why, for the most part, I wake up happy every day. My life’s great. What do I have to complain about? I’m old, fat, bald, and my knees are killing me, I got a sore throat, this that and the other, but hey, it could be a hell of a lot worse.
In the title track, “Dream In Motion,” you mention getting older and evading a lot of darkness. I imagine you’ve probably seen a ton of darkness throughout your many bands and tours. What’s some wisdom you’ve gained through all of those experiences?
I mean, I’ve seen it all. From the worst substance abuse stuff – For me, it’s not just gaining wisdom in life, because I do believe that – well, Judas Priest has a great song on British Steel called “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise,” and I would give anything to have the wisdom and the knowledge I have now and go back and be 20 years old, but that happens to most people. But in the stuff I’ve seen, and the stuff I’ve seen in myself, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with substance abuse, and I was really bad on coke for years. But I’m one of those no-regret type people, for the most part. 95% of my attitude is that. Because just like the “yesterday don’t mean shit” thing, I feel the same thing – as long as you learn from what you’re doing wrong and you overcome it and change your ways and whatever, I think that’s the important thing.
My sister – and I don’t mind talking about her because she’s very public and proud of it – she’s 13 and a half years sober from crystal meth. She went to jail and everything. She’s now got a psychology degree from Tulane University and she does substance abuse counseling and stuff like that. I’ve watched so many dear friends die from drug abuse. It’s everywhere. I try to learn and just not look back. No regrets. If you had a bad day, whatever. You need to learn from it and try not to repeat your mistakes.
I know all of this sounds very simple, but that’s just the way that I live my life. I try to be the best person I can be every day. I try to be the best husband, the best father, the best stepfather, best grandfather, best musician, best singer, best friend, best interview guy, the best anything. Whatever I’m doing, I’m positive about it. That’s my goal when I wake up in the morning.
What are some things you feel fearful of?
I guess, if I’m lucky enough to get old, I don’t have a plan B other than playing music. It’s like, what do I do? Am I the one-man band guy at the corner bar? I don’t have a retirement plan, basically. We make a comfortable enough living doing what we do, and we work our asses off doing it, but I don’t know what happens when I’m older. Or if I get to the point where I’m unable to perform. That’s really one of the only thing that I’m fearful of. Like, what am I gonna do? Hopefully you make it to that point, and you figure it out when you get there.
What do you do to quell those fears?
For me, one of the things that keeps me positive is the fact that I’m, well I’m not a religious person at all, but I’m very spiritual. I believe in God and Jesus – I was raised Catholic which I don’t follow anymore, and my wife was raised Catholic as well. My dad and her dad are like Joe and Pete Catholic. But for me, I turn meditation into prayer. I’m meditating, but I’m also talking to God or whatever, and it just gives me an overall sense of peace.
And even just positive things like when Robin and I go to bed at night, we put on Music Choice soundscape channel. And if you’re listening to it, it really helps you sleep well, and fall asleep with a positive attitude. And I always wake up before her, so when I wake up it’s still on and the whole time it’s playing they put on all of these killer positive quotes from Gandhi and the Dalai Lama and Helen Keller and they’re always really positive, but really simple. Those things help keep me positive. Let me put it this way: It helps me not be crazy. And it helps me stay grounded, and be mindful.
I’ve found, when I talk to my daughter about real things in life because she’s getting to that age, she has my attitude which I’m really glad about. She’ll talk about [things other girls do at school] and she’ll go, “You know what Papa? I’m not even gonna let it bother me. I’m not worried about them.” We know how it is, there’s so many bullies these days with these kids. And she’s strong, but she’s got that positive good attitude. And I think that’s wonderful.
What do you feel like your legacy will be, in music but also in your life?
My goal was never to be some rich, famous rock star – and believe me, I’m none of the three – I just wanted to play music. Fans come up and say, “Your music saved my life,” or, “I was literally going to take my own life and your lyrics saved me,” and I just feel like I was blessed with a gift to make music and write lyrics that help people in life. I’m not trying to brag or anything, I just believe that’s my purpose. Which makes me never want to stop doing it.
Dream In Motion is out now via eOne Heavy.
By Cat Jones