Drummer Jimmy Bower talks EPs, Sabbath and trippin’ witches…
It drives us. It keeps us coming back for more. The power of it compels us.
No matter what generation of metalhead you are, there’s an underlying bond to the riff that is unsurpassable and some bands manage to get it so right that whatever your particular poison, you respect that band. One such band, is Down.
Already legends in their previous respective bands, Philip Anselmo, Pepper Keenan, Kirk Windstein, Patrick Bruders (replacing Rex Brown) and Jimmy Bower floored the metal community when ‘NOLA’ came out in 1995. All Southern groove, Sabbath worship and not one ounce of filler (just plenty of ounces of weed), the album was a landmark. Though their output has been somewhat minimal in the almost twenty years between then and now due to other commitments, the magic is still alive on every album.
We sit down with sticksman Bower inside the iconic Roundhouse during their sold out UK tour in support of ‘Down IV Part I: The Purple EP’, the first in a set of four, the next three of which will be released over the next year or so. It’s going to be a busy 2013 for the NOLA veterans and with the recent announcement of a Download appearance, we’ll be seeing them again much sooner than we thought.
The announcement brings memories flooding back of Down being the ‘secret’ band opening the main stage at Donington in 2006, a day Jimmy remembers well. “Eleven in the morning man, that was crazy! That was the most people I had ever played in front of in my life and I was shaking like crazy, but once we got up there it was all good man. They showed us a lot of love.”
Fast forwarding back to 2012, we talk about the idea of Down’s latest slew of Southern wizardry coming in the form of four EPs as opposed to an album. Was this always the plan? “This is a good way for us to not take five years between records,” explains Jimmy. “Pepper brought up a good point. We go on tour… we put out ‘Over the Under’ and we toured 40 somethin’ countries and when you’ve finished doing that, that’s like five years dude. It’s ridiculous. So this way hopefully we can put ‘em out a little faster.”
“The record company loved the idea and a lot of other bands were like ‘fuck, we would’ve totally done that.’ Pepper came up with it and when you get all four EPs, the artwork joins together. And, the first EP is long enough to be an album, I think it’s longer than Reign In Blood!”
Clocking in at just over 33 minutes, he’s not wrong. ‘Purple’ is full of the riffs and imagery that combine to make any Down release something to look forward to. Jimmy recalls a recent road tale that influenced the already-anthem ‘Witchtripper’ after a strange encounter with local tradition. “We were in Spain in this little town and people would put stones on their porches. We were like ‘what’s that for?’ and they said, ‘to trip the witches, man.’ So we were like, ‘Witchtripper? That rules!’”
So how do these huge slabs of timeless metal come to fruition? Do the guys get together and write as a band or do they bring separate ideas to the plate? “We do it both ways. Last year we did a really cool thing, which was ‘riff of the day’. So each dude would bring a riff and when you hear someone else doing a riff, it makes you think of somethin’ and it all has to be off the cuff. So we got fifty-somethin’ riffs from the last run. So that’s a good idea and that’s somethin’ we can take into the room and then we can arrange it all together, put our own little touch or sweetness on it.”
“We have a pretty good jam room where the four of us can jam and then drop over to Phil’s and say ‘Whaddya think of what we’ve got?’ And we’ll group together. Doing the first EP at Phil’s barn, Nodferatu’s Lair, brought us back to that whole NOLA vibe.”
‘Riff of the day’ sounds like something every band should do, who knows what genius could come out of half an hour thrashing away at the axe. Sometimes though, you have to reach back into that dusty record collection for influence. Can you guess what gets Down ready to write? One guess…
“Old Sabbath.” Total shocker, I know. “Phil lives like an hour away, so we’ll all ride together over there,” Jimmy continues. “Usually we will make up a playlist and jam on the way… to Trapeze, Captain Beyond, Skynyrd, get in that vibe and fuckin’ show up prepared.”
Although ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to’, the band still find time to check out and appreciate new music as well. “Pepper mentioned in the last interview a band called Mount Carmel from Ohio, they kinda sound like old Bad Company, they’re really cool. And then bands like Ghost, just ‘cause it’s so fresh, it’s somethin’ totally new for the pallet.” Jimmy stops as he takes a second to think. “It’s hard, man. I’m 44 years old, I’m so married to the old stuff. I like country a lot, outlaw country. There’s a guy called Jamey Johnson, he’s a new guy that I’m really into. People say ‘well how does that influence Down?’ And I say that country is real blues-based and Down is a total blues-based band, so it makes sense.”
Last year it came out that Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward would not be touring with the band, not even playing their headline set at Download. Something to do with monetary/contract issues, you couldn’t help but feel for Bill and of course, the fans. As a drummer, how did Jimmy feel about the whole situation? Could it have been handled better? Does he even have an opinion on it? “Oh, I definitely got an opinion on that,” he says. “It’s not Sabbath without Bill. I think it was over money? The fact that he hadn’t done anything, everyone else in the band had been out and been in the ‘eye’, so they deserve more. To me it doesn’t make sense, it’s gotta be Bill. I don’t know who’s playing on the new record at all.”
“Rick Rubin’s doin’ the record and personally I think Rick Rubin would go ‘if it ain’t Bill Ward, I’m not doin’ it.’ ‘Cause that’s how avid he is. Rick Rubin’s the dude that’ll put a band in a room, put their first record on and say ‘listen to that and then talk to me.’ I think that’s what all Sabbath fans were hoping for. To me it was really sad because I guess you kind of put yourself in his shoes. You’re a musician and you tour and… what would I do? What would my band do? It was sad to see him pour his heart out to no avail.”
Even more confusing is the fact that Bill actually had been active between the Sabbath years. “We were honoured to tour with Heaven and Hell in Canada and Australia and we did Ozzfest when we were playing in Superjoint [Ritual] when Sabbath did their thing, Bill was there for that. So if you think about it, it’s kinda stupid for them to say that he hadn’t been doing anything, because he did! I don’t know, it must be one of them internal things.” Does he think they’ll work it out and get back together? “I hope so, man.”
It’s hard to forget that anyone in a band has a family to go home to and easy to think that they’re just constantly living the dream on the road, but that’s rarely the case. Long hours on endless, faceless motorways staring at the back of a bus seat can be arduous, especially when you have somewhere else to be and it’s something Jimmy has been pondering. “It’s funny you should ask about that, man. I text my wife the other night sayin’ I really don’t know if I like this life anymore, she’s pregnant right now. It’s just… missing family and stuff like that, y’know? I recently got married and that right there… you still wanna tour and everything but you still wanna have a proper family and, it’s really hard to do. And we’re not like fuckin’ Metallica, we can’t bring our families with us, but hopefully one day we will be able to. That’s the only downfall man, just bein’… homesick.”
Well, for better or worse the Down crew might have to be homesick for just a little longer. Aside from Down, Jimmy is busy with a new EYEHATEGOD album (“It’s gonna be heavy, it’s gonna be EYEHATEGOD.”), Anselmo is working on solo material as well as running Housecore Records and lest we forget, there’s three more EPs to come. Homesick or not, Jimmy doesn’t seem to be too complacent about the future. “The future is writin’ and finishin’ the three EPs, man. Just bein’ as productive as we can because in the past it’s been so many years in between records… it just gets aggravating on a personal level. We just wanna do more. A lot more tourin’ and lookin’ forward. I mean, Down… we’re rollin’ again so it’s really good. Just gotta try and keep enough coal in the train to keep it rollin’!”
Huge huge thanks to Michelle @ Cosa Nostra! \m/