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  • Interview: Down

    Fri, 14 Aug 2009 16:03:15

    Interview: Down - Guitarist Pepper Keenan discusses his band's current U.S. tour, their next album, <i>Jaws</i> and a whole lot more…

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    Pepper Keenan can sling an axe with the best of 'em.

    On III: Over the Under, the Down guitarist anchors the songs with sludgy, infectious guitar riffs and hypnotic, hulking leads. Keenan's fretwork seamlessly swings from death rattle distortion to magnificently mournful blues. He's a modern Southern guitar god, and he's one of the reasons that Down is so poignant. Keenan complements co-guitarist Kirk Windstein's dirge distortion perfectly. The combination of their riffs and Phillip Anselmo's [Pantera, Arson Anthem] voice channels Page and Plant—but with way more balls.

    At the moment, Keenan is wandering around Amoeba Records in San Francisco looking for new albums to spin.

    "It's too overwhelming in there," he laughs about the store's massive stacks of music. "I'm lucky I got out of there alive [Laughs]."

    While making his narrow escape from Amoeba, Pepper talked to ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview about Down's current headline tour with The Melvins, Danava and Weedeater, the next Down record, movies and how the road has stayed the same.

    So how is this tour?

    It's absolutely ridiculous!

    No one should expect anything less.

    Yeah, it's one of my favorite bills of all-time. If I wasn't in the band, I'd be here [Laughs]. It's great.

    Down hasn't done a proper package tour in the U.S.

    Right, this is the first time we've ever brought anybody with us. It took awhile for us to figure it out because we really wanted to make it something special and bring bands that we truly like. It's hard to find bands that all of us like that aren't from the '70s or the '80s [Laughs]. We were shooting the shit with The Melvins, and we just finally got it all organized. It happened from there. The fans are flipping out and so are we. Danava and Weedeater are two totally opposite bands but they're equally crushing.

    It's been some time since Over the Under dropped. How have those songs changed on the road?

    They've evolved a little bit live. We change our set every night so we don't get too stuck on anything. If anything, those songs got faster. Maybe that's not a good thing [Laughs]. We keep an eye on everything, and we change the set up so much that the individual songs don't change too much. There are a couple of solos that change and we groove a little differently, but it's still fun to play them. That record came out two calendar years ago now, and we're still on the damn road. It's crazy. We just got back from Europe. We did seven or eight weeks over there, and our last show was in Tel Aviv, Israel. Then we came home and started ten days later.

    On Over the Under, it felt like everything you'd been moving towards since Nola had come to fruition. Do you feel like that was the case?

    Yeah, I think that's true for the last record. On the new one, after touring so much, I think we're going to go backwards even more towards the feeling of the first album—the directness of it. I think we maybe won't spend as much time in "studio mode." We'll make it stripped down and go that route. The last two records have been pretty elegant with lots of parts and sounds to them. [On the next album] I think we're going to strip it down—AC/DC, Ramones-style—and do what Down did on the first record for shits and giggles.

    Even a longer epic song like "Nothing In Return" still has that raw edge that Nola has though.

    Yeah, we play it live and it blows people minds. It's the last song we do, and people are like, "Oh my God, I can't believe they're playing it!" Believe me, I love writing songs like that. Believe me. The last few records have had pretty good content of that—like "Landing on the Mountains of Meggido" from II. We're going to strip it down and kick it up a little bit. We've already got a pretty good arsenal of those types of epic songs. Now we need to write some more shit-kickers.

    Have you been writing new music on the road?

    We've got riffs here and there, and we keep lists of things. We're going to try to start really writing in the new year, like early January. Then we're going to try to have something out by the early summer.

    Do you go down to Nodferatu's lair to write?

    It depends. We're probably going to record some stuff down there. We're definitely going to do the record in Louisiana.

    Is it going to be another one of those nonstop 16-day sessions where you bang out a whole record?

    Don't know! We might [Laughs]. We're excited. Everything's all good, man.

    You've always written very visual songs. Do you watch a lot of movies?

    No, I simply like that kind of songwriting. I wouldn't mind doing some movie soundtracks one of these damn days. I've been asked about that a couple of times. I like epic shit, man—Pink Floyd.

    What are some of your favorite movies?

    Jesus, I don't even know where to start [Laughs]. Jaws! There are a hell of a lot of movies out there, buddy.

    What are the chances of you guys busting out acoustics on stage?

    It's possible. We've done "Jail," but we just do it on an electric guitar. We haven't actually whipped out acoustics yet. We've talked about it, but we'll see what happens. I've gotten nothing against it that's for sure.

    Does the road ever change?

    It changes, and it evolves. You play different places. Going to new places is always exciting. You get used to it, but you've got to keep your head straight. Don't get too far out there on powders and liquids, and you'll be fine [Laughs]. That shit'll kill you! It's funny because I just got to San Francisco. Even when Corrosion of Conformity was in a van starving to death, we'd head straight to Poncho Villa's Mexican Restaurant in the Mission. Now we're playing this big old joint with Down and I still do the exact same thing [Laughs]. I go to Poncho Villa's and get a seven dollar burrito.

    Some things will never change.

    Exactly [Laughs].

    Has the rebuilding finished in New Orleans after Katrina?

    New Orleans will never be the same. We've lost so many monumental things that I grew up with, but it's still an ever-evolving city. It's been through civil war, yellow fever—everything. It's slowly rebuilding, brick by brick.

    How's your bar, Le Bontemps Roule, been? How can you juggle running that on the road?

    It's great! Come on down. I've got people I trust, and they understand what I'm trying to do. I just keep them drunk [Laughs]. The reason I got involved with that bar is it's a critical place for New Orleans musicians to do their thing. I felt strongly about that. I get my ass handed to me every weekend that I'm down there. There are so many badass musicians that come through.

    Does that keep you inspired?

    Big time! There's nothing like seeing some drummer you've never seen before blow you away for a two dollar cover. It's completely inspiring.

    —Rick Florino

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