From the Archives: 2002 Interview with Down’s Pepper Keenan

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By Sean Palmerston

Things are a little quiet this week at Hellbound as a bunch of us are away in Baltimore, MD at Maryland Deathfest. So, since we are away, here is a reprint of a story I did on one of this year’s headliners, DOWN, for their second album. They were supposed to play in Hamilton, Ontario with System Of A Down and Meshuggah on an Ozzfest off-date on August 1st, 2002 but bailed at the last minute. Only their merch actually made it to the show…

DOWN with System Of A Down, Pulse Ultra and Meshuggah
Thursday, August 1 • 7 p.m.
Copps Coliseum, Hamilton ON

The New Orleans–based Down is a metal supergroup of extreme proportions. The quintet, compromised of Phil Anselmo and Rex Brown of Pantera on vocals and bass, Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan and Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein on guitar and Eyehategod guitarist Jimmy Bower on drums (Bower also played drums in both COC and Crowbar at different points), recently released their second album, II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow, and are taking part in this summer’s traveling Ozzfest as second stage headliners.

The album is only the band’s second in their ten years together. Their first, released more than six years ago, is now recognized as a classic major label metal album of the ’90s. When it was originally released, the band had little time to support it, and ended up playing only 13 shows in support of it. This time around, explains guitarist Pepper Keenan from a New Jersey Ozzfest stop, the band is planning to play as much as possible.

“We did a full U.S. tour, when the record was released, as ‘An Evening with Down,’” says Keenan. “We played two hours every night with no openers. Now we’re doing Ozzfest and as soon as this ends we’ll be touring Japan, Australia and Europe before coming back and doing another American tour.”

When asked why it took so long to record another album, Keenan explains logistics had more to do with it than anything.

“Pantera took COC to Australia with them last year to tour so four of us were there, we sat down and decided it couldn’t wait anymore.”

“We made the time where everyone could get together. The time was right, Pantera just finished supporting their last album and nothing was immediately planned for Corrosion of Conformity or Crowbar. We set the time aside to concentrate on Down.”

The sophomore DOWN album is a little more ’70s rock–sounding than their debut. Recorded in a barn on Anselmo’s Louisiana plantation, the album (whose subtitle is nicked from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”) is the band’s ode to the masters of their craft.

“[The subtitle] was a little smart ass little thing that we decided to put into the title,” jokes Keenan, “but we were totally in that sort of frame of mind when we did the record. Last time we made a metal record, this time we wanted to make a record that was more like the classics we grew up on, like Led Zeppelin IV or Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.”

“It was so exciting and it felt to me what it might be like for someone like Black Sabbath to be doing their second record or something, when they knew that they were on to something. We knew that there was no one doing anything like this so we just went for it.”

“It wasn’t like we were trying to be Led Zeppelin but I think the way that we were recording it might have had the same kind of feel to it that Zeppelin had when they were doing their early records. It was just so off the cuff and just straight; just playing music and not over-thinking it.”

Keenan says the band’s set as part of the System of A Down bill will be longer than their usual daily Ozzfest sets and should clock in around 60 minutes. Expect some bang for your buck.

Originally published 25/07/2002 in VIEW Magazine, Hamilton ON

Sean Palmerston

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.