Usually when select members of popular bands get together, the label of "supergroup" is quickly thrown around and assumptions are made. In the case of Down, the title has been used, but the band has quickly developed into its own creation. Sure, the names are familiar, but the sound is unique to the group.
Comprised of former Pantera singer Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown, Corrosion of Conformity singer/guitarist Pepper Keenan and Eyehategod/Crowbar drummer Jimmy Bower, the quartet makes its own brand of metal that's as influenced by New Orleans as it is by those other projects.
Having formed in 1991 and released three albums, the band has become the central focus of all members in recent years. They've been on the road for the last three years in support of 2007's Over the Under and have plans to return to the studio early next year. They're currently finishing up a tour of the U.S. which stops by Charlotte this week.
"It's only the second time we've toured the United States (for this album)," says Keenan by phone from Salt Lake City. "We've been all around the world, but we've only done the United States twice now. We haven't played North Carolina once this whole record." Keenan's familiar with the state as his other band, COC, was formed in Raleigh.
The band has been changing up its setlist on a nightly basis to "keep it interesting," but Keenan admits the band also takes it easy with the touring schedule. "We don't kill ourselves. I guess the average band would be killing it, but we've been doing this a long time. It's experience or stupidity -- one or the other," he says with a laugh. "It's just fun. It could be a lot worse. I could be flipping hamburgers somewhere."
The band members have known each other for a long time and all of the time on the road has inspired them to try and go back to their roots for the next album. Keenan says the first album was done in a garage without the polish of most studio efforts, so they'd like to "get back to the grit" for the next effort. "We want to strip it down and really go for the throat," he says. "If we approach it like we want to, it won't take that long and it will be more pointed ... not easier to do, but not so time-consuming."
Back in 2004, Keenan wasn't so sure what the future held for Down. First, guitarist "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott was shot to death on stage while playing a gig with his band Damageplan. At the time, Anselmo released a statement saying he was done with music.
"I didn't know what was going to happen. It was all so up in the air," Keenan says. "They were terrible times and then Katrina came up after that. That was the whole purpose of the third Down record and why we called it Over the Under. There were all these crazy things just tearing everybody apart. We're trying to pick up the pieces and move forward. We just went to Europe and played some music to get away for a while. That was part of the appeal -- selling out every show with no record label, no new record. Kids showed up in droves, we had a blast and it really inspired us to do the third record. We wanted to make a record and not use all the negativity to make something heavy. We wanted to rise above that. I think we attained that to some degree."
The band has been going strong ever since. As for COC, Keenan isn't sure what the future will hold for that band, either. He says there is talk of the band getting back together, which he would be into doing. He's aware that some members are touring as COC-Blind, but not sure how they are pulling it off.
"I don't know about all that action," he says. "Not to mention that me and Woody are playing on the Blind record. Good luck to whoever is playing that." He adds, "I don't know. We're talking about it. The last COC record was crushing. It took a lot out of all of us. It's hard to top that sucker. We wanted to step back for a while and get a sense of everything."
As for Down, Keenan feels the music comes more naturally and enables him to focus on guitar, though he does sometime miss singing -- "that's the itch with COC." "With [Down], I'm just playing guitar like a wildman," he says. "I don't have to worry about anything else. It's a lot easier. I enjoy both aspects of it, but with this all I have to do is beat on six strings."
Keenan, who once worked in a skateboard shop and spent 12 hours a day honing his guitar skills, listens to a lot of blues guitarists, including one of his favorites, Buddy Guy -- "he's an assassin." Hearing him describe what he likes about the blues legend may give you an idea of his own style -- "I just like people like Buddy Guy and that who dig in," Keenan says. "I don't like whispy guitar players. I like guys who break strings and lay into it. Technique is one thing, but passion and that type of guitar playing gets my goat. I don't care if you fuck up notes or not. I'd rather you go for it than give me a recital."
Amazingly, Keenan almost had another band's name on his resume -- he tried out to become the bass player for Metallica, but lost out to Robert Trujillo. "In terms of songwriting with Hetfield, doing the backing vocal thing and bass playing -- I knew what they were up to and I knew what I wanted Metallica to sound like," he says. "It was just an interesting point in time. At the same time, I'm glad it didn't happen. Being the bass player for Metallica -- I don't think I would have liked that too much. It was an honor to be a part of it -- I was there for weeks at a time."
If things don't work out with COC, or even Down, Keenan says he has other projects in the works. "One thing is a project with Stanton [Moore], the drummer from Galactic, and the saxophone player from Les Claypool's band, Skeric," he says. "It's just crazy New Orleans wide-open funk weirdo shit. I'm doing my thing and they're doing their thing and it ends up sounding like a fucked-up Led Zeppelin. It's pretty insane."
Down will perform at The Fillmore Charlotte on Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. with The Melvins, Space Medicine, Haarp and Evil Army. Tickets range from $15.75 to $25. VIP tickets are $122.