by Mark Hensch
What kind of hyperbole could a spin-doctor like me possibly coin for a band like Down? The answer, friends, is none. Formed in 1992, Down always has and always will transcend pretty much any restraint people put on them. The sum truly is greater than the parts in a band like this---and if you think you've understood greatness, just looks at the parts on offer here. Featuring members of Eyehategod, Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and many more, Down is less a supergroup (a weak term indeed when you look at the glory these various bands have wielded) and more the very essence of Southern heavy metal. Raw, confrontational, cathartic, and strong, Down is an entity that emerges when we need them most. At a time when the world is a warped, confusing place, and the band's beloved New Orleans is still suffering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina, never has a Down album been needed more. Like a flaming Molotov cocktail lit in impenetrable darkness, "III: Over the Under" is exactly the fist-pumping call to arms we've been waiting for.
Bassist Rex Brown (also of Pantera and Crowbar fame) was kind enough to grace me with his thoughts on overcoming adversity, finding strength in music, and the powerful rage on Down's third full-length album.
Mark Hensch for Thrashpit: First off, a ton of gratitude is in order. I've been a fan of yours for years and it truly is nothing short of an absolute honor to be talking to you today. Now onto the questions. First off, let's talk about the new album. To me, III: Over the Under is about soldering on with life despite seemingly soul-crushing odds. What does it mean to be Over the Under to you personally?
Rex Brown: It's basically what you just said. It is about overcoming a whole lot of negative things that just engulf us all at once and dealing with personal tragedies. Sometimes with sh*t like that there isn't much you can do about it and it is beyond our control so you got to get over it, you know? The only way we can make a positive message or get through bad times is to make a positive album. This could have been an angry, angry record, but anger doesn't always get you somewhere.
Thrashpit: This is the first full-length release from Down since 2002's II: A Bustle in your Hedgerow. How do you think the world has changed since that album came out a whole five years ago?
Rex: I'm not very political as far as that stuff goes, but I was reading the paper earlier today and it seems like all these kids are popping up out of the woodworks with f*cking firearms. I even saw something about how a guy shot up a school bus somewhere today! It's dumb and I don't get it man. A lot has changed, and the world gets crazier and crazier. I moved out to L.A. and the first year or so it was kinda cool. After two years or so I couldn't f*cking stand to even get in the car! This place is f*cking nuts, it's just a huge f*cking city with too many people! Again, I try not to get too political, so my whole life idea of what this Down band is just listening to the music and taking what you can out of it and trying to make the best music we can.
Thrashpit: There's an old saying that says a musician is his own best critic. With this in mind, what would you say is your favorite song on III: Over the Under and why?
Rex: Aww sh*t I don't know! This is tough. I guess just getting to play new material in general is in an opportune kind of deal. Live, it is a toss-up between "N.O.D." and "On March the Saints," it just depending on what we decide to play for the evening. We change setlists all the f*cking time, so it is usually one of the two of those. Those are the best songs as they're a lot more focused and exact with what we as Down wanted to go. They're the kind of songs we'd like to put 10 of on every f*cking record!
Thrashpit: A grainy and raw black-and-white video for "On March the Saints" recently debuted. Why did all of you decide to film this particular song and what can you tell us about the recording process?
Rex: This is a song that had kind of a double-part to it. Kirk (Windstein, guitarist) came up with that main riff, and then I put a bass line on it. From there, it turned into this monster song with Phil just singing over it. It turned into more of a hard-rock song, but as soon as we heard it, we all knew that it was the one. We just wanted the video to be simple. We were in rehearsals for the first North American tour and so we turned the video into a black-and-white rehearsal tape basically. We wanted to make something that was very black-and-white, straight-and-to-the-point. We didn't want to overshadow the music with some sh*t running through the woods or something like that! It is truly all about the music my friend, and that's all it should be about.
Thrashpit: Moving on to more personal topics, you replaced Crowbar's Todd Strange as Down's bassist. What initially attracted you to Down and why have you been able to come back to it so sporadically over the years?
Rex: Originally, we had some free time in-between Pantera and everyone was home. Phil (Anselmo, vocalist of both Pantera and Down) was going to a party somewhere and asked if I wanted to go. I was like "sure, I'll go." So a bunch of us went down there and we all just sat there and kinda started jamming. It was going well, so Phil asked if I'd join the band and I said "why the f*ck not?" Everything gelled very fast and after that we wrote about six songs in a day. It was very cool. For now, we basically know that we make badass f*cking records together, so it is basically just us getting in a room and jamming. We take our time getting together and making everything strong.
Thrashpit: Down often is credited with helping popularize a style of heavy metal that is distinctly "Southern." In my opinion, such a term stems from the fact that there is a large Blues influence on Down's music. How do you think the traditional Blues style has influenced heavy metal today?
Rex: If you play the radio non-stop you'll hear the influence of rhythm and blues, jazz, all of it, everywhere. That's definitely the sound of the South. I would call our sound just taking elements of where we come from and making it something new. We're from the South and we play f*cking DOWN. There are a lot of bands who want to be in our little shoes, but pretty much we still tap into where we come from more than anything else. With this band I feel really comfortable in the style of music we play.
Thrashpit: Another vital aspect to the Down touring experience is the large video package that is typically presented during the show. Having not seen the new video for the latest tour, what can you say about it?
Rex: If you come to a concert with Down, we want it to be an evening with Down instead of seeing some band you've never heard of before. What we do is we run this set of clips of old artists, just real killer footage. It can be anybody that influenced us or we're really big on---classic rock kinda sh*t. Throughout it all, these clips have been interspersed with us. It just builds up to the very end, and then the curtain comes down, and we start playing. It is something we keep kinda sacred, as you're getting that evening with Down. If someone is going to pay to see an artist we're going to go right to the main event! Some people get it, some don't. Whatever man, that's just the part of the show.
Thrashpit: You are a bassist who has toured the world extensively and done many things most people never get to do in a lifetime. Looking back on all you've accomplished so far, what would you say has been your greatest achievement?
Rex: I wouldn't change any of it. We've worked our asses off to get to where we are and what we've done. I wouldn't change a thing except for the tragic loss of Dime ("Dimebag" Darrell Abbot, the guitarist of Pantera who was shot and killed by a deranged fan) and that's it. Just getting to be at the level we were at was hard work. We made it somehow though, amazingly. Being in a band like Down is kind of like that---we're just starting over. We could go out and play f*cking gospel music if we wanted, as now that we're cleaned up there's no limit to this band, you know what I'm saying? What I don't wanna do is pitch ourselves as an all-metal band, because that is not what Down is all about. My greatest achievement then is everything I got to do with Pantera, and NOW getting to do it again with Down. That doesn't happen very often.
Thrashpit: Onto some more general music questions. What would you say were some of your favorite bands growing up and have influenced Down the most?
Rex: Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Aerosmith, all of them were big. Black Sabbath was too, of course. For me personally, the hard rock is sort of the model blend of what I like to do. I like still having that metal pedigree, having been in one of the baddest metal bands ever. I like metal, hardcore, everything. You add all that together, that's where you get a sound. All these individuals coming together, it is the same style of music but all different for each person. You can't put a Crowbar track up to a Down track and say it sounds anything like it. I'd say when we get together, our goal is to put our tastes together and make the best song f*cking possible.
Thrashpit: Down's music has become almost synonymous with the South as a geographical entity. What does the South mean to you personally?
Rex: People actually open doors for you and are nicer down here. I think it was the manner in which people were raised. We carry a little Southern pride with us, and it's something that has been going on since a long ways back. Maybe it's our traditions or maybe it's the food we eat. I'd say it isn't that far removed from any major city. When you get really truly to the South, some of the people really take you back with their beautiful land and Victorian homes and stuff like that. A lot of people take it very seriously. It isn't those Southerners out there shooting the guns and sh*t. It is just a lifestyle.
Thrashpit: One last question. Where do you see Down heading in the next couple years?
Rex: I got a ton of sh*t coming up, some related to Down, some not. With Down, we're still going. We aren't going to take any big breaks or anything. Just getting this record together took a while as we all wanted to make the best thing possible and now we have to tour behind it. We have Europe left to go to and we have some shows to do in January and February. We just want to tour a lot and get this to as many people as we can. We will have some news for Summer time so we have to get this touring cycle out of our systems, take a small break, and then get back to work.
Thrashpit: You have a good one man. Best of luck to you, and hopefully I'll be catching your band on tour soon!
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