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An Interview with guitarist Pepper Keenan of DOWN

by Alicia Downs

What exactly is a super-group? 

Nowadays if you ask around, one of the most common answers is Down. They do have members from Crowbar, Eye Hate God, Corrosion of Conformity, and Pantera on their roster after all. But after seven years of speculation about a side effort no one would let die, their sophomore release "DOWN II" sees Down successfully transcending the barrier of their namesake bands into something entirely its own.

One listen to "DOWN II" and you can hear the most obscene amounts of vigor coming from each musician. Philís vocals, Pepper and Kirkís guitars, Jimmyís drums and Rexís bass are so much more intense then anything you have heard before. It is all 110% and it is all nothing short of a ferocious musical blast into the world of unadulterated rock. This is the way metal and rock were the days before big wig production and record execs took over. This is a purely intense soul-driven musical spectacle.

Not that the guys themselves donít know there is something there. Talking with guitarist Pepper Keenan, he beams about Down like a proud father brooding over his newborn. And rightfully he should. "Down II" is probably the  album of the year and will be the album for many years to come.

Rough Edge: I want to start off asking about the tour. It has been about seven years since you have played together for the public so how have things been going these past couple of days?

Pepper Keenan: Its been fucking amazing. Itís funny when you start jamming these songs and everybody knows every fucking word-- you know itís bizarre. Itís bigger then it was when we first released the record. We did two warm-up shows. One was in Birmingham, Alabama with like a week's notice and there was like a thousand kids there. It was crazy. So all of the shows have been going great.

Rough Edge: I donít catch the show until Thursday but I was curious as to what to expect-- like is it going to be more of a stripped down jam session?

Pepper: No, itís bigger then you think it is. Itís massive. We said fuck it, we got our shit together so letís do this thing.

Rough Edge: Now do you change up your set list every night or ...

Pepper: Yeah, we change them around a little bit. You know we are just trying to get it figured out right now-- which ones are flowing into what because we got two records' worth of shit. Last time it was simple because we just had one record and we did that record from front to back. We have to eliminate songs and we were like Ďfuck, what are we going to eliminate?í

Rough Edge: Are you playing some of the more tranquil songs as well?

Pepper: Oh yeah. Itís cool--I am telling you because I donít brag about much but that mutherfuckerís rippiní.

Rough Edge: I know a lot about Philip and how his personal tenets have a sort of disdain towards commercialism.

Pepper: Uh huh.

Rough Edge: Well, so I was curious as to why in the hell you all would do Ozzfest?

Pepper: Because we want kids to see what the fuck they are missing. We were like, fuck, we need to get this shit out there and people need to hear it. Phil and I were talking about it and itís not commercial, we are as un-commercial as you can be but we are going to blow away every commercial band on that thing. Weíre going to fucking split, you know?

Rough Edge:  I certainly do. Well, speaking of Ozzfest are there any bands on the bill this year that you are particularly fond of?

Pepper: No.

Rough Edge: (laughs) Not even one?

Pepper: I donít even know whoís playing this year. I know Ozzyís playing (laughs).

Rough Edge: (laughs) Well, there you go.

Pepper: I like Ozzy. You know, I am going to check them out but I really havenít been paying that much attention.

Rough Edge: Well, the band that is going on before you is a kickass metal band, Meshuggah.

Pepper: Right, I know Meshuggah.  And isnít there some rock band El Camino or something?

Rough Edge: Not that I know of ...

Pepper: I donít know. There is some stoner rock band on there. One of the earlier ones ...

Rough Edge: Whose idea was it to reference Led Zeppelin on the album cover (Interviewerís Note: A "bustle in your hedgegrow" appears on the bottom of the cover-- a reference to Led Zeppelinís "Stairway to Heaven".)

Pepper: It was just a thing Phil was talking about. When we were making the record we were thinking just how manic the record was done. It was just 28 days of mayhem and we were just thinking that is how Led Zeppelin did their shit. They did their records pretty quickly in the studio. You know we werenít trying to be like Led Zeppelin but we were thinking like they thought and it just summed it all up.

Rough Edge: I was also curious as to whose idea it was for the "Doobinterlude" cause it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of stoner rock?

Pepper: (laughs) That was Jimmy. We wanted to have like an intermission type thing on the record where you would get ready for part two. The mutherfucker was getting kind of long so we had this idea and I told Jimmy about it and he was like, Ďjust call it Doobinterludeí, and we were like thatís fucking perfect.

Rough Edge: I tend to agree. I know that you guys all came together looking to see if the underground was still alive. Did you expect things to be going in the direction they are now when it all started?  It was an interesting little band boy experiment that you all put together ...

Pepper: Oh, definitely and the experiment is still going. I had faith that people would be into it. What is fucking things up now is that people want to tape shows and shit. And we used to let people tape everything and we never gave a shit. But then people started fucking selling them. And with the Internet people are selling Down videos for like sixty dollars and it is fucking bullshit. I mean our whole theory was to trade shit. And then these mutherfuckers come to the show asking, Ďdude can I tape your show?í and then you see them at the next show selling them. 

Rough Edge: So it defies what you all are about ...

Pepper: Yeah. Itís bullshit so we said, fuck it. Nobody is taping shit unless we know the people personally. It is a drag though because that is not how we want to be but it is other people forcing us to be like that. 

Rough Edge: I hear a lot you all being referred to as a super-group. What does that mean to you?

Pepper: I donít know. I mean, I know what a super-group is.

Rough Edge: Do you think you are one?

Pepper: I think Down is a bad ass fucking band with a bunch of rippiní mutherfuckers in it and that is all I can tell you.

Rough Edge: There you go, that works too. The greater the success with Down, I hear a lot more rumors that your namesake bands are breaking up. How frustrating is that?

Pepper: Not frustrating. I donít listen to anybody and I donít give a shit what anybody says. 

Rough Edge: I heard before that despite putting yourselves under the clock there was actually a point where you had too much material and had to stop writing. So, with all that excess material, is it safe to say you are going to be around for a while longer, or at least one more record?

Pepper: I think so. We signed a three record contract with Elektra and that is all I can tell you. It might be seven years from now.

Rough Edge: Well, I think everybody would wait.

Pepper: Well, I donít think it will be that long.

Rough Edge: Now, you did the album on such a tight schedule of 28 days. Listening back, are there any songs that you would want to retool?

Pepper: No. I am extremely happy. You have to understand that when you are doing this music itís not a perfectionist type of thing. That is what we are trying to get across to people. You donít need to spend two million dollars on an album for it to rock. It is bullshit. People are going to these swanky damn studios and they are writing fucking three chord nu-metal songs and it is ridiculous.

Rough Edge: At what point did you realize that Down had climaxed past the idea of a side project and it is kind of becoming its own right?

Pepper: When people werenít letting the band die. When six years later kids were still holding up Down banners. This thing was not dying. We always knew that sooner or later we would do it but when we recorded the first song on this album with Philís vocals on it, which was ĎGhosts of Mississippií, we just knew something was there.

Rough Edge:  It is definitely more serene. Even lyrically it is more poignant then anything I think any of you all have done before.

Pepper: Hell, yeah. 

Rough Edge: What are some of the opportunities you have to expand in Down that you donít have in C.O.C.?

Pepper:  I think mainly it is guitar stuff since I donít have to sing. I can mainly just focus on playing the shit out of the guitar which is killer. I love singing but singing and playing guitar take a lot out of you. Now I can just focus one hundred percent on just jamming.

Rough Edge: Considering your success do you think it is possible in this day and age for more musicians to make it with just their music and to kind of shelve the corporate bullshit?

Pepper: I hope so. I am not trying to change the world but thatís Downís attitude. Shut the fuck up and play. You donít need a fucking space suit, you donít need red hair.

And what better way to end an interview then with that?!

For more information on DOWN, including their present headlining tour and information on Ozzfest, check out their official web site at:

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Copyright © 2002 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400