After almost 20 years in the music business, guitarist Pepper Keenan
is accustomed to enduring the wears and tears of the touring life. Between his roles in Corrosion Of Conformity
and the supergroup Down
, there's been little downtime for Keenan.
If you're a fan of Down, you probably have already come to terms with the fact that big chunks of time will likely pass between each album. And when you take a look at Keenan's schedule that includes back-to-back tours and his commitment in COC, it's fully understandable. The wait is nearing its end, however, and Down's fourth record (tentatively titled Down IV) should be arriving in stores in late 2010.
Of course, Keenan
has one big very significant item on his agenda before any recording takes place: a new baby. After some quality time with the family, he will once again meet up with Phil Anselmo
and the gang to deliver what could very well be the band's rawest record yet at least that's the plan right now. The guitarist admits that the musical path could veer at any given minute, as the band never wants to be tied down to a certain sound. Keenan
recently spoke with Ultimate-Guitar
about his experience with Down
, which has allowed him the ultimate creative freedom.
UG: After so many years in the business, I'm sure you've experienced every type of festival or tour. What was your impression of the latest tour?
Right now, it's probably my favorite tour that I've ever done or that we've ever headlined for. We've pretty much always played by ourselves, so we've played two-and-a-hours straight. We're bringing bands with us. There are two other bands that we love, and it's just a great package together. It's the most fun on the road that I've had.
I assume you've probably played your fair share of festivals in the past.
Yeah. We just got back from Europe. We did a bunch of Europe dates. Yeah, imagine playing in front of thousands with Metallica every day.
Talk about the fans overseas. What kind of reaction do you get with the current lineup?
It's great. We're so far from home, but you're hanging out with all of your buddies!
The members of Down could easily be considered veteran players with the collective number of years in the business. Do you see yourself slowing down at all in the next five or ten years?
I enjoy touring. You get spoiled sometimes. We've been doing it so long, and we kind of do it at a comfortable pace now. In the beginning we were all maniacs. Now we have two buses and we have room so that we don't kill each other. We figure out how to make it work.
There has been some information floating around about the next album, which isn't slated for release until 2010. Are you basically in the earliest stages of preproduction?
Yeah. I think we're planning at earliest the summer of 2010. I think we start recording in January, so we'll be doing that.
The time period between Down releases can go from anywhere to five to seven years, obviously because you have your other bands. With that amount of time, do you gather quite an arsenal of material by the time you go into the studio?
Sometimes, yes. When you're touring as much as we have like this, it's really showing which songs work in a live setting. I think we feed on a lot of that energy to see which songs are good and bad. There are certain songs that work like gangbusters. You use that mentality and that attitude, and you focus that on writing new songs in the vein of that kind of stuff.
So with that mentality in mind, at this point do you have quite a few ideas ready to be recorded?
Yeah, definitely. We have some. We actually have one microphone, one vocal track, stripping it back kind of like the first record but even better.
Do you have anyone in mind to produce it?
I think I'm going to work with an old friend of mine who I grew up with in New Orleans. He used to produce all kinds of bands, and now he's back in it. I think we're going to work with him.
In terms of working with Kirk (Windstein, guitarist), is it usually a tradeoff with who comes up with the guitar parts?
I come up with a lot of the main riffs, and Kirk pretty much does the same. A lot of times if I come with something, Kirk will do something to balance it out that I couldn't play in a million years.
How would you describe your distinct styles and approaches to the guitar?
I would say my style is more hammer-fisted. I use thick strings and downpick everything. Kirk is a little bit more precision-oriented, I guess. Kirk can play all the fast solos and I'll do all the David Gilmour shit! So that's a pretty good separation. It's a good balance.
On Down's fan forums, there have been discussions about the possibility of acoustic tracks on the new record. Can we expect heavy use of the acoustic?
We have a bunch of parts that we're hanging on to, but we figure on the last two records that we had a pretty good mix. Now we want to go straight for playing a heavy-hitter song. So that's the plan. Whether that happens, I don't know. That's the master plan, but it could change all tomorrow.
You have quite some time before you go into the studio, too.
Yeah. We've been on the road for years, but we've had a lot of fun playing live.
For those people out there who are attempting to emulate your guitar sound, what advice can you give them? Specifically, what do you bring on tour?
I play a Gibson ES-335 hollow body and two Orange stacks. We have four cabinets, and it's loud! I've got an overdrive pedal.
What attracted you to those particular guitars?
"I think we start recording in January."
I actually had ESPs or Gibson SGs for years. One day, Jeremy the Gibson rep came up to me at a show and said he was trying to track me down. He knew I had been playing SGs all along, and he knew the way I played. He said that I should try a 335 hollow body. I plugged the fucking thing into my rack and I've never looked back. It's a very brutal-sounding guitar, but it's not meant to be played like that. It's meant for someone like B.B. King!
Do you bring a wide variety of pedals on tour?
I have a wah wah, a Small Stone, a Phase 90. I use the Pog a lot. That's about it.
In the studio, do you find yourself experimenting with an assortment of new items? Or are you someone who likes a pretty straightforward setup?
I'm pretty straightforward. I never really went much into a bunch of guitar effects. I figure the less I have to change, the better.
I realize that you're still working on new songs, but will there possibly new tunings?
Yeah, we use C sharp. We might crank it up a little bit. I'm not sure. It's whatever Phil wants to sing it in. We change songs sometimes for that, but not a lot. We do a lot of drop D, too. There might be a song we'll drop it down a whole step.
When you first came together to form Down, each member had already a pretty successful go-round in the music scene. Given the differing backgrounds, did you still find yourself on the same page as far as the musical vision?
We knew what we wanted to do. We wanted to start a band that we would like if we weren't in it. The first song we ever wrote, we wrote it on a little cassette four-track. It had been like thirty minutes, and then Phil sang on it. We started laughing our asses off at how good it sounded. It was just ridiculous. We ended finishing it about two hours later. We knew we wanted to start a band that we could get old in. We didn't have to do mellow or acoustic stuff or not have to be Slayer. We enjoy playing music period. I don't care what it is.
Were you ever worried that Corrosion of Conformity fans might not be willing to embrace the music you performed in Down?
I never really did. We finished that shit a long time ago. I'm not going to spoon-feed an audience. You shouldn't give them the same shit every time.
Les Paul, who obviously had been a tremendous influence on the music world, passed away in August. What effect did he have on your playing?
Well, other than his invention of the guitar? (Laughs) There was a comment on Facebook that said, If it weren't for Les Paul, I would be flipping hamburgers or in jail.
Did you ever get an opportunity to meet Les Paul?
You've played SGs and now the hollow body, but did you ever seriously consider the Les Paul as your main instrument?
I had a Les Paul goldtop that I used for a song called Albatross. That's the most blatant Les Paul-sounding song that I have.
There was a message from Rex (Brown, bass) on the band's MySpace page regarding his not being able to play on the latest tour.
He needed to see his family and get things together. So we thought it would be better if he could get all that straightened out. We've been on the road three years. I can't believe that someone else hasn't tagged out. That's a long time to be away from your family.
When you go into the studio, is there a sense of relief that you're away from the touring life?
The studio is very, very, very serious. I enjoy being in the studio. Of course, you know you're setting yourself up to go back on tour.
You mentioned that in those first meetings with Phil that you recorded ideas on a four-track. Do you ever use that same method?
"We have a huge live DVD. What it is, it's the first time we got back together after Hurricane Katrina."
We're worse than that. We just use a damn jam box! It works, though.
Can we expect any future releases that might hit the shelves before the 2010 album?
We have a huge live DVD. What it is, it's the first time we got back together after Hurricane Katrina. We decided to go to Europe. New Orleans was all screwed up and we were all screwed up mentally. We decided to just go to Europe and play some shows. We hadn't played there for four or five years. I made some fliers online to get people to come out and put them up themselves. When we got to Europe, every show was sold out. So we started it in Phil's barn during rehearsals and we ended up having over 50,000 people coming. That's when we decided to do a third record.
How many hours of footage did you get?
I think we have 80 hours of footage or something.
Will you be touring up until the end of the year?
We tour until the end of September, I think. Then we're done because I'm getting ready to have a baby. I've got to get my ass on home.
Interview by Amy Kelly