Brief Interviews with nihilistic men, Vol. 1: Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod/Down)
In the hours before an Eyehategod show, finding people lucid enough to begin a sentence let alone finish it is a challenge that someone oughta reward with medals cast in gold, silver and bronze. It’s an Olympian feat to just negotiate past the bodies laying strewn across the dressing room, and this is on the floor while there are couches are available. It’s chaos, naturally. But guitarist Jimmy Bower is a reformed character, a country gentlemen in fine repair, and he was more than happy to talk to dB about his background in playing music. Hey, for us it was either this or hit the sauce/etc. and join the casualties… The total fuck-out internal organ ablation could wait.
Where did your musical education come from?
JB: “It was pretty much country, man. My dad listened to a lot of Willie Nelson, Hank Jr., David Allan Coe, Merle Haggard… They used to used to call it “outlaw country” and I really liked it when I was a kid but like any kid I was embarrassed—like, I didn’t tell my friends, y’know! Ha! We were all into Kiss back then. But the older I got, dude, I always listened to Skynyrd on the radio but didn’t really listen; I delved in and out. But for a good three years of my life that was all I listened to. And the Melvins. It’s all about the parents. Music should be like a chore, hahaha! Make it a thing like manners. It should be instilled in them early. Everyone should own a musician! Haha!”
That’s just life down your way: you have to be a musician.
JB: “Being from New Orleans, culturally, it’s a good music hub. Jazz was pretty much created there; you go a little bit north to Mississippi, up there that’s where the blues all started. To me, it’s all poverty, people moaning their shit. They bend strings. They putt feeling into it and I dunno, it’s always been my favourite. Ever since I got clean I’ve done really good thinking back to when I was younger: it’s about the blues, brother. John Lee Hooker and stuff like that. That’s just what inspires and influences me.”
What came first: the guitar or drums?
JB: “I definitely started as a drummer, in 3rd Grade doing the snare drum, all that kind of stuff, and failed miserably and kinda got out! But, I was in a jazz band at high school. I used to bring my drum set to school and that’s where I used to play with a lotta kids who had a way smooth feel to them, bro. I had a great, great teacher; my jazz teacher, he got me into improv’ really early and that’s why I love to do improv’ on guitar. But Eyehategod is really structured, it’s got its blues-based bending but I like “Pick a key and I’ll talk to you in 30 minutes”, y’know! …Get a little smoke on, man; an E, an A turnaround and back to E and it’s a wrap, man.”
You’ve maybe got more chance to jam in Down what with you being the drummer setting the time.
JB: “Nah man, it’s a perfect setting for something that natural to happen. And yeah, dude there’s nothing like it.”
You’ve been rocking the over-sized bass drum lately.
JB: “Yeah, I was lucky enough to bring it over for a festival tour last year and man it’s really cool. It’s a 26” kick. We put a PZM inside the kick drum and mic it from the side too. At times it’s a bit of a problem but it’s a great sounding kit, though. It’s the same kit I rented from L.A. to do “Over The Under”, and the one we used in the studio was an original from 1978, and the one I have is a reissue and there’s only 50 of them. So that was a cool thing to get. It’s just tweaking it and getting the right heads; obviously, there’s no wood involved; it’s all chrome, it’s loud and there’s some dampening that needs to be done. Those little gel things they make work really well, it’s like jello that you stick to it like a bit of gum and it sticks but doesn’t leave any residue. It’s kinda creepy, hahaha! ‘Cos I like Remo Emperors, those are really cool heads. I just like to get that real open drum sound.”
Which drummers have really influenced you?
JB: “Oh, like the drummer from Hank Williams Jr., oh I forget his name—I did an interview for a drum magazine and I researched it and can’t remember it. He played with Elvis for a while. He’s got one of the best right feet… Vinnie Appice: the obvious one. Bill Ward. Like Bill Ward on the first three Sabbath records was like jazzy. It’s just killer, dude!”
From starting on drums and then playing guitar, do you find yourself playing guitar like it was percussion?
JB: “Very much so. I’m not that good a guitar player for the first thing. At all. It’s all very simple powerchords and stuff like that. But I love playing in this band on guitar. It is rhythmic. I started playing guitar because me and Kirk [Windstein] from Crowbar had gotten into Carnivore and the Melvins at the same time. When I was on drums I knew what I was going to do but on guitar I was hearing something else in my head, so I picked up a guitar and learned how to play. When we recorded the first record I had been playing guitar for six months or something. It is real rhythmic the way I play guitar. It is more the feel I put into it, I guess.”
I guess those sort of guitarists were the ones who had the biggest influence on you?
JB: “Buzz from the Melvins, he’s so innovative. You ask the right people about the Melvins and they know. [Lynyrd Skynyrd’s] Steve Gaines, Allen Collins, Tony Iommi, Hendrix… To me they’re all unique. The guitar is a beautiful instrument, man. To me it’s really easy to express yourself on guitar and learn. I don’t think it matters what amp you’re playing on so long as you get your point across and have that attitude.”
Everyone should play as many instruments as possible.
JB: “Yeah, if you call yourself a musician be a musician! I am working on a solo record. It’s all instrumental at the moment. Singing is the one thing that I’m not that good at but I think that I could pull off some Delta blues style vocals. But… Playing in front of my friends I’ll be all embarrassed and shy.”
Jimi Hendrix hated people watching him sing, too.
JB: “Yeah, your friends sometimes make fun of you sometimes. What a vocalist, though, you know what I mean: what were you worried about!?”
Do you get nervous before shows?
JB: “Of course, I’m nervous right now. I’m always highly strung on anxiety. Man, I just try to zone out and get over it. Just get on with it.”
But you’ve played thousands of shows, and it’s not like the philharmonic is coming to town.
JB: “Yeah, but I guess it’s just adrenaline that I mistake for anxiety or nervousness. That’s why you have a couple before the show and get yourself straight.”
That’s sometimes important just to get the game face on.
JB: “Well I don’t think it’s important. I don’t think you’ve gotta get loaded to play, that’s not what I mean. But to get into the right frame of mind, yeah.”
Is it the same with writing?
JB: “I like to write off-the-cuff. With Eyehategod we write off-the-cuff. We try not to write stuff at home. When we do, some of the best stuff we come up with is our improv’ jams where you just tape a 30 minute session and when you’re done you’ve got all these riffs.”
And like that you are never too precise. Eyehategod needs a bit of imprecision, chaos. You always said Confederacy of Ruined Lives was too clean sounding.
JB: “Too polished, man. Yeah, Dave Fortman did that record; he’s done like Evanescence, Mudvayne and a bunch of other different bands [and was guitarist in Ugly Kid Joe]. He’s a great producer; it’s the best sound we’ll ever get in our lives. But, for me, at that time we were maybe in that mode… I prefer it more raw.”