It’s election day in the US, yet while most of the rest of the world is holding its breath on the outcome of what would prove not to be as close as the pundits called it, Eyehategod guitarist Jimmy Bower has other far more personal things on his mind.
“I didn’t vote,” he says in a deep NOLA drawl. “I couldn’t give a shit. Actually, today I was at the hospital with my wife. She’s pregnant. We’re gonna have a little girl.”
Parenting brings with it a whole new set of priorities and often causes people to change their ways of life. Jimmy Bower makes it pretty clear, however, that he’s not about to hang up his sticks for a while yet.
“No man,” he says, “I’m not about to make big changes to what I’m doing or how I’m living my life. If anything, it’s given me a bit of clarity about what I’m doing and the goals I want to achieve. But in the end, I’m just real lucky that I’ve been able to make a living from being a professional musician, because so many aren’t able to do that.”
Since establishing Eyehategod in 1988, Bower has built a solid career for himself as the drummer behind some of southern USA’s greatest heavy bands: Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity and, most notably, Down. I last spoke to him when he was in Australia with Corrosion of Conformity – “Whoah,” he begins with a chuckle, “that was a looong time ago!” – on a tour with Pantera, on what would be that band’s last. More recently, Bower visited with Down as they went around the country with Heaven and Hell. Coincidentally, that would also turn out to be the final tour for the headliners when Ronnie James Dio passed away less than a year later.
“Oh man, you know it was an incredible honour to have been able to jam with him,” Bower says warmly. “As a kid, growing up listening to ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ and ‘Holy Diver’ and then getting to play shows with him and having Black Sabbath into the deal as well, man it was just an amazing time. A real honour to have met him and to have been able to jam with him. He was always real supportive of us and just so down to earth and friendly.”
It is in his original role as a guitarist that he returns to Australia this week, bringing with him New Orleans sludge pioneers Eyehategod, the band he formed 24 years ago with drummer Joey LaCaze. Except for a revolving roster of bass players over the years – Gary Mader currently has the job – the group has maintained a consistent line-up since second guitarist Brian Patton signed on in 1993. Together, the band has created some of the most harrowing and disturbing sludge metal ever manifested, riddled with feedback, swamp-born mutated Sabbath riffs and infected with Mike Williams’ tortured screams. His contribution to the form has earned Jimmy Bower the name Godfather of Southern Metal and his band is revered as a foundation stone of the movement. Bower just takes it all in his stride.
“You know, it’s great when people say that about us, but we’re just doing what we love the way we love to do it,” he says humbly. “If people are turned on to what we do enough to wanna do it themselves, then that’s great. It’s awesome. But you know we would still be playing what we do even if no one else did it or wanted us to.”
Apart from some compilation material that has emerged in the last few years, Eyehategod haven’t released an album since 2000 and for the best part of a decade their ongoing status hasn’t always been clear. Not only were most of the band busy with other projects, but Nature herself dealt them – along with many, many other people – a crushing hand in August 2007.
“Well after [Hurricane] Katrina, it took a while for us to get things back together,” Bower says with considerable understatement. “We didn’t even know where Mike was for a month. It was a real messed up, real crazy time for us… for the whole of New Orleans.”
Given their chequered history since that disaster (Williams, by the way, ended up in prison for six months on a heroin charge, during which time he got clean), fans were as surprised as they were delighted by the news of Eyehategod’s Australian tour, which kicks off today in Brisbane. Jimmy Bower is happy to be finally returning.
“I have some great memories of playing in Australia,” he says. “Great weather, great beer. Great weed! And you know, some really great, great bands. Some of the greatest bands that inspired us came from Australia. It’s gonna be a great tour, man. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Brian is the editor of Loud and has a metal show on Radio Blue Mountains 89.1 each Wednesday night.
Eyehategod hit Australian stages from today:
21/11: The Zoo, Brisbane QLD
22/11: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW (+ I Exist)
24/11: Billboard, Melbourne VIC (+ I Exist + Clagg)
25/11: Cherry Festival, Cherry Bar, Melbourne VIC (+ I Exist + Omar Rodriguez Lopez + Dern Rutlidge + Henry Wagons + River of Snakes + Frankenbok + more)