It’s true to the point of being cliche but it really is staggering how many influential bands and musicians have come from New Orleans. Whether you’re a fan of jazz, metal, hard rock, blues, rap, country, or pretty much any and every genre and subgenre in between, you can most definitely find an act from the Big Easy to jam to. Fans of heavy music in particular have been spectacularly blessed with a variety of different bands from the region, with everyone from Crowbar to Goatwhore helping to put their beloved city on the map. Something about the area just lends itself to producing great musicians making music heavy enough to rattle the teeth of anyone walking by.
For me, as for many other metal fans, the top of the crop for heavy music from New Orleans is Eyehategod. Since 1988, Eyehategod has been making some of the most challenging and worthwhile records of any metal band out there. With 2021’s excellent A History of Nomadic Behavior still fresh in the rearview, there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down from the New Orleans-based sludge purveyors. I recently caught up with guitarist and founding member Jimmy Bower to chat about the band’s history as well as what fans can expect from the future. If you are expecting another long wait between albums, read on because there may be some good news for you buried in here somewhere.
What was it like when you guys were first able to get back on the road after pandemic restrictions started to ease?
Jimmy: Weird. Yeah, I was talking to my girlfriend about this earlier. You almost have a social anxiety, which is weird for me to say because I’m always around people and playing shows. People don’t usually bug me but being away from people and being told not to go around people for two years [it] will kind of creep you out when you’re told you can. It’s just an adjustment.
What is it about playing for audiences that’s kept you doing this for all these years?
Jimmy: It got to the point where it became our life, you know? Our career and stuff like that. The older I get, touring…I don’t know. I’ve done it for so long and I’ve done a lot of it but it is what it is. It’s the best way, to be honest for you, as a musician to make money. You don’t really make money off records. You make money off merchandise on tour and any kind of decent guarantee you can get. A lot has to do with the fans. It’s such a big part of my life. It’s music and it’s pulled me out of some really terrible situations. It’s always there and it’s your creepy best friend you keep in your pocket.
What first got you into heavier music?
Jimmy: When I was 15 I was listening to Metallica and stuff so I was there for the breaking of Metallica, which was cool to me. I didn’t get into Sabbath until my 20s. I was an Ozzy fan, a true metalhead, and then once I found Sabbath and what was going on with that, it was like 1987 or ’88, I lost my mind. Then Pepper [Keenan] gave me the Melvins tape, that’s a true story, and I freaked dude. [Gluey Porch Treatments] was hugely important for the New Orleans sound.
So you were an Ozzy fan before you got into Sabbath?
Jimmy: Yeah man, doesn’t that suck? A friend of mine that used to straight up wear the coolest Sabbath jackets and stuff and I’d be like “You suck man” and he’d be like “You suck dude.” I’d say how Ozzy rules and Randy Rhoads and all this shit and he’s just shaking his head at me. I get it now.
Do you have a favorite Ozzy record, either with Sabbath or solo?
Jimmy: [Diary of a] Madman, that was my teenage years. I was in a band called Shell Shock and we were moving to California, 18 or 19 and missing home, thinking what the hell am I doing, had $600 in my pocket, and that’s when I listened to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality up in the mountains around Arizona and New Mexico and stuff at night and I got it. I understood it. I never had an older brother or someone that turned me onto Sabbath. It was almost like seeing god. It was awesome. Solitude and shit and every aspect of the record.
How did you get into playing guitar?
Jimmy: I didn’t start playing guitar till I was 18 and in, it wasn’t called Crowbar, it was called [Slugs] and it was me, Kirk [Windstein] and big Todd [Strange] and we were doing that I just started playing guitar. Then we started doing Eyehategod. We didn’t really know how to play when we first started. It was just for fun. On Saturday nights we’d go play on Crowbar’s equipment. I’d play guitar on Kirk’s rig and whatever. This was even before Mike Williams was involved. It was just for fun and then we’d go hang out at Mike’s apartment cause my friend was roommates with Mike and we’d take acid and all that. The dude that was the original singer lost his mind and he moved to California with his parents so Mike became the singer. Then we decided to just keep doing shit and we got an offer from a French label called Intellectual Convulsion in ’90 to do our first record. We recorded that and then I moved to Atlanta and then moved back and we did Take as Needed for Pain and we also started on Down. Down didn’t record till ’95 but ’91 to ’93 was a really busy time for me and real important in all these bands doing shit. It was kind of cool looking back on it.
Was there that point then were you realized you had to take it seriously and it was something that had legs?
Jimmy: Yeah it was ’93 and we signed to Century Media for Take as Needed for Pain and they were like, look, we’ll bring you out to Germany for a tour and we were like, that rules. We all took off work and went over, did that tour, and we came home and got another tour. It was like, wow, this is weird. It was almost funny but by Take as Needed for Pain it was pretty serious. We weren’t expecting the opportunities we got so it was cool.
What was it like to record that first one then, In the Name of Suffering?
Jimmy: We just got Joey LaCaze on drums. Our old drummer never wanted to play shows or do stuff; it was weird. We got Joey in the band and we wrote five more songs. We had ten songs for the record and I remember the studio had video games and all that. It was a big deal because when little Joey got in the band, the dude just breathed passion through his eyes. Whatever he’d do, he was like “Hey bro, check this out!” He got you excited about shit and vice versa. That’s when the band actually got serious.
I’ve seen a few places online that the band formed on 4/20 but I was never sure how serious to take that. Is that true?
Jimmy: No that’s bullshit.
Ok, I was wondering if that was the case.
Jimmy: When we formed that band, nobody said 4/20. Yeah, that’s wrong.
How did you guys come up with the name Eyehategod?
Jimmy: The guy that lost his mind came up with the name. We were all on acid or something and he was like “Eyehategod…eye and the way people perceive god. Would god, if god asked people what they really thought of him and…” he just got really deep with it and we were like “Dude.” He said it’d be a killer name for a band and we were like…”Dude.” I talked to him years later and it’s kind of funny because he’s like, “Man, you’ve got to change the name of the band” and it’s just not happening, you know? He’s like, no, you really should change the name of the band. I think he’s more like a christian now and he said “It affects children” and stuff and I’m like, come on.
How much backlash have you seen from religious people with that name?
Jimmy: In the beginning, yeah. Even now…[some]. When people would ask us the name of the band we’d say Clearlight. Recently we’ve been saying Eyehategod. People are usually either intrigued or really pissed off.
You mentioned Take as Needed for Pain as one of the points where you knew the band had legs. What was the recording process like for that one?
Jimmy: That was cool. We recorded in an old Masonic temple down in the French Quarter. Joey was the dude in the band that was all into magic and shit, into [Aleister] Crowley and all that. He snuck into the temple and got a bunch of books and shit. It was cool, man. We recorded live, the whole band recorded live, and Mike recorded after. A fun fact, from the band, about that record is the ride cymbal sounds like shit. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed but it sounds like ting, ting, ting, ting, it’s way too much. Other than that, the record was great to record. A guy named Robinson Mills and Pepper and Phil [Anselmo] came up there when we were recording and they were like “Dude, you all should make it ‘Sisterfucker’ part one and two.” That was their idea. It was good times, everybody was making music. Everybody was young and making music and touring. New Orleans was really cool back then because the creativity was every fucking where. Either that or it was just the age I was at.
New Orleans has always been known for music. What was the scene like back then for you?
Jimmy: It was great. You had diversity. There was a real healthy thrash scene, there was Crowbar and Eyehategod doing the slower stuff with Crowbar more melodic with the vocals, obviously with Eyehategod more punk rock with it. You had Acid Bath, who were doing their own thing completely an hour south of the city. It was kind of where everybody did their thing and met up on the weekends.
How has it changed over the years? I imagine it’s a bit different now.
Jimmy: I’m older, for one [laughs]. To me it’s all about what place you can play at. A lot of places in New Orleans get…the venue doesn’t last that long or something because of noise problems or whatever. It’s always the venue, you can relate the gigs to the venue.
I know from interviews that people have very mixed feelings on the term but how do you feel about the sludge metal description for the band?
Jimmy: It’s stupid. We always thought it was silly but whatever people need to call it.
Do you feel like you guys are part of any specific genre?
Jimmy: No, we try and put blues into it and all kinds of fun stuff.
What do you look for when you guys have openings in the lineup?
Jimmy: Obviously their taste in music. I guess I’m old enough to where I can set a couple standards, you know? As long as they have a good feel and a good attitude…attitude is 100% of the game, man. It would depend on the band situation but somebody that can walk in and play, it doesn’t really even matter who good they are, it matters that they have that passion, that want that matches your own. It’s almost like getting a girlfriend, you know? A band is a relationship.
For sure. You’re on the road with these people all the time, you don’t want some dickhead in the band.
Jimmy: Totally, totally. A prime example is we got Aaron [Hill] in Eyehategod after Joey passed away. I had jammed with Aaron in a couple other bands and he was always this serious dude that was into the riffs and I was intrigued like, man, this dude gives a fuck. Sometimes people get in bands so they can get laid, they get in bands so their friends will think they’re cool or whatever. Anyway, Aaron fit really good and over time has proved that he’s been an important part of the band.
Did you guys ever go back and forth about keeping the band going after Joey died?
Jimmy: There was no question, man, we were gonna keep going. I’ll tell ‘ya, it’s what Joey would have wanted.
Do you have a favorite album you’ve been on? Is there one you go back to as the one you’re most proud of?
Jimmy: I really like The Mystick Krewe of Clearlight, Take as Needed for Pain, that’s a good one. Down’s NOLA is really cool, to be part of a record that is looked at today as so important. Back then it was just what we were doing but it was cool. A lot of stuff I’ve played, in Crowbar [and others] you have a great time making these records and seeing the reactions from people. It’s cool, man.
How did Down get started?
Jimmy: That was in ’91. It was just like a project that started with Phil and Pepper and they had an idea. They dug Crowbar and that was basically the rhythm section and we all knew each other. It was cool, man. We were all into bands like Trouble and Saint Vitus and Sabbath and even just a bunch of different cool underground bands that we would sit around and listen to so to see the progression when we all did something was cool. It was a big deal for me to play on a record with Phil and Pepper and Kirk and Todd. I still say that’s the biggest opportunity that I was ever given.
What was it like to record that first record with Down?
Jimmy: It was really cool, man. We did the drums and guitar first. Phil was keeping me excited going “Yeah dude, that was awesome!” I had him in headphones, you know? It was good because it felt like I was jamming with somebody else. We were doing it kinda weird with just guitar and drums, which is a popular way to do the records I would find out later on. It was great, just trying to play to the best of my ability, thinking in the back of my head that this might be a big band, this might be something really cool but also, in the back of my head, thinking this could be nothing so you just give your best in life with anything you do.
And then the fan reaction to that one had to be pretty nice.
Jimmy: Yeah it was great. I thought we were doing something different; it felt different. We were such geeks of the music we listened to, like Pentagram and all these cool bands. For us to be able to go into the studio and make a record like that was a big deal. And I got to play in a band with Phil and Pepper, which I didn’t really look at it that way but I did opportunity-wise. These guys are touring big, big shows and I’m not, so it’s cool to be involved with that. The older I am, the more I look back on it as really cool of them to ask me to play drums on their project. It’s a big deal to me. It’s cool.
You guys talk about doing another one at some point?
Jimmy: Yeah, we’re gonna do some stuff. It just takes a while.
What’s the process for writing music like with Down?
Jimmy: Everybody brings stuff to the table. Everybody brings riffs. It’s awesome.
Is it much of a different process than with Eyehategod?
Jimmy: Not really. Everybody brings riffs in. Being in a band’s not brain surgery. You get four or five guys together and you’re all into, say you’re all big into Metallica. You all get together and say you need to do a song like “For Whom the Bell Tolls” but it can’t go [exactly like that]. That’s how music is formed. It’s from a love and passion for somebody else’s shit. That’s why bands like the old Delta blues dudes and the old jazz bands, you have to give them ultra respect because they didn’t really have anything to listen to to give them what they got, so what they’re doing is straight off the cuff, bro. Real deal, you know? Anything recently you’ve got no excuse. The Beatles have existed. If you don’t like The Beatles, you can go suck somebody’s dick.
How did you get into playing drums?
Jimmy: I started playing drums in, like, second or third grade but it was just like snare in the band. When I was around 12 or 13 I got a kit and started playing. I’m not that great of a drummer, dude. It’s just groove and feel. I’m a rock drummer, you know? I’m not Neil Peart.
Do you have a preference between drums and guitar?
Jimmy: No, I like both of them. Both of them are great ways to express yourself. It’s like I was really into drums growing up and I think drums are the most important part of the band. It’s the way something swaggars, it’s the way something moves, and guitar is a compliment to that. So to be able to play both, it’s cool. That’s my own stupid way of appreciating it.
Going back to Eyehategod, how affected was the most recent record, A History of Nomadic Behavior, by the pandemic?
Jimmy: We had it recorded and then Mike did vocals during the pandemic. It kinda sucked because we couldn’t immediately go on tour for it. It had been the magic seven years again, which sucks. We didn’t intend on that to happen. I’m just glad it came out. It’s our first record without Brian [Patton] in the band. It was a fun record to make. We spent a lot of time on writing it and trying to become a four-piece band, you know? It’s completely different. Eyehategod used to be this giant wall of sound, two guitars, and now it’s just fucking me. It’s weird but I’m still getting used to it.
How much of an adjustment was that?
Jimmy: It’s not an adjustment that I can compensate for. It’s an adjustment that will just never be there. That other guitar player will never be there, unless we get another guitar player, which we don’t plan on it. It just made everything thicker. If The Melvins can do it, we can do it.
The record just came out not that long ago so I’m sure you’re not starting a new one yet but how does that process get started for the band?
Jimmy: We’re already starting to think about that. We want to do a fast EP, thought that would be a good follow-up, an EP of fast songs. We’re always writing so it’s just getting in the studio. The last album took so long because we were on tour constantly. To get off tour finally and work on the record, it was good stuff.
Photo at top: Album cover of A History of Nomadic Behavior.