by Steve Patrick
– Columnist —
Over the course of thirty years, Philip H. Anselmo has made an undeniable mark on the face of metal music. Anselmo’s influence is most easily seen in his genre-defining work as the frontman for Pantera, but his explosive performances delivering the chaotic barrage of Superjoint Ritual or the Southern sludge of Down are equally important.
Anselmo has recently released his first solo effort with the help of a hand-picked group of musicians dubbed The Illegals. The record, entitled Walk through Exits Only, is truly unlike any of Anselmo’s previous musical output, but does contain several nods to the past. Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals have also embarked on a US tour alongside Author & Punisher and their Housecore Records (owned and operated by Anselmo) labelmates Warbeast.
Anselmo spoke with Hardrock Haven’s Steve Patrick about his new album, playing with Rex Brown and Anthrax at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards, the upcoming Housecore Horror Film Festival, and, most importantly, what message he wants fans to know about his motivations for going solo.
Phil Anselmo: Hello?
HRH: Hey, is this Phil?
PA: Yeah, man.
HRH: How’s it going?
PA: What’s going on? Who’s this?
HRH: This is Steve Patrick with HardrockHaven.net.
PA: Hey brother, what’s happening man?
HRH: Not much. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.
HRH: Well, you’ve got a great solo album. Just finished another listen before calling you. It’s pretty different from some of your other work. Did you just set out to make the most brutal album possible?
PA: Well, thank you man. You know, there’s a lot of very good extreme music out there and I like to think that I’m pretty well-versed in a lot of it. You know, I can’t say all of it because that would be overstepping the boundary. I wanted to make an extreme record that could sit next to anything as far as extremity, but I always wanted it to be extremely hard to place genre-wise. Very hard to stick into a specific slot, both musically and lyrically. So, whether I’ve done that or not I guess we’ll find out later on, but that was my intention and now me and you are sitting here talking.
HRH: Why was now the right time to do a solo project? I know you’re working on another EP with Down and you seem to be a busy guy…
PA: Not really you know, see, that’s a misconception. You know, I’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve done a lot of bands and I’ve been in a lot of side projects and that’s really all they are… projects. But the only two things that I’m really tangibly doing as far as recording, and as far as stuff that’s mine, is Down and the solo band.
So if you think about Down and all the counterparts, you know Jimmy (Bower) is in Eyehategod… they’re in Europe right now, and Kirk (Windstein) and Pat (Bruders) are in Crowbar and they have their own calendar so to speak, so we’re made up of a lot of different bands. So, for me, there is that freedom to do a solo record right now so I took the opportunity.
HRH: Where did the title for the record come from? I know it’s a song on the album as well, but where did the concept of “Walk through Exits Only” from?
PA: For me, it’s the type of title that could mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. So I don’t like to spoon-feed the listener too terribly much. I like for them to take…for instance, you know, to look at something like the title of “Walk through Exits Only” and have them embrace that in their own way and make what they need of that to fit their own life.
HRH: You were part of someone else’s solo project when you wrote a couple songs with Tony Iommi for his solo record. Why have a true solo band and not do something like he did by having a different guest on each track?
PA: Well, really, I guess I could have done something like that or I could have gotten high-profile musicians to play in the band, but I felt like if I was gonna do a solo record I wanted to introduce so to speak some lesser-known musicians who have been around part of my life that are badass players and to really introduce them again to the general public. When I sat down and I wrote this stuff all out and recorded it with just me, and a guitar, and an amp, I always had my lead guitar player Marzi Montazeri in mind, you know, because he’s always been first and foremost a very good friend of mine since the late 80s and always an overly exceptional player who can play unlimited amounts of styles and he creates his own textures and sonic soundscapes so to speak. So I always knew he was my guy and I wanted to play challenging, pardon me, I wanted to write challenging riffs and time signatures, but I also wanted him as a lead guitar player to put his stamp and put his fingerprints all over this thing, so for me it was important to just have a solid lineup and then go from there.
HRH: What’s the most annoying question that you get asked over and over?
PA: Annoying… aw man, I don’t get annoyed. I really don’t. I’m not really annoyed about anything. I’m an open book and don’t mind answering any kind of fucking questions at all. Even if it’s the same ones over and over it’s alright because I understand. You know, this is a new thing for people and I know that… sometimes there will be knee-jerk questions that everybody wants to know certain things and then other times people can get creative with their questions, but honestly I don’t get annoyed with the press at all anymore because it doesn’t work towards my favor, it doesn’t work for the writer’s favor, it doesn’t work for the fan or the reader’s favor at all so I’m a wide open book, brother.
HRH: Well, that’s a great attitude to have. So where does a song title like “The Music Media is My Whore” come from then? (laughs)
PA: (laughs) That is a question that I do get asked a lot. But really, if you look at the lyrics, it has nothing really to do with the media at all. But it was definitely an attention grabber. And see, over the years, the media can write speculative pieces, they can write opinionated pieces, they can write positive/negative… whatever. They have this free reign, so really it’s just my tongue-in-cheek, sort of sarcastic way of ribbing certain writers, or bloggers, or whatever the fuck…just ribbing them back a bit. But, there’s a lot of that on this record. It’s a different type of record for me, both musically and lyrically…and attitude-wise because there’s a lot of that tongue-in-cheek sarcasm that runs throughout the entire record really.
HRH: I know you and Rex are on good terms, but did anything have to happen to get you two onstage together again with Anthrax at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards?
PA: No man, me and Rex are totally cool. Me and Rex are fine. Absolutely cool with each other.
HRH: How did you guys arrive at the decision to play “This Love”?
PA: Really, it was picked by the Anthrax guys I think. You know what, honestly, I think it was… we had an opportunity to pick one song and I think the day we got in we went over a few different songs and checked it out, but what really changed the game was… honestly I was on my way to the gig when everybody’s phone started blowing up about Jeff Hanneman’s death and I think right then and there all I could think is my love for Slayer and my love for Hanneman, you know? It was a perfect song, so that night we executed it.
HRH: Yeah, it really came off great. Here I was expecting “Goddamn Electric” because of the Slayer shout-out…
PA: See, you know, it could have been any of those songs, but I think at the time we were all so taken aback. It was just a heavy moment for everybody and it just… I was thinking about the last tour that Pantera did ever in the United States with Slayer and Morbid Angel. Ah, I don’t know, maybe in my mind I thought Hanneman was partial to “This Love” because he did like the song quite a bit and I guess we made our decision on heart.
HRH: Well that’s never wrong.
PA: I hope not.
HRH: What can fans expect from this solo tour? I know you released a video of the band practicing a bit of “Death Rattle”…
PA: Oooh. You caught it, huh?
HRH: I did, I did. (laughs)
PA: You sneaky, sneaky devil. We’re coming prepared with some blasts from the past, but you know what, not one single night will be exactly like the previous or the one coming next. I like every show to have its own personality and its own memories and what not. So, I think that we have, aside from the entire Walk through Exits Only record and plus the two songs that we did on the split with Warbeast, I think that we have some interesting blasts from the past. Not your average what you would hear…I know “Walk” is always a favorite song for other bands to cover and stuff like that, so honestly as far as back catalog stuff I’ve been in several bands that people know and have heard before, so we’ve kind of covered a little bit of ground for all of them. So it’s like whenever this spontaneous…feeling, I guess, happens…when the mood strikes, we have enough to deliver something special.
HRH: What was it about “Death Rattle” that made you choose it for this tour?
PA: Shit, Pantera never played it live. Ever.
HRH: So will Blue (Jose Gonzales) be doing double duty on this tour since he’s Warbeast’s drummer too?
PA: No he isn’t. Nah, Warbeast got a fill-in drummer.
HRH: Ah, okay. I guess I just sort of assumed he was.
PA: We… we kind of felt that way too. We were thinking originally that he could pull off both sets, but that’s pretty demanding… a three week tour, that can be kind of grinding. Especially on a youngster. But yeah, they got a fill-in drummer for this tour and I think that was a smart decision.
HRH: Absolutely. I saw Gene Hoglan on the recent Testament/Anthrax tour and he had to pull double duty on several dates. It definitely looked like a lot of work.
PA: Yeah man, Gene’s a beast though man. He’s a fucking… one of the best players out there today, so make no mistake. If anybody could do it, Gene could.
HRH: What stage are you guys in for the new Down EP?
PA: See, Down… we have been the most consistently inconsistent bunch of assholes when it comes to predicting when our next release is going to come out, but the most encouraging thing is that we do have riffs ready to go, parts that we’re pretty damn familiar with for this upcoming EP so I think in September we’re gonna put our nose to the grindstone and try to knock out as much of it, if not all of it, in that month. So, I would expect…shit, I would think by early next year, within the first 3-4 months man, that new Down could be finished. Ready to go.
HRH: Are you going to keep up the whole color theme since this last one is the Purple EP?
PA: Aw see, that’s y’all. That’s on y’all. Hell yeah, we didn’t name that thing a damn thing. I knew once somebody said it, it would create its own little life there. The “Purple EP”, that’s fine by me. I don’t know, whether this one has a name or not, I might like you experts name it again.
HRH: Well, I thought it kind of had a bit of a Zeppelin vibe… like their unnamed album is the “Runes” album or “ZoSo”.
PA: I guess it does. I never really thought of it like that, but I guess it does.
HRH: Will Far Beyond Driven get the deluxe reissue treatment like Cowboys and Vulgar have recently?
PA: Well, I know it’s in the works. I know that it’s been talked about and it’s definitely gonna happen. And as far as content inside of the record, I’m not positive of that yet because I think it’s still being kicked around, but there is some very cool stuff that’s being talked about and it’s definitely gonna happen for sure.
HRH: Good, that’s a nice thing to keep going. I’m sure a whole new generation are buying these reissues and getting introduced to Pantera.
PA: What’s funny is I heard… I read a percentage from our management, from Pantera management, the other day that the most t-shirt sales and product sales are 52% between the ages of 15 and 25, so that in itself is friggin’ amazing and definitely points to a brand new generation of people getting into Pantera, so that’s amazing man. It really is amazing.
HRH: Is it ever surreal for you to be becoming somewhat of an elder statesman in the metal community?
PA: Yeah man, it is surreal. It is. It’s very surreal. You know, in my wildest imagination as a young man I would have never thought that we’d be having this conversation today in 2013. It’s always surreal and it’s always…it feels like a blessing. It’s something that makes you feel very grateful. And I’ve said it before, and I know any band can say this about their fan base, but I still gotta go out on a limb here…and the limb is pretty sturdy…when I say that Pantera has the greatest fans on this friggin’ planet, man. I gotta point to one thing, I think that the mere fact that 15 year olds today are getting into Pantera… you gotta give that over to great parenting. C’mon, let’s hear it for the parents out there.
HRH: I’m a horror fan myself, so can you tell us what you have in store for those attending the Housecore Horror Film Festival in October?
PA: Well, you know, it speaks for itself really. You know, we got great bands, and fantastic films to show, and great, great special guests, Coffin Joe from Brazil, Jim VanBebber from here in the States, and Jörg Buttgereit of Nekromantik fame coming down and that’s incredible, and of course we have Goblin coming to North America for the first time and playing the festival and that’s like a first round knockout right there. Like wow! It’s a statement. Either way, it’s a great deal of work to get this thing together and also a dream come true. And really, one of the more exciting aspects for me, as a guy who has no ambition at all to be a horror director or an actor or anything like that, I just like watching the fucking movies. You know, we receive all these submissions from lesser-known directors and honestly man there are a lot of people out there that are really pushing the envelope. They have submitted some great stuff for the film festival, so it’s honestly like turning on a group of friends to your favorite new album or your favorite new band. It’s like I get to show this entire audience that’s never seen these films before…turn them on to these new directors, man, and for me it’s always exciting. So, it’s something I’m looking forward to a great deal. I’m very reluctant to use the world “annual” as of yet because…let me get this one year under my fat gut and we’ll see what happens.
HRH: I wish I lived closer so I could make it. I’m in Columbus, OH… maybe you guys can take this on the road at some point?
PA: Yeah, well that is something that we’ve talked about too. You know, doing it in a different city each year if it becomes an annual thing, but we’ll see what happens.
HRH: Well, like I said I’m from Columbus, OH and obviously that’s where the whole Dime tragedy went down. I just want to thank you for playing shows in Columbus after that happened… I think the earliest was when Down opened for Metallica… but I know that meant a great deal to a lot of local metal fans that you didn’t blame the whole town for what happened.
PA: Well man, listen… the act of one crazy person does not reflect on a town or entire community… and I know this. The entire Ohio area was instrumental in Pantera’s growth when we were just starting out and everywhere from Dayton to obviously Columbus… and all the surrounding… Cleveland and all these places. It was very, very… incredible audiences and great, great, I guess one of the first audiences that really clicked and got what we were doing. Because when we first came out in 1990 and toured the US and stuff, we got a lot of folded arms and cold, long stares. People not really sure what they were looking at, but once again Ohio was one of the first states that really opened their arms to us. That won’t go forgotten and, once again, one guy…one bad apple cannot ruin this particular bunch. It’s uh…(sighs) it makes my heart hurt to even be addressing this, but really I want the people of Columbus to know that I hold no grudge against them at all, man. Not at all. It was one crazy fucker and that’s understood.
HRH: That’s good to hear. Yeah, I actually had the misfortune of being at the Alrosa Villa that night, so you coming back to play shows here meant a lot. Just had to thank you since I had you on the phone here.
PA: Aw man. No big deal, man. No big deal at all.
HRH: Following Dime’s murder there were quite a few tribute songs that came out from bands like Black Label Society and Machine Head. Did you ever think one in particular really did Dime justice?
PA: (sighs) I guess at the time I was going through so much of my own inner searching and stuff like that, you know, and I guess dedicating my time to Down and our third record that I was really kind of too wrapped up in my own healing process to really notice what else was out there going on around me. Also there are certain songs written about Dimebag by myself, so I guess I didn’t… I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t aware of all these songs. But I believe it. The guys in Machine Head and… who else did you mention?
HRH: Black Label.
PA: Oh, Black Label! Black Label. Gimme a break, yeah… Zakk’s always been super-solid people, man. And his love for Darrell is well documented. And the Machine Head boys have always been fucking excellent people and super cool, so I wouldn’t doubt it and I believe you. Maybe I need to do some searching there myself.
HRH: Definitely. Well you mentioned songs that you’ve written about Dime… “Mourn”…
PA: “Mourn”, “I Scream”… there’s a lot of songs, man.
HRH: I read somewhere that you actually recorded more tracks with The Illegals than what made it to the record. Will those extra tracks be released soon?
PA: Uh… yes as a matter of fact. In October, I think we have another EP… a two-song EP coming out that’s also in the extreme vein, but also very different. Very, very different from Walk through Exits. Just another facet to the game, so to speak. And right now it’s still in the works, I’ve got some singing to do on the second track. We have one song that’s finished and, like I said, I’ve got to wrap up the second one. Of course there’s always the joyous task of mixing. Ugh. And then just getting it mastered and then naming the sucker, so we will see. You know, it’s all in the future, but I would expect that in October…mainly, I would think, for the Horror Fest. Like a limited edition for the Horror Fest.
HRH: Last question here for you Phil, this current bunch of dates was advertised as the 1st Leg. Will there be a 2nd batch of solo tour dates?
PA: What we’re looking at is a fall run on the West Coast. Nothing is etched in stone as far as that goes, but that’s what we are looking at. And then I know Europe is really, really keen on having us over, so there’s a lot of thought that’s going to have to go behind it.
And then there’s one thing, before I let you go because I got to do another friggin’ interview. My manager’s sitting over here waving her hands all over the fucking place. I just want to let people know that Pantera is a sacred entity and never, never, never, don’t ever confuse my motives and that I don’t want… I did not create this solo band to be another Pantera, so to speak. That’s ridiculous. Everything I do is absolutely different than something I’ve done in the past and I think that Pantera’s a completely different sounding band sonically than The Illegals, so just realize that I, myself, am leaving the Pantera legacy a sacred, untouchable thing… and as it should be.
HRH: Well said. Phil, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure.
PA: Alright big brother. Alright man. Thanks a lot, brother. Write a great one or do whatever you gotta do and, if you ever want to talk to the old man again, you know where to call.
HRH: Sounds good man. Hope the next interview goes quickly for you.
PA: (laughs) Alright man, take it easy.