As frontman of the legendary Pantera, inarguably one of the greatest and most important metal bands of all time, Philip H. Anselmo set a bar so high no one has reached it since. In the years following that band’s untimely end (and even while it was still active), he has expanded his musical palette in acts with varying levels of visibility, including Down, Superjoint Ritual and Arson Anthem. He also started his own label, Housecore, and turned his life around by kicking hard drugs. In July 2013, he released his first-ever solo effort, “Walk Through Exits Only,” under the moniker Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals. An all-out metallic assault that defies categorization, the record is a powerful statement that Anselmo remains a strong, vital force in today’s metal scene. When his inaugural tour with the Illegals came to the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, Greg Maki of Live Metal sat down with Anselmo backstage to discuss the new album, his upcoming autobiography and more.
LIVE METAL: This is the first tour with the Illegals. What is it like going out on the road with a new band for the first time?
PHILIP H. ANSELMO: It’s always a learning process. It’s always a different feel, different personalities, different road crew, different whole gang—whole team. So there’s a lot of learning curves, but I’ve got a lot of vets on this run, guys that I worked with before. I came out here, and like I do most things, I expect nothing. I’m a pessimist by heart. We came out of the gates very early. The record was out one week when we started this fuckin’ thing. Now it’s been like three and a half weeks, and slowly but surely, people are catching on. They’re learning the words, they’re learning the parts, they’re learning the moments.
It’s a growing process between myself and the audience, but really, it’s relaxed, because I don’t have anything else to prove except that we can play the songs very, very fuckin’ well. I don’t need to be—and I don’t want to be—seen as this larger than life fuckin’ this and that. I’m a music fan just like anybody else, and really, I think the down-to-earth approach of our show is a more realistic expression of doing music. Either way, it’s fun. I like to let the music do the talking—no flash, no poof, no bullshit. Just straightforward.
How long did it take to get comfortable on stage with the other guys in the band?
The guys in the band are fantastic. I think we had a very productive and good preparation for the tour, a lot of hard work in the jam room. I guess the only regret I would have is the only thing that’s released are 10 songs—two songs off a split with Warbeast and then the eight-song record. So we are doing some blasts from the past here and there and whatnot. I just don’t want people to get the wrong impression when we go into one of these blasts from the past, because we are going to continue to make music. I have another EP with the solo band coming out at the end of October, a two-song EP that’s very, very different than anything they’ve heard previously, whether “Walk Through Exits Only” or “War of the Gargantuas”—as it should be, in my opinion.
The more the solo band works and the more we write songs and the more songs that come out, the less I would like to, I hate to use this word, but rely on blasts from the past. If I do expand on doing blasts from the past, I would look to the more obscure songs, not your average “Fucking Hostile” or “Walk” or something that’s been overdone by many, many bands or something that I do with the Metal Masters or something like that. I would look towards the obscure, and that could range from a lot of different bands because I’ve been in a lot of different bands.
As you said, the new album came out just a few weeks ago. One of the things that really jumps out at me—it goes along with one of the things that kind of bothers me about metal sometimes, and maybe it comes from the media. But there’s this obsession with subgenres everybody has, it seems, and I feel like your album doesn’t fit into any one of those.
Was that intentional on your part?
Absolutely, man. I did not want to belong to anybody’s little club. I don’t care about belonging. I know that the genres are out there. Believe me—I’m a fan of many of them, and whether we like it or not, there are subgenres that cross over into each other and become. There is this insane obsession within the media to compare something to something. Knee-jerk reactions I’ve read—“Oh, it sounds like Superjoint,” or it sounds like this or that. Or my favorite one is, we’re thrash, black metal and then they have to somehow incorporate the word “sludge,” which there is no sludge on this record at all—not even at all, and that was a very purposeful fucking thing. They just look at me, look at the body of work, see I’m from New Orleans, think Crowbar, Eyehategod, Down—“There’s gotta be some sludge in there!” And there’s not at all. I don’t let that shit bother me too terribly much, and if it does, I’ll write a song about it. (laughs)
How did you approach the writing of these songs? Was it different from how you would with one of your other bands?
Well, I didn’t want to rely on anyone else. I knew the strengths that Marzi (Montazeri) would bring on guitar, so he was always in mind. And then, once I knew that Blue (Gonzalez) was on board with the drums, I knew what he was capable of. I’ve written many a song from the ground up, whether it be Pantera, Down or whatever—all music and everything. But once the actual musicians grab a hold of it and say, “Let’s twist that there, let’s tweak that there,” and I’m sitting there scratching my chin going, “Well, that’s not how I totally wrote it, but I guess it fits”—then everything comes to fruition. With this record, man, I was very staunch about keeping things the way I wrote ‘em originally and then incorporating what Marzi brings and what Blue brings to the table.
As far as bass goes, for me, with this record in particular, as erratic as it is, I just didn’t feel like I needed this gigantic, overplaying bass player. I just wanted somebody tight, steady and grounded, and really wanted guitar sounds to be sonic and different, as opposed to this huge composition. In Down, we rely on the bass to move all over the place because such is the way of that band and what the protocol is. But with this band, I think I got what I got, and I’m really happy with it, and we’ll see where it goes from here.
I appreciate the length of the album—eight songs, 40 minutes. I feel like a lot of albums are too long. I like to listen to an album from start to finish, and when it gets up to an hour or 70 minutes, it’s hard to do. Do you feel that way, too?
Yeah, I do. That’s why Down does EPs (now), for the most part. Down is made up of a lot of different bands, Eyehategod and Crowbar and whatever Pepper (Keenan) is working on, and we all have our things that we need our freedom for, and we allow that freedom, because that’s just how we are. We also realize that when we get into a room together and we write songs, it’s gonna sound like Down.
So with that said, for me, doing full-length records anymore gets tedious, gets boring. And I can’t say this goes for every band or every artist; really; I’m talking about what’s going on in my head here. I don’t want filler. I don’t want any song on a record to not get the attention that it deserves because we’re trying to wrap up a session and whatnot. I think that it’s easier to concentrate on less songs, make them as good or as potent as possible, and then move on, because there’s always the next record anyway. It’s coming anyway, so just wait for a little while. It’s all gonna get there, just not on a 20-song record.
You’re involved in so many different projects—bands, record label. How do you go about prioritizing things?
(Sighs) That’s where the old bedroom destroyer comes from. (laughs) That’s when you wake up, and you’re like, “Where the fuck do I start?” Sometimes that can be a stunting thing, and it puts me into a shell, sometimes, of procrastination. But if you sign up for something, then you fuckin’ damn well better do it.
To make it simple, and really to simplify my life, I made a decision that, really, the only two bands that I’m going to do any touring with right now or creating records with is Down and the solo band. That’s it. If another project comes along, I might consider it. But it would have to be something that I really wanted to do or that I’d have to be in the mood for, or maybe even something that I could incorporate into the solo work, because Down, to me, is a set lineup, and it’s not rocket science to write Down songs, but it’s always a great outlet for what it does do, actually, at the fucking end of the day, at the end of the record, at the end of the recording session.
So really, as long as there’s a calendar and this shit called scheduling, I can get it done. (laughs)
On top of everything else, there’s also a book coming at some point. How is that coming?
Slowly. Very slowly, because, obviously, the solo record just came out, and obviously, there’s new Down to write. There’s priorities out there, and I think I’m going to be absolutely spreading myself very thin, but I think that’s OK right now. If I need to spread myself thin, that’s just how it’s gonna have to fuckin’ roll. In December, I’m really gonna sit down with the guy I’m writing my book with, Corey Mitchell, and we’re gonna get down to some serious work, nose to the grindstone and really make some headway going into the next year. Maybe August next year is what we’re shooting for, and if it’s not complete, then we’ll get a bit of an extension—but not much of one. So it’s coming. It is coming right around the corner. Definitely 2014, I would think.
How are you liking the idea—or the process, if you’ve already started—of going back and thinking about things?
It’s hit and miss. Some days, stories just flow out of you, and you wish you had the tape recorder fucking running. And then other days, it’s like, “Do I really want to relive this? Do I really want to go back and deal with it?” But at the end of the day, I have no worries, fears or any of that fuckin’ shit, because I’m as human as anyone. If I got to a difficult spot in the book where I’m soul-checking myself, I don’t have a problem being that guy that, at one time, was at rock bottom and fuckin’ miserable and had to go through some change in his life to get back up on his fuckin’ feet and move forward.
I’ll just say that it’s not just a Pantera book. It’s a book about my life, and a whole lot had to happen before I was even eligible to be in the fucking same room with such musicians, great musicians, as Pantera. And then, obviously, a lot’s happened after—the break-up of the band and the death of Darrell. I’ve gone through tremendous battles and struggles, but also come out of it. It’s been 10 years since hard drugs have been a part of my life. It’s been even longer since I’ve had a drop of whiskey. So clarity is a good thing. Clarity will put things into perspective. Hopefully, it’s an interesting read for people eventually and maybe educational at the same time.
I know your career is far from over, but what would you want your legacy to be? Years from now, when people think of your name, what do you want them to think?
I would want ‘em to think that I was a fucking rebel amongst rebels, as far as a musician goes. Someone that you could never really pigeonhole, as far as a genre guy. Call me a heavy metal guy—that’s fair enough. But in the next bunch of years, once again, if the mood strikes me, I’m gonna write an absolutely non-metal record and still put my name on that motherfucker and put it out there. But is it gonna happen tomorrow? I don’t know. Is it gonna happen next year? I don’t know. Do I have the ammunition? Yes, I do. I’m a songwriter. I’m sitting on hundreds of old demos that there’s something about ‘em—there’s a hook there, there’s something fantastic there I want to revisit, because it’s not doing any good just sitting on my fucking computer at home, you know? This shit needs to be heard. So depending on the format and whatnot, however I want to do it, I’m gonna do it that way.
So I guess at the end of the day, I want to be unpredictable, I want to be a rebel and I want to be remembered as someone who fuckin’ gave a fuck about the actual music instead of the looks of things, if you understand me. I don’t want to be—and never have wanted to be—an image guy. I want to be a fuckin’ let-the-music-do-the-talking-type motherfucker, straight up.
This has been a big honor for me to talk to you. Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
If there was something I had to say, it would be to the folks out there that have supported me all these years in all my different ventures in music and whatnot—big thumbs up, big thank you for actually buying this fucking record, “Walk Through Exits Only.” I think it’s amazing that it even charted on fuckin’ Billboard. That was unexpected. And thank you for buying the fuckin’ goddamn actual mechanical copy of the record instead of fucking illegally downloading it, you fucking robbers out there. But big thumbs up to the people that actually fuckin’ bought it and the people who actually came out to this first, inaugural fuckin’ tour, because I think it’s a special type of tour where I am gonna touch on blasts from the past that I might not be touching on here in a couple years. The more solo music I write, the more I do, the less blasts from the fuckin past are gonna happen. So big ups to the fans.