Armed with an unrelenting, unforgiving new album—”Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue” (read Live Metal’s review)—released early this year, Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals finally are about to hit about to hit the road. A headline tour with support from Housecore labelmates King Parrot will take them across the United States this September, including an appearance at Berserker Fest on Sept. 28 in Pontiac, Michigan. The run originally was to take place in the spring but was postponed due to Anselmo’s latest back surgery. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Illegals bassist Walter Howard to preview the tour and discuss the new album.
LIVE METAL: The Illegals tour is finally getting underway Sept. 6, starting out in New Orleans. Originally it was going to be in the spring, but it was delayed because Philip had another back surgery. So you must be really ready to get out there and do this, right?
WALTER HOWARD: Oh, absolutely. I cannot wait. I’ve been a part of this project for two years now, so in the two years it’s all been studio work. So when we jam live, there’s nobody else but just us. Me and (guitarist) Mike (DeLeon) will talk about it all the time when we’re driving back to Texas. We’re like, “Man, the live show’s going to be intense.” The album translates good, how we sound live, but it’s a totally different beast.
Have you been in rehearsal?
Yeah, absolutely, getting ready for it as much as we can. We’re about to leave tomorrow to go to Louisiana to start practicing with everybody.
What do you think fans can expect to see on this tour?
Definitely every night, unrelenting brutality. (laughs) Just pummeling sonic sounds of everything. It’s gonna be great. I’m really excited to see how people are gonna react to these new songs live. Even the old songs, with this lineup, sound great.
Have you been talking about set lists and what songs you’re going to be playing and stuff like that yet?
A little bit, yeah. We talked about some things we want to do and some covers and whatnot, but we haven’t really quite solidified everything. That’s probably what we’re gonna be doing, more or less, whenever we get there.
When the Illegals toured on the first album—of course, you weren’t there, and there was a lot less material available—but they played a couple of the more deep cut Pantera songs. Do you think anything like that will happen now, or do you have enough original material now that that’s not necessary?
Well, I think there might be some surprises. But for the most part, we have so much material I think that’s what’s gonna be primarily focusing on.
As you said, you’ve been in this band for a couple years now. How did that come about? How did you join the Illegals?
For me, it was all because of Mike DeLeon. I’ve known Mike for a long time, being in the Texas metal scene, and we’ve been playing death metal shows together for a good long while with my other band, Vaginal Bear Trap. That all came about from one time he came back from Louisiana and they were talking about how they needed a bass player. So Mike was trying to think about names he could throw in the pot, and it just so happened that we played a show with each other that day. So he watched me play, and I wasn’t even playing bass—I was playing guitar—and he was like, “Oh shit, dude, Walter—this is the guy I should ask.” So he came up to me and told me right after my set. I was putting up my gear, and he was like, “Dude, I think you should try out for the Illegals.” That was like seven or eight months before I even got a chance to go over to Philip’s. So for a while, it was all up in the air. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. But I’m really happy that my name actually got called up, and everything was gravy once we got there.
What was it like going there and meeting Philip and the whole audition process?
It was definitely a trip. (laughs) We got there super late. We didn’t pull into Louisiana to Philip’s house till like 3 in the morning. I was just disoriented as fuck ‘cause I didn’t know where the fuck we were, ‘cause it’s out in the wilderness. You see nothing but trees and darkness, so I had no idea the grand scale of where I was at (laughs) until I woke up that morning, and I’d never met Philip before otherwise. It was my first time getting to meet him. I walked downstairs, and he’s standing there in his robe, fuckin’ jammin’ out to SYK’s new album that hadn’t been put out on Housecore yet. He was jammin’ the fuck out of that album. It was kind of funny. That was the first time I got to meet him, and he stood, big smile and hugged me.
Is that where you wrote and recorded the new album?
Like half of it. When I got a chance to go up there, they already had six songs done, and then the other half pretty much was finished in two sessions.
What was that whole writing and recording process like. I’ve heard it was more collaborative this time around than it was on the first album, which you weren’t a part of.
Usually, what happened was we’d wake up in the morning, and we’d all get super stoned and talk about what we were gonna do for the day. (laughs) He would show us ideas and different things, like, “Here, I want to try to incorporate this and this and this.” We would talk about it, think about what we want to do, and then usually it would be the four of us, without Philip, going in there, getting warmed up, and then Philip would come in and start playing guitar with us, too. It was super laid back, everything about it. It was a really relaxed jam session of just see what happens.
Was that the only goal then, to, as you said, see what happens? Or were there other things, like, “Let’s do a song that sounds like this?”
Yeah. I would say more or less. You can hear on the album there’s a common theme, but they’re all a little different. We knew what we wanted to deliver, but we didn’t want to follow a formulated structure. That was the biggest thing. We wanted something that was just not an average, ordinary metal album.
Yeah, I think you accomplished that. You’ve had some time—you haven’t been touring with this band, and the album came out at the beginning of the year. Are you the type to go back to your work after it’s done and analyze it or think of things you could’ve done differently?
I think, for most part, once it gets to the final product, that’s when I’m pretty much happy with it. It’s a we’ve done everything we could kind of thing. I would say the critical listening is probably more for the first rough cuts. But I’ll constantly go back to listen to my albums. It’s just fun to listen to it. They’re great albums. (laughs)
It probably takes to you back to the times of writing and recording them.
Oh, exactly. You just remember all the experiences associated with it.
Tell me a little about your background. You’re from San Antonio?
Yes sir, I’m from San Antonio. I was born here, and I’ve been living here since 2008, but I moved to Dallas and went to high school there.
How long have you been playing in bands?
I’d say about 10 years, with Vaginal Bear Trap being the longest probably. I’ve been doing that since 2008.
What inspired you to pursue this?
Just the love of the music, man. I’ve been a metalhead for so long—a lifetime metalhead. When I was a kid going to see my first shows, it was just something I was like, “Man, this would be great to do.” And I just got lucky and started meeting people who were great musicians, and they’ve kind of helped us all get better. It’s the best thing if you find a good group of musicians that you’re able to just work with each other really well and create something really interesting.
Who were some of your favorite bands, going to shows when you were younger? Who were the ones that really got you into it?
The first one definitely was Kreator. That was one of my first club concerts I ever went to. Seeing Kreator and Vader, these two bands that were—it was my first time seeing it not in a huge stadium setting. I got to meet the band. I got to see what they do and see these people are like everybody. It was great. You got to see more of a camaraderie. Metal—you’ve got friends everywhere. You don’t even have to speak the language. If you know metal bands, you can talk like that. I’ve done that before, man, in Mexico. They didn’t speak English, so we just talked in band names. We would go back and forth, and they would be like, “This band,” and then, “Yeah, dude!” And then we’d say another band and be like, “Yeah! Fuck yeah!” It’s funny how it works.
And I guess that’s got to be one of the things you’re looking forward to about the tour—getting out there and meeting the fans and the people who your music is connecting with.
Oh, absolutely, man. That’s definitely gonna be an awesome experience, getting a chance to see everything—not just see everything online, ‘cause we all look at everything that happens online, with comments and reviews and everything. It’ll be cool to meet everybody.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
No, just really looking forward to seeing everybody out there. Check out the music video, “Choosing Mental Illness,” if you haven’t yet.