Philip H. Anselmo: an animal’s philosophy

When Phil Anselmo talks to you, it’s hard not to frown, grimace a little and nod slightly due to that heavy voice, churned up by years of good service within Pantera. That very voice, that unique voice, reveals the true nature of the man who speaks: raw, wild, hypersensitive – exactly like the two songs available on a split EP with Warbeast, War Of The Gargantuas. The way for Anselmo to profess once again his love for extreme music.

But that’s only a matter of opinion, for the three words we used earlier, showing the extreme side of the man, could be replaced by the following: honest, straightforward, and sensitive. Those are the characteristics that stem from his words. When he says the rage boiling within him nowadays is a better proof of his wisdom than in the past, we’re inclined to believe him. Anselmo looks at the past and at the present with some philosophy. No doubt this is a result of the “invaluable knowledge” he has acquired from past experiences.

One thing is certain: Anselmo is very proud of the solo album he’ll reveal soon. We talked about all that and more with a very friendly and honest vocalist, who turns out to be an excellent candidate for interviews.

Read and listen to the interview below.

« What I really hate is having to sing in key! (laughs) It fucking sucks! »

Listen to the interview [audio:interviews/2013/04/phil_anselmo_2013_03_04.mp3|titles=Interview Philip H. Anselmo]

Radio Metal: You’re releasing a split EP with Warbeast. Split EPs are more generally seen in the underground scene as a way for bands to help each other and join their forces. Is the split EP format, plus the fact that the artwork looks hand-drawn, a sign of your love for the underground metal scene?

Phil Anselmo: I have a fantastic love for the underground, extreme metal scene and whatnot. It’s pretty obvious. People know my name and my music, so it’s obvious I’m helping Warbeast. What you say is very true. The artwork is supposed to be hilarious, it’s very funny. It’s an inside joke between myself and the guys from Warbeast. It’s a long-running joke. Long live the underground!

Warbeast is a band that seems to be uncompromising. You just have to look at their album titles: the first one is called Krush The Enemies and the second one that is coming up is entitled Destroy. Was this choice evident for you considering the uncompromising character of the two songs you have included on this EP?

Well, you have to understand I have a lot of solo material written. In my eyes, the two songs that I picked best fit the straightforward thrash field that Warbeast employs, I guess. Obviously, they’re a Housecore Records band. I’ve known Bruce Corbitt and Scott Shelby since 1987 or 1988, something like that. We’re having a good time with this, man.

Like you said, you already knew Scott Shelby from his Gammacide days…

Yeah, I used to see Gammacide all the time.

Did you keep an eye on him during all this time?

He was the type of guy that was very impossible to ignore, really! I remember at one point in time, it was 1989. Pantera had just been signed and we were in the process of recording Cowboys From Hell. Dimebag and I were at a place where a lot of the Dallas musicians cut their teeth, which was at a Joe’s garage. We were watching Gammacide play, and Dimebag nudged me and said: “Man, that guy’s fucking badass, he’s got great chops!” And I said: “I know! I’ve been telling you for months, I’m glad you finally notice!” Scott Shelby always, always, always had deadly chops and very intense guitars.

Can you introduce your backing band The Illegals? How did you get hooked with the musicians that are part of it?

Well, it’s very ironic… but not all that ironic. There’s the drummer from Warbeast, Jose Manuel Gonzalez. The guitar player, I’ve known for a very long time, once again since the 80s. And once again, he’s one of Dimebag’s favorite guitar players to jam with here and there. His name is Marzi Montazeri. I’ve known Marzi a long time and he’s a damn good guitar player, an incredible guitar player for his style. As far as bass players go, I’m not locked in 100%. A guy named Bennett Bartley, from New Orleans, plays in a band called Mountain Of Wizard. He played on the solo tracks from the split and on the full-length, which will come out here in the States in July. He played on that but as far as it got live, I’m not positive yet. Marzi’s been jamming with this kid, his name is Steve Taylor. Believe it or not, he’s a New Orleans guy, but he lives in Houston, Texas, now, and he’s got very good chops. But we’ll see what happens.

Since Down has become your main act, it looked like you had put aside the more extreme aspect of your musical affinities. War Of The Gargantuas, the EP, sets the record straight by showing that you still have the rage. Is singing a more brutal kind of music something you have been missing since Pantera and Superjoint Ritual ended?

Well, truthfully, yes. It is something that I’ve missed a whole lot and it feels good to do it. I have all the abilities I had in the past. Maybe I can’t sing the Rob Halford highs that I used to be able to do when I was a young buck, but other than that, I have plenty fury, plenty aggression. You know, for Down, for the genre of music or the style that we do, it wouldn’t be right. What I really hate is having to sing in key! (laughs) It fucking sucks! But you know, it comes with the job, I have to do it with Down. That’s what makes singing the more extreme stuff so much more, I guess, pleasurable.

« [The most extreme thing I ever did was] breaking my back, breaking my ribs, breaking countless bones and having countless surgeries, all in the name of music. »

Do you think it is some pain or anger that you have contained for the last couple of years and that is actually exploding on your solo record?

I would think that there is some truth to that. When you deal with chronic pain on a daily basis, even a limited amount, and you hold it, and you keep yourself in check… One thing I’ve learned is, despite how physically bad you could be feeling, to express it, it just really comes off negative. I guess there is some great therapy, and I’ve always found great therapy, in extreme music and performing extreme music. Like I said before, your question was pretty much filled with a good answer there. You’re spot on, brother.

There’s a kind of neurotic feeling on the song “Conflict (Nerve Meets Bones)”. Do you sometimes feel like you’re losing your mind when you’re facing pain and anger?

It’s funny you say that, “neurotic feeling”, because to most of my friends that have heard the rest of the full-length record, they feel like the record is even more… It’s like, after they listen to it, they feel like they have to have a drink to calm down! (laughs) Of course I think there is some psychosis there, but for me, it’s a healthy way of expressing myself. One way or another, it’s good therapy.

We all know your affinities with extreme music, but would you say that you’re a particularly extreme kind of man?

I guess it would depend on the extremity. It’s a well-known fact where most of my interests in life are: extreme music, boxing and horror films. You can easily say I’m an extremist in all three things. I put myself in front of the movies; I put myself in the middle of extreme music; I put myself in these situations. As for boxing, I’ve worked for gyms on and off for years, the Kronk Gym in Detroit in particular. I attended the funeral of Kronk Gym’s main boxing guru, Emanuel Steward, a few months back. He was a very close friend. I think there are points in my life where I’m very extreme, yes. Honestly, it’s all in the eye of the beholder, really.

What’s the most extreme thing you have done in your life?

I guess… (long hesitation) Breaking my back, breaking my ribs, breaking countless bones and having countless surgeries, all in the name of music. When you compromise your bones, tendons and ligaments night after night after night, only to come home, have a couple of weeks’ rest and then go back to rehabbing and working out all of that shit all over again – it becomes a grind, a very all-controlling thing. It’s like, in my life, aside from the things that I completely adore, which were very clear – and music would be at the top of that list –, dealing with the everyday grind, whether it’s productive or just straight out painful… I’ve said it in the past, but it helps develop a mental callus. There’s a toughness there that you hone as an instrument inside of your mind. Sometimes I guess you get weary of it or tired of the same old stuff. But it’s something I must have. I gotta keep on top of my rigorous routines. I must stay on top of stretching, and being hydrated, and all these things, just to be happy and productive. So it’s a job.

How would you compare the rage you had when you joined Pantera at the end of the 80’s to the rage you have now?

I would say it’s a lot more clear-headed. I was heavily medicated, so to say, towards my end of days with Pantera. Hopefully I would think it’s a lot wiser in its choices. I guess I’m being sensitive to the fact that there are millions of people everywhere and my idea of life might not be their idea of life, and I respect other people. I respect their way of life. At the end of the day, the world does not revolve around a single one of us, you know? I would hope, and I would expect, that this particular rage that keeps me floating is a much wiser one.

On the two songs found on War Of The Gargantuas we can hear elements of death metal or even black metal: the riffs in “Conflict (Nerve Meets Bones)” sound like something Morbid Angel could have come up with and some of your vocals almost infringe upon death metal growls. You have a strong history as a guitarist in various death metal and black metal bands that many people do not necessarily suspect. Was it important to put forward your affinities with these genres?

Well, not necessarily. Honestly, I want to be… I guess I didn’t want to be… Let me put it like this: I wanted to create an extreme metal record that, whether it flashed death, black or heavy metal influences, couldn’t be easily slid into a slot, or a genre, or a sub-genre. I think what I mean by this will become a lot more apparent when the full-length comes out, obviously. Because there’s a lot of variety there, I would think, without touching on too many influences. I could do a basic 4/4 thrash part and then drop into a slow, doomy, EyeHateGod, Black Sabbath part, but that’s the easy way out. I would not do that. Honestly, I can’t wait for you guys to hear the full-length so you can really get an idea of what I was trying to do. I can’t wait for you guys to consume that stuff when it comes out, man. Because I don’t think this record, especially the one that will be released this July in the States, can be put in any established or popular genre. I guess it’s just safe enough to call it heavy metal. I don’t know. I’m not sure!

« I guess Vinnie Paul and I would have to sit down and talk. I don’t think he wants to talk about that at all. And he sure as hell doesn’t want to talk to me. »

Rex Brown recently confessed: “Barely a day passes that I don’t think about Pantera, dream about Pantera. I have nightmares about Pantera”. Is this something that happens to you too?

I don’t have nightmares about Pantera. I think about Pantera every day. Also, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about Dimebag, or that I’m not reminded in one way or another of the days of Pantera. If there’s a situation where I’m working with less experienced musicians, or something to that effect, especially with the solo band, I find myself trying to explain to them certain scenarios. It always harkens back to my days with Pantera, because those were such incredible learning experiences, even just joining the band. They had a lot of success even before I was in the band. I guess every record is an expression of growing or a learning experience, but none are as great as the memories I have with Pantera. You could say the success was at its biggest and broadest, but in order for us to get to that success, it was a very long and hard and physical journey. It always put a particular chip on our shoulders. We played gigs with a lot of attitude. Learning from this is indispensable knowledge, man. It’s stuff that you carry with you for the rest of your life. But as far as what Rex said about nightmares, I don’t have nightmares. Most of my thoughts are very good memories. But don’t get me wrong: like any band, like any relationship, everything has its ups and downs. But if I were to dwell on the negatives, it would feel like I was stagnating. It would feel like I was not being productive. I’m the type of guy that likes to put one foot in front of the other and make things happen. In order for me to do that, I need to be in a positive frame of mind. There are too many positives in my time with Pantera for me to be bellyaching over all the bad things and whatnot. Pantera was a very positive thing in my life for many years. I choose to remember the good stuff.

Are you kind of fed up that people are still speculating about a Pantera reunion, like with Zakk Wylde or whoever?

I’m not fed up with it. I understand. I’m a music fan myself. I love music. I love bands. I love collecting music. For your average fan out there, if you’re a Pantera fan, of course you want to see it. Really, if you think about it, our career was pretty short. And here we are in 2013, and we’re still talking about Pantera! Obviously there’s a great memory there. But as far as us reforming or anything like that, the only thing… Look, I’ve said it in the past: it’s not a very hopeful thing to think about. I guess Vinnie Paul and I would have to sit down and talk. I don’t think he wants to talk about that at all. And he sure as hell doesn’t want to talk to me. Put it this way: my doors are open, his doors are closed and locked. Until we can sort this situation out – if we can ever sort the situation out –, I would pretty much forget about a Pantera reunion.

You’re planning to release four EPs with Down. The first one, The Purple EP, is already out. On that subject, you’ve said that it relieved you from a certain pressure to not have to put out 16 songs at once. Is the composition or recording process such a difficult task with Down?

Well, you have to understand: I think of myself as a free agent. You said something earlier that I’m not sure if it’s totally, 100% correct, but you mentioned how Down was my main project. I guess for people on the outside looking in, it may seem like that. Down is a musical expression, it’s a genre band. We’re a band that writes songs in the classic game of Black Sabbath, really. To me, that’s not rocket science, you know? It’s like, of course I can do that. If you take all five of us and put us in the same room with the goal of writing Down songs, 99.9% of the time, we’re going to come out with songs that sound like fucking Down. I think it’s better to give the public four, five or six really good songs that you really give a fuck about and that you feel in your heart are great songs, instead of twelve songs where four or five are leave or take, or experimental, or acoustic. Of course we can do that, but is it necessary? You know, I’m not sure. I would rather give the fans of Down the good songs, instead of fillers! Fillers are boring!

« For the next record, I might put out a fucking disco record, you never know! »

You have your own label, Housecore Records. Apart for the fact that you can sign some bands in which you believe, does that also give you a certain freedom, like in your solo career?

It does give me a freedom. And I intend to exercise that freedom. That’s what I’m doing right now. One record at a time, I guess: let this heavy metal record come out and everybody can chew on that. For the next record, I might put out a fucking disco record, you never know!

You said two years ago at the Hellfest in a TV interview that you could “sing like a bird”. Well I would very much like to hear this!

OK. (he starts whistling a short tune) How’s that?


Thank you! I’ve been working on it for hours!

By the way, at this Hellfest, I saw you really enjoying an electro acoustic guitar at a Lag guitar stand and singing. They even offered you a guitar! Do you still have that guitar?

Yes, I do! It’s actually the house favorite to play on. I have several acoustics around here and everyone says that this particular guitar that I got in France plays the best. And I agree with them. It’s a great guitar, man. And cool people at the company, too.

OK. That’s it. Thank you very much for the interview !

Anytime, my brother.

I think you have some shows in the US with your solo band, but are you going to come to Europe?

I would think eventually. It depends on whether people like the record or not and want to see it and whatnot. I’m open to it, of course. Check out the full-length, man, it’s fucking crazy. It’s mixed, it’s finished, it’s done. Now we have to get the fucking artwork done and I think that’s the whole thing, man. So it’s very close.

Interview conducted by phone on March, 4th, 2013.
Transcription : Saff

Housecore Record’s website : www.thehousecorerecords.com

Album Walk Through Exits Only, will be released on July 19th, 2013 via Housecore Records/Season of Mist
Split EP War Of The Gargantuas, available.

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