Philip H. Anselmo on all fronts

Just a few weeks after we published our interview with Phil Anselmo regarding Down’s latest EP, we were on the phone with the man again. The singer is everywhere lately. Shortly after completing a North-American tour with Down, he was ready to go back on the roads of the old continent with his solo band The Illegals.

Although he sounded tired, the man was also in a joking mood. When he picked up the phone (“Aahhh, yeah!”), we automatically asked: “Is this Philip Anselmo ?”, just to hear him reply: “No, it’s Gene Simmons!” Why did we even ask? This ballsy voice leaves no place for doubt: it’s the one we’re used to hearing on “I’m Broken”, “Walk”, or “Drag The Waters”. “Ah, busy as fuck, getting ready to head over to Europe Monday”, he said when we asked him how he was doing.

Since we’d already largely talked about Down and his solo band during our latest two interviews, we took this new opportunity to question him about more general subjects (especially the stage), and about his performance of Pantera songs alongside Kill Devil Hill and Black Label Society, precisely ten years after the death of guitarist Dimebag Darrell. A topic that led us to talk about his current relationship with Vinnie Paul, which he explains with great honesty…

« So, these days I train my voice very very hard with cigarettes, beer and black coffee. »

Radio Metal: You’re coming to Europe with The Illegals to play some shows. What can we expect?

Phil Anselmo: Something different every night. I like to make the sets flexible, different and unique every night. So, expect no fancy fuckin’ stage setups or costumes, images or anything like that. Just fuckin’ heavy metal hardcore blend of fuckin’ music, with a bit of sense of humor there, but not much.

How does it feel for you to be playing extreme music again on stage?

It feels great man, you know. I’ve always in one way or another played some type of extreme music, but on stage it feels great. But you know, I always have fun on stage so it’s nothing new.

Last time we spoke you said that it sucked to be singing in tune. So do you feel more at you ease singing you solos songs than the Down repertoire?

Yes, yes, for at least a month then I go back to Down. But yeah, The Illegals feels more natural for me.

How would you analyze how you have evolved or grown as a singer?

I think that I’ve discarded many styles from back when I was young, because in my early days with Pantera I was very well versed in Judas Priest and heavy metal with a big range and high range and all that stuff. But I purposely really walked away from it because there’s already one Rob Halford, I wanted to develop my own style. So, these days I train my voice very very hard with cigarettes, beer and black coffee.

[Laughs] That’s your secret?

[Laughs] Ah! Not anymore!

We’ll also see you at the Hellfest again this year. It seems like you’re at the Hellfest every year and you’re pretty much omnipresent there, joining bands on stage, etc. Are you always like that with other festivals or do you have a special connection with the Hellfest?

No man, I don’t know, they invite me and I say “yes, why not”. Hellfest for me is a lot of fun. They’ve got great white wine, great facilities and I get to see so many fuckin’ bands that I only get to see like once a year or something like that. I have a great time when I’m there! I don’t know, to me it’s just fuckin’ fun and I feel very honored to be asked to come back to Hellfest.

And actually, Ben Barbaud, the founder of the Hellfest, had the idea at some point to let you be the booker for the Valley Tent, but said it was difficult given how busy you were. But is this something that would like to do?

Yeah, if I can get the right bands and everybody can be on the same page, I think it would be great. Considering the Housecore Records roster and the bands that I do have, I think it would be fun to go do things because I could mix things up a little bit. The new Eyehategod just came out, so of course I would love to have them and then there are so other lesser known bands that I would love to bring over to Europe that I think would be cool. If I got the right mixture of people, then I guess we could do a more freestyle jam and maybe do some more old classics that are maybe not that classic, but maybe from my old library like Christ Inversion or Arson Anthem or something like that, playing some songs like that. So, you know, one day, if I get the fuckin’ time to fuckin’ [sigh] change my fuckin’ clothes then eventually maybe I’ll take him up on this whole stage idea. But this year I’ll just have to deal with what I’ve got.

« I got up to take a shit and I was awake, so I said “well I’m gonna go there and see my brother Rex.” »

You’ve been seen and heard playing some Pantera tunes recently with Kill Devil Hill and Black Label Society. And you’ve been also playing some with The Illegals. How did it feel to be playing these songs again?

A little bit awkward with Kill Devil Hill and Black Label because both of them were like “Hey, come on, let’s jam!” And I already sang an entire Down set, I was tired and I was smoking, talking and drinking, so I thought that I sucked and my voice sucked. When it comes to Kill Devil Hill, they played at noon, in the afternoon they were the first band that played at this one fest. I got up to take a shit and I was awake, so I said “well I’m gonna go there and see my brother Rex.” I had no idea that they were playing any Pantera songs, so next thing I know, it’s eleven thirty in the morning and they’re asking: “Hey, do you wanna get up and sing Pantera?” I’m like: “Oh my god! I just woke up… I haven’t even brushed my fuckin’ teeth!” I’m sitting there, chewing gum… So I thought that I sucked there too. But, you know, getting up on stage with guys like Rex and of course Zakk (Wylde) and the rest of his band, it’s always an honor and cool to do, but if I had I guess more preparation time, I myself would be better singing those songs. Thumbs up of the rest of them, thumbs down to be!

But you are playing some Pantera songs with The Illegals, so I guess…

Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It depends on the gig.

But I guess you have more preparation time with this band…

Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course but still it depends on the gig, you know. We also play a couple of Superjoint Ritual songs if we feel like it and Arson Anthem songs. But you gotta think about it, you know, certain festivals give you a certain amount of time to play so I have to be very prudent and smart about how we sneak in certain songs, so it’s gonna be tricky.

And were you missing playing Pantera songs actually?

Not really, but when I do get up there and sing the Pantera songs, it’s great for the audience and I love to see that. Of course the end result is what counts and I like the end result.

Actually we haven’t really heard you sing any of those songs since the breakup of the band until this year, is this something you were hesitant to do up to now?

Well, not really, it just came up as an idea because our guitar player in The Illegals, Marzi (Montazeri), was actually introduced to me by Dimebag back in 1987-88, so I’ve known him in a long time, and they have similar style, I won’t say exactly the same style, that’s impossible, but they do have similar styles. So, when we first started doing gigs, we only had one record out and, of course, we could play the whole fuckin’ record but I just felt like for certain audiences, it might trip them out if went back in time and played some Pantera songs. But also I felt the same way about Superjoint and Arson Anthem, hell, even some Christ Inversion, just to do something different or something from my back catalog. I thought that was important. But I think that Marzi plays the Pantera stuff well enough so we can get away with it and still have fun with it. Like I said, [it’s about] the end result. When you play Pantera songs for an audience that has either grown up with it or is young enough to want to hear it, then usually it’s pretty successful. The end result is what matters. Certain nights we might do it, certain nights we might not.

There’s a video on the internet of Madonna playing the riff from « A New Level », have you actually seen it?

Yeah, I’ve seen!

So how about playing the song with Madonna someday? [Laughs]

Ah, shit, I’m open for anything! She’s better looking than me, she’s probably in better shape and she can definitely sing a lot better than me, but I think that I’ve got cooler tattoos… And I think that my muscles are a little bit bigger than hers, but I’m not sure… So, it all depend on if she wants to sing with me, because I would make her probably try to sing like some old hardcore or maybe some Australian death metal. You never know.

(About Vinnie Paul) « […] Maybe he needs to look in the mirror at who’s being selfish. »

On a sadder note, this year marks the ten years since Dimebag Darrel’s death. What is your feeling now about it, ten years later?

I don’t think about it the way you guys think about it, and I don’t think about it as any celebration at all. I think it’s awful and I think it’s getting worse for me every fuckin’ year.

And what memories have you kept of him?

I think of the good things. I think of the great times that we’ve had, the music that we’ve written together and the road that we traveled together towards success. It was a long long road and many many gigs. During those times, of course there were tough times and boring times that Dimebag could make magical times. I think of the good things man.

You’ve been talking about doing a tribute song with Zakk Wylde. How such song would have to sound like?

I don’t know. I would have to sit down with him and work it out, you know. We would have to take the time and do it right. Because Dimebag could play any style in the world, he was a very well rounded guitar player and an incredible personality. So, I think that on my end, as far as lyrically, it would have to be spot on. But also choice of the music, we could make a soft song or we could make a heavy metal song. So I don’t know, it would have to be something very unique and something very, I guess, important in a way.

But have you two talked about it already or is it just an idea of yours?

No it wasn’t my idea at all; I think it was another press guy that asked the question. As far as talking about anything, Zakk and I, we both realize that there is a contingency of people out there who really want a Pantera reunion. I guess that if the time comes and everything is right and everybody’s on board, we’re both very willing to do it, but it still would take a lot of work.

Speaking about that Vinnie Paul again spoke out against a Pantera reunion and said that it’s a selfish thing for people to have that desire. Since you’re in favor of it, I guess you don’t feel the same way…

Well, I can see his side of it but, honestly, one thing that maybe he’s forgetting is that it’s the fans that made us, not us that made the fans. It’s the fans that are important. And if it’s something that the fans want… Because you’ve got to realize that there’s a whole new generation of fans out there that never got to see Pantera play. I think, and I always think, that the fans are number one. What they want is important. Really, what I think about it, is that if it never happen again, I’m cool with that but if it’s something that the fans really want, then I say why not? Why not do it? We don’t have to do a year’s worth of touring or anything. We could do select cities, just knock it out and just walk away. It’s not all that complicated but if that’s how Vinnie feels, maybe he needs to look in the mirror at who’s being selfish.

But do you think that the fans desire is more important than anything else?

I wouldn’t say that but for me I think it’s a great great importance, because, once again, I say that the fans make the band, not the other way around. The last thing in the world that Rex and I would ever want to do is take away from Dimebag legacy or anything like that. We would both go into this thing absolutely doing it as a tribute to the great Dimebag and nothing more than that, aside from playing for fans that really want to be there and really want to see and hear and enjoy the show. Other than that, there are so many variables here that I can almost… You know, I can agree with any sentiment out there that Pantera should never play another show again because without Dimebag it’s not the same, I can understand that settlement completely. There are certain times during my life when I feel that way, but there are also times in my life when I don’t see… Personally, you know what? I grew up with Dimebag, I know Dimebag, I know Dimebag as well as anybody that has ever been in Pantera, including his brother because I was his brother! Rex was Dimebag’s brother! And in my heart of hearts, I believe that Dimebag would want us to carry on the tradition and he would want us to play the songs again, especially with a guy like Zakk. That’s something I know, because I was just as close with Dimebag as anyone.

Putting aside any reformation of any sort, Vinnie Paul still seems to be a bit bitter against you, even after so many times have past. Do you understand that?

Vinnie Paul can feel the way he wants, it’s his prerogative. If you want to carry hatred around with you the rest of your life, then feel free to do so. Honestly, at this point in the game, thirteen years after being off of hard drugs and straight and doing my job as a musician, I think that there are more people out there that have forgiven me within my circle that matters to me. As a matter of fact, I think there are probably 99.9 percent of the people who I’ve had a falling out with at one point or another who I’ve made up with. We all realized that there are many misunderstanding when a band breaks up, but it takes four people to break a band up, not just one. So if he wants to hang on to those types of things, that’s fine. It’s his life. But me, I’m moving forward, I’ve no ill will towards Vinnie Paul. Rex and I are still very very close and that’s important to me. Everybody down to most of the road crew [chuckles], even Rita (note: Haney, Dimebag’s girlfriend), all of us are friends, you know. I’m not the only one that he has bad feelings about. You could say the same thing about Rex. You could say the same thing about twenty five other different people. This is a path that Vinnie is choosing and that’s his decision.

Despite that, do you see any possibility of you two talking again to each other?

It’s up to him, man.

« I have the flaw in my character where I can’t say no quick enough. »

You have an official biography called Mouth For War: Pantera And…

No, it is not called Mouth For fuckin’ War. It’s a fuckin’ fake title posted by accidents, not by me. [It’ll be about] my life growing up, my life and my past, getting towards where I am today. I’ll be very honest and very for real about it. Hopefully it’s an interesting read, we’ll see. I don’t know when I’ll be finished with this fuckin’ book but when I get close to it, you guys will know more and until then it’s just a bunch of fuckin’ talk from people that have no business talking.

At what point did you feel the need to write a biography? Did you have some stuff to evacuate from your mind?

Well, you know, there are certain times when I have the flaw in my character where I can’t say no quick enough. And right now I feel like the book is something that I should have said “no, not right now.” But now that I’m sort of obligated to a certain degree, I’ll probably see it through but not until I’m finished. As if there are feeling that I need to – and the word wouldn’t be “evacuate”, it would be more like [thinking] “identify”, it would be more factual things that I would have to identify from my side of the story. I don’t care if anyone really ever knows [these things] or not, but either way, if I write a book, I will tell the truth and I will give my side of the story.

You’re always very present in medias, especially lately, is why you said that “Music Media Is My Whore” on your first solo album?

No, that’s a tongue-in-cheek expression that is not to be taken seriously, but, you know, there is a lot of truth to it. You can take it any way you fuckin’ want it. For me it’s a joke, for the rest of everybody, if they don’t get it, too bad. [Laughs]

And what do you think of the evolution of music medias actually? Especially with the internet…

I think it’s spotty and sketchy. I think there some decent bloggers. I think that there are very few writers left. I think that certain websites will take one thing that I said and still twist it into something that it is not, and millions of people get to see it right off the bat, immediately. Whether that’s good or not, one way or another, in perfectly whorish fashion, they’re keeping my name in the spotlight. So, with that I can’t argue. Such is the way of the asshole music medias that can be out there. But remember, I do say that there are some good writers out there that actually care and actually want to write positive pieces, because right now, I’m in a very positive place in my career and my life, very comfortable inside my own skin and moving forward, doing so in a very positive way, I do believe. You know, it depends on the writer, like I say, some suck, some aspire to suck and then there are others that are very good and aspire to be very good, so really, it’s up to them.

Interview conducted by phone on June, 5th 2014 by Spaceman.
Questions, transcription, introduction et live photos : Spaceman.
Promo photos by Jimmy Hubbard.

Phil Anselmo official website: PhilAnselmo.com

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