At age 13, Phil Anselmo dove headfirst into what he knew to be his true calling: heavy metal.
"I was playing my first gigs before I was barely a teenager," says Anselmo. "I'll put it like this: I used to come home from school and practice Judas Priest's Unleashed in the East live record, and sing it a couple times over before my folks got home from work. Then I'd go play with my band."
About six years later, when he joined Pantera, he solidified the descent into becoming a music legend when he signed his soul away to the world of heavy music. His vocal influences range from Henry Rollins to Agnostic Front's Roger Miret to Judas Priest's Rob Halford. He's notorious for founding and fronting some of metal's most influential and beloved bands, and by some, held responsible for the demise of one in particular, due to a heroin habit. He wears the intensity of the music that comes out of his mouth on his face, whether it's his furrowed brow and pursed lips, or his eyes rolled up to the sky as he's giving praise to the metal gods.
Anselmo just celebrated his 45th birthday on June 30, and while talking to him, it's clear that his career is still moving forward. In fact, the release of his solo album, Walk Through Exits Only, on July 16 may be the only thing that is on par with his influence in Pantera, in terms of sound, originality, and raw passion.
"Either way, extreme music has been extremely kind to me," Anselmo says. The eight songs on Walk Through Exits Only are some of the heaviest I've ever heard. The album is incredibly unrestrained, abrasive, and aggressive. Songs like "Music Media Is My Whore" and "Usurper Bastard's Rant" display the artist's penchant for punishing percussion and brutal guitars, while others like "Bedridden" and "Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens" show that the outspoken vocalist can still scream with ferocity and write breakdowns made up of all that is deliciously metal. The album gives a glimpse into Anselmo's raw anger, sarcasm, and even hope for what the future of society might hold.
"Well." Long pause. "I do music 'in mood.' I was in the mood to make a very interesting, different heavy metal record -- an extreme metal record that doesn't really cater to what would be expected from a death or black metal band," explains Anselmo over the phone at Housecore Records, his independent label. It's proved to be one of the most authentic endorsers of hardcore underground music. While everything seems calculated, from the lyrics to the guitar riffs, there's an element of imperfect spontaneity as well. Which describes Anselmo himself just fine. For example:
"My lyrical content -- hold on one second. I'm starting to find these cocksuckers. Illegal downloads -- you motherfuckers, I'm gonna get you."
Short pause as Anselmo grumbles and rapidly types on his computer. Laughter.
To say that Anselmo was distracted and jetlagged at the start of our interview was an understatement -- he had just returned from playing music with some of his favorite bands in Europe, including getting up on stage with Agnostic Front, and celebrating his birthday with Down in Greece.
"The best present I got of all was from my fiancée/manager Kate. Man, this is weird. But I got an artifact from one of my favorite bands from Australia, named Portal. They have crazy, crazy fucking music and great imagery. The lead singer, the curator, sent me his first outfit that he ever wore with Portal," he says. "I'm gonna hang that sucker up in a shrine. And you're the first one to get that news, and that's a fucking big 'un."
Walk Through Exits Only was produced by Anselmo and Michael Thompson and recorded over the past couple of years at his New Orleans studio, Nodferatu's Lair, with his band The Illegals -- Marzi Montazeri/guitar, and drummer Jose Manuel "Blue" Gonzales, Walk Through Exits Only also keeps the listener on edge with experimental instrumentals and that comforting sound of classic recording techniques that his fans have come to love over the years.
"I love recording on tape," says Anselmo, his voice rising from its usual deep gruffness with enthusiasm. "There's absolutely something to say for the sound quality of tape versus digital recording. Figure it; the first four, five records that Pantera ever did were all on actual tape."
Each Pantera album brought a new and challenging element to the industry, from Cowboys from Hell to 1992's Vulgar Display of Power and to 1994's Far Beyond Driven (which debuted at number one in the U.S., the first extreme metal album to do so), to 1996's The Great Southern Trendkill and their final album, 2000's Reinventing the Steel. Right after 9/11, the band cancelled their Europe tour and soon disbanded over communication problems and accusations that Anselmo had abandoned the band.
In Down, Anselmo's main recording and touring band since 2006, he's combined soul and sludge. The lineup consists of members and former members of Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, and Eyehategod.
However, this solo album is not the only new venture in the musician's life.
A couple of years ago in a house nestled deep in the Louisiana woods, Anselmo and his fellow horror enthusiast and true crime writer Corey Mitchell were hanging out, discussing Anselmo's biography. As Mitchell looked around at Anselmo's collection of more than 10,000 horror films, most of them on VHS and in their original hard-shell cases, and his walls decorated with hundreds of classic and rare horror film posters, he made a suggestion: Anselmo should host a horror film festival.
The performance lineup for the inaugural Housecore Horror Film Festival in Austin (October 24-27) includes Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals, Down, Gwar, Goblin, Crowbar, Warbeast, Eyehategod, Goatwhore, Pig Destroyer, Repulsion, Whitechapel, Pallbearer, Skrew, Iron Reagan, Ancient Vvisdom, Bloody Hammers, Star & Dagger, Primitive Weapons, Child Bite, Hymns, Death Will Tremble, a Band of Orcs, Headcrusher, and many more.
"And I'm not even going to mention fucking the word 'annual' until we see how it goes," he says vehemently. "I just want everyone to have an amazing time."
The weekend will also provide fans the opportunity to screen a number of top horror films, including Dario Argento's Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead, Tenebre, Deep Red, and more.
"From short-length or full-length films, there are some directors out there that are unknown that are really trying to do something worthwhile in the horror genre," says Anselmo. "I can't wait to share that with people and also the classic films I love. I love turning people onto my passions, whether it's music or horror films or something else."
Up on the Sun talked with Anselmo about why his horror film fest is unique, how Pantera defeated the club scene, and his thoughts on old-school versus modern recording techniques.
Lately you said you've been feeling mentally and physically stronger now more then you've ever before. What mood were you in while writing "Battalion of Zero" and "Bedroom Destroyer," which are two of my personal favorites on the record? With "Battalion of Zero" -- today, I see a lot of heads down. Meaning that everyone is so fucking busy texting with their phones, it's almost like the powers that be, the eyeball in the sky, big brother or whatever you wanna call it -- it's like they got us right where they want us: distracted. And the world goes on all around us, everybody is too busy typing on these little telephones.
For me, I think eventually that's going to prove itself a detriment to society in a strange way. Or at least create a different type of relationship between people, because you're reading black and white and you can't see or feel emotion with black-and-white sentences. It's a strange form of communication, you know?
So with "Battalion of Zero," that's after the fall, starting from the ground up. There has to be some people who are also concerned about the lack of actual face-to-face talking in society. In this world of comment sections, there are a lot of supposedly brave-ass people who talk a lot of smack. For me it's a lot of chicken-shit, a lot of them. It's not educational at all; it's stunting people.
And "Bedroom Destroyer," it really goes hand in hand with the next track, "Bedridden." It's about me, being a procrastinating-ass motherfucker, knowing I have a thousand things to do and I don't know where to start. And it freezes me and I'm stuck in my fucking bed, smoking cigarettes, fucking around with computer, fucking around with lyrics, fucking around with anything but the task at hand.
It's really about me screaming at me. [Laughs] Once I get frustrated at myself, I say, "Here I am, I've turned into the bedroom destroyer and I want to strangle myself." But it's my fault.
The Housecore Horror Film Festival has a hardcore lineup of bands and films. When we started talking about it, I was like, "We could actually do this, since we have bands, like Housecore bands." I could also get some New Orleans and Dallas bands, so it seemed really doable and also smaller than it has turned out to be.
But once word got out that we were actually doing a horror fest, that's when directors and bands and people in the industry really started crawling out of the woodwork and began to offer their services. It was like, for a first year, overwhelming at times. We just want to make sure our i's are dotted and t's are crossed, and that everyone has a great time.
So as a big horror movie buff, what are some of the ultimate classics for you? Oh, now you're opening a can of worms. I love everything from silent black-and-white films to the later black-and-white films to the '70s, '80s, and some '90s. Some modern work is okay. But really my heart lies in '60s and '70s horror, whether it's American, Italian, or French. But to get specific, we could talk for two hours about just that.
Well I know you're not a fan of remakes, as you told me at the Golden God Awards. I hate them! They're terrible. We're in the generation of remakes. But on that same note, I can't lump all remakes together. Here's something that bothers me a little bit: Why did they call the latest The Thing The Thing? What they did was put together a really good prequel with what John Carpenter did with the original -- which I guess wasn't the original The Thing, that was a '50s film.
But my point is John Carpenter really made an excellent movie. What they should've done with this new one was [admit] that it was a prequel. I don't care how many articles or websites say that it is a prequel, it should be announced within the title, that somehow it is a prequel. I thought they did a great job with the story. And it ended the way the John Carpenter [version] began.
But for me, classics, you gotta look to Mario Bavo and all that atmospheric beautiful lighting. And to me, the older, really great character actors. Today, there's really no Boris Karloff, who was a master.
You know, people know him really only for Frankenstein and during that period, but if you saw the old Dark House, pretty much made directly after Frankenstein, the Karloff role is still equally as amazing as more than the butler. He's an incredible, incredible actor.
And guys like Henry Daniell and Christopher Lee, who's still with us. There's movies made in the late '60s and early '70s that get no credit at all, like House with the Laughing Windows. That one is fantastic. These are movies that I really want to turn people onto. I want people to see these fucking films, man.
I love turning people on to anything, be it music or horror or another passion of mine.
We get submissions from amateur or newer -- I don't really want to call them amateurs -- unknown directors would be a better call.. They aren't remaking anything or rehashing the same old paint-by-numbers Evil Dead-type -- fucking campers in the woods getting attacked by crazy rednecks, supernatural monsters. You know what I'm saying? It feels good to see these submissions, and I look forward to showing them.
Are you thinking of scoring any horror films or acting in any in the future? You've had interesting projects involved with horror. Honestly, I'm the type of guy that has absolutely zero aspiration to be an actor. Zero. Unless it's comedy or something like that; that I can wing off the fucking cuff. And I definitely do not want to direct a horror movie. I like to watch them, straight up. No directing.
You record a lot of bands in your home recording studio, Nodferatu's Lair. When I talked with Warbeast's Bruce Corbitt awhile back, he was telling me how much he learned from you, specifically all of the old-school techniques of doing your own echoes and delays and cupping his hand around his mouth to make each vocal sound a little different than the last. Do you stick with that old-school recording style, or do you have some favorite modern equipment as well? I'm an old-school guy, man. But you cannot ignore the modern ways of recording either. I've seen benefits in both. I definitely have a fucking great respect for recording on tape with Pantera, not to mention a lot of other bands I've been in -- Christ Inversion . . . God, I've been in so many fucking bands that have recorded on tape, it gets redundant. But still, I have no problem with today's modern technology.
You can use it to your advantage without completely going the digital route. You can mic your drums up very real style without triggers, and still get great drum sounds. As far as tones go on guitars or bass, I'm still old school with that too.
Also, I don't like to copy what has been already done. Each recording session is different and you learn something new each time. Even with vocals, like how Bruce mentioned. I don't like to leave it to pure effects. You can do things with a microphone that can sound tripped out with no effects at all.
I'm just passing along the knowledge that I have -- and I'm not saying it's the best or the worst; it's just my knowledge But I will continue to do it and expand. But I have an open mind when it comes to creating music man. Music is a vast motherfucking world.
Going back to Pantera days, what were the three biggest correct choices you made as a young adult that if you hadn't made, Pantera as we know it today would've never been a band? Well, honestly, a lot of hard work. I was in a band in New Orleans by the age of 13, and doing my first gigs. Eventually I got into a band with older guys . . . I was always the youngest guy, somehow. I'll put it like this: I used to come home from school, and practice Judas Priest's Unleash the Beast live record, and sing it a couple times over before my folks got home from work. And uh, all that practice just right there helped me mature quicker than some of my musician peers, and it showed.
Eventually with the band I was in, I was still in high school and we were doing gigs five nights a week, five one-hour sets a night. So really I did my homework on fucking stage, whether it was Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Slayer, Motorhead songs . . . It paid off in the end because it brought me flexibility. And this is really before black and death metal bands took off.
So when I first joined Pantera, it came about because we were playing the same circuit. I mean, New Orleans is only an hour from Dallas by airplane, so we were playing the same places really. We had always heard about Pantera because they were supposed to be "the band" that was going to be the next big band.
And we all knew about Dimebag being a great guitar player. Word got out that their lead singer of many years, Terry Glaze, left the band, and they needed a fucking singer. My name came up and they got in touch with me, and I went and tried out one night. We jammed, it was a brief but awesome experience. Four days later I'm back in New Orleans. Dimebag called me up and said, "What do you think?"
I asked, "About what?" He said they had a gig in Shreveport and asked if I wanted to come jam. So I said, "Let's do this." I had a tiny bag with a couple T-shirts and a couple pair of underwear and shorts, and that's about it. [Laughs] And I guess also some vinyl I tried to hang on to under my arm, man . . . And I flew to Dallas, and the rest is fucking history. For me, it took a lot of hard work way before I got into Pantera.
When I got to Pantera, they were going through a really gigantic rebuilding phase, you know? After Terry Glaze quit, they didn't stop. They had about five replacement singers, their crowd dwindled, and it was tough. Once again I was just another new singer to the area. So we really had to rebuild the fan base that Pantera had at a young age. They had really early success with Glaze.
Case in point: they sold out this place called the Bronco Bull back in the day, and it was over 1,500 to 2,000 people, which is a big achievement, especially considering I was just playing clubs in Louisiana that just held 50 fucking people. So to rebuild that fanbase was a challenge. And then also to reshape the band was an even bigger challenge. I had my idea of what heavy should be, and they had their idea of what heavy was. So, there was a lot of education between the four of us, and a lot of growing up between the four of us to even get to a point where we actually did destroy the myth of the club band.
And the club band back in the '80s was to dress and look like Motley Crue, or you don't have a gig. So for me, this was one of the toughest times of my fucking life, because I was playing that part and I fucking hated it, honestly.
I was unhappy with it. And the Pantera boys knew this, and eventually we did rebuild that fanbase through heavier music and many different chapters of earning and learning the respect of super-underground heavy metal music at the time.
And I can cite Kerry King from Slayer back in the '80s, when he first came out and saw us at a club, and we friended Kerry King. He used to come down to check us out -- once again, this was way before we were signed to any major label -- and he would come down and jam with us. And I think that was a major influence on the entire band I guess, because at the time I think Dimebag was really mainly a Metallica type guy, and I was much more a Slayer type guy, and there was a difference back in the day. For Dimebag to jam with Kerry King, I think it showed Darrell, that it was an amazing challenge to play this type of music and he learned a whole new respect by jamming with Kerry King.
So I think the whole Slayer connection is super imperative to the future of Pantera, and also the rebuilding of the fan base before we were signed, and eventually we were pulling in so many people I had to say, "Fellas, we don't have to play the club game anymore."
And that's when all the spandex went in the trashcan, which was one of the happiest days of my fucking life, because we could be ourselves and let the music do the fucking talking. We could be ourselves. Fuck the image. And to me, that's the school I come from. Let the fucking music do the talking, and let the image come later or on just let people perceive it how they want.
So we defeated the club scene, man, and that was a gigantic feat. And the rest is obvious history.
What's one less-mainstream Pantera song that you would love to play live again? Oh, jeez, that's a tough question. But uh, if you take a look at the most popular Pantera songs, which would really constitute most of the Vulgar Display of Power record, you know, you go back to Cowboys From Hell and you check out a song like "Primal Concrete Sledge," that is one that would be very interesting to play live again, because it's a monster of a song.
Do you ever listen to your old Pantera tracks at home? Very rarely. Very rarely. But you know, when we do, it's always amazing, because at this point in my life I can remove myself.
When I was in Pantera . . . When you're so close to something, you can't really judge it. But now, in hindsight when I listen back to it I realize like, wow, this was almost the perfect storm, because I was always pushing for heavier and heavier, more extreme, more extremities. And then Dimebag, Vince, and Rex were still very much part of a school of music that I guess would be considered tasteful, proper, and totally in key.
I guess as a young man, I'd grown tired of that, or bored? Because there were bands out there that were really pushing the limits that weren't so traditional. But that mixture of what we each brought to the table . . . Listening to it now, I think that's what made Pantera a very unique and special type of band that really was a fantastic crossover for people. We could appeal to both crowds. Listening back to it is kinda mind-blowing, it really is.
You played guitar in Arson Anthem alongside Hank Williams III, Colin Yeo, and Mike Williams. How do you think your guitar playing compares to your singing as an outlet? Well for me, Arson was very much a genre band. We wanted to do a hardcore record, but for me, hardcore doesn't just stop and start with discharge. Black Flag went through many different phases, like the My War record.
You know, they really had some slow brooding parts on that record. And you look at Greg Ginn. As a guitar player, you know, he's not your average hardcore guitar player. He's a very stand-out master with what he did and still does.
I didn't think I was trying to be this innovative great player, or anything like that. It was more of an assignment, so to speak. You can look at Necrophagia, where I also play guitar, I knew what Necrophagia's supposed to sound like, since I've had their records from '86 on, so I tried to emulate what I felt they should sound like. I'm no great guitar player, but I would consider myself a creative guitar player.
As far as singing goes, I don't see myself as a great singer. There's a part of me that rebels against some of my early roots, and that just comes naturally to me. And then there's part of me that embraces a lot of old school style vocals. Music is like fucking food to me. You love it, hate it, or are indifferent to it.
Well, with all of your outlets you clearly do what you want, and not everyone is going to love everything. You also compare your music to food alot since you're so passionate about both. Oh, yeah.
Your dad owned a restaurant in New Orleans right? He sure did. He sure did. It was a great restaurant. But my dad you know, he is my father and he isn't a perfect person, like most of us, and he made his mistakes and the IRS swallowed him up. So that went down the shitcan.
But it was a great restaurant. Both sides of my family are fantastic cooks and food people. Even when I was a young man I used to work at the jazz festival with my stepfather and his brother. I would work in the food tents there. Living in New Orleans it's sort of common to embrace grub as much as you can. It's no big deal to be able to cook, for God's sake.
What's your favorite thing to cook, then? I can make a pretty mean red gravy, and a pretty fucking awesome pork loin. Steak, meatballs . . . It's ridiculous. I love vegetables. I can make a mean salad. Honestly, cooking is just common sense when you get down to it.
Did your addiction and recovery change your method of making music? Hmm . . . huh. Not necessarily. You know, I've always done what I wanted to do, and if there was criticism, I would have open ears but only for the guys in my band.
But I will say this: It was interesting going through some rough times just before Reinventing the Steel. Dimebag really insisted, just before we recorded Reinventing, that we should really come together. He wanted us to come together and record at his house, and at that point in time, I had gotten my shit together to a great degree, comparatively, and I really bought into "team" playing.
We worked really hard together. And still to this day, that record is my favorite Pantera record. I think part of the reason is because we were so close-knit on that record after such longevity, and especially after the distance that I guess we had during Great Southern Trendkill, where my mind was exhausted. I was fucking battling such chronic pain I could barely fucking think, and, of course, doing all the wrong things, making every rookie mistake in the world with medicines, drugs, and all that shit.
[Sigh, long pause]
But you know, today, I'm eight years clean of all that fucking stuff. I can't even drink whiskey anymore . . . so it's like, you live and learn. But to answer your question, with music I do what I want, and I'm happy with that as long as the fans are happy with it.
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