By Keith Carman"The human being is an imperfect machine and I'm a perfect example of that," declares Philip Hansen Anselmo, one of extreme music's most revered, respected, reviled and recognizable artists. Over the course of his 42 years, this New Orleans native has been through more trials, tribulations and torment than one man should ― and often can ― handle. From his earliest days as Louisiana-based club singer through to becoming one of heavy metal's most prominent visages fronting legendary quartets Pantera and Down, Anselmo has endured praise, public feuds with former mates, drug addiction, debilitating physical injury and dissolution of both personal and professional relationships. Yet, like some brimstone-clad phoenix rising from its own ashes, Anselmo has never allowed himself to succumb to oppressive encounters. Overcoming his demons, the past few years have seen Anselmo reconfigure into a stronger, meaner heavy metal powerhouse, re-releasing some his own greatest material as mastermind behind DIY-inspired label Housecore Records, become guitarist for old school hardcore brigade Arson Anthem, producer, engineer and eventually solo artist. While preparing to release Arson Anthem's obliterating sophomore full-length Insecurity Notoriety recently, Anselmo took time to pause and reflect on his storied history, enviable present and bright future. Discussing those monumental aspects that have created his legacy, Anselmo pares his core down to the three key sentiments: honesty, sincerity and always putting the next foot forward. "I'm one massive fuck-up of an animal," he chuckles in his inimitably casual baritone rumble. "But with that comes a lot of positive things that have happened in my life. Too many, even though we can't get enough. I've had an overabundance of luck, good fortune and if I were to sit here and complain, it would be unjust to the gift of life itself. I just keep putting one foot ahead of the other, 'cause I don't know any other way."
1968 to 1984 On June 30, 1968, Philip Hansen Anselmo arrives unto decidedly young parents. Growing up in downtown New Orleans with his mother as primary caregiver (his father is a restaurateur who will be forced to close the business after its decimation by 2005's Hurricane Katrina), Anselmo is introduced to a plethora of divergent musical genres and cultures from an early age, developing not only a healthy appreciation for disparity but also a wealth of material to cull from in later years.
"Living in New Orleans and more directly in my earliest childhood memories, we were living in the French Quarter," he says. "You were surrounded by street musicians and musicians in bars all night 'cause there's no real closing time. You hear music 24/7. The popular music of [my mother's] generation ― hearing it with her young friends ― there was no escaping the sounds of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. Even the great radio bands of the day. I can't count 'em out but I think about 'em a lot."
Embracing influence brought on by the era's welcoming, laissez faire mentality amongst certain movements, Anselmo quickly discovers his artistic medium of choice. "I got my first acoustic guitar when I was nine. I begged for it," he continues. "My folks' friends had guitars ― long-haired, hippie-ish 20-somethings ― and I couldn't keep my damned hands off 'em. I was attracted to the instrument." Preferring creation over imitation, he instantly begins to pen original compositions and shun simply reiterating tunes of the day. At the same time, his musical tastes are honing with the influx of New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands flowing through the underground metal circuit as well as standards such as Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Judas Priest.
"When I got [that] first guitar at nine, I wrote my first song. There was really no turning back from there. Even that young, I knew deep in my heart, no matter what phase of life I went through like sports or whatever, I'd always come full circle back to music. When I picked up the guitar, it wasn't like I begged someone to teach me this or that song. I didn't wanna learn other people's music. I wanted to make my own. That's a whole different level of attraction."
At the age of 13, Anselmo enlists the aid of area friends in forming his first band dubbed Samhain, preceding former Misfits vocalist Glenn Danzig's New Jersey-based act by two years. Relegated to little more than garage performances, Anselmo splits both guitar and vocal duties, scraping together equipment wherever possible. These limited means later prove advantageous, as they prod Anselmo to push himself, forming a solid musical foundation.