Phil Anselmo Flying the Metal Flag High

Phil AnselmoFlying the Metal Flag High
It's more than a little intimidating placing a call to Phil Anselmo. This is, after all, the man who has fronted one of metal's most notorious mainstream successes, the man who has slurred out more than a few divisive comments on stage, the man who is one of metal's most love-him-or-hate-him characters. This is also a man who could pick me up and snap me in two. Luckily, talking to Anselmo is actually like talking to any metal geek; no longer the hate-filled addict that was more known for being a hate-filled addict than being the powerful metal frontman he is, Anselmo circa 2013 is a joy to talk to.

We caught up with the former Pantera and current Down frontman to talk about his first solo album, Walk Through Exits Only, being released under the name of Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals. But because we're metal nerds, we ended up talking about Voivod, Gorguts, Accept and Portal... and the new solo album, which is a shockingly extreme affair, with touches of the huge groove that follow the man around, filtered with a grind/black sensibility, which makes sense, given his life-long love of death and black metal, and his career arc, which has found him getting more and more extreme as the years have gone on, not exactly the expected path of a metal dude who topped the Billboard charts in the '90s.

It's been a while since you've been out to these parts; I'm in Victoria, BC.
No doubt, it actually has been a long time.

I saw Down play in Vancouver with Voivod a few years back.
Wow... what a gig. I love Voivod, I just jammed with them over in Europe. Fucking great guys, I love them.

They're legends. I'm Canadian, I grew up here, my older brother had the War and Pain cassette when it came out.
Fucking rights, man. Oh, God. I can't say enough about fucking Voivod, Jesus Christ, we could do a whole fucking interview about Voivod. Still innovative, man.

I know, that new album is awesome.
It is awesome! [Guitarist] Dan [Mongrain]'s fucking awesome. It's like [deceased guitarist] Piggy possessed him or something. Fucking unreal, man. I love Dan. What a sweetheart too, and a great stage presence.

Just trying to fill in Piggy's shoes is...
He is filling in Piggy's shoes. It's crazy. It's the unthinkable. Wow.

So what are you up today?
Interviews, and trying to get this solo record out to everybody that's supposed to have it and fucking internet problems, heat, you name it... another crazy day here at the fucking house.

Internet problems are the worst.
Oh, it's the worst.

There's something about it, you could be having the best day in the world, things are going good, then your email goes down and you're fucked.
Exactly, it makes you want to beat your head against the wall.

So congrats on the solo album. I gotta say, I've been into death metal and grindcore for most of my life, I'm into extreme stuff. But even to my ears, when I heard this, it was a lot to process. It was heavy; I was surprised.
Cool, man. God, thank you so much.

At first I didn't know what to think about it, to be honest.
Understood, and that's fair enough. Believe me, I knew that would happen. It's not the type of record where you can just listen once and have a knee jerk reaction and say, "Okay, that's that." I meant it to be the type of record that you have to give ten, 20 spins before you could make heads or tails of it.

Why?
Because I think it's important... for me, I myself am a super big-time underground extreme music champion. I love it, I love most of the cornerstone bands and definitely a shitload of the older bands that I damn well know helped develop the entire fucking culture of extreme music and underground music and all the subgenres that fall underneath it. So what I wanted to do was make a record that could stand really next to any one of them without being able to be put into a specific category unless it was completely alone. I wanted to make a very unique record. I wanted the listener to think instead of just saying "okay, this is death metal" or "okay, this is black metal." Even lyrically, with black metal you kind of know ahead of time what the lyrics are going to be about ideologically or nationalistically or whatever the fuck, and with death metal there's sort of a preconceived notion about what the lyrics are going to be about anyway. So I wanted to make a record that stepped out of the 4/4 timing and the average song structure and made people think a little bit. Lyrically, I wanted to write about stuff that's very, very honest and down to earth and even sarcastic towards several things, but mainly myself [laughs]. There's a lot of songs on this record where I'm basically laughing at myself.

Which is important...
I'm 45 years old, too. If you can't laugh at yourself at 45, then you've got a fucking gigantic problem.

And you've got the reputation of being this ultra-serious guy.
Which is ridiculous, because I am as ridiculous as anybody, man. Speaking of Canada, I grew up with SCTV and all that shit. Believe me, I'm a lover of the absurd, and I thrive on it, man, believe me.

I think you might be Canadian.
I could be Canadian... how do you know? How do you know I'm not the singer for Ghost? Speaking of absurd.

Believe me, I've floated around the theory that maybe you are the singer of Ghost, but I don't think you are.
Nah. But how do you know I'm not the singer of Portal? No, dude, my sense of humour is ridiculous, and that's one part of me... you know, I've never been a whole lot of what the media has built me up to me. Sometimes in interviews when you read, it's just flat black and white, and if I say something in a positive or concrete type of way sometimes people will read into it and say, "Oh my god, he's dead serious" [laughs]. But if you read it in black and white, it's like you can't read the humour into anything. You've got to listen to it or see me or sit and talk with me for a little while, you'll realize I'm a pretty funny asshole motherfucker, man. So I don't mind cracking that myth at all.

You mentioned you're a champion of underground, extreme metal.
God, yes.

I don't know about you, but for me, I feel like the older I get — I'm 36 now — I feel like... You know I've been into death metal and stuff since I was 14, 15... The older I get, the more I feel like it's important to be that champion and talk about the history of this music and make sure it's not ever forgotten.
I agree with you, and as a fucking 45-year-old motherfucker — Jesus H. Christ — I've been a heavy metal fan and I've watched it grow and watched it merge with several different styles — hardcore, noisecore, industrial, you can name it — I've seen it all merge together and become sub-genre after sub-sub-genre. So, for me, you know, if you'd look at my history, even going back with Pantera, it was always my choice to bring out Eyehategod, Crowbar, Neurosis...

Morbid Angel...
Even Morbid Angel, to a certain degree. So for me it's always been important to let people know there's a lot more to heavy metal than this glossy product that you're seeing or hearing on regular radio stations that play basic heavy metal or however you want to describe it. It's a passion. Either you have it or you don't, man. I was raised in New Orleans and then moved to Texas, where there was a much broader scope of underground music stores, and there was walls of demos and shit like that. I was a demo trader back in the fucking day, as well as just an anything-I-could-afford-and-get-my-hands on motherfucker, man. I've been into this shit for a very long time. Once again, looking at my track record, I'm sitting here thinking about it, who else in the multi-million-selling bands back in the fucking '90s were wearing Darkthrone shirts or taking Satyricon on tour? I don't see anybody raising their hands, you know?

And that was important. For me, I think I first about Eyehategod through seeing you wearing one of their shirts.
A lot of people say that. And you know, if it's the truth, more power to it. I'm a walking billboard, and I don't mind being that guy, man, because it's a way of spreading the fucking word. If I have fans and they look up to me, or however that crazy shit works, it's like if they see me wearing these shirts, hopefully it'll pique the interest and they'll want to go out and buy the fucking records and listen to what I've been listening to since their first demo. So, once again, I love turning people on to music and I love getting turned on to music, man. I'm just one giant fucking nerd, really.

We all are. Speaking of Canadian music and extreme music, I just listened to the new Gorguts this morning. You a Gorguts fan?
I can't say I'm a complete fan. Honestly, they were at a point in time when the early death metal, or I guess it would be the second wave of death metal... I got a little bored. Then Morbid Angel came along and restored my faith completely. So maybe I missed Gorguts to their full strength. So how is it?

It's awesome. I think a lot of people missed out on them because their first couple albums came out in the early '90s, what you're talking about there, the glut of death metal...
It was a glut, that's the best way to put it.

Everyone got tired of death metal. But once you get off the phone, go get Gorguts' Obscura. It's death metal, it's technical, but it's really moving. It hits you, spiritually, I want to say. It's really good stuff.
Really?

This is what I demand of you, Phil.
Wow, fucking A, man, what, it just came out this year?

The new one's about to come out in a month or so.
Obscura, give me a year.

Give me two seconds... it's classic, and they sound like no one else.
I tell you what, it's going to take a whole lot to move me away from Portal. I feel the same way about Portal.

Oh yeah? I haven't heard much Portal.
Dude, they are.. if you like HP Lovecraft or anything like that, they are about as angular and insane and multi-dimensional, crazy, reinventing the entire death metal fucking genre on their own type band ever. They're fucking insane, lyrically, oh my god, genius. Genius, these motherfuckers, I can't quit listening to them.

Wow. Okay, I'll check out Portal, you check Gorguts. Obscura came out in 1998.
I will... '98?! Alright, I'll check it out.

And it's still blowing my mind.
That's how I feel about Portal, man. I got their first two demos and their first real release came out in 2003 and just everything they touch is just this fucking wall of something... I dunno, I hear something different in there every fucking listen, and that's important. It's insane, man. They're fucking nuts, playing nine-string guitars and going berserk. And yes it's technical and insane but doesn't come off like math rock or anything like that. It's this heaving thing, man.

Okay, you're going to like Gorguts then. Okay, I guess we've got to talk about the album a bit more here, just to make everyone happy.
Yeah, we better.

Again, it's just so extreme, I imagine a Pantera fan putting it on because maybe it's the first thing they've seen your name on since Pantera, maybe Down, they put it on and think, What the fuck is this? I think it's going to freak Pantera fans out.
Well... so be it. We shall see. I can not think for the listener, I'm not going to spoon feed them as far as what everything's about, what every lyric means, you know, I'm not going to do that. Music is like food, man. You either love it, hate it, or are indifferent to it. Sometimes your taste buds change the older you get and you can stomach something that there was no way you could stomach in the past. It's a record, it's a record that I made very purposefully. It's brand new, it's the type of record you can't just listen to one time and say, okay, I've got my knee jerk reaction, this is this type of metal. It sits on its own, really, in extreme music, in my opinion, and I think that it's the type of record where it might even be appreciated more a couple of years from now, you never know. Or 20 listens later. It's that type of record, because it's a lot of information thrown at people at once; I get that. But there is method to the madness, there is song structure, and for me a lot of hooks in there.

They're just hard to find.
I'm a big hardcore fan, especially '80s hardcore. If you look at what Discharge does, prime Discharge, it's very simple, straight-to-the-point lyrics, and then, boom, fucking chorus, and there you have it. Then there are bands like Agnostic Front that write big, anthemic type songs. I didn't want to stray too far away from that, I just wanted to condense it I guess a little bit more to where it was just hook, hook, hook, hook... everything from "Betrayed," which speaks for itself, to the title track, where I say, "It's ruined, it's ruined, it's ruined/Everybody ruins music/Not just me." To me, that's a hook.

Then there's the opener, "Music Media Is My Whore." Should I be offended at that song title?
Not at all, please don't be offended. You suckers... no, honestly, it's one of those tongue-in-cheek things where I wanted to freak you fuckers out at first but if you really look at the lyrics it's nothing to do with the media at all [laughs]. It's more of an intro to the record. I'm not saying anything at fucking all about the media. At all.

I thought it was a good title, I thought it was funny; I dug it.
Good! Good. See, you Canadians have a sense of humour, thank God.

Do you ever look at the whole career arc of your musical career, going back to the first Pantera album with you on it, Power Metal, and this, have you held those two albums in your hands yet and just thought, holy cow, that's quite an arc? You should. Those are pretty drastically different albums.
Well, I meant it to be. And of course, it should be. Everything I do, and I've done a lot of side projects and projects in general, especially if it's a whole different project in itself, it has to be different than something I've done in the past. If there are any similarities at all, then let that be a reflection of who I am and what I've brought to the table over the years. So, really, I really wanted this to be a thousandfold way different than Down and way different than anything I've ever touched before, and why not? It's supposed to be, it should be, it's a brand new thing. It's just another expression of music. I think if you're going to do something new and fresh, then it should be just that: new and fresh.

You recently got up on stage with Accept and sung "Fast as a Shark."
Fucking A I did.

I'm actually wearing an Accept hat right now.
You beast, you!

Accept are kings. That must have been great to get up there.
Oh, God, yes. Fucking A, man. Accept, to me, are like a true heavy metal band, man. That is heavy metal to the core. The funny thing is, the new singer, who's not really even new anymore, I've known that guy, Marc [Tornillo], for a long time, as a matter of fact, respected him for a very long time because he played in a band called TT Quick...

Yeah, of course.
TT Quick's drummer, Big E, Eric [Ferro], he's a New Orleans guy, so he was one of our heroes growing up around here, and he was really a hard-hitting beast of a drummer. So that made us all as young teenagers, shit man, 14, 15 years old, want to fucking listen to begin with and fuck... I thought even when I first joined Pantera in '87 that there was a lot of similarities between TT Quick and Pantera at the time. The damn good guitar player, the hard-hitting drummer, and the vocalist that had that raspy range that could hit higher notes and higher octave-type notes. I've always had a lot of respect for fucking Marc, and honestly Accept could not of gotten a better fucking singer to fill in for Udo [Dirkschneider]... He's not fucking filling in, he's being himself. I think he brings a great texture to the fucking band, and he's a fucking awesome guy also.

I was just happy to see that you like Accept, you know what I mean?
Come on, man. Shit.

Some people don't.
Well, they're crazy, man.

I know.
They call themselves heavy metal fans, how can you not like Accept? And look beyond or before the Balls to the Wall record, the fucking goddamn Reckless and Wild, that's a heavy metal classic, man. First time I heard "Fast as a Shark," it was probably the fastest fucking thing I heard in my life.

Exactly. And they don't get the credit they deserve for that.
Today's audience, the younger generation today, they don't know, unless they're taught from a very young age, they don't know what came first, the chicken or the egg. So it's up to old timers like ourselves to spread the gospel.

Exactly. I guess we've got to wrap it up; there's so much more I wanted to talk about here, your other projects, your book, I wanted to see how your back is doing. Really quick, you doing okay, you healing up okay?
I'm doing great, physically I'm doing great, mentally I'm doing great. As far as the book goes, I'm still in baby step fucking formation on that goddamn thing. Put it this way, I just take it there's a whole lot more work to do, I know there is. That's an easy answer for you right there. And you can probably ask me one more... if you have one more question I'll belt it out.

Well, instead of asking you another question, let me tell you right now that I probably owe you a beer next time you come to Canada, because when I was younger I'm pretty sure I shoplifted a Pantera cassette or two. I'm pretty sure one or two of those ended up in my pocket. So next time you come up here, a beer's on me.
Damn right, brother. Well, I'll tell you what, you get me one, and I'll get you one, and we'll call it even.

Sounds good. So check out that Gorguts, I'm going to check out Portal.
Look, keep an open mind with Portal. At first it's just this fucking crushing beating of what the fuck... I don't know, this is a totally different kind of band in a way... but do you like Beherit at all?

Oh, yeah.
Okay. Think, vocally, like a death metal Beherit style vocalist except with genius fucking lyrics... I mean genius lyrics, maybe the best lyricist out there, especially Lovecraftian style crazy motherfucking invents his own word type fucking dude, like really crazy. Man... keep an open mind. It's fucking outrageous. And Gorguts, '98. I got it.

Good talking to you.
Fucking A, man. At least we know what the fuck we're talking about.