Phil Anselmo Talks His First Solo Album, Texas Thrash and Life A Decade After Dime.
Phil Anselmo is something of a legend in the heavy music community — and especially around these parts, thanks to the roughly 15 years he spent fronting the iconic Arlington groove metal outfit Pantera.
During his tenure with Pantera, Anselmo helped the band shed its glam metal image on the way to becoming one of the groups that helped bring metal into the national forefront. To that end: AllMusic even suggests that 1994's Far Beyond Driven is the first quote-unquote extreme metal album to ever debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
And, throughout the years, Anselmo's ability alternate between deep, gruff screams to crystal clear falsetto wails has helped him remain a much-sought-after entity in the genre. Between his Louisiana-based metal supergroup Down (which is set to release a new album later this year), the now-defunct Superjoint Ritual and various other outfits, the guy's had no trouble staying busy since Pantera's dissolution in 2003.
But these days, Anselmo's up to something new. Last summer, after nearly 30 years fronting some of the biggest metal bands in the world, Anselmo wrote and recorded his first solo album under the name Phil Anselmo & The Illegals. For its part, the band's Walk Through Exits Only is a mixture of the groove, thrash and punk-tinged grind metal subgenres that the performer has dabbled separately in with some of his past outfits, mashed together and delivered with a brand of unbridled aggression that likely surprised even some of Anselmo's most devout followers.
Before that band takes the stage tomorrow night at Trees, Anselmo was kind enough to grant us an interview in which he talks about his favorite shows at Trees, his love for Texas thrash metal and his thoughts on life 10 years after the death of his old Pantera mate, Dimebag Darrell. Check it out.
You've been fronting heavy bands for 30 years. Why did it take so long to put out your first solo record?
You've got to look at circumstance. Over the last 10 years, I've been touring with Down, mainly, aside from Arson Anthem. I was inspired, so I acted on it. There's really no better time than the present, so that's why I did it.
You've called Walk Through Exits Only an angry record. What makes you angry these days?
I never called it an angry record; I said it was an agitating record, riff-wise. Really, I think I was talking about the approach of the music itself. But if anything gets me down these days, it's probably myself. Things that drives my nuts are laziness and complacency. I fucking hate that trait. Sometimes, after you come home off a tour with two different bands and you get home in your own fucking bed, sometimes it's hard to get out of that motherfucker, truthfully. That gets frustrating because I know I have a thousand other things that I need to be doing immediately. A lot of those songs are about me losing my fucking mind over being lazy.
Is that hatred for laziness something that drives you to be in so many bands and to run your own record label?
Not really. I do things out of love, man. Believe me, Housecore Records isn't going to make me rich at all. As a matter of fact, it's a fucking money pit. But, still, it's fulfilling to help other up-and-coming bands. It feels right.
One of the bands on your label, Warbeast, is from around here. How did you get hooked up with those guys? Did you know those guys from back in the Pantera days?
It's very much so from back in the Pantera days. I've known Bruce Corbitt for over 20 years. Scott Shelby, I could say the same thing about. I've always been a fan of what Bruce has done, and I know for a fact, after seeing Gammacide at least 50 times in my life, that Scott Shelby is a beast. Really, it all came down to them really devoting themselves to a band. They named the band Warbeast, and I can roll with that. The music they put out is very quality. It does fall under a genre which I'd say is really the epitome of DFW — thrash. I love it, because I grew up with it. As a youngster, obviously, I was born in New Orleans and that scene was incredible, and also the local scene in Dallas was incredible. I had the best of both worlds. I grew up with those guys. They write great songs, and they're on Housecore Records.
Warbeast's drummer, Joe Gonzalez, also plays with you in the Illegals. Did you meet him through those guys?
Actually, when I was first doing a solo band, I was kind of desperate for a drummer. Really, for this kind of band — shit, man, I could have asked more-established guys or girls or anyone — I wanted the musicians to be kind of under-the-radar because, really, this band could change at any time. It's interchangeable parts, really. It's like helping out all over again. If I can facilitate a great musician by having them play on my crazy fucking record and whatnot, then — hey, man — that's a leg up for them. More power to 'em.
Besides Joe, I've noticed a lot of other Texans in your bands. Bobby [Landgraf] from Down is from Austin and Marzi [Montazeri] from The Illegals is from Houston. What is it about heavy guitarists form Texas that you're drawn to?
Honestly, there must be something in the water. Texas has a plethora of fucking talent that is incredible in my book. I've always known that. It's so vast, man. It's, like, I could go see a band I've never heard about that's from Texas and the guitar player is fucking awesome. It's just a fact of life. Texas has some badass musicians. Even in hindsight, looking back at the past, it's always been that way. There you have it.
You've said on this tour that you really pushed to play in smaller clubs. What is it you like about playing in smaller clubs?
I love the feel of it. The atmosphere, the energy, the intimacy. I love it. I adore it. Don't get me wrong: I love doing the big festivals and shit like that with Down where there's thousands upon thousands of people there. Or even the bigger rooms I do with Down, whether it be a House of Blues or a small theater or whatnot. All that shit's fun, man. But, really, you can't duplicate the feel of a small, sweaty fucking club. I love it. And that's all there is to it.
When you come to Dallas, you'll be playing at Trees, where you've played many times before. Do you have any memories of Trees performances from back in the day that stand out in your mind?
I saw the Melvins there and they were fucking incredible — probably in the late '80s. I saw [Corrosion of Conformity] there back when Pepper [Keenan] first joined the band. I believe I've played there with Down there before as well. Dallas is special for so many goddamn reasons in my life. I consider it my second home. It's always been very kind to me, and I'm looking forward to the gig very much so.
I know you've had issues with your back in the past. What keeps you pressing on and continuing to tour seemingly non-stop?
You've got to take care of yourself, man. You've got to keep up with maintenance as far as core work goes. And, really, once you hit the stage and the adrenaline is going through you, the pain [isn't really an issue]. I've worn pain around like a necklace for, I guess, most of my life. What happens is, you build a mental callous and you get used to it. It's, most times, a non-factor. There are always good days and bad days. But, generally, if you have a bad day, you just have to take the time to stretch it out and fucking trudge on. Just keep moving.
Just the other day, I was thinking about how, many years ago, when the media was so much different than it is now and the Internet wasn't really a big thing yet, musicians' home lives were more of a mystery. There was kind of a magic to being a rock star. I think that's why my friends and I at the time were so fascinated with the old Pantera home movies videos. It kind of peeled back that curtain. Do you think some of that magic is lost with the prevalence of entities such as Twitter?
For me, honestly, I'm not a big fan of Twitter. I'm not a fan of Facebook. I don't even know how to log in. I don't even go to Facebook; it's boring. I don't even have a cell phone. For me, all that stuff is a little much. I understand that the world is different now — I'm not a complete fucking Neanderthal — but I will remain in the cave, so to speak, on certain things. Honestly? Look: For musicians especially, in the world of laptops and gadgets where the bands can promote themselves and do all that shit that we all do, I understand that's how it works. But it doesn't mean I have to like it.
I imagine, in those days, there were just a handful of music magazines that might want to hit you up for interviews. And now there are so many websites — present company included — that probably hit you up all the time. It seems like the curtain maybe gets peeled back a little too much these days. As fans, we know every fucking thing about an artist's home life. There's really not that mystery anymore.
I do understand that. Really, I'm a big proponent of [the idea that], if you enjoy a band, then let it be for the music. Personalities will come through. As far as knowing everything about them and their private life, that is a little much. There's only so much I'm willing to show and talk about. I'm normally a very open book. The point that you're getting across — that it's lost some of its charm knowing so much about your favorite bands and shit like that — I guess I'd have to agree.
Speaking of the old days: I heard the band was going to be doing some old Pantera and Superjoint Ritual songs during this tour. Are you able to tell us any of the songs that you're going to be doing?
Every night, I like to keep things fresh. Every night, I like to do things different. I like to mix it up a little bit. Every night of this tour has been pretty unique. I'm not going to give anything away, but there will be some blasts from the past. Don't blink because you might miss one.
I almost hate to bring it up because I'm sure you get asked about it in probably every interview. But, with this year being the 10th anniversary of Dimebag's murder, is that something you think about? Is it at all emotional to be playing Pantera songs on this tour? What are your thoughts, 10 years down the road?
My thoughts on Dime are very private and very personal to me. As far as playing Pantera songs, I was very much a part of that fucking band too, and very much a part of the writing process as well. Of course it brings back fantastic memories. When I play those songs, it feels like a celebration. My love for Dimebag is too much to put here in words. Every year, it gets a little bit harder, I will say that, when the realization is that he's not here anymore. He's gone. The older I get, the tougher it gets. I'll just leave it at that.
One could argue that 10 years is an appropriate amount of time for a band to do some sort of reunion or tribute thing. But it sounds like that's not anywhere close to happening.
I can't comment on that at all. Because, honestly, you know about as much as I do. We're both in the dark.
Phil Anselmo & The Illegals perform Tuesday, January 28, at Trees.