Philip H. Anselmo Does The Q&A

The metal singer talks with Pollstar about his new band and album and how he wrote every single note on the upcoming release.

Philip H. Anselmo unleashes his first solo album – Walk Through Exits Only – onto the world July 16 on his own Housecore Records label.  Recorded at his New Orleans studio dubbed “Nodferatur’s Lair,” the album was co-produced by Anselmo and Michael Thompson.

Two weeks after the album is released, Anselmo and his new band, The Illegals, will take the new music on tour, playing stripped-down shows while they blow the roofs off of venues across the country.  The touring version of The Illegals will features two musicians who appear on Walk Through Exits Only – guitarist Marzi Montazeri and drummer Jose Manuel “Blue” Gonzalez – plus bassist Steve Taylor.

While talking with Pollstar, Anselmo talked about the new album and how he labored over the music.  He also touched on his days with Pantera, how he loves playing in Down and why it is important to him to “bring up some new blood” in The Illegals.

Photo: Jimmy Hubbard

What can you tell us about the new album?

I wanted to make an extreme record that could not be easily placed within any genre or sub genre.  Fair enough to call it heavy metal but there’s so many genres of heavy metal and sub genres.  Within death metal or black metal you already have somewhat preconceived notions of what the lyrics might be like or what the ideology might be like or the grim, morose feeling might be like. Honestly, I wanted to approach it differently, lyrically, and write about more, I guess, realistic shit, everyday shit I’d go through that could be frustrations.  But I’m in a good place these days – mentally and physically – so it’s like there’s a lot of tongue and cheek in there.  There’s a lot of sarcasm in my lyrics.  I think it comes off as a very angry record.  Which is fine by me because, like any human being within the human condition, little things, if you let them compile in your life, like just being lazy when you damn well know you have plenty to do and you just don’t know where to start, it’s frustrating.  You let them build up and they become big things.  For me, it’s great therapy to be able to get out my frustrations via music.  So it all makes some sort of oddball sense.

Do you find that your creativity thrives on anger?

Not all the time.  Absolutely not.  I think people take what they hear and the easiest way out is to say, “OK, it’s angry.”  Because it is, musically, a very abrasive listen.  But such is the way of extreme music.  In my opinion, my record is the type of record that you have to sit down and listen to a good 10-15 times before you start realizing, “Wow!  There are hooks here. There’s solid structure here. There are plausible f***in’ topics here.” Put it this way.  I think there are a lot of knee-jerk reactions and the first word anyone can come up with is “angry.”  And I think that’s maybe a common misconception that could be a half-truth.  But I don’t know.

I must agree with you on that.  After listening to the album several times, each new listen reveals something I didn’t catch previously, say in the rhythm, timing or guitar work.

Which is important to me.  Extreme music that is layered and produced, yet not glossy – that was important to me as well.  I wanted an impacting record but I didn’t want, like, a modern day, glossy-ass pretty sounding record.  I wanted it to be as ugly as f*** sounding.  I think we achieved that one.

Your own press describes the upcoming tour as a “hardcore, stripped-down production.”  Do you think some bands rely more on the staging and production than the music itself?

Like special effects and shit like that?  Yes, I do.  It’s interesting when done right. I have no problem with any band with gigantic production.  That’s their prerogative.  A lot of times it is very entertaining to watch.  But does it come across on their actual record?  I’m not so sure of that.  I don’t know if fire blowing behind you or smoke, sparks, makeup or costumes comes across on a record.  But I do think there are some cornerstone bands out there that have done some great work with image and substance with their band.  But I also feel there are a lot of copycats.  I do mean every genre. … I don’t know too much about today’s pop world. Take a look at a chick like Lady Gaga and she doesn’t seem very much different than Madonna to me.  And nothing against her.  I kind of like what Lady Gaga f***in’ does in a weird way.  I don’t know much about her, I’m just saying in general.

There are cornerstone bands that have done really well.  When any genre starts getting diluted with copycats, it gets boring really quick.

The new band – The Illegals.  Did you give them a lot of freedom to bring ideas to the table or did you already know what the finished record should sound like even before they stepped into the studio?

I did write every f***in’ note on this album.  I put it all together, time signatures and everything, it’s all me.  Case in point, my guitar player – Marzi – I’ve known the guy since the late ’80s.  There are certain guitar interludes and an awesome outro to the record.  He’s had these pieces for years and years and I’ve always wanted to place them.  He’s the kind of guitar player where when it comes to solos and stuff like that, I absolutely wanted to give him free reign.  It gives him the ability to show off his talent, also his concepts.  We used a lot of Marzi’s concepts … to their fullest strength.

And you got a drummer like Jose, who, out of nowhere will pull off a lick that was absolutely unexpected for me.  Teaching a lot of my songs from the ground up is like geometry or some shit like that.  It’s like f***in’ math.  But at the end of the session it doesn’t come off as math rock.  There’s no way any musician could stumble into a jam session with us.  You have to know exactly what the f*** you’re doing.

Jose really excelled at coming up with unexpected licks and I would say, “You know what?  F***in’ go for it, young man.”  I let them be themselves on this record and that was very important to me.

A lot of people said, “Phil, you could have had this guy from this established band …” I could have had another supergroup if I wanted.  But it was important to bring up some new blood.  When it comes to me and Marzi, this was a project that we talked about for years and years and finally we get to see some fruition out of it.  It’s very important to me [to] help propel these younger guys, these lesser known guys, with their careers.  It’s a good launch pad for them.  They can move on to better things or do whatever they want with their careers.  It’s all about helping out.

When you look at the younger musicians in your band, do you see reflections of yourself when you joined Pantera?

No. That was a little different. Pantera was a very established band.  They had a lot of early success with their first singer, Terry Glaze.  So they were really trying to fill a void there while I was coming from the ground up.  As well known as I may be, this is still brand new music.  Pantera was an evolving music thing.  This is more of a blatant f***in’ lashing out of music.

When starting a new band, is it like a marriage in which you hope it will last, if not forever, at least for a very long time? 

As we both know, nothing lasts forever.  Not a damn f***in’ thing.  Not in this world.  So, with the ever-evolving marriage, so to speak, there are a lot of steps.  We have not even played one gig together yet, let alone slept in a van together or whatever.  I’ve toured with Jose because he’s the drummer for Warbeast so I know he and I have a great foundation and have traveled the world together.  But I know this is Marzi’s first go around.  It’s my first go around with the bass player we’re using live, Steve Taylor.  He’s a different guy than actually played on the record.

I guess we’ll have to see. I guess my aspirations or my hopes … I hope a lot of shit lasts and stays together.  Even in Down.  I love my brothers in Down and I still enjoy playing in the band.  We have a cult audience, a hardcore following that enjoys Down music.  I still love playing those shows, I still love that music.  The solo thing is a whole different animal, a different feeling.  I don’t expect every Down fan to buy into this at all or like it at all.  This solo record is like food.  You either like it, hate it or you’re totally indifferent to it. I’m pretty prepared for that.  But as far as longevity or anything like that, I am a big pessimist when it comes to success of any type.  All we can do is our best today and we will find out in the near future.

Metal fans tend to be extremely loyal, not only to the genre or various subgenres but to the bands and musicians.  What’s your take on that?

I’m a music fan myself and I thrive on underground extreme music, so I’m loyal to the f***in’ genre.  I think anyone with a memory or eyes and ears would know that I have given back to the underground my entire career.  With Pantera, when we were at our biggest, it was my choice to bring out the Soilent Green, the eyehategod, Crowbar, Neurosis and Morbid Angel.  This is something that I’ve been loyal to my entire life because it’s been so kind to me and has done so much for me.  Music, to me, has such muscle.  It’s got a strength to it.  It’s in my blood.  For me, I’m just another fan.

You mentioned how difficult it can be to teach your music to other musicians.  How do you convey your ideas to other musicians?

Very slowly and meticulously.  A lot of time signatures are not your basic 4/4 thrash or paint-by-numbers traditional black metal or death metal.  I think it has its own life to it and you have to take that life and nurture it as slowly and properly as possible.  Especially when you’re working with a drummer.  There are certain rhythmic things I wanted to do with this record that weren’t necessarily part of the rules.  I didn’t do speed for the sake of speed.  I didn’t do double kicks for the sake of double kicks.  I wanted rhythmic things. Instead of speed I wanted a frantic rhythm that gives the illusion, I guess, of speed but in all reality is its just a frantic abrasive rhythm.  It’s a tough concept sometimes.  Put it this way, my drummer was born the year Cowboys From Hell came out.  It was like re-teaching him the drums, in a strange way.  It’s very rhythmic and complex in its own way without being labeled “math rock,” so to speak.

But did you verbally convey your ideas?  Did you prepare demo tapes as examples?  Did you play drums yourself to show what you wanted?

I want them directly in front of me and I want to say, “This part needs toms, this part I want a snare and a tom.  This part, give me the kick-drum, tom and go three times on the hi-hat and then switch to eight times on the rise cymbal.”  So yes, it’s very meticulous.

During the past few months, is there anything new business-wise, that you’ve learned?

I can’t say there’s been any tremendous lesson. I’ve been in this f***in’ business since I was in my teens.  Sure, things have changed here and there within the music game.  Records don’t sell as much as they used to because of illegal downloads. Most bands will make their scratch on the road playing shows, selling merch, being seen live. Not just YouTube, not just on a computer, they (fans) need to see a band play in front of them. Business-wise, I think a band actually has to get out there and perform, be seen and gig around the world.  As far as expectations of what size audiences we’re going to cater to and stuff like that, I don’t have any concern about that at all.  Personally, I could give two f***s about popularity contests or who’s bigger than who. I don’t give a f*** about any of that stuff. If 100 people show up for my show then I will know that those 100 people are into the music and not just a bunch of f***in’ hipsters being at the right place to be seen at the f***in’ right time.

Going back into your history, at the age of 21 you appeared in some photos by John Kaplan – the one with you showing off your shaved head and tattoo and the photo where you have a snake draped over your shoulders.  If you could go back in time, what would you tell that man in the photographs?

I would say, “Don’t f***in’ drink so much, you stupid asshole.  You have a giant career in front of you.  Wake up, do your sit ups, do your corework and when you’re on that stage and you jump off the drum riser or stage dive into the audience, make sure you land properly.  In order to do that you’ve got to be sober or semi sober, you stupid motherf***er.”  That’s what I would say.

Photo: Estevam Romera
“Music, to me, has such muscle.  It’s got a strength to it.  It’s in my blood.  For me, I’m just another fan.”

Here’s the schedule for Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals:

July 31 – Tulsa, Okla., Cain’s Ballroom
Aug. 2 – Des Moines, Iowa, Wooly’s
Aug. 3 – Minneapolis, Minn., First Avenue
Aug. 4 – Chicago, Ill., House Of Blues
Aug. 6 – Cleveland, Ohio, House Of Blues
Aug. 7 – Grand Rapids, Mich., The Intersection
Aug. 9 – Royal Oak, Mich., Royal Oak Music Theatre
Aug. 10 – Toronto, Ontario, The Danforth Music Hall
Aug. 11 – Montreal, Quebec, Parc Jean Drapeau (Heavy MTL)
Aug. 13 – Worcester, Mass., The Palladium
Aug. 14 – Clifton Park, N.Y., Upstate Concert Hall
Aug. 16 – New York, N.Y., Best Buy Theater
Aug. 17 – Philadelphia, Pa., Union Transfer
Aug. 18 – Silver Spring, Md., The Fillmore Silver Spring
Aug. 20 – Atlanta, Ga., Heaven At The Masquerade 

Visit Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals’ Facebook page for more information.