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Interview: Phil Anselmo

Alex Woodward talks with the heavy metal legend, who's releasing his first solo album

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A stretch of wide-open farms fades into shaded woods. A rocky gargoyle-lined trail surrounded by tall trees reveals the hunting lodge and 17 acres Philip H. Anselmo calls home.

  A blue-eyed white boxer named Edith barks in the driveway. In his living room, stacks of horror movie VHS tapes fill boxes and shelves on the walls. B-horror movie posters fill what's left.

  Anselmo arrives barefoot in a black T-shirt with the sleeves cut off, shakes my hand and pours a half pot of coffee into a New Orleans Saints mug. He sits upright in a plush, deep red chair adjacent to a matching couch, lights a cigarette and knocks the ashes into a face-sized mollusk shell. "I smoke," he says, as if to ask whether I mind.

  Anselmo sounds like an exhausted dragon sucking on an oil drum. He just left band rehearsal before a monthlong tour. He also just heard New Orleans Saints linebacker Martez Wilson might sit out for the season. He's not happy about that. ("I'm pissed.") Even under his breath he bellows several octaves lower than a giant.

  That voice has been all over several influential, multiplatinum heavy metal acts, including Texas hell-bringers Pantera and New Orleans supergroup Down. The Louisiana metal icon's latest project is Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, his first solo effort, which released its debut Walk Through Exits Only in July.

  "The material written for the solo album would not fly with Down at all," he says, with a laugh. "I don't think they get it or like it. It's not their thing. Their bands aren't my favorite either. That's the beauty of making friends in the music industry. You run into cool people constantly — you may not love their band but there definitely are some sweethearts out there. I think my musical tastes kind of agitate the rest of the band, so to speak, because I love horrible music."

  The eight-track album grinds out Anselmo's heaviest, most extreme metal compositions to date. On Walk Through Exits Only, released on his Housecore Records label, Anselmo purposefully pushed his bandmates — guitarist Marzi Montazeri and drummer Jose Manuel "Blue" Gonzalez — to metal's most severe edges. The album borrows from early hardcore punk to gut-churning death metal, but Anselmo throws it all into the pit.

  "I did not want to repeat any old traditional ways of approaching things," he says. "I wanted rhythmic bursts that create their own energy, and their own feeling of uptempo, frantic, rigid energy."

  Anselmo's voice — which he recorded in layers, adding acidic, piercing highs and demonic lows — pairs with Montazeri's dive-bombing, frenetic guitars and pummeling riffs and Gonzalez's abrupt time signatures.

  "I really wanted both of them to more or less put their fingerprints all over the record and have free reign, whether guitar solos or drum fills," Anselmo says. "I wanted them to leave a signature mark."

  He sledgehammers his lyrics, leaving just enough shards of ambiguity for the listener to finish. The title track uppercuts the album's typical direct, first-person angle: "It's ruined/ Everybody ruins music/ Not just me/ You saw it/ You liked it/ Embraced it/ Then faked it/ Not just me/ I'm jaded and over it/ Sick of the whole of it/ Everything piles up/ Until I burn it in the trash/ Rip it up and turn it into ashes."

  "I'm not going to spoon-feed the listener with what exactly is on my mind at the time," he says. "Look

at the album title. That could mean 100 different things to 100 people. It's vague enough and powerful enough.

  "I wanted to write lyrics that were real, honest, and come from a gut level. I get that from my hardcore influences, mainly Agnostic Front, even the first Minor Threat record and certain Black Flag records, for sure. Very direct, no bullshit."

Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals perform Thursday at Tipitina's. - PHOTO BY DANIN DRAHOS
  • Photo by Danin Drahos
  • Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals perform Thursday at Tipitina's.

Anselmo — whose family ran Anselmo's Restaurant in Metairie — attended McMain Magnet School and Grace King High School (and the occasional summer school at Brother Martin).

  Anselmo quit high school and lived in cars, vans and practice rooms before making his way to Texas to join Pantera in 1987. "I starved my f—ing guts out because I wanted this shit so bad," he says.

  Pantera released the back-to-back commercially successful and highly influential heavy metal albums Cowboys From Hell in 1990 and Vulgar Display of Power in 1992. But Anselmo battled a lengthy heroin addiction, which came to a public head in 1996 after a gig in Dallas. He famously released a statement he had "injected a lethal dose of heroin," died and came back to life. That tour continued as planned.

  The band went on hiatus in 2001. Pantera founders "Dimebag" Darrell Lance Abbott and his brother Vinnie Paul Abbott formed Damageplan — but on Dec. 8, 2004, "Dimebag" Darrell was shot and killed onstage in Ohio.

  Anselmo stayed busy with other projects, including Down, a Southern-influenced supergroup formed in 1991. The band, whose eclectic metal recently has had sludge stirred into its earlier straight-forward heaviness, has released only three studio albums, starting with the breakthrough debut NOLA in 1995. Last year the band released the EP Down IVThe Purple EP.

  Anselmo also formed Housecore Records, featuring a small, hand-picked roster of "extreme" artists, including Louisiana familiars Crowbar, Eyehategod and Haarp. The label operates from his Folsom homestead's barn-turned-studio (with another on the way).

  "The body of music is alive in the underground," Anselmo says. "I hate rock stars. I f—king hate 'em, man. If you can't be down to earth enough to f—king sit and talk with people and be a regular person. ... I've seen absolute nerds, who used to beat on my door at 3 a.m. just to talk about metal, get popular with time in their little bands and completely turn their back, or change their persona for the fans. You're fake, man. You're a big walking f—king fake. There needs to be a reality check for these bands. I pity their f—king success. It's embarrassing. F—k 'em."

  Anselmo pulls a cigarette from behind his ear and flicks his lighter.

  "As far as new blood goes, and the future of underground music from New Orleans-based bands or Louisiana-based bands, I'm looking," he says. "I'm still very curious myself. I think someone needs to separate themselves in a very original way to catch my attention. Right now I see a lot of emulation out there. That's fine, but it's not going to do anything for me."

Later this year, Anselmo plans to release an EP with The Illegals. He'll also record with Down. In October, Anselmo will debut his Housecore Horror Film Festival in Austin. He expects to release his autobiography next year.

  He has a phone interview in a few minutes, which he waves off to finish watching a YouTube video of his opening band Author & Punisher, a one-man metal band of deafening machines.

  "I may have other interests, but my interests lie in horror movies and boxing," he says. "I'm 45. It's a little late to start a boxing career. I'm done. I'm retired. I hit the bag because it don't hit back. I have no aspiration to be a director or actor, so that ain't happening. I'll deal with the band life and lifestyle as long as the rest of the band can hack it."

  He crushes his empty cigarette pack and tosses it on the coffee table.

  "I think I'm around enough veterans who have done this long enough and made it their priority that they're going to put the time in and make this their life to get the f—king job done," he says. "I'll stick with those guys."

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