Love him or hate him, there is no denying Philip H. Anselmo remains one of metal’s most innovative and polarizing figures. Hailing from New Orleans, La., he has spent the better part of two decades establishing himself as one of rock’s most notorious and charismatic frontman. His work with Pantera, Down and Superjoint Ritual has gone onto not only shape, but continue to fuel the genre of heavy music. His contributions to metal are undeniable and his creative fire burns as hot as it ever did. In 2013, the legendary frontman finds himself on a solo mission with the release of Walk Through Exits Only, on July 16 via his own Housecore Records (MRI/Megaforce). Produced by Philip Anselmo and Michael Thompson, and recorded over the past couple of years at his New Orleans studio, Nodferatu’s Lair, with his band The Illegals – Marzi Montazeri/guitar, and drummer Jose Manuel “Blue” Gonzales, ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ is abrasive, aggressive, anthemic and 100% Anselmo. The album’s eight songs are as unstrained as it gets, from “Battalion of Zero” to “Usurper’s Bastard Rant,” to the album’s title track that goes against the grain and right through the exits. Brash, brutal guitars cut through punishing percussion as Anselmo screams with uncompromising ferocity and uncontainable fire. On ‘Walk Through Exits Only’ and over his entire career, Anselmo hasn’t just paved his own path, he’s bulldozed it with his bare hands.Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Philip H. Anselmo to discuss the creation of ‘Walk Through Exits Only,” the challenges involved in bringing it to life, the highly anticipated arrival of his Housecore Horror Film Festival and more!
We spoke a few years back around the time of the ‘Cowboys From Hell’ re-release. Back then you promised your solo album would be vicious and you certainly delivered on that promise! Thanks for that!
Oh, cool man! No problem!
When you decided to set a course for a solo release, did you ever have any reservations about doing so?
Reservations? No, not at all. No, no, no, no. I’ll tell you, it started with me, an electric guitar, an amplifier and a recording apparatus. I sat down and honestly, man, the shit just came pouring out of me because I was very focused on the task at hand. I guess, if I feel inspired to do something and I have the focus to do it and the idea in my head to actually do it, it happens. Really, I built these songs from the ground up. Eventually, I taught the stuff from the ground up and found the right musicians. Really, the rest is somewhat recent history but it is history nonetheless. It was a very interesting experience, man. It was certainly rewarding because I did get the record I wanted. I wanted this record to be an ugly record and a tough record to categorize in today’s climate of extreme music and whatnot. There were definitely mission accomplished type points for me. As far as people liking it or digging on it, that is completely up to them and I can’t control how people feel. With DOWN, for instance, we have an established audience, so when I write music, I am absolutely, 100% writing for DOWN. I am not worried at all about gaining or winning over new fans or anything like that, so it has been awhile since I have had to, I guess, reinvent myself and reinvent something very dear to my heart, which is extreme underground music. It is brand new, it is just getting around and it will take some time and eventually we will see where it all sits. As of right now, I have no complaints or regrets.
Was there something that made you feel now was the right time for a solo release?
For me, everything happens so organically. Put it this way, if someone leans on me and says “Phil, you have got to put out this record tomorrow.,” I would probably shy away from it. I just got the notion and not to be ridiculous here, I got the notion and I set myself in motion! [laughs] How do you like that! [laughs] Oh God, that is pretty cheesy.
The title of the album is “Walk Through Exits Only.” What can you tell us about the title and what it means to you personally?
That is a good question there. For me, the “Walk Through Exits Only” moniker really came from the song itself and it was just a powerful line in a song. Even when I write the song, I wasn’t positive what to call it but it was something that kept sticking in my heart. It is a pretty powerful line which could mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. Eventually, that is why I used it as the title of the record. There is no specific meaning, so to speak, because it does mean so many fuckin’ different things to me. I am not going to spoon feed the freakin’ listener like “This is exactly what you are supposed to think.” I want people to do a little thinking on their own and take these lyrics, take these song titles and the album titles and somehow fit it in to their own curriculum, logic and sense to where they can fit it in their own lives.
I wanted to talk a bit about the songwriting process for this record. Did you approach the writing process in a different way for your solo material than you write for other projects?
You know what? I actually did. I would say normally, 98% of the time, it would be music first lyrics second. On this record, especially rhythmically, I find in any language and any sentence structure, there is a certain rhythm that goes along with it. If I had a line in mind, whether it made it on the record or not, if I had a sentence in mind, I would build certain riffs around the rhythm of the flow of the language. That is, to me, a bit of a different thing than I am used to doing and something I really hadn’t done much of in the past. There is a good 30% to 40% of “Walk Through Exits Only,” as far as song structure goes, that I really built from the cadence of the English language. It is a very different approach for me.
Tell us a little bit about the collaborative process for this record with your production team.
Like I said, everything started from the ground up here at Nosferatu’s Lair, the studio where DOWN records and where I have done several albums. My engineer is Stephen “The Big Fella” Berrigan. He and I have worked together on the last several Housecore Records releases. Steve has been with me since I started demoing the solo record. Anyway, once we felt like we were cohesive enough as a band, we tracked here at The Lair. Mike Thompson, who also co-produced the last DOWN EP, he and I got along really well during the process of creating EP. We really got along really well and developed a great relationship in the studio. Mike is a tremendous suggestion maker. He is very easy to translate your vision to. I can translate my vision to him very, very well. I wanted an ugly, rhythmically heavy sounding record and we got that! Mike is dynamite to work with and is a very smart guy in an old school way when it comes to the studio. Once again, there is a great relationship there.
What was the biggest challenging in building these songs from the ground up and bringing the album to life?
You know, when you are fucking with time signatures and fucking with song structure in general, to come out with something that is relatively original or at least in my opinion original, is a challenge. I guess teaching a drummer would be the most challenging thing because I did not want speed for the sake of speed. I didn’t want double bass for the sake of double kicks. I wanted things to be rhythmic bursts that created their own style of high intensity feel instead of just playing a million miles an hour because we could do that. My drummer is very capable of doing that but my drummer is really young. When he started working with us after being in WARBEAST for a very long time. WARBEAST is really where the type of 4/4 thrash that he came from and learned from. He is a kid who grew up on 4/4 thrash and 4/4 death metal, so when you start throwing in 3/7 and 3/5 time signatures at him, it takes a little while. I am lucky enough to where he is what I would call an ambidextrous drummer. It is almost like he can do exactly what he can do with his feet with his hands. Not a lot of drummers can do that! That was a luxury right there but to break him out of the mold and get him to really bite down and play these songs with the utmost confidence is a learning process for anybody. I think the toughest part was drums and getting them as solid as possible from the ground up.
Obviously, this is a very personal record for you. Where are you looking to for inspiration for this album?
I wanted to make a record that was as extreme as the most highly respected forms of extreme heavy metal, like black metal or death metal but I didn’t want to even come close to those topics really because it has been done so many fuckin’ times before. Don’t get me wrong, black metal’s cornerstone bands that lead the way and they have bands that are very innovative and trying to do something different within the genres and sub-genres of black metal. Death metal, you definitely have a preconceived notion of what those lyrics might be like. The more real I could be lyrically, even if it was a lyric that didn’t necessarily mean one thing, the more down-to-Earth it came across the better it was for me in general. I wanted to make a record that was lyrically realistic, if that makes sense — more realistic to anybody’s real-life experience instead of ideology, nationalism, gore or even H.P. Lovecraft worship. Don’t get me wrong, I am an H.P. Lovecraft worshipping fool! It’s just been done before.I wanted to make something that was very organic, down-to-earth and mix that stuff with sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek type of shit, which is a big part of my life. My sense of humor is whacky! There are a lot of parts on the record where I am laughing at myself, which at my age, you fuckin’ better learn to laugh at yourself or you’re in big fuckin’ trouble! [laughs] So, ya know, man… I just wanted to be as real as possible. Fuck!
Speaking of being real, the last time we spoke you had just started working on putting together your autobiography. You have been working with Corey Mitchell on that project. What has the experience been like for you and where are you in the process?
Baby steps still. I still don’t think with everything that has cropped up and popped up in the last nine months to a year, when am I really going to have time to sit down and grind this motherfucker out? Honestly, I will probably be working on this book all the way through December into the next year. It is going to be a grind. I still think we are not even near being close to being close. For me, it is a little nerve-racking and I hate to use the word hesitant but that word is a true reality for me, so I am no going to hide it. No worries! It will get done but right now, it has almost been put on the back burner because of the DOWN touring cycle just coming to an end and the solo record is just taking off. I have some touring to do with that and then we have the horror convention in October. Obviously, or maybe not so obviously, in November, I have some heads down DOWN writing to do for the next EP. It is going to be a lot of cram work and sleepless nights but you know what? That is why I am here for God’s sakes. I am the type of guy who if he sits around and does nothing for long enough, I will start feeling guilty. I guess I won;t be feeling so guilty in the next few months! I will be working my lil’ ol’ balls off!
What is a typical day like for you when you aren’t in writing or touring mode these days?
These days it is a whole lot of this — talking and doing interviews with awesome fuckers like yourself and making sure this machine over here at Housecore Records works. That is always a fuckin’ challenge. Then there is always the physical aspect of everything, ya know? It is keeping in shape, hitting the fuckin’ bag and sweatin’ it out in this crazy hot weather down here. It is always something man. If it is relaxation time, I am an absolute sucker for horror films whether they are modern, old or very old! I am always watching horror films or listening to music. I’m a nerd, man! [laughs] I love music, horror films and boxing! I still have to watch my boxing matches, so nothing has changed!
Speaking of your love of horror, you have been very busy planning the Housecore Horror Film Festival. The lineup is terrific and it could certainly grow to be an annual event! What do you expect from it?
Bite your tongue, young man! Don’t say annual yet! [laughs] I need to make it through this first one first! It started out as a small idea. It was Corey Mitchell who came to the house for the first time and was looking at all of the horror memorabilia, framed posters and all the other shit. Of course, I had to show off my collection and he was like “Jesus Fuckin’ Christ!” Off-handedly, he mentioned throwing a horror festival. I am sure I was occupied with something else at the time and said “Oh, yeah. Sure.” The next thing you know, it is a reality. He said “What do you think about bands playing?” I said “I guess that would be cool and we could have Housecore bands, New Orleans bands and Dallas/Fort Worth bands play. We’ve got that covered!” The next thing you know, word got out about the festival and so many motherfuckers came out of the woodwork it was insane! A lot of these things, people, directors, bands and whatnot where just too good to believe and pass up! All of a sudden, it was this cavalcade, an avalanche! It was like “Wait a minute! Let’s tone this down a little bit! This is year one and let’s feel it out!” Once again, I am very, very skeptical about using the word annual just yet. I would like to get through year one first. Really, my goal is to make sure, first and foremost, that people who buy their way ticket-wise into the horror fest have fun. I want people to have a blast! I want people to come away from it and say “Man, that was a great event! I want to come again next year!” and I want them to spread the word. That is the most important thing. I guess a very close second is that the people who are helping to facilitate this thing, the bands, the directors and the younger directors who have submitted films and short films, to have a blast as well. I want them to feel rewarded and at home. I want everybody to have a damn great experience! Right now, it is the type of project where you are always working on something logistically. We are working on things logistically right now just to make sure people do have a fantastic time! Only time will tell. It is one of those things where we will have to wait and see but it is only a few months away, so I am looking forward to it. Fuck, man! I hope everyone who comes out to the thing as an absolute blast!
You seem to be in a great place creatively. What would you consider the best part of being Philip H. Anselmo these days?
You know what? I just got back from Europe, where I was invited onstage to sing by Accept, Voivod, Agnostic Front and Slayer on my birthday, along with several other bands. The camaraderie I have with all of these bands I have looked up to all throughout my life and who have been such gigantic influences in my life is amazing. I have said it once and I will say it again, I am just a music nerd. I love music. I love bands. I love the underground in music. Gaining the respect of these bands and having the having the honor of being invited out by so many bands from so many different realms and sub-genres of extreme music and having their respect is a fantastic thing. I also have to add to that, I think somewhere along the line, I have got to say, I have the greatest fans in the world! Whether they are Pantera fans, Superjoint Ritual fans, DOWN fans or whatever, I feel blessed to have these people who love the music I do, love my attitude and actually have the wherewithal to come up and talk to me. I love meeting people. I love talking to people about music, film or just real-life, it doesn’t matter. I love meeting new people and fans especially! I think the best part about being me is just being a part of this fantastic world of fuckin’ music. There are so many different characters out there, whether you are a fan or in a band. To have that respect and to be that close to the people means the fuckin’ world to me, man. I can’t stress that enough! I really can’t!
Thanks again for your time today, Philip. We look forward to spreading the good word on the record and everything else you have in the works!
Thank you, my brother! Talk to you soon, man.