Phil Anselmo is a man who needs little introduction. 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. Now, 20 years after Pantera exploded onto the scene and left their undeniable mark, Anselmo and the remaining members of the band are taking a look back at their roots and celebrating a major career milestone. As fresh and releveant as the album still sounds to music fans, it is hard to believe one of rock’s most ferocious albums, ‘Cowboys From Hell,’ is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Phil Anselmo to discuss the commemorative re-release and making of that epic album, impact of Dimebag Darrell’s passing, shedding light on the misconceptions that surround him with his upcoming autobiography, and what we can expect from his solo material.
You have influenced so many with your musical projects. I was curious about how music first came into your life?
Oh man! I lived in the French Quarter. My earliest memories of childhood, the first stuff off the top of my skull, I was living in the French Quarter on a really, really busy street. I had really young, young parents. My mom was just into her 20s. Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, King Crimson, all that stuff was shakin’ the floor, man. So it was born into me, so to speak. [laughs]
We all know, as fans, how wild a ride it has been for you through the years. To what do you attribute your longevity?
I get where you are coming from. I think it starts with having a great band around me, if you are talking about my longevity. Pantera was great, man. They were the most incredible musicians that I have ever played with. Great songwriters. I learned a lot from them. It’s making those great records, touring and being visible and I’ve gotta say, on the technical side of things, Pantera changed the way records sound today. We upped the ante on production at the time. That was really based around Dimebag’s guitar sound. He always had a ferocious guitar sound but it was the late ‘80s when we recorded ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and production was at a very strange point in time. The was no Pro Tools and no computer bells and whistles, so we were really recording stuff the real way. It was all based around getting that guitar sound organically, man. We really changed things right there.
Let’s talk about the Pantera reissue of ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years. How involved with the re-release were you and what can fans expect?
I tell ya what, man. I know it is coming out in a lot of different formats and I have seen ‘The Ultimate Set’ and it is really, really, really kickass! I gotta admit it, man! They dug up old pictures, Rex, Vinnie and myself contributed with some liner notes, some old memories that we had in regards to writing that record, what we were thinking and what was going on, etcetra. The packaging is really killer. I don’t know, for any collector out there and if I were a collector and loved the band that wanted every little thing — I think it would be an awesome thing to have.
Looking back on the making of ‘Cowboys from Hell,’ did you have any idea that the album would have the impact that it has?
Straight up, NO WAY! Heck no.
What was the biggest challenge in making that epic record?
I guess it was like I was saying. To get that guitar sound roaring, because at that time, we had taken over the club scene, Pantera had. Regionally and in Texas, the live shows were insane to say the least. We had that live energy. I think capturing that live energy and that feel and putting it on the record was our main goal as well as our biggest obstacle. If you listen to ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and then to ‘Vulgar Display of Power,’ you can hear our sound evolving slowly, ya know. Especially with Terry Date. Terry Date was a great producer. Without him, there is no way we could have achieved those awesome sounds.
Do you have anything that stands out as a fond memory from that time period?
Well, I mentioned those live shows. We had written 99 percent of that material, anywhere between 1988 and 1989. We recorded in late ‘89. We record ‘Cowboys From Hell,’ I can almost name the date because it was when Mike Tyson got knocked out, lost for the first time to Buster Douglass, I will never forget it. I almost couldn’t finish the record! [laughs] Anyway … what was the question, man?
What was the fondest memory from that time period?
Ohhhh man! I just gave you the worst memory! [laughs] How did that pop out? [laughs] Well, once again, one of my favorite memories from that record is ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ coming out of nowhere. Vinnie Paul came up with this awesome drum pattern and me and Darell were just staring at each other saying “Man, that is kickass!” He started looking at his guitar and I was like “Come on! Do something! Do something!” The next thing you know, he just starts chugging and everything just fell together! It really did! That was an awesome, awesome thing. It also shows where we were heading mentally. Just to backtrack one second, like I said, most of stuff was written in ‘88-’89. We were moving forward. So once again, I can’t stress enough how ‘Primal Concrete Sledge’ was that springboard in between ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and ‘Vulgar Display of Power.’
We obviously can’t talk about Pantera without talking about Dimebag Darrell’s untimely passing. It has been five years and you guys are putting together this commemorative release together. It is clear that his death has had a major impact on you. Is it getting any easier for you as time passes?
No. As a matter of fact, in a strange way, you kinda just took the words out of my mouth and asked the right question. No. Every year gets harder. Every year, when the dates roll by it gets harder and this past year has been the hardest year of all. I think initially, the first year, two years … [pauses] I don’t know how long. It was just such a shock. It is very hard to comprehend, but I get it now. I get it now. I understand. Sure, I think about what could be. Yes, I think about Dimebag every day of my life. Every waking day of my life, man. So, no. It doesn’t get any easier.
You have had a love/hate relationship with the “rock media” for years? What are your thoughts on that part of the industry these days and your relationship with it?
Well, honestly it has a whole lot to do with my attitude. I think for many, many, many years I was a wounded animal lashing out. I was making a lot of mistakes with medication, drugs and alcohol. I was just fucking … [pauses] pardon the F-bomb … but I was just fucking out of my mind and I was really lashing out. After major back surgery, and that is a heck of a struggle, to come back from that both physically and mentally, today I am in a much better place. It is like what I give is what I get back. With the press, when I would fly off at the mouth, the press would eat it alive. Good or bad. I learned that lesson a few different times after being suckered into different confrontational things via different articles or different things in magazines and whatnot. Hence my silence after Dimebag’s passing. There was no way I was ready to have a microphone shoved in my face. That is why I shut myself off for a long while. I have had interviewers, not many, I have definitely had a couple that try to wind me up with questions, that are designed to do just that. But hey man, it is tough to fool the ol’ fat now. You can’t fuck … with me.
What is the biggest misconception about yourself?
[sighs] Where do I start?
You have been working on your autobiography. Is that your way of shedding some light on the man behind the person we see in the limelight?
Sure! That is an interesting thing to bring up. Writing a book is a very interesting process because you get to go through and find out for yourself what fueled the man as a youngster and all the little different things that happened in succession where you put one foot in front of the other and the next thing you know, you are doing the 20-year anniversary of your first record, ya know?! So it’s like “How the heck did I get to be 42 years old?!” It’s a hell of a story.
I guess the biggest misconception will be deduced by the people from whatever I put out, because I am going to tell the truth. I’m going to be subjective and I am going to come from the gut and from the heart. Look forward to reading that sucker. I have been working tediously on the thing but I am very particular, so don’t look for it next week or anything, but it’s coming.
Looking back on your career, is there anything you would do again differently if you had the chance?
Well, I get that question every now and again and, I tell ya what, I would have probably kept the partying down until after the show, so that all of the crazy jumping and physical exertion on stage would have been “in check.” I probably would have done some more sit-ups and some more corework … [laughs] and maybe I would have landed it better and maybe I would have made some more decisive decisions while stage diving! Ya know, sometimes that can be into the waiting arms of the crowd or the lovely concrete 7 feet below! [laughs] I have done both! [laughs] I would have been a little more careful there!
There have been rumors of a solo album from you circulating in the fan community. Can you elaborate on that at all and how do you envision a Phil Anselmo solo album sounding?
Well, it’s vicious. I have been in so many different side projects, I like to say that not all of them sound alike. With that being said, there is no way I would want to rehash anything traditional, so to speak. I’m gonna touch on tradition, ya know. Tradition is distorted guitar, drums, bass. But yes, I have been writing new stuff. Yes, it is super motherfuckin’ aggressive. It’s at its beginning points man but I got over 10 things that are close. I can’t give you a timeline, but I think, little by little, I might leak some here or there when it is done. I will just let people take it in how they want but, once again, I know heavy music. I see where heavy music is. I want to take heavy music like a ball of clay and reshape it, if you catch me. Reshape it differently than it has been shaped before. That is where I am at right now.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to aspiring musicians out there who want to make a career in the industry like you have?
Don’t stop. Just be completely dedicated to your instrument, whatever it may be, to your unit of people. Take practice dead serious. Play as many shows as you possibly can with the same lineup of people. Keep an open mind as far as your influences go. Look, I know there are a lot of genre bands out there. That’s fine. If you want to play “Death Vomit Core,” that’s great! Just be the best at it! Keep churnin’! If you want to play pop music, be the best at it. When I say that, it is easy for it to come out of the mouth, but just be prepared mentally and physically to be on that stage and doing your best. 150,000 percent every night.
I know we are a little pressed for time, but is there anything that you want to say to the fans and let them know before I let you go?
Heck yeah! New Arson Anthem coming out October 12th, 2010. Thirty minutes, 17 songs, old school hardcore. I know many people have heard that before but I think this record is awesome! It’s Mike Williams from Eyehategod singing. I play guitar, yes I do! Hank III plays drums and, goddamn, does he play drums! My boy, Colin Yeo, the singer from Pony Killer, plays bass. It is BRUTAL! After that, look for haarp. ‘The Filth’ is the name of the record, out on Housecore Records, which is my record label. Aside from that, I love all of you people out there. Thanks for all of the dedication and all of the kind words. I read them every now and again on the comment boards. I really, really, really love ya. I really love ya, man. I appreciate the support and wish nothing but good for everybody!
Thanks for your time, Phil. We will be spreading the word and will be talking to you again really soon.
Thanks, man. I appreciate the fuck out of it, man! Be cool!
For more information on all of Phil Anselmo’s projects, check out:
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.