Q&A: Phil Anselmo on Solo Album, Autobiography and Horror Fest

Rolling Stone
Q&A: Phil Anselmo on Solo Album, Autobiography and Horror Fest
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Q&A: Phil Anselmo on Solo Album, Autobiography and Horror Fest

Even the hardest of hardcore Phil Anselmo fans would have trouble keeping track of every project the former Pantera shouter/growler/singer has undertaken over the years. His latest is his first-ever solo album, Walk Through Exits Only. The album (credited to "Phil Anselmo & the Illegals") is released today, and will be supported with nearly a month's worth of U.S. tour dates, kicking off July 31st. And in true Phil fashion, he has several other projects going – including writing his autobiography and plotting an inaugural "horror film and metal festival" – all of which he discussed in detail with Rolling Stone.

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Why did you decide to do a solo album now?
To answer this with a question is pretty lame, but really my answer is, why not? It's something that really hit me organically. It wasn't something I was dwelling on. Three years back, it dawned on me, and once I feel inspired, I've got to get it out of me. So I grabbed a guitar and grabbed an amp and a recording apparatus, and just started putting these songs together. At the time when I was really starting to get "head down" into this project and record demos, I was producing two other records and I was doing the previous Down EP [The Purple EP]. So really, this came about in a bunch of different on-and-off type sessions.

It was an interesting record to make, because I wanted to change things up. I did not want to do your basic 4/4 thrash record that's already been done and heard, and probably done better, years ago. I wanted to fuck with the formula, and maybe step out of tradition. And for me, I wanted to make a record that could sit next to anything that is out there that is considered extreme or over-the-top. But I wanted to make a record that would be very, very hard just to slide into some genre or sub-genre of extreme music. Whether I did that or not, we'll know in a year or so. That was my intention, and I feel pretty good about it. I wanted to make an ugly-sounding record. I wasn't after all the shiny gloss of a mainstream record. I wanted to make an ugly sounding, very hard-hitting, percussive record.

Who plays on the album?
My guitar player I've known since the late Eighties; his name is Marzi Montazeri. He's a great, great player, who brought a lot to the table. I really wanted him in particular, because this is a type of project that we have been talking about for a very long time. Something like this – something different. But extreme. Marzi brings not only great leads and great tightness with his picking hand, and precision with his neck hand, and actual string grip. He's a creative guy, as well, with his soundscapes and layering. So I wanted to utilize all of that to its maximum. I'm not sure if we did it to its ultimate maximum, but it's a good starting point.

Besides Marzi, I used a very young drummer from one of my Housecore bands, Warbeast. When I first started working with the drummer – Jose Manual Gonzalez, better known as "Blue" – he was 19 years old. A very gifted drummer, but [when you're 19] you've got a lot of polish left to go. It was like having to break him out of the mold of just your everyday 4/4 death metal or 4/4 thrash. That was a bit of a challenge, but I knew he had the talent, because I do consider him a truly ambidextrous drummer, where his feet can do a lot of what his hands can do, and vice versa. He did a really good job on the record, and I'm proud of him.

A guy named Bennett Bartley played bass. He's a fellow New Orleanian badass musician. He's the type of guy that plays in a lot of different bands, and tries to hold down a real job. Playing bass live on this tour will be a guy named Steve Taylor, who's been very tight with Marzi, and they've been working together very assiduously. He's a hell of a player, very tight. I'm looking forward to it.

What's up with the song title, "Music Media Is My Whore"?
Oh boy, here we go! For me, on this record, it's all about showing a different side of sarcasm that I have. I've heard too many times where people say that I'm this ultra-serious guy. In truth, I've got an extremely absurd sense of humor. I thrive on the absurd – I love it. It's really my way of poking back at fellows like you. You guys get the free rein to write whatever you want about me, so just a little poke back at you. But if you take a look at the lyrics on that song, it has absolutely nothing to do with the fucking media. It's more of an introduction to what you're about to get into with the rest of the record.

What can fans expect from the upcoming tour?
We'll probably play the record front-to-back. Everyone always asks me, "Are you going to do any stuff from the past?" Well, before you even ask, I'll tell you right now that there's a very good chance that we might break out some of my old favorites. I can't really give away all these awesome tidbits too terribly in depth. Each show will have its own personality. Each show is going to have its own spontaneity. We'll pull out something special for each crowd.

What about the Housecore Horror Film & Metal Festival, launching this October in Austin?
It's a bit overwhelming, honestly. The guy that I’m writing my autobiography with, Corey Mitchell, at one of his first meetings with me here at the house, he was looking at all of my horror regalia – and also my [horror] film collection, which is this fucking library that probably weighs three tons – VHS, DVD, you name it. I think he off-handedly mentioned to me, "Man, you ought to do a horror fest." I was probably dizzy at the time, doing something else, and was like, "Yeah, sure." Next thing you know, it's a reality. Then he asked me, "Well, what do you think about bands?" And I was thinking, "Sure, we can have Housecore bands play. We can have New Orleans bands play. We can have Dallas/Fort Worth bands play." When word really got out, it was amazing how many people wanted to be a part of this – whether it be directors or band personnel or special guests. Some of them were way too good to say, "Maybe next year." Until we get year one under the belts, I'm very reluctant to use the word "annual." For me, the most important thing is for the consumer – the actual person that buys the actual badges for the films and the bands. I want them to come and enjoy themselves. That's top priority. And I also want the people that are facilitating – the bands, the directors, and the special guests – to enjoy themselves. It's not an insurmountable thing and it's not an impossible thing, but you have to make sure that all the I's are dotted and T's are crossed before it's an absolute success.

My favorite thing about this horror fest are the submissions that we receive from lesser-known directors. Whether it be short films, medium-length films, or full-length films, for a guy like me, who has absolutely no aspiration to be a horror director, I really just enjoy watching horror films. It's very encouraging for me to see what some of these new guys are doing. I've got some awesome new stuff to turn an audience on to. In today's horror climate – especially here in America, where it seems like the remakes will not end – it's very encouraging to know there are directors out there that are really trying to bring something fresh to the horror biz. I love it.

You mentioned that you are working on your autobiography.
I know for a fact that it's scheduled to come out about this time next year. It's not just a Pantera book. It's a book of my life. A lot happened before Pantera and a lot has happened after Pantera. But definitely, a lot went on during Pantera. So I’m going to try and cover all the bases. Hopefully add a humorous story, or four or five, or ten. There's a perception that Pantera – because of its horrific ending and, of course, the murder of Dimebag [Darrell, guitarist] – it's tragic. I understand this, but for me, there are way more great memories that I have of Pantera. When I think of Pantera, I think of all the good things. People always dwell on the negatives, because I guess that's just the nature of the beast. But for me, there are too many positive stories to tell about Pantera. And I think that is where I’m going to head with this book.

Out of all the projects you've done over the years, the most mysterious was Tapeworm, which supposedly included Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan, but was shelved.
Actually, it was really me and Danny Lohner, who was in Nine Inch Nails at the time we did Tapeworm. Danny Lohner and I are still very tight, and we always talk about doing different projects together. I think he's gearing up to lay a bunch of material on me in the near future. But with the Tapeworm, it was really just two songs. Danny had preprogrammed and did all of his magic that he does – which is really outstanding work – beforehand, and said, "Hey man, here's the music. Write what you want." And these songs never saw the light of day. It was one of those things where schedules never met and it wasn't a true possibility. We were both tied to different record labels at the time. It was just a logistics nightmare.

Either way, it was and is very interesting music. I think there was one aggressive-type song, called "Ignorant." I'm not sure if I want people to hear it today or tomorrow, but in the next ten years or so, I don't mind if it's heard. There was another song called "Be Kind to Them," and that song was more atmospheric, more of a blues-type track. It would be Nine Inch Nails' take on blues. It's the type of thing where Danny – who is also a great producer – he'll ask you to sing something 20 different ways, 20 different times. Then he'll take it and run with it, and build what he wants out of it. Take certain textures and add them to vocals, and then the really beautiful orchestrations in the background.

Are you happy with how the Pantera catalog is being handled? Would you like to see more live DVDs or recordings issued, or perhaps a documentary?
I think Pantera is a type of band that has been documented very, very well over the years. With the past re-releases, we were fortunate enough to have old demos and stuff that never really saw the light of day. But Pantera was not the type of band to waste many riffs or many parts or songs. With the upcoming Far Beyond Driven re-release – which will be next year – you will see more live footage from epic shows and really breakthrough shows, instead of lost demos. I don't think there are even demos left, man. Everything from Far Beyond Driven on, I really think we used everything that we had available.

Pantera is a very complex business right now. Vinnie Paul, the drummer, doesn’t communicate at all with me or Rex [Brown, bassist]. We are mediated by what's left of our management – Kimberly Zide Davis – and she is a fantastic mediator between the three of us. And lord knows, she has to be, because Pantera hasn't been together since 2001, but it's still a thriving business. We sell T-shirts, we sell merchandise, and it still sells. And people buy the re-releases. So there has to be some form of business etiquette that we go by and business relationship that we have to agree upon.

For me, if Vince and Rex are happy with what's going on, then I’m not going to argue much, because honestly, I don't have the time or the room in my heart left to argue with those guys. I want things to run as smoothly as possible. I think it's being handled pretty fucking well. I don't really have many arguments or much more to say about it.

This article originally appeared on Rolling Stone: Q&A: Phil Anselmo on Solo Album, Autobiography and Horror Fest
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