Scream On: Phil Anselmo has a lot to put out there
Former Pantera singer Phil Anselmo is known as one of heavy metal’s great screamers. He lives up to the billing on his first-ever solo effort, Walk Through Exits Only. Mixing metal, hardcore and industrial rock, Anselmo never lets up on the new album, which concludes with the 12-minute-long scorcher “Irrelevant Walls and Computer Screens.” We recently phoned Anselmo at his home outside of New Orleans to talk about the release and the upcoming tour.
I know you grew up in New Orleans and worked on fishing boats while a kid. Talk about how you were drawn to music?
I grew up in a house filled with music. I had young parents. My folks got divorced when I was still a shrimp. I lived with mom and there was Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and King Crimson and Janice Joplin. One of the first songs that really caught my ear back in the day was Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” “Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.” That particular line. The more I grew up and songs became more and more important and bands became more and more important. I got a guitar when I was nine and invented my own way of playing. I remember one time going back to the instructor and I had made up a chord that sounded good to me. I was writing a song around it. He told me flat out, “That’s wrong.” I didn’t believe him and to this day I’m glad I didn’t believe him. There is no right or wrong way to play an instrument. It’s tough to mess that up, especially if it sounds right to you. I was never interested in learning how to play other people’s stuff. I started writing songs at a young age. There was something inside of me in grade school; I can remember back knowing that this is what I would be doing for the rest of my life. It’s something that I’ve always felt in my bones.
This is your first solo effort. Did you think about putting out a solo album prior to this?
I’ve got more unreleased music here at my house that the general public has never heard. I’ve got so much of it [and] a lot of it is not heavy metal. I explore several genres and subgenres over time. I’m just a songwriter, so to speak. I guess there was never really a great time to do it as busy as my life has been since my teenage years. I eventually x-ed out high school because I was doing five gigs a week. I was doing my homework on stage. That’s a lot of work in a year’s time before I even joined Pantera. Once, I joined Pantera, it was back to the club scene and three or four sets a night. After we got signed, everything came in a flurry. One tour after the next. One album after the next. My whole intention with just calling it Phillip H. Anselmo and The Illegals, of course, is just me fucking with my band. They’ll be something else on the next record. The Butterflies or something. My intention is to not clutter up people’s perception any more. If I were to start a new band and call it this outrageous name, it would be a whole other thing. I did write these damn songs from the ground up. I take a lot of pride in them. The record is coming out tomorrow, but I’m ready to go write some new shit today. It’s always an ongoing album.
I like the fact that you call your band the Illegals even though you said they don’t like the name.
They can fuck off. They pick on me all the time because I’m the “old man.” Right back at ’em.
You’ve described this as an “angry album.” What fuels that anger?
It’s the nature of the music. It’s a strong point within my songwriting to be aggressive and aggro. Lyrically, I’m not necessarily coming from an angry place unless that anger is aimed directly at myself. “Bedroom Destroyer” that leads into “Bedridden” — those songs are true to form because I’m hard on myself when I procrastinate. I wake up and there are a million things to do. It’s the calm before the storm before I get up and start having to kick ass. I’m lying there reading and answering emails and there’s something on my mind constantly kicking me and telling me to get out of the fucking bed and go. There’s a lot of sarcasm. There’s brief commentary here and there. I hate spoon-feeding the listener. I want the listener to take the lyrics and take the songs and apply them to their own lives. I leave room there for speculation and for people to think for themselves and draw conclusions about how “Betrayed” will fit your life. Even the album title I picked because it’s vague enough that people could apply to their lives.
The title for the first song, “Music Media is My Whore,” made me laugh. What inspired that song?
It’s supposed to make you laugh. It’s supposed to be ironic. If you really delve into the lyrics of that particular song, it’s nothing to do with the media. The media over the years has had free rein to write whatever they want about anyone in the public eye—whether you’re a sportsman or musician. They write speculative things or opinion pieces and rarely does the artist get to have a little fun with the goddamn press. It’s just my ribbing some of you guys.
“Irrelevant Walls” is such a trip. One take?
Everything on the record is very calculated. To hammer these songs out did take some time and rhythmically, I wanted my drummer to do different things. I didn’t want speed for the sake of speed or double kicks for the sake of double kicks. I wanted rhythmic bursts that created their own experience for the listener. Take the outro, for instance, the big, slow scraping outro. That was in my guitarist’s repertoire for a long time. I knew he would be my guy. I wanted him to have that opportunity to shine. I wanted him to utilize that stuff I know he’s had in his arsenal for so long. It’s not a “one take” thing. It was all heavy-duty construction, so to speak. Hopefully, it’s even more powerful live.
Are you working on a book?
It’s at a snail’s pace. There’s so much going on that it’s hard to commit to a book. I’ll probably do that over the holidays. It will be a head’s down thing. It’s not just a Pantera book. That was a huge part of my life, don’t get me wrong, but a lot happened before Pantera and a lot has happened since. It is a long journey and I really hope to get some key stories in there that are humorous and enjoyable to read.
Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates
Cain’s Ballroom, Tulsa, OK
Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA
First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
House of Blues, Chicago, IL
House of Blues, Cleveland, OH
The Intersection, Grand Rapids, MI
Royal Oak Music Theatre, Royal Oak, MI
Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ONT Canada
Heavy MTL Festival, Montreal, QC Canada
The Palladium, Worcester, MA
Upstate Concert Hall, Clifton Park, NY
Best Buy Theatre, New York, NY
Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA
The Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD
The Masquerade – Heaven Stage, Atlanta, GA