The mighty Down recently swept into Las Vegas as part of their West Coast tour (read about their crushing performance high above the Strip here). Before the show, I had the honor of interviewing heavy metal legend Philip H. Anselmo. Joining us was Bruce Corbitt of Warbeast, a band which have become regular tourmates with Down. Never one at a loss for words, Philip talked about his new solo project, Down tours, the heavy metal world, and even the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Read my interview with Philip below, and watch a video clip of him and Bruce discussing solo tour plans and the annual Metal Masters clinics on the left sidebar. My 2010 interview with Philip, discussing the Pantera legend and Cowboys From Hell album, can be read here as well.
Examiner: We’re both a little far from home here in Las Vegas today. What’s your favorite part of this city?
Philip: Leaving. (laughs). No, I’m totally joking. For me it’s just the show. I don’t gamble, I don’t do any of that sh*t so it’s just the show for me.
Bruce: I’m a big time gambler so you know that. The 24 hour thing, walking down the street with a drink, I like that whole vibe.
Philip: I’m from New Orleans man, can’t impress me. But I like the Vegas heavy metal scene.
Examiner: Which bands?
Philip: Righteous Pigs, Pap Smear back in the old days, those are my two favorite bands.
Examiner: Vegas is all about giving into your vices. What would you say your biggest vice is?
Philip: I’m about to have one. (pulls out a pack of cigarettes) I smoke.
Bruce: We enjoy it, though, smoking.
Philip: Weed and cigarettes.
Examiner: You know, last time you and I spoke you said you’d never been turned onto Pink Floyd. Has that changed?
Philip: I guess I've never been introduced properly to Pink Floyd. I know they’re great, don’t get me wrong. Excellent excellent musicians, great band, awesome harmony, great song writers, I just don’t know anything besides I guess the popular songs on the radio.
Bruce: You know, you said the same thing about Rush a few years ago and I sent you some songs and you were like what the hell is he sending me this for?
Philip: I forget, you know? Rush is hit and miss with me. But, once again, they’re f*cking great, undeniable musicians.
Examiner: And now they’re going to be in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Philip: As they should be.
Examiner: Do you think Pantera will be there?
Philip: I don’t know. We’re a heavy metal band.
Bruce: It’s getting close to when they can be nominated.
Examiner: It’s about time to start having that conversation, I’d think.
Examiner: 25 years is the minimum.
Philip: I’m a bad pessimist. I don’t think about how successful any record I've ever done is going to do before it came out. People are going to think and take things how they’re going to take it, and I have no control over that so it’s kind of like biding time until you get your feedback. So, it’s like once the public can consume what you’re putting out there, then you know. Then you know hit, miss, in between. You’re always going to have detractors and you’re always going to have people who love you and that’s how it’s perfectly balanced and the world spins on. So I don’t really concern myself with what’s going to happen big next. All I know is we’re touring now, Warbeast comes out March or April this year. My solo record comes out beginning of summer. And maybe some odd Down thing during the summer, the European festivals and stuff like that. And that’s all I’m concentrating on now. I can’t predict the future.
Examiner: Talking about new music, you’re both touring behind your split EP, and there’s the new Down EP. Your bands played New York and New Jersey back in September, and I gotta say, on the song Misfortune Teller, that chorus just dropkicks your ass. I don’t know if you can tell on stage, but the whole crowd goes nuts for that heaviness. Can you feel that from on stage?
Philip: Well it’s hard for me, because I've started using in-ear monitors. And sometimes I have to grab someone and ask “what’s going on? Do these people like us at all?” So it’s tough for me to tell, but that is a powerful chorus. It drops in complete halftime, total Down, New Orleans style so I know what you’re talking about for sure.
Examiner: And I just started hearing the split in the last few days. Very different from Down’s sound.
Philip: It’s supposed to be. I think music is a big, big wide world, and I am voyager on this particular ship in this sea of wild music, and I’m gonna dive in and find as many fish as I can and catch them all. I love music. I love every kind of extreme sort of music, and many different genres, and if I were to have to dedicate myself to just one kind of genre I would feel kind of gypped. I’d be like man, I wish I could do this or that. And really all it takes is trying it out. Turn the distortion off, pick up an acoustic guitar, see where that brings you. Music is vast, the solo sh*t that I’m doing with Warbeast crushes.
Examiner: I got to hear all the new Warbeast songs on the East Coast tours.
Bruce: The reaction to all the new songs is good. We always knew people would buy the split to hear Phil’s material, but then they would have to hear us too.
Examiner: What I really love about the Warbeast songs are the leads. The guitar leads. No one’s really writing those thrashy solos anymore.
Philip: They are really, really great.
Bruce: I've always done the same style of music. I’m able to do other kinds, I just don’t have the access to other musicians. So I’m just sticking to thrash myself.
Philip: But you know what? Bruce can sing. I've heard him before. He actually can sing Beatles and stuff like that. John Lennon stuff.
Examiner: Well Phil, you sing also, when you want to.
Philip: When I want to.
Examiner: Well on the 2006, 2007 Evening With Down tours, one of my favorite parts of the show was the slower, mellow Jail and Learn From This Mistake portion of the night. You guys don’t really do those anymore, is there any chance it would work its way back into the set at some point?
Philip: Oh I don’t know. The sets, I’m not sure. I like to base things off of the group of guys I got, and our strengths. Think about Pepper who’s the lead singer of COC, and Kirk who sings in Crowbar. Both of them are f*cking neanderthals, they get up on the mic and scream as loud as they can. When a song is supposed to be delicate, with harmonies, it kind of makes me cringe a little with a bunch of cavemen screaming. So I don’t think it works to our strengths live, unless we really, really, really buckle down and concentrate on it. And as far as writing new material, of course, all the Stone the Crows, and even a song like Nothing in Return, it’s within our... Down, we can touch on these different genres, different feelings within the genre, dynamics if you will. And of course we have 3 more EPs to do, in the set of 4, and sometimes I wonder, would it be really fair to the Down audience to wait a couple of years in between whatever and put out these 5 or 6 song acoustic, smooth rock records? I just don’t think that would be fair, in my opinion. We might mix a little in if it’s worth it, if it turns out good, but I can’t make any promises. Because really at heart we’re a bunch of heavy metal dudes.
Examiner: Recently you interviewed 50 Cent for a boxing magazine. Do you respect the rap genre?
Philip: You got to have respect when you see a genre that overwhelms the public. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m really not a fan of pop culture. I could give two f*cks about American Idol, I could give a f*ck about who’s the most popular, who’s winning Grammys, it ain’t about that. But, when you do so well, or when a genre breaks through to the mainstream so globally, you got to have respect for it whether you like it or not.
Examiner: You mentioned Nothing In Return. That song got me through some tough times when it first came out, can you tell me the story behind it?
Philip: I was coming off some really tough years in my life. I went through the death of my guitar player, I went through Hurricane Katrina, and then I guess one of the biggest personal wars, besides Dimebag dying, was drug addiction. And chronic pain. Which really goes hand in hand, if you know anybody that suffers from chronic pain and whatnot.
At that point I had come clean, and now it’s 2013 and it’s been 8 years for me off hard drugs, so that’s a great feeling. But Nothing In Return is about basically what you give, you’re gonna give back. And I have been the motherf*cker on stage, out of my mind drunk, on drugs, broken up inside, injured, feeling very vulnerable, and for me that’s an uncomfortable feeling. And I’ve said things over the microphone to thousands of people that I had no business f*cking saying. Badmouthing other bands, badmouthing this, that, the other thing. And just coming off as a negative person, which I’m not at all. I’m very much a positive person, so when I came clean I recognized all this, and there were some friends of mine that were still struggling at the time, and I kept really begging them, “take the step. All you have to do is trust me, listen to me, we’ll get you off drugs, and all the bad anxiety that comes with it, the sickness that comes with detoxing and all that sh*t, it goes away. You can have your f*cking life back man, y’know?”
Basically that’s my message right there. You can have your f*cking life back. Unfortunately, you can talk a blue streak, and talk is cheap when it comes to... once you’ve conquered something and you’re trying to tell someone else about it, they’re going through the tough time, it’s like talking to the brick wall. They’re not hearing you really. And such is the case a lot of times, and really that’s what the song’s about. Failing, kinda. In my mission to straighten some people up. Because you can’t win every time. You can’t win every time.
Examiner: I think the number one burning question for everyone right now, hearing this new split and Phil, your solo stuff, is will there be a solo Phil Anselmo tour?
Philip: It’s very possible, but I won’t say yes because I just don’t want to mislead anybody. Right now I’m concentrating on Down, and waiting on that new Warbeast, and one thing at a time.
Examiner: Hypothetically then, what would a solo Phil Anselmo setlist look like?
Philip: Just the new stuff that I do.
Examiner: No Down...
Philip: Oh god no, that’s for Down. Down still exists, and as far as any other bands I’ve been in, it’s like I don’t want to mess with that legacy. There’s already chapters written, it’s time for a new chapter. Time for a new history to be written. So that’s where I’m at.
Examiner: Well, the high point of my year for the past couple of years has been the Metal Masters, when you break out the old Pantera favorites. (Read my review of Metal Masters 4 right here.) So you kind of want to leave those just for that?
Philip: Y’know, that’s a tough question. I guess doing the Metal Masters is my way of celebrating those years, celebrating that era of music, with a lot of guys I grew up worshipping, for god’s sakes. You got Slayer, and all those guys. I know Anthrax, Slayer, all of them cats since the 80’s. Exodus. Sh*t, they took Pantera out on our first national tour in 1990 with Suicidal Tendencies. So we’ve known each other for a very long time, just to get up there with that group of guys who I respect so much man, as musicians, and visually recognizable guys who are really heroes to heavy metal. Kerry King, and Charlie Benante, Scott Ian’s face is f*cking everywhere. I don’t mean to leave anybody out, but just to be up there with those guys is enough and doing those old Pantera songs with them is a lot of fun. Billy Sheehan last time, an incredible bass player. And I think what we’re aiming for, with the new Metal Masters, I believe, Warbeast is going to play. So that’s going to be a f*cking blast, just to see the look on Kerry King’s face when he sees Shelby. And y’all are gonna kick some f*cking ass, too.
Bruce: Yeah, we’re freaking on that.
Philip: That’s going to be so much fun.
Examiner: So you’re confident the Metal Masters series is going to continue.
Philip: Oh we know it’s going to continue. For sure.
* * * * * * * *
As always, get monthly previews of New York concerts delivered right to your inbox by subscribing to the New York Hard Rock Examiner at the top of this page, or follow me at twitter.com/NYROCKEXAMINER.