Philip Anselmo, certainly one of the most recognizable names in the ever-evolving world of heavy music, has an unmistakable enthusiasm for what he does. It is evident in all things he takes part in, and most clearly, on the stage he consistently dominates, where he remains a simply outstanding metal frontman whose versatility is unmatched. Anselmo is currently on tour with his solo band (Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals, consisting of Houston-based guitarist Marzi Montazeri, Warbeast drummer Jose Gonzales, and bassist Stephen Taylor), supporting the July release of the intense, refreshingly caustic Walk Through Exits Only. I had the opportunity to speak with him on the phone on Friday, January 24, 2014, prior to the show in Scottsdale, Arizona, and discussed a number of things, including the upcoming Down EP, the key differences between crowds across the world, and even his prediction for Superbowl XLVIII. Read on.
Sheila Esmaili-Doki: How was the Metal Masters show? I watched some footage from that and it looked pretty amazing.
Philip Anselmo: It was fun, you know, always fun meeting up with those guys... Anthrax and Slayer, specifically. Meeting up with those guys, who really took me and Pantera under their wings. We were such kids, you know. It means the world. They're great friends. And the Megadeth guys... shit, man, Chuck Billy being there and Billy Sheehan and all the rest of them. I don't want to leave anybody out -- there were a lot of musicians out there. It's always fun. It can be a bit of a cluster-fuck here and there, but it's always a blast.
SE: I noticed that "Strength Beyond Strength" was in the setlist, which was really cool. It reminded me about the 20th anniversary of [1994 Pantera album] Far Beyond Driven coming up. Does it seem like that has been 20 years? That album being #1 on Billboard back then was a pretty outstanding thing. Does it seem like the time has passed quickly since then or does it seem like a long time ago?
PA: You know, I guess I could say a little bit of both. Sometimes, it's like "oh my God, time flies." And then other times, it's like -- you know, it's been a long haul and a lot has changed... you can see the distance and feel the distance, but 20 years -- you think about when you're 20 years old and you think you've been on the earth a very long time, and it's not true at all. It's a long time, but I've got great memories and I still love that album.
SE: Absolutely, it is a classic. I know you have mentioned before that you always have low expectations for any music release you put out and that you are kind of a pessimist. Have the reactions to Walk Through Exits Only surprised you in any way? It has gotten a lot of positive feedback, and it is an incredible release.
PA: Once again -- you really said it, you know -- I am a pessimist. And I don't put any expectations out there because I guess they set you up to let you down if you're that type of person, and I'm not that type of person. I realize that people are going to love music or hate music or be indifferent to it. For me, you know, especially on this leg on the tour, where I was very adamant about playing small clubs -- for me, the vibe is awesome so far. Because I think we're really just that type of band. So I feel like we are where we belong, it's a new thing, and where it goes from here is anybody's guess, and also, where it goes from here is, I guess -- how much work you put into it. So we'll see. I'm as in the dark as anybody else, but as far as the shows go, I'm having a blast.
SE: Often, people are really eager to classify music immediately and pin things down to subgenres. Does that bother you?
PA: I'm not a big fan of labeling music, you know, unless a band is really trying to be derivative of a certain genre, then sure, you can say this is thrash, or this is black metal -- or certain bands will come straight out and say, "We are a death metal band." But that's them, and whatnot... I think when a band is trying to step out of a sub-subgenre and create something fresh, and special... to be pigeonholed is...ehh, it's a little lame, I'm not gonna lie.
SE: Over the years, there have been so many changes in music formats, from vinyl to cassettes and CDs -- now a lot of people like listening to their music on Spotify and downloading the files onto their iPhone. What do you think of that?
PA: I guess I'm a little indifferent to it, really, you know. I'm a music collector myself whether it be vinyl, cassette, or a file sent to me, or something like that, from a friend, like "Here's my new record, check it out" -- something like that -- I'll take what I can get (laughs), no matter what. But I'll be honest with you, I'm not very familiar with Spotify and all the other shit you said. I don't really follow much of that.
SE: The new Down EP is coming out pretty soon. What type of influences did you gather from on that release, and when should we expect it?
PA: Honestly, it's done. I guess right now we are looking at a release date... and for me, this particular Down...for me, when it's Down, it's gotta sound like Down. And we have a specific sound which is really based on Black Sabbath worship. I feel like there's a lot of Black Sabbath "feel" in this new Down. But also, we're influenced by bands like Witchfinder General, Trouble and Saint Vitus... so I think there's a bit of all of that in there. I've gotta lean a little toward the Witchfinder General, as far as vocal style on a certain number of songs. It's Down, baby, it's Down... we're always trying to try and find a new wrinkle here and there, so it's an interesting record.
SE: Looking forward to hearing that. How has the new guitarist Bobby Landgraf influenced the sound of the band?
PA: Well, Bobby's an incredible player, and really, his style is right up our alley. He fits like a glove. He contributed what he could for the first record and his lead guitar work is phenomenal. I don't know, Bobby's great, man, he was fantastic to work with and he did a great job on this record.
SE: I know that two of your big passions are boxing and horror movies, so I've got to ask: who is one person in the boxing world and from the horror movie scene that you have not met that you would like to have the opportunity to meet?
PA: Well, you know... when I was in second grade, the greatest -- Muhammad Ali -- came through New Orleans. And our class was invited to go, and meet the greatest and get autographs and shake his hand. This is a long time ago, obviously -- back in the '70s. That particular day, I had forgotten to get my "okay" from Mom -- the pass slip signed -- so I got left behind, and...I don't know, I sat in the classroom all day drawing pictures or something like that. So I would love to meet the greatest before he goes -- Muhammad Ali -- what a figure head, what a paramount person, human being, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful soul. I would love to meet him. And in horror -- I'm not a big 'celebrity-type' seeker... I don't really know a lot of names, but I tell you what ,if he was still alive, I would have loved and adored to meet Boris Karloff because to me, he's one of the greatest character actors in the history of character acting, him and Lon Chaney, Sr., but I would pick Karloff over anybody.
SE: How did the Housecore Horror Movie Festival go back in October in Austin?
PA: Really, I was stressed out, I guess, the week leading up to the actual event, and really, when I got there it was so laid-back and so well put together and organized -- so many great bands, so many great films, so many great special guests. I had a blast, and I think everybody had a really, really fucking good time. It was something that I would consider doing again, because it was so fun, and really so un-stressful once you got into the position. It was fantastic.
SE: I know that you have spoken about your Portal obsession. Have any other bands recently caught your attention quite like they did?
PA: You know, there's great bands everywhere but there's something about Portal where you listen, and every listen, you can hear something different every time, and that's something I love in music. I guess there's one band, that I've really got to give a shoutout to, and that's Norway's Virus -- Virus is the name of the band -- and I think they're incredible. I think their main guy, main songwriter/guitar player is very unique. He does very, very...gosh, he takes so many difference influences and blends them so beautifully. You can sit there and go "God, that reminds me of Voivod" or you can say, "that reminds me of the Melvins", etc., etc., etc., and hell, even the vocals remind me of stuff The Swans did in their more mellow age. So, Virus -- I would absolutely recommend Virus.
SE: Your music taste is very eclectic and diverse. Do you think there's any band that you're into that would really shock people to know you're a fan of?
PA: I don't know and honestly, I really don't care -- I really don't, man. Music is there for the taking, and I don't, you know...discriminate, really, any style at all. Are there certain styles that I don't like, yeah, absolutely, but you know...I just...as far as the eclectic music collector, you know, I don't know what would surprise people (laughs). I really don't.
SE: You have toured in so many different countries for so many years. What are the main differences between the crowds in, for example, Europe, compared to North America... how do you think they respond to music differently?
PA: I think the Europeans are very educated, and they are loyal, super-loyal, whereas in America, there seems to be a new flavor of the day, every other week. And... I just think that the European fans are much more -- or I'll say, less fickle... and really passionate about what they are into. And they are very, very informed, so to speak, and they support the bands that might have had two seconds of fame here in America, but they still have a hardcore following in Europe or Scandinavia, you know. So it's very, like you say -- it's a different world, across the pond. But then again, there's no way...I'm not going to completely diss the American scene at all, and I don't mean to, because I realize -- shit, man -- Down has a super hardcore following here in the States, and we appreciate that very much. And you know, don't get me wrong -- I love America as well, but really, in all honesty, a show is a show is a show. As long as I have the microphone in my hand and there's an audience there, I'm gonna what I do, and normally, I have a blast.
SE: What is your prediction for the Superbowl?
PA: I think the Broncos are gonna have a little bit too much firepower and diversity against the Seahawks. I think the Seahawks are a damn impressive team all around, and they're going to be fucking really good for a long time. They've got a great coach, and they've got a great young quarterback, and I do mean great -- Russell Wilson -- I think the world of him, as a person, as a personality, and as an athlete. Their defense is suffocating, and very, very brutal. But the thing is, you know, the NFL is a business. And... it's gonna be very hard to keep that club together and pay everybody because, you know, the NFL -- there's a lot of turnover. You can not keep all of your star players on one team at all, because once again, like I say, it's a business. So a lot of those guys who are kicking ass in Seattle right now are either going to get paid and stay or they're going into free agency and they'll be in completely different colors either next year or most definitely the next year. I tell you what, if Russell Wilson happens to pull the Superbowl off, they're gonna have to pay him. And the pay scale for quarterbacks these days is about $100 million, that eats up a lot of cash base, so good luck with that.
Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals are currently in the middle of the winter leg of the 2014 Technicians of Distortion tour. Find tour dates on http://www.philanselmo.com.
Many thanks to Philip for the interview.