As the voice of Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual and Arson Anthem, Philip H. Anselmo needs no introduction. Yet somehow it’s taken him 45 years to come out with a solo project that bears his name. Walk Through Exits Only, under the name of Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals, was released today (16), and it’s as jagged and uncompromising as the man himself. We caught up with the vocalist to discuss why it’s taken until now to release his first proper solo album, how the album came together, what it’s like running a record label in the age of streaming, and his inaugural venture into running a music and movie festival, which is coming up in October.
Despite being a man of many projects, this is the first one to have just your name directly attached to it. What led you to do that?
Well, you just said it, really. I’ve done so many different bands, and each one has had its own moniker. I figured I’d simplify it for people this time around, and call it “Philip H. Anselmo.” The Illegals thing is a tongue-in-cheek type name I came up with for the band. They pick on me so much, I figured I’d get them back on that one. The next record they may be called “The Butterflies” or whatever, so I’m going to give them a different moniker each time. But either way, for me, it’s easier for people to buy into. I’m not very compromising with this music. This is stuff that I wrote from the ground up, and really had to find the right guys to execute it, and I think I did a pretty good job there. But just too simplify things, why not call it “Phillip H. Anselmo,” because if I called it another moniker, it’d be like a whole other band for people to have to buy into, which it is anyway. It’s a brand new thing for both the fans and myself. Once the record comes out, people can consume it and make their own decisions, and I guess time will tell.
Sure. It’s definitely one of the heaviest things you’ve done in a long time. There’s some pretty death metally influences on the record. What did you tap into when writing it?
I’m very well versed with what’s out there for the most part within extreme music. I’m a death metal fan, I’m a black metal fan, I’m a hardcore fan, and a lot of the sub sub genres you can point at I’m pretty well aware of, and I’m a fan. I’m a music fan, and I’m an extreme music fan, so I’m making it my business to see what’s out there in the thriving underground. What I wanted to do with this record was, with the knowledge that I had of the underground, I wanted to create a record that, in my opinion is just as extreme as anything out there, but was very difficult to slide into one main genre at all. I wanted it to stand on its own. I was very, very focused to not repeat what other people have done already. I did not want speed for the sake of speed, or double kicks just for the mere sake of them. I wanted crazy time signatures, I wanted aggravated riffs that broke out of the 4/4 mold of basic death metal and thrash and what not. I wanted a unique record musically and lyrically. When I say lyrically, instead of black metal, where you have preconceived notions before you even listen to a black metal record, ideologically, or nationalistically, or death metal has its own sort of preconceived notions about what those lyrics may be about. I wanted to have lyrics that were really gut level and true to form. Also, that may show off a different form of my writing which is sarcastic and tongue in cheek to a certain degree. It shows a bit of my personality, it shows the mood I was in. Whenever I make a record, I want it to be unique unto its own, and different from the album that I had done before, no matter what band or project I may have done. In my opinion, it HAS to stand on its own. I wanted to make a record that did just that; stand very, very much alone. And I hate to say this overall, but we’re in an oversaturated market right now. For me, if you look specifically at black metal and death metal, which are the two leading forms of extreme music, there are definitely cornerstone bands that are creators, and then there are innovative bands in those genres that are doing some special stuff, but there are a whole lot of what I would call copycat bands as well, that are really just imitating. They’re imitating instead of innovating. I wanted to be an innovator in the extreme music genre, and once again, not be able to be put or slid into any particular slot just for the sake of classification.
I wanted to ask you specifically about the song “Music Media is My Whore,” because the title is so grabbing.
Well, it seems to be one of the more popular songs to ask about. Once again, the press is always, and always will, have free reign to say whatever they want, whether it be a speculative piece or a factual piece on any musician out there, or any person in the limelight. It doesn’t matter. You can be an actor, you can be a sports person, or personality or whatever. Anybody can get picked apart. It’s just my way of ribbing them back a little bit. If you really look at the lyrics, you’ll see that in truth, that particular song really has nothing to do with the press at all. That’s part of the dry sense of bullshit, absurd humor that I practice over here. I’m fucking crazy man.
How long have you been working on these songs? Are some of them ones that have been around for a while? Or was it just like “I’m going to go into this project, and write a fucking album?”
Well, with the stuff that actually made it onto Walk Through Exits Only, I have to say that those songs are relatively newer. I guess they were written in the last three years, but you have to understand that during this process, I started out with me in my bedroom with a guitar, and an amp, and a recording apparatus. I wrote them flat out before I even thought of forming an actual band and executing the songs. That was somewhat time consuming for sure. Then once I picked the band and all that, I was jamming as much as possible with them, but also producing two different records, and producing the last Down EP at the same time. So it’s been one of those start-stop fucking processes that drag on, so to speak, until you get it right. Once again, we recorded in big, giant sections, so that’s really how it all came together.
You definitely keep yourself busy.
Oh man. You can say that again.
You don’t like sitting still, I guess.
I can’t. When I sit still, I feel like “man, there are a million things I could be doing right now to better myself or something out there. I could do something constructive.” So if I sit around too terribly long, just…fuck man, it’s hard to even relax. I get this overwhelming feeling of guilt, so it is very, very, very tough for me to just sit.
Is Housecore (Records) going well right now? I was going to ask what you think of the whole Spotify type deal where people aren’t necessary buying records so much, but they’re steaming them, and you’re getting paid less, but more over time, perhaps.
Well, you know, I think that stuff like Spotify and things of that nature where there’s different formats and different ways to look at music and get music and listen to music is just a big transitional period to me. I don’t think Spotify is the last thing we’ll see of a new way to enjoy music or learn about music or gain access to music. It’s one of many ideas out there now. I always see this thing changing and taking different forms every day. As far as Housecore Records goes, I’m not a big roster guy. I’ve never JUST signed a bunch of bands just to have this gigantic list of bands to go through. I’m very, very prudent about the bands that I sign, because once again, I also think that music, extreme music, heavy metal in general is going through a transitional period, because I brought up black metal and death metal being the leaders in recognizable extreme heavy metal these days, but I think that there are cornerstone bands that are the creators of certain genres and subgenres within extreme music, and then I think that there are innovators out there doing some great stuff, but I also see a logjam of copycat bands that at this point, especially with black metal, and to a certain degree death metal for sure, that has kind of beat itself into the ground. For me, I like to look for bands that are definitely not trying to cling absolutely to a specific genre too closely. I’m looking for bands that are trying to hit different notes, and play in different time signatures, instead of your average 4/4 time bands, and classic, traditional note changing and key changing bands. As a musician, I just like to believe that not all of the time signatures and not all of the notes have been hit yet. I’m looking for bands that are trying to, at least, differentiate themselves from your average band. I’ve got my eyeball on four or five bands right now that I think are right on the verge of doing something very, very different and developmental. Once again, I’m very careful before signing a band.
Are you embracing social media at all?
I don’t. I don’t do it. I don’t do Facebook, although I know that I have one. Family members have tried to keep it up to date to a certain degree. And believe me, don’t get me wrong, I see the positives and self-promotion within Facebook and Twitter and stuff like that, but it’s just not my style, man. It’s really not my style at all.
Last time I saw you in New York was for Metal Masters IV. Are you going to continue to take part in those things?
I know that there is one that is creeping up sometime. Whether they have a date nailed down, I’m not positive, but yeah, I think I’m going to do that again as long as my brothers from Anthrax and Slayer are there. And it always seems like there’s somebody else, or somebody new from some band out there joining us up there. It’s fun. It’s fun reuniting with those guys. I’ve known Anthrax since the middle 80’s; I’ve known Slayer since the later 80’s, and that’s a long time and a lot of inside jokes. We get along real well. It’s always fun for me. I think if and when the next one happens, I’ll be there.
Obviously, you have Walk Through Exists Only about to come out, but the Down IV EP cycle is kind of open ended. Have you gotten together to discuss the next part of it?
Oh yeah. When we’re on the road, a lot of times we sit there, and we sift through riffs, and we’ve been doing this thing on and off to where we’ll bring a recorder in the dressing room and everybody will get a turn on the guitar, and we’ll do this thing called “riff of the day,” so we’ve been sifting through a lot of material that we have demoed already, and also writing new stuff that could be a hit, or could be a miss. You never know. But it’s content, so, I think that the plan is for us to really get our heads down into the new Down in November. I say we’re really going to take a good cold stare at stuff in November, and hopefully get some stuff recorded. There is ammunition there, there is material. For Down, that’s a very encouraging thing because we are the worst procrastinators of when our next album is coming out. We’ve told blatant lies before unknowingly. You know, people will ask “when’s the next down coming out?” and we’ll say ‘a year or so’ let’s say, or something like that, and obviously five years go by, and it’s like “where’s your fucking record?” Once again, I say that among any other Down record, I think that the pre-preparations for this next one is a great sign, and also very encouraging, because honestly, if we really put our nose to the grindstone this November, there’s no real reason why that record should not be out early. You know, like the first three months of 2014.
Great! And another thing on the horizon for you is the Housecore Horror Film Festival. How is that coming along?
Well, you know, it takes a new shape and form every day, and really, it’s a beast man. There’s a lot to go through logistically, and my biggest thing is that I want people who actually come out to enjoy themselves, to REALLY enjoy themselves, and I want the people who are part of it, whether it be a band, or a special guest, or a director, or whoever it is, I want them to have a great experience as well. I guess we’re making sure that all of our T’s are crossed and that we have the best shot at everyone having a blast. It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s exciting, but at the same time, this is my first time doing anything like this, so bite your tongue if you’re going to use the word annual. Let me get through year one first, and see how it goes, if it’s going to be this thing called annual.
Lastly, you’re working on an autobiography. How is that coming along?
Slowly. Very slowly. Baby steps; a little bit at a time. With all of the stuff that’s going on right now, something has to take a bit of a backburner, and sadly, it is the book.
You’ve still got some life to live.
I do. I do have a life to live. The thing is, I think contractually, it’s supposed to be out somewhere about this time next year, so I know that I’ll be working my ever loving ass off from December all through next year to try to knock this sucker out. It’s going to be a lot of work and what else do I have to do but work? Sleep I can do later.