Not sure what’s better, having seen Pantera in a packed, small club shortly after Cowboys From Hell came out and a loyal audience swarmed to the aggressive riffs in one sweaty family; or seeing them at Ozzfest with a crowd of thousands jumping up and down like an ocean during the tune “Walk,” as frontman Phil Anselmo prowled the stage like he owned it (which he did). Either way, the band is now legendary for its own Southern brand of metal. It was a privilege to talk on the phone with Anselmo after all these years.
Perhaps I should have taken a more adversarial approach with which to coax out some juicier, more pissed-off answers, but I’ve always favored friendship, respect and tact over sensationalism, so when it comes to the spiritual part of the discussion that HM readers have come to expect, there might not be much meat.
Hey man, this is Doug. How are you doing?
What is going on, bud?
Not a lot. Did you have a good Fourth of July?
Oh, I had a sleepy (bleep) Fourth of July. We just got back from Europe and I didn’t do jack (bleep) but lay around.
Nice. I mean, it is nice to lie around, man.
What about you?
It was good. I hung around Lake Travis in Austin. I haven’t been out there in the water for a million years. It felt great.
Yeah. Well, I’ve got a tape recorder rolling, ready for an interview?
Let’s tear it up.
Okay, I am going to start off with a compliment. You are a legitimate badass, and I wonder if you’ve had your ass kicked in the last 20 years and, if so, how that impacted you?
Oh god! No ass-kicking for me, man, but I will say that the last two fights I got into were years and years and years ago — and I didn’t necessarily win because I was basically too drunk to fight, and they couldn’t have hurt this knuckle-hard head of mine, so I would give it a draw. Two of ’em (laughs). It sucked, but they were actually kind of funny. No big deal.
Do you find yourself being able to impose a scowl and get out of fights just based on your looks and everything, and just avoid conflict because people size you up and realize, “I better not mess with this guy?”
I don’t even think about it. I would rather make friends than fight any (bleep) day, man, so, you know, if someone, I guess, wants to pick a fight, the best way I figure is to just kind of get out of it — to kill them with kindness, because it leaves them with a buzzkill look on their face and a defeated quest. Maybe they’ll think, “Wait a second, maybe I just misjudged this guy completely.” And, honestly, being sued over (bleep) 10 different (bleep) times in the ’90s, it is just not worth it. I don’t like cops. I don’t like jail and I (bleep) hate lawsuits, so really it is just boring. Once again, I would rather make friends than fight any (bleep) time.
Yeah, that is awesome. So, if you could make a statement or write a letter to your long-haired, frontman-for-Pantera self 24 years ago, what would you say to that guy?
I would say, “Keep your core (bleep) strong and lay off the (bleep) drinks so much, you mother (bleep)!” Pretty much (that’s what I’d say).
You think he would listen?
God, now that is the tricky part of the question! Probably not, man. Probably not.
Well the first track off of your new record, Walk Through Exits Only, is heavy and immediate and a great way to start off the album. What are your thoughts on the new record?
To me, it is about three years old and, honestly, I am kind of looking forward to newer stuff, man. You know, expanding on different elements of music. It is a wide open field, but I think this first one is a decent starting point or launch pad. I think it is the type of record people are going to have a knee jerk reaction to it, and then (decide to) feel one way or the other about it. But, give it six months, a year-to-two years, and they will understand where I was coming from and realize that it is not just this blitzkrieg of riffs for the sake of riffs. There are songs, there are hooks there — plenty of them — and very memorable things and song structure as well. It is really not for me to judge, but I guess we will see in time.
Tell me about the players on the album (collectively known as The Illegals).
Well, obviously there is Marzi Mantazeri, the guitar player, who I have known since the ’80s. Dimebag introduced me to him. He’s one of the first guys where Dime really said, “This guy is a really good guitar player.” This is something that Marzi and I have been wanting to do for a really long time. He is a great guitar player and has a great future ahead of him — whether with me or anybody. He can adapt to so many different styles.
Then there is José “Blue” (Manual) Gonzalez. Everyone calls him “Blue,” as in blue the color, but he is the drum player for Warbeast and they were kind enough to let me utilize him as the drummer on this record. He is a young kid and is, what I would call, very ambidextrous. His feet are just as good as his hands and he can really do anything he wants. He just needs to be guided. By the time he is 32, he will be regarded as one of the better extreme metal drummers out there — if he keeps on the right path. As far as bass goes, I used a cat named Bennet Barkley. Bennet is the type of guy that is in a thousand different bands. He is a New Orleans guy — a super cool guy — but his schedule doesn’t really allow him to be a permanent part of this band. So live we are going with this guy named Steve Taylor, who is just a really, really tight musician. He’s very tight with Marzi.
Nice. Tell me about running your own record label.
Ugh! What would you like to know?
What are the challenges of doing that yourself and what are your goals with it? Who else are you going to sign besides Warbeast?
I don’t know, man. I guess that is my thing. I am very careful and I am very prudent when it comes to that type of thing. I have my eyeball on about five different bands right now, but, right now, I am just wrapping up the Down tour, and I am about to head into the Illegals touring at the end of this month, so it is going to take some time before I really get to signing any other band. Originally this whole thing was an outlet — or supposed to be an outlet — for myself where I could do what I wanted with it. Giving other bands an opportunity. That comes natural for me, because that is just how I roll, man. I like to get to know the bands before I really commit to anything with bands these days. I want to know what their goals are. I want to know if they are able to tour. I want to know, you know, “What is your genre of choice?” I need to know all these things, because I think, right now, heavy metal or extreme music is in perhaps a transitional stage. I think we will see a lot of different genres and sub-genres pop up in the next few years. I would like to be a part of that and, like I said a second ago, I have got at least five bands that I think are basically hitting the different notes I would like to hear. They’re shying away a bit from absolute traditional extreme music, or what is supposed to be expected of extreme music, and they are doing something that I would consider to be different within that realm, but still on the bandwagon of extreme music. I am just being very careful.
Tell me about Warbeast.
Great band — great thrash band. In my opinion, they’re the epitome of the Dallas/Ft. Worth thrash style. I spent part of my life living in that area — especially in the very impressionable years — watching bands like Rigor Mortis and Morbid Scream, Gamma Sized, and bands like that. I know these guys, so Bruce Corbitt, to me, has always been a very unique vocalist — and even influential. I’ll say that. He has a very, very distinguished voice. When you hear his voice, you know it. And also, Scott Shelby is a monster of a guitar player, man. He is just a true beast in his own right and I think, right now, with Casey Orr from Rigor Mortis, who has also played in Ministry and Gwar and whatnot — they have got a very, very solid (bleep) band, man. I’d just like to see them get out there and just (bleep) kick some (bleep) (bleep), man. They are going on tour with me at the end of this month and I can’t wait to be around those guys again. We will see what happens from there, but they are a great (bleep) band, man.
Awesome. How do you enjoy touring these days as opposed to maybe 10 or 20 years ago?
Well, 10 or 20 years ago you would be up for… Well, I guess I would be with Pantera or any band in the past for three months at a time or some (bleep) like that. And these days, I only allow two weeks to two-and-a-half, three weeks of touring because it is easier on the body. It is not so demanding, and getting back home and getting back to work with the label is very important. I get to pick and choose a little bit more now — to where, in the past, we would tour forever and that was just grueling. I don’t like to be away from home too terribly long because I am a homebody for the most part. I am not the type that typically is a social guy or anything like that, but touring these days is a blast, honestly. It is a (bleep) blast.
That is awesome. What do you think about Jesus Christ?
Now we are getting weird.
(Coughs a lot, almost sounding purposeful and sarcastic in a sense.) Sorry. I don’t think about it at all. I don’t think about Jesus Christ at all, man. That is not for me to think about. I’m not a very religious guy.
Okay, one more religious question: What do you think about his claims to be: “the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me?”
(Bleep) him, man! He’s … You know, it sounds like rhetoric from any other (bleep) … (bleep) proclaimed son of some divine god or some (bleep) like that, so really it’s not talking to me at all.
So, let’s say the New Orleans Saints and the Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC Championship Game at Cowboys Stadium. Who wins that game and why?
The Saints would win easy, because overall … Well, (bleep) that is just my (bleep) pride talking. I am just very mystified by the Saints this year. I think defensively there are a lot of question marks, and I know you guys are very (bleep) familiar with Rob Ryan, so as far as the Defensive Coordinator goes … Really my biggest concern is the offense, because I will tell you this: My offensive line is older. There are a lot of questions about left tackle, even at right tackle. I am not sure of the starter. It’s probably Zach Strief.
But, still, we’re also possibly lacking in the running game. We traded away our best running back as far as yards per carry. I am not sure Chris Ivory is the guy that is going to be healthy all season. He is still a beast at running back, whereas Mark Ingram hasn’t improved much at all. And Pierre Thomas is a year older and Darren Sproles — every defensive player on the field has to account for him, so when the ball goes to Sproles, it’s pretty easy to zero in on him.
However, my main concern is who in the (bleep) is going to be the number three and four wide receivers? That is a battle I will be very much watching in pre-season. As far as a championship, I am picking the Saints because we are a better offensive team. And defensively, I think it really depends on health. In 2009 when we won the Super Bowl, it was really the perfect storm, because at one point in time, at the end of the season, our entire secondary was (bleep) hurt, and that can happen anytime and at any part of the (bleep) history of the NFL. If one guy goes down, you are (bleep).
So, I think, looking at our defense — especially the secondary — if one of our starting cornerbacks goes down, it is like, “Oh boy!” you know? “Here we go! The defense is struggling again.” So that is a tough question, man, but I am going with the Saints, of course.
Alright. You touched on this a little bit and I want you to expound on it. What do you see as the future of extreme music? What are you going to see and hear?
Well, like I said, it is in transition, in my opinion, because there is some really outrageous (bleep) figureheads — cornerstone bands — out there.
A couple of case-in-points: Look at death metal and what Morbid Angel did for death metal back in the late ’80s and ’90s — very innovative riffing and insane time signatures and amazing musicians. Guys like Pete Sandoval and what he brought to the table. He changed the drumming dynamics to extreme music. Honestly, I see this now — but in a much more extreme and absolutely insane way — in a band from Australia called Portal. Portal to me is (bleep) the greatest modern day death metal band I’ve ever heard. I cannot quit (bleep) listening to them, because they are just so (bleep) great. I think, rhythmically, they are just absolutely different than anybody, and I think the drums are a key weapon they have. It just depends on where it goes and who catches on quicker.
You can look at extremities that way, and then you can look at a band like Ghost. Some people might say, “This isn’t metal at all,” and, “This is occult rock,” you know? Who is going to catch on quicker? I guess my opinion would be bands like Ghost that writes big, gigantic, epic songs and stuff like that. Perhaps the audience might be swayed in that direction, because the songs are so gigantic.
But, for a guy like myself, I can appreciate both sides of it. Right now, everything is based off of mood. No matter what I am into, it depends on the mood I am (bleep) in. Right now, Portal is just (bleep) crushing me, and I think if there are bands out there that take cues from Portal, then they are going to have to be … They can’t just be a copy band.
When I think of cornerstone bands, black metal has a lot of clutter for me right now. I think there are a lot of bands that just imitate and sound alike, but then within that genre there are bands like Death Spell Omega from France. They are insane and innovative and come up with outrageous (bleep) time signatures and fantastic Voivod-like chords and what-not. They are really stepping the game up, so … I am not a great prognosticator and what-not on what the (bleep) people love/hate or whatever. I just know what I like. I know my (bleep) as far as topical bands go, but, once again, there is always this pulse within the underground that is constantly working and constantly alive and, really, I am as interested as anybody is as to who is going to step up next. So, for me, it is just a kind of a wait and see thing.
I might check some of that stuff out.
You have got to, man. I am going to warn you: At first Portal sounds like a jet plane landing, but the more you listen to it — once you get into it — they are just so (bleep) brilliant, man. If you look at some of their (bleep) on YouTube (with) them playing nine-string (bleep) guitars and they are all over those (bleep) fretboards, going crazy … But it really is the rhythmic part of it that is just really mind blowing. And I have got to also say, they’re lyrically (mind blowing), because I am an H.P. Lovecraft freak. They are (bleep) to me. The singer, The Curator, is probably one of the best lyricists out there today. I’ll say it. He is (bleep) amazing, an incredible lyricist.
Nice. So, if you could talk to Dimebag Darrell today, what would you tell him?
I would tell him that I loved him. “I (bleep) love you, buddy. I love you so, so much,” and I am sure there would be some apologies in there for lack of communication, but that kind of goes on both sides, and perhaps he would answer in a similar way. That is a tough question, man, but basically the first thing out of my mouth would be that I loved him very, very much. So much…
Owning a studio: What would you list as a one or two pieces of essential studio gear?
Essential studio gear? Well, obviously microphones — obviously, basic equipment. Everything from … I am the type of guy … I love the real stuff. I love analog tape, but I don’t shun the Pro-Tools or anything like that at all. You’ve got to adapt to the modern times to a certain degree, but you don’t have to trigger drums. You don’t have to (bleep) imitate tones that are already done. You can do things from an organic standpoint; so, honestly, I would just say, “Microphones and pure equipment and amps.” That’s the best thing. The old Harrison (console) sidecar doesn’t hurt, either. I would take the real things.
So, if you were the Governor of Texas, what would you want to do or say about illegal immigration if you could make changes?
Oh man! Well, I am not a great political mind. But, I think that America is the melting pot. This is a well-known fact. America is built for every type of person — every culture, every creed, every kind — every person that wants to be part of America. But, I think that, if you want to be part of America, you know, you need to … it is like being part of anything: You need to bring something to the table. You need to help build the country, not just take from the country. So, hopefully people know this. Once again, I am no (bleep) politician.
Right on. I appreciate your time, and I would love to have a beer with you in Austin someday.
Hey, come on! Bring it on, man. You know, we’ve got the Horror Film Fest in Austin coming up, and, if you come on out to that sucker, just say, “Hey, man, we did an interview over the phone. Let’s have a beer.” I will be the first to say, “Let’s go, big brother.”
Right on, that is in October right?
Alright, man. Well, you have a good day, dude.
Thank you, man.
Phil Anselmo was posted on August 13, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by Doug Van Pelt.