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Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

photo credit: Jimmy Hubbard

It’s been raining in Birmingham for what feels like most of the summer.  The wet mixed with the stifling heat of the Southern summer immediately makes me think about Louisiana where my family is from.  Appropriately enough, I’m gearing up for a chat with Philip Anselmo, the man behind Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, and so many others, whose voice and persona fittingly depict that sneering, sinister underbelly of the South.  Whereas Anselmo the product or idea has been manipulated beyond belief thanks to skewed press coverage and the admittedly bad decisions made by Anselmo himself in the past, the man on the other end of the line is incredibly kind and thoughtful in his answers.  Whatever nerves or tension might have been present before the chat immediately parlay into a kind of comfort thanks to Anselmo’s unremitting candor.  Seconds before he picks up the phone, a huge clap of thunder shakes the windows, signaling yet another sweltering flood.  Perfect. 

From the moment you knew this was what you wanted to – where you knew music was a part of your heart and soul – what’s that journey been like for you up to this point?

You know, honestly, I think if you look at anybody’s life, everybody’s gonna have ups and downs, highs, lows, etc., and all of that.  Believe me, it’s well documented that I’ve been there, and that is absolutely the case.  But, right now…at this juncture in my career, I gotta say, you know, aside from the obvious lows that have been, once again, well documented in the past and very well known, right now I’m at a very sturdy place.  I’m in a very comfortable-in-my-skin place, and I feel very, very blessed to have had such a great, insane fanbase.  No matter what fucking band it’s been a part of.  It’s the fans really, man, that make this shit so worthwhile, because I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am a fucking music fan first.  Matter of fact, I’m a geek, man.  I’m a fucking nerd.  I love music.  I’ve collected for years, and nothing’s changed, man!  I still do the same thing. 

This whole ride through this music that I love so much and my peers that are a part of this music and my influences and all the bands that are a part of it that I’ve become friend with over the years, it’s just amazing.  It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m a very happy person right now.  It feels great to have this freedom, so to speak, to create music and have it be absolutely on my terms and to be accepted.  So, I don’t know, man.  This is a fantastic time in life.  It’s been a fantastic journey despite the downs, and really I’m the type of person that cannot live in the past.  I like to put one fucking foot in front of the other and make something of the day.  Something positive and something worthwhile.  What a ride.


With that, what’s been the greatest challenge for you in that journey?

For me, I think the biggest thing was when I first injured my back, back in the 90s.  That was like…I don’t know…it felt like the world was caving in on me, because I was, before that, I had this unstoppable drive and this absolute confidence about myself and the performance and my personality on stage.  Once I injured myself, there became this vulnerability that I hated, and I despised that particular thing – the feeling of vulnerability and also the chronic pain that came with it.  So, really all of that was a gigantic challenge, and I was very young when that shit happened, and I made every fucking rookie mistake in the book with drugs and fell into that fucking trap, but, you know, climbing out of that trap made me stronger. 

It made me a stronger person, and made me appreciate things around me a whole lot more.  Then obviously the death of Dimebag is still a gigantic motherfucking dagger in my fucking heart that I live with every fucking day.  That’s my personal thing that I gotta live with, and I’m just gonna leave it at that, because I think that everybody that loved Pantera probably feels the same way, except the difference is I was in the room when we were creating all these albums.  I was on the bus when we toured the living fuck out of every one of these fucking albums that we did together, so for me it’s definitely a more personal thing.


photo credit: Danin Drahos

Given your experience throughout all those years, what do you see now as the potentially biggest challenge facing an artist hoping to make viable music or art in 2013?

I would suggest to any up and coming band out there that the most important thing that you do, no matter what music or what type of music that you play, is to go back and do your fucking homework.  Go listen to the decades of music that preceded the genre that you’re currently into, because music history is a vast thing.  Lord only knows what came first – the chicken or the fucking egg, but do yourself a favor and don’t just be influenced by your favorite two or three bands, because you’re just gonna end up sounding like those two or three bands. 

I would take twenty influences and use every bit of those influences to your advantage.  Eventually, you keep the same lineup in the band, and you grow with those individuals, with twenty, thirty, forty different fucking influences.  Eventually, originality will rear it’s head.  Finally, I would say music, in general, in my opinion has no fucking rules at all.  There’s no set of rules as far as how a song should be written or how an expression of music should be made, so don’t let other people fucking get into your head.  Fucking do what feels right to you, and if someone tells you “Hey, you’re doin it wrong,” don’t fucking listen to them, because there’s no wrong way to play fucking music at all. 


Speaking of influences, obviously your influences are pretty wide ranging.  What is it specifically about heavy music that keeps drawing you back to that well to create? 

Honestly, I would have to say it’s because of the underground and how heavy metal has a fantastic and vital pulse to it.  I think that there is some fantastic innovators within every genre of heavy metal that keep coming up with different ways of presenting a genre without becoming…just playing rehash.  I think there’s bands that are so fucking innovative out there within each fucking genre or subgenre of heavy metal.  It keeps me very interested, and it keeps me young, so to speak, in the mind, which translates to the spirit.  There’s some great bands out there, man.  It takes great bands to keep a person like myself interested, because rehash after rehash after rehash definitely gets fucking old after a while. 

When a band steps out of themselves and fucking takes the genre and twists it and freaks it out, and all of a sudden you’ve got a fucking monster on your hands, then I will be the first to give that band an accolades.  I will fucking wear their t-shirts around, and I’ll fucking talk about ‘em in interviews, and talk ‘em up, because they’re good for the genre.  They’re great for heavy fucking metal.  It’s in my blood.  It’s part of me, and it’s a musical form that has been extremely kind to me.  Heavy metal’s been so good to me, man, my knee jerk reaction is to give back always.  That’s just how I roll, man.  I love it, and I cannot help but give back to what has been so fucking goddamn awesome for me. 



With the new record Walk Through Exits Only coming out, I’m curious as to what your process is as an artist, Phil?  What does that look like?

I’m not sure what it looks like, but I’ll guaran-damn-tee it looks ugly.  I’ll say…you know, really, I’m so aware of a lot of great underground bands that, first and foremost, I know not to copy them.  I wanted to make a record that could be considered just as extreme as anything out there, but I wanted it to be a very hard record to pigeonhole or to be able to place into one genre or one subgenre or another.  I wanted it to make people think again.  I wanted it to startle motherfuckers and make ‘em fucking reconsider things.  Now, whether or not I’ve done that we’ll find out in a year or two or whatever or later down the line or maybe not at all, but that’s how that particular ball bounces.  As far as coming up with the stuff, man, it’s probably no different than a lot of people, but it started with just a guitar, a practice amp, a recording apparatus, and me, man. 

Really I was focused on the task, and I had a vision, and I had a very strong fucking vision in my head, so I wrote these damn songs from the ground up.  I had my guitar player Marzi in mind the entire time, because I definitely knew not only is he a great player, he’s also an innovator.  He’s got amazing soundscapes and different sonic elements to his game that I wanted to definitely exploit and get out there.  For me, that’s basically how it rolls.  Honestly, drums too were important to me, because bands that play a million miles and hour and have blast beats all over the fucking place – for me, it’s been done!  It’s been done before, so really I didn’t want to start a band for speed for the sake of speed.  I wanted to create rhythmic bursts that created their own up-tempo style in a different type of way. 

Especially when I talk about drums, hell yes I could have easily gone the blast beat route.  Fuckin’ a, I could have done it.  Really, I wanted a lot of tom work.  I wanted a lot of syncopated different tom work which, if you look at a band like Portal, my god.  That is their fucking rule of thumb.  The drummer and the shit that he does rhythmically – that’s one thing that I absolutely love about Portal is the fact that they will ignore the snare completely for several rounds per song, and just make this fucking surging rhythmic fucking vibe.  I think what I did on this record is similar to what they do, but not even close to what they sound like.  So, in that respect it’s, once again, there was no way I was gonna rip off one of my favorite fucking bands.  But still, it’s conscious effort to create a different type of surge instead of just speed for the sake of fucking speed. 


You’ve got the Housecore Festival coming up in October featuring Goblin, man.

That’s a first-round knockout, too, ain’t it? 


Without a doubt.  What goes into the festival, though, just as far as putting the pieces together?

Well, honestly, it’s awesome.  The bands are awesome.  Goblin is, like I said, a slam dunk.  It was something where there was no fucking way we were gonna pass up bringing Goblin to North America for the first time.  That was just a mind blower.  All the special guest directors are awesome, too.  Coffin Joe from Brazil, Jim Van Bebber from here in the States, and Jörge Buttgereit from Germany of Necromantic fame – all of that shit was just mindbending for me.  Obviously we’re gonna have a lot of awesome vintage films, but one of the more surprising and rewarding things about this film festival that I really am looking forward to is the lesser known directors that I’ve had the opportunity to screen submission for the film festival. 

There’s really some directors out there unheralded or maybe even new or unknown, for sure, that are really doing a service to horror, because they’re coming up with stuff that is original, and they’re really fucking trying to perpetuate the genre in general instead of trying to regurgitate.  For me, it’s gonna be a blast to turn on an entire audience to some of these new filmmakers out there, because really I can’t say enough about it.  Whether it be a short film or a full length.  We’ve got some really super cool submissions, and that’s, once again, probably one of my favorite parts about it.  You’ve gotta see some of these short fucking films, man.  I could start naming them off, but then again I don’t want to give ‘em away, but Jesus Christ.  Any horror fan at all needs to see a couple of these fucking shorts that are just fucking awesome in my opinion.  Especially the Lovecraftian ones.  Those are just really fucking excellent. 



When you’re not putting together festivals, writing new records, or touring, what do you typically do in the small spare time you have, man?

I like to watch horror films [laughs].  I really do, man!  They relax me.  I’m a nostalgia guy, man.  I love the older films.  I love the older actresses and actors.  The direction of certain directors throughout all the decades, and I like that for style points.  I love that type shit.  Right now I’m on a trip where I’ve been watching a lot of old made-for-tv horror from back in the 70s and shit that’s like….goddamn.  It’s stuff I can barely remember from being a kid, but when you go back and watch it, everything comes full circle, so I love doing that, and I love punching the fucking bag downstairs, boxing a little bit.   ‘Cause the bag don’t punch back, you know?  I’m 45, and it’s like gimme a break, man.  But yeah, that’s honestly what I love to do. 


Thanks to Philip for his time. 


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