In the ring with Phil Anselmo: The metal frontman on being Illegal, the Pantera legacy, and the current state of boxing
The just released effort, labeled as Phil Anselmo & The Illegals, features eight tracks, like “Usurpur Bastard’s Rant” and “Battalion of Zero,” that test the listener’s endurance – it’s simply unrelenting. That has left some fans expecting Pantera 2.0 or an extension of Down disappointed; and others who enjoyed Anselmo’s Superjoint Ritual and Arson Anthem projects ecstatic that the 45-year-old is still grinding it out and epitomizing the word “heavy” as it relates to music. He’s still as pissed off as a teenager and has the energy of a kid in his early 20s, belied by a slow Southern drawl that sounds easy but feels like it could snap like a whip into something fierce if provoked.
A few weeks before he returns to Massachusetts (August 13 at the Palladium in Worcester), we talked not only about the new music, but aging in the world of metal, and what’s long been a favorite topic of Anselmo’s — boxing. That last subject got him all riled up when talk turned to Adrien Broner, the 24-year-old undefeated WBA welterweight champion who has been infuriating purists of the sport with his silly antics, the likes of which haven’t this grating since retired featherweight Prince Naseem in the ’90s.
This is Anselmo’s ring.
“It’s a madhouse around here,” Anselmo tells me as we get down to business. “Got the solo band in and we been jammin’. We lost the electricity about a half hour and then the phone lines went dead… so sorry about the technical difficulties right off the bat [laughs]. We can kick this thing’s ass – let’s do it.”
Michael Christopher: I’m trying to get a handle on the new record, which I dig. What are you doing on Walk Through Exits Only that you can’t do with any of your other projects? Obviously it’s not a Down-sounding record but why do it as a solo effort and why now?
Phil Anselmo: First and foremost I wanted to make an extreme record that could sit right next to anything that is considered extreme these days but also very hard to slide into a particular slot or genre or subgenre. I wanted it to be an erratic, difficult listen. And really, the only two bands I’m working with right now are Down and the solo band. For me, there were two things that were really important about the solo record; first is that it was important that it come under my name and not some brand new band that people would have to buy into. Having my name on there really clears up where this record is coming from. Secondly, I wanted to utilize lesser-known musicians; I didn’t want to put together another supergroup which I guess easy enough I could have done.
It’s kind of surprising that you’re putting it out at this stage in your career. Some people would say, “Phil Anselmo, 45 years old, and he’s putting out music that is arguably the most extreme of his catalog.” Do you ever think about the concept of aging and still being able to do what you do?
Well, it’s been done before where guys in established bands, in heavy metal bands, have gone on to put out solo records sometimes that are great and sometimes with age they put out in my opinion would be “old man rock,” more simpler version of whatever band they were in before.
For me, I’ve always been a gigantic champion of the underground, so once again I wanted to make an extreme record that was not an “old man record,” something fresh, something new that is brought to the table. It’s one of those albums that’s a tough listen, there’s no way that you’re going to pick up the little nuances with one or two listens – it’s the type of record you need to listen to several times over to really grasp. It’s making people work for it in a way. Those records that take some time to get into, they become some of your favorite records coming from my perspective.
It is a polarizing record and maybe that’s because people aren’t giving it the multiple listens that you’re talking about. Have you been surprised by the wide pendulum sway of reactions to it?
No – not at all. I’m pretty well damn aware that everyone has an opinion about everything and whether they praise it or hate it, it’s like any record. I could’ve put out a record with me on a violin and smacking spoons together and still, you’re going to get criticism.
The music press, on the whole, has notoriously taken its shots at you in the past. Is it tough to be doing this; making nice with them now in the name of promotion?
No… it’s part of what you do, it’s part of the game, of the lifestyle. I ain’t making nice with anybody. I’m very much myself and very comfortable within my own skin. I’m an open book and some people see it as a blessing, some people see it as a cure; what the fuck can I do about it? Nothin’. Nothing but keep on being me and that’s how I roll [laughs].
Speaking of open books, what’s the status of your book?
Oh for god’s sakes…eh, it’s slow man, there’s so much going on right now. To dedicate much time to the book is pretty tough right now, but still, we’re on course to… this time next year? Hopefully it’ll be done. It’s one of those things that remain to be seen – believe it when you see it, but don’t blink.
There’s been a ton of rock memoirs over the past several years; everyone from Ozzy to Sammy Hagar to Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots. Are you a fan or do you find most of them disposable?
I don’t really know about them. I’ve only read a couple of rock books my entire life; the only one I can remember is David Lee Roth, honestly. And I read Rex’s [Brown, former Pantera and Down bandmate] book. I’m not a real big fan of reading about other musicians, you know? As far as mine goes, it’s not just a Pantera book, a lot happened before that to even get me to that point.
Don’t get me wrong, Pantera is a gigantic part of my life, but a lot has happened since – both good and awful. All those things will be addressed in one form or another.
Do you ever feel like there is too much pressure or too much of a spectre dealing with the legacy of Pantera?
No. The legacy of Pantera stands pretty firmly on its own. I don’t really dwell on the negative things within Pantera. To me, Pantera is about a whole lot more than the breakup; when I think of Pantera I think of really, really awesome times and great, great, great things and fantastic brotherhood and camaraderie. If you take a look around, there are a lot of bands out there that have experienced similar tragedy and breakup and all the things that happen. We are not the first band to have troubles or tragedy. I don’t really put too much pressure on myself at all. These days, at 45 years old, I realize what Down is; Down is not rocket science, it’s Down music. And I don’t care one fucking bit about popularity contests or charting or winning over new fans – I don’t care about that shit when it comes to Down because we have our own core following and we write songs for Down fans. When I do a venture like this solo record, it’s the freedom of music.
Music is a vast universe and it’s meant to be fucked with and changed around and tradition is meant to be destroyed at one point or another.
Part of that freedom is in the live aspect. Are you going to be pulling from your entire history on the upcoming tour?
It’s a good possibility. I’m not gonna give away too many secrets. I like every show to be different than the last show. I love spontaneity. To not answer it directly, there is a great possibility that anyone who comes out to these shows, it might be one of those shows where we touch upon that past, which is very rich in history. The possibilities are almost endless.
The last time we talked, you were getting ready for the physicality of a Down tour. With this music being much more extreme, how has your preparation changed?
I don’t have to get up and jump around for the kids anymore. I’m the type of guy who lets the music do the talking. I don’t really think about changing preparation up at all. I just got off of three weeks of touring in Europe and it was very physical outings and right now I’m not too far off the mark. Now don’t get me wrong – could I drop five pounds? Damn right I could! But is it gonna go anywhere? I dunno, it’s tough at 45, man. I might have to turn to lettuce and drinking goddamn chicken broth every night [laughs]. Fucking hell, do a cycle of steroids or something. I ain’t no bodybuilder, so it doesn’t matter; this is music we’re talking about.
What is the status of the next Down EP – is it still scheduled for early next year?
That’s what I think – I don’t see why not. If we put our heads down in September and really get to work on this sucker, I think that we’ve got some really heavy, great riffs already and some semi-written new material that we’ve touched on whilst touring. To me that’s very encouraging as far as Down goes because everybody knows it has taken us five years in-between every single release. I think, for us, we are ahead of the game.
One of the cool things about the Down EPs is it’s only five or six songs. Even your solo release is just eight tracks. What do you think about these bands that put out 20 tracks or double albums; do you think it’s better to put material out in more digestible pieces?
I cannot speak for other bands; if they want to put 15 songs on a record, more power to them. It’s pure boredom for me at this point in my career; not other bands, but projects that I do. With Down, if we can concentrate on five or six songs, those songs get more consideration and more care and more attention that they deserve. For me, shorter is always a little bit better. Case in point: Reign in Blood.
You just turned 45 years old [on June 30]. What would the 45-year-old Phil Anselmo say to the 25-year-old Phil Anselmo?
“Do a lot more core work, you stupid motherfucker. And put down the goddamn whiskey bottle and take your career a little more seriously you stupid motherfucker.” Whether the young one would listen or not, I’m not really sure; I doubt it.
You’ve been revisiting your past in recent years with expanded editions of Pantera’s Cowboys From Hell and Vulgar Display of Power. Next year is the 20th anniversary of Far Beyond Driven; what are the plans for it?
I’m sure it’s going to happen because we’ve done it with the first two records. I don’t know too much about lost demos or anything, because Pantera did not waste riffs or songs; especially when we’re talking about the era of Far Beyond Driven. You take a look at that time period though; we did a lot of songs for movie soundtracks [“Light Comes Out of Black” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and “The Badge” from The Crow among them]. Whether that’s part of the package or not, it is there to use. If these major companies can come together and allow us to re-release stuff that may not have been purely East/West or whatever, believe me, there are songs that could be bonus tracks but it’s more of a political “let’s find out down the line.” So yes there will be a re-release, but I don’t know what the specialties will be.
We’ve talked before about the penchant for covers, whether it was live or in the studio. You’ve done it with Down, I’ve seen you do Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” what is it that attracts you to doing a cover of a song?
Oh god, normally it’s just spontaneous, especially with Down – believe me. If we kick into “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love,” there’s only, like, two guys on the stage that really halfway know the song [laughs]. So it’s very spontaneous and very tongue in cheek so to speak. It’s not like a need or a definite thing where we’re going to mindfully play a cover song on any given night. It’s spontaneity rearing its hideous head – especially when it comes to “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love.” We have butchered that song for years – I have for sure, especially when I’m playing guitar; I am terrible.
I know this could open a completely open a can of worms, but what is your take on the current state of boxing, you haven’t done a column for Boxing Insider in some time.
I don’t really have any time for writing boxing columns right this minute. Wladimir Klitschko is still the heavyweight champ, he’s a dominant heavyweight champ and other than that, the only really intriguing heavyweight match is coming up out of Great Britain. That’s between the undefeated 6’ 9” Tyson Fury and former heavyweight champ and challenger David Haye. I think there’s gonna to be a knockout in that fight, and I’m predicting that Tyson Fury will be brought big time back down to earth once he gets hit by a guy who can really, really punch like David Haye can. Aside from him, I was really surprised that Donito Donaire got dominated by Guillermo Rigondeaux [Donaire lost just his second fight in more than a decade and dropped The Ring and WBO Super Bantamweight titles]. This kid is a great fighter and Donaire is no pushover, so for him to lose the fight as badly as he did shows just how great this other kid is. And this middleweight coming up, Gennady Golovkin, better known as Triple G; a bad motherfucker man. Bad motherfucker [Golovkin is currently 27-0 with 24 wins by KO].
The middleweight division is the most compelling these days.
I think within the middleweights through the light heavyweights there’s going to be some very interesting matchups in the next couple years. We’re looking at the twilight of Floyd Mayweather’s career and he has been an undefeated, excellent champion despite what you might think of him as a person; very tough guy to beat and very excellent defensively and a great counterpuncher. Floyd is yet to really challenge himself the way guys in the past have like Sugar Ray Leonard who kept moving up in weight. There are some young guys on the horizon that are beasts – look no further than the Floyd Mayweather wannabe…
Adrien Broner. I’d love to see Broner and Mayweather fight, I just doubt it will happen.
Broner has said it will never happen.
That’s because he knows he would lose. I’m not a big fan of Adrien Broner.
Me either. He doesn’t have his own identity at all…
He doesn’t have his own identity, and he’s a chump. He looks it and he’s acting it. One thing Floyd has done in the past 12 months or so is tone down the shit talk. He’s been more respectful in interviews and a more pleasant picture than we’ve seen in the past. I think he’s trying to cleanup his public perception. And with guys out there like Adrien Broner and Tyson Fury out there who talk so much shit; Tyson Fury might steal the cake. He calls himself the greatest fighter in the history of the game and he would beat any heavyweight champion in the history of the game. Hell, the dude has barely had 20-something fights, and he has not looked great in particularly any of them, and I would pick Wladimir Klitschko to knock his fucking block off easily. He’s a big mouth that will eventually get his comeuppance and I think David Haye has the power to do that.
Who do you think will take out Broner? I don’t think he really won that fight against…
Yeah, Paulie Malignaggi. At the very least it should’ve been a lot closer on the scorecards [Malignaggi lost by split decision in the fight that took place in June].
It all depends on what you’re looking at in a fight – activity or more effective punches. Broner had the more effective shots while Paulie had the higher work rate. But as far as Adrien Broner goes, I don’t think he’s made real weight ever in his career; he’s always fought guys smaller than him. I think that you put him in with a guy his size that’s mobile, that can punch and box? Then we’ll know a lot more about Adrien Broner. Everybody knew going into the Malignaggi fight that Paulie doesn’t have a big punch – he doesn’t. He’s feather-fisted so to speak. He can box, sure, but you saw it right there; just a little bit of boxing gave Broner problems. Imagine if Malignaggi really had a hard, hard knockout punch, then we have a whole different conversation on our hands right now. Until he fights somebody that he has a chance of losing to then, like I say, we’ll know a shitload more about Adrien fucking Broner. Ick.
I know, can’t stand his act at all.
Me either. He sucks. Really, the whole shtick is really awful – it’s insulting.
The guy combing his hair in the ring…
Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Just fight and move on and shut up. Jesus.
Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals + Warbeast + Author & Punisher + Vivisepulture + Black Mass + Eyes of the Dead | Tuesday, August 13 at the Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester | 5pm, all-ages, $25 | 508.797.9696 or thepalladium.net | advance tickets