Exclusive Interview with Philip Anselmo: “Any Time I Spend On the Things I Love Comes Back to Me Tenfold”
When you’ve written about metal and rock for a while there are two things that you come to accept. First: you will likely be paid little or nothing at all. Second: the larger the band you deal with, the bigger the headache required to get a musician on the line. Instead of polishing prose or listening to new music, you are left on perpetual hold with a publicist while they try to patch a call to Joe Rock Star. Often, the musician doesn’t show up or rings in fifteen minutes into your time.
This isn’t the case with Mr. Philip Anselmo, former vocalist of Pantera, current vocalist of Down and budding entrepreneur of all things underground. Considering Anselmo’s status as metal royalty he could easily command a conference call that would boggle The White House. Instead, you get a number and Philip answers: “Housecore!” For a minute I think it must be a studio employee until I realize that Anselmo is, indeed, picking up the phones at his record label. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was mopping and dusting before answering the call.
This is a small example of what makes Anselmo special. He could easily spend his time completely disconnected, count his Pantera earnings and emerge from hiding to play some classic songs and head to the bank. Instead, he’s continued to make vital music while starting a second career: label owner, horror festival proprietor and, soon enough, memoirist (with an assist from MetalSucks contributor and true crime author Corey Mitchell). Anselmo is busier than ever as he tries to get the details together for the Housecore Horror Film & Music Festival. “God damn I’m juggling a lot of things. Let me get my brain in the game here,” he says. He then spends an hour with us talking about life, lists and tenacity.
How is your back holding up?
Jesus, it’s almost a non-issue. If you asked if I can feel foreign objects in my body the answer would be yes. But it’s not really back pain I struggle with any more. These days it’s important to stay hydrated because I get bad muscle cramps underneath the shoulder blade of my back. It’s become a problem, to a degree. Other than that, as far as back pain, there will be bad days. But it’s way better than having bad months. I’ll take a bad day over a bad stretch any time.
Do you have a routine for dealing with your back?
Absolutely. That goes religiously with any form of real recovery. You never quit rehabbing. You never quit. You can help yourself by slow, slow stretching every day, every morning. The stretching itself helps so much and I can get on with the day. As far as the core work, heck yes it’s important. But it’s mega important when you are coming back from the initial surgery. I really embraced a core strengthening regime because during back surgery they have to cut through so many muscles. For the first few days after surgery I had a canister to piss, to just hang it in there and let it spill. There was also a hard plastic device that felt like it was holding my guts together.
Now, it’s a matter of maintenance. I don’t have to put myself through all the rigors and the Pilates and ball work even though I probably should. But these days are so busy that by the time I’m off the phone it will be about 5. So, like today, I might be lucky to hit the bag or lift some light weights. For anyone out there with any back issues, slow stretching and core work is the way to go.
You’ve been busier now than ever. You have a record label. You have the horror festival. You’re kind of an entrepreneur and there’s Down. Are you worried about overcommitting?
It’s interesting you bring up overcommitment. The horror festival is a case in point. It started as a small thing. Now, we need to step back and look at things and realize this is year one and a work in progress. I’ve never thrown a fucking horror fest before [laughs]. If that means eliminating some things for this year to run smooth than I’m going to have to do it. Once word got out it’s amazing the offers I got. I’d love to have all of these fantastic people and bands. But all of the sudden it feels damn near insurmountable. We’re in the process of making sure that, even at an early stage, the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted. With hard work and diligence we’re going to put on something memorable.
Are there days when you power down?
Yes. I need days like that, very much, recuperative days. Work is overwhelming. I take full responsibility for that. These are my decisions come hell or high water. I know I put myself in these positions. But taking 24 hours off is very self-medicating.
What do you do on those days?
Well I brood, and I write and I read a lot. I’m in this cycle of preliminary days of writing lyrics. I have the new Down coming up that we’re messing around with. A lot of days, honestly, I sit back and watch horror films of all sorts from every decade and generation. I’m a fan of horror from black and white to beautiful Maria Bavo color to some modern stuff. We’ve gotten some killer submissions from newer and younger directors (for the horror festival). They are making an effort to better the genre. They aren’t trying to rehash the same concepts. So, I love watching films. I love horror just like I love extreme music.
On top of that, I’m what you call a list maker. I know it’s a strange concept but it calms me. It soothes the brain. Whether it’s boxing or music or films, making lists soothes the spirit.
What kind of lists do you make?
I have hundreds of different playlists from mellow to hardcore to death metal to ambient to Halloween soundtracks to fucking black metal. As far as boxing, I’m a great follower of the heavyweight division. I think the majority of Americans would say the heavyweight division is dead. But I have a list of more than 15,000 heavyweights that I keep up with from around the world. Americans just don’t find the heavyweights that interesting because the power has shifted. The days of the American heavyweight champion being a staple are gone. The Ukraine has taken over with the Klitschko brothers and they are based in Germany. But you can’t say heavyweight boxing is dead when they sell out 60,000 seat stadiums. It’s something that interests me greatly. I keep up the records, win-loss columns and their career details. I have a top 50 and everyone falls in behind.
Are doing these lists your way of making sense of the world?
It’s not as much that. If you’ve looked at all the interviews I’ve done since 1989 three things will come up. I love music, boxing and horror films. I’m not that much more complicated as far as hardcore interests. It’s funny, man. When I put this amount of my own idle time and work into these lists and interests and keeping crazy tabs on things like films, fighters and bands it all comes back to me in a weird way. If you would have told me 20 years ago one of my best friends would be Emanuel Steward, the trainer of champions, and that I’d actually attend his funeral I would say you were fucking crazy. But something, anything I put my heart’s love into comes back to me.
I just looked at my emails and brought up American football. The draft is tomorrow. And I just got an email from their Saints’ general manager and he just said he hoped I was watching the draft. I’ve made this crazy circle of friends. It seems like any time I spend on the the things I love comes back to me tenfold.
Even with a circle of friends, things like music or horror can be solitary pursuits. Do you like being alone?
I adore it. I could sit here in my bedroom, even if I get up early. I just love my alone time here. I can be creative in one way or another and still get work done mostly via email because I hate talking on the phone. No offense, I know this is part of the job and I don’t mind doing interviews. But ever since I was a very young boy I would love closing the doors to my bedroom and being in my own world.
I imagine you also had a lot of alone time when you had your struggles with addiction. What’s different about the headspace being alone in those circumstances and being alone now?
It’s completely different. When you are on hard drugs and combating them you are sick. That sickness is what drove me away from hard drugs. Just like drinking booze, I mean, I can’t drink a fucking six pack today without a hangover. Heavy drug addiction is about the lowness of chasing your own tail. You are trying to catch up with yourself to defeat being dopesick. That’s a place I’ll never go again. That shit far outweighed any high. The high doesn’t exist; it’s just one giant low. It’s a miserable fucking place to be and it’s zero productivity. I’ve had eight years clean from any of that shit so I’m on the right path.
How did you get into horror?
It was almost like there was a predetermined love from the womb, instead of loving cartoons and games and toys. My Mom raised me. My Dad was kind of out of the picture. He was a full blown alcoholic and was always a bar owner. I can’t say the same today. The first television that really grabbed was The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, the early Rod Serling stuff. In New Orleans there was always a horror movie on the local station on Friday night. On Saturday afternoon there was a creature feature. Saturday night, you’d have the local horror movie host. And there was an awesome Sunday show where I saw everything from Anthony Perkins in How Awful About Allan to the original Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark with Kim Darby. I’d beg my Mom to let me stay up and watch those shows. Even if she didn’t I would sneak out and watch them.
There was an album Disney put out called Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House. That record affected my life on a number of levels. It helped me come to grips with fears of the dark. I defeated them at a young age, even if it terrified me at first, because of the awesome sounds on that record – especially side two. Side one had some narrative before each piece and side two was all soundtracks. It just blew me away.
I was four at the oldest and I made my Mom throw the record away and rebuy it three or four times. After the first time I think she just hid it in the closet knowing I would beg for it again. There are some awesome ghostly, ghastly screams and howls that basically got me imitating sounds that helped form my voice. It almost was like a vocal coach.
A lot of the horror you are exposed to as a kid is something like Godzilla attacking Tokyo or things like Frankenstein. What always got me about The Twilight Zone is that everything might look completely normal but there is something horrifying happening underneath.
I had the same reaction to the original Halloween. The Michael Myers figure could come into any residential neighborhood. Haddonfield didn’t look much different than my neighborhood. Somehow this masked shape could finagle its way into your house with very little effort. You could shoot at it but it wouldn’t die.
Going back to The Twilight Zone, maybe one of the most effective episodes was the kid who could wish people into the cornfield [It’s A Good Life]. That episode takes a normal situation and a kid’s mind, which is wildly creative. This wildly creative child’s mind is used in a destructive way. You couldn’t even admonish or punish the kid. Whatever he thought would happen. He’d turn you into a Jack-In-The-Box.
In some of the Twilight Zone episodes they would take what you want most in life and make it horrifying. Like the gambler who suddenly can never lose who realizes he is in hell. Or, when Burgess Meredith wants to just read for the rest of his life when he is life alone on Earth…
And his glasses fucking break! Now that he has the time! His wife didn’t want him reading, his boss didn’t want him reading. He was just a bookworm. At the last second his big Coke bottle lenses smash on the ground. And they leave you like that at the end of the story! It’s effective.
I think that’s even crueler in some ways than someone getting stabbed.
For sure. He’s the last man on Earth to his knowledge. He goes to the bank vault and comes out and the whole world had been blown apart. That’s been a fear of man for a long time, especially in television drama, the end of the world scenario. That’s even here today with the zombie apocalypse. That’s always been a common fear because we are the most hostile organism on the planet. We’re always building bigger and better bombs. But what do we expect to achieve? Of course, Burgess Meredith – what a great actor. Some people only know him for his role as Mickey in Rocky. Did you ever see a movie called Magic?
He was a manager of Anthony Hopkins in one of his early roles. He was out of his mind with this dummy. There’s an unforgettable seen where Meredith catches him talking to the dummy.
Speaking of books have you had a chance to read Rex’s book [101 Proof: The Inside Story Of Pantera]?
Yes I have.
What did you think?
[long pause] Honestly, his assessment of me – I don’t care. Egotistical, self-centered, everything is always about me. Y’know what? I’m a lead singer and he’s a bass player. That’s his perception. So I’m fine with it. I don’t hold any fucking grudges. But I think he did take some angry swipes and I don’t need to be specific. There is a great deal of mythology when it comes to his “quitting” Down. That particular chapter is a little disturbing.
I think you got off pretty easy compared to Vinnie Paul.
I’m not sure that type of beating [on Vince] was necessary. Vince is a difficult guy and was always a different type of guy. But did he deserve that type of beating? I don’t think so. When I do my book I want it to be known that it’s not just a Pantera book. And I’m not in a pissing contest with Rex. It’s a shame.
I read Peter Criss’s biography and it was almost four-hundred pages of him slagging other people.
And Rex does the same thing, man. And not just within the band. Rex has many faults, just like anyone else. But it sure seems like he wants to put fault on other people to take away from his humanity. We’re all full of faults. Maybe it’s easier for some of us to admit.
You are working on your book now. The truth is that during life you are going to get pissed at people. You are going to have gripes. And you’re going to want to tell your story in an honest way. How do you do that without writing a pissfest rock memoir?
By doing it the way you just put it. We’re all human. Pantera is definitely not the first band to break up or have a tough go of things. Pantera, look man, we all had different personalities. I had a very different personality than my Texas brothers. But did the formula work? Absolutely, it worked. I didn’t always agree with certain directions or they didn’t agree with me but somehow by the end of the day it worked. That, to me, is the essence of a working band. Whether you can get along or understand each other after five years of waking up next to each other in different towns, pissing in the same toilet, eating next to each other, shitting next to each other and living on a bus is something else.
You also grow up and have different values in life. There comes a point where people have different ideas about what they want. As much as people can point at me and say ‘look at what Phil did with drugs’ I have to say it was pretty tough when every fucking thing was about drinking. That shit got old for me. Maybe I’ve never come out and said that but it’s true. Don’t you think that gets old?
A Pantera story can be told without absolute venom. There were so many good times, so many. And the end result was important. We recognized that as a band. We talked about it. But once again, it’s very tough to live together and tour constantly like we did. A lot of bands can do it and have done it. A lot of bands will do it. There will be bands that will have similar hardships and regrets. Really, what I saw when I toured is a bunch of motherfucking people that loved Pantera as a band, loved our music. That’s a success. That’s the magic of Pantera because we’re still fucking talking about it and nothing has happened since 2001. When someone is still taking about a record we made in 1993 that means you left a hell of a mark. That can’t be traded for anything.
I’ll do my best to remember the good times. Bad times are part of the story. But I don’t hold gigantic grudges against my brothers because brothers fight. You fight in any family, any marriage, and any situation. You were married to these people. Look at the divorce rate and maybe it will make more sense to people [laughs]. It’s a tough thing.
Also, your story is still very much being written and you continue to reinvent yourself.
There’s a hell of a story about the road to Pantera. A lot had to happen. And, like you said, I’m still paving the road. I cannot live in the past or dwell on it. It feels flat out unhealthy. I need to keep living this life I have. Life is what we make of it and what we do with it. I’ve made many a human error. I admit it, I live up to it. I can only do the best I can.
The Housecore Horror Film & Music Festival will take place October 24-27 in Austin, TX. You can get even more details here and purchase tickets here. Right now three-day All-Access badges are $175, but that price goes up to $199 after June 6!