When I think of dynamic metal singers, Phil Anselmo’s name always comes to mind. In fact, if you listen to current metal bands on the scene right now, many are still trying to mimic the style that he’s developed and perfected. It’s that aggressive singing style that is always replicated, but has yet to be duplicated. If you ask Phil, he will tell you to just get your own style and be creative. I always wanted to see a Pantera reunion and this year, I got closer than anyone will. Having interviewed the defunct group’s former drummer (Vinnie Paul Abbott) and bassist (Rex Brown) earlier this year, I talked at length with Pantera’s former frontman and current Down singer, Phil Anselmo, about his current band’s new release, Down IV Part I—The Purple EP.
Before I let you in on my little talk with Phil, here’s a quick rundown for those of you scratching your heads as to whom he is. Phil burst onto the music scene with Pantera back in 1990 with an epic CD called Cowboys From Hell, a disc that garnered a ton of attention. In 1992, Pantera released an even bigger album with Vulgar Display Of Power. As if they couldn’t grow any larger, Pantera released Far Beyond Driven in 1994, which debuted at number one on the Billboard metal charts. In 1996, they unleashed The Great Southern Trendkill, only Phil recorded his vocals at his home in New Orleans while the band recorded the music in Dallas, which sparked rumors of trouble within the band. They’d go on to release their fifth and final studio CD, Reinventing The Steel, in 2000. To the dismay of many, Pantera officially broke up in 2003.
Phil would move on to concentrate on a couple of side-projects such as Superjoint Ritual and Down. After Superjoint Ritual disbanded in 2004, Phil’s main project became Down, a supergroup made up of New Orleans’ best—Corrosion Of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan, Crowbar’s Kirk Windstein and Pat Bruders, and Eyehategod’s Jimmy Bower. To date, they’ve released three full-lengths.
With his back problems, substance abuse issues, and feuds with former bandmates behind him, Phil Anselmo and Down are ready to drop their next opus in the form of four different EPs. The first one, Down IV Part I—The Purple EP, was released last week and to promote it, Down will be making a few stops in our area. They’ll be at the Electric Factory on Sept. 26, the Best Buy Theater on Sept. 28, and the Starland Ballroom on Sept. 29. Below, Phil talks about the new EP, his influences, and much, much more.
So Down are doing something pretty interesting by releasing four different EPs, with Down IV Part I—The Purple EP being the first….
Yeah, well that’s the idea and truth be told, we are probably the worst sack of shit liars promising new products on time. So bear with us when we say it’s one of four because you never know when you’re going to get that second of the four. Honestly, hence the idea of the EPs. Instead of going in there and beating our brains out and doing a full-length and making the Down fans wait, it’s easier for us to get in there, we can concentrate on a handful of songs, and really, that’s the truth.
As we speak, Jimmy just got home from touring with Eyehategod in Europe. I think Kirk and Pat are in Europe for the second time this summer touring with Crowbar, and I’m doing a million different things with Housecore Records and my solo record and all kinds of bullshit! So really with this new Down, speaking for myself, I really put zero pressure on myself with this record, and that goes back to how all of us felt about the first demo that we ever did back in 1991. We didn’t know what to expect. The only thing that we did expect with this new Down is that when the four of us, and now Pat, get together, it’s going to sound like Down, and that was the least of our concerns.
I wanted this thing to feel freestyled like the first demo. Like I said, we showed up for two days, four-tracked the demo, and came up with three songs. I didn’t have any fuckin’ lyrics. I just winged it on the spot and sure enough, those three songs ended up on the first record: “Bury Me In Smoke,” “Temptations Wing,” and “Losing All.” Once again I took that approach with this record and I think everybody else did, too. We didn’t over-think it; we let the songs come to us. It’s not rocket science, it’s fuckin’ Down! So it sounded more natural, it really did!
I’ve been listening to this CD for days and these riffs have that undeniable dark Down sound and your vocals appear stronger than ever. Did you do anything differently when you attacked songs like “Open Coffin” or “The Curse Is A Lie?”
Well, that’s interesting, it really is, because I felt like throughout the whole process of recording it, I think that the most challenging thing for me was finding which voice to really use. I have really utilized my voice in so many different ways over time. I did think that it was different coming out of my neck. I tried it several different ways, but really all that would come out of me naturally and in a finite way was how it ended up. For you to say that, it’s very interesting to me.
Well, I’ve been listening to your voice forever, trust me! I know every note you hit on Cowboys From Hell and these songs have the Phil Anselmo stamp on them, so don’t take that the wrong way…
Oh, no, no, no! Dude, believe me, if I thought you were being overcritical or something like that, then so be it! There’s nothing that I can do about it, but I do find it interesting that you zeroed in on the vocals the way you did because really, man, consciously, I think I tried it a few different ways, different songs, different ways, and really what came out of me just felt the most natural to come out of me, and you bring up “Open Coffin” and truth be told, I think that’s one of my more favorite songs on the EP. I think it’s like a classic Down song with—take this with a grain of salt—a hardcore attitude because it’s like one-two-three and we kick right the fuck in, and it’s no bullshit, straight to the point stuff.
Who comes up with the majority of these riffs because some of them have that C.O.C. feel to them? My guess would be Pepper, but Kirk has that same feel too…
Well, let’s see here… I wrote “The Curse Is A Lie,” I wrote “This Work Is Timeless,” I wrote a lot of stuff, man! I’m a riff-writing motherfucker! But to say that I wrote those songs in full and complete fashion wouldn’t be 100 percent accurate because honestly, “The Curse Is A Lie” is me, Jimmy, and Kirk, really. Then you get Pepper on tunes like “Witchtripper” and “Levitation” and shit like that, but this EP was a big-time joint effort considering. The older songs, I would write full songs like on the first record like “Hail The Leaf,” shit like that. I wrote all that shit!
So, with this record, I was really wide open to the other guys giving us some input because once again, it goes back to me not putting pressure on myself. Honestly, Pepper does deserve all the credit that anybody wants to give him, but even Jimmy Bower, like I was saying—we all are riffsters. And I can’t leave out Pat. It’s not like Pat wrote any solidified parts on this record, but if you really listen to his bass playing, and this is no knock on anyone who has played bass for Down before, especially Rex, who’s a great bass player in his own right, but Pat plays with his fingers, and he brings a new element to things because he writes. He’ll learn the basic outline of a song, and then he’ll go home and write really, really old school, classic, walk-all-over the neck basslines. He’s been a really great addition. Honestly, I underrated him coming into this whole thing. He’s actually an excellent player!
All of these recordings were recorded in your home studio. Was it produced as a band or as a Phil Anselmo production?
Nah, I’ve got Nodferatu’s Lair out here, and we’ve done a lot of stuff in the studio out here. On this Down record, I think that everything was recorded out here except for certain guitar overdubs. As far as production goes, we brought in a cat, which I kind of like—now don’t get me wrong, I love to produce records because I do that as well with Housecore Records and most all of my bands—but when it comes to Down, we brought in a cat named Mike Thompson, and he’s a fantastic guy to work with and it really, honest to God, alleviates some of the pressure on me. So, really it was Mike and I, and he flew back to guess where? To Jersey! To mix this motherfucker and he would email me mixes and I would listen and I’d give him my input, and finally we came to terms, man, on the record, and to me it just sounds raw—like we wanted it to sound. It sounds real like we wanted it to sound, and it’s not a far cry from our first record.
I was listening to your lyrics on this EP and you’ve always been an amazing storyteller, even as far back as Cowboys From Hell. Have you ever thought about writing a biography?
Yeah, as a matter of fact, I talked to some publishers yesterday for the book, and that’s something that’s gonna be a head down project. Once I get into it, it’s going to be full steam ahead. There’s so much prep work to do when you go to write something that is a reflection of your entire life up until this fucking point. You want to be truthful, you want to be real, and you want to be chronologically correct, and there are so many different bands, so many different things, and so many different people that have come through my life and assets, and then there’s the not so kind, bad crowd. I made every mistake in the world as a youngster, man, but I’m not afraid or ashamed to show the rest of the world my humanity because what are we? Fucking human! Doing the book is going to be interesting and I will address all that type of stuff!
Your lyrics and voice have always been influential to millions, but who influences Phil Anselmo?
Well, you have to understand, I’m a child of the ‘80s. I was influenced by guys like Rob Halford from Judas Priest, obviously, because in my opinion he has the quintessential heavy metal voice. In that same note, you can’t leave out Ozzy Osbourne; you can’t leave out Ronnie Dio, and even for me, because I was always a natural baritone, guys like David Lee Roth even. He’s tough to listen to today, but back then Van Halen was a newer thing and were very much an influence.
Well, I wasn’t going to bring this up, but I actually heard some David Lee Roth in your voice in the song “Misfortune Teller.”
You are so fuckin’ dead on correct! And I point it out to people and I’m like, “Jesus Christ! I sound just like fuckin’ David Lee Roth!” It’s true, I swear! I’m like, “Goddamn! Listen to that! I sound just like fuckin’ David Lee Roth right there!” And I got people goin’, “I don’t hear it!” But it’s funny, man! I totally 100 percent agree with you on that. It’s true! Goddamn it if it ain’t true! It just goes to show you; the people who influence you, it would be one thing if I was a clone of one of these guys, but I’m not. You pick things up as you go and hopefully, you develop your own style, which I think I have done.
Yeah, I think you have and I also think that there have been a lot of singers after you trying to mimic your style.
And I kind of wish a lot of these guys can find themselves. Believe me, I’m not talking shit, I’m not downplaying it or their success, or how fucking horrifically ripped off I’ve been, but the proof is in the pudding, you know?
Down will be at the Electric Factory on Sept. 26, the Best Buy Theater on Sept. 28, and the Starland Ballroom on Sept. 29. For more information, go to down-nola.com.