I had the opportunity to interview one of my favorite metal singers of all time last year to promote his new EP with his band, Down, and now Philip H. Anselmo was back with The Illegals to talk to me about his brand new solo CD, Walk Through Exits Only, and his upcoming show at The Gramercy Theatre in New York City on Aug. 16.
Walk Through Exits Only is actually a career first for the legendary frontman of Pantera and Down. This is his very first solo release, which he co-produced with Michael Thompson and recorded over the last couple of years at his Nodferatu’s Lair in New Orleans with his band, The Illegals, which consists of guitarist Marzi Montazeri and drummer Jose Manuel “Blue” Gonzalez. The eight songs on Walk Through Exits Only are as abrasive, aggressive and anthemic as we know Phil Anselmo can get. His signature screams on songs like “Battalion Of Zero,” “Usurper’s Bastard Rant” and the title-track make you realize how talented Phil really is, as if you didn’t already know. Marzi’s guitar work on this CD is also something that most guitar players will have to take a double take on. It is that good! And shame on you if you haven’t picked it up yet!
Phil took a break from rehearsal with his Illegals at Nodferatu’s Lair (Yes, he actually answered the phone using that name!) to chat with me about Walk Through Exits Only, his current tour to promote the CD, his upcoming biography, and jamming with Rex Brown again on “This Love” at the Golden Gods Awards this year. Here’s how it went down:
Congrats on your Walk Through Exits Only, your first solo CD ever. Why did it take so long for you to release something that was yours, Phil?
Well, you gotta look at a lot of circumstances. We were probably doing something with Down. Truth be told, I was producing two different bands for Housecore Records and doing the previous Down EP—I guess you guys call it The Purple EP at the same time. It was really a lot of start/stop action. It was a lot of sessions where it was just plain teaching from the ground up and everybody just getting a feel for it and checking out recordings.
There was a lot of prep work. By the time we actually had to go in there and track the motherfucker, I had to go sing on the Down record and take another break and then come back to it. Scream on the new shit and obviously mixing takes a long time. With the schedule I had, I did the best I could, ya know?
Walk Through Exits Only is brutal, dude! It hasn’t left my car! With songs like the new video “Bedridden,” “Bedroom Destroyer” and the title-track, I sensed a direction in the music that was similar to the Superjoint Ritual stuff.
Nah, not at all! I think the only thing that can be considered Superjoint-like would be the vocal approach. Considering me and Jimmy Bower were the guitar players in Superjoint, there’s really not much in common other than maybe some discord that I might’ve come up with Superjoint, but really with The Illegals and Walk Through Exits Only, there’s a lot of precision playing with the picking hand and the neck hand is a whole different animal. Plus, in Superjoint, we purposely never had guitar solos, which is a totally different opposite end of the spectrum, where The Illegals totally do guitar solos.
So I see big, big differences! It’s the type of record where one, two, three listens just won’t do it. It’s one of those records that the more you listen to it, the more layering, the more textures, the more subtle nuances you’ll hear and will grow and grow and grow. Sometimes those records end up being one of your favorites or some of your favorites. So hopefully it works out that way, but God knows only time will tell.
I guess what I meant was your vocal attack on these songs was more like the Superjoint stuff. The last time we spoke, I told you I heard David Lee Roth on some of the new Down songs.
And you were right! Totally right! I will agree with you that the vocal approach is harsher and more guttural. In my opinion, there are vague melodies within what I’m doing and I’ve always done that in an off-beat way. I try to fuck with melodies because to a certain degree in music, there’s a code of etiquette of what “in key” should be and what a “true melody line” should be. I try to fuck with all that stuff, man. Even with harmonies. There are vocal harmonies on the new stuff. Specifically, on “Usurper’s Bastard Rant”; that song has what I would say are kind of traditional harmonies, but still, once again, I wanted to fuck with it because in my opinion, there’s really no wrong way of playing music, especially if what you’re intending to do is exactly what you’re executing. Believe me, everything that’s on Walk Through Exits Only is absolutely thought out and on purpose.
Is the opening song, “Music Media Is My Whore,” about anyone in particular?
No! Not at all! As a matter of fact, on this record, I wanted to show a different way of writing lyrics and be very point-blank. Within being point-blank, I like to come up with lines that don’t spoon-feed the listener too terribly much. So I’m not going to sit here and talk about absolute specifics unless there are absolute specifics.
Take, for instance, the title-track, “Walk Through Exits Only.” To me, it was just a powerful line that became the name of the song and eventually the name of the record because it can mean a million things to a million different people and that’s important to me, but getting back to answering your question, the press has this free rein. They can write a speculative piece. They can write an assumption piece. They can write an opinion piece about anybody out there, whether you’re a musician or a sports figure or just big in the public eye. They can write about anybody. It’s just my way of giving a little stab back at the press in more of a tongue-in-cheek sort of way. I’m not being absolutely absolute if you know what I mean.
Let’s talk about your Illegals! Where’d you find these guys?
I’ve known Marzi since the late ‘80s. “Dimebag” [Darrell] actually introduced us and we became really, really good friends. So, in my opinion, this is a long time coming-type of record for me and Marzi. It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do for a long time and when I began writing this record, for me, Marzi was always the guy.
So that was easy picking a guitar player. He really has a style that is unique and he can play anything in any style, and not just heavy metal. He does special things with the guitar as far as layering and as far as his soundscape-type thing and more atmospheric pieces and stuff like that that I’ve always known to be part of his repertoire, and I’ve wanted to utilize those things for a long time because he’s been doing them a long time. It makes me feel good to bring a guy like Marzi to light and let a bigger audience check him out because the world is definitely his oyster and it’s a big, long career. Hopefully, if I can propel that career a little bit, that’s all I can do is give back.
Aside from Marzi, who is awesome, there’s Jose Manuel Gonzalez. Everybody calls him “Blue.” He’s the drummer for Warbeast, which is a Housecore Records band. Their singer, Bruce Corbitt, back when I was writing my initial songs, he said to me, “Why don’t you ask Blue if he wants to jam on your record?” That was awesome because Blue is a killer player. He’s a very young player with a big future ahead of him. If he keeps playing and learning at the rate he’s going, he’ll be one of the more sought or respected drummers in whatever music he lands in because he came from a school of 4/4 death metal and thrash metal and stuff like that, so to break him out of that mold was interesting.
It was quite a process because I was throwing a lot of time signatures at him. I was asking for a lot of different things out of his hands, but I didn’t want speed on this record. I wanted rhythmic bursts of energy, which requires a lot of tom work and not just snare work. Once he got comfortable with that and started adding some of his own little nuances, that’s when I knew this motherfucker was my guy, and I think he did a really great job on the record.
And as far as bass goes, the guy that played on the record was Bennett Bartley, and he’s a New Orleans guy who’s very talented. He’s an excellent player, but he’s the type of guy who plays in a lot of different bands and holds down a regular job, so his availability was always in question as far as touring goes, so the guy that we’re taking out on tour is Steve Taylor, and he’s one of Marzi’s really tight buddies. They jam together all the time and he’s very tight and a supercool motherfucker. That’s them Illegals right there!
Why did you add The Illegals as opposed to just calling the project Philip H. Anselmo?
Because I’m fucking with them! Big time! They are illegal and I’m calling them Illegals! As a matter of fact, they’re here right now because we’re in the middle of rehearsals, but I told them from the beginning, each record, I’m going to call them something different. Like on the next record, they’ll be The Buttercups or the Lowenbraus or some shit. It’s something ridiculous. That’s what they get. Those suckers…
You hit our area on Aug. 16 at The Gramercy Theatre in NYC. Since there are only eight tracks on the record, what else can fans expect to hear from you and the band? Will you include “Conflict” and “Family, ‘Friends,’ And Associates” from the War Of The Gargantuas split EP?
Absolutely, yes! We will do both songs from the split EP as well that we did with Warbeast. So that’s what? 45 minutes? (Laughs) Nah, I’m just kidding! We have some tricks and whistles up our sleeves, so to speak, to a certain degree. I don’t ever want to pull attention away from the current band or what we’re doing, but there’s always the fantastic chance that we might be pulling some certain cover tunes or what you might call blasts from the past. It’s very possible.
Right now we’re sharpening our axes, so to speak. I just want every show to be unique. I want every show to be spontaneous to a certain degree. Anything can happen. I guess with any band that I’m in, I like to have that opportunity or the preparation to change the game up depending on the show and depending on the night, so always expect the unexpected. There will be this thing called variety within each show to make them all just a little bit different from the last show, so don’t blink.
Last time we spoke, you also mentioned that you were writing a biography. Is that still happening?
Yeah, but it’s at a snail’s pace right now because of all the stuff that’s going on with the release of the record and the Housecore Horror Fest, but it is still happening and I think the plan is for it to be wrapped up—which will be a miracle in itself—by this time next year. So you’ll hear more about it the further along I get.
Have you had a chance to read Rex Brown’s biography?
I have and I’ll touch this briefly. First of all, it’s his words, his take on things and whatnot. I don’t take offense to how I’m portrayed in his book or anything like that. I don’t know if I would’ve put certain things the way he put them.
How did it feel to share the stage with him again to play “This Love” at the Golden Gods Awards?
That’s fine! Me and Rex are totally cool, man! It’s always great to jam with Rex and it’s always great to jam with my brothers in Anthrax, who are great, great, cool motherfuckin’ people who I consider my family, and are always fun; plus, playing the Pantera song in front of an audience that really appreciates it. It doesn’t get any better! It was fuckin’ awesome!
When can we expect the next Down EP?
Next year, man! It’s gonna be pretty early! Once again, I feel like we did some really good prep work. I think we’re going to get heads down into that in November, and I think the stuff that we already have is really fuckin’ slammin’! It’s all happening, brother!
Catch Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals at The Gramercy Theatre in NYC on Aug. 16 and at Union Transfer in Philly Aug. 17. Walk Through Exits Only is available now. For more information, go to philanselmo.com.