Catching up with ex-Pantera, current Down frontman PHIL ANSELMO several weeks back for the second-annual Phoenix Metal Issue was anything but predictable. First, he decided to change my name to “Mike Chris,” and then simply to “Chris.” He had determined that we needed to “shorten that shit up.” Then I made the questionable decision to chide him about the merch section on the website of his boutique record label, Housecore Records, which had been woefully lacking in updating its available stock. Anselmo got his wife, Kate on the phone and had me tell her, ostensibly so she, along with Phil’s younger brother John, could correct the issue. “Dude, see? I need heads up like that man,” Anselmo said, apparently satisfied. “Stay on top of shit.” That matter reconciled, it was time to get down (pun alert!) to the interview.
Not so fast.
Earlier during pleasantries, Anselmo let me know he was busy “Trying to burn all this fuckin’ studio blubber off me.” And just when we were about to kick it into high gear, there came an unearthly howl. “Hold on!” Anselmo yelped. “Oh you motherfuck! Don’t do it, don’t do it!” Having no idea what the hell was going on, it took a moment for him to let me in on what was up. “Dude. I got a Charley horse... in my stomach.” Yikes -– is that even possible? Eventually the cramping subsided, and we were finally able to roll into it, or, as Anselmo was quick to say in his Louisiana drawl, “Let’s talk bullshit.”
He then says to me: "I’ll tell you what: I’m the worst interview when it comes to Down; God I suck." To which I reply that I'd like to talk about a variety of things. "Well that’s good!" he says. "Let’s do that then. Tear it up man."
With Down in town tonight at the House of Blues, here's our full chat from back in August.
What do you think the current state of metal is these days?
It depends on where you look.. it does depend on where you look. When you look at the big guys that are still pluggin’ along, the Metallicas the Slayers and all that -– they’re still on top of the heap. But then there is this big wash of bands that are kind of similar in style, and I think that’s where people might get a little confused, turned off or complacent when it comes to deciding. Then there’s the beautiful underground where kids are still goin’ bananas, but there are certain things in the underground that have run their course like true black metal and whatnot. But then again, there’s a rise of really excellent black metal coming out of France with bands like Deathspell Omega leading the way. And even death metal; bands like Portal? Oh my god. Portal is just crushing, and I know they have some new stuff coming out and I can’t wait to hear it. Then you got bands that I can’t slide into the slot of heavy metal which I kind of like, and I guess they’re calling themselves a cult rock band, of course Ghost would be the first band that comes to mind. I love what they do actually, there’s so many different elements to their music that you can pick out and go, ‘Whoa, that reminds me of that.’ They way they pull it off, the main songwriter for Ghost, whatever he calls himself, Papa Emeritus, great songwriter. So that’s my summary of where you look.
What do you see as the role of Housecore Records in getting metal out there?
Honestly, I’m not looking to punch a hole in the world or anything like that, but slowly but surely... this year we’ve already put out one Haarp record and now we’re putting out the next one. They are lumped into a genre of bands that play slow, whether you want to call it “doom” or “sludge” or whatever the fuck they call it. If you’re gonna call it, then put the crown on their fuckin’ heads. They are doing something very, very different within the genre. You could maybe point to Melvins influence or death metal influences with locals and whatnot. But still, I think that they’re very different. Then Warbeast; I would definitely call them a thrash band, a pure Texas thrash band, because Texas thrash definitely has a unique style. Growing up there I got to know it very well. Then there are some surprises down the road like my solo record, which I do think is different for I guess the extreme music genre. It’s a different approach than most heavy metal bands would take. I hate trying to fucking describe it, when it comes out I’ll let all ya’ll devour it and tear it to pieces.
I think we’re a patient label. I think we’re doing what’s best for our bands. I’m not a big roster guy where I’m gonna sign a million different bands just for the sake of; we like to take our time. We’re doing our own thing and I would say the end of this year and right after the beginning of the next year will be a pretty big time for Housecore and it will be something for everybody to look forward to for sure if you want to tear it to shreds or love it. That’s our place man. Of course there’s a cult following; people that are fans of my music and all the fucking millions of bands I’ve been in, I thank ‘em, and I really thank their support –- I really, really do. Right now, staring into the future, I think we’re going to have a very unique approach as far as sticking together, package tours, all that kind of stuff. Music is always going through changes. There’s a lot of genres that have worn their welcome out, and I don’t want to just pigeonhole death metal or black metal or grindcore or anything like that.
It’ll all pan out in the future. It’s kind of tough, the computer world, the outlets and places where people can find music are so vast compared to when I was growing up, where you had to actually get up off your ass and go down to the record store and dig through everything. It’s the nature of the beast.
How important is it for you, as an individual who has a high profile in music, to help out these bands?
I love it. I love everything from the camaraderie, the studio work, pulling songs together, helping out -– I hate mixing, but I love the end result. It is important to me, it really is. I’m very interested in what the thinking bands are doing out there. I mentioned Portal, and I have nothing to do with them at all, I’m and outsider and just a fan, but I think they’re pushing the envelope of things. You take away the image and all that stuff, but if you take it and look at the whole package -– it works. They’re obviously doing something great.
I love the underground; I’m always looking for anything that is a breath of fresh air because it makes me feel young again and gives me that ‘Holy shit I just picked up Slayer’s Hell Awaits record again,’ it gives me that feeling, and it’s probably good for the circulation.
Where do you think that Down fits into the landscape?
They’re gonna lump us into the Southern, doom, whiskey, redneck...fucking, Confederate flag waving this and that –- which is really not true. We haven’t done anything like that in God knows how long, because so many bands ran and took that Lynyrd Skynyrd all away from us -– and that’s fine. We do have a core following, whether we make new fans or break new ground or whatever, I am never the guy that will sit back and say, ‘Oh, we gotta break new ground!’ and have all these gigantic expectations. I’m the biggest pessimist in the world; even when I was in Pantera, I didn’t expect a fucking thing.
What have the early responses been from people that have heard Down IV: The Purple EP?
The small amount of people that I know, that do not -- and I will not allow them to -- kiss my ass or I’ll choke ‘em, they like it, and they think it’s epic. I’ve said this before, and it’s the truth, I didn’t -– Mr. Chris, put no goddamn pressure on myself for this Down album. I don’t think any of us did. We didn’t over-think this motherfucker. Let’s just get in there, hammer out songs, walk away from them, walk back and see how it feels. Not to sound too cliché, but it came very natural. I did what I did when we recorded the first demo. There were no expectations when we first got together and that’s why we did Down -– just to have fun.
Front to back, that first Down record [1995’s NOLA] is just unstoppable. Without sounding trite, it really is a landmark album.
We really approached this new one like that -– no bullshit.
Speaking of landmark albums, I gotta bring up [Pantera’s] Vulgar Display of Power, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary. What was it like for you to revisit that?
So many pleasantries, especially in that era of Pantera. We were very strong, in our strongest, strongest bodies. The injuries had not yet mounted in my skeleton, and... gosh man, we were so physical back then onstage. When we had recorded [1990's] Cowboys from Hell, we were playing a lot of those songs live in the Dallas–Fort Worth area for a very long time, and I know that this has been said before, but the last song we wrote for Cowboys was “Primal Concrete Sledge,” and if there was any song that there was a possible bridge or a sneak peek into what Vulgar Display of Power would be, it's definitely that song.
‘Revisiting,” of course it made me miss the days and long for the days, sometimes, and I miss Dimebag very, very much. There's a plethora of emotions, so many of them. And to dwell on the past doesn't feel healthy for me and when I think about those days, it's not like I try to think of all the good stuff; it kind of comes naturally, especially Vulgar Display of Power and that whole touring cycle and the change in the audience and their perception of us. When we toured Cowboys from Hell, there was a very lukewarm, if not awful, response. But when you back it up with a record like Vulgar Display, that's when the tide did turn, and the crowd started warming up -- rapidly, to say the fucking least. There were some extremely educational, memorable, cherishable times in my life.
That’s right around when I got into Pantera; I was working at a record store when Vulgar came out and we used to piss off everybody by playing it at top volume...
I love you.
Security guards from the mall would come in and tell us to turn it down...
Growing up in Philly, I caught you on the opening date of the Far Beyond Driven tour at the Tower Theatre which was the day you found out that the album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts.
When I say I’m a skeptic and all that, my Dad I think called me up and said, “Son! You’re on the number one charts!” or some shit like that and I’m, like, “What are you fucking talking about, man?” I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe anybody. People had to show me in the magazine to prove it to me. How the fuck did we beat out Bonnie Raitt or whoever the hell we beat out? [laughs] Ah man –- it’s fucking unbelievable.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Pantera vaults being empty now that “Piss” came out on the Vulgar reissue. But I remember years ago talking to Vince, probably when Trendkill came out, and he said that you guys had covered a Van Halen song, something from VH II.
We used to fuck with all kinds of songs. Obviously we did that ridiculous version of “Cat Scratch Fever” for some movie soundtrack [Detroit Rock City], that dickface Ted Nugent. Shit dude, we would kick into Kansas and all kinds of shit. What you just said does ring a bell; I think it was something like “Outta Love Again,” I wonder where that shit is. And here's another one for ya: I never did sing on the motherfucker, that old Phil Collins [he starts singing “I Don't Care Anymore”], we did a version of that, and it's somewhere. But there really probably isn't any original material left in that particular vault, but cover tunes and shit like that. If there was the proper amount of digging, we could find all kinds of shit.
Speaking of Van Halen, you have them back with Dave, you have Black Sabbath back together... as a fan, does it bum you out when all the original members are still around but they can’t get it together and make something happen?
So frustrating. So fucking frustrating man. That’s all I gotta say; just very frustrating and believe me -– I know.
Especially that Sabbath thing; you guys have toured with Sabbath, covered their songs, to not have Bill Ward back there – that’s the backbone of that band.
Oh my God. I read Bill Ward’s little thing, that essay he wrote about not being able to participate, and everybody can assume who’s fault this is or whatnot, and I don’t know their business but all I gotta say is it’s a fucking shame and I don’t get it. Last I checked, we’re living in a “free” society. If you want to jam together, if you want to be an original band, then fucking do it man; don’t let a fucking piece of paper stand in the way. Don’t let fucking money disputes get in the way; it should be split the way it should be fucking split -– you know? But once again, far be it from me to understand Black Sabbath’s business. As a fan it’s like, “Fuck! Please do it.”
Let’s talk about metal fans. Do you feel like we get a bad rap in the media as meatheads or stoners...
Yes! Yes, but you know what, we haven't helped. There's been a lot of things that have not helped us.I remember being flown into New York when MTV was going through some kind of change-up in the early 2000s, and they wanted me to be the host of Headbangers Ball. First of all, the name of the show sucks -- it fucking sucks, it's cheesy as fuck. Why don't you just call it the “Extreme Music Hour” or something like that and give it some fucking credibility -- because honestly, there's great musicians in heavy metal. Look at some of the great guitar players, I think it would take... who’s a great metal guitarist -– name one.
Sure -– Testament. Let him learn one Portal song. Good luck with that. Good fucking luck with that. Still, I don’t think it’s fair to judge Alex, because they stayed true; Testament stayed true. My point is, why cheesy, Disneyfied, shit-heel pop music like American Idol, which makes me want to throw fucking up all over the fucking ground. So lame. Why is that the fucking paramount today? Why is that the pinnacle of success? It sucks. I'm sorry. I’m a music fan or whatever but dude, I was singing cover tunes when I was 15 years old four sets a night, seven days a week and that’s the truth. So anyone who can get up there and sing a cover song, fuck off.
But yes, heavy metal has always gotten the meathead rap, and you know, hey, honestly I haven't fucking helped. I've made more bad decisions than great decisions in my fucking life, and I regret a lot of things I've said onstage, a lot of actions I've done onstage, and a lot of trouble that I've got into, because all it does is bring bad publicity to heavy metal. My take on it all, is it kind of makes us, heavy metallers, a sovereign state in a lot of ways. We are an island. We might not get as much big-time praise from mainstream media, but let them call us meatheads, let them think we're ignorant, and let them keep writing awful music -- and I'll keep calling it awful and we'll just be even at that.
For so long, from Judas Priest and Ozzy being blamed for suicides back in the '80s up through Columbine when metal was under the microscope because it was supposedly a genre the kids listened to who did the shootings, it seems like there’s never any positivity for metal, especially when it comes to the mainstream media.
Well, I think they see it as a threat anyway. When you say “death metal” and bands are singing about dismembering corpses and fucking corpses and this and that and then you look at Cannibal Corpse lyrics and shit like that. It is supposed to be threatening; it is supposed to be non-mainstream -– and more power to them. But then again, look at today’s top movies; it’s amazing how much horror has made a comeback, whether it’s good or bad, but still, people love to go see horror films or actions films where motherfuckers get blown away every 20 seconds. Yet they can’t take violent lyrics or they can’t take explicit lyrics. And no knock against rap or anything like that, but rappers can talk about shooting each other, fucking chicks, calling chicks whores and et cetera, et cetera and get away with it, because it has a neat bouncy fucking rhythm to it and chicks can shake their hips to it. And where there are chicks shaking their hips there’s cheesy dudes fucking hound doggin, so the clubs are packed. That whole lifestyle and whatnot is fuckin’ cheeseball and it’s just not for me -– that’s all.
Alright man, I’ll see you in Boston, and get those fucking shirts in –- I need them in a large.
Goddamnit!! I’ll get these fucking shirts in, I will, I will.
DOWN + WARBEAST + HAARP | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | September 25 @ 7 pm | All ages | $25-$124 | 888.693.2583