"My dog is at the dentist right now. Can you believe that?" Phil Anselmo is at home in Louisiana, where one of his canine companions is getting some work done to correct an under bite. While the former Pantera and current Down/Superjoint/Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals frontman is nonplussed by the idea of doggy dentist, he's got medical problems of his own to contend with. After undergoing major spinal surgery in 2006 to repair a degenerative disc condition, he's preparing to go back under the knife.
"I'm about to undergo the second back surgery tomorrow [January 31] to clean up one more little nagging issue that has been dragging my ass down for the last decade," he explains. "My sciatica has just been driving me fucking bananas ever since the nerves reconnected about four months after the main surgery. It's a small surgery compared to the first one — no overnight stay at the hospital or anything like that — but once I get this done, we can start accepting shows and get back to fucking work again."
Not that Anselmo's condition has slowed his seemingly relentless work pace. Over the last few years, he's released a steady stream of material from his various projects, including Down, Scour, Superjoint and last year's Bill + Phil excursion with cult horror actor Bill "Chop Top" Moseley. His latest is the second Philip H. Anselmo & the Illegals album, Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue, a venomous cavalcade of extreme metal blasts with titles like "Little Fucking Heroes," "Photographic Taunts" and "Finger Me." To absolutely no one's surprise, all that musical activity leaves exactly zero time for smart phones and social media. "I won't submit to the phone, and I don't do social fucking media," our man confirms. "So anyone who thinks they're interacting with me out there, let it be known that it's completely false."
WHAT'S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TITLE CHOOSING MENTAL ILLNESS AS A VIRTUE? IT SOUNDS LIKE AN EYEHATEGOD ALBUM TITLE ...
PHIL ANSELMO [Laughs] Well, I'll take that as a compliment — a great rub-off from a great band. After you record an album, everyone's looking for the ever-elusive album title. I took an overview of what these songs were about and things that I was touching on whether vaguely, specifically or colorfully. To me, that title kinda rounded things out pretty well. But more often than not — whether it's an album title or a song title or a line in a song — I want the [listener] to decide for themselves, to apply it to their own lives, and dissect it themselves. The important thing is that sometimes there are double or even triple meanings to it, so it lets the title grows legs for discussion.
YOU'VE SAID THAT YOU WANTED THIS RECORD TO HAVE AN "UNFORGIVING FEEL." WHAT DID YOU MEAN BY THAT?
The fact that I do this type of music on this record with this particular band — it's not like I'm gonna stay here. I'm still the singer for Down, you know? This is really me just truly having fun. The shit that was on my mind was a gigantic nod to Australia and the work that Portal does — and then looking into my past, there's a huge resurgence of influence of the first two Morbid Angel records. As far as morphing extremities, I don't feel like I'm some kind of groundbreaker. But for my tastes — I'm not talking about anyone else's here — I wanted to incorporate another element that I think is just as extreme, and that would be Anal Cunt's Morbid Florist record. When you apply that style to the previous stuff I mentioned, you have an interesting infusion. I want the listener to feel like what I felt like after listening to Darkness Descends by Dark Angel — just a relentless record. That's what I was going for.
OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS, YOU'VE RELEASED SOME OF THE MOST EXTREME MUSIC YOU'VE EVER DONE. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
A lot of it has just been sitting there so long. It's stuff I've done over the last 30 years. I used to carry around an old cassette four-track and just lay down idea after idea. There's so many genres and subgenres that I touch on with that stuff, depending on the mood I'm in. Certain riffs I might feel like are worthy of seeing the light of day at some point, so they get dragged into the present tense. With this new Illegals record, everyone came to the table — especially [bassist/guitarist] Steve Taylor, who has become one of my favorite guys to collaborate with over the last five years. So as John Lennon sang, "I got by with a little help from my friends."
THE OPENING TRACK, "LITTLE FUCKING HEROES," SEEMS LIKE IT COULD BE ADDRESSED TOWARD YOUR CRITICS IN THE WAKE OF THE DIMEBASH INCIDENT. AM I EVEN CLOSE?
No. The only people that really think about that shit are y'all. [Laughs] There's always someone in your life who's a "little fucking hero," you know? [Laughs] These days especially. Open the local paper and someone's in trouble for doing something or saying something innocuous enough to be interpreted one way or another.
CERTAIN SONGS DO HAVE AN ACCUSATORY TONE, THOUGH — LIKE "PHOTOGRAPHIC TAUNTS" AND "INVALID COLUBRINE FRAUDS." AM I MISREADING THAT?
That's an interesting thing to ask, especially about those two particular songs. I guess those songs, to me, are really what I was just talking about before. I open up my local paper here in New Orleans and read about the gun violence on the street. And this is not going to be popular with a lot of people, but I'm not a fan of guns, man. I was raised in a house in the French Quarter with my mother and her sister. My aunt's boyfriend had just come home from Vietnam, so I lived with Vietnam in my house. I have vivid memories of my childhood, and one of those memories is waking up to night terrors — this grown man screaming in his sleep from dreams of war.
THAT'S NOT SOMETHING ANYONE IS LIKELY TO FORGET.
No. But let me be clear: Some people are into hot rod cars, but I don't give a fuck about 'em. Cars mean nothing to me. That's the same way I feel about guns. I know what they are; I know what they're meant to do. They're mechanisms for killing. It's pretty clear, and they make me uncomfortable. Now look, I'm not the type of dude who wants to take people's guns away. I'm not making a political statement. I'm making a personal observation.
FAIR ENOUGH. WHAT ABOUT "FINGER ME"? THAT'S A PRETTY PROVOCATIVE SONG TITLE. WHERE ARE YOU COMING FROM WITH THAT ONE?
Oh, man... I'll just say that any parties that might hear that song or read those lyrics and have a Carly Simon moment, then maybe it might just be true.
I'M GONNA GO OUT ON A LIMB AND GUESS YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT HER SONG, "YOU'RE SO VAIN," WHICH HAS THE LINE, "I BET YOU THINK YOU THINK THIS SONG IS ABOUT YOU."
Yep — her hit song, on repeat. But I will say that you do not fall under that umbrella. There's a lot of journalists that do not.
THANKS, PHIL. I APPRECIATE THAT, MAN. I KNOW YOU'VE HAD A ROCKY RELATIONSHIP WITH JOURNALISTS OVER THE YEARS, THOUGH. WHERE DOES THAT RELATIONSHIP STAND CURRENTLY?
Man, I just be myself. [In an interview], I don't think about anything except the topic at hand. But are you asking me how I feel about existing in this new world, this new consciousness; this new god called the Internet? Is that the question?
NOT NECESSARILY. I'M ASKING IF THERE'S A CERTAIN LEVEL OF CAUTION ON YOUR PART WHEN YOU DEAL WITH JOURNALISTS THESE DAYS.
I answer their questions, and if they wanna ask me something that they think is controversial, I'm happy to talk about it. But given certain stances by certain members of the blogging community — and yes, plenty of pejorative there [Laughs] — if I trigger them, then I'm doing my fucking job. Fuck 'em. That ain't my problem. People who take offense — that lies squarely on their shoulders.
YOU'VE GOT A NEW PROJECT IN THE WORKS CALLED EN MINOR, WHICH YOU'VE SAID HAS A SISTERS OF MERCY TYPE OF VIBE ...
Aw, I was just trying to generalize and give people a microcosm of what it might sound like to somebody else. But to compare anything I write to such a great band is a joke in itself. Really it's just songs that have grown up with me over the years, and I've never really had a place to put 'em. Some of them resurfaced in the Nineties under the Body and Blood moniker, but it's way different than anything I've done. It's acoustic-based, clean guitar. The name of the band really says it all: It's my appreciation for songs written in a minor key. That's a lifetime of influences — everything from U2's "Drowning Man," "She's Leaving Home" by the Beatles, or even — this is gonna sound crazy — there's a Fishbone song called "Pouring Rain" that's beautiful. Songs like that. It makes for a very different listen, and I look forward to the conversation we can have when it comes out.
DO YOU HAVE A TIMELINE FOR THAT YET?
Well, I wanna let this new Illegals breathe for a bit but the En Minor's been done for over a year now. The core band is me, [Superjoint guitarist] Kevin Bond, [Down drummer] Jimmy Bower, Steve Taylor and [Down guitarist] Bobby Landgraf, but we're gonna need some extra musicians at some point. The album has 16 songs and it's called When the Cold Truth Has Worn Its Miserable Welcome Out. If you decide to throw a party one night and your house is packed but you get tired, just pop this En Minor record on and your place will fucking empty in seconds. It's a bummer.
ON A COMPLETELY UNRELATED NOTE, YOUR OLD FRIENDS SLAYER RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THEIR FINAL TOUR. WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON THAT?
[Laughs] Put it this way: There's a lot of bands that have claimed they're doing one last tour. It's called smart business, to a degree. So I'll believe it if it happens. But when I was a young man, Slayer changed my life — so whatever they decide all I can do is extend my love and admiration for the fellas in the band and wish them the best.
IF THEY REALLY DO CALL IT QUITS, WOULD THAT OPEN THE DOOR FOR YOU AND KERRY KING TO COLLABORATE IN THE FUTURE?
You know, someone shot me an email the other day saying there's been murmurs online about me and Kerry jamming together. And you know everything you read on the Internet is always a hundred percent true. [Laughs] But the real truth is I haven't talked to Kerry since Jeff Hanneman passed away. I will say this, though: I'm on the worst side of life expectancy now, so for me to close any doors would be just flat out foolish. [Laughs] If Kerry King wants to do a record and it sounds cool, my door is always open.