Revolver has teamed with Whitechapel for an exclusive splatter vinyl variant of their new album, Kin. It's limited to 500 copies — order yours before they're gone!
Phil Bozeman is extremely polite. While most people know him for his infernal roars and soldier-like stage focus as the frontman of deathcore pioneers Whitechapel, the man behind such songs as "Make it Bleed" and "Breeding Violence" appears visibly nervous as he video-calls in to Revolver from his house in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Seated in a plain-colored room that's void of any traces of his career in metal, the 35-year-old begins answering questions with a curt friendliness, the way one might speak to their parent's family friend when they run into them on the town — professional, disarming and definitely not very deathcore. "We have that Southern hospitality thing," Bozeman says at one point, the "we" being himself and his three sisters. "We were just taught [manners] very well."
After the usual dose of awkward formalities that ensues when two introverts meet over a Zoom call, Bozeman begins to open up exponentially once we delve into the details of his upbringing in Tennessee. His comfortability with the subject matter, however dark and quite obviously heartbreaking it gets, makes sense. He's spent the last two Whitechapel LPs exorcising his inner demons and translating them into vast literary landscapes.
After six albums of tortured, violent yet relatively impersonal deathcore opuses, Bozeman and his bandmates decided it was time for a true leap on 2019's The Valley. Musically, that meant the introduction of clean singing from Bozeman himself — a potential jeopardy in a genre that partially began as a face-mauling reaction to the increasingly melodic direction metalcore was taking in the late 2000s.
For most bands, more singing often means more mainstream accessibility, but for Whitechapel that wasn't necessarily the case. The Valley is a dense, literary concept album that sees Bozeman wading through the darkest depths of his traumatic childhood through the lens of a cinematic fantasy tale. Kin, the band's new and most dynamically versatile record yet, begins where the last one left off. "It's me battling my own self to let go of the past," he says while struggling to find a succinct description.
The two twin-like faces on its cover art represent two different sides of Bozeman — his current self, the one who triumphed after experiencing unimaginably heartbreaking loss before he was old enough to drive, and the person he believes he could have become. "An asshole, or just a piece of shit," Bozeman clarifies. Kin is a duel between those two selves, a metaphorical showdown between survival and decay, an intermediate parable about perseverance more than anything else.
"I had negative thoughts," he reveals. "I dealt with suicidal thoughts and stuff. But that's basically the part of me that I defeated. In this album, I'm basically just manifesting him into a real person, and just having an epic story battle with him."
It's heady stuff, and in order to best understand the complexities that the vocalist weaved throughout this Herculean metal effort, you have to become familiar with the man who inspired the whole record: Bozeman himself. From being born into an idyllic American family that was suddenly racked by tragedy, to finding strength within himself and forging one of the most definitive metal bands of the last two decades, this is Bozeman's life story.
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
PHIL BOZEMAN Knoxville, Tennessee. I was born at UT hospital, I believe, [on] September 8th, 1985.
DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER SIBLINGS?
Yeah, I have three older sisters. We're all two years apart. I'm the youngest.
DO YOU HAVE A GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM?
Yeah, I don't see all of them as much ... We kind of have our own personal lives, but yeah, we all love each other and get along great.
WERE THEY INFLUENTIAL ON YOUR MUSIC TASTE GROWING UP?
Well, they listen to more mainstream rap, hip-hop, pop stuff. I liked all that stuff, but I also just ventured out [on my own]. Metallica was my gateway. Then that transitioned over to Pantera and Slayer, and Cannibal Corpse. The way I really discovered that style is through Ace Ventura. I watched that movie as a kid and I saw Cannibal Corpse playing in the movie and I was just like, "Woah, what the hell is this? This is badass."
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES AS A KID?
Most boys are mama's boys, typically, but I was a daddy's boy. My dad was like my best friend. I hung out with him all the time. I was more attached to him. I loved both my parents, but I kind of migrated to him all the time ... My dad was basically my hero.
WHAT'D YOUR PARENTS DO FOR WORK?
My dad worked in communications. He was in the Navy for communications, and he came back after being in the Navy and started working in communications in this place called Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge is one of the nuclear plants in America. My mom was more of a stay-at-home mom.
DID YOU EVER HAVE AN IDEA OF JOINING THE NAVY OR DOING SOMETHING MILITARY-BASED GIVEN THAT YOUR DAD HAD THAT EXPERIENCE?
Not really, just because he died when I was at such a young age that I wasn't really that interested in it. He always told me about how he did Morse code, and he went to the Philippines and stuff like that. That was actually one place that we got to play a couple of years back, and I was super excited to go because that was the one place that my dad had been and I had never been. So, it was really cool to go.
WHAT TYPE OF KID WERE YOU? WERE YOU PRETTY WELL-BEHAVED, OR WERE YOU MORE OF A TROUBLEMAKER?
I would say that I was definitely more well-behaved, and that just comes from my personality. I'm just very low-key. Even as an adult. In a room full of people, I'm going to be nowhere near the loudest person in the room, you know what I mean? I'm kind of introverted. Extroverted in some aspects of life, but for the most part, introverted. I would definitely say that I was not a troublemaker. It doesn't mean I didn't get in trouble. I definitely wanted to do things. The first time I ever smoked weed I was 10.
Ten or 11. The first time I ever smoked a cigarette was the same age. I stole money from my middle sister at one point. I literally stole it because I would go to this family fun center sometimes, and they had "Mortal Kombat" at the arcade. I stole, like, $30 or $35 from her just so I could get that much in quarters, so I could just play as much as I wanted to. Things like that, you know what I mean? I wasn't going out and beating kids up, or just causing a ruckus or anything.
YOUR PARENTS DIED WHEN YOU WERE PRETTY YOUNG. WHEN DID THAT END UP HAPPENING?
Well, my dad died [when I was] 10 years old. It was in '95. He died from cardiac arrest, but he also had an underlying condition called scleroderma. It's not a very common disease. It's a skin disease, but it affects internal organs and things of that nature. He was generally a healthy guy. It was definitely a very sudden and a very unexpected thing.
It was December 30th, 1995, and he died. He was walking down our stairs in our house, and when he hit the last step, my sister's boyfriend at the time was walking behind my dad, and he said he just collapsed. I was upstairs playing my Playstation and I just heard him yelling, "Hey, get down here. Something's wrong with Gary." That's my dad's name. He just hit the floor, he just passed out. He was rushed to the hospital, and he died later that day.
I'M SORRY TO HEAR THAT.
It's all good. Basically, my dad was my mom's rock, I guess you could say. Without him, she just couldn't function, because the day he died she just broke down. That was just the start of her downward spiral because she ended up remarrying, like, two years later. I don't think it was out of love, I think it was just out of desperation. She just met the wrong person. He's a terrible person. My stepdad got her addicted to crack cocaine and drugs like that.
Eventually, she just overdosed, and it just killed her. Because my mom was like 4'11, 5 feet, 95 pounds. Just five sips of a beer and she's pretty much blackout drunk. But not really, because she was actually an alcoholic at one point ... She's a great person, wonderful person. She just had her own personal demons. She wouldn't hurt anyone. Neither one of my parents were abusive or hurt anyone. They're great people. It was just a very unfortunate and very strange story. My dad was like the rock of the family. Once he died, it just fell apart, because my mom was not mentally fit to be a widow.
She was in therapy and stuff even when my dad was alive. Once he died, it was just like everything just let loose in her, and she just didn't know how to control it, and she just met the absolute worst person she could have. He, to this day, is the only person that has ever existed that I genuinely hate.
He died, I want to say like five, six years ago. But whenever he died, I was thrilled. Because after my mom, he met other women, and there's, like, three or four more women that died in his house after my mom. So, he was doing the exact same thing to them, my mom was came back one night, she'd obviously been hit, punched really hard in her face because she was just busted open and swollen.
He died of hepatitis C, of course, because he was doing drugs, too. He was shooting up. The other thing is that my mom definitely did not overdose on her own. It was definitely him because my mom was deathly afraid of needles. So, any sort of injection that she would get, he would have to do it. There's no way she would have done it to herself. So basically, he is the reason that she died, and he pretty much murdered her, but there's obviously no [sufficient] evidence that points directly to that. But that's firmly what I believe, because he's just a horrible person. He died of hepatitis C, and I heard that it was very painful and very slow. I feel evil saying it, but it makes me happy because he got what he deserved.
YEAH, THAT SEEMS JUSTIFIED AT THAT POINT.
But it is what it is. You just move on with life and that kind of thing. That's why I feel like I have a very steel-cage mind, I guess. Nothing really affects me. People might even think that I'm just emotionless or cold or something, but it's just, like, nothing gets to me. People can call me names, nothing really offends me. I've just been conditioned, I guess. That's why if anyone talks badly about our band or anything, I literally could care less.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOUR MOM PASSED?
I was 15. She died five years after [my dad], in 2000, I ended up going to live with my mom's mom, and to this day, I live literally directly across the street from her. She's 91, and still drives, still independent. I live right across the street from her, so if anything is ever wrong or anything ever happens, I can just be right there. I'm very lucky to have the support of family that I've had, and still have. Because for some people, if someone dies, then that's it. They have nobody. So, I definitely was lucky to have the people that I had. We all still stick together.
DID ANY OF THE THINGS YOU EXPERIENCED AS A KID INFLUENCE YOUR GRAVITATION TOWARDS ANGRY, HEAVY MUSIC?
I would say so. I wouldn't say that's necessarily the sole cause, a lot of it is my personality, too. But I would definitely say it had an influence for sure. Because I definitely had a lot of pent-up anger, because my family is definitely a very Christian and conservative family. So basically, I just had to figure out my own stuff.
SO, WHITECHAPEL STARTS IN 2006 WHEN YOU'RE IN YOUR EARLY TWENTIES. WAS IT EASY OR CHALLENGING TO ADJUST TO THE NEW LIFESTYLE OF CONSTANTLY TOURING AND MAKING ALBUMS?
Well, it was a little bit of both. But eventually, we got our very first tour offer, and that was with With Blood Comes Cleansing. Everything was legit, and we were just like, "Well, this is it. We either fucking hit the gas, or we just pump the brakes. We got to do one of the two."
That was the most challenging part, was just to be like, "All right, quit your job, sell your car, whatever." That's what I did. I quit my job. I sold my car. So, I didn't have a vehicle, I didn't have anything. So that was the most difficult part, because you're taking a huge risk. It was strange at first, very scary because it was like, "Well, if this doesn't work, I'm screwed." So, we just took the chance. But as far as the lifestyle, it just naturally came to us. So, we just got used to it. We adapted very well.
I KNOW A LOT OF MUSICIANS, WHEN THEY FIRST GET INTO MUSIC AND THAT WHOLE LIFESTYLE, THEY START USING DRUGS AND ALCOHOL AND STUFF. BUT YOU ALWAYS ABSTAINED FROM THAT SORT OF THING, DIDN'T YOU?
Yes. So, I am a very rare drinker. I have a beer every now and then, [but] I never drink to get just fucking wasted. I have this personal terror in myself that if I'm not in control of myself, it just freaks me out. I just like to have complete control of anything and just how I feel. That's why weed doesn't agree with me, because then it changes me. It changes how you feel, and how you're perceiving things and every-thing. It just freaks me out. Then it causes a panic attack, and then it causes me to feel ill. I just throw up every time I do it.
THE VALLEY WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU'D DIRECTLY ADDRESSED YOUR PERSONAL PAST ON AN ALBUM, RIGHT?
Yeah, The Valley was more of like, "OK, this is my life story and more of an art form." Because some of the stuff is for the sake of storytelling. It's based on that stuff and in a timeline of when it happened, but there's also some fantasy in it just for the sake of storytelling, because I didn't want to just tell it straight up. For instance, on the last album, I use the black bear, which is a bear that's [native to] the Appalachian Mountains and the Smoky Mountains. I was referencing that as being my stepfather, as a predator kind of thing.
SOME OF THE SUBJECT MATTER WAS INSPIRED BY JOURNALS YOUR MOM KEPT, CORRECT?
Yeah, so basically, she had this personal journal [in which] she had what is believed to be, like, 30 different personalities. Sometimes she would be herself, sometimes she'd be someone else. She would just write crazy stuff. She would talk about seeing demons, or she would talk about someone I've never heard of. Just real creepy, almost like movie-esque shit. Her handwriting would change as whoever she was writing as at the time. There was one personality she had that was a little kid, and the writing was obviously really kid-like.
LOOKING BACK THROUGHOUT ALL YOUR TIME IN WHITECHAPEL AS WELL AS A PERSON, HOW DO YOU THINK YOU'VE DEVELOPED? WHAT STANDS OUT?
It's pretty crazy because I'm sure you'll understand what I'm saying, but I feel like I'm the same person, but different, you know what I mean? It's very humbling to look back and think about the things that we sacrificed and the things that we did to do what we do. Because everyone's on their own journey in life, and this is just my part of it. It's not any better than anyone else's, it's just this is my information that I'm conveying to people.
We just all pass along these experiences to people. We all have to work together because we all live here. Well, we're all on the same planet together. It's just we all help each other in that way, and that's what I feel like I'm doing my part. My part is to tell my story to help people through their journey and motivate them to get through the hardships of life. Because we're all going to face them.