Interview: Philip Anselmo (Pantera, Down) — "You don't have to conform to what everyone else is doing…if you want to do something, make a dent…"
Sun, 07 Mar 2010 11:50:56
Philip Anselmo remains "stronger than all."
In fact, the singer is just as driven, determined and dead set on domination as he was when he first uttered that refrain on Pantera's genre-defining Far Beyond Driven in 1994. Not only has Philip given voice to some of the greatest metal records of all-time—Vulgar Display of Power, The Great Southern Trendkill (my personal favorite), Down's Nola and Superjoint Ritual's Use Once and Destroy to name a few—but he's also been a devout champion of all things underground. From horror culture to extreme metal, Philip has stayed vocal about his passions and weaved them into everything that he's done. That brings us to the foundation of Philip Anselmo's House Core Records. He has an "artists first" philosophy that makes House Core a true creative hotbed. With a lineup locked and loaded with unique bands, Philip's looking to drop explosive offerings from Warbeast, haarp and his very own Arson Anthem in 2010. Somehow, he's working harder than ever and it should be an inspiration to everyone that hears his story…
Philip talked to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about founding House Core Records, looking back at The Great Southern Trendkill, his take on how close horror and heavy metal are, boxing and more!
What do you feel like separates House Core Records from other labels?
First of all, it's a small, tightly knit group of bands. Honestly, our biggest goal is to let these bands have freedom and feel no pressure. In other words, I don't want anybody putting out a record before it's done, so we don't put real release dates down until records are finished. Then we start dealing with it. If we're towards the end of a record, of course, but you never know when you're at the end. I like the artists to be happy with their product. I guess it's exclusive because it's a do-it-yourself label, and I'm fine with that. I actually love that. I want to bring the best out of these cats via sound. All of the touring will come later. First things first, always, at House Core.
You're giving these bands space to develop their respective sounds, which is so important for artists in order to get their complete vision out there.
Yeah, I've been in the position where there are deadlines and you're up against time. In those situations, you're trying to squeeze a performance out, and it's normally one you just have to live with. Then you always go back and say, "God, I could've killed that or I could've done this better. We could've changed this or we could've changed that." You don't really have a chance to reflect on your work; and I know what it's like to be there.
That reflection is so crucial because you're in the midst of creating, you don't really have the opportunity to think about it.
No…a band can write and be in the practice room for a year straight. If they're just bouncing these ideas off of each other, sometimes I might step in, but I never want to change the face of a band. I never want to change a band, but I will suggest things. To have that outside opinion, either way, has worked to the benefit of every project that has come my way. These bands have never had that opportunity before. Normally, their recording sessions have been for their own purposes. You get two or three days in a studio at the very most, and then the band tracks and the singer has two or three hours to do his vocals over ten songs [Laughs] before their time is paid for and they've got to get out. Any input that you can give young bands that are developing their sound just comes naturally.
For artists working with House Core, it must be refreshing to have that perspective from another artist who has gone through the whole process. You can offer true insight.
Absolutely! There are so many tiny little things that amount to a whole bunch when you're dealing with studio work and pre-production on a record. You're sitting there listening to fuzzy demos with strange arrangements—really they're just ideas thrown on a tape. It's challenging and fun to put songs together and to make them flow. Then there are production ideas that I know they've never dreamed of. I'm not a big "effects" guy. I don't think the bands I work with are big "effects" bands. As far as approaching production, I'm real organic. Take the vocals for example. There's a lot to be said for doubling and answering and all that stuff that I did with Pantera—a lot of ping-ponging of the vocals and such. It's just fucking with your own voice, and it avoids the use of your regular old delays, echos and whatever other fucking magic button they push [Laughs]. I can't say that about all the bands. The thing about House Core is when you look at the roster, I like to say every band on there is an "extreme band" in one way or another. We do metal. We do hardcore. Also we do this flip side of music that I personally would call, "Alternative." But, in my definition, figuring when I was growing up, alternative music was not a genre; it was the alternate to mainstream popular music in any form. You take a band like Sky High; Donovan Punch, anything he touches—The Donovan Punch Experience, The Disembodied or Bum Freak in Egypt. That's fucking different stuff, man. The Sursiks are mighty, different and fantastic as well. I want to bring something fresh to the front. I want to bring something a little different to music. Don't get me wrong, of course when you say you have a heavy metal or thrash band, look, they're going to be a thrash band. If a band's going to be metal, that's fine. If you take a closer look at a band like haarp, you can classify them as "metal," but they're very hard to classify. You can say they're a slow band, but you can't call them "sludge" or "doom." Once again, it's making that difference, looking for that jewel in the rough—those bands that aren't just doing the normal fare and following the leader.
What really resonates with you is when a band is doing something you haven't heard before…
Yeah, well there's a whole lot of that for sure. I don't want to be completely avant garde here [Laughs]; take a band like Warbeast from Fort Worth. They are classic thrash, but they something that sets them apart from today's thrash movement. There are a lot of young bands out there playing stuff that sounds like a lot of my old record collection from the middle '80s [Laughs]. It's cool, you know? The difference is, Warbeast actually grew up at that time. I grew up with these guys, so we saw the whole movement happen. Their musicianship is top notch, and their influences are vast. They're not your regular 4/4, verse-chorus verse chorus, solo and outro band. They're fucking really insane, man—very good at what they do. That's one example of a band that's very classic. For the most part, I'm absolutely looking for something fresh.
You can hear that energy in the delivery on Arson Anthem.
The new Arson Anthem is coming out later this year, and it makes the first one look like child's play. It's seventeen songs—30 minutes long. It's in the vein of classic hardcore, but eventually it took on a life of its own. We recorded the stuff in four day increments. Hank Williams III played all the drum tracks in four days, we wrote the record in four days, so you get in this mode where you're in a vacuum for sure, but it's this directed vacuum. Everybody's in this mode where it's impenetrable. The direction, once again, is solidified. That's what we got on this new record. I'm very proud of it, and I can't wait for motherfuckers to hear it.
A record's supposed to capture emotions like that at the end of the day.
Yeah, man. It definitely has the energy. There's no two ways about it. A little side bar on that energy—Hank III is a great fucking drummer. On the first EP, I wanted to blow people's faces off, and I think I accomplished that. Love it or hate it. On this new record, it's a bit more audible—you can hear the actual notes being hit on the guitars. But, Hank III is really a great drummer, and he shines on this fucking thing. Dynamically, the new Arson Anthem is furious. It's spastic hardcore, but it doesn't lose its flow. It's grinding and chugging, but it never loses its flow. Somehow it does go together [Laughs]. I'm very happy with this Arson Anthem album, man. I can't wait for you fuckers to hear this thing. I'm proud of the releases this year all around. We got all of our releases in order. haarp's coming out. It's such a different band. They're a band that is for fresh ears. They show that all the notes have not been hit yet—similar to The Sursiks in that respect, but not similar musically at all. haarp is a conceptual band. They are deep thinkers; they're very dedicated to what they do. They do play slow, but to call them a "slow band" only would be an injustice. They're crushing. Once they start making their rounds, anywhere haarp plays , anyone that sees them live, any bands they play with—they're going to be remembered because they are just an intense motherfucking live band. Their lead singer is the genuine article, there's no two ways about it. I watched them do a 30-minute set. It was seamless from start to finish, music and vocals. It was pummeling. He came across with more attitude, without saying a damn thing to the crowd, than your average ten motherfucking different vocalists could do at once. He's a badass. Sean Evans—remember that name. They're from New Orleans, and haarp's from Dallas. To kill the myth that I'm only out for New Orleans bands, I'm actually very careful with New Orleans bands. Eyehategod and Crowbar are proven commodities and they're friends, and that makes things a lot easier. However, there's no way I can offer every band around here a record label [Laughs]. My heart's got to be in the record. Other than that, besides the stuff I'm doing myself like Arson Anthem, I can't help it, I live here [Laughs]. haarp is a New Orleans band. If you look at the House Core compilation record, I've worked with Exactly Violent Styles from Japan. One of my favorite bands, Cavalcade, is from Lansing Michigan. We work with a lot of different bands.
You bring the philosophy back to the artist first. In the '70s, we had so much great music and so many great movies because everybody from Led Zeppelin to Martin Scorsese was allowed to create his vision unhindered. I don't think Taxi Driver could come out these days, with how controlled art is.
Man, I think you're really on the ball with that. It's that creativity—freedom within the band itself and really complete freedom. I'm doing this label for the bands, man. Believe me. I'm doing this because I want to do it, and because there are bands out there that deserve to have an opportunity to have their records circulated. For the fans that are looking for different music and music collectives, sure I'm releasing a lot of my own library of music, so I think that's important as well. If anyone thinks I'm going to rich off something like The Disembodied that I've been doing off and on since '87, hey, they're crazy! [Laughs] This is not for riches and fame. Doesn't it only seem right for bands to have control?
On The Great Southern Trendkill, you went to a different place, and it's one of the most honest places that I've ever heard any artist go.
I was very aware of what was going on around us at the time. We were a heavy metal band that had created our own heavy metal niche and that was Pantera. I saw everyone jumping on a bandwagon that was destined to die and, sure enough, it did—like anything else. As a matter of fact, make that like three or four little movements in music there that were fleeting. That happened. That's history. Follow the leader for a little while until it gets burned out then bingo, right back to the basics. It's very obvious that music comes in cycles. We will have our day again [Laughs]. Those of us that are pure and true to our music will have our day again. Look at Slayer. They got where they're at through longevity and consistency. They've earned their respect and made their way. I called out all of the little fucking trendy things, and I bashed them and lambasted them. That's where my head was at the time. I'm doing it my way now, really—a gentler, more logical approach, and that's House Core Records. If you want to do something about it, make a dent don't write a song.
You've proved that it's okay for kids to be themselves and follow what's inside. It's freedom of speech and freedom of expression. That's paramount.
Yeah, you don't have to fucking conform to what everyone else is fucking doing. Look, I know what's going on right now. I keep a close eye on the underground. I see this whole lo fi movement of bands. It's been going on for quite awhile, and it's wonderful. There are a lot of labels coming out of Europe and the States that are strictly cassette labels. I love it, to tell you the truth! It reminds me of any drastic movement like punk rock was to disco, hardcore was to disco, early metal thrash was to disco. Lo fi/noise/black noise and a lot of the horror-type metal coming out of Italy is rebellion, man! Bands are showing their absolute freedom. They're saying, "Fuck what's going on." It's that rebellious nature that will always arise, and there's always going to be an underground. What is underground will perhaps be mainstream one day.
Speaking of the underground, how closely intertwined are horror movie culture and heavy metal?
If it weren't for horror movies, zombies and monsters in general, there would be no croaking death metal roars, concepts, album titles, song titles, lyrics, etc. [Laughs] Film has so much to do with it; it's ridiculous! I've been friends with Kerry King since 1987. You look back at Hell Awaits. Case in point, the intro to Hell Awaits has this backwards chanting and whispering. When you spin the vinyl backwards, sure enough you hear, "Join us, join us," straight out of Evil Dead. There you go! [Laughs] Not to say they're the only band, they're one of probably millions that have been influenced by film, and it still happens to this day.
Are you looking forward to the Manny Pacquiao fight?
He should be fighting Floyd Mayweather! Pacquiao is a man of two countries. He owns the Philipines, and he's loved in America. He's a very lovable, humble guy. Joe Calzaghe's great! With the big super middleweight tournament they've got going now, he must be asking himself, "Where were these guys when I was around not but five years ago? I would've been part of this thing!" Joe fought through a lot of injuries in his career. He was avoided. Don't get me wrong. In my book, Roy Jones Jr. is probably the most spectacular athletically gifted boxer that I've seen in my life. Truth being, Roy avoided Joe Calzaghe forever. When they fought about ten years too late, Roy floored Joe in the first round. Roy was there. He may not have been one-thousand percent Roy Jones Jr., but he was there. Also seeing him in the ring that night, Joe Calzaghe's style would give anybody, including and in his prime Roy Jones Jr., fits. Joe was just a little bigger than Roy. That's nothing Roy hadn't faced before, but a big physical super middleweight at that weight 168lbs a south paw with that crazy fantastically beautifully gifted unorthodox unique style that just worked—I don't know. I'd have to say Calzaghe's the greatest super middle weight of all time. I don't think anybody beats him.
That Shane Moseley and Margarito fight last year was a personal favorite…
What a great fight! I did a write-up for that fight for Boxing Insider. We're about to see Shane fucking maybe take the thunder out of Mayweather. That's a great placement fight for the Pacquaio fight. Look at what Shane did to the "invincible" Margarito. It's unbelievable. Moseley fought so smart in that fight—just textbook boxing. He didn't give ground, didn't cover up, didn't back up, didn't get in Margarito's range—he smothered him. He stayed close to him when he had to and then lit him up! I knew he'd finish that fight with his signature, beautiful, compact left hook—goodnight! It was fantastic.
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…