Interview: Phillip Anselmo of Arson Anthem
Wed, 16 Jan 2008 08:50:13
Phillip Anselmo represents everything true and powerful about underground music. He bridged the gap between hardcore and metal, while fronting Pantera, arguably the greatest metal band of all time. In Down, he revived classic rock's boundlessness, and he crafted some of the most poignant hard rock committed to tape. Now In Arson Anthem, he creates violent, brutal hardcore that's raw and undeniably real. Alongside vocalist Mike Williams (Eyehategod), drummer Hank Williams III and bassist Collin Yeo, Phil deals out some scathing fretwork on Arson Anthem's self-titled debut EP. His riffs combine black metal speed with hardcore dissonance as he creates a backing track to sonic Armageddon. In a conversation with ARTISTdirect, he delved into everything from true underground music to boxing.
Arson Anthem is extremely brutal, raw and honest. The songs bear an intensity missing from modern hardcore and punk. What's the creative process like for this band? How do you compose these songs?
I'd mail cassette tapes of riffs I'd come up with to III [Hank Williams III] and Collin, and just give Mike a copy as well. A month or two went by and III drove his truck down to my place with his recording equipment and drums all packed-up in his truck. We wrote the majority of the songs (musically) during that first night. Everybody already knew all the parts from those tapes! The next day, we wrote the rest of the songs, and fucked with some different ideas. The next day we recorded. Mike sang the next night. III stuck around for the following day in order for he and I to mix a little. Then he split. All in all, "physically," it took 3 days to put together and record.
The album feels unbridled and really free. Was this an especially fun record to make?
Yes. It was a very intense atmosphere, but extremely at ease as well. We knew that we expected the music to capture a specific sound, but until that happened, and it did, it was gratifying. We knew then, that the music that was being written was both flexible and tangible, and that's all we could hope for. We were going to be critical of ourselves, especially Mike and I. We were the oldest, and had followed the hardcore scene almost from its inception and watched it grow and die. Aside from a handful of current hardcore bands, we felt the need to express our interpretation of this type of music, because, to us, it's a sorely missing element within today’s generic crop of two-chord bands that basically mimic the image of The Exploited, but fail completely to impress "true" purists with their music.
Growing up in New Orleans, was there a strong hardcore scene when you were a kid? Or did you find more inspiration from the other East Coast scenes?
Both. In the early '80s, the N.O. underground scene was an incredible thing. There were numerous bands that played every week and weekend. It was a phenomenon that was slowly growing across the U.S.—especially when I moved to Texas, and the scene there was thriving as well. But to be completely honest, the N.O. scene was much more interesting and influential. The bands from N.O. were admittedly influenced by the East Coast sound. Out of all the bands from or around the NYC area that I could namedrop as probably the biggest influence to the N.O. sound would be Carnivore. If you take a peek into Pete Steele's resume, you'll find that within the NYC hardcore scene his name is legendary. He's penned many-a-great song for many-a-great band. Sheer Terror was great too. They were like Carnivore meets The Righteous Pigs, who were an insanely great band from Las Vegas.
The guitar playing has an almost black metal speed, and it's super-tight. Do you enjoy the chance to focus on playing rather than singing?
I love to play guitar. I've been writing my own songs on the axe since I was nine-years-old. I suck at leads. But I have my own style, although I haven't gotten any better at them for over two decades. My playing style on AA must be tight a la Agnostic Front, and loose when necessary. On fast songs like "Hammer Them Out," I down-pick. Which is the correct way to play it. The lead guitar work is a bit repetitious, but when a song is under two minutes long, I don't have much room anyway. Thank goodness. But I've always contributed guitar parts to every band I've ever been in, so I’ll always play the axe. Singing and playing have always gone hand-in-hand with me. I love 'em both equally.
The album does have serious reverence for true classic, underground music. Do you feel like this project was a natural progression for you, as a real purveyor and support of all things underground?
I always find myself stuck in the late '70s through the mid '80s when it comes to hardcore. Anything that came after those golden years, by some of the same bands, had too much of a crossover element to them. Not that they were bad records, but when the production got slicker, the initial raw vibe got lost for me. It was OK for metal bands, but Negative Approach didn’t need a big studio or a producer to help them to get their point across.
What inspired you to found Housecore Records?
At first, it was to release the bands that I've played in dating back to '85. Some of them I think are actually very good, some could be labeled as absurd. Regardless, I've played in more bands that I can honestly count, and the world should have heard some of these recordings over a decade ago. It was frustrating, having to sit on these projects, because I was bound to a "major label" contract. Now, finally I can. Then other bands began coming into the fold, and Housecore Records became a demanded, long-time coming, reality.
What's the label's philosophy?
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