PHILIP H. ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS – “15 Minutes Of Shame, That’s What Everybody Gets”
January 26, 2018, a year ago
“At this point I am basking in the glory of being a true free agent who can move around and shake it with different rock bands so to speak,” says Philip H. Anselmo, best known as the vocalist for Pantera. January 26th will see the release of Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue, the second album from Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, via Housecore Records in North America and Season Of Mist in Europe.
Joining Anselmo in The Illegals are: rhythm guitarist Stephen “Schteve” Taylor, lead guitarist Mike DeLeon, bassist Walter Howard, and drummer Jose “Blue” Gonzalez. Together this quintet has created a brutal, ugly, aggressive, intense, and abrasive set of ten songs. The first album from Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, Walk Through Exits Only, was released five years ago in 2013. After which Phil became very busy with: Down, Superjoint, Scour, Bill + Phil, and of course his own label Housecore Records. The question beckons, why is now the right time for the resurgence of The Illegals in 2018?
“The truth of it all is, I am trying to trickle things out there as quickly as possible, and as semi-strategically as possible,” answers Anselmo. “I feel like I’ve been sitting on top of so many – and I have been. I’ve been sitting on a lot of different projects we’ll touch upon later in the interview. It’s been sort of frustrating… being known for one type of heavy metal is ridiculous to me. If you look at my career and all the different movement, all the different bands I’ve been in; especially in the ‘90s. If you really do some investigating… I’ve always been an advocate, a fan, and an explorer of underground music. I’ve recorded so much stuff; some of it’s okay. This new Illegals – case in point.”
“There are certain riffs on the record that I wrote around ’96 / ’97. Knowing the frame of mind I was in – of course I was insane, but I’m still insane. I remember in ’96 / ’97, I was going back in time then, obsessing over the first two Morbid Angel records (Altars Of Madness and Blessed Are The Sick). Those riffs never got used. When we wrote this new Illegals, which was 2015 / 2016, I dragged those riffs with me through time. After that, everything became pretty freaking organic. It’s just interesting how things work out. There will come a day when eventually I’m just going to get fucking fed up and dump all my four-track shit out there and just say, fuck it! Eat it alive man. It’s all raw; some of them are live band situations, and some of them are just me making noise with whatever I have handy. It’s a pretty eclectic bunch there. Hopefully one day.”
(Picture by: Jody Dorignac)
Throughout his storied career, Philip H. Anselmo has always been an intriguing and intelligent lyricist; that tradition holds true on Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue. “The Ignorant Point” is a prime example as it contains the line “Lord Of The Flies is now.” A direct reference to the 1954 novel by Nobel Prize winning British author William Golding. “A wonderful book! It definitely takes a stare at the human condition; especially when looked at through young people’s eyes. If we’re going directly from the novel, a group of young boys. Sure enough, they break off tribalistically into different types of groups. It becomes an overview of anything as deep as politics, and as shallow as the human condition itself; whether it’s envy or… just gut feelings and reacting to them instead of rationally thinking things through. It’s an incredible read, an incredible life lesson. So, there’s your book report,” proclaims Anselmo.
“But as far as the meaning in the song – bingo my brother, you have hit on the jackpot! I write every fucking lyric, no matter what it is, I try to at least these days… if I’m going to put any effort into anything, that would be the double and triple meanings. A whole lot of my lyrics, whether it be a single word or an entire line; yes, it should make a somewhat comprehensive sentence if you break it down, but also that sentence could be an entire different cypher for other things. I’ve been obsessed by the fucking zodiac for my entire life. It’s right when I was born – The Zodiac Killer, Charles Manson. I completely remember the television blaring in the background. It’s funny you mention the lyrics because the whole concept of Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue is really a good cold stare at many different things, but one of them would be myself, and examining where my bloodlines come from, my childhood, and what all these things mean as far as what keeps me ticking, what keeps me motivated. It’s interesting, and within that exploration of my family, there’s definitely some quirks on both sides. They are different from each other, but they’re completely interesting in my estimation.”
Another noteworthy song is “Invalid Colubrine Frauds” – obviously Colubrine is very similar to Columbine. The Columbine High School Massacre occurred in 1999 in Colorado when 12 students and one teacher were murdered, along with 24 others suffering injuries. The song itself is about mass shootings and gun violence. “The sum total of that song is… I’m no big fan of guns. It is an examination of the human condition. Just knowing that we have these imperfect beings on the planet, who can snap. They can be the most regular, laid back personalities at face value. This can happen to anyone. Everybody of any measure of honesty has lost their shit at one point or another, and have not been themselves. They had to go back and say, ‘I apologize, last night I wasn’t myself.’ Certain people with machines of death at their disposal… the results can’t be anything but kind of fucking disastrous. And obviously I am double fucking with people cause Colubrine and Columbine are totally different words with totally different meanings; but yes, the eye to brain association is immediate. That’s me fucking with people for damn sure.” For those wondering, “Colubrine means snake-like tendencies, snake-like activity. Applying that to the human condition, and putting guns in the sketchy element of humanity that we have in the world. I don’t give a fuck where you’re from… this is me, not necessarily in the song, but in the sentence I’m about to say, right now, focusing on America, I don’t like what I see. I’m not a fan of the gun, brother.”
One element of the human condition is portrayed vividly on the black and white cover art of Choosing Mental Illness As A Virtue. Anselmo reveals the origin of those photographs, “A lot of them are public domain, archived stuff. Matter of fact, what’s interesting is I do have a picture of a kid on there, his name escapes me. Actually, my wife is in a lot closer contact with him on a semi-regular basis. This kid had a lobotomy performed on him – the imagery of a young man with the blacked-out eyes. We are in touch with him, he gave us full permission to use his image because of the contents of the lyrics on the record; he stood behind them. There were a lot of parallels and understanding. Also, the picture of the chic kind of looking at herself; that’s taking a little stab at the selfie culture.”
A second British novelist, George Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, is name-checked in “Little Fucking Heroes” with the line, “The Orwellian determining factor.” The term Orwellian is descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices. “I read that a long time ago,” recalls Anselmo. “There are certain things, climates here and there, especially if you go online and look at the local paper even. It’s like, My Lord! Not that it affects me directly, but the Internet culture in general, and the way it’s set up. It’s remarkably fucking evil. It’s so brilliantly evil, it really fucking is. And yes, there is an Orwellian feeling about the entire thing. When people talk about modern devices and new technology, particularly like the parenting robot things you can have in your house and ask a million questions; ‘Ask Alexa’ (Phil is referring to the Amazon Echo). The conspiracy theories of each one of these devices having a camera, or keeping some sort of tabs on individuals and whoever messes with these devices. God damn, that’s pretty fucking Big Brother. It’s out there, it’s a reflective observation.”
In the same song, “Little Fucking Heroes”, there’s a line that goes, “Just finally admit you’re jealous… of the riddle that is me.” Without hesitation, Anselmo confesses, “I am a weirdo, man. I am a mixed fucking barrel, I really am. I’ve seen life, I’ve been around the fucking world. I see how people operate and get along with each other. I see how people move and shake, and do this thing called life. 90%, if not more of the time during my travels, the people that you come across, all they want to do is get on with the rest of their day and live their life. Everyone is as pleasant as possible, as nice as possible. Of course, you’re going to run across the person you disagree with here and there. You work it out amicably and move on. Especially once you get out of the trappings of youth and trying to get in a fist-fight in a barroom; that’s a whole different animal.”
“In today’s Internet culture, there is an online world, and then there’s a real world. I think it’s incredibly healthy to step outside and just go stare at some real fucking people sometimes. Go and actually shake a real hand, give somebody a fucking hug, have a real conversation. It’s fucking imperative. It seems there’s one a week, if not ten; a different person everyday getting backlash. It reminds me of The Shaming. I call it 15 Minutes Of Shame, that’s what everybody gets today. Some of the shit is so innocuous.” That’s a far cry from what Andy Warhol predicted in the late ‘60s. “But not such a far cry from what Rod Serling (creator of The Twilight Zone) might have predicted. There’s no way he could predict the precise, bewildering nuance of it all, but he absolutely foresaw the advancement of certain technologies as being a negative to the human spirit itself. He definitely was a proponent for a more human outlook as far as perpetuating a forward-thinking society; it’s going to take more human to human interaction. Now, don’t get me wrong. With the technology, perhaps there are pockets of the Internet where a whole bunch of positive stuff goes on; you can’t rule that out. There absolutely is, if you examine it in a straightforward way; an unbiased way. But it is, and was, like opening up this brand new world. When you say that, the sentence rolls off the tongue really easy. But, that means brand new rules. We’re – when I say we, I mean us as a species – going through all the trip-ups, all the stumbling blocks, still to this day, of the actual power of this particular technology.”
(Picture by: Danin Drahos)
“Photographic Taunts” centres around a much older form of technology, and seems to be inspired by true crime stories. “I really want it to be open to absolute interpretation. But I will let it be known that it is actually an accumulative story, a multiple story, as most of the lyrics on this record are. Multiple stories about the city I live in and that city alone,” states Anselmo. “There is a story attached that really garnered very little attention, but I think it should pop up. Back in the ‘80s… it’s an old story that blended too perfectly with the modern crisis of gun violence, which is kind of a running theme in the record because once again, I’m not a fan (of guns) at all. I think my main illustration with that song is that there are horror stories every single day. For those of us who love the horror film, and perhaps even the darker – whether it be atmosphere or traumatic storytelling; the darker aspects of life, even spiritual things. There are horror stories told every single day in our very own newspapers. There’s new pictures flashed into our minds and eyes every single day that accumulate; it’s bewildering how vicious humankind is to humankind.”
Furthermore “Photographic Taunts”, both lyrically and musically, really shows Phil’s love of death metal. “It’s funny you mention that cause I’m giving a big, gigantic, huge nod to death metal in that song, in general to the genre. In one single line, and I did it on purpose, just because I knew that I was borrowing a sentiment. Music is influences. My point is, when you immerse yourself in a certain style… it’s so obvious. I could have picked any fucking word other than, but when I say, ‘Corpses found… mutilated,’ it’s such a nod to early Cannibal Corpse. Big props man!”
Jimmy Bower (Down, Eyehategod) can be heard playing drums on “Mixed Lunatic Results”, but not throughout the entire song. “Jimmy plays on the outro of that song, at the very end. Believe it or not, we grabbed that clip from the end of this record I’m putting out just a couple months after The Illegals comes out, a band called En Minor. It’s very, very different; a flip-flopping of genres. It’s different musical expression. And by the way, Jim Bower does play drums in En Minor. For me in my mind, that’s kind of the segue way out that would meet perfectly into the hands of the En Minor record; that’s just me being crazy. En Minor – that band is huge man, as far as content goes, there’s easily three extensive albums worth of stuff. The first record’s going to have 16 songs on it. It’s an avalanche of shit; really, really different. It’s not by any means some metal record; it’s not supposed to be.”
Currently there are no live dates announced for The Illegals. “Here’s the deal, and this is me being forthwith and blunt as hell. I have a medical procedure that needs to be done. It’s been nagging me for about a decade now; it’s really no big deal. It’s no giant thing. The layup time is going to be the layup time, but we’re not talking months and months or anything like that. Matter of fact, I don’t think we’re even talking a month. Hopefully, that is one of the final hoops, cause I’ve been jumping through hoops over the last couple months, just getting my ducks in a row, trying to prep for this undergoing of the knife again. But I’m used to it and I know what’s ahead of me. Once I get this done, it’s going to be so much better for everybody. It’s kind of hovering right now, so once I get some good news as far as shows go, I will share it.”
(Top photo by: Danin Drahos)