PHIL ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS – “It's My Obligation To Touch On All These Different Styles Of Fucking Music That I Love”

June 20, 2013, a year ago

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By Martin Popoff Always pushing on and pressing buttons in some new subversive metal manner, Phil Anselmo returns with a fresh configuration wholly unlike the many metal moods he’s given us thus far. The man’s a machinist or a sheet metal-worker, so the smoke-choked work’s just gotta continue, in overtime, doing time, doing overtime, DOWN-time... The new album is called Walk Through Exits Only, out in a month through Housecore Records, and the homey, suitably underground name of its makers is PHIL ANSELMO & THE ILLEGALS. And look, what’s cool about this chat, is for a record that is going to generate all sorts of questions, you’re actually going to understand it once you’ve absorbed Phil’s sometimes circuitous explanations—you gotta like that.
“Oh man, I’ve listened to extreme music my entire friggin’ life,” begins Phil in his comfortable and familiar drawl, asked why he’s forging this type of metal—essentially an intriguingly dry and atmospheric mid-math metal—at this point in his life. “So I don’t see it as any stretch or any big surprise, necessarily. The only surprise that I really wanted to, I guess, convey, would be that these days, when you look at extreme music and the genres and subgenres, death metal, black metal, this metal, that metal, all that shit, I wanted to make a record that I guess was just as extreme as those records, as any of those genres are, without the preconceived notions that you have going into it.” Examples of those preconceived notions being... “Listening to a black metal record where ideology is pretty important, and the grim topic is sort of expected, or nationalistic feelings are conveyed. Or in death metal, when you have preconceived notions about what the lyrics should be as well. So I wanted to do a super-extreme record, also. But even stylistically, I think there’s different ways to create extreme heavy metal without having to sound like popular bands or even unpopular bands. There’s a way to make things different, and I think I did that. Definitely lyrically, it’s pretty point-blank realistically about my life. Musically, I think what I wanted to do was not to play as fast as possible just for the sake of, or use double kicks just for the sake of. I wanted to create rhythmic, agitated angst-ridden--that’s such a fucking Goddamn cliché--but angst-ridden agitated riffs that were rhythmically up-tempo feeling. You know what I mean? Instead of just going for the blast beat, where to me, it’s just so many bands do it, why not do something creative rhythmically that creates that up-tempo energy?” Asked if it’s the proggiest thing he’s ever done, Phil figures, “Heavy metal has been progressive for years. I remember it progressing, as we grew, watching the entire movement grow. Now there’s some really cool, whack bands out there that do some insane work with time signatures and stuff like that, that I think fall under somewhat of the math rock category, or math metal, or technical this metal or that metal. Whereas I wanted to do more sneaky things, more subtly off-time things, where things are not 4/4; some things are 3/4, some things are 3/5, different measures, and then cut... honestly, it’s like once you get a riff, and its comprehensive but still intricate in its own way, I’ll take that riff and trim even more fat off of it so it becomes even more obscure upon the first ten listens or so, until, you know, after your 20th listen or so, then you start hearing wow, there is song structure there. It’s not just complexity for the sake of complexity. You begin to hear the hooks within the songs, because for me, for the attitude and the mood I was in, when I did the record, I was in more of a hardcore, DISCHARGE, AGNOSTIC FRONT, anthemic mood. And there are big hooks within those songs too. I wanted to make a record that people just could not slide into any category very easily, if that makes sense.”
And why this title, Walk Through Exits Only? “Well, you know, what’s interesting about that is, when I was writing the actual song, Walk Through Exits Only, it was just a lyric. And I would scream it three times in the song, and upon second, third, fourth listen, I was thinking, that’s pretty powerful. It could mean a million different fucking things to a million different fucking people. And I like to use those types of titles that have that impact upon the listener, that people could look at and say, well, first of all, I wonder what Phil means by this? And second of all, how can this apply to my life? Let me back up a bit, and say that, I like lyrics to where I want the listener to draw their own conclusions, so to speak, and make them fit it into their own life. A lot of things that I say that might be point-blank, really have several meanings to them. Nothing is absolutely totally 100% specific, unless I say different. Like ‘Bedroom Destroyer’, that song particularly is absolutely about me being frustrated in my own fucking slack-ass-ness sometimes, my own fucking procrastination or my own ridiculous ruts that I put myself through, when really, I know I could just get up and get started with the day. Go outside, get this shit called oxygen in my fucking brain and move on. But instead I let little things build up and then they become big things, and all of a sudden I am the Bedroom Destroyer. So there’s a lot of sarcasm in there, a lot of tongue-in-cheek shit, but still, at least it’s about something for real.’ As for the production of Walk Through Exits Only, there’s a delectable harshness but its subtle. Again, in the same way that fat is trimmed from the riffs—it ain’t so much math metal but arithmetic metal—there’s an admirable workmanlike discipline to the sound picture. “My whole thinking on this is, Mike Thompson is great producer, he’s got great ideas, but at the end of the day I’m the guy who says yes or no,” avows Phil. “And I’ve produced many records myself, so I am very, very clear on the modern sound of popular heavy metal. I personally like the darker sound. I don’t like such a glossy, pretty sound. I wanted to make it an ugly-sounding, impactful record more true to underground roots than popular fucking... I don’t know, chart-topping bands, fucking hits, you know, sounds that they use. I wanted to make an ugly-sounding record and I think I did pretty good.” Tough to sing? I mean, this ain’t SUPERJOINT RITUAL. “You know what? Originally it was. It was a great challenge, to fit lyrics over the top of some of this stuff. Like case in point would be the song ‘Usurper Bastard’s Rant’, man. It’s very herky-jerky, very rhythmically demanding, and to find a cohesive vocal line over the top that had any semblance of hookiness to it, was a bit of a challenge. But you know what? I love that type shit. I live for that type shit. So yes, to answer your question, it was. As far as memory goes now, man, after recording this fucking thing from the ground up, and practicing it countless fucking times, memory is really no issue, for execution. Although so far, it’s only been done in a practice room; we haven’t even done a gig yet. But that really has nothing to do with it. It’s more of a thing where you gotta have your shit together. You’ve got to know the song and you’ve got to execute.”
“I read Rex’s book, but I think my book will be very, very different, because it’s a different story,” says Phil, as we switch lanes toward the eagerly anticipated autobiography Phil’s slowly assembling. “It’s a different animal. First and foremost, I want to say it’s not just a PANTERA book. Now, don’t get me wrong, Pantera was a gigantic part of my life, but a whole lot happened before Pantera, and a whole lot has happened since Pantera. And cumulatively, I think, it really shapes the person that I’ve become today. Ups and downs, successes and failures. It all matters. And it’s a story about my life. I’m still in the very early stages of writing this thing, because I really want it to have a personal feel to it, as if I’m talking to you. I want it to be read as though as I’m speaking to you directly. All that shit is very important to me. So I’m still in the infancy, I guess, of writing this friggin’ book, and I just think it’s going to be a bit of a different animal from something from Rex’s perspective.” Amidst Down festival dates, also on plate are Illegals shows plus the next Down EP. “We are compiling some bad-ass, friggin’ music for the next EP, and that shit’s already rolling, man. And honestly, it’s really powerful, powerful material so far. So right now, Europe for three weeks, and then while we’re over there, I’m sure we will pull the songs closer and closer together. And I would suspect, shit, man, this next EP to be probably released within the first three months of next year. I think we can accomplish that. I think we’ve got a good leg up so far. Because it takes us five years between every fucking album. Every fucking record (laughs). It’s not going to take five years this time.” But it’s an EP! “Well, there’s a few reasons. First and foremost, Kirk and Pat have CROWBAR, Jimmy has EYEHATEGOD. As a matter of fact, I’m doing the record, producing the new Eyehategod, which is fucking awesome. We’re going to try and wrap up vocals tonight. So anyway, to answer your question, we all have different bands and different projects that we work on. So it works better to do EPs with Down, on that level. As I mentioned, it’s taken us five years in-between every record, to actually put out fucking new Down stuff. So in theory, doing EPs is a better way to get our music out to the hardcore Down fans quicker. And another thing, for me, honestly, these days, doing full-length records... you know, having to concentrate on ten, 12 songs, for me, gets fucking boring, man. I’ll be honest with you, I lose interest. It is very boring, man. If we go in there with the thought of four to six songs, that we can absolutely put 100% concentration into, to make it the best songs... that, to me, is better quality over quantity any day. So all those things become a factor.”
So what’s left to do? I mean, there’s probably a lot left—putting physical toll aside, Phil’s so into music, if he ain’t headbanging forever, certainly he’s going to make records until the day he dies. “Here’s one thing, I gotta emphasize,” explains Phil in closing. “Over the years, man, I’ve been a four-track monster. Since the late ‘80s, when I first got my first four-track, you know, I’ve gone crazy on that thing. In fact, every day, back in the day, I used to have so many different side-projects, I would come off of work, and man, you know, I’ve got everything from acoustic songs to very ambient noisy songs, or just plain ambient mellow-type stuff that I did with a band called BODY AND BLOOD. There was one band called, at the time, THE DISEMBODIED, until I realized there were like 15 bands called Disembodied. That was more of an outlet for droning, noisy, crazy bullshit. So I’ve touched on so many different things. The magic and the excitement of having a solo band is that I can do this extreme metal shit this time around, and then depending on my fucking mood, the next time around, I can incorporate, or flat-out do some old Body And Blood songs, rework some of those songs. And really, they’re just fucking sitting there, and people who know me very well or my good friends, we sit around and listen to music together, and they love that fucking Body And Blood stuff. So case in point. That stuff’s just laying around, and with great songs attached to it, that I can rework immediately. And they’re not heavy metal, at fucking all! So that’s the beauty of having a solo band, because I can fucking do whatever I want to do, really. So I’m leaving that door wide-open, and if I catch people off-guard, then I’m like, good, good, I love diversity in music. I love so many different genres of music. I see beauty in a lot of different music, and as a musician, it’s, in my opinion, my prerogative, and my... almost my obligation to touch on all these different styles of fucking music that I love, because they’re there to do.”
(Photo Credits: Jimmy Hubbard, Estevam Romera)

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