Phil Anselmo Interview: Pantera Singer Relaunches Label, Celebrates ‘Cowboys From Hell’
Phil Anselmo is a lot of things. Singer. Lyricist. Legend. Sufferer of back pain. Quotable as hell. Lo-Fi. He’s also one of the most honest metal icons there is. When Noisecreep had the chance to interview with Anselmo for 30 minutes, he answered every question — in his trademark Southern drawl — without hesitation. I spoke to Phil about his relaunched Housecore label, the reissue of Pantera‘s ‘Cowboys From Hell’ and of course, our fallen brother, ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott.
Why did you decide to relaunch your Housecore label?
It basically was a premature announcement a few years back, but over the last few years, since 2008, we’ve been working on it. We’re not going to put out 10s of thousands of records every year. We concentrate on one release at a time, and I’m not in any big hurry when it comes to my bands. I want them to take their time in the studio. I don’t put time limits up. That is the freedom of things here. That is why you don’t see as many releases, because there is not much pressure.
It was called Housecore because it was at your house in New Orleans …
I put my old man in the ghost of that house. Katrina really killed that particular jam area and the whole downstairs, where the vibe was kicking. Downstairs was submerged under 25 feet of water. Memory is tough to sniff out; it’s so bare down there. I still own it.
Is Housecore a NOLA-centric label? Do you focus on locals?
I have a New Orleans band in haarp — get that spelling right; it’s two A’s and all lower case. I’m tightening up two or three records and compacted them into two Disembodied records. That’s once again noise, maybe? Partially industrial? I don’t want to that to mislead anyone. I am talking old-school industrial, the darker Sleep Chamber and darker version of SPK. Disembodied has garage sounds and is lo-fi. I have always been lo-fi. Take Pantera away. Take Down away. Take my major bands away, and I am a lo-fi mother f—er. Strip me down. I am singing in that band, if you want to call it singing.
How about Arson Anthem?
We finished up the Arson Anthem full-length quite a while ago, but it will come out this year, and it’s a f—ing blast of old-school hardcore. A lot of people have tried to revisit that, but this is authentic and fantastic. I play guitar. Mike Williams from Eyehategod sings, Hank Williams III plays drums … boy does he. Colin Yeo plays bass. He is also a singer in a band that I am working with called PonyKiller, which is like ‘the Smiths meets Lou-Reed meets Velvet Underground‘ of course. It’s extreme but really tripped out. It is weird but good.
Down just got off tour. It’s been five months, so everyone is getting a little itchy. To be honest, man, I’ve beaten’ this skeleton to death in my body. I have the mind of a f—ing — no, the drive — of a young, young man in his early ’20s. But the skeleton has betrayed me. I am dealing with pain issues. I don’t want to grind myself into the ground touring much. It’s not like I won’t tour or we won’t do shows. But as far as writing goes, I guess everyone is getting a feel, getting some space in their brain. I’m writing other stuff; new songs and can’t really say much except that it’s pretty f—ing heavy.
With less touring, you’ll stay busier with writing?
There’s room for all that stuff. I am not going to be touring as extensively, but I am enjoying my time behind the board, working with other bands. I love it and cannot deny it, man. I am tightening up these last bunch of records for this year’s release.
Let’s talk about the Pantera reissue of ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ You are involved with it?
Of course. It’s the 20th anniversary of ‘Cowboys From Hell,’ but don’t mention my age! Two full decades.
I am sure Dime’s passing affects how you view those two full decades …
It does. It is a shame that it has to be that way, but on the positive side of things, ‘Cowboys’ was a transition record for us. I just did some liner notes for that re-release for ‘Cowboys.’ It dredged up a lot of memories and me thinking, ‘My God. 99 percent of the songs on ‘Cowboys’ were written in 1989, and we were prepared for that record.’ Production-wise, Dimebag really brought a roaring guitar tone. He always had that, even back in the day. The way records sound or sounded back then was also production, which was in transition, with Terry Date producing and Vinnie Paul and his studio prowess, if you will. They made some marked advancements as far as capturing guitar sounds go. We were songwriters, but we were also … that threatening edge was there. It wasn’t found in a typical metal band. We knew what we were onto. I will say it. I said it before, I don’t think Pantera truly found their sound till ‘Vulgar,’ but ‘Cowboys’ was a fantastic precursor.
You will get no arguments from me. Both you and Vinnie worked on the reissue, but not together …
It’s totally separate. We live in different parts of the country now. They asked me to do it. I jotted notes and sent them back, and they said, ‘Well, if Phil is writing this, let’s get more out of him.’ So they came back, asked for me. It ended up being a lengthy write-up. It has to be approved by all of us.
It’s been five years since we lost Dime. How are you dealing with his loss now?
I will say that with each passing year, it gets harder and harder and harder. This year was really rough. This past December was excruciating. When I look around today and see what an impact that we made, and where heavy metal is at today, and I think of what could have been? What should have been? It’s very hard. It’s hard to come to grips with it. However, with that said, I am a man who likes to live in the now. All I can do is — like everyone else, like you, like any other fans, and anyone walking the streets that has love in their heart for what Pantera has done — is sit back finally and listen to it as a fan. Pride is a tough thing in and of itself. To be proud of yourself is fine and all, but there is a certain amount of pride there. But regret does hover over the whole thing within my emotions. But I am living in the now. All I can do is love him and cherish these memories and know that no matter what is said, no matter what has been believed, or no matter what the conception is in anyone’s little mind out there, I was there. I lived it — from the practice room, of every jam session, of every writing session, of every song. Those are my songs. Those are my words. That in itself can’t be beat. You can’t beat it. What an experience.
When life punches me in the face, I turn to ‘Vulgar’ for strength. The lyrics give me strength. I take those words, ‘I moved mountains with less,’ to heart.
It’s a new level of confidence and power, my love. That is what I was. I meant every mother f—ing word, every f—ing word. I still mean that. There are snippets of those lyrics that are words to live by, when things get cruel. Such is life. It’s one thing after another and never a dull moment. It’s gonna hit us. Bam! Bam! Bam! It’s up to us to be resilient. No one is gonna be resilient for us.