Interview: Phil Anselmo

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Phil Anselmo has survived a lot. He’s survived glam metal, heroin addiction (including clinical death from an overdose), singing for Pantera, and a lot of youthful bad judgment. Now he’s older, wiser, and busy. This year his Housecore label released records by avant-jazz outfit The Sursiks and Texas thrashers Warbeast (featuring members of cult favorites Rigor Mortis and Gammacide). A new record is forthcoming from Arson Anthem, his hardcore punk band with Hank III and Mike Williams of Eyehategod. Down, his supergroup featuring members of Pantera, Crowbar, Corrosion of Conformity, and Eyehategod, just started writing new material. Anselmo is also working on a solo project and an autobiography. Somewhere in there he finds the time to write columns for BoxingInsider.com. His deep knowledge of boxing is renowned. We began our chat by discussing the sport.

— Cosmo Lee

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[Note: Anselmo's speech patterns often resemble those of a Southern preacher, if one given to foul language. The audio clips of his responses are worth hearing.]

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How did you become interested in boxing?

It was my father and my stepfather, both. Shit, man. I remember late Ali fights. I saw a few different Ali fights, but none more memorable than the night Leon Spinks dethroned him. And then the entire Larry Holmes reign. As a matter of fact, I went to the Superdome in New Orleans and watched Holmes-Cooney on [closed-circuit broadcast].

Since then, I’ve been hooked, and I’ve been collecting fights since they started making VCR’s, for god’s sakes. It’s a LONG time. You gotta remember ABC’s Wide World of Sports; I don’t even know how old you are. ABC’s Wide World of Sports was big for boxing, man, back in the day. “Caveman” Lee, fuckin’ Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, early Marvin Hagler, I could go on and on.

Yes, I am younger than you.

Obviously.

And I love MMA, but I can’t really get into boxing because you can only strike with the hands. What would you say to someone like me?

The smartest thing they do is that MMA is umbrella’ed under one sanctioning organization that’s respected. I know there’s some spinoff stuff like Strikeforce and shit like that, but it’s just small enough to where normally the best face the best. [Whereas] boxing these days is so outspread. There’s so many different governing bodies, there’s so many fucking different belts, it’s very hard for people to understand and follow, because it’s really a global sport.

I’ll say this to all the MMA people and youngsters today: you didn’t have the luxury of being in the body and the brain that you are right now and watching a young Mike Tyson fucking tear through the fucking division. Now that was a spectacle that might change your fucking mind on the art of just using your fucking hands.

For me, standup fighting is a lot more exciting than a couple guys grappling for 20 minutes on the fucking ground, ultimately to get his thumb bent back and have somebody submit. [Note: Small joint manipulation is illlegal in MMA.] You get a guy like Manny fucking Pacquiao, you put him against somebody 140-something pounds in MMA, I’m picking Pacquaio fucking a tenfold. And I don’t give a shit what anyone says, Pacquiao will LIGHT YOU UP.

It seems strange that someone who’s as into as boxing as you do would get mixed up with hard drugs.

It’s strange? Well, trip out on this: life is strange, man. Life is crazy. You have people in pro sports and whatnot, in the prime of their career, like it happened to me, get a major fucking injury that does play into your game – and not only your game, your entire quality of life – you’re going to deal with that pain through ignorance and through what other people tell you. You walk into a doctor’s office when you’re a young man, and you say, “Hey, man, I’m hurtin’. My lower back fucking hurts”. You tell him something like that, doctors look at you and they say, “Well, what else is new?” Lower back pain is the second-most common thing next to the fucking common cold doctors hear about.

[If] you’re grinding out fuckin’ damn near 200, 300 shows a year on that fucking stage, mark my words, you’ll get into fucking painkillers. You’ll take those fucking painkillers before you’re going to say, “No, I’m not doing this fucking show”. Especially when you’re 25, 26, 27 – fuck that, man, you know. You’re going to do the shows. Either way, life happens, young man, and don’t discount or fucking discredit anything that will ever fucking happen to you, because you don’t know a fucking thing. Put under the right circumstances, anyone will resort to anything.

What do you do for fitness these days?

Core work. Gotta keep my core strong. I still do all my pushups, all that fucking shit, stretch out. I do a lot of core work and some cardiovascular [exercise], walk on the beach, shit like that. All that kind of shit, man, sweat it out.

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I saw some photos of you coaching United Way kids playing football. Is that a regular thing for you?

No, it was not a regular thing. It was something that happened by circumstance, man. I’ll tell you what – it’s funny you should ask that. I walked away from that day thinking to myself, “Shit, I would do this any fucking day of the week, man”. It was a blast. It was unique. It was fucking very humbling after you get sacked by a nine year-old. Yeah, man, it was fucking awesome.

How did it come together, and what did you get out of it?

Well, I’m born and raised in New Orleans, and there’s a lot of staff members that work for the Saints, and Saints themselves, that are fans of my music. So they know me, I know them. One thing led to another, and I ended up talking to a few of them. I ended up hanging out with this cat named Michael Lewis. He’s a unique story. He’s a former NFL player, former Saint player. He only played for the Saints, man, he’s from New Orleans. He’s now the ambassador for the Saints. So he was there at Saints camp with all the United Way kids. So I started talking with Michael, and he was just a really, really fuckin’ nice man, super cool. Next thing I know, we were throwing the football. Next thing I know, I was coaching the kids playin’ against Michael Lewis. (Laughs)

And what did I get out of it? I just told you, man. Like I said – nothin’ but joy, nothin’ but this humble feelin’ in my heart. It was too much, man. Really, it was just a lot of fun. Just being around all them kids – it was a group of 12-and-under, inner-city, under-privileged kids, some of them probably abused and whatnot. To have ‘em all sittin’ there lookin’ at me, sayin’, “Coach! Coach! Give me the ball”! (Laughs heartily) I was, like, “Oh my god, am I dreamin’? This is crazy”. It was super-cool, man.

Anselmo on coaching United Way kids

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How is New Orleans doing now with the oil spill?

We ain’t seen the fuckin’ beginning of the repercussion. I think the tip is fuckin’ rearin’ its head, but how can it not? There’s fucking crude spilling out right as we speak here on this motherfuckin’ phone. What can I do about it? What can anybody really do about it? Go to the fuckin’ water and clean animals and birds? It’s not solving the fucking problem.

This right here, this knife in Mother Earth is [a] bleeding fucking wound in our planet, which in my book is God, by all rights. You got God stabbed in the fuckin’ heart. And it’s bleeding. We have not even begun to see the miserable ramifi-fucking-cations of this fucking particular disaster yet. Shit, hurricane season hasn’t really even moved in.

As a matter of fact, by the time the next year rolls around, everything on the Gulf Coast – not just New Orleans, but the entire… it’s not even a tri-state area; you lump Texas and everything into this fuckin’ thing, anything that can be affected by this Gulf – and you blow in fuckin’ oil all over the motherfuckin’ every standing structure… let a big hurricane roll through and blow oil all over every tree, house, car, fuckin’ animal, oh my god – and let it dry up for a fuckin’ week. Then flick a fuckin’ cigarette out. See what happens, with fuckin’ oil all over the place. This place will be torched faster than a motherfuckin’ box of matches, man, and gasoline.

Anselmo on the oil spill

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What are you listening to these days?

Dude, I’ll be honest with you. I’m so wound up with Housecore bands, my record label. I’m constantly listening to haarp – which is, just in case you don’t know – all lower-case letters, no capitals. haarp, Warbeast, all of my bands, man, The Sursiks. But shit, you know, I listen to a lot of stuff. Most of it’s older. There’s no doubt about that.

I’ve been writing some new stuff. As a matter of fact, Down is gettin’ together tomorrow. We’re going to start writing some newer stuff. You’re the first for that breaking news right there. So Down’s gettin’ in there tomorrow. Like I said, man, I’m writing some new stuff now, so I’m trying to keep focused on that, and maybe not over-dilute myself. Fenriz just sent me the new Darkthrone, so I heard that. Not saying I’m listening to it, but I heard that. That’s a tricky question. What are YOU listening to these days?

Um…

OHHHH! Gave you a start. I was jokin’, man. I was messin’ with you.

I have two recomendations for you. They sort of tie in with what you said. The first is this crossover thrash band from Austin called Birth A.D. Two of the guys are in Averse Sefira, the black metal band.

What’s the black metal band called?

Averse Sefira.

Meh. Too many American black metal bands today. It’s just too much of a trend. It’s silly – all one-man bands. Man, I did that shit with Viking Crown fucking, what, 12 years ago? Drum machine, guitar, bass, you know? I’ve heard it before. But, I’m not fuckin’ spittin’ at the fuckin’ new shit. I’m really not. I hope kids go fuckin’ crazy. The more creativity, the better.

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Eibon, L-R: Killjoy, Satyr, Fenriz, Anselmo

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The second one – you’ll find this funny – is a band from France called Eibon. [Anselmo briefly had a supergroup called Eibon with Fenriz, Satyr of Satyricon, Killjoy of Necrophagia, and, for a time, Maniac of Mayhem. You can hear the one song they recorded here.]

Oh, really? Eh, well, they can have the name. We fuckin’ fell apart. Fenriz quit (laughs). It didn’t happen. But, really, they’re called Eibon? You say Birth A.D. is like crossover. Crossover what? Hardcore and metal?

Yeah, it’s like a D.R.I. type of thing.

Thrashcore, yeah. Cross. Over. Nice coined phrase there by D.R.I. Decent record. Yeah, well, Evil Army [another Housecore band] were crossover, too, a long time ago. They recorded that first record a long time ago. It’s tough for me to be totally convinced with stuff. I know Warbeast kind of sits on their own. But what sets Warbeast apart for me is the prowess of their guitar players. I think they’re fucking great. But, Bruce [Corbitt], man – it’s Bruce’s fuckin’ vocals, man. Totally original. Not trying to be Quorthon from Bathory, not trying to be Baloff, not trying to be Halford, not trying to be anybody. He comes across as himself. That’s what I like about it. But Birth A.D., huh? I’m gonna try ‘em out. And old Eibon from France. What do they sound like?

Blackened sludge, sort of like Eyehategod, but with black metal elements.

I hear that. Like jangly chords?

Some of that, yes.

Jangly chords. Discordant, jangly, black metal chords. Inspired by Voivod! No one ever knows that. I actually talk to some young guitar players today, and they’re like, “I’ve never heard of Voivod”. It’s like, “Well, you’re fucking worshipping the chicken before the egg here”.

When you sign bands to Housecore, what do you look for?

Most of all, I look for the bands that are hitting the different notes, man. I’m looking for the bands that are fucking different and are doing stuff. Now, with that said, I do have genre bands. Like Warbeast – it’s fuckin’ thrash metal. You can easily label that. Arson Anthem, the band I do with Mike and Hank – the full-length record is coming out hopefully out in December – fuck, we’re late on that fucking release. 17 songs, 30 fucking minutes: that is fucking hardcore, done in the way me and Mike grew up with. We grew up with that scene, we saw the whole fucking thing happen from the ground up. So Arson Anthem can be called hardcore, straight out.

But bands like haarp – way different, man. Way, way different. The way they write songs really reminds me a whole lot of what the Melvins were doing. What the Melvins do, actually – the Melvins can do whatever the fuck they want. But when they go dark and when they go slow – the earlier stuff and whatnot…they can do it at any point in time. I think they write rock records just to fuck with people. Have you ever heard a band called Nightstick? Nightstick were on a fuckin’ trip, man. Boston-area, man, fuckin’ freakout trip. Slow, progressive. But you can’t really lump haarp into that category. They’re very extreme at what they do, very resolute.

Jumpin’ off of that, when I say extreme music, man, extreme does not necessarily mean distortion pedals and double kick, either. You can be extreme as long as you are going fucking apeshit in the direction you are going in. Case in point would be The Sursiks. The Sursiks are fucking insane for what they fucking do. Definitely not heavy metal, but definitely extreme. So I’m looking for bands that are going to make a difference, that are going to hit those hidden notes.

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You’ve had a lot of success with various bands in your life. Is it ever weird to hang out with buddies who are much poorer than you are?

No, because I’ve never, never, never, never lived into that “go get me a fucking limousine, I’m headin’ to the fuckin’ tit bar” lifestyle. I never did that, man. I’m pretty humble myself. I haven’t bought clothes in, like, fucking 28 years, man. (Laughs) I’ve been wearing the same shit since I was like fucking 20. Not that I’m frugal, but I don’t see big, pricey things and say, “Oh my god, I need that!” I’m not a big car guy, I’m pretty fucking smart with my cash. I don’t go out. I’m not a big fucking spender.

So [with] most of my friends, is it weird? No, not at fucking all. All my friends know, and my good friends know, and people that have been to my house, and people that have met me – they know when they come here, my house is their fucking house. Don’t ask me for it – go to the fucking refrigerator, and get your motherfuckin’ beer. Go to the refrigerator, and get you somethin’ to fuckin’ eat. Don’t ask me fuckin’ twice; I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass. If you want to sleep over here, just let me know, give me a heads-up. Crash out, I don’t give a fuck. That’s my fuckin’ way, man.

You seem to be in a better place these days than when you were battling drugs or controversies related to Pantera. What turned you around?

Back surgery. Anybody that doesn’t understand physical pain cannot fucking even ride in my boat. Everyone can point to drugs. That’s the easy way out, man. I’ll let you know that right there. That’s like little kids making fun of “special” kids – “retards” and shit like that. You laugh and you point. And your parents tell you, “No, no, no, no, don’t do that, you don’t understand”.

Yes, I’ve learned some insane fucking lessons from pain. With pain comes the drugs. With drugs come more drugs, if you don’t watch your ass. With more drugs comes death if you don’t really watch your ass. I’ve hit all those motherfucking plateaus. (Laughs) Or sinkholes, whatever you want to fucking call them. But with each one, you learn a lesson. And if you take the lessons to heart, like I did, then you pull out of it.

That’s all the questions I have. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Hey, man. I appreciate your time as well, man. Like I love to say, and it’s because it’s the truth: without cats like you, dudes like me would be zero. I know you are a young man, and you’re just doing this shit and finding your way through life. Lord knows, ten years ago, you probably never thought you’d be talking to me on the phone.

Nope. I saw you guys play – Pantera, with Prong and Sepultura.

That’s a good tour. That was a fucking great tour.

I saw you guys in Houston. That was a really good night.

Houston, Texas! Fuckin’…red hot fire falling from the fucking sky in Houston right now, jack. That’s a hot motherfuckin’ city. It’s hot where I live, but Houston, Texas, I think, has to take the motherfuckin’ cake as far as hot and sweaty [goes]. I love Houston, man. Dead Horse! Fuckin’ Pantera and Dead Horse used to gig all the time in Houston.

One final thing, and this ties into what you said about pain. When I work out, my go-to record is Far Beyond Driven. That’s what I take to push me past my limits.

Awesome, man.

So thank you for doing that.

When you’re in a band, and you create music, you don’t necessarily see the whole big picture. You don’t hear it, man, the way someone on the outside looking in does, if you catch my drift. Now, Far Beyond Driven – what, 1995? [1994, actually.] 15 years later, I can listen to Pantera and actually hear this young version of myself, this young, energetic version of Dimebag, Rex, and Vince, and say, “Goddamn! Goddamn! These motherfuckers are bad-fucking-ass!” (Laughs) I’m the only dude on the record that can fucking scrutinize, man. I’m like, “Yeah, that Phil, he’s OK. But that Dimebag…that band, that band is fucking awesome, man! Jesus Christ!” So, yeah, man, I can see it now. I’m with you on that, big brother. Far Beyond Driven is a mean, motherfucking record, man.

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