Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, The Illegals)

by Greg Prato

Phil Anselmo has always voiced his admiration of horror movies (and seemingly the more obscure and creepier, the better). But a few years ago, he took it all to the next level, by launching the Housecore Horror Festival.

From November 13-15, 2015, the third edition of the festival will take place at the Aztec Theatre in San Antonio, Texas, during which films from the personal collection of Anselmo (and the festival's late co-founder, Corey Mitchell) will be screened, as well as oodles of live metal performances, by the likes of Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar, Eyehategod, Poison Idea, and Zombi, among many others.

But it's as the frontman of such metal acts as Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, and Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, that Anselmo is best known. And when he accepted a phone call from Songfacts on the afternoon of his 47th birthday, he was more than wiling to discuss his two great loves: horror flicks and heavy metal - plus the stories behind several headbanging classics.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): First off, I want to wish you a happy birthday!

Phil Anselmo: Thank you, buddy.

Songfacts: How does it feel to be 47?

Anselmo: Old. Old and dusty.

Songfacts: The third edition of the Housecore Horror Festival is upcoming - how did the idea come up originally?

Anselmo: Originally? Well, I was working with a guy named Corey Mitchell, who sadly passed away at the end of year two's event. Immediately, really - the day after the event. It was his idea - he came in my room one day, and saw this giant wall of VHS that I've collected over the years, and all my DVDs and whatnot. So he said, "Man, you ought to do a horror festival." And I was like, "Sure, OK." The next thing you know... I mean, Corey is a doer, he was not just a dreamer, he was an absolute "action man."

I had a small type of thing in mind originally, but Corey, being the creative guy and mastermind he is, the next thing I knew it was, "Wow! Wait a minute. This thing's sort of big, and there are a lot of bands. What's going on here?"

Year one was awesome, and we said, "Fuck it. We're going to do year two." And we did year two, which was even better and bigger and crazier and awesome all together - until the day after, when Corey passed away.

But you see, this year is definitely in honor of Corey Mitchell, because I'll tell you what, he was the hardest worker for the festival out of anybody. He wanted this thing, and he wanted it to grow, and he had grand ideas about branching out, doing it in different cities and then taking it on tour and bringing it around the world and having it grow and grow. So to not do the festival wasn't an option at all. It's like we'd be letting Corey down if we didn't continue on. Plus, for me, it's great bringing on board a bunch of awesome bands.

We get to screen killer movies, and one of my favorite elements is getting the submissions from lesser-known directors and seeing what they're doing, and how they are growing with the genre of horror out there. And whether anybody's innovating or not. It gives me a clearer vision of that.

It seems like there's always a couple of surprises every year, and I do mean good surprises as far as films go. So that's always a plus for a horror film lover like myself, and eventually, everybody else that digs the genre. It's a labor of love, but it's also a lot of fun at the same time.

Songfacts: Have horror movies influenced your lyric writing over the years?

Anselmo: Sure. Absolutely. Look at Vulgar Display of Power - where did that line come from? The Exorcist. Bingo.

Songfacts: Can you give some other examples?

Anselmo: Overall, the genre of horror, and when you cross over a bit to sci-fi, and you watch the old television classics, like Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, there's so many awesome one-liners within the material there, that if you take the time to hit pause and scribble it down, and break it down to your own interpretation, you can get some great stuff.

Take for instance the last Illegals EP that I did, which was for year one of Horror Fest. I think there's a line at the end of one of those two songs we did that was completely Outer Limits inspired, but still fit in a whole different way. So I was inspired by the initial delivery of the line - I do believe the name of the episode was The Sixth Finger. It influences me quite a bit, actually.

Songfacts: How different or similar is the songwriting process with Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, and the Illegals?

Anselmo: Each band is a little different. Superjoint is really a collaboration of riffs between me and Jimmy Bower, and now recently, Kevin Bond, for sure. Down has always been a collaboration of riffs between me, Pepper [Keenan], and Jimmy, but as of late, Pat [Bruders] and Bobby [Landgraf], and also Kirk Windstein. I can't leave Kirk out. Jesus, he always wrote riffs.

So we'd always bounce that shit off of each other. And with Pantera, gosh, Vinnie Paul could come up with a drum pattern that would spawn a riff, and hence, spawn us organizing a song together, and segue into parts and putting the song together. Then once I felt that we had enough meat, I'd put bread on the sandwich, so to speak, by writing the lyrics.

But really, with the Illegals, it's more me straight-on, guitar in hand, directing everybody. It's more of a one-way street to a certain degree, but I'm always open for good innovation, or what I would call acceptable advice or a compromise. Good input.

I try not to stay married to anything I might have come up with on my own, and once I get in there with the drummer and bass player or guitar player - whoever it may be at the time - somebody comes up with something, and I'm all ears. But it better fit the bill. I've always been a stickler like that. Any band I'm in, everyone has their own ideas, but God bless if I don't like them, I'm gonna tell you.

Besides the aforementioned acts, Anselmo has been spotted in a variety of other bands over the years, including Arson Anthem, Christ Inversion, Southern Isolation, Viking Crown, and Eibon. But perhaps one of the more intriguing projects the singer was involved in was the all-star Tapeworm, which featured input by various members of Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Prong, and Helmet. Despite receiving a fair amount of media coverage, the project never issued a single note of music to the public, and appears to be completely defunct.
Songfacts: Do you write primarily on the guitar? Ever write a song on another instrument?

Anselmo: Sometimes, it can be the rhythm of a sentence that gets me going, because everybody has a certain meter or cadence within conversation and simple sentences. And it's interesting to me, because you can find a rhythm within a jumble of words and I guess to turn that into a riff on the guitar, it's challenging and it's interesting.

But to answer your question point blank, nine times out of ten, definitely the guitar.

Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind Superjoint Ritual's "The Alcoholik"?

Anselmo: Self-reflection. That came very naturally from writing about my entire crew of friends that I had for a long, long time. We were young when I wrote that song.

Songfacts: Down's "Stone the Crow"?

Anselmo: That came out of nothing, really. Even when we recorded the record, I really didn't have any set set of lyrics, so a lot of them are just bullshit, really, that just fit the song.

And I guess over the years, they've become something. They've become whatever they are. I still think when people sing that song live with us out in the audience, I don't even think they know what the fuck they're saying, but they know the pattern to it, and they know the notes, so fuck it, it's good enough.

Songfacts: Was Pantera's "This Love" autobiographical?

Anselmo: Not necessarily. It was just a message to "clingy women" at the time - young ladies. I was a very young man when I wrote that song, as well. I was young, and thought, "Let's not make more of this relationship than need be."

It could have been autobiographical, however it could be about and for anybody, and they can make it fit their life, as well.

Songfacts: Pantera's "A New Level"?

Anselmo: "A New Level" was the ultimate chip-on-your-shoulder type song at the time for me. Pantera were in our strongest bodies and our most youthful ferocity as a live act, and in the position at the time to where we damn well knew that we had to up our game even more physically live, and stay out and hit that road hard.

With Vulgar Display of Power, we definitely wanted to make a statement musically that would coincide with this live show that we had - the energy that we were putting out there.

Songfacts: Who are some of your favorite songwriters of all-time?

Anselmo: Just this year alone, I've seen Nick Cave, Morrissey, and Stevie Wonder... give me a break! David Bowie, the Beatles, Queen... oh my God, Queen. Mercyful Fate, early demo and first album Agnostic Front, Black Flag, Black Sabbath. Man, I can be answering you until 5:30 tonight.

Songfacts: I was surprised to learn you are a fan of The Smiths.

Anselmo: I adore them. Brutally honest band. Tongue-in-cheek humor, dark humor. Excellent musicianship, excellent songs.

And really, Morrissey is a phenom. It's like, "Where did this guy come from?" And, "Did he always just have this crooning talent?" It's pretty magical, if you ask me.

Songfacts: Have you ever met Morrissey?

What do Pantera and The Smiths have in common? Both have songs called "Cemetery Gates" (The Smiths on their 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, Pantera on their 1990 set Cowboys From Hell).
Anselmo: No. This past time in New Orleans, a couple of weeks back, he played here. Somebody knew somebody who knew somebody, and word got back to me. I guess the kind way to put it was, "I would be slightly disappointed were I to meet him." It would be like meeting David Lee Roth and having him dick you off or something. Nobody wants that - to have their idols be in a bad mood. And I'm not saying that would be the case, but if you hear that "Morrissey is not receiving company this evening, and won't be," then that's all you need to hear. So no, I haven't met him.

Songfacts: Lastly, what are some obscure/overlooked horror films you would recommend?

Anselmo: I always go back to The House with the Laughing Windows - great movie, beautifully shot. [Director and screenwriter] Pupi Avati movie, excellent film.

I'll go with I Bury the Living - great black-and-white awesomeness. Actually, Stephen King's favorite movie.

The People Who Own the Dark - what a great movie.

Let's see, rare and bizarre: The Sinful Dwarf, that is a fuckin' filthy movie. It makes you want to take a shower after you see it. It's a great movie. Awesome.

There's a weirdo movie called Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon [aka The Mansion of Madness] - what a weird movie, man. But it's definitely worth a look. Great setting, great tripped-out sets, and beautifully shot.

And then there is a flick called Innocents from Hell, and that's a crazy possession-type movie in the vein of The Exorcist. It was probably shot in the '70s, and definitely very dark. Beautifully shot, very atmospheric.

Dominique is Dead [aka Dominique]... I could keep going, but I know you've got enough there.

July 8, 2015
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Comments: 1

  • Jeremy from Augusta GaI cannot believe Phil was playing so coy about the lyrics to"stone the crow" To me, it speaks directly to his desire to do something different despite the huge success of Pantera. He was not satisfied by it. Hence the lyric "can't help what happened yesterday" The urban dictionary says "stone the crow" essentially means to do something outrageous or unexpected. What could be more unexpected than him undertaking other projects in the middle of that wild success. I think the whole album is a concept album of sorts inspires by his heroin use. If you read the best transcript of the lyrics as a whole and in is almost a long contiguous suicide note!
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