Down is one of the best, and one of the coolest, metal bands working today. Its members are purebreds: Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod, Kirk Windstein of Crowbar, Pepper Keenan of Corrosion Of Conformity, Rex Brown of Pantera, and of course, also from Pantera, Philip Anselmo. Formed in New Orleans in ’91, Down welds heavy metal together with soulful southern country blues, and there’s nothing quite like it out there. When I fell in love with Down’s debut, I took it for a one-off… Until they followed up with another solid album in 2002. The wait for their newest, Over The Under, was thankfully much shorter, and it’s their best yet. Down has since been kicked into full gear, and we’re excited over the promises of more to come.
The band’s effectiveness may be, at least in part, thanks to the fact that Anselmo has been through more shit than just about any other musician I can think of. The story starts familiar enough; Anselmo was born to an alcoholic, abusive father in a rather dangerous part of New Orleans. At fourteen, he accidentally burned his family’s house down. Hey, we’ve all been there, right? Well how many of you have been dead? Phil has, thanks to a heroin overdose in Dallas in 1996. Meanwhile, three discs in his lower back had ruptured from years of irresponsible show antics. He defiantly kept this news to himself out of stupid pride, and rather than subject himself to barbaric, debilitating surgery that would have involved splitting his belly wide open, removing all of his guts, and operating on his lower spine from the front- replacing missing bone and cartilage with chunks of his own hip- He continued to perform. As bone scraped bone and nerve damage worsened, Anselmo soldiered on quietly for ten years, with the aid of a back brace and prescription methadone, eventually replaced with a muscle relaxant called Soma, that, as Phil said, “makes you retarded.”
In 2004, Anselmo’s longtime friend and Pantera bandmate “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was killed; shot three times at point-blank range in the head onstage while performing with Damageplan, while a very public, very verbal dispute raged on in the magazines between Anselmo and the Abbotts. And then Hurricane Katrina wiped Anselmo’s hometown off the map.
Philip Anselmo, like many musicians, is as talented as he is troubled. While he insists on being the indestructible machine all men should aspire to be, as fans we’ve been sincerely concerned for his well being, especially after seeing some of his recent interviews. However, when the man called- on time- Thursday, to chat with us during some downtime on Down’s tour with Metallica, we found him to be a personable, genuinely down to earth dude, and he helped us set the record straight and put some things in perspective.
Antiquiet: So where you at? Houston?
Phil Anselmo: Yeah… Sitting in Houston.
Antiquiet: How’s everything going?
Phil Anselmo: Good. it’s different [here], the stage setup is very different… It’s circular… so you know, everybody’s split up. but the tour is going very well.
Antiquiet: You’re finishing it up right? Got three more dates?
Phil Anselmo: Houston, Little Rock, and New Orleans, yup.
Antiquiet: I don’t mean to dredge up old bullshit, but I want to talk about something you’ve encountered firsthand. When you had that beef with Dime and Vin, us fans got the word through fuckin’ Metal Hammer and the music journalists, who of course tend to… you know, pull the juicy quotes out, to keep the circus going, to get attention, to sell magazines.
So let’s say things were different and the journalists minded other business, and you guys had space to work it out on your own. Do you think things might have turned out differently?
Phil Anselmo: Well… it’s kind of a moot point here. But if you’re talking in… imaginary terms, if you’re talking what ifs, theoretically, yeah. Rex and I actually talk about it a lot and we know… Pantera could have kept going.
The interview that sparked off everybody’s imagination… Little to everyone’s knowledge, the guy who asked me that- it was supposed to be off the record- he asked me straight out what would happen if [we] got into a fight- a physical thing. First of all, that never would have happened. Second of all, theoretically, once again- obviously, I would have the advantage over them. So I put it in a [certain] way, like a million motherfuckers do every day- boxers, et cetera- you know, they say they’re going to do terrible, horrible things to each other, and then after everything clears, they shake hands and hug each other and it’s done.
But if things are put as an absolute, and it’s just black and white, it’s just read and it’s taken that way, and it’s very unfortunate that it was. Because, as I’ve said before, Pantera was a mighty force man.
Antiquiet: Damn right.
Phil Anselmo: And not only do I miss those days, and Dimebag and Vinnie, and the whole crew, and the whole vibe, and the pride that was behind it, and the validity that was behind it- as I’ve said before, Rex and I… We always said that we would have all of us gotten into one room and argued and screamed… And a lot of it would have been my fault, but at the time I was a wounded duck. I needed back surgery so bad, it was pathetic. And I’ve uh… I’ve made some bad choices.
Antiquiet: I’ve gotten into beefs with my friends and shit, people I grew up with, and it’s one thing to have it out with people you love-
Phil Anselmo: Yeah, but not in front of the entire world.
Antiquiet: Yeah, see that’s what I’m trying to get at man. ‘Cause I figure when you’re talking through other people, when the whole world is watching, and putting their two cents in, it’s gotta make it harder to keep shit together.
Phil Anselmo: Well yeah, it does. But… (long pause) It’s done with, and that’s over.
Antiquiet: Alright. So, speaking of the media and magazines… Maybe you don’t give a shit about this, but Rolling Stone just published their list of the top 100 singers of all time. I was pissed to not see Layne Stayley on there at all.
Phil Anselmo: Now, let’s get it straight, today’s top 100?
Antiquiet: It was of all time, and I mean it had a lot of people who- I love, but- who weren’t as great vocally as some folks who got left off…
Phil Anselmo: I didn’t make it on the list did I?
Antiquiet: (laughing) No, and I mean that pissed me off too, but I know you were a big fan of Layne’s… And Mike Patton wasn’t on there-
Phil Anselmo: That’s ridiculous.
Antiquiet: Ann Wilson wasn’t on there…
Phil Anselmo: Ha! Well you know, that’s just one magazine’s opinion, and you know, let ‘em take it and run with it. But you know, it’s an absolute fuckin’ blasphemy that Layne Stayley didn’t make it, and Ann Wilson, and Nancy Wilson as well, are amazing singers. Was David Bowie on the list?
Antiquiet: Yeah, Bowie was on there…
Phil Anselmo: Of all time? …Was Nina Simone on there?
Antiquiet: Yeah… They got her. Aretha Franklin was number one.
Phil Anselmo: Aretha Franklin number one? I don’t know about that.
Antiquiet: So man, I’ve gotta ask you about something. We’ve seen some interviews with you recently, that honestly made us worry about you. Sometimes you seem out of it, and some of the fans are saying you’re back on the drugs, some are saying it’s medication. So do you just want to set the record straight?
Phil Anselmo: I never heard that I was back on drugs, that’s fuckin’ ridiculous. That’s fuckin’ stupid. But fuck everybody, really. I’m livin’ my life, I’m doing exactly what the fuck I want to do… I’m not out to fuckin’ impress, I don’t give a shit man. And people- I mean look, I’ve been… gay, my neck’s been broken from stage diving, I’ve been everything- a satanist, a white supremacist…
Antiquiet: (laughing) Yeah, I know man. Well, I ask ’cause I worry. As a fan. I don’t wanna see you go anywhere, I want my fuckin’ kids to see you live one day.
Phil Anselmo: I’m fuckin’ stronger than fuckin’ most fuckin’ men my age. And I don’t even drink.
It’s just… after back surgery, you never know, one day is a good day, shit- you can have a good week- and then, there’ll be a weather change or some shit like that, and you might go through some pain. Pain, pain, you know it’s… Me and pain are intimate. But through physical therapy, and yoga, and pilates, and all this shit [I’ve learned how to] make the pain at least tolerable. You stretch that fuckin’ shit out man. You get up off your ass and fuckin’ get up and- every day- set thirty minutes aside, and fuckin’ stretch that shit out and it changes the whole fuckin’ day.
Antiquiet: You getting by without painkillers? Or do they still have you on that brutal Soma shit?
Phil Anselmo: I’m on one drug, and it’s called Lyrica. And what that does is it’s an anti-seizure medicine. And a lot of people are on this drug who have sciatic pain, or pain like I have- which is sciatic, but it’s from after the surgery, sometimes when the nerves reconnect, they reconnect wrong. And that was my case pretty much.
It’s three times a day, and I’m sick of that shit too. I’m tired of all this crap. But it does help, it quells the pain, just a little. You can always feel it though, there’s numbness in my left foot since the surgery. But the stretching and all gets the blood circulating, and blood circulation an incredibly important fuckin’ thing.
I also box like ten rounds a day when I’m at home, hitting the bag, and just working on things. So… You can’t do that sorta thing loaded, or back on the drugs or junk or whatever. So let all the fuckin’ naysayers fuckin’ take a walk in my fuckin’ shoes. They can be sweating and saying I give up, after ten minutes of my workout.
Things are so much better though. I could tell- directly after surgery I could tell- that the doctor had fixed what was killing me for so long. He fixed it. Three ruptured discs, you know? So anyway, I sit here with titanium in my back, telling you that the more work you put in, the better you’ll feel. However, it’s still, three years later, a day to day thing. It really is. You know, a turn of the weather, or a drop in pressure, God knows. You know… It is what it is though.
Antiquiet: So with Housecore Records, are you using the internet in your strategies?
Phil Anselmo: Yeah, yeah yeah… We have to. It’s taking over, you know? Music in itself, the business of music is really really different. And you know, with the economy the way it is, money’s tight for everybody. But shit, we’ve got some really great bands, and some great New Orleans bands that are jumping on board like Crowbar and Eyehategod, and some new bands like Haarp, and… man, Evil Army from Memphis Tennessee, they’re fucking ripping. They’ll be coming out with a full-length hopefully pretty soon.
Antiquiet: Is Housecore doing well, are you breaking even, staying up?
Phil Anselmo: Really, we’re slicing our own throats. But I know what it’s like to be trapped in… any type of record deal that has you sign a seven album deal or a six album deal, and it’s exclusive, and they own every fucking song that you write. You don’t have a goddamn (laughing) you know, you don’t own your songs. And all that shit’s bullshit. And Housecore remedies all that. We’re really for the bands. It’s for the artist. We’re more [benefactors] honestly.
Antiquiet: What are your Housecore bands up to?
Phil Anselmo: Arson Anthem would be fun to tour with if I had the time… And maybe I will have the time eventually, in the next year or so. But… The first Christ Inversion [album] came out recently, on October 28th. See, stuff like that, that was done in ’94. That was like in between Pantera tours, and I could never release that, but now I can… And Christ Inversion had done two albums, so the second album will probably be released next year sometime, after a lot of remastering. And also, we’re putting out Soilent Green with Glenn Rambo, the original singer. I saved all the demos, and rebooted ‘em up… and it’s absolutely listenable.
Antiquiet: Oh yeah, I love them, I had no idea they had hooked up with you guys…
Phil Anselmo: They’re a Metal Blade band- today they are- but we got the okay from the coolest guy on earth, Mr. Slagel, and he doesn’t have a problem with it. It’s a good idea, and the rest of the guys in the band want to do it, so it’s cool.
Antiquiet: How does the band feel about people who download your records?
Phil Anselmo: Ahh, you know. It’s today’s way. And it’s miserable, and it sucks. And it’s really not… (long pause) I don’t know, in life, I don’t know what’s fair or not.
Antiquiet: Well, I mean to me, these are the kids that fifteen years ago would have been trading tapes out in the parking lot before the show.
Phil Anselmo: Oh, I’ve done all that. Shit, I was doing that. I still fuckin’ tape trade. Me and Fenriz [of Darkthrone] send each other shit, you know, all the way from Norway to America. He sends me all kinds of shit… Anyway, to me, you know, I used to go, if I had money, to buy the vinyl, instead of anything.
Antiquiet: Yeah, I still buy vinyl.
Phil Anselmo: I’ve got every fuckin’ thrash motherfuckin’ record, whether on tape, or on vinyl, or on whatever. And not just thrash, but everything… from god knows when, 60s, 50s, to some of the present.
Antiquiet: You give a shit about politics at all? [I ask this as Phil starts taking a piss.]
Phil Anselmo: Slightly. I’ve got my own mindset. I’ve got my own beliefs… There’s a lot of people who are on the same page politically, and it’s very clear, a lot of the changes that need to be made. But honestly… I hate to use the words too late when it comes to a lot of things… But you know, this is not every school, this is not every city-
[At this point, Rex walks in and asks a question. Philip tells him he’s “doing an interview, taking a piss,” and then, unfortunately, loses his train of thought. So there’s a pause while the tape rolls on piss hitting porcelain. Katie Couric, eat your heart out.]
There’s a lot of people on the same page. So we all need to network together, to speak our ideas, and have a voice. A prominent voice, and a face, that says, to our President- look, this is fucked, this is wrong, this is fucked, this is wrong. We can do things better, this way. And it’s a number of topics that would just take too long to get into at this point in time…
Antiquiet: This new guy we got says he’s going to listen to us, and hear our voice. Do you believe it?
Phil Anselmo: No. I don’t. I don’t really believe anything until I hear it and see it. And, this guy is brand new, and you know… There’s an air of him… being a breath of fresh air, something different, something new. But honestly, I believe intently in the fact they just put up- whoever wins the election is just a [talking head] and there’s a big brother behind the scenes, people who are definitely on an agenda, that some of us can see, and some of us can’t.
Antiquiet: Do you feel the the government was responsible for the Katrina disaster?
Phil Anselmo: As far as the repair, and as far as afterwards- yeah, fuckin’ a- the aftermath? I don’t blame them for Katrina, but I blame them for not taking care of their fuckin’ own people, their own fucking country, when they spend billions on other countries. Come now. Katrina took out fuckin’ three states man. Not just New Orleans.
Antiquiet: Jim Van Bebber and Mike King filmed a bunch of shit on Down’s tour through Europe.
Phil Anselmo: Yeah, we’re slicing this, slicing that as it goes… It’ll come out for sure. The uniqueness of it is the fact that we had gotten back together… I was six months out of back surgery… Which is pretty outrageous, and that’ll show you how hard I fuckin’ did work… And you know, it was our first time ever in Europe. And in Europe… people just… They’re very hip motherfuckers over in Europe.
Antiquiet: They love their metal.
Phil Anselmo: They love metal. They do, and music in general- they’re very knowledgeable. And we have a rabid following there. I think my voice has definitely improved since then- it was our first tour back and I was still breaking in the chops if you know what I’m saying… But it was very significant, so that will be the angle on it, figuring it’s two fuckin’ years old… But It’ll be fun, because it’s a Jim Van Bebber film.
Antiquiet: Name a band people should know about. We’ll look ‘em up, and we’ll cover ‘em, because Philip Anselmo said to.
Phil Anselmo: Evil Army man. I think they’re fucking deadly. They did a self-titled record that I think you can still get somehow… We’re desperate to re-release it and eventually, perhaps we might. Either way, we’re getting them in the fucking studio, and they’re cutting a full length. It’s so fucking vicious man. They’re young as fuck, their guitar player’s great, and he sings as well. It’s… Christ, like, Kill ‘Em All meets the first DRI… I don’t know man.
Antiquiet: Down’s fans… are fuckin’ hardcore man. On the band’s MySpace, every single one of ‘em in your bigass top friends area are sporting a fuckin’ Down shirt, or a Down tattoo, or both, in their profile pic. That’s pretty impressive.
Phil Anselmo: Yeah, I appreciate it man, and they are- fuckin’ hardcore, you know, no matter where we go. Music today is what it is, and kids are going to- and when I say kids, I mean fifteen years old to fuckin’ fifty- when Down plays shows, that’s exactly our fucking age bracket breakdown man- and you know man, that’s a great thing that we’re touching the spectrum that we are, of ages.
Antiquiet: Well what’s cool is… You know, a lot of bands have got other bands in those spots, or their Hollywood friends, and with you guys, they’re all real fans, real people.
Phil Anselmo: Aw man, yeah, and that’s- I mean I never never never played up to that rock star bullshit man. I know all about the ladder man, you know? You reach the top of that motherfucker, great. Don’t fuckin’ flaunt your- You know, look at my clothes man, I’ve got t-shirts that kids threw up onstage that I still wear.
Photos by The MetalList
Down’s latest album, Over The Under, is in stores now. A deluxe edition with a behind-the-scenes DVD is available exclusively at Best Buy. The band plays the last show of the tour with Metallica tonight in New Orleans. More albums and tours are sure to follow, and we’ll surely be there for them.