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Phil Anselmo: By Demons Be Driven

Down are one of the headliners at this year's Bloodstock Open Air Festival. So, we go back to 2007, when Metal Hammer ran this interview with Phil Anselmo

From the destruction of his hometown, New Orleans, to the tragic demise of his longtime bandmate and brother-in-arms Dimebag Darrell, not forgetting back surgery that might have seen him paralysed and the not-so-minor detail of beating drug and alcohol addictions, it’s been, as he’s acknowledged himself, a rough couple of years for Phil Anselmo. But you wouldn’t guess that from the relaxed lilt in his voice or the casual way he’s sat down, a mere 120 minutes before taking the stage at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater to play a triumphant second date of Down’s US tour, to chat about life, the universe, and everything. For a man who’s made a career of spitting demonic hellfire through a microphone he’s incredibly easy-going. But then, he isn’t a kid anymore.

OVER THE UNDER 

HOW ARE YOU FEELING?

Physically, I feel very good. Mentally, I feel good. However, we’re at the beginning of a tour, and we’re still in the feeling-out process so it’s a little awkward right now, but it will definitely and eventually be much better.

YOU’RE 39 NOW, RIGHT?

I’m over 30. I’m 29! No... yes, I’m 39.

YOU LOOK MUCH BETTER NOW THAN YOU DID A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO.

I would hope so.

IT’S BEEN A TOUGH TIME FOR YOU LATELY.

A tough couple of years. Life brings adversity, and with coming through adversity comes wisdom. I’ve learned that desperately trying to kill yourself one way or another, whether it be drug addiction, alcoholism, any addiction that is threatening to your life, is unnecessary. Listen, we are all going to pass in our due time – why hasten the process? Life is a gift, and each one of us has our own path. The path is impossible to navigate through, because none of us are mind-readers, but if we take steps in life that are righteous only to us in our eyes, then I believe only good will follow and follow you.

YOU’VE OVERCOME ALL THE ADDICTIONS?

Absolutely. You’re looking at me. I’m smoking a cigarette; I apologise. I’m drinking a Coca-Cola.

THREE SUNS AND ONE STAR (LIVE)

YOU’RE DONE WITH DRUGS AND BOOZE?

The last beer I had was... Down was waiting at an airport, and we were on tour with Black Sabbath. Ronnie James Dio invited me over to the bar, he was sipping on a beer, he offered me a beer, and I was like, “Well, OK!” So I had a beer with Ronnie James Dio. But, you know? It’s like I can have one beer on occasion, one, two beers, and now I can stop. I can cut it off. I’m in full control of every bit of my human condition.

HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT RECOVERING FROM YOUR BACK SURGERY?

For about four days I was immobilised. I was in bed, flat, in a lot of pain. And then they wanted me to move, get up and move around, and they pulled the catheter out of my dick... I almost hit a [Queensrÿche singer] Geoff Tate high note and I wanted to punch myself in the face. It took four people to hold my dead weight, to take steps, for about six days. And then I would walk slowly on my own. I walked with a cane for quite a while. Then, about four months after, there was no more cane. I would walk and walk and walk. I began physical rehabilitation, which  was amazing and it put much-needed regimen into my life. I had to be up at 9:30am, dressed, ready to go work my body out and build my core strong, my back strong. And they did it. I give all credit to my physical therapy team; they taught me many things that I use still today. I have to.

YOU STILL EXERCISE EVERY MORNING?

I have to. You have to stretch every day; if you don’t, you pay for it. Your body says to you, “You’re a stupid asshole! You should have stretched me today!” I listen. And it’s my will that has pulled me. It’s my will.

WERE THERE RISKS IN THE PROCEDURE?

There were many prognoses. Paralysis... Since I was 23 or 24 years old I’d lived with back pain. I had the operation when I was 37. That’s a long time of sufferin’, so I was ready either way. I wasn’t afraid. And I believed in this doctor. He made you feel at ease. He was very cool.

AND JUST FOUR OR FIVE MONTHS LATER, IN MARCH 2006, YOU DID THE ALICE IN CHAINS SHOW. 

I received a phone call and something in me... My mobility was pretty fucking good considering it was just four months on, and for three months I had worn this big plastic and metal back brace because without it I felt like jelly, like I would break in half. I had just shed that thing and I flew in, and all it was was two songs, you know? But it was my first time back on stage after two years. I hadn’t sung in a while... it worked perfectly, and Layne Staley is no easy singer to... it was very symbolic. We all knew before the gig how much it meant towards the healing process of losing Dimebag and Layne Staley. And to have me with them, it was really an incredible event – people were crying and highly emotional, and it went over incredible. It was great.

THE PATH (DEMO) 

TWO MONTHS LATER YOU CAME TO EUROPE. IN THE PAST, YOU’VE SAID YOU DON’T LIKE EUROPE...

It was for the first time in Down. I think I said that about anywhere that was outside of the United States because of [the back] pain. And, all that travelling was really miserable for me.

FLIGHTS MUST HAVE BEEN HELL.

I felt extremely vulnerable in a different country where, if I needed a doctor, it would be hard to track one down. The psychology of chronic pain makes you fear the strangest things that you never thought you’d fear. Now I feel completely different about Europe. I think Europe was more than kind to us. We were nowhere near as good a band as we are today, and everywhere we went throughout the UK and Scandinavia, everywhere, it was extremely inspiring playing the festivals. It was an honour. I was very humbled. I was drinking on that tour, and that tour and drinking taught me a big lesson of how I want the public to see me. I won’t be that drunken imbecile, because I’m not an imbecile. I’m not 20. I’m not 19 anymore, I’m not 29 any more. I’ve done that. I’ve lived that life. I’m finding life with clarity a lot more interesting now.

THIS BRINGS US DIRECTLY TO THE NEW ALBUM, DOWN III: OVER THE UNDER, BECAUSE THERE IS A POSITIVE VIBE ON THE ALBUM, WHICH IS SURPRISING.

It’s the most positive album I’ve ever done. We’re very much alone. I’m not sure there’s a band quite like us you could lump us into that category right now. Some people’d want to, but they’re wrong. We’re the real McCoy. It’s New Orleans rock‘n’roll. We are truly from the South, and there’s a lot of so-called Southern rock bands and they’re not from the South. They’re enamoured by the sound of southern rock. I understand that, but don’t call yourself southern rock. We’re the real deal.

YOU SING MORE ON THIS ALBUM.

I could always sing. Now, with Pantera, I also invented a style that you hear over and over today. It’s a prototype of what you hear on a lot of metal bands today, a lot of popular metal bands today. My vocal style, and also the Pantera-type sound. You hear it and in a way it’s a homage, and it’s flattering, but once you hear over 50 bands that sound exactly like your own band, and everybody’s angry and pissed off, it’s funny, man. Before it was, like, not cool to have a bald guy in the band. Everybody had to have long hair, but if you were bald you were a drummer or something.

ARE THERE ANY LYRICS YOU WANT TO ESPECIALLY MENTION?

Three Suns And One Star is absolutely, positively inspired by the memory of Darrell. The Path is the path of any individual. If you follow the path eventually you will get to where you’re going in your heart and in your mind. N.O.D.... it’s about struggle and fight and victory, man. I Scream is about the division of myself and all the people that I miss in Texas. Honestly, it’s about the division of Vinnie Paul and all of us, me especially, and I don’t understand where the hatred comes from. Not that kind of hatred. I feel pity for him and I feel compassion for him, but he has to understand that Dimebag was as much my brother and Rex [Brown]’s brother as well. We sweated it out as well in those damn practice rooms, vans, tiny clubs, man... that’s what that song is about. I Scream is about the division. On March The Saints is a victory song for the survivors of Katrina and even the ones that were lost.

N.O.D. 

DID YOU LOSE FRIENDS?

Of course, one of them has been said, but Glenn Rambo, the original singer for Soilent Green, he and his mother [were others]. They were the type of family who would always ride the hurricane out. Glenn had a million pets – 24 pets, honestly. He didn’t want to leave them. He and his mother drowned. The neighbourhood they lived in was devastated. I’m in a pretty safe place, but still after Katrina I couldn’t get home for three months. I live out in the woods and it looked like Godzilla had walked around. It was incredible.

HOW HAVE YOU CHANGED?

I’m walking in the light of the blessed, walking with... a glow around me that has always, always been there, and getting on that stage tonight, and being humble and thankful and doing the fucking best I can possibly do. When you think you’ve done your best show, that is when you start going down the toilet. There’s no such thing as the best show. You try and beat it every night and it doesn’t matter where the fuck you are.

HOW DO THE OTHER FOUR GUYS REACT TO YOU BEING DIFFERENT NOW?

We all have very strict expectations of ourselves. All of us have had problems of one sort or another, whether it be alcohol or so many different powders, potions, or pills – whatever they fucking have. In rock’n’roll, you’re going to be exposed to it, but right now playing the music is the greatest high, period.

DID YOU FEEL MISUNDERSTOOD IN THE PAST? AT ONE POINT YOU STOPPED DOING INTERVIEWS. 

I feel like if I don’t speak directly, if you get friendly with someone that’s interviewing you that you don’t know, and you make a joke or something, and they put it in print... when it’s in black and white it may not sound like such a joke, and in that way they twist your words. It’s the sensationalism of everything. The sensationalism is in here, in the record, man. Music, man. Who cares whose haircut is the coolest? None of that has ever interested me, man. The world follows the lives of other people, when they should really worry about themselves, and that honestly would make for a much, much calmer society in general. I hate to use that word, but a kinder society. You can put any other motherfucker on the cover. Down is still here, man, and there will come a day where communication with media outlets, whatever, you ain’t gonna have no say in the matter. People are gonna have their say. We’re gonna... you’ll have no fuckin’ choice but [to] write about Down because we will be the biggest topic. I don’t give a fuck.

ARE YOU A PRETTY SPIRITUAL PERSON?

Absolutely, absolutely, after years of denying and denying I find myself a very spiritual man. And I’m not... religious-centric type of belief. I subscribe to the Walt Whitman way of thinking about that. He speaks about animals and how he envies them. Not one of them are possessed with the mania of owning things. Not one of them lies awake at night and weeps for his sins. Not one of them kneels to one of his own kind, nor another animal, nor one of his own kind that lived thousands of years ago, aka Jesus Christ. So, no way man. I don’t buy into all that shit. There’s no man that died for my sins. That’s so fucking dumb. I don’t give a fuck what I do and how famous [I get]. Kids come up to me and say the craziest things. The most important ones are the kids that say to me that, lyrically and whatever, I helped change their lives and stuff like that. I... man, it’s living proof that I was just the same as them and that’s why they can relate. 

Believe me, I’m singing the same gospel, man, that I was before, I’m just a grown man now, you know? And I was the fuck-you man, you know? I was that. And I will admit that when the press would call me racist or call me this or that, which was always a fucking joke, I would play up to ’em, I would heckle them, I’d say borderline things just to piss people off. Now I’ve done that, you know? I’ve done that. I don’t have time for the ugly things anymore. I’d rather make people smile, be happy, feel fucking good about themselves, take something away, man, from the shows that are a positive uplifting feeling and I’ll have it no other way.

I SCREAM 

DOWN FOR LIFE

You could never accuse Phil Anselmo of being lazy. He was always busy with musical projects even when Pantera were on the rise.

PANTERA

1988

Phil Anselmo joins Pantera for the release of Power Metal.

1990

Pantera release _Cowboys From __Hell_, showcasing a marked departure in sound.

1991

Pantera play to half a million people as part of ‘Monsters In Moscow’ with Metallica and AC/DC.

1992 Vulgar Display Of Power is released to critical acclaim, charting at No.44 in the US.

1994

Far Beyond Driven enters the US Billboard chart at No.1.

1996

Phil reconvenes with Pantera to release The Great Southern Trendkill album.

1997

Pantera play the Ozzfest main stage alongside Black Sabbath, Marilyn Manson, Type O Negative and Machine Head.

2000

Pantera release what proves to be their final album, Reinventing The Steel, and play Ozzfest for the second time.

2003

Pantera officially split up.

2004

Both Vulgar Display Of Power    certified double-platinum and The Great Southern Trendkill certified platinum.

DOWN

1991

Anselmo joins life-long friends Pepper Keenan, Kirk Windstein, Jimmy Bower and Todd Strange to form Down.

1992

A three-track demo marked simply ‘The Band Down’ is circulated via traditional tape trading. Its legend was already strong enough for radio airplay.

1995

Down release their debut album NOLA to rave reviews, with a 13-date US tour.

1999

Anselmo focuses increasingly on his various side projects.

2001

Anselmo spends much of the year working on his black metal projects.

2002

Anselmo reunites Superjoint Ritual (an early 90s project he formed with Down band-mate Jimmy Bower). Down release A Bustle In Your Hedgerow and tour the US.

2004

After the death of Dimebag Darrell, Anselmo announces via a web video that “This is the last you’ll be seeing of me for a long time.”

2006

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Down reunite for their first European tour.

2007

Down release third album _Over __The Under_ and finish off the year touring the US.

ON MARCH THE SAINTS 

Down headline the Ronnie James Dio Stage at the Bloodstock Open Air Festival on August 8

This was published in Metal Hammer issue 175

What's Down IV, EP Two like? Read a review here

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