Phil Anselmo on Superjoint, Trump and Making Things Right
Reunions are almost always better on paper. The hair isn't as gray, bones aren't so creaky and songs about the recklessness of youth don't get the side-eye. But when it works, it's worth every moment. Infest, Doom, Youth of Today, Sleep and others have maintained their mystique and abilities despite being dormant for many years, but they are exceptions to a much larger rule. When it comes time to "get the band back together," literally and figuratively, the results should at least be comparable — or better yet, elevate the legacy. It's a hell of an uphill battle for any band, but Phil Anselmo is up for it.
Anselmo and Jimmy Bower reformed Superjoint Ritual (now just Superjoint, per legal reasons) in 2014 at the former's own Housecore Horror Film Festival, after a decade out of the limelight. The appearance was a success, and the band went right in to conjure Caught Up in the Gears of Application, which hit shelves on November 11. Feedback on the record and ensuing live gigs has been overwhelmingly positive, but always tempered with a caveat based on Anselmo's recent involvement in the news cycle.
Anselmo is still dealing with the fallout from the infamous Dimebash incident earlier this year. After consuming more than his fair share of alcohol at a tribute to fallen Pantera guitarist, "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott, Anselmo finished a set by throwing the up the infamous "sieg heil" and screaming "White power!" repeatedly. Anselmo attributes the incident to too much white wine and carelessness, but the metal community erupted in condemnation. After some time away from the press, Phil returned to speak to Decibel at length and grant a sparse number of additional interviews. This is one of them.
We spoke to the Pantera / Superjoint / Down frontman about the incident; his expectations for Superjoint; Songs in the Key of Life; and the difference between provocation for art's sake and simply being confrontational.
Those two Superjoint records meant a lot to people. How do you go about returning to a band that’s been dormant? Do you have any apprehension about bringing Superjoint back?
Sure, I have plenty of apprehension. You look at where you were then and then you take a glance of where you are now, and you take all of it into account. Simply put, Kate Richardson and Corey Mitchell (R.I.P.) really pushed for Superjoint to play my second [Housecore] Horror Film Festival. I was very skeptical — I didn’t think I’d be going back to Superjoint at all, but we went ahead. When we got in the room and started going over all the old stuff, we had fun. It was like, "This is fun and it brings back memories." So, when we started to think about newer songs and newer attacks, sonically, we thought about what brought us there in the first place, and for us it was mostly the certain hardcore bands and certain metal bands at a certain time and period. You know, the truth is we have a deep-rooted love for all the bands that we did in the past, so we just had to make sure that it felt like Superjoint. It wouldn’t be fair to the band and the people that loved the band to begin with. So, we damn well knew that we had to make something that sounded like Superjoint. And we did it to the best of our ability, I believe.
I’m not worried about bringing Superjoint back at all. I’m really not. I think music is up for grabs, and I think that in music, it’s like food — either you love it, hate it or you’re indifferent to it. So, one way or another, what’s important to me is that we get up there and play the songs. There are quite a bit of songs that hold the weight that they did back then, excellent songs that the crowd reacts to positively. Now, of course, we have the new album, and we would like to ease the crowd into the newer stuff.
The live element is crucial. Have you seen anything incredible lately?
I went out and the only shows I really saw, aside from a few local shows, were Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Stevie Wonder and Morrissey. Stevie Wonder played the entire Songs in the Key of Life record, and I had forgotten how many incredible songs were on the record. That was great.
Absolute genius, that guy.
It’s like witnessing — watching Stevie Wonder and just being in his presence is truly like watching a living, breathing miracle right before your eyes. It really is. It was stunning, and it still stuns me to this day.
I went to see Morrissey. I know some of Morrissey’s solo stuff, but I am a Smiths fan at heart. At the end of his set, he did this different version of “Meat Is Murder,” and it was so powerful because behind him there were these projections of all these cattle mutilations. I have never in my life been part of an audience that was so affected by what was going on onstage. Man, I’ve seen all kinds of bands, but the power of that song and twisting into a certain form ... and it affected the audience. I gotta say, I thrive on that type of thing, because it brings something different to a song that you loved in the past. He’s doubling down on the "Meat Is Murder." To me, that’s what makes a live show. If you want things to sound exactly like the record, you might as well stay home and listen to the fucking record.
That has always been important to me, the live experience being different from the record. All of this gives some hope to the future of what’s going to happen with Superjoint. There’s some new songs, a new day. We shall see.
You’ve previously discussed your love for bands that push buttons, cause controversy and discussion — bands like the Dwarves, the Mentors, A.C., GG Allin, Death in June. Going back to your Morrissey statement, was part of it because of the kind of confrontational nature of that performance? It was in your face and there was no way to hide.
I like it both because, first and foremost, the entire record Meat Is Murder is incredible. You don’t know when you’re going to see Morrissey again, if ever again. I felt very lucky because I’ve always been working while it seems like great shows were going on. I saw some great ones as well, and been a part of some, but still, there’s a million fucking bands that I wish I could have seen. If they come with that extra — how do I put this — je ne sais quoi ...
[Related to] the French term I used, I saw GG Allin on his last tour. Did he have je ne sais quoi? No, he did not. [Laughs] But he did what he did, man. To this day, I can only mention or think of maybe less than a handful of GG Allin song titles, but as far as attitude … To the people that would be offended by Mr. GG Allin, rest in peace, once again, it’s like fuck it, man. Life is short. Live it up and try not to step on anyone else’s toes as much as possible, but if you do and it happens to be through the arts or whatever, then it’s just an expression. That’s how I’ve always felt about it, whether the expression can be viewed as ugly or beautiful or something in between.
Let’s go back to the new album. Considering the Dimebash incident, it seems like there are some themes that are revisited on the record.
What’s incredible about that is that I would say 98 percent of this was written before the incident. Believe it or not, this record is fucking over a year old. We recorded this a long time ago, man.
It’s like self-prophecy or something like that. I find that in music, even if you’re writing a supposition or if you’re writing offhandedly about something nonspecific, somehow it comes back to revisit you. All of a sudden, it makes some bizarre sense. There’s a little bit of that going on as well.
A song like “Clickbait” seems pretty cut and dry thematically. Since this wasn’t about the Dimebash incident, was there something to go along with that? Where did that come from exactly?
It had zero to do with that incident, and everything to do with what we’re fed by the news today. It’s a rant, I guess, against the differences between today and yesterday. There was no such thing as a comment section. We would have to get out and personally talk about what was written face-to-face, and discuss it openly and honestly. Today, everybody has this fake name, or is anonymous and can write anything that they want. It’s a loathsome thing, in a way — instead of opinions, let’s hear some facts. If you look at a lot of so-called music websites out there today and you read the record reviews, a lot of time someone gets assigned a review. I’ve dealt with this since the beginnings of Pantera. In the early days, we were “confused” and weren’t gonna go anywhere — this mishmash of thrash and power metal was just a "waste of time.”
Let’s get to this salute stuff. So, you’ve covered this extensively with Decibel, but I do want to ask: What do you think was the biggest learning experience for you? What was a specific moment that was really important to you after all of this kind of came to the surface?
First and foremost, I’ll take that one. I’ll own it. I did something extremely stupid that I know was absolutely stupid. If anyone in this world believes that I go through life judging anyone — no matter what color / size / shape / sexual preference — they are sadly, sadly mistaken. I might have gone and been successful in my life at what I do, but I still to this day don’t think that I could walk five minutes in someone else’s shoes. Just like I don’t think they could deal with the pressure I have on me as the person that I am and all the crap I deal with everyday, so it goes both ways, man. I am no rustic fool, despite what I might get sometimes get into on a stage. That part of my personality is like pro wrestling or something. It’s part of me — I don’t know where that came from. But "racist" is a very strong word. Truth be told, I have more love in me for everybody than I do [loathing]. If you don’t [believe me], look at my track record and you’ll see a lot of love there, I do believe. If you see the loathe part — well, maybe that’s my expression as an angry vocalist. Still, that doesn’t equate to someone that hates someone else for their fucking skin color. That is absurd.
I was raised in the French Quarter. My earliest memories are of living in the French Quarter, raised by women, with theater folk in and out of the house. If you've never been to the French Quarter, you would have to know that it is one of the most diverse, character-driven, all-walks-of-life type of place. If I really and truly upset people that I work with, or that really took offense to what I did that particular night, that hurts my heart. I wish everybody nothing but everything they could ever possibly dream of to come true in their damn lives.
I want people to understand that I have nothing but love in my heart. The whole Dimebash thing was me being crude and lewd and showing an extension of a joke from backstage. I made myself out to be the ugly face of it all. I did that. I accomplished it, and now I’m like, “Fuck, why?” Really, I should have just walked away from the situation. It is what it is, but hopefully the truth comes out in the wash, and I love everybody. I do. The sad truth of it all [is] I love everybody, almost to a fault.
I’ve heard that you’ve kind of slowed down on drinking, or even given it up entirely. Is that true?
Yeah, man. I just did it. I stopped in February. Haven’t gone back. It’s happened before; like, after back surgery, there were certain nights that I was designated driver, and I have no problem with that. This February, right after Mardi Gras, everyone around me was like, “Okay I’m gonna take up Lent.” I am so anti-religion — I’m pretty much an atheist, for all I know. I did it, and sure enough, just taking it day by day, eventually I just kind of lost the taste for it. I can’t imagine being hung over and waking up all dehydrated and beat up over a few hours of drunkenness. It’s just not logical right now.
I know there’s a lot of upheaval right now, post-election and stuff. My question to you is less about who you voted for and more about what role do you think art plays when times get rough, with respect to politics?
Once again, I’m no politico, but in my mind I always took for granted that Hillary would win because she was the superior political mind, or perceived to be so. Honestly, I’m still a bit surprised that Donald Trump won. Your question is valid, and it’s on the tip of most Americans’ tongues: What happens when shit goes down? I guess we’re all gonna have to see. Man. [Laughs] I really don’t know.