N.O. native Philip Anselmo releases solo album debut

Photo by JIMMY HUBBARD -- Philip Anselmo
Photo by JIMMY HUBBARD -- Philip Anselmo

After doing phone interviews with reporters for days last week from his home near Covington, Philip Anselmo, the righteous front man for two gold- and platinum-selling pillars of heavy-rock music, Down and the Grammy-nominated Pantera, longed for a burst of sunlight and a blast of oxygen. Fortunately, he could just step outside and get big hits of both in the natural setting of his rural acres.

Stopping briefly as he walked through the trails that snake through his sprawling backyard, Anselmo looked up in the trees and asked, “Hear that?” Except for a songbird’s happy tune, the woods were silent.

The man who makes such furiously loud music loves the peace and quiet he finds off stage at home. Anselmo moved to his woodsy refuge 11 years ago. It’s the place that helped him recover from heavy drug use, a bad marriage and back surgery.

New Orleans native Anselmo, a Touro hospital baby and diehard Saints fan who grew up to be a mighty voice of metal, had been busy all week promoting his solo album debut, Walk Through Exits Only. He recorded the eight-song album at his studio, Nodferatu’s Lair, with guitarist Marzi Montazeri, drummer Jose Manuel “Blue” Gonzales and bassist Bennett Bartley.

Just back from a European tour with Down, Anselmo soon got down to the business of rehearsing for his upcoming Philip H. Anselmo and the Illegals dates. Montazeri, Gonzales and bassist Steve Taylor will join him for the Technicians of Distortion Tour, which reaches Tipitina’s in New Orleans on Aug. 22.

Rehearsals are always intense, Anselmo said.

“There’s no half-stepping,” he explained. “You can’t just walk in off the street and start jamming with us. You have to know your assignment, like a football team.”

And there’s no room for improvisation.

“Any variation, then we have a fracture,” Anselmo said of the intricate, time signature-shifting songs on Walk Through Exits Only. “I don’t like a fracture in the skeleton. I like things rock solid.”

The songs for the album began in Anselmo’s bedroom with just himself, a guitar and a tiny amp.

“I felt compelled, driven by inspiration,” he said. “I wrote the songs from the ground up and then I brought in the musicians.”

Anselmo has known Houston guitarist Montazeri since the late ’80s. They’ve wanted to work together for years. No less than the late Pantera guitarist Darrell Lance Abbott, aka Dimebag Darrell, introduced Anselmo to Montazeri.

“Dimebag grew up with Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen,” Anselmo said. “He was big on tasteful lead guitar playing. He didn’t have a lot of respect for thrash-lead guitar players who were fashionable in heavy metal at the time. So Marzi was one of the first guys that I ever heard Darrell say, ‘This guy is awesome.’ ”

As exacting as Anselmo is about his music, he wants musicians to, as he expressed it, “put their fingerprints all over this damn thing. These musicians in particular, because they deserve it. With Marzi, his use of layering, his building of soundscapes, atmosphere, both of us wanted to utilize those things.”

Gonzales plays drums in Warbeast, an Arlington, Texas-based band signed to Anselmo’s Housecore Records. As super-talented as Gonzales is, the 23-year-old needed some coaching to play the Walk Through Exits Only songs.

“Blue can do things with his feet that he do with his hands, which is amazing,” Anselmo said. “But I had to transform him. With him growing up beating 4/4 time, thrash-metal, for me to throw a lot of different time signature changes at him, it took some time.”

Anselmo’s solo debut is easily complex enough to qualify as prog rock.

“I’m not just a heavy-metal guy,” he said. “I create music of all sorts because I’m a fan of all sorts of music. I was raised with the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and Janis Joplin. Cream, Dr. John, you name it, all of it was pumping through my house constantly.

“Music is a vast world of different sounds, instruments, approaches, cadences, expressions. Utilize it, man. Do it.”

Although he’s driven to create music, the performance, the show is the ultimate payoff for Anselmo. The size of the audience doesn’t matter.

“I can be in front of 60,000 people at a festival or 60,000 people as opening band for Metallica,” he said. “I can be in a room of 1,500 or 100 people. I can play at the McDonald’s on U.S. Route 190. I don’t care.

“It’s about being on that stage and the love I feel going through my body. I bleed for my music, for real. That’s important to me because it’s a passion. And if I don’t fulfill this passion, it will be the end of me.”

Anselmo and the Illegals launch their first tour later this month. Of course, the billion dollar question is whether or not they’ll perform Pantera and Down songs.

“My answer to that is, ‘Probably.’ I’ve done so many projects over the years that people are always like, ‘I wonder if they’re going to play this or that?’ So I’m going to keep them guessing — until the time is right.”