NEW YORK — He was only scheduled to do a single interview and was supposed to have the rest of the afternoon free, but the minute Pantera and Down vocalist Philip Anselmo stepped into the Elektra building, he found himself burdened with unexpected appointments.
First, one of the label's lawyers hooked him into a closed-door meeting for an hour, then the chairman of the company, Sylvia Rhone, spontaneously decided she wanted to meet with him. A good 45 minutes later, Anselmo — clad in black jeans, a death metal T-shirt and a "cross-me-and-die" scowl, wearily entered a small metal-plated conference room for the interview.
Meeting with business-suit-clad attorneys and top executives is enough to frazzle any musician, but for Anselmo, who lives to defy authority and usually prefers solitude to even the most casual social interaction, such appointments are torture.
"There's a lot of false feelings there that send me running," he said, lighting up a smoke. "But sometimes you just gotta grit your teeth and face it. It's kind of like going to court. You don't want to go, but you gotta put on a suit and a tie and wake up at eight in the f---ing morning and have a judge tell you how to live. It sucks, but you gotta do it."
For Anselmo to admit he's "got to do" anything for a capitalist corporation is a revelation, which proves just how important the new Down record, Down II, is to the misanthropic frontman.
The band is a supergroup of sorts comprised of Anselmo, Pantera bassist Rex Brown, Corrosion of Conformity guitarist Pepper Keenan, Crowbar guitarist Kirk Windstein and Eyehategod drummer Jimmy Bower, but while other such bands are pretty much side projects, Down is a big priority for everyone involved. Down II, the follow-up to 1995's NOLA. is moody, epic and roaring, but not in the manner suggested by the bandmembers' résumés. Unlike the group's debut, which was pretty much a ripping Black Sabbath tribute, the new one explores various aural territory including stoner metal, chaw-spittin' Southern rock, atmospheric classic rock and blistering metal.
"It's very mature, compared to the first album," Anselmo said. "NOLA has always reminded me sound-wise and approach-wise as a really loud demo, and it was based on three three-song demos that we did just for fun. We were still growing and finding out what we were as a band, and we were into a lot of bands that were influenced by Black Sabbath, like St. Vitus, Trouble and Witchfinder General. With this LP we were all very clear on the approach we wanted to take, which was to do something heavy, but also experiment with a lot of other things we really like."
One of those things is Led Zeppelin, which explains both the epic scope of the music and why the words "a bustle in your hedgerow ... " — a reference to "Stairway to Heaven" — appear on the bottom of the album art.
"I don't know why, but the session just had this Led Zeppelin vibe the whole time. And there's not a moment on the record where you can say, 'Ah, that sounds like Led Zeppelin,' " Anselmo said. "It just felt like we were doing something classic. It was the attitude of when Zeppelin made Zeppelin IV or the feeling of what was on Black Sabbath's mind when they were doing Sabotage. That kind of magic that hung over us like a shroud."
Down wrote and recorded Down II in 26 days last year at Anselmo's huge ranch in New Orleans, and they were on the clock the whole time. The gear they rented was only around for the allocated time, after which it was removed on huge trucks. So once the stopwatch was triggered, the bandmembers locked themselves in the compound and worked feverishly. Despite the intense pressure, the material flowed quickly and suffered not one iota in quality.
"The riffs these guys were writing just kept coming and coming," Anselmo boasted. "It got to the point where I almost had to physically grab these motherf---ers and choke them to death, because they were writing so many bad-ass riffs. It was like, 'Stop! We've got 10 days left! Let's make this record!' And I tell you, we had enough riffs to make eight records."
While his bandmates jammed away on the parts they had written, Anselmo sat upstairs in his house and feverishly penned lyrics. The band's penchant to party only added to the chaos.
"No one had anything done in advance," guitarist Keenan said later during a call from his New York hotel. "So we're bringing tapes up to Phil as we finish them. And I'm downstairs with Kurt working on guitars. And Jimmy and Rex are trying to figure out how to keep the rhythms tight. In the meantime we're all eating truckers' speed, drinking beer and going apesh--. It was like a warzone."
Adding to the turbulence were the personal demons Anselmo battled throughout the record's creation. The vocalist, who has a past history of drug abuse, wrote a number of songs about the dangers of heroin. On "The Man That Follows Hell," he howls over a wall of surging sludge metal, "I do one thing, I do it well it takes up most my time/ Advantage is beyond me, it's cursed beyond my eyes ... I gave my life to this and it's fooled me oh so well/ the name they've given me is the man who follows hell." On the murky, bluesy acoustic section of "Learn From This Mistake," he moans, "When you're up close it blinds you brilliantly/ Just one rush can change your life forever/ Just one push can end it altogether."
"I'll say there's not one f---ing lie on this record," said Anselmo, not blinking an eye. "There's not one thing I over-exaggerated and there's not anything I under-exaggerated. In dealing with a band like Down, you gotta realize where we got the name and what the name means to us. There's a feeling that we have from Down, and it's called the Brotherhood of Eternal Sleep. See, Down was meant as not like, 'Yo, G, I'm down with you.' It ain't that at all. It means Down, like downtrodden. Like Down syndrome, downcast. And what the lyrics are about is all part of that."
Down have scheduled an 18-date tour that begins May 1 in New York and ends May 25 in Dallas. If the dates go well, the band will schedule additional shows.
Down tour dates, according to the band's publicist: