Phil Anselmo on Superjoint Ritual's Return: 'Everything's 100 Times Better'

Pantera singer opens up about his hardcore band's "regrettable" past, "fun" present and wide-open future

Superjoint's set at the Housecore Horror Festival in 2014 was the band's first performance in 10 years. Singer Phil Anselmo says he was in a "terrible place" during the group's original run. Credit: Gary Miller/Getty

For Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo, recording and touring in the early 2000s with his hardcore metal side project Superjoint Ritual was neither enjoyable, enlightening nor politically prudent. He was battling a crippling back injury caused by years of jumping from monitors and stages, struggling with the pain through a haze of heroin addiction and burning bridges with Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell Abbott and drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott, who felt he should be more focused on the band that made him famous. 

"I've always had different ideas about music and how to go about expressing oneself within different genres," Anselmo says four days before Superjoint (the band dropped the "Ritual" from its name due to legal issues) perform their first-ever show in Europe at Hellfest in Clisson, France. "If I had to only concentrate on Pantera I would have felt like I was being stunted because I love so many kinds of music. If I'm going to be considered a musician, there's a lot of stuff to discover and investigate. I was never going to be held to one band and one band only."

Right after Pantera went on indefinite hiatus in 2001, Anselmo hit the Superjoint Ritual trail hard. The band released two albums, 2002's Use Once and Destroy and 2003's A Lethal Dose of American Hatred, both of which were scathing, confrontational blasts of hardcore mixed with elements of thrash and black metal. The band actually took its name from the Darkthrone song "The Pagan Winter" from the Norwegian duo's blackened death album A Blaze in the Northern Sky. Sloppy and inebriated as they were, Superjoint Ritual burned hot for a few years, and even played Ozzfest before Anselmo abruptly broke up the group in 2004. "I really needed a break," he says. "It was time for me to get my back surgery and to get a grip on my life. I needed to rehab not only physically but mentally so I shut everything down for a while and the band fizzled out."

Superjoint remained dormant for 11 years until October 2014, when they re-formed to play Anselmo's second Housecore Horror festival. The show went so well that the singer rescinded his promise never to tour with Superjoint again. Next month, the band will play 12 concerts in the States, starting July 10th in Oklahoma City and ending July 25th in Shreveport, Louisiana. We talked to Anselmo about the demons that plagued him during Superjoint's initial reign, his decision to bring back the beast, the new lineup and the future that awaits Anselmo and the band after the end of their current tour.

Did the members of Darkthrone prevent you from using the full name Superjoint Ritual this time out?
Absolutely not, man. Let's just say it's a legal matter and I have to leave it at that. But everyone knows who Superjoint is so it doesn't matter one bit. 

For years you said you would never play with Superjoint again. Why did you ultimately choose to take another stab at it?
When we were putting together the Housecore Horror and Film Fest Part II, my co-founder Corey Mitchell – may he rest in peace – he was very much an antagonist to get Superjoint as this special one-off and then we'd get back together and reunite and freak people out. For months and months and months my answer was "Hell, no. No way, no way, no way." And then as we neared the festival I said, "Well, lemme ask [guitarist] Jimmy Bower." And Jim was very positive about it. So I said, "OK, I'll get in touch with [guitarist] Kevin Bond," and Kevin was all for it. So I said, "Alright, goddammit. I see where this is going." So we got into the practice room with a new drummer and bassist and it was a blast. We did the Housecore show and that was fun as well. We were having a good time doing this with clearer brains and more ability to focus. So we figured, "OK, why the fuck don't we do a tour?" But it did take a while for me to get to the point where I could admit I was having fun. 

Was Superjoint Ritual's first run what you had hoped it would be?
The beginning of the band was fun. We started back in '93 or '94 with Jimmy Bower and Kevin Bond, only Kevin was on bass, and this was even before we entertained the thought that I would sing for this band. Pantera was going strong at the time, so Superjoint was just a jam band that we messed around with, and after a while we felt like maybe we could find a singer. It was really more about me and Jimmy playing guitar together. But we couldn't find a vocalist, so I did vocals on the first demo [in 1995]. And in 2001 Kevin Bond switched to guitar and I stuck to singing. 

Superjoint Ritual was the first band you plowed ahead with after Pantera went on hiatus. Some fans think that means Superjoint struck the deathblow to Pantera.
No, no, no. Not true. None of that came about until much later. There was a lack of communication and a certain stubbornness. Plus, I was in a very bad place mentally and physically. Superjoint didn't have anything to do with that. 

What possessed you to go full steam ahead with Superjoint Ritual in 2001?
My main attraction to doing Superjoint was to get back into smaller rooms because Pantera was highly regarded and we sold a lot tickets, and therefore played bigger buildings. Things were very much less intimate, and I missed that intimacy with the crowd. 

Did you enjoy the club tours with Superjoint?
Can't say I did, can't say I didn't. But I'll say that everything's 100 times better these days as far as where my mind is and where my health is. 

Back then you were dealing with crippling back issues and battling drug abuse.
I was in a terrible, terrible place – a very weak place and it reflected in the shows. For me, it's very regrettable. For the audience it was very regrettable. But, ahhhhh, that was a very long time ago, man. And I don't really dwell on it because I am by far and away not the first to jump that particular train and I probably won't be the last. Looking at the big picture all I can do is the best today and tomorrow. Yesterday, whatever that means, it's gone. I'm moving forward. 

Do you want to achieve some sort of redemption with this tour or prove to people that Superjoint is no longer a drug-fueled train wreck?
Not really. Not right off the bat. But I will say the mentality going into this is, literally, let the music do the talking. So there'll be a lot less of me bullshitting into a microphone and a lot more song, song, song, song, song, song, song, song! "Thank you very much! good night." Hit 'em over the head and then get the fuck out of dodge. 

It seems like the tour is a good opportunity to promote your label, Housecore. You signed both of the openers, Child Bite and King Parrott, your rhythm section plays in your solo project and drummer Joey "Blue" Gonzales is in the Housecore band Warbeast. It's like one big incestuous family outing.
As it should be. When it comes to Housecore, I like people doing different things with different sounds and approaches. I love the innovators of music, not the imitators – unless you're damn good at imitating. 

So if you can imitate Slayer better than Slayer, you're in?
Yeah, and then your name is Warbeast. 

Is there a new Superjoint record on the horizon?
We've got about four or five songs we've been messing with. They have potential – I just don't think they're completely nailed down yet. So I can't say we'll do a record right off the bat, but there is a damn good chance something new will come out in some form or another, whether it's a split seven-inch, a complete Superjoint seven-inch – maybe a 10-inch EP. Something like that is very possible, but I can't say when.