Joey “Blue” Gonzalez, drummer of Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals, has had an interesting start in the music industry, quickly rising up through the ranks to join not only The Illegals, but also Superjoint.
Marisa: How did you get started in music? Did you come from a musical family? What were your biggest musical influences?
Blue: I did not come from a musical family. My dad was in the military, and my mom was a wedding coordinator. I don’t know why I got into metal. When I was young, I wound up dealing with a couple guys and never looked back. I’ve been playing since I was 13-years-old. My biggest early influence is Pantera. I’m from Texas, so when my buddies and I got a hold of the Pantera home videos, it was over.
Marisa: How old were you when you learned to play, and do you play any other instruments besides the drums?
Blue: I used to play a little piano, but not anymore. I can mouth guitar riffs, but I’ve yet to pick up another instrument.
Marisa: Do you prefer one kick and a double pedal, or two kick drums?
Blue: Oh man, for recording, I feel one kick drum is a little more consistent, but two kicks live just looks and feels powerful. I’ve gotten so used to the big double thrash set; that’s just how I play now. Live, it looks a lot better. Having that big kit on the riser, I think people like it just as much as I do.
Marisa: How did you come to get your current drumming positions, and with you being a younger member of the bands, do you ever notice any generational differences between you and any of the other band members, like when it comes to musical tastes or anything else?
Blue: I joined… I’ll be 28 this year, so it’s been 10 years that I’ve been working with Philip. I did Warbeast, a year and a half later, I worked with him on The Illegals, then Superjoint. Now, we’ve got Mike DeLeon and Stephen Taylor on guitar, Walter Howard on bass; it’s an extreme lineup. Generational differences? Absolutely. I’m half the age of some of them, but I feel like I was born at the wrong time. I appreciate the impact of 70s and 80s. I feel every decade had its musical revolution. Once you get to the 2000s, for me personally, it gets muddled with sub-genres. Our jokes, references, everything. The guys are awesome musically. They’ve turned me onto music I might not have sought out. Everyday is a new lesson, and that’s directly attributed to my playing.
Marisa: I’m sure there’s some people that see Phil Anselmo’s name in the band and expect it to be a Pantera rehash; in my opinion, and you can correct me if you feel different on my description, but I hear a bit of that signature NOLA sound with a slight sludge and melodic riffs that are speeded up to appeal to metal, and even thrash, fans, giving the band its own sound. Still, what do you say to people who think the band is going to be like Pantera?
Blue: I definitely think the first record, Walk Through Exits Only, with Marzi’s style – and he is definitely a guitar hero - once we got that first album out, we wanted to do heavier stuff, which is why we parted ways with him. Is that the mentality now? I think anyone who had that album got that squashed. The new album is more for the extreme fans. Is there any pressure to live up to that? Not any more. The first album, we did covers in the set to make the people feel good, but now that we’ve gotten our sound, we don’t really need to. Our material stands on its own, and it has nothing to do with the other projects. The fans are definitely satisfied.
Marisa: You have a new album out, and can you walk us through a song or two that stands out to you. It doesn’t have to be a favorite, but maybe one that had a story that happened during the recording process or stands out to you for a particular reason?
Blue: “Little fucking Heroes” definitely stands out, because the message is so broad, and if you have to think about it, and you think it’s about you, it probably is. “You’re so Vain,” so to speak, like a grindcore version. It was recorded a long time ago. It’s one of our oldest songs, so it’s engrained in muscle memory. I’m so bad with names, because I’m used to playing them in a different order. I have a dropbox with different titles, but when I hear them, I’m like, “that’s so bad ass.” Every song has a part that’s like, “damn, that’s bad ass.” Choosing Mental Illness is so spastic, but it’s the perfect example of blending death and groove, very unorthodox, but smooth. So abrasive and fast, very different from anything we’ve done together, but almost pleasant to listen to because of how it comes together. This band live? You know how some bands fall through live? Some bands you hear live, and the album maybe needed a different production guy. This? People will feel what’s on the album, but live will take it to a new level … of confidence and power.
Marisa: What was your first concert that you attended, and how did that compare to the first concert that you played?
Blue: The very first? It’s very embarrassing, but the very first big concert that made me go, “dude, this is what I want to do,” I went with my buddy, who had an older brother who was into Pantera. Just bunch of stoner kids, but we all went to an 80’s, like Kings of 80’s metal, something like Poison, Ratt, Vince Neil, and who was the other one? It was like the big four of 80’s glam or whatever. It wasn’t the music that spoke to me, but the fact that we were in what I think used to be called the Yellow Pages Center, just a giant, open pavilion. Everyone was having a great time, and I was just a kid. I just got my instrument, before ever going to a concert, and thought, “this is what I want to do.” The first show I played was people’s garages, even my own garage; anywhere me and my boys could make noise and people not tell us to shut up. I’m a Spanish kid from Texas, so had facial hair, as did everyone else, except this one guys. Everyone else just looked like dirtbags, so it was easy to make it in the metal community. Started at 14. On the inside, there was no difference; it was just a step of what I wanted to do. This is what I want, and this is what it’s going to take to get there.
Marisa: Next trivia question: what was the first album you purchased, and what is a band you are currently into?
Blue: Slipknot, first album, for 500, Marisa, and uh, what I’m into now? Oh, man, I do a lot of construction work when I’m not jamming, so I listen to a lot of classic rock. Journey, and whoever else is on popular radio. I always have the radio on when I’m driving. I’m old school. My van has no CD player. I just stopped buying records. The last album I recently bought was Superjoint, the album I had to learn to join band, Lethal Dose. Is that the first one? I bought a Slayer CD at the same time, and re-bought Black Sabbath Sabotage, as that’s my favorite album. When I was younger and decided to stop buying CDs, Slipknot was killing it. They had tasty drum licks, very fluid, fast, groovy, funky, but when I heard Duality, I thought it was one of the gayest things I’ve ever heard in my life. That was the first time that ever happened to me. It’s like, fuck that, I’m not going to like it. Being a fan, and a band doing something I didn’t like, my other friends were like, “whaaaa? What do you mean, you don’t like it?” I didn’t like it, so I stopped buying CDs. This is fucking horrible. Every single bit of my money since then was so I could play my own music. I could be prepared to be able to do that, and that work ethic took me to far away places to meet a lot of cool people.
My daughter is three-years-old. When my wife was pregnant with her, I went to half price book stores. I’m not spending money on an album when can I can watch it on youtube, so I got into vinyl. I started buying the weirdest dollar bin vinyls, like circus sounds, haunted house sounds, Zebra, Allman Brothers Band. My newest is a 180-gram pressing of Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Rest of albums are just like Earth Wind and Fire, that one trumpet player, very small, but weirdest thing ever, no consistency. Spend the least amount of money. Got a bunch of Cheech and Chong for a buck.
Marisa: Did you get the rolling paper inside?
Blue: If I woulda had the rolling paper, that woulda been the ultimate. There’s no consistency, but that’s how I draw inspiration. It comes from everywhere. When younger, I woulda been Lamb of God, Slipknot, Mudvayne and just like everyone else out there. That one album opened my mind to become an individual. I still like those guys and what they’ve done for metal. I don’t know if it’s done that revolution, with new sounds, new tones, and new styles, like The Beatles inventing the death metal scream. Everything is so impactful that bands are not even phased. There’s bands that are hauling ass, extremely tight, and it’s hard to impress people. I just wanted to kill it. I like seeing that in younger generations, getting that message across.
Marisa: How do you go about writing music? What comes first for you: drums, guitars, vocals or something else? Has the process of writing changed for you over the years at all?
Blue: I used to be the worst at writing, because I’d never remember anything I’d play. I’d jam some slick riffs (he scats some fast beats). Dude, that was the coolest ever, but I can’t do that again. It’s gone. Over the years, working with Philip and Warbeast, even in my first band, we had a jam box. We were just excited and young, utter horseshit. Record everything. That has been the biggest asset to be able to hear stuff and play it back, so you can absorb it better. When I first joined The Illegals, Philip had most of it done. We made transition pieces, we were good with recording, but it stepped everything up and helped every aspect of it. Now, it doesn’t feel forced, because recording everything. Even if there’s only a minute, you grab the magic. “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go, because if you hang on tightly…”
Marisa: Oh, gosh, you remind me of my ex singing responses back to me. Oh man, you probably know him, too! Grant Tom.
Blue: Oh yeah, I do. He’s my boy.
Marisa: Yeah, he’s a good guy, but I just remember that he would just sing random lyrics to me as answers to questions; he knows so many random songs, like songs that are nowhere even close to metal. I will say that he helped me out a lot when I was living in New Orleans, because I had a lot of my equipment stolen from me in my first apartment. He gave me a few months to just sit and write, which allowed me to write a couple of my first screen plays, so I am definitely grateful to him for that. Anyways, let’s get back to you. What is your favorite musical technique?
Blue: I’ve always been, as far as implementing a technique, “dude, you do this?” I didn’t know. I just play. I just fucking play. I’d love to watch other drummers, see what they do, and try to immolate the specific name of the technique. I was thrown in the kitchen sink with Warbeast, all over the place, but now, less is more. Drum licks have to be the law. When people come up to me and say, “dude, when you get to one minute and thirty three seconds on the new album, and you hit that lick…” That’s what I’m aiming for. Are we going to make a song that changes everything? I don’t know, but can we make a song that people come back to for bad ass shit? That’s what I aim for. Smell what we’re stepping in. You know what I’m saying? I think this new album, people can hear the progression. I come from that school, that style, Texas Death Metal. Combine that with Philip’s style of death metal and Louisiana groove. It molded me. Others get into a niche. I like to see drummers step outside, then throw in something, like a jazz lick or jungled up heavy toms, like Eloy Casagrande for Sepultura. For anyone who wants to say that’s not the real Sepultura, that drummer will smash yours any day of the week.
Marisa: What's something people might not expect on the new album?
Blue: I don’t think people will expect how fast and how many blast beats are in this new album. That might be what’s refreshing to them. I guess there’s a stigma of the Pantera-esque. This album is not going to sounds like Pantera. It’s a completely different animal. Definitely, no pressure. For a fan to have something in your heart and be disappointed, but if they do something you don’t like, whatever. If fans receive this the way they’ve been, then we’ve done our job. We’ve made it.
Marisa: What is the scariest thing about being on the road?
Blue: Something happening to my family while I’m away.
Marisa: Best or worst tour moment?
Blue: I’ve had a couple on stage moments, like I fucked up a Pantera riff in Dallas, but it definitely will never happen again. I’ll tell you that. Best moment, I think 2013, when we went to Europe. I got to play the giant festivals with Hank III wearing a mask and sombrero. I was the tail end of four-hour shows. It was condensed to what I was doing, but it exposed me to those crowds. Being up there with Philip, holding up hands like they do with the boxers, we did it. We made it. Roskilde, you can watch it on Youtube. Phil had a candelabra. I think he slipped on stage, pulled a wrestling move, and goes pop. There was like 20,000 or 15,000 people, but that’s a lot. The mic hits the stage, he hit the ground.
Marisa: Oh, man! Phil, with his back! Oh, no!
Blue: He was okay, and he slid, but he slid all the way down, hits the deck. You hear so many people gasp, and he gets up, “I’m just kidding.” That whole show, the last of the tour, standing there at the end of that set. I think it was like 1 o’clock, one of the earliest shows for us, but we had all day to party or whatever. It’s not about money, fame, or sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll; just being up there is what does it. The rest is awesome and appreciated, but seeing all those people lose their mind and truly enjoying themselves is very humbling. European shows, there’s a lot less people just standing there saying, “they were better last time…” It’s more like, “there’s music; let’s enjoy ourselves.” They’re not judging the production work, like me with Slipknot and stopping buying CDs. We have a different thought processes. That’s the cool thing. It’s very inclusive if you want to be included in something very unique.
Marisa: What's your favorite way to travel and why?
Blue: My least favorite way is Russian WWII train, least favorite. I’m not even fucking with you. My favorite way would probably be first class, but I’ve never ridden first class. A dark bus after doing a couple dabs, I love being in that dark bus. I sleep above Phil. This hand will reach in and start fucking with my face. Then, there’s poor Kate…
Marisa: I can only imagine. I saw enough of his shenanigans when I toured on Ozzfest in 2002, and he was in Down. I can only imagine how that must be, being trapped on a bus with him messing with you.
Blue: It might as well be the men’s locker room at the YMCA in the back of the bus. I don’t know.
Marisa: What's your favorite place to travel to, and is there anywhere you have not been to that you would like to go to?
Blue: I wana go to Japan. I wana see what that’s about. I’ve been to NY, seen the hustle in major cities, but I want to see the real hustle and bustle. I’ve heard the crowds are very appreciative. I wana eat some black chicken, black fish, get radioactive in this mutherfucker.
Marisa: What's your biggest musical fantasy?
Blue: My biggest musical fantasy? I told you we got a hold of the Vulgar videos as a kid. My uncle painted this weird rainbow, like dark purple and something else, only two colors, and I had this dark blue room, with Christmas lights on my drum set, all weird. I would dream about me being on that drum set. Yea, I guess it was Philip and Dime, and I’d imagine myself as Vinny. I always pictured myself as a drummer. I went to a church thing one time, I played the drums, got a drum set, and never went to church again. My best friend’s dad was a reformed heroin addict turned pastor, who was awesome to watch play drums. We’d watch him play and laugh our asses off at people speaking in tongues and stuff. He’d be like, “hey bro, my dad’s playing at this church with crazy people, wana go?” We’d cry laughing at their crazy dance moves. He’d see us laughing. That was the beginning of everything, just complete bullshit that never stopped.
Marisa: I have three personality questions that I ask everyone. They might sound like hogwash, but I promise, there is a psychological basis to the answers ;-) First, if you were an unicorn, and you could be any color but white, what color would you be and would you have any special powers?
Blue: Have you been watching My Little Pony? Do you have a tap on my phone? I just watched My Little Pony with my daughter today, and is it more weird that you asked this question, or that I have an answer to the question? I would be flat blackish purple with a blood red horn, and uh, I don’t know what my special power would be. I have to be kinda selfish on this one. I don’t know. As far as the look, I got that down, but as far as talent, I could eat an apple in one bite. Horses like apples, right?
Marisa: Yes, they most certainly do. I grew up with horses, so I can say that for certain. You did so great on that one, let’s see how you do on this next one. If you were yogurt, what flavor would you be (feel free to be creative, as this does not have to be a traditional flavor) and how would you be served?
Blue: I would be frozen key lime yogurt with graham cracker crumbles, with a little bit of fresh whipped cream. Frozen yogurt key lime pie, served hot and sweaty for extra tang.
Marisa: Describe yourself as either a dog, a cat or a cartoon.
Blue: I used to have a caricature of myself. I could take a picture and send it to you. My dad used to give me these horrible flat tops; he’s half gangster, and half military. Give me a flattop against my will. Authority? Force your sheers on me. Dad, this sucks. “No, you look good…” So, I would be a caricature of myself, at like 10-years-old. It’s been 17 years, but I still picture myself with a cone head, a flat top, the nicest silky brown skin, Japanimae style, happy as fuck. I’m usually always in a good mood, upbeat, unless on hard drugs, then everyone gets crazy.
Marisa: Do you collect anything?
Blue: My mother started a coin collection for me when I was young, so I collect coins from my travels. I have pounds, euros, a few bills from places. I like old money. Old 100’s, 20’s, but $2 bills are my lucky charm. I saw a lady pay for something with $2 bills the other day, and I was upset that I didn’t have the money on me to be able to buy them from her. Something about that is just cool to me. You should collect something. People find it weird that I don’t have a huge library of CDs. Most of what I have are demos. I think I have like Slayer and Superjoint. The Pantera 25-year album was given to me by Philip. Everything has been given to me. I’m just not… It’s not that I’m not a music fan. I’ve dedicated myself to have the gear to do the job. Illegal downloading didn’t help that attitude, but I stopped that a long time ago, because you can watch any song every on Youtube. People will make their own visual displays all the time, so why buy more music? I’m more concerned with trying to break the mold with our music. For me, that’s just it; I was tainted very young. I wanted to be a mad scientist more than a musician. I’m not one to listen to my own music over and over, but this album I’ve listened to more than anything I’ve ever recorded. This is 3-years-old and still kicks ass. It’s that old already, but it’s not that old to the people. It’s like a fine wine, steeping right now and about to get everyone fucked up. Breathe it in, aromatherapy with The Illegals, Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue.
Marisa: What's your biggest guilty pleasure?
Blue: Taco Bell. I grew up with video games. I started touring very young. I had a few years of living as the guy on the couch, but then quickly got my own place, and started traveling. PS4, Call of Duty, Nazi zombies; that’s my shit.
Marisa: Closing thoughts and additional comments?
Blue: For anything and everything related to Philip H. Anselmo and The Illegals, visit www.thehousecorerecords.com. Get your copy of Choosing Mental Illness as a Virtue. Get your mind blown. Join the party.
The author of more than 100 books, Marisa Williams earned her Master's in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University; for more on Marisa, visit www.lulu.com/spotlight/thorisaz and www.twitter.com/booksnbling.