“I wanted to see what it’s like when somebody dies”: the darkness inside Whitechapel’s Phil Bozeman

Whitechapel singer Phil Bozeman
(Image credit: Metal Blade)

Phil Bozeman faced down the worst life had to offer early on. The Tennessee-born Whitechapel singer lost both parents by the time he was in his mid-teens – his dad to a heart attack, his troubled mother to drug addiction. 

Rather than drown in his own misery, he channelled his adolescent turmoil into music. The erstwhile deathcore band’s 2018 album, The Valley, used his personal experiences as the basis for a vivid journey through a nightmarish imagined landscape. Follow-up album Kin picks up where its predecessor left off.

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The South has its own feel

“I’m from Knoxville, Tennessee, and I still live here. I’m not one of those people who wants to get out as soon as they can. People here are very polite, very hospitable, just good people living the life. We have our stereotypes, people sleeping with their family members. I mean, that stuff does go on, but thankfully it’s few and far between.”

You grow into country music

“I was surrounded by country music growing up, and I did not like it. Riding on the bus when I was younger, that was all the drivers played. But the older I got, it grew on me and now I love it. I like the 90s stuff - Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Brooks And Dunn. It’s almost nostalgic in a weird way. It’s comforting to hear it. I never thought I’d be saying that.”

Cats are cool, but dogs are cooler

“I’m a dog guy. I’ve got two. My small one I’ve had since she was a puppy. My big one is a whippet mix - he’s got like four different things in him. I’m not against cats, but you’re just taking a risk. You get a cat, it might be super-affectionate, but it might be skittish or straight up mean. With dogs, they’re unconditional. They’re just like babies.”

Hip hop is an attitude

“I’m into rap. A lot of Memphis rap like Three 6 Mafia, Houston rap, Southern rap, and a lot of New York stuff like Nas. For me, it’s about the groove and the attitude: ‘I am who am, this is what I do, I don’t care what anyone else thinks.’ When can we expect a solo hip hop album? Not any time soon. I don’t even know if I can rap. I almost don’t want to find out.”

I can fix a TV because of my dad

“My dad was a communications guy in the navy. He was well-versed in Morse Code and very hands-on with technical things. He taught me all the basic stuff. I was like the repair guy – I was the one my grandparents would call and say, ‘Hey, my TV’s not working.’ I got a lot of things from him, personality traits. He was a very soft-spoken and low-key kind of guy, and so am I.”


(Image credit: Press)

My dad’s death was a real reality check

“My dad died when I was 10. The thing that it changed the most was probably my perception of reality and the world. For me, reality didn’t really exist - I had no conception of it. At a really young age, you feel like your childhood is going to last forever, and mine was obviously cut short. I had to start growing up at a very young age.”

My dad was basically keeping my mom alive

“Even when my dad was still here, my mom had alcohol problems, an eating disorder, anorexia. With her drinking, it was a secret – she wouldn’t let anyone know, I never smelled alcohol on her. I realised that my mom had issues, but I didn’t think it was anything to worry about ’cos I had my dad there. Nothing extreme ever happened. My dad was the rock. Then my dad died, and without him my mom was just a shell of herself.”

Crack cocaine hijacked my mom’s brain

“My mom was a great person, but after my dad passed away she just fell apart. There was no saving her. She just spiralled into bottom of the barrel of darkness. My stepdad was pretty much the one that lit the fuse for her. The signs that he was not a good person started pretty soon after we met him. He lit the fuse and it just kept burning and burning until it exploded.”

I knew my mom was going to die

“It wasn’t a matter of where as much as when. I was 14, almost 15, when I heard she’d died [of an overdose]. I didn’t even cry. I was just pissed, because I knew that it was going to happen eventually. Of course I cried afterwards, but my initial reaction was anger, because I knew it could have been prevented. How? We could’ve run my stepdad out earlier.”

Losing both of my parents made me desensitised to death

“That all happened around the time the internet was starting to become an actual thing, and I started looking at stuff that was really dark and disturbing. I wanted to see what it’s like when somebody actually dies. 

There’s websites with people straight-up getting shot in the face, people falling off buildings and hitting the ground - I’ve seen all of it. People were, like, ‘Why do you want to see that? You must be messed up.’ No, I was just curious. Don’t get me wrong, it’s disturbing, and it ended up making me feel very depressed, but it strengthened my mind.”

But I’m still afraid of dying of course

“We all want to know what death feels like, but we all don’t want to know at the same time. I don’t want to die. Just because I’ve seen that stuff, doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of it. In the movies, it’s one thing, but in real life it’s way more disturbing, ’cos it’s real.”

I don’t worry about what I’ve inherited from my mom

“I’ve maybe inherited some of the anxiety and panic issues, but as far as addiction goes, no. I did start smoking cigarettes at a young age but I quit years ago. I’m terrified of drugs. I’ve never done anything other than weed. I would never in a million years try crack or heroin. You would literally have to tie me down and force me to do it.”

‘Deathcore’ is both a blessing and a curse

“We own the fact that’s where we come from, but it has made people pigeonhole us. I think metal is one of the most accepting genres of music out there in terms of who you are and what you’re like as a person, but it can also be very judgemental when it comes to what people think is cool. I wish people would stop tying bands to one thing: ‘You have to stay right here, and you can’t go anywhere else.’ At the same time, we just don’t care. We’re going to write whatever we want to write.”

The worst things about starting out in a band are also the best

“On our first tour in 2007, we played to literally no one. This was up in Maine, where nobody knew who we were. Just the novelty of it was amazing - amazing and awful at the same time. But the 36-year-old me would never want to go back and do that again.”

Vomit terrifies me

“I’m emetophobic, which is a fear of vomiting. If someone throws up in front of me, I get that heart-drop feeling, but mainly it’s just a fear of me vomiting myself. I hate the dread of it, I hate the feeling of it, I hate everything to do with doing it. I’m terrified of it. My worst nightmare happened on a European tour. There was a stomach virus going round the whole tour. Two people would fall ill every single night. I’m an obsessive handwasher, and somehow I didn’t get it, but I had this dread all the time.”

If I hadn’t joined Whitechapel, I’d be driving Porsches…

“I used to work in a car dealership when I was younger. Luxury cars – Porsches, Jaguars, Audis. I was the lot guy, taking care of the cars, making them look good. But I got to drive them all the time – you feel like a little bit of a badass, knowing there’s people looking at you. I’d probably still be there today if I wasn’t in the band. I’d have worked my way up.”

…or I might have been working in games

“I can’t draw for shit, so I’d be a writer and up with these worlds and universes. The storyline on Kin is chapter two of [previous album] The Valley. It’s a fictional take on my teenage self – it’s basically the evil part of me has followed me out of The Valley and manifested into a real person. I like to think about weird shit.”

Whitchapel’s Kin is out now via Metal Blade

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.