A DO BE, DON’T BE SITUATION: THE JOEY BELLADONNA INTERVIEW
A band that once appeared to be having a lot of fun, Anthrax has been no laughing matter for a long time now. Fronting the quintet – a position held by four people a total of seven times – is officially the least enviable job not involving Dave Mustaine or handling hot shit. Like, one day Scott Ian’s raving about you, the next day your name is his toilet paper. And even if an odor lingers from their 2005 reunion, Anthrax’s second recall of Joey Belladonna may have been an inevitability. It only became possible at all when Belladonna’s replacement’s much-hyped replacement didn’t pan out, and the product of their short union, Worship Music, was shelved. Of course, post-millennial Anthrax is most predictable in the commerce department, so it didn’t take a crystal ball to foresee their imminent attempts to be enshrined among the genre’s legacy acts; obviously, this is best achieved by the classic line-up, no matter what Bush-boosters may desire.
So for the moment, Belladonna is part of Anthrax’s quest for thrash metal immortality. Still, it was no shock that the singer filled our interview with the verbal equivalent of looking over each shoulder. He spoke with reservation and almost entirely in generalities. Not once did he mention a fellow Anthraxer by name, with the odd exception of John Bush. Even so, Belladonna sounds happy to be home, even if all the furniture has been rearranged and the locks changed. There’s fun to be had anyway; after all, Anthrax was a much bigger band with Belladonna at the helm (and occasionally at the drum kit). I’m no mathematician, but that means he’s got the numbers fan-wise and Big Four nostalgia can only help. I guess we’ll all see.
A week before the first Big Four show, the effusive Belladonna talked to MetalSucks about changing expectations, the fate of Worship Music, musical identity, and the humor of Anthrax.
It is under joyous circumstances that we talk today. Joey Belladonna in Anthrax. It feels so right.
Yeah, it’s always a pleasure for me to… Ah, I don’t want to use the word “pleasure”. But it’s just awesome for me to be in the band that I was in for years. There was really no reason for me to leave, so I’m happy to be here. It’s a great band. When we’re together, everything clicks. It’s great.
It is great! And it’s extra-exciting with the Big Four shows happening. Does this all feel really sudden for you? Kinda crazy?
I suppose so, yeah. There was nothing, there was no warning at all. [laughs] Things worked out great. I guess maybe that’s the best way to do it, is like “Are we or aren’t we? Can we or can’t we? Let’s just do this, you know?” There was some talk. I knew this was in the works a little bit ahead of time, and they had these shows go down, so for me to be involved with it is quite cool.
From a fan’s point of view, it seems like Anthrax has trouble keeping singers happy. How do you feel about that?
I don’t know what that is. For me, it isn’t hard for me to be in the band and stay motivated and be easy to get along with and stuff. I guess sometimes they’re finicky about what sound they want and who they want in the band. It blows my mind. Sometimes when you’re there, you’re like “Jeez, am I ok? Is everything good? Am I still okay for your guys?” I’m sure it’s gonna run through my mind. I don’t like to be in that situation, but unfortunately that’s what it seems. They assured me that they’re quite happy to have it happen, so we’ll definitely find out. I’m going to keep my head straight up and do what I do, you know? Hopefully everything plays itself out.
Do you mean to say that the guys in the band are hard to read?
Uh, sometimes. People have different perspectives on what kind of voice they like and what style should be in the band. To me it’s like … I was with the band “It’s great, Joe, but we’re looking for something like this.” Man, I’d be like [magnanimously] “Ohhh really? Wow. That sucks.” [laughs]
“Oh, you want him! What am I doing in this band?” It’s a relationship. You hope that all the colors match and you like what you’re doing. I certainly think that what I did with them, and can do with them, could be quite cool. It has been – so I never had any doubts — but when somebody starts thinking about it, I guess you get a little hesitation. I don’t know if that’s [pauses]… great either, but I don’t know if it’s bad. Everybody’s got opinions.
Like you said, it’s a relationship. Sometimes you have doubts. There was a neat John Bush interview recently wherein he listed like a half dozen really good reasons for him to not return to Anthrax. How were you able to sweep those aside and get with Anthrax?
Overall, it’s a business. You want the business to be efficient and well done and proper. But being in a band, you want to be able to do what you do and be who you are with the right intentions. You want to be comfortable to sing [the way] you can do. It’s hard to mold a voice or just switch the switch and be somebody different. I finally have my own style over the years that I feel comfortable with and that’s what I do. To, maybe, alter it in a way that’s not real, or forced … you’re just hoping you don’t have to really deal with too much of that. You hope for “Hey, you do good what you do. You do it. That’s the way we like it!” [To which you reply] “Alright! Awesome!” You hope to hear those things, instead of kinda getting bumped every way, like I’m doing this wrong or doing that wrong. It’s like “Fuuuudge.”
But those are the big things. I get a lot of … like everybody, I don’t care. I don’t have to hang out. You can do whatever you want to get it done, as long as everybody is real comfortable having you. I love when we’re playing and [someone says] “Dude, that was awesome!” “Yeah that was rippin’!” You want to get that fun in there. Have everybody dig what’s going on, and not doubt it.
I think Persistence of Time is an amazing record and it’s exciting that it’s finally getting a follow-up.
That’s a good way of putting it. I hope we can even do more. What we’re trying to do is keep this thing a-goin’, make it right, keep it on the move, and be a good band again.
It’s been reported that some material from the Worship Music album will feature new vocals from you, and other songs will be totally new. Is that accurate?
Yeah, there’s going to be some new songs for sure. I’m banking on all that happening. And some tweaking, re-doing, and re-structuring – anything that needs to be done. There are some songs that really are quite well done. I’ll do one [in concert on this tour]. I did my part on it. It had the outer boundaries intact, so it was just a matter of getting in there, refreshing it, and putting the stamp on it. But there are a bunch of songs like that – four, five, six – that’s alright too.
One point that gets lost in the discussion is that the changes in Anthrax aren’t limited to singers; there’s also a move back to pre-Bush Anthrax sound.
Right now, I haven’t heard a whole lot of the songs. I’ve had some stuff in the past that I’ve checked out. I wasn’t certain about what style was coming down, but yeah the approach is little older school, but definitely with some of the newer twists. You know, all of the above. I don’t know if one’s more than the other. I haven’t heard enough of it yet. We haven’t gone into too much pre-production for me to verify that.
So you haven’t heard all of what they’d finished?
That’s kinda interesting. I’m surprised by that. It seems like it will be a tough record to release because it’s going to be so totally scrutinized.
Oh yeah. It’s gonna be one of those things. About your question earlier, about reservations about things – that’s the third thing. Maybe not in that order. It sucks that you’re in this line of fire where it’s like ‘He did this, he was that’ … who cares. He did that, now I’m back. I do what I do, and he did what he did. He’s different, I’m different, and that’s it. It stinks when you gotta be held to a certain standard. John might’ve had the same [experience]. I don’t know. It’s something that I really didn’t have to do early on. You are who you are. If you like the band, you like the way we do things, then cool. But now you got ‘Well, I liked it when he…’ and all that [groans]. I have to disregard a lot of it, because you know what? I can only do what I do and hopefully they dig it.
See, I’m positive John Bush went through that too, because I was among those who put him through it. It was upsetting that overnight Anthrax lost so much color. And I stood there, looking at John and thinking ‘This really isn’t the same thing.’
It wasn’t. There was no way around it. And then I come back in, and I don’t want to be that guy who has to take that spot of what you’re doing. I want to do what I did before where you let me do my thing and you dig what I do. I have a different route that I can take, a style. A different approach. The word ‘heavy’ sometimes is a little weird. What’s heavy, you know? Look how I sing – it’s melody, it’s quality, it’s range. It’s tone. There are certain things that go with vocals versus just yelling hard and screaming.
I’m glad you brought that up. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Anthrax is the heavy music and catchy vocals. There’d be long, multi-leveled choruses and really memorable melodies. It’s a shame that Anthrax moved away from that. And I think a lot of fans would welcome a return to that.
Yeah, I hope so. My forte is all that, what you said. I dig anything to do with that. Do what we did before. And everything’s a little heavier these days, a lot heavier I guess. So that’s cool too. I didn’t get to go on that phase with them where they tuned down a little bit and structured things a bit different. But put me on top of that, hopefully it will be that much cooler.
It sounds like we’re gonna get a special record out of this situation.
I’m looking forward to that. I hope it exceeds the expectations.
The last time you worked with Anthrax was for the reunion tour in 2005. Lately we’re reading about that time, with members of Anthrax describing that tour as troublesome. It’s been said that relationships weren’t properly repaired and there was little opportunity to do that once you’re out on the road. Why was Anthrax put in that situation?
Somebody says ‘You want to get together and do a little reunion run?”, then what’s in front of you is going out on the road. We didn’t settle down to do a record, which would’ve been nice. We could’ve waited and prepared in a different way. But really, the thing was to go on the road. I don’t think we had too many problems. Of course, you get your usual things that go on. I don’t know if anyone was quite ready to take it out on the road in full or not. Obviously, you try something. We just couldn’t pull it together for business reasons, or things like that. I didn’t really have a problem; it was just like normal for me. I did well and I carried myself well. I had fun out there.
It was awesome!
It felt good. It felt like what it felt like. I don’t think we did any wrong with any of it. Except for new material. That’s something we didn’t have.
I always admired Anthrax’s sense of humor. It wasn’t always stone cold serious. There was an element of good cheer to Anthrax with Joey Belladonna – even your attire. Do you foresee a return to that?
I don’t know. I wonder about that. Part of me is like ‘Nah. Everybody’s a little hesitant to venture down that road.’ I’m still gonna be a goof. Not goofy, like really stupid horsing around. But just enjoying it and being happy to be doing it. Not that shit about ‘Oh I’m better than any of you guys out here. I’m metal, man.’ All that stand-off shit. The Jams might be the hardest thing to bring back. I hope we can pull in some more humor and look like we’re having a ball. That was cool for me too. It was like being a hometown band where everybody’s having a whole lot of fun but getting it done at the same time.
That fun spirit must’ve been a product of your relationships with each other, right?
Yeah. We didn’t plan anything, it just happened. With the damn shorts, it was a hot day and we just carried on. We put some shorts on. The next thing you know, that all snowballed.
I’m just going to throw this out there: If Anthrax merched some official Jams, I would buy those.
I know! We had hats and shirts! When we were on Clash of the Titans, I think Slayer might’ve had some shorts. It was a bit strange. Shorts are part of people’s attire. We had some cool ones going. People ask me where the Not! shorts are. I don’t know if I have any anymore.
That’s part of what was hard for fans. We loved the guys in Anthrax; it was fun to be a fan. That went right out the window. Anthrax got macho and uncomfortably serious.
Yeah, I know. Not that that’s bad or anything. You feel part of the band somehow. I know some bands when I was younger were real stand-offish. They were so much bigger than us. Of course, some people goof off and it’s just goofing around. So you’re like ‘Come on! Get it done!’ We don’t want to be that either.
You guys were serious about playing, but not that serious about being serious. I guess I’m sick of bands treating their music like it’s cancer research. I might be getting old.
Yeah, you want all the young stuff back, all the fun stuff and clothes that went with it. I’m all for it, because you know what? Before I left, I was completely content doing all of it. It was sad that I couldn’t be there the whole time. That’s one of the things that crossed my mind: “Wow, here we are again. What happened to all those years?’
If we can’t get those years back, at least we can make some more good ones. Congratulations, Joey! Good luck.
Thank you, man. It’s gonna be good. We’ll work through this – really, really work hard at it.
Experience Joey and Anthrax live from Sonisphere in Bulgaria along with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth in theaters today! Click here for participating theaters.