BY ANY MEANS REVOLUTION SCREAMS: THE ANTHRAX INTERVIEW
To be in Anthrax today, it must feel like standing at the mouth of a transcontinental pipeline, squinting, feet poised to step out of dank darkness and into light. Cuz that tunnel reaches all the way back to 2003’s We’ve Come For You All and through a reunion tour with singer Joey Belladonna in 2005, a second parting with Belladonna and an attempt at redrafting singer John Bush in 2007, the late 2007 arrival of new singer Dan Nelson, the completion of Worship Music mark I, Nelson’s abrupt flake-out in July 2009, a few shows with Bush that Fall, the plan to re-enlist Bush full time (he declined), the second return of Joey Belladonna, and the second completion of Worship Music with Belladonna and producer Jay Ruston (Steel Panther, The Donnas). Got all that?
But after that stressfest — one nearly the duration of two presidential terms — Anthrax now emerges from the tunnel of stink into fresh air and sunny skies: The completed Worship Music rips. You love it. On it, drummer Charlie Benante and crew fold Joey into the modern Anthrax heavy rock sound (e.g. “Crawl” “The Devil You Know”) and roll out big, punishing waves on which Joey surfs, a melodic power-voice plowing forth atop a Thrash Metal rip curl (“Judas Priest” “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t”). It’s crazy that there’s an album at all; Worship Music might’ve never survived its parents’ nutty divorce. But Worship Music lives and lives loud as the long-awaited modern Joe-thrax album, the never attempted sequel to 1990’s Persistence Of Time, as Anthrax’s challenge to Big 4 snorers who coast on fumes as relevance laps them, and as a modern metal instant classic.
About the whole ordeal and its happy ending, MetalSucks talked with an affably frank Charlie Benante, who betrayed no fatigue from answering a billion picky questions about the fans’ perspectives, the band’s stiff upper lip, their stone-faced guitarist, Persistence‘s status as a dark classic and harbinger of ’90s frown metal, Joey’s solo career, double albums, Jody Watley, and a prompt follow-up to Worship Music.
Anso DF: It’s the end of August 2011 now. Two years ago, Anthrax parted ways with singer Dan Nelson; in two weeks, the album that was started with him will finally be released. How do you feel at the moment?
Charlie Benante: I probably haven’t been this excited about an Anthrax release in quite a long time. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears went into this record. For me especially, it’s a labor of love.
Nelson has been quoted saying that fans “deserve to hear” that first version of Worship Music. Do you foresee it ever coming out or is that just over with?
I think it’s over with. I mean, what would that [accomplish]? There’s been so much negativity, and that would just bring out more. This is the record. The way things happened, it’s obvious that it was meant to be this way, y’know? I’m a true believer in fate, be it Mercyful Fate or whatever. [laughs] I believe in it.
[laughs] Fates Warning.
Yeah, there you go. [laughs] I really just want to go on the positive and move forward; I don’t want to dwell on some of the past anymore. It’s just not healthy.
I think fans feel that way too. We are ready to just be Anthrax fans — album, tour, fun, no drama. The great thing is that Worship Music makes it easy for us to do that. That the album exists is a relief; that it rips is a major victory snatched from the jaws of defeat. So, please tell me how you pulled it off!
Musically speaking, I knew the stuff that I had in my head was really strong. And I knew the music would stand on its own. It took quite a bit to make this record, but, I mean, I started working on it right after that reunion tour finished [in 2006]. Believe me, there was enough material for Worship Music to have been a double record. I kinda wish it had been a double record; that would’ve been awesome.
But maybe it would’ve been too much for everyone to kinda digest right now? Maybe the next one won’t be … Well, of course it won’t take as long as Worship Music. But maybe we’ll be able to put out the next album sooner.
Sounds good. Now’s the time for great Thrash records. And while recent Anthrax records are heavy, Worship Music is a return to Thrash Metal. Are you into it? Does it feel good to be back in that mode, like 1988 Anthrax?
I think it happened without us being conscious of it. The tides had turned and the world — and I mean the world — wants to thrash again, wants to re-live that time. A lot of the kids who weren’t able to do it at the time — because they weren’t born — now have an opportunity to come and see kinda what it was like back then. The most important thing for me is that we’re not getting up there and playing a catalogue of older turnes; we’re playing ssongs that are now. That’s the most important part for me of Worship Music: it has this element of Thrash, but it also has a modernized, new sound.
I feel that Joey sounds better than expected on WM‘s more modern-sounding songs, like “Crawl.” He’s on fire.
Joey sounds awesome on this record. I swear dude, the first time I heard him sing one of the songs, the hair on my arms stood up. I got goosebumps. I got so excited again. i remember saying, ‘That’s it! That’s it right there. That sounds like Anthrax. Don’t fuck with it.’ [laughs]
From there, it just started to build. When we were on tour last year with Slayer and Megadeth, everyday we would work on material. We’d set up our studio in the dressing room or in the back of the bus, and work on the record. That’s when it really started to take shape; that’s when I started to get really excited about it. Once we started recording it again, I knew, ‘Wow. We really have something here.’
A part of Worship Music’s creation is your hiring of producer Jay Ruston to work with Joey and finish the album. Anthrax guitarist Scott ‘Not’ Ian had worked with Ruston before on Steel Panther and stuff, but what were your thoughts before taking him on? Did you see him as a guy who could help Anthrax rescue the project?
Scott mentioned Jay to me and I liked the sound of some of the things he did. I went and listened to his [work]. I said, ‘I think this could be really cool!’ So I met Jay, and he’s just this fuckin’ cool guy. He’s young; he has this good sense of professionalism about him. Joey and Jay started talking and building a relationship; then it was like, ‘Okay, let’s go with this! Let’s see if this works!’ And it did! It was the greatest thing for us, cuz Jay really helped shape the record. He’s one of the most valuable players on the making of this record [laughs]. And the stuff that he got out of Joey is great! The approach, the way Joey sounds … Everything is awesome. We weren’t there for any of it. I joked about it later, saying, ‘There was no reason to have a jury in the room. We let those two guys do their thing.’
Jay spoke to me about his sense that part of Joey’s success on Worship Music is attributable to having enough time to work. In other words, just as you and the band fleshed out the record over that tour, Joey had time to develop his parts. To you, is that accurate? Do you feel that he was rushed years ago on State Of Euphoria or Persistence?
One record that we were all rushed on was State Of Euphoria, including Joey. That record was done very quickly. For Persistence Of Time, we took some time to make it. This record, we had time … There was no real pressure. There was no deadline. It wasn’t until, let’s say, the beginning of June that we had to set a deadline. ‘This record needs to be done if we want it to come out this year.’ That’s the only time we had a deadline. So, yeah, Joey did have that freedom to do it his way.
It turned out great!
Congratulations! Considering the circumstances, a good or great Anthrax record would’ve been enough. But Worship Music exceeds that by a mile.
Dude, thank you. Really! From the bottom of my heart; I appreciate that more than you even know.
Stop it. You’re told that during a thousand interviews.
Nah, I’m being serious now. I don’t hear this all the time. I can tell when it’s real and when it’s not.
Awesome! Hey can we talk about live stuff? You mentioned touring with Slayer and Megadeth a minute ago. Elsewhere, Anthrax also just did some big shows with those bands and Metallica. Is the Big 4 stuff as fun in reality as it looks? Do you guys go out with the goal of blowing all bands off the stage?
No, no. Because at the end of the day, y’know … I’ll put it to you this way: Going into this whole thing, I think out of all the bands we had the most to prove. We weren’t as constant as the other bands have been; these bands have been out every year doing stuff. We haven’t, really. We had the most to prove, and the most to win. We really felt like the underdogs. [pauses] Believe me dude it was kinda emotional the first couple of shows, being thrust into that whole situation. It’s like, ‘Okay here we are. Let’s do what we do.’ That’s exactly what we did.
I remember doing the DVD, the live one from Bulgaria. I remember all of us came off the stage going, ‘Ugh. That wasn’t such a good show for us.’ We had some technical issues and stuff like that. And when the director called us to the mobile unit, he was all excited: ‘Oh it’s fuckin’ great!’ We said, ‘No, it wasn’t.’ When we went in to watch, it was like ‘Are we watching a different show?’ Wow, it was totally different. We thought it wasn’t so great, but it did turn out well.
I think we can be diplomatic and state that the Anthrax set had more meaning than the others’. When I saw it in a movie theater via satellite, the crowd buzzed most about Anthrax. So I also am surprised to hear you call it an off-night.
Well, y’know, it was just a little different from our point of view. That’s all I meant; I didn’t say it sucked or that we sucked. Just some technical issues. It wasn’t one of our better performances. But again, I was so happy that I was wrong. [laughs]
[laughs] Say, may I ask a question about Anthrax guitarist Rob Caggiano?
What’s his deal? He’s so inscrutable on stage.
[laughs] Oh —
You can’t get a read on the guy.
I just think Rob zones in on playing. Honestly, the other guys move around so much and so fast that it looks like Rob’s standing still. But he’s actually moving!
I’ve always wanted to ask you about your conquest of MTV game show Remote Control in 1988. What do you remember about taping the episode and destroying the competition with your knowledge of videos?
I remember wanting to not answer any more questions.
I’m being totally serious; I remember saying, ‘Man, what should I do here? Should I continue to just boom! keep giving the answers? Or should I pull it back a bit?’ I did pull it back because I felt weird that the other people weren’t getting any answers. And I remember having fun.
That final round usually was tough to beat, but you grooved it. You were identifying videos in seconds like, bam! Jody Watley. Bam! OMD. Bam! Cutting Crew. It looked effortless!
[laughs] Jody Watley! It’s funny that we mention Jody Watley in this interview.
Oh, our interviews take you around the world, dude.
[laughs] Well, we’d call someone like this a MOIK: Man Of Insignificant Knowledge. We’d always joke that we know lots of things, all completely insignificant. [laughs]
Yeah, but at least you did stuff with it. The rest of us merely watched you do stuff.
Well, I have a question about Joey’s return to the band. Does he continue to do solo dates? Is that confusing?
He does continue to do his solo shows. But he enjoys it. He enjoys doing them. I don’t know what … I don’t see what the big deal is. He enjoys it and it keeps his voice going, y’know. I don’t see a problem with it.
Cool. Have you ever attended one?
It would be weird to see him without Anthrax.
It was kinda weird for me to watch, like, him up there doing Anthrax songs. But I got it. It was cool.
We already touched on the making of Persistence Of Time. I view that album as a big turning point in metal; along with some of the Suicidal Tendencies albums, Persistence was a forerunner of the dark, personal future of commercial metal. Do you share that view? What informed the album’s tone?
Let me tell you exactly where it came from: When we did Among The Living , that’s when we kinda blew up pretty big. That record was pretty big. The excitement, the momentum, and everything was fucking awesome, okay? That exactly explains the title of the next record … That’s exactly how the band was feeling. We were so happy and it reflected in [State Of Euphoria, 1988].
During the end of that, there started to be a little bit of a backlash. People were starting to talk about what we were wearing on stage, why we were always laughing and smiling in pictures, it started to become that they were focusing less on the music and more on the style. That started to really, really piss us off. And I think without us knowing it, we got caught up in that whole thing as well — the look of the band. I think it became a little … I don’t know [pauses] … Not ridiculous, but we kinda got away from ourselves.
Leading up to the next record, Persistence Of Time, the darker element [surfaced] naturally because what we’d just [experienced]. Yeah, it was a much darker record and that was going into the ’90s style of music. That’s exactly how it happened.
You mentioned that backlash. The internet wasn’t invented yet. Imagine that backlash turned up like five notches.
Yeah, and that whole grunge thing happened and killed a lot of that metal that was terrible. Hair metal. But really, a few years after that it really hurt metal in general. There were only a handful of bands doing okay in the mid-’90s; thank God for Pantera, the only true metal band flying the flag at that point.
For commercial metal, no doubt about it. It was rough.
It was rough. [laughs]
Anthrax’s long-awaited tenth album Worship Music comes out September 13 so get it here!