Anthrax: Still Spreading the Disease
25-Jan-2013 Words: Brendan Crabb
Latest release: Worship Music (Riot!)
Band site: www.anthrax.com
Festival site: www.soundwavefestival.com
After eight years between Anthrax records and much publicly-aired drama within the ranks, 2011’s Worship Music almost had no right to be as irresistibly good as it was. It also marked the return of singer Joey Belladonna, an essential part of Anthrax’s lineup from 1985-1992. The last time Loud caught up with founding guitarist Scott Ian was during a visit to Australia shortly after the release of that record. Since then, they’ve toured the world extensively and will return to our shores as part of the Soundwave Festival, as well as a few select side shows.
They’re set to release a special edition of Worship Music on March 22. This includes a bonus Anthems disc which includes six covers, including Rush, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and Journey. They’ve also announced that Shadows Fall guitarist Jon Donais will temporarily fill in for the recently departed Rob Caggiano when the band play previously scheduled dates in India, Australia and North America. Ian took time out from making lunch for his son to give us a much-needed update.
Q: You’ve got two shows in India before Australia. Have you toured there before?
A: No, first time, so I really don’t know what to expect. I’ve spoken to some people in other bands who have been there and they said the shows were crazy, so I’m looking forward to it.
Q: Then you’ve got the Soundwave tour, which will be huge shows in their own right, so there is plenty to look forward to in 2013 for Anthrax.
A: Yeah, I’m sure Soundwave’s gonna be amazing. We did it in 2010 and as good as that was, we’re just a better band now and I think it’s a better bill. So it’s gonna be awesome. We’re also doing a show with Slayer, it’s great. Last time we were down there we had all those days off between shows. That was great in one aspect, because we got four or five days off in Sydney. We certainly got to do a lot of sightseeing. But at the same time it’s just a long time to be spending down there and not playing shows, so I’m glad we’re doing the Sidewave shows this time.
Q: It certainly doesn’t get much bigger than Slayer and Anthrax on the same bill in Sydney either.
A: Yeah, I’m sure it’s gonna be crazy (laughs).
Q: You’ve done the Big Four shows overseas, but that concept has also spawned off-shoots, with a few of the bands touring together in various other packages. You’ve also got three-quarters of that bill playing Soundwave. Has the widespread, worldwide demand – even when all four bands aren’t performing and after a few years of it - surprised you at all?
A: No, I can’t say I’m surprised. I don’t want this to sound, in all modesty I guess I should say, I guess there’s a reason why people started calling us the Big Four. Because we were a part of something in the 80s that not only got us out of the 80s, but you’re talking about the four bands that started this kind of music and are still making records, all still touring and all still operating, doing this at a pretty high level. Then you get Metallica, who’s one of the biggest bands on the planet. So for me, it just goes to show just how, not important, because I don’t want this to sound… It’s not like we’re writing fucking poetry, you know? We’re not. But at the same time, the music that we started making back in like ’83, ’84, ’85 is still so important to so many people on this planet. Every couple of years there’s a new generation of fans who are getting into it. So for me, we were really good at what we did and are still really good at what we do. People want to be a part of it; they want to feel it, they want the chance to see it. There’s a lot of kids out there who are probably coming to Soundwave who have maybe never seen any of these bands before. Maybe they’ve seen Metallica, but there’s a lot of young kids who certainly for the first time are gonna see Anthrax with Joey Belladonna. That’s for sure.
When I was younger, when I was first going to see concerts, going to see Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Judas Priest, when these bands were first breaking… I mean, they were playing New York before they were even big bands really. And they’re still doing what they do and they’re bigger than ever (laughs). So somehow or other, what we did a couple of years after them… We were just able to succeed at it. Fucking how we did it, I have no idea, other than to tell you that I feel like we made really good records and were a really good live band. Nowadays, it doesn’t surprise me how much of a demand there is, because outside of the four of us, there’s no one else really doing what we do.
Q: Do you mean in terms of bands who are both playing that particular style of music and also doing so on such a large scale?
A: I mean the type of music that we’re playing, that we’re doing. Like when we play songs from (1987’s) Among the Living, there’s no bands out there that do that anymore. The music we created in the 80s, we’re really the only ones doing it. Sure, there’s a lot of metal bands around now, but none of ‘em really, they’re not what we were and they’re now what we are. It’s different; they turned it into their own thing. I’m just saying that basically the sound that we make (laughs); no one else is really doing that.
Q: Even after such a long time between albums, Worship Music didn’t sound like anything else out there. It just sounded like Anthrax and I think that’s a major reason why it was so well-received.
A: Well, that’s the thing. We sound like ourselves. Metallica sounds like Metallica, Slayer sounds like Slayer. We started something a long time ago that, it’s still very important to us and remaining true to that.
Q: On the topic of Worship Music, the new cover songs are being released soon, but have you started writing for another full-length record yet?
A: Not like, not really started writing, but there certainly are ideas. There’s stuff that we never finished from Worship Music and some new stuff that we’ve been coming up with. But we haven’t actually gotten in the room yet to start arranging stuff. That’ll probably really start over the next few months, and then certainly after August, ‘cause that’s when we finish touring this year. After that we’ll be really focused on writing and getting back in the studio.
Q: How much, if at all, has the writing process changed within the band throughout the past three decades?
A: It hasn’t changed at all. The writing process hasn’t changed since Among the Living. It’s very much the same. I don’t know really how it works (laughs). Somehow magically Charlie (Benante, drums) and I come up with songs. But you know, it’s not just Charlie and I, it certainly… It’s always been a band. It’s not just us, even though maybe sometimes the initial idea or something could be coming from Charlie or myself. But everybody’s involved in arranging, coming up with melody ideas. Everybody is involved and everybody has a say. It’s a very democratic process; I guess that would be the best way to put it.
Q: Are there songs from the latest record that you haven’t played live yet, but that you really want to in the near future?
A: Yeah, we’ve played five or six off the record so far and certainly yeah, eventually I would like to play everything. When we’ll do that I don’t know; we have another US run coming up in March and April, so maybe on that run we’ll do some different stuff that we haven’t done yet off the record, just because we’re playing some cities for the third or fourth time through. That would definitely be cool to play some different songs. I guess we’ll see once we get in rehearsal.
Q: You have Jon Donais filling on guitar for that US run and the Soundwave shows too. Are you still evaluating the situation with regard to a new, permanent player?
A: Yeah, we’re not really thinking about it at all right now. Jon’s filling in for Rob and that’s about as much as we’re thinking about. We’ve known Jon for a long time; we’ve hung out with him a bunch over the years. I’ve actually worked with him before so, yeah, it kinda was a pretty easy decision to have him come and play with us.
Q: Does the band have a fairly stock-standard festival set that you tend to play, or do you change it up regularly?
A: Shit, I don’t know to be honest with you. We’ll probably do something very similar to the set we were just doing with Motörhead over in Europe. Because I think on the festivals the longest we’re probably going to play, I’m assuming is 60 minutes. So those are actually the harder sets to put together, because when you’re trying to fit everything you want to do in a 50, let’s say 60-minute window, it gets really difficult. Because when you’re in our position you have so many records to pick songs from. It’s kinda like, ‘well, we have to play this and we have to play this’, well, you don’t have enough time. But it’s like, ‘yeah, but we have to play all these songs’ (laughs). That’s the hard part; at least in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane we get to play a Sidewave show, so at least we’ll probably get to do longer sets at those, as well as obviously play some different songs than we did at Soundwave.
Q: Trying to cram 30 years into an hour would be an interesting exercise (laughs).
A: Yeah, if you think about it, even just trying to cram… Even if you only had two albums out, doing a 60-minute set would be hard. So when you have like ten records to choose from, it makes it quite difficult (laughs).
Q: Given you’ve been doing this for three decades now, has there been any consideration given to writing a band autobiography, or somehow putting the story of Anthrax down on paper?
A: Fuck, I don’t know about the story of Anthrax, but I mean, I’m personally working on a book. When that’ll come out I have no idea at this point. So it goes a little deeper and a little more far-reaching than just the story of Anthrax. But certainly, obviously a lot of Anthrax will be in the book. It’s hard to say what it’ll be; it’s just in the beginning stages. I’m excited to relive some great memories. So far, so good; it’s been great.
Q: When we last spoke in 2011 I asked you the same question, but I’d be curious to know if your perspective has changed at all. What do you think is the most under-rated Anthrax album?
A: (Pauses) Hard to say, but the two… I don’t remember what I said last time, but the two that come to mind right off the bat are (1998’s) Volume 8: The Threat is Real and (2003’s) We’ve Come For You All.
Q: Last time it was Volume 8… actually (laughs).
A: (Laughs) Wow, there you go.
Q: We’ve Come For You All is actually one of my favourite Anthrax records. Why do you consider it to be under-rated?
A: I guess, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the States it just really, the label it was on at the time, Sanctuary they basically went out of business at some point while that record was out. So it really didn’t get what it deserved as far as having a label behind it and really working what was a great album. So I still think, there’s not even thousands, but tens of thousands of people certainly in the States that probably don’t even know about that record.
Q: Labels seem to be falling by the wayside in the current musical climate. What’s your take on the future of the music industry, with regard to bands creating and releasing music?
A: I don’t even know - I don’t care; I have no idea (laughs). I really don’t give a shit about the industry. If anything, nothing would make me happier than, other than some of the good people who actually have jobs that would be hurting if they lost their gigs. But as far as I’m concerned, I can only hope that the whole industry collapses and has to start over, or figure out something else, because I really have nothing good to say about the record industry. When you think about the billions and billions of dollars that labels ripped off from bands from the 1940s all the way through to the 1990s, and now they complain about nobody buys records anymore. Well, whose fault is that, you know? These companies, corporations and individuals literally stole billions of dollars and you’ve got artists, bands who no longer exist and are literally like, a step away from being homeless, or living in assisted living places, whatever it is. But you don’t see most musicians retiring and living out the rest of their lives because they got some millions and millions of dollars’ cash settlement, just to leave a record label. The whole fucking thing is insanity, the way record labels were run. Especially in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s when bands were really getting ripped off.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: No, none at all (laughs). Hopefully I’ll never have any last words.
Brendan is Loud's contributing editor and also writes for TheMusic.com.au
Anthrax tours Australia with the Soundwave Festival next month, plus:
21/2: The HiFi, Brisbane
25/2: Big Top Luna Park (+ Slayer + Kingdom Of Sorrow)
28/2: The HiFi, Melbourne VIC (+ Fozzy + This Is Hell)
To browse a complete A-Z list of Loud Magazine’s interviews, please click here