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An Interview with Scott Ian: Putting Down The Guitar To Speak Words

An Interview with Scott Ian: Putting Down The Guitar To Speak Words

—by , February 26, 2014

One of my favorite guitar players to watch live when I was a young metal head growing up in the NJ/NY area was none other than Anthrax’s Scott Ian. To this day, I have to say that Among The Living is still one of my favorite metal records of all time. Well, with over 30 years of touring and playing metal, you know that Scott has some stories to tell. So, before he puts his stories and memoires out in a book, Ian decided to embark on a spoken-word tour, which he calls Speaking Words, to give him a chance to hang with his fans and tell his stories.

Scott Ian gave his Speaking Words tour a whirl out in Europe first, where he was well received by the fans. He even filmed video of his performance for his upcoming DVD, Speaking Words: Live In Glasgow, which is set to hit shelves this April. Scott will be the first to tell you that this is not your run-of-the-mill spoken-word tour. In his own words, “It ain’t no poetry reading” either. Speaking Words is an honest look at the insane life that Scott has led for the last 31 years, the people he’s met, and the events that coincide. During each show, Scott also takes part in a special Q&A session with the audience.

I had the chance to “speak words” with one of my childhood heroes over the phone a couple of weeks ago to talk more about his Speaking Words tour, which comes to B.B. King Blues Club in NYC on March 5, but before I let you in on what we spoke about, I have to share this story with you. So, I was supposed to call Scott at a specific time since he was on the West Coast, and when I did, he asked me to call back because he had his son and no one to watch him for another hour. All I could think was that this was Scott Ian from Anthrax telling me he had to babysit his son. I guess for me, it just humanized him as opposed to me thinking of him as this metal demigod, which, by the way, I still think he is! I told him about it when I called back and he laughed. Anyway, here’s what Scott Ian had to say about his Speaking Words tour:

I’ve been reading some amazing reviews about your Speaking Words tour from Europe. What can we expect when you bring this tour to our shores?

It’s just a lot of crazy stories from the last 30 to 40 years. Obviously, there’s lots of stuff from my traveling the world with Anthrax and a lot of crazy stuff that has happened to me, crazy people I’ve hung out with, people I’ve met, people I’ve gotten into trouble with. Just a lot of that with just me ending up somehow or one way or the other with shit in my pants (laughs), but just in general, basically getting the short end of the stick. A lot of humor was at my expense.

What made you decide to do a spoken-word tour? Because the last time I saw something like this, it was done by Henry Rollins, and I’m sure this is nothing like Henry Rollins’ spoken-word tour.

Well, when he first started doing it in the early ’90s or whenever he started doing it, he was definitely relating a lot of road stories, and he wrote that book Get In The Van. Some of the shows that I saw back then, it was definitely kind of like that where he’s just up there telling stories. He hadn’t really gotten political yet, but over the years, his show has changed and grown. Mine is just starting.

So, I’m basically just coming from a place that I feel real comfortable with and there are a lot of these stories that I do tell are stories that I’ve sat around in bars with my friends over the years. I would go, “Oh my God, you’re not going to believe this…” Then I would tell the story and it never failed, we’d be cracking up. It was just something that in the back of my mind, I always felt I could do. I just really didn’t know how.

I certainly wasn’t being proactive about it. It’s not like I was out there looking to go do these dates. I’m not the type of guy looking for reasons to travel anymore. I’m busy enough with Anthrax that I don’t need something else to take me away from my wife and my son. It would have to be something that I was obviously really, really enjoying in a different way and it has to be something that was fulfilling me in a different way than I already have with my band.

So, I did a one-off in London a couple of years ago. I got offered to do it and they asked me to come over and do a solo show. I thought they meant come with my guitar and sing and I was like, “I don’t do that!” And they were like, “No, stupid. It’s a speaking show! Just come and tell stories.” I thought, “Oh, well that I can do.” I really didn’t give it much thought. I figured I can do that, so I said yes because I had like five months to prepare for it.

I had this big grand plan that I was going to be super professional about it and write my show and invite some of my comedian friends over to watch me do my show at my house and they can give me notes on it and help me put together this perfectly crafted talking show. And I didn’t do any of that! I spent five months not even thinking about it until the night before the gig, where I really had no idea what I was gonna do (laughs). I was gonna call my agent and tell him I had the flu and to cancel the show. Because really, it was like, who cares? It’s 200 people in a club. It’s not like we’re canceling some big rock show and whatever. People will get on with their lives.

My wife, Pearl, pretty much just said, “That’s beat. There’s no reason for you to cancel. You know what you’re doing. These stories are a part of you. All you have to do is go in there like you’re hanging out with your friends in a bar and tell stories.” That’s kind of all the advice I needed. It just really calmed me down. It got me on stage the next night. And then cut to two hours later at the end of the show, I’m in the dressing room asking my agent how do I do more of this because I had so much fun doing it. And that’s how that snowballed into a full tour in the UK, a show in Germany, and a couple shows in Australia. Now, I get to bring it back home and do it in the States and Canada.

To me, you were always the charismatic guy in Anthrax. Does it shock you that they asked you to do a spoken-word show?

I don’t know if shock is the right word, but I was definitely flattered that someone was willing to take a chance on me. Take a risk on something that’s really not what I’m known for and it’s not what I do. Someone thought that I had enough of a point of view and the ability to actually get on stage and entertain people who are paying money to come and see me. That takes a lot of faith and trust. It’s not like I had some kind of a DVD out already where people can see what it was. I didn’t even know what it was until I started doing it. And then I really learned how to do it. Just by being on tour and doing show after show. I really learned how to do this by doing it.

I talked to a lot of my stand-up comedian friends, who all said the same thing: “The only way to learn it is to do it in front of people, and that’s how you get better at it.” And it’s still fun for me to do. I still look forward to it because there are so many unknowns about it to me. It’s something I’m obviously learning as I go. So I’m excited about these shows because it’s only gonna get better.

Was it hard for you to transition from playing in front of thousands with your guitar in your hand than speaking in front of 200 people with just a microphone in your hand?

No, it’s where it belongs. If I could sell 5,000 tickets to one of these shows, don’t get me wrong, I would be thrilled and I would be playing those sized venues if I was as big as Jerry Seinfeld or something, but that I’m not. I’m at the bottom rung of this ladder right now. I’m working my way up. This is where it should be right now. I should be in these types of rooms. Just showing people who believe enough in me to actually spend their money and take a risk and see something where they really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.

I have such respect for our fans in general because these are fans who are willing to take a risk and do that and come out and check something out that’s new without really knowing what they’re getting themselves into. A lot of people don’t want to do that these days, so anyone who comes to any of these shows, I just have so much respect for. I also think they’re getting to see something really cool because it is so small and intimate and they’re getting to see the closest thing to the real me that they’re going to see when I’m standing on stage telling stories. There’s also a Q&A during the show, where I tell people every night, “This is your chance. Don’t be shy! You can ask me anything you want.”

With all of the tales you plan on telling throughout this tour, I’m sure there will be some you can’t get to. Has there been any thought about writing a biography?

That’s in the works as well and it’s coming out in October. It’s obviously a much longer, flexed out version. A lot of these stories will be in the book and also, obviously, a lot more from the earliest parts of my life up to the present. So we pretty much covered it all.

A couple of questions that I read that you keep getting asked is did you or didn’t you with Christina Applegate and how does it feel to be Meatloaf’s son-in-law?

No, they don’t say Christina Applegate. They say Kelly Bundy. Which, I get it. I understand the question, but the way my brain works, it’s just so funny to me that they ask you if you had sex with an imaginary fake character in TV world. So, I guess I can lie and say, “Yeah, sure I did!” because it’s all fake anyway. But the actual story behind it is funnier than me making something up. So I kind of dig it when people ask that question because it’s definitely a good story.

As for the Meatloaf, I love it. I feel great about it. It’s awesome! People would be surprised at how normal it actually is. I think people have an expectation of those guys must jam “Bat Out Of Hell” every night! (Laughs) I don’t know what people think. I like to let people have their thoughts. Who am I to disappoint them?

One last question since I know you have to get back to your son: New Anthrax this year?

            Yeah, we hope so! We’re kind of in the thick of it writing right now. We kind of just jumped right back in when the tour finished in October. The idea was to just keep moving. None of us felt like we needed to take a big break. Mainly because we’d come off such a great run with Worship Music. 207 shows on the back of that record and people all over the planet really connected with that record in a big way and we couldn’t be happier.

So, we came off that record with such a great and positive feeling and then going into this new stuff for the first time on a real high, which I can say we hadn’t had in a long time. There was no reason to not just start working again. We were really excited about moving forward, so not to jinx anything, but the writing has been going really well and things have been moving pretty fast for us.

 

Catch Scott Ian on his Speaking Words tour at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City on March 5. For more information, log onto scott-ian.com or anthrax.com. You can also follow Scott Ian on Twitter @Scott_Ian. 

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