One of my favorite metal bands of all time as a young boy growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey was always Anthrax. They always ran alongside Metallica for me and the fact that these guys were local always left a spot in my heart for them. Anyway, a couple of years ago, I was tasked with interviewing bassist Frank Bello to promote Anthrax’s cover CD, Anthems, and that was a little nerve-racking since Frank had been one of my favorite bass players of all time. Without blowing up Anthrax’s image, what a nice guy he was! I ended running into him again at Comic Con in NYC later that year and he remembered our chat about Star Wars and still answers my text messages to this day.
Last year, I was given the opportunity to interview guitarist Scott Ian about his spoken-word show, which is amazing for any metal fan to see! If Scott ever does this again, I highly recommend it! It’s a laugh a minute. I’ve also read his book since my interview with him and what a great storyteller he is. During my interviews with Scott and Frank, I felt I was talking to friends that I haven’t seen in a while, and trust me, that’s a rare feeling when you’re talking to people you have idolized most of your life.
That brings me to today. I was given the opportunity to complete my trifecta and sit down with the third piece of the Anthrax nucleus, Frankie’s uncle and drummer, Charlie Benante. Charlie, Scott, and Frankie have been holed up in the studio with guitarist Jon Donais and singer Joey Belladonna with returning producer extraordinaire, Jay Ruston, working on the follow-up to their smash hit, Worship Music, the band’s first studio CD in eight years. Personally, Worship Music was so good that it might be a tough task to top it, but according to Scott Ian, this new record will do it! Let’s see below what Charlie had to say about all that and more. (By the way, Anthrax hit the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on June 2 with Volbeat.)
You guys came back big with Worship Music four years ago and your partner in crime from the very beginning of Anthrax, Scott Ian, has even been quoted as saying this new record will be “even better than Worship Music.” Do you guys feel any pressure in proving that to be true?
Well, I remember a while back when we were just in the early stages of writing, I was a little concerned that the material wouldn’t be there. And then I started writing more and more and I would have these days when I felt like I was possessed by the guitar and I would just come up with really cool shit and I would tape it all and then I would listen back to it and I’d be like, “Wow! That’s fuckin’ really good!” This would happen quite a bit and I didn’t fight it. I just went with it. And I remember I would make these demos and send them to the guys and Scott would write back positive feedback like, “This is really good!” So, I knew we were on to something. And then we’d get together and pretty much arrange it and make something out of it.
After maybe six or seven songs, I was confident enough that we had six or seven songs that were really good! And then more started to come out and I was really happy about that. I’m just glad that sometimes the planets all align and shit works out really well and you can capture lightning in a bottle. It doesn’t happen all the time, but just be happy that it does.
Scott is on the West Coast, your nephew Frankie is here in New York and you’re in Chicago. Has it been hard to write new material with everyone in different corners of the U.S.?
It just turned into the way we work and we were working this way with Worship Music, where to save time, I would like to send a start and a finish of a tune and have those guys listen to it and add something or change something and we just worked that way, and it was a really good way of working. Plus, it was way cheaper than the way we used to work, when we’d get into a rehearsal place and just spend hours upon hours every day there just looking at each other sometimes.
Now, it’s no secret that you’re an amazing guitar player as well as a drummer. Did you lay any of the guitar tracks down on these new songs?
Actually, Scott played a lot of guitar on this record, more so than the last few records, and a lot of it, I was like, “Fuck! I don’t need to do anything!” He did it, so it was really good. There are certain songs… I always do the acoustics on the record and a lot of the textured type of stuff. I always do that stuff. But the meat and potatoes of the rhythms and stuff, that’s more or less Scott. The music is just exciting music! This fuckin’ record is definitely on coffee.
Dare I ask, is it on the Benante’s Blend of coffee?
Uh… Yes, it is… (laughs) [Benante’s Blend is available now at charliebenante.com/store.]
What’s the story with Jon Donais? Is he the fifth member of Anthrax now or is he still with Shadows Fall? Does he play on the new record?
Jon’s with us full-time. I worked with Jon pretty closely on this record doing the leads and stuff. He’s just fuckin’ rippin’ it up. He’s my favorite guitar player at the moment. He’s just killin’ it. And there are a lot of leads on this record too. I swear! We opened up the fuckin’ gates. We were like, “Here you go, dude! Just play 86 fuckin’ bars of lead.”
It’s great to hear guitar solos in songs again. Remember that time period where bands would not put lead guitar solos in their songs?
We never really abandoned them. We always kept them in songs because we thought it was another dimension of the song and the guitar player deserves to have his voice here. So, we never really cut it out completely. I love a good guitar lead. I think once that alternative thing started to happen and then the nu metal thing, I just think those bands were real lead guitar players, so that is basically what happened. They didn’t do it because they couldn’t do it. Then it became this trend where they said, “Oh, fuck the guitar leads. That adds another minute and a half to the song. We don’t need that.” So, like you said, I’m just happy that it did make a comeback.
I guess that’s why many of THOSE bands aren’t around anymore, right? Anyway, this may have been addressed before, but when Rob Caggiano left the band to join Volbeat, was there ever any thought of getting Danny Spitz back or has that ship sailed?
(Whispers) It’s sailed…
Okay, we’ll leave it at that (laughs). So, is there a name for the record yet?
There is a name for the record, but everybody wants to wait on that before we just announce it. We like to keep some mystique to things and not have everything out there right away. “Oh, by the way, I just had this thought… Let me post it!”
Is there a favorite track on the record yet?
There’s a few favorite tracks. There’s these two songs that were written kind of side-by-side each other and I always call them the bookends because one song came out to be titled “You Gotta Believe” and the working title for the other song I always called “Evil Twin” because it was the “evil twin” to “You Gotta Believe.” They’re like the brother and sister-type of song and they really work really well together, so who knows? It may be a back-to-back type of thing. And those are the two thrashier songs on the record.
Was it a no-brainer to go back and work with Jay Ruston on this new record since Worship Music was such a huge success?
No-brainer! It was always in mind and it’s funny because on our past records, you worked with a producer and then you never talked to them anymore. You might see them at a function or a Grammy Award thing or something, but with Jay, Jay’s like a part of the band. I don’t think I ever went a month without talking to Jay about something. He has such a great set of ears. He also has a great brain and he deals with us in a way that is really, really helpful and just progressive. He knows what the band should sound like and I think he always delivers.
If anyone in the band is Anthrax, it has to Charlie Benante. You do everything from playing drums to playing guitar to writing the songs to designing the CD covers and t-shirts. Are you designing this new CD cover as well? What do you have in store for us?
Yeah, I am. I have this concept in my head about the cover and how it’s gonna be. I just want it to be very iconic so that when you see it, it just brings these thoughts of ’70s album covers because a lot of those were very iconic.
I think bands nowadays don’t care as much about the actual cover as they once did, where for me it’s very important. I used always say that I would go buy a KISS record even if there was no record inside of it. I would just buy it for the fuckin’ cover.
How is Joey Belladonna sounding on these new songs? Is he killing it or what?
Joey makes it sound like Anthrax. That’s the thing. It’s funny because he also brings a freshness to the songs, but he also brings that heritage to the songs, which is a really good combination because it’s very familiar, but yet it has this kind of fresh sound to it too, which is, to me, what a lot of these bands that you hear through the years, but they can’t come up with a good record nowadays. They just fall flat. They make maybe three songs that are good and the rest is just like, “What the hell is this?”
Like, I loved that fuckin’ Van Halen record that came out with Roth on it a few years back. I loved that record. I can’t say the same about the live album. He ruins it for me. Those guys are awesome! The three of them play so well together and then it just seems Roth isn’t even in the same room.
I’ve been reading Scott’s book and he really hated Fistful Of Metal and State Of Euphoria. Is there any one of your Anthrax children that you could have done without?
Well, I’m proud of those records and they were done at a moment in time that was crucial to us. I’ve always said things about State Of Euphoria, but the things that I said about State Of Euphoria were coming from the inside looking out. For me, I wish we had more time to spend on some of that record because I felt that maybe some of the songs weren’t as well-crafted as they could have been. I just felt that no matter what was on that record, there was this backlash happening with us because things were going great. Just the album cover and album title alone, State Of Euphoria.
I mean, you have to understand, we were guys from areas of New York that never dreamed of doing the things that we got to do. So, sometimes, you’re gonna get a little dry. The well ran dry maybe a little for State Of Euphoria and if we had maybe two or three months more to spend on it, I think it would have been a great album. Some people say it’s their favorite record and I say, “Great!” I’m happy about that. But for me, as the artist, it falls a little flat, and it’s the reason why the album after that is darker. And we were going through a lot of shit at that time. So, that record came out to be very dark, meaning the Persistence Of Time record.
Which one are you most proud of?
Out of all of our collection of records, there are five records I am most proud of, and they would be Spreading The Disease, Among The Living, Sound Of White Noise, We’ve Come For You All and Worship Music. Those to me are moments of complete and artistically speaking, the songs that are on those records just really outshine a lot of the other stuff. Especially Among The Living! We still play so much of that record live, so that means something, and I always said that was the record that gave us a career.
If I look at other records like Sound Of White Noise, that was a watershed moment and definitely changed things for us. And then We’ve Come For You All, which is another career moment, that really changed the course of our path and really brought us back, and I’m most proud of that. I’m actually more proud of the people who stuck with us and really stuck with us. That meant more to me than anything.
Are there any bands inspiring Charlie Benante today?
I swear, dude, if I say something about a band, people may come down on me like, “How could you like that shit?!” But I’ve always liked this band called Mumford And Sons, and they’re from England. The first time I heard them, I just thought there was something awesome about them! Yeah, they’re kind of folky or whatever, but there was just something that I loved about them. I just saw them on SNL last week and they fuckin’ blew me away. They’ve gone electric a bit, but they go to these chord progressions… I don’t know, everything about it, the singing, the music, always does something to me, so I love that band.
I also can’t wait for the new Ghost record to come out. I loved their first record. From start to finish, it’s just an awesome record.
One final question before I let you go, Charlie. Being a fellow Star Wars geek, did you get a chance to see the new Star Wars teaser released yesterday? What did you think? [At the time of the interview, the teaser trailer just came out.]
Oh, dude! I fucking loved it! I kind of got choked up at the end. Just hearing those words from Harrison Ford, I was like, “Oh, my God!” I felt like it brought me back to somewhere when I was younger.
Catch Anthrax live with Volbeat at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC on June 2. For more on Anthrax, visit anthrax.com, and for more on Charlie’s coffee, Benante’s Blend, visit charliebenante.com/store.