Anthrax – interview and live review
Rock City, Nottingham
13 Feb 2017
Anthrax Among the Living record is 30 years old, the band are playing the album in full along with some fan selected favourites. Neil Johnson went to Nottingham Rock City to chat with Charlie Benante and see the show.
Thirty years ago I was 13 and I had just discovered music outside of the top 40 and Radio One. A huge part of that discovery was Anthrax, a friend had leant me a TDK SA-60 with Among The Living on it. The audio quality was terrible as tapes back then often tended to be, so with my hard earned pocket money, I made the trip into Ashby to buy myself a proper copy. Thirty years later, hearing that Anthrax was touring Among The Living and heading to Rock City meant that I had to go (I wasn’t allowed back in 1987!).
Before the show at Rock City, I had the chance to speak with Charlie Benante, the drummer and a significant force behind much of the Anthrax song writing process.
Louder Than War: Among The Living was the first vinyl record that I purchased with my own pocket money as a 13-year-old kid. What was the first record that you bought with your own money and do you still listen to it today?
Awesome! I know exactly what it was, my Mom took me to a five and dime and I bought The Beatles’ White Album with my own money. I remember it like it was yesterday, walking in, we took a left, they had these shelves for singles. That’s where they put each single and right next to those were the albums.
Do you still listen to that record today?
Absolutely, I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite Beatles album, but I couldn’t really tell you my favourite because I love every bit of each one of them. The thing that I loved about the White Album, is that it’s a double album and yes there is a lot on there to digest, but there are two sides to that record. The pop-friendly side and the dark grungy stuff, I love it, it’s a great record.
Do you think that those Beatles records influenced your own songwriting?
Oh yeah absolutely, the Beatles are my all time favourite, from my earliest memories those songs have been a part of me.
I was quite late to the Beatles, my early music was mostly the Stones and Queen. That was the way back then though right, people were either Stones or Beatles fans!
Back in the day there was always things thing that you were either a Beatles or a Stones fan, I never understood it that much, I loved both. I loved Stones from ’68 – ’72, that dirty raucous rock music. The Beatles influences so much pop music and the Stones tended to influence what went on to become hard rock, guys like Aerosmith, I can’t pick between them though, I love them both!
Ok, so I am a bit of a geek when it comes to songs and how they were made. I would love to hear about the differences and similarities between the recording process for Indians and Breathing Lightning. Almost thirty years have passed in between those two records. Could you describe the process and how you wrote both of those tracks please?
I remember going over to Scott’s house in Queens to work on material with the Indians basic riffs. I always knew the concept of the song and that it would be about the Native American Indians, Scott liked the idea and had written the rough lyrics to it. The music we finished in a day together at Scott’s house. It lends itself to what would be a Hollywood cowboys and Indians type of thing, the riff was really influenced by that type of theme music. We wanted to have this great part in it where we yelled Wardance!, the audience participation aspect and the moshing. When we did the video, we really wanted to have that in there too.
Breathing Lightning I had for a while, I made a demo of it and sent it to Scott, he liked it. The three of us, Me, Scott and Frankie met and worked on it in California and Chicago where I live. That song came together really nicely, I always wanted the beginning to build and build, I didn’t want it to be a fast song, I wanted a nice moderate rock song.
Breathing Lightning really lets Joey’s voice shine, where he sings ‘you always the chance to do the right thing, until the right thing comes undone’, that is just epic stuff.
A big thing for me was after we did Worship Music and we were 100% that Joey was back in the band. When we went to write For all Kings, I had Joey’s voice in mind as we were writing.
That’s awesome, so do you write differently for Joey and John Bush? Is it a deliberate thing on your part?
Absolutely, 100%. I can hear their voices in my head when I am writing then try to convey it to them you know? I am going like, no no, it’s like this man! They bring their own thing to the songs as well, but as we write the music I will have my vision for where I think it should go.
Anthrax for me brought a huge chunk of innovation to the scene, musically and lyrically, pushing the envelope but still being funny and clever with lyrics. That really caught my attention back in the late ’80’s and it still does today. There have been fans queuing outside Rock City since 2pm today and the doors don’t open until 7! So, I am curious, who do you listen to today that you think might still be around in thirty years? Who is innovating in the scene today?
Wow, I don’t know. Musically speaking, I don’t think anyone is out there pushing the envelope. I think there are these bands that will do like, the type of music that is popular right now, they will change their sound to match whatever is popular you know?. I am into this band, The Rival Sons, I really like what they are doing, I love all of the elements of their records, I think they are a really great band. I was a big ghost fan when they hit too, I loved the whole image and approach. I still go out and buy new stuff as I hear it you know? I just can’t think of anyone who will definitely be around in thirty years, though!
You know, my daughter turned me on to this band 21 pilots, she used to play it in the car all the time and after a while, I really started to dig what they were doing, these guys write some pretty good stuff! A good song is a good song, you know?
Are there any trends that you are seeing in the US music scene?
You know, what I am seeing is the total saturation of rap and hip-hop music, I’ve always been a big fan, but it’s a little mainstream now. I don’t really like the way that scene is going right now, it just a bit boring I think?
I get to talk to a lot of bands that are starting out in their career. What advice would you give to bands in today’s world of TV talent shows and synthetic bands that are so popular?
I don’t know, there are two ways of looking at it. It’s hard to make it nowadays, the music industry is harder than it was 20 years ago. But you can do things yourself now? You have social media now, you don’t have to wait for A&R guys to come to your gig, which they don’t seem to do anymore anyway!. You can do your own thing, put out your own music and see if people dig it? I think I’d say to bands, do it for as long as you can take it, give it your best shot. Do your thing for as long as you can stand it and if it stops being fun, if you stop enjoying what you do, then maybe that’s the time to stop you know? I think we were young enough at the time, too stupid to do anything else so we just kept going!
Whilst waiting to chat to Charlie, I had bumped into the Raven Age guys backstage, their tour bus had broken down and they were having a pretty miserable day so far, but you wouldn’t know it from their attitude, they were absolutely brimming with energy, chatting with everyone from the tour managers to the canteen staff. They were going to have a great time, even if their bus wasn’t. This really came across in their show. The Rock City crowd were slightly slow to warm up to them, but after a few songs the temperature started to rise, the guys put on a fantastic show and are definitely a band to keep an eye on in 2017. They have a new record due in March, Darkness will rise.
Walking through the back of Rock City, I noticed a pinned piece of paper on the wall, it showed that Anthrax first headlined Rock City in November 1987. Despite a few ups and downs during that time, Anthrax always seem to manage to deliver the goods, both in their live show and released records. In fact, some of my favourite Anthrax songs have been released fairly recently, Riding Shotgun from Stomp 442 in 1995 was great and Safe Home in 2003 was outstanding even if the rest of the WCFYA record wasn’t. The last two records, however, have shown a serious return to form, Worship Music had me calling friends up and forcing them to listen to it, “remember Anthrax? yeah, well…you NEED to hear this!!”.
In the End, I’m Alive and thrashers like Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Cant showcasing the band’s creative talent and ability to execute perfectly. This seemed to flow effortlessly into their latest record, For all Kings. Personally, I think their best songwriting to date, Breathing Lightning is a truly epic earworm, Evil Twin and Monster at the End are equally strong. How many bands are producing their best work thirty years after redefining a genre?
The show begins and Anthrax come on stage to Impaled, curiously not listed on the tracklist but is the first 1:20s of You Gotta Believe, this then drives into A.I.R from Spreading The Disease back in 1985, which sends the crowd through the roof. This is pure Anthrax, exactly as you remember them, Joey Belladona’s voice is as good as it ever was and the band are clean and tight.
Jon Donais, who took over shredding duty from Rob Cagiano after he left to join Volbeat is sounding awesome. Jon does look a little less comfortable on stage with the other guys, but his playing is a real compliment in style and performance to Scott Ian. I guess playing on the same side of the stage as Frank Bello is bound to be a little discomforting. Moving on to Frank, he is a force of nature on stage, it’s hard to think of someone that epitomises thrash bass playing more than Frank, his playing and on-stage presence are pure thrash and it’s a joy to behold. Scott Ian’s goatee might have changed colour since the ’80’s but his guitar playing is better than ever.
Charlie Benante, who was a huge hero of mine when I was a kid at school learning the drums, and is an absolute pleasure to watch, effortlessly producing the kind of beats that mere mortals spend years to master.
Anthrax has always been a technically stunning band, and tonight they are in top form. This is Anthrax at their absolute best, the crowd are going crazy and the band are feeding off their energy.
The setlist is a mixture of fan selected favourites and the original track listing of Among The Living. The band ran a poll for fans to select their favourite tracks. I did notice some complaints on social media because the John Bush era albums were missing. Some of the band’s most popular music was from those records but Bush declined to go out on the original ‘reunion’ tour and Joey is reported to have said that singing those songs didn’t feel right for him, so those songs were never going to be part of this lineups live show.
Despite missing some absolute monsters from Sound of White Noise and slightly strangely, nothing from Persistence of Time. Still, the setlist made me smile when I first read it, ’80’s Anthrax is never a bad thing and fans of Among The Living and Spreading The Disease are going to love this show!
The band play for close to two hours, with a short break in the middle after Breathing Lightning as the stage is changed a little. The second half begins with a recording of Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose from the Blues Brothers, which is precisely how Anthrax started the ATL show back in 1987.
My all time favourite part of an Anthrax show is their cover of Trust’s Antisocial. It’s the last song they play and it’s still ringing in my ears as I walk down the Rock City steps, smiling to myself…. this is one show not to miss the next time it comes to town!
Huge thanks to Charlie Benante for making the time to talk to me before the show and Nuclear Blast for freeing up the time and making sure I was where I was supposed to be at the right time.