Anthrax, the thrash-metal legends led by iconically bearded guitarist Scott Ian, has never fallen off. While other heavy-music peers with as much longevity have taken time to get weird or experimental, this act has always stuck to searing, soaring, anti-gravity riffs and melodies with a charging punk fury. Anthrax has always straddled the lines between heavy and hard and hard and fast and as such has always enjoyed a wider fan base than many of its original scene peers.
So the band's excellent tenth studio album, Worship Music, isn't a
return to form but rather a continuation of it. The record features
most of the band's "classic" mid-'80s lineup: Ian, of course, on guitar
and principal songwriting duties, Frank Bello on bass, and Charlie
Benante on drums, as well as the long-maned, elastic-voiced Joey
Belladonna back on vocals. Guitarist Rob Caggiano, an integral member of
the band in its '00s iteration and its album producer, rounds out the
County Grind caught up with the always outspoken Ian in
advance of the band's show tonight at Revolution with two other
classic thrash staples, Testament and Death Angel. We chatted Worship
Music, illegal downloading, and comics. Here's what he had to say.
County Grind: The last time you were in the area was when you played an outdoor amphitheater in Miami with Slayer and Megadeth. This time around, it's a club tour. Do you have any preference in the kinds of venues you play?
Scott Ian: Bigger venues are easier from a production standpoint, and generally you have more room on stage and things like that. But when it comes to playing, as soon as I get onstage and we start, I really don't know where I am anyways. It doesn't matter. I do the same thing no matter where we're playing. As soon as the music kicks in and we get going, I get into my own zone. As far as a preference goes, whatever makes it easiest on our crew to get their job done!
Obviously you recently became a father, so congratulations. Has that affected your choice of how long and when to tour or any other aspect of your working schedule with the band?
Thank you. Well, my wife and I, before we had the baby, pretty much tried to never go longer than two weeks without seeing each other, regardless of tour. She would come out when I was on tour, and then when she was on tour, I was lucky enough to play guitar in her band. So it's pretty much the same thing now. I just don't want to ever go two weeks without seeing them, and we're working it that way.
On to Worship Music, your latest album. It entered the charts pretty high, at number 12. It's your highest chart debut in 20 years. At a time when so many people are struggling to sell records, why do you think your band and this album in particular are doing so well right now?
Well first, you've got to put things in perspective. We did great above and beyond expectations for 2011, at least my own expectations. With the way things are now and people stealing music and not actually buying records, it's just the way it is. So the fact that we sold 30,000 the first week and entered at number 12 was awesome -- for 2011.
If you put that in 2001, we would have sold probably 250,000 the first week and been number 12. Or let's say 20 years ago, if you want to put things in perspective, in 1993 Sound of White Noise entered the charts at number seven, and it sold like 110,000 copies. So a lot of it has to do, of course, with what other records come out the same week as you and all that.
But to put it in perspective sales-wise, it just sucks that 30,000 is considered a huge success in 2011. It's a double-edged sword because on one hand, it's like, "Woo-hoo, we did great," but then it's also like, "Yeah, but how many other people stole the record and you should have sold 150,000 copies this first week?"
Do you think a lot of your fans in fact stole the record, or --
I don't think; I know they did. It's the way it works these days. People can get the records for free, whether they're an actual fan or just a casual person who just wants to check something out. It's not a case of going out and checking out music. Now you can steal it, because the internet makes that possible for people. People have this sense of entitlement now where they think music is free, and that's the way it is, whether or not they even realize they're stealing it.
Before the internet, the only way to steal music was to walk into a music store and physically walk out with something, and you were stealing, and you knew it. You knew, unless you're a fucking maniac, that there was a consequence. If you got caught, you were going to get in trouble.
On the internet, there is no consequence for stealing. Nobody gets in trouble for stealing music; nobody gets in trouble for stealing movies. Illegal downloading has no consequence. So until there is a consequence, it's going to happen more and more and more, and people are going to see less and less original and good content from the record industry and movie industry.
I've noticed you've gone back and forth on Twitter with some people making a devil's advocate argument that --
There is no argument. I'm not even going to get into that conversation. You're stealing! It's stealing -- that's what it is. It's not free for us to make these records. These records are on sale in many, many places where you can pay your money to buy the product that we are selling. Anything outside of that is stealing. There is no conversation to be had.
There's no, "Well, I just wanted to check it out, and then I liked it so I bought the record." I don't give a fuck. It's stealing. Everyone can say that, "I just wanted to check it out" or "There's no way for me to get music where I live." That's bullshit. It's fucking bullshit! I've been doing this for way too long. I sold records in the '80s and '90s before there was an internet, and no one seemed to have a problem going out and buying a shit ton of records back then. The whole record industry has collapsed because people are stealing. That's the end of the story.
Do you think that you would have to tour less or do things differently if people were buying more and stealing less? In other words, have you had to change your business model as a band to account for it?
No. We've always been a touring band, even in the '80s, from day one, that's what we do. If anything, that side of it -- because you still can't steal a ticket to come see us. That side of it is still there for us, because you can't replicate a live show. I don't care how many videos you watch on YouTube, it's not the same as being there. Thank God for that.
What do you think the consequence should be for illegal downloading?
You lose your internet. That's it, no more internet for you. Seriously! Like you drive drunk, you lose the privilege of driving. You download illegally, you lose the privilege of having the internet. The punishment fits the crime. Why these service providers don't stop the torrent sites and put a consequence on this, I have no idea. Everybody complains about the trillions of dollars being lost, but nobody does anything about it. Believe me, if I could do something about it, I would.
Some service providers are starting to send cease-and-desist letters, but it seems like they have to get subpoenaed by the RIAA first.
You know what, until the person sitting behind their laptop, downloading free music and movies and porn, until that person -- OK, picture this. Picture the guy just sitting at his laptop downloading all this free shit, and all of a sudden his connection goes off. He's off the internet, and he starts pushing buttons and checks his Wi-Fi and all that, and all of a sudden he's not connected anymore.
That's when it will stop, when people actually know that there will be a consequence for what they're doing. Throwing people in jail isn't the answer, and even fining them and all that, I don't think that's the answer either. Just stop their access, because these people live on the internet, and that's all they care about. So stop their internet access and they'll stop stealing.
To change tack a little bit, you said you were a touring band and had always been a touring band. You Tweeted last week that you were headed to Chicago and it would be the first time actually playing some of the songs from Worship Music. Is that generally how it has always worked for you guys?
When you record, you're not all together playing those songs. I mean, Charlie and I were, but Joey wasn't singing the songs at the same time we were playing them.
Right, but do you ever have a rehearsal together before you physically go into the studio? Or do you generally work things out in preproduction?
Well, Joey wasn't in the band when these songs were written, so there was no way for that physically to have happened, unless he had a time machine.
That was another one of my questions. These songs were written mostly before even that last tour that brought you to South Florida, right?
OK, so at that point, before the tour, Joey wasn't in the band. When you all decided that he was back in the band, did he have any involvement in going through the songs and changing anything about them?
Yeah, we basically spent that whole tour last fall working on the material before he went back in and started singing the songs at the end of the year.
How much input did he actually get?
As much as he wanted.
His style of singing is very particular. So since he wasn't around when you wrote the core of each song, how much did he change later on, maybe with the melodies or anything else?
Do you want a number? I don't know how to quantify that. Joey wasn't there when we wrote [the 1985 classic] Spreading the Disease either. That album was finished, and then we found Joey, and he went into the studio and he sang the songs like he had been singing them for ten years. It's pretty much the same situation with this record.
You wrote all the lyrics, right? Did he have any hand in that?
No. I've been pretty much always writing all the lyrics.
Around the same time of that tour, when people asked you if Joey was back in the band for good, you said you really didn't know. Has anything changed about that? Are you still taking it day by day?
As far as I'm concerned, everyone's in the band for good. But I mean, hey, I could be gone tomorrow! Of course I'm kidding when I say that, but I like to think that this is the lineup that will be Anthrax until there is no more Anthrax.
Do you consider this to be more or less the "classic" lineup of Anthrax, of course not counting former guitarist Dan Spitz?
I think it's the best Anthrax lineup, certainly, because Rob has just become such an integral part of the band. I don't mean this negatively towards Danny Spitz at all, but Rob produces the record.
He's so integral to what we do and has been for the last ten years when it comes to that stuff, that it would be insane for me to think about doing stuff without him. And his playing is head and shoulders above -- he's the best lead guitarist I've ever played with. I really don't have to say anything; the album speaks for itself. Listen to this band on the record and then tell me there's a better lineup.
People always want to ask about Dan Spitz coming back because he was in the band in the '80s. Do you get sick of hearing about that? There's no possibility that he would ever come back, right?
For you, lyrically, which songs mean the most to you personally on this album? The obvious question too is what's behind the title?
They all are equal to me on the record. I can't say there's one that I feel more strongly about or one I feel less strongly about. It's all crap I had in my head that I was somehow able to get out of my brain and put into lyrics to fit the music we made. It's all equal to me.
As far as the title goes, Charlie came up with that idea. I just thought it sounded good -- I never even asked him why. My own personal meaning behind it is I just feel that music is something worth worshiping. Music should be right up there with everything else that's worshiped on this album.
One song I was wondering about was "Judas Priest." Obviously it's not about the band, but what did you have in mind when you were writing that? Some of the songs seem to be politically oriented, so did that come from similar ideas?
It came from the Oppenheimer quote, after he realized what he had built. When he said, "I am become death, destroyer of worlds." It's one of my favorite quotes of all time. Phonetically, that line fit perfectly with the riff in the chorus, so I started with that line, then just kind of built around it.
Considering that you write the lyrics too, do you ever think of the riff and lyrics simultaneously?
No. It's always music first.
With the song "In the End," it's a tribute song to Dimebag Darrell and Ronnie Dio. Why write the song now?
Well, it's the first record we made since we lost both of them, so the idea was to try and pay tribute to them, whether it was just putting something in the liner notes or actually being able to write a song.
Right, but Dimebag's been gone for a few years. So had you been thinking of doing something for him back then?
No, because we weren't working on a record back then.
Certainly you're always writing music, though....
Certainly we're not always writing music!
Fair enough. So are you writing anything nonmusic right now? You've talked about writing a graphic novel or a book.
I'm working on The Demon for DC Comics right now. I'm just waiting on some pages, and I'm kind of right in the middle of it at this point.
Can you tell me a little bit about the plot?
Nope. I'm sworn to secrecy!
When is it supposed to be finished, and when is it supposed to be due out?
It's whenever I'm done, and then they'll schedule it. It's not like I'm an on-staff writer at DC, where I have deadlines. My stuff kind of operates outside of their schedules and continuity, and I'm just lucky I get to do it and that there are people up there who dig working with me. So there really is no schedule yet.
It's not like I'm lagging; it's just taking a while because the artist, Sam Keith, has other projects going on. This not being something going that's a regular thing, he's doing everything in his power to get it done in a timely fashion. So my attitude is, I'm just lucky enough to be doing this, and when it gets done, it'll be done, and they'll be able to schedule a release date.
Have you seen any of the art for it yet?
Yeah, I've seen about 20 pages or so.
Are you planning to work on that at all while you're on this Anthrax tour, or do you have to wait until it's done?
If I have the stuff in front of me, I can work anywhere. The story's already written; it's just a case of getting the art and then breaking it down into dialogue. I lay out all the pages in front of me and basically start speaking the characters. So I just need all the art to be able to do that.
On a similar note, you've mentioned how you've gone onstage a few times and just told funny stories and it's gotten a good reaction. Is that something you want to pursue further?
I think about it, but the big question is always when, you know? With Anthrax, we have stuff we know we can do, touring-wise, all the way through the end of next August. It could also certainly go longer than that if we decide we want to go longer than that. So it's a case of when, because if I came off that, the last thing I would want to do is go back out on tour. And at the same time, we would probably start working on a new record when this touring finishes.
So there are a lot of things I want to do, but it's just a case of being able to physically do it. I think I could do that, and I think I could do it really well, but it's a case of when, and I don't know when that would be.
Anthrax, with Testament and Death Angel. 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 2,
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at Revolution, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $27. Call
954-449-1025, or visit jointherevolution.net.