Anthrax is riding the wave, stoking the fire, stirring shit up as only they can, it turns out they weren’t lying when they promised to remain the “hardest ever”. The band has soldiered on through the decades, the trends, the drama and more recently the BIG 4 tour with Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica. Some long time fans of the band were starting to wonder if they’d ever see a new studio album from the band with original singer Joey Belladonna. Have no fear, faithful congregation, Brother Benante recently sat down to give us the lowdown on their new album WORSHIP MUSIC, kill a few rumors and catch us up on their upcoming tour. Read on…. (Thanks to Mitch at Bravewords and Heidi Robinson Fitzgerald PR for getting us in contact with Charlie!!)
Q: Your new album, WORSHIP MUSIC is your first in 8 years and it debuted at #12 on the charts. You’ve been in the game for a while, how does it feel to get a reception like that from your audience?
A: It’s amazing. We debuted on a week when all these great bands were putting out albums, Primus, Dream Theater, STAIND and another one too. They had theirs come out the same day so yeah it is really, really cool and it just goes to show everyone that this music is still important and we’re all still making records people wanna hear. I am so happy that we sold that many records, it is a huge, huge achievement for us as a band.
Q: The best thing I can say is that it literally took me back to 1991 seeing you guys on the Clash of the Titans tour sitting there in the dark just watching you kill. It sounded that fresh and yet that familiar to me, at this point is that a good or bad thing?
A: That’s awesome (laughs). That’s good for me. That’s the thing about this record. If music takes you somewhere that makes you happy, if it takes you back a bit to when things were a little different and gives you those feelings, to me that’s what music should do. Music should ultimately take you to a different place, you know? Hopefully it doesn’t take you to a dark place (laughs). To me that’s great. I’m a huge BEATLES fan so I use that as an example. Even though they’re from the 60s there are times where I will hear them and they inspire me all over again. There are all these reissues and I always find myself listening with “new ears” so to speak….I don’t know if that makes sense to you?
Q: No, I can totally relate. I got into the Beatles in the 90s so every time I hear them I find myself remembering the first time I discovered them.
A: Right. The BEATLES are just timeless like that. That’s how music is supposed to be and I think that’s the really great thing about music and making records. That ability to take people places.
Q: There’s definitely something to be said for having Joey back up front singing for the band. I enjoyed all the John Bush era albums but there’s just something really important as far as having that original chemistry in a band. Still, the dumbass internet being what it is, there’s always an ongoing argument and there’s even a web page titled “I won’t be buying the new Anthrax album without John Bush”.
I wanna clear up a few misconceptions in this interview. For starters, what do you say to people who think that you never really wanted Joey back in the band or that he is only back because he was your last choice?
A: Well…….I’ve seen things here and there that say things like that but I have to say when this whole BIG 4 tour with Metallica was gonna take place there was only one person who a lot of us in the band thought should do it and that person was JOEY. He was there in the 80s with us and this whole experience touring and recording with Joey was quite a bit of revelation for the rest of us in the band. His contribution to the band is UNDENIABLE. This is the best he’s ever sounded and I think we sound the best we’ve ever sounded as a band and for once we’ve just let this thing go and let it be organic and let Anthrax be what it wanted to be. You know, there’s a lot of people who are gonna talk shit about bands, they do it ALL the time. I equate it to like sports people because it becomes that way, like people are on TEAM JOEY or some people are on TEAM BUSH. What we kept thinking while making it was “Ok, let’s just let this happen, just let it happen and THEN let fans hear it and make a decision”. Don’t be so stupid as to say, “Oh, I will never buy another thing from them if they get back with Joey”, It’s like…..”Ok, you like the BAND, why don’t you just wait and then make the decision to like it or not like it after you hear it”. That’s the way it should be, it shouldn’t be a predetermined “Oh, I’m never gonna go near that because I know I’m not gonna like it” kind of thing. If that was the case than I would have never listened to Van Halen with Sammy, I would have just been like “NEVER!!!” How can you really be like that?
Q: Actually it’s much worse, it’s kind of more like people saying they would never buy a new Van Halen record with David Lee Roth. You guys made your mark with Joey, he was an important part of what put you on the map to begin with. If someone even suggested an organized movement against the new Van Halen with Dave album they’d be insane wouldn’t they?
A: Yeah!!! It’s ridiculous and to me that’s not the way to be but of course nowadays with the internet everyone has a voice no matter what. You can have big balls and say totally out there things and it’s easy to hide behind your keyboard and anonymity. It’s easy to have internet balls and it’s a whole other story to say something to somebody’s face.
Q: I’m sure half of them at least ran right out to buy the new ANTHRAX album regardless of what they post, you know?
A: I hope so (laughs). It’s so easy to hide behind that enter key (laughs). It’s like “Comon, really? I know you’re just saying this shit to stir shit up and get attention or drama”. I think we’re kind of over it at this point.
Q: I know some longtime fans and friends of mine that have supported the band through all the lineups can get frustrated. They have occasionally felt like things were said or done by you or Scott have alienated other members of the band or worse yet alienated the fans. They feel like this lineup of the band is inevitably going to change and they can never get comfortable. Do you think that the fans who’ve felt jerked around or alienated are justified in feeling that way?
A: They probably feel that way because of the last 6 or seven years, yeah. They probably feel that there’s not a solid foundation because of things that have happened over the last couple of years. I don’t blame them for saying stuff like that but I will say in our defense that Joey’s been with us now for quite a while and it’s totally different than it was when we first did the Reunion tour (2005). This is a much more real, much more organic thing and a much more natural thing. Nobody is forcing anyone to be here, everyone is here because they wanna be here and as you can hear when you play the record it is a REALLY solid unit. Nobody wants to see this end or go do another thing right now. That’s basically the truth. It’s kind of been chaos for the last few years before this and a lot of us have tried to deal with it as best we can without it being documented but a lot of it has still BEEN documented. I am embarrassed about a lot of the way things went down in the public eye and on the internet, a lot of that stuff was SO beyond our control. It was just one slap in the face after another. It was truly hard to deal with you know and believe me it was more embarrassing for me than anything and all the more reason to be happy right now.
Q: The last misconception and probably the most widely reported is that WORSHIP MUSIC was already completed and in the can when you got back with Joey so he really made no contribution to the album and had no say whatsoever. He just stood with a lyric sheet and did what he was told. Any thoughts?
A: That’s not true. It’s not cool and it’s really not true. To kind of get my point across to everyone, when Joey was doing the vocals on the record it was just he and Jay Ruston (co-producer). Those were the only people in the room, none of us were there. The reason why none of us were there was because we spent a lot of time on tour going over the songs prior to getting back to working on the record. We had already been doing the songs with Joey and he felt comfortable with the material. He just did it. His performance on the record and the way he applied himself to each song was AWESOME. His approach was classic and really, really fit the song. He put in a performance that is probably his best since “SPREADING THE DISEASE”.
Q: If you watch some of the performances recently like the secret club gig you guys just did in New York it’s obvious. Not only is he singing better than ever on the album but he’s not mailing it in live like some singers have a tendency to do. When he sings a song like “A.I.R.” or “Caught in a Mosh” you almost would think it was 1987 if it weren’t for all the cell phones in the air, you know?
A: Joey’s great. He commands the crowd and is one of the best frontmen in metal. When he comes out onstage it’s almost like the crowd is blown back. His presence commands your attention. He’s the ringleader when he’s out there on stage. It’s really fun whether he’s doin the old stuff or the new stuff from WORSHIP MUSIC.
Q: The whole album is a highlight, one song that really stands out to me is “The Constant”. It’s an example of the synergy between melody and crunch that you do so well. How did the music for that come together and who plays that haunting acoustic guitar line that runs through it?
A: I came up with that part and play that acoustic part on the record. That was one of the first songs written for the album. I came off of the previous Reunion tour with a bunch of ideas and one of them was that. That was one of the original, original songs that we had written for this new album. It was cool because it wasn’t a fast, thrashy type of thing, it just had this big groove in it. We got the idea for the chorus and back then it was one of those songs we were just playing all the time and it stuck. That one ,“Revolution Screams” and “Fight Em Til You Can’t” were the early ones we had before the record started to take shape.
Q: Once again an Anthrax album has some really amazing artwork, how did you guys arrive at the title and the art this time around?
A: I came up with the title one night when I fell asleep watching TV. I woke up at like 5 in the morning and the TV was on one of these Sunday morning religious shows it was called “Worship Music”. The title just stayed with me because to me it represented something totally different than what I was seeing on the screen. To me, as a heavy metal, hard rock fan and to most fans, the way they feel about a band or music is that it’s something they LOVE. They read everything on the band, they buy everything of the band, they go and see them every time they can afford to do so when the bands come around. In some cases they even travel around seeing the band. It’s a form of worship, myself included, I WORSHIP music. I cannot go a day without listening to something that either gets me through a shitty day or inspires me somehow, shit like that dude, that’s why music is so awesome. That’s how Worship Music came to be. The art was designed by Alex Ross. I was introduced by Alex back in 2002 I think. I approached him about doing the cover for our last record, “We’ve Come For You All” because I’ve always been a fan of his comic book work, his artwork stands out. He was totally into it when I approached him and he did it and did a few more pieces for us. I talked to him again about doing the art for Worship Music and he just kind of ran with it.
Q: There’s the Pentathrax logo and all these souls and what looks like an evil version of the classic NOT! Man on the cover. Do you just want the fans to draw their own meaning from the cover art?
A: I would like for people to consider these covers as a collection of artwork that at some point will all be tied together, whether it’s a comic book or some type of illustration. It’s in my head and I’m still trying to work on it.
Q: Do you get as much satisfaction from doing all the behind the scenes work you do like guitar playing and songwriting, designing merchandise as you do playing drums on “Madhouse”?
A: It’s actually more fun to tell the truth. I love putting my idea hat on and allowing the artist in me to do those things. That kind of stuff just really makes me happy.
Q: Sometimes when a band has as much time to work on an album as you guys took for Worship Music you have to make sure you don’t start overanalyzing and second guessing the project. Was that ever a concern given the long gap between albums?
A: The only reason we would second guess something is because we had no choice but to second guess things (laughs). The best thing for us was that we had a chance to step back and let the material breathe and figure out what worked or what needed more work. That was actually something that we usually never get a chance to do. We finally had that luxury to go back and figure out what needed more work or what needed more attention. That was actually the greatest thing that could have happened was for us to have that insight to figure it out because we really weren’t happy with the way the songs turned out initially for this album. They just weren’t RIGHT. That extra time really gave us a chance to hone in and figure out what it was that we didn’t like or what wasn’t right
Q: Is that all the more reason that people who don’t think Joey contributed or it wasn’t a band effort are wrong?
A: Oh yeah. They absolutely are wrong. Three songs were left from the original performances. The rest were either new songs written after Joey had rejoined the band or other songs that were completely re-recorded and reworked. He afforded us that chance to go back and revisit everything and make it better.
Q: One of the last things the classic lineup of Anthrax did as a band was the Married With Children episode, “My Dinner With Anthrax”. Do you ever catch it on reruns and what do you think about when you see that footage?
A: Sometimes I stumble upon it and it brings me back to a time that was one of the best weeks of our career. That was such a FUN thing to do and the memories I have from it are unforgettable. It really was truly one of those honest to god moments that you will never forget. We had a ball, it was SUCH a great opportunity.
Q: I keep reading about Dave Mustaine and Tom Araya having all these neck and back problems from years of head banging. Is Frankie okay after doing the Big Four shows?
A: (laughs hard) Yeah, we’re all okay.
Q: This new tour is really going to make the old diehards piss their pants and die happy. Death Angel, Testament and Anthrax. Are you friggin kiddin me Charlie?
A: (laughs). That was kind of the idea we had after doing the Big 4. When we went out on our tour for the new album we wanted to do something with the second wave of thrash bands. We put this together with the guys from Testament and we think it’s gonna be awesome. We’re gonna be able to work in more songs and more new songs. We’re gonna take it day by day and try to mix the set up as best we can from show to show.
Q: You guys wrote the song “In The End” for Dimebag and Ronnie James Dio about how much they meant to you and how they changed your lives. The way you guys are speaking about those guys is how a lot of your fans feel about your band. How does it feel or how do you deal with YOUR fans telling you those same things. How does it make you feel when someone tells you that you’re the best drummer in the world or you changed their life?
A: It’s awesome. It never gets old. I get so many emails a day and especially since the record came out I get all these people getting ahold of me to tell me how much they love the music. Our fans are very honest in telling us what songs they like or what songs hit them the hardest. It’s such an awesome thing to have the kind of feedback we get from our people who really, genuinely LOVE the band and LOVE our music. It’s a great thing, the other day I was at the Cubs game and all of these people made it a point to come up to me and tell me that they bought the album and they love it and they love the band. It’s so cool when they go “Thank you for making a HEAVY METAL album!”. That’s the best.