I could give a shit less about coming off like a fanboy, Joey Belladonna is not only one of my favorite singers from the last 30 years but the ultimate rock and roll Rocky Balboa story. A thrash metal icon with a background much more diverse than meets the eye, a music business survivor, a fan friendly, approachable guy who just makes you want to root for him. I love Anthrax and have always loved Anthrax but I will not lie when I say I am a Joey Belladonna supporter. In a sea of bands and singers all trying to sound demon possessed Joey set ANTHRAX apart from the pack and actually sang. The band is no longer wearing Bermuda shorts but is certainly surfing a wave of their own self-created success in 2012 . ANTHRAX capped off their appearance on the BIG 4 shows last year with the release of their latest album WORSHIP MUSIC, an album that deservedly made every “best of the year” list on earth. I recently talked with Joey about the new tour (which kicks off Jan.22 with Testament and Death Angel) and more. Read on and come back later this week for a chat with bassist Frank Bello….
Legendary Rock Interviews: I’ve done several interviews over the years with Charlie but never you so this is pretty cool. In 1990, I was 15 and writing for our local daily paper when I got to go backstage for the first time at Clash of the Titans. I remember you, Dave Mustaine and Mike Starr being the only ones who were back there to talk to. So its been a while…..(laughs). How are the new shows going?
Joey Belladonna: Wow, yeah it’s been a while. I remember that show. Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. That’s pretty cool that you were able to get back there and do that and meet us! The shows have been going really well in the past year or so that we’ve been doing this, we’ve made a lot of progress as a band and the new album has been going over great live so that’s always a plus. The new shows with Death Angel and Testament have been a lot of fun. We did one leg before the new year and now we’re gonna crank it up again. We’re out there bustin our ass and keepin it real.
LRI: Speaking of “keeping it real” your performance on the latest album “WORSHIP MUSIC” is real good. It feels real cool having you back up front. I have always been a fan of the material the guys did without you but it never felt the same for me no matter how good it was. These years since you haven’t been in the band have been tough on us old-school fans, most of us are resistant to change whether we wanna admit it or not.
JB: Yeah, it’s neat that somebody can try something new and experiment and see what it’s like or whatever but to me it all felt like it was for weird reasons or something. I never got it and really couldn’t do anything about it one way or another nor did I wanna sulk or focus on it but it was a drag. I imagine what we could have done together all those years and of course people can argue about it or whatever but to me it’s just a shame that I didn’t get a chance to work with the guys and do more during such a lengthy period. I guess the best thing is that it all lead us to where we are now which is great. The situation now, what we do and the way we do it, the lineup now, it all seems to be the way things need to be and the fans are responding. This is working out to be the best thing possible for all of us.
LRI: Back to that “Clash of the Titans” era…..was there any writing on the wall or any hints that there was about to be a bump in the road?
JB: No, not at all John, that was the last thing on my mind at that point because we were rolling so hard. Back at that time we were really going amazingly well, we were nonstop and I never felt anything was about to derail that. There were sometimes later on when I might have got that vibe during the Public Enemy era but even still……who the hell thought that would happen, I didn’t. There were a few times I can remember guys being kind of cold or not giving me any kind of recognition or acknowledgement to make you feel right but it wasn’t during that “Clash of the Titans” era.
LRI: It’s been a long time since you recorded an ANTHRAX album and yet when I listen to WORSHIP MUSIC your voice and performance sounds as solid as ever, it might be your best performance yet. I’ve seen the live shows and you’re killing it there too, did you kind of know while you were recording where to take your voice and what would work great in a live setting?
JB: Yeah, I think so and thank you for saying that. I went in to do my end of it the way I wanted to do it which felt good. Obviously, there was a certain structure and arrangement to the songs that I wasn’t going to rip apart or change but Jay Ruston (producer) and I worked together alone to make them all work and incorporate my best performance into them. We worked every day at his house, knocking out a song a day and we pounded it out pretty easily because it all worked pretty simple. This was the first time in the history of the band that I had ever had that freedom to work and it was the most awesome for me. There was nobody looking through the window waving their hands or suggesting things to me or cutting you down or making you feel like you’re doing something wrong. When you’re doing something so important you wanna be in a good spirit and in a good place and that was definitely the situation with WORSHIP MUSIC. If there’s a reason for my performance being strong it’s because I was comfortable and left to do my thing. I didn’t need to oversee what they were doing musically because I trust everything they do. I’m not gonna say that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the task at hand and living up to our history but I am thrilled at the progress we made with this album.It all really worked out great and was my personal favorite recording experience thus far. The songs on WORSHIP MUSIC are so strong, the guys have only gotten better in their songwriting abilities and I think we have all grown and made so much progress over the years, that’s what makes it all sound so seamless. We’re doing five of the new songs live which is a fair amount to be doing from the new album considering the catalog we have but I’m always open to singing ANYTHING NEW. I think eventually we will be bringing more new stuff into the fold, we just keep going forward.
LRI: Charlie kind of hinted that you guys are always writing and we could expect even more material from you down the road.
JB: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, to me once you finish an album it’s already etched in stone so you can easily start bagging up more stuff whenever inspiration strikes. There’s no reason to stop writing, you could do a song a day if you really wanted to and if you’re feeling it.
LRI: Well, that is just amazing. I was just kind of grilling Charlie as far as how comfortable we can get as fans with the lineup. You put out an album as strong as this with WORSHIP MUSIC and we as fans tend to get greedy. We wanna get comfortable and expect more (laughs).
JB: Yeah, I find that interesting what you’re saying because as a fan you always wonder. I’m like that too when I get an album that I like from a band and I really like it. Even when they’ve JUST finished it you’re always like “Comon man, keep it up, get out another one, I want MORE”. I can totally relate to what you’re saying because I am the same way with the bands I like.
LRI: You come from the era of homemade demo tapes and then giant recording facilities. Now so much is possible with even just personal computers. Does that blow your mind?
JB: With the technology now and the ability to easily record things, even if they’re just ideas. It makes it easier. It’s amazing to me that we can do stuff without even being in the same room now but it sounds just as good as when we’re all together live. Charlie can put a guitar part down on a track in Chicago and send it to the rest of us on the other end of the country. It’s amazing. Rob was doing lead breaks in the back of a bus while it was driving (laughs).
LRI: What the hell happened a few months ago when you were tackled onstage by a security guard onstage? I saw the video and it was insane.
JB: It was just a moment where someone just jumped up there onstage and I kind of approached it with an attitude of “Woah man, take it easy, it’s all good, you don’t wanna get thrown out of here or get beat up or anything” just kind of trying to diffuse any potential situation that might occur. It didn’t take but a second and one of the bouncers jumped up and tackled me and him both really hard and I got slammed really hard and don’t really remember anything past that. I know I got piled on by like eight people and all that and was pretty banged up down there. It all happened so fast and there was no way anyone could react you know. I felt bad that Frankie got involved because he could’ve got banged up too, but that was nice of him. I was hurting but we finished the show and fortunately everyone got out of there ok. It was all really unnecessary.
LRI: I realize it was a lifetime ago but what memories do you have of the ARMED and DANGEROUS sessions and that whole period of when you first joined the band?
JB: The studio was pretty overwhelming when you’re in there to begin with. It was my first “original” band, I had been in some cover bands but it was a totally different experience to be joining ANTHRAX and doing music that you’ve never heard or sang before. That was the situation I stepped into in with being the frontman in ANTHRAX.
LRI: The band was starting to make its mark on the east coast metal scene with FISTFUL OF METAL and beginning to get national attention. Did you feel like you were stepping into a somewhat established band?
JB: Not really, I mean the name was there but I don’t think we were really quite “there” yet. We were playing a lot of the same clubs that I had played at before I had joined the band but it was just a matter of time to get the name and the lineup established.
LRI: The second album, SPREADING THE DISEASE, was your first real album with the band. Frank had just joined the band also, did you guys kind of feel it starting to come together at that point?
JB: Yeah, I was starting to bond with the guys as well as Frank. I mean, I was definitely the new kid on the block you know? It was starting to take off though for sure. A.I.R. was the last song to make the record, it was a new tune that we did as a band and really made a statement and set a precedent as to what was going to follow now looking back on it. That was a really good moment to see go down.
LRI: Did you feel something special going down while making AMONG THE LIVING with Eddie Kramer?
JB: Yeah, it was obviously a really great moment for us and as a band we had grown into that style that you hear there, it was coming on strong and it was really cool to have such an important guy as Eddie on board. I was a big fan of Eddie’s work with Hendrix, Frampton, Led Zep and stuff and it was pretty cool to be working with him. We didn’t really get a chance to get into too much small talk with him because there was definitely a timeframe we had to deliver the album. I remember working and working and Scott bringing in ideas like “Horror of it All” and myself, I just wanted to make sure I was doing as good of a job as possible to do it all justice, the melodies the lyrics. I wanted to really focus on doing a good job fitting it all with the music.
LRI: I remember that at the time some people had mixed opinions on the follow-up, STATE OF EUPHORIA. Looking back, to me it just stands as another classic.
JB: There was a weird moment for the band at that time to be honest. It seemed like for whatever reason we were looking for a little bit longer of a break to just kind of gather up material. I’m really happy with the outcome of the end product considering what we had in front of us. I’m not sure I was given all the best parts to sing over or the best parts to begin with but I think we all did as good of a job as possible. It’s just that if you compare it to AMONG or this album WORSHIP MUSIC there is a lot more room vocally to explore than there was on STATE OF EUPHORIA.
LRI: To me, the most heartbreaking thing about you being out of the band was that PERSISTENCE OF TIME really felt like you guys were hitting your stride and it was all clicking. Did it feel like the group was starting to become more serious or dark at that time?
JB: As time went on we all starting drawing from different influences and now looking back it does feel like PERSISTENCE was a darker or heavier album and I think that’s just the evolution of the band that has continued on to this day. You master one area of sound and you just kind of progress and advance. I think everything was just a little darker
LRI: Were you a fan of the Joe Jackson version of “Got The Time” when the band brought it in?
JB: No, not necessarily. I wasn’t a fan of the original version at all and was like “What?” at first glance and not knowing what anybody was going to do with it. Then we did it then it was like “Ahh Ok, I get it”. You have to give some things a chance and that is definitely an example of that, if it were me I would have never thought of doing that but it turned out great. We were really able to do new things and try new things and were growing as a band. We were hitting our stride and it was a damn shame the way things broke down between the band and I after that. I still don’t understand why it had to be ripped apart and I be the one who wasn’t part of it, it’s too bad. I could go on to you for hours about it but no matter what the rational was it didn’t seem like it was something that couldn’t be easily fixed without it having to come to that.
LRI: To be fair, it wasn’t just ANTHRAX that was going through those weird growing pains in the 90s.
JB: True, but to me it was just stupid because to me it wasn’t like I was incapable of singing stuff. We were writing and playing stuff in that vein anyway. If I were to have played on “SOUND OF WHITE NOISE” it’s not like I couldn’t have done that material and just approached it from a different place. It’s not even that I would have radically had to change my style, I could have simply just hit it differently you know? It’s just a matter of singing in a different range, a different place and it’s not like I was incapable of going there. The new album basically proves that, I am singing in different ranges and tones than I did back then but it still totally sounds right. I am capable of growth and taking my voice to different places. I can go out this weekend and sing classic rock with a cover band and turn around and do thrash metal the following weekend. I can cover a lot of different styles, I play out almost every weekend around here and am always busy because I love it. I play drums, I sing, we do RUSH, Led Zeppelin, you name it, we cover a whole slew of music.
LRI: I was gonna ask you about that because that blows my mind that ANTHRAX is so busy but you still stay busy in those rare off days. What drives you to do that?
JB: I love it, in fact I try to book as much as I can. I am a little leery to try and stuff too much into too small of a window because ANTHRAX is so busy but I really honestly love it John. I love putting stuff in my car and driving to the gig and then all these people come out and they know you from the last time you were there and they’re all digging the songs you’re doing. It’s a whole different, intimate little vibe than we’re used to as ANTHRAX. It’s kind of a little “hometown” vibe and everyone’s just getting off on a whole night of music and dancing and it’s really, really cool and easy and fun. I also playing those different kinds of music and I love playing drums so that affords me those opportunities to do that. I love setting UP the drums and playing and singing at the same time, sometimes we play as a three-piece, sometimes it’s a four piece and it’s pretty awesome to be able to do.
LRI: It sounds like you have just as much fun out of playing YANKEE STADIUM with the Anthrax guys as you do playing little clubs with Chief Big Way.
JB: I do. Obviously, it’s a blast that ANTHRAX is operating on such a high level and it’s fun to play those really big gigs but I do get the exact same sensation and enjoy performing no matter how big the audience is. I do everything I do on a pretty even keel, it’s not like I put more effort into one thing than another so I just enjoy playing music no matter the setting. If anything ANTHRAX is even easier to focus on as a result of doing this on the weekends because in ANTHRAX I will sing an hour and a half and the other weekend I think I sang four hours straight with my cover band. We probably did sixty songs (laughs) and I don’t have to do that but I like to, it’s better than going and setting at the bar for an hour. Those weekends singing are a pretty big chunk as is an hour and a half of singing ANTHRAX. I just try to put everything I have into it no matter what I do.
LRI: At this point in your career it is probably an excellent way to stay in fighting shape as well. You’re really kicking ass up there with ANTHRAX and making us forget what year it is.
JB: It’s cool staying busy. It’s a process of agility and practice, it definitely keeps my chops up and I love to have fun playing music while getting in that practice. It’s fun to give these other local guys I play with a chance to get up there and play with me and have fun but also get that exposure and experience of getting a job done seriously and done right.