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Sentenced: Five to a Once-in-a-Lifetime Interview with Scott Ian of Anthrax

Music Interviews

Undisputedly fast and heavy, Anthrax are considered to be part of the “Holy Trinity” of thrash-metal, which also includes Metallica and Megadeth. Things have been busy for this mainstay metal band, recently reuniting with their original singer Joey Belladona and original guitarist Dan Spitz, along with founding members Scott Ian, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante. They also hopped on tour with metal legends Judas Priest, complete with original singer and all-around metal god Rob Halford. When the tour rolled through Salt Lake City, I was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview one of my most idolized guitarists of all time in person – Scott Ian, a metal fanatic and madman on stage, and one of the best shredders out there, period. Shaking in a frenzied awe, I walked backstage at the E Center not knowing what to expect. Overwhelmed by the massiveness of the whole event, I was led to a small room, which contained a very laid-back Scott Ian. What was most likely a simple conversation to Ian was a dream come true for me. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed doing it, and for hell’s sake, if you missed the show (shame on you!), pick up the recently released live Anthrax CD and DVD featuring the original line-up playing all the classic Anthrax tunes – you won’t regret it.

SLUG: So how is it to be Scott Ian right now?
Anthrax: Good. I’m on the Judas Priest tour right now, it’s pretty cool and I’m enjoying myself. I’ll tell you what it is exactly like to be Scott Ian right now – very hung over.

SLUG: So, do you have any memories of playing Salt Lake City?
Anthrax: Yeah, shit, we’ve been here tons of times. We played some place out by the lake somewhere that had a go-kart track next to it.

SLUG: Probably Saltair.
Anthrax: Yeah, it was when we did “Clash of the Titans,” actually. A lot of the times we’ve been here in the winter and we go rent a car and go boarding.

SLUG: How do you like the snow?
Anthrax: It’s great, it’s awesome.

SLUG: The first time I saw you guys, it was on the tour for your last record, We’ve Come For You All. You played a small club with Lamb of God.
Anthrax: DV8?

SLUG: Yeah, it was an awesome show.
Anthrax: Cool, thanks, I remember that show.

SLUG: Speaking of little shows versus a big tour like this – what’s different, and do you prefer one to the other?
Anthrax: No, we just do our thing; the shows are totally different. Don’t get me wrong, we love playing big shows; we’re stoked to be out on tour like this, but it is weird to play at these places. I mean, it seems like all the buildings are exactly the same – these dull, cold cinderblock buildings, and the monotony of that gets really strange after a while. I realized the other day that I hadn’t been outside in about three days, because the buses pull into these places and then I’m backstage all day, and then I’m back on the bus overnight just to wake up to realize I’m in another one of these places – it’s almost like being in Vegas – no windows, no nothing. I hadn’t been outside in the air in about three days. These places are weird and the shows have seats; people are obviously restricted because of that. It takes us like three or four songs to get the crowd going.

SLUG: Yeah, you play “Caught in a Mosh,” and you can’t mosh.
Anthrax: Yeah, I know, it’s weird. It’s hard to get people to stand up at these shows; my attitude is, if you give people a place to sit, they’re going to use it. I don’t understand the philosophy of sitting at rock shows – it’s a fucking rock concert, how do you sit down? I mean, you will see tonight, if you look out at the people, we have to scream at them for about four songs to get the fuck up out of their seats. How do you sit down watching Anthrax? It boggles my mind.

SLUG: I’ll be sitting down – I mean, not sitting down – standing up.
Anthrax: [Laughs]

SLUG: Sorry, I’m nervous; you’re like the biggest rock star I’ve ever interviewed in person. I’ve been listening to you guys since I was like 13 or 14, which isn’t saying a lot because I’m only 24. On this tour, since it is only you guys and Priest, do you play a longer set than you would with a bigger bill?
Anthrax: Well we get an hour, which is cool. For an opening set, that is really good – usually it would be like 45 minutes.

SLUG: Have you been sticking to a straight list or do you change it up?
Anthrax: It’s been pretty much a straight set-list, we’re not going to surprise anyone on these dates. We’re playing the hits from that era; for these big rock concerts it is kind of like “give the people what they want.” If we were headlining, we’d be playing longer, so we would probably be playing one album after another and saying goodnight.

SLUG: Do you think anyone will be disappointed that you’re not playing stuff from the John Bush era?
Anthrax: This is the reunion tour so it really wouldn’t make sense for us to be playing that stuff.

SLUG: Personally, I think it is pretty damn cool.
Anthrax: It is.

SLUG: What do you think about these bands that are getting back together? Like Priest, Testament just did a live show with the original members.
Anthrax: It is great; with a lot of these bands I don’t understand why they went away in the first place. I think it is awesome, if you’ve got something to say, then you should say it. If it is fun, then you should definitely do it.

SLUG: When I saw you live and in videos, your stage persona seems to be very energetic. What drives you every night to go out there every night and just pound it out?
Anthrax: We’ve been given the privilege of getting to do this every night because, well, what if I couldn’t do it anymore? I play every show like I’m being taken to jail the next day. That is kind of my attitude. I’m lucky enough to do this, it’s is all the drive I need, just knowing that this is what I get to do. I should be coming off that stage exhausted when I’m up there. It will be interesting coming off this hangover tonight, but I think I’ll pull through.

SLUG: I know how the reunion occurred, but really briefly, how did Anthrax get reunited?
Anthrax: It was really simple. It was Charlie’s idea initially–he brought it up last summer and we came to our conclusion – why not? We’re going to finish touring for We’ve Come For You All. We either try to do the reunion, or we won’t do the reunion and we’ll start writing and make the next record. But we made the phone calls around December, and called everyone up, and just basically said hey, do you want to be a part of this? And it was that easy, everyone said yes. If we even had to think about it more, then we wouldn’t have done it, because there was no reason to do the reunion unless everyone wanted to do it. We weren’t going to have therapy or conversations and bury old wounds; we didn’t give a fuck about anything like that. It was like, do you want to go out and play a bunch of shows and have some fun and try and do this and see what if feels like, and just go on and make another Anthrax record? And everyone was into it; it was that easy.

SLUG: Speaking of the next record, is it going to be with either Joey or John?
Anthrax: We don’t know; we have no idea. Certainly we have to make a record with John at some point, because We’ve Come For You All is an amazing album and we need to continue what we were doing. Charlie and I have ideas that were already written for the next Anthrax record. In this situation, we didn’t go into this with any thought of making a record with Joey, but the reunion tour has been so much fun, and just as musicians and as people who write songs, why wouldn’t we want to explore that, just to try? Maybe we might try and it might not work, or maybe it would be great, but that is the problem. I guess we could have worse problems; instead of two great singers we could have no singer. But we are in this really weird situation that I don’t think any other band has ever been in. It’s like, what do we do next? It would be easier if it only took a few months and we could make a record and go tour and then go do it again – but to write, record and tour for a record takes like two years. So I don’t know what the fuck we’re going to do.

SLUG: I remember the collaboration with John and Joey on Attack of the Killer A’s for the “Ball of Confusion” cover; concept-wise, that was pretty cool.
Anthrax: Yeah, that whole thing was weird. I saw a picture of that session just the other day; someone had a copy of Metal Hammer magazine from England and there was an article about us – this was before the reunion – and for some reason in this article there was a picture of John and Joey singing in the studio that day. I had fucking forgotten about that. What if there was a way to make that work? I wish my brain could figure it out.

SLUG: Either way, We’ve Come For You All is awesome.
Anthrax: I’m definitely ready to play some new songs.

SLUG: Do you have any advice for like fledgling guitarists?
Anthrax: Do whatever makes you happy; play what makes you happy. This sounds cliché  but don’t follow trends just because something is popular now. Play whatever makes you happy, even if it something that nobody gives a shit about. When I started this band in 1981, nobody gave a shit about this type of music. If I would have listened to other people telling me not to play this, I never would have been successful.

SLUG: I got an acoustic guitar from my mom, who passed away from cancer a couple years ago. I figured I’d pick it up and take over where she left off, but my fingers hurt after like 20 minutes. I can’t imagine an hour every night; it takes a lot of work. So how did you hook up with Priest on this tour?
Anthrax: I e-mailed Rob Halford and asked if we could get on the tour and he e-mailed back and he said that we could. I was like, wow, it is that simple? I should’ve been doing that for the last 20 years. But yeah, that is how it happened. We were planning on going out and doing a headlining run around this time, October, November, and our agent asked if we’d like to go on tour with Priest. I was like, fuck yeah, and then we can go out and do some headlining shows in January when there is a lot less touring going on. So okay, I know Rob for years, so I said fuck it and sent him an e-mail saying we’d be honored to open for them on this tour if it’s possible, it would be the greatest fucking thing in the world. I mean, what a night of metal that would be! He wrote me back right away, and he said it was a great idea and he wanted to make it happen. A day later, our agent got a call from the Priest agent making us an offer to do this tour. I was like, holy shit, not only is he a metal god, but he is the fucking coolest dude in the world.

SLUGI almost got the chance to do an in-person interview with him, too. When I found out I even had the slim opportunity to do that, I was shaking in my boots – I mean, Rob-fucking-Halford.
Anthrax: He really cares about metal – he loves it, he lives it, he breathes it. He’s not some jaded guy in a band that has been in a band for a long, long time and hates the new shit. He is so on it, man, it’s really cool. I know a lot of guys in bands that get really jaded and they don’t like anything; I don’t understand that. I still go out and try to find new shit all the time. I would hate to be stuck in some rut and be like, “I only listen to shit from the 70s that I grew up with.” I could never imagine that, it would be so boring. With someone like Halford, who is like one of my idols, he thinks exactly the same way.

SLUG: Speaking of new music, what kind of stuff are you into now?
Anthrax: The coolest new band lately is this band Municipal Waste out of Richmond, Va. They’re on Earache Records. Jamey from Hatebreed gave me their CD Hazardous Mutation because he told me to listen to it, that for the last few months it had been his favorite album. So he gave me this CD and I didn’t get around to listening to it, and then a couple days ago it was in my bag, and I had to fucking listen to it, so I put it in my computer, and I was like, holy crap! It’s like the perfect combination of D.R.I., Exodus and Slayer; total old school punk, hardcore, thrash and great song titles, like “Terror Shark,” “Abusement Park,” and the singer sounds just like the singer from D.R.I.

SLUG: I’ll definitely find that.
Anthrax: They fucking rule.

SLUG: What would you say when people say that Anthrax is a timeless, classic band? You guys have your own unique sound; you’ve been copied, but I don’t think you’ve really copied anybody. I think your sound is in a world of its own.
Anthrax: I think by the time Among the Living rolled out, we kind of found ourselves as a band, I mean, you could hear the influences pretty clearly on Fistful of Metal – you could tell we were listening to a lot of Motörhead. We were wearing our influences clearly on our sleeves. It took us a couple of years as writers to find out who we were as songwriters and players. When I first started writing songs, in 1979, 1980, I wasn’t playing like I did by 1987. I developed that style of rhythm by playing. I think we have our sound, I think when you put on an Anthrax record, you know it’s us.