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Interview: Charlie Benante of Anthrax

22 Jan 2016

Let’s go way back to 1988. I’m sixteen years old. My best friend at the time, John, has recently been awarded the use of a vehicle. It’s a fully loaded K Car. Air conditioning. Lever adjustable seats. And the mother of all lodes for a pair of pimply faced teens recently liberated from the horrors of jostling for position in that dreaded yellow bus?

A cassette deck with 6×9 three-ways in the doors.

Sadly, there’s trouble in paradise: The deck is jammed up and we only have access to the last tape John popped in. Side one is a bootlegged Mötley Crüe concert.. At this tender age I don’t much about much, but I know Mötley Crüe sucks. Not so much a band.. More like a venereal disease transmitted through toilet seats. But.. You know.. With roadies. And a Gibson endorsement.

It was enough to make me contemplate whether it would be that bad to suffer the ignominy of walking to school instead. Their rendition of Helter Skelter woulda’ made Vinnie Van Gogh lop off his other ear. For the love of all that is unholy, even to this day no one’s bothered to tell those poor bastards that the umlauts makes their name “Meutly Creew.”

. . .

The saving grace? Side two. Side two was Anthrax. “State of Euphoria.”

I could suffer a few days of Crüe molesting the four or five chords they’d somehow managed to poorly play basked in anticipation that at the end of it I’d hear the blessed click as the tape turned over signaling at last, sweet lord, at last, decent music was on the way.

The power of bow against taut cello stings announced that Anthrax wasn’t your typical brand of thrash. Without that side two, I’d have probably murdered John one Mötley morning. Dumped his corpse along the riverbank down by the train tracks and stolen that fucking car.

Happily, he was also an Anthrax fan and therefore arguably redeemable. Or so I reasoned at the time. Since he was eventually became the drummer in a number of bands I went on to be a part of and generally speaking grew up to be a fine human being – I’m relieved I didn’t engage in justifiable manslaughter way back when.

* * *

Due to the magic of free long distance, I’m chatting with drummer and chief songwriter Charlie Benante about their show tonight at The Ted Constant Convocation Center the NorVa Jan. 22nd, and he’s waxing nostalgic about a career spanning over three decades as well as a soon to be released album: “For All Kings.”

Anthrax, as one of the acknowledged ‘Big Four’ bands of Heavy Metal (the other three, of course being: Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer) has always managed to be a little different than the rest of the headbangers ball. To some degree that has equated to an uneasy relationship with the larger scene. Hardcore metalheads were perhaps a little mistrustful of their initial goofiness.

While Benante, along with guitarist Scott Ian, should be safe in the knowledge that if there’s ever a “Metal Rushmore” they will be safely enshrined as major architects of the sound and fury of thrash, neither were they unafraid to venture off in search of something new. To my mind Benante and Ian prototyped what eventually turned into Rap Core by collaborating with Public Enemy on “Bring the Noise” and I believe one can definitely make an argument that the group did as much as anyone to help focus the attention in white suburbia on Hip Hop in the late eighties / early nineties.

AltDaily: As a songwriter.. I’ve heard you cite some pretty not metal influences. You’re a huge Beatles fan. Queen. Some early exploration of fusing Hip Hop into what you were doing.. Why do you think you didn’t go farther into some of those directions?

Charlie Benante: There’s.. a moment of time when you hit a high note with what you’re doing.. And once you hit that, if you don’t have anything beyond that? Don’t try it. You don’t attempt it. (laughing) You walk away from it and do something else.

Like.. Once you’ve played with Public Enemy, what else is there for you to do with it?

Right. And to some degree, there’s a course you stay with. I play in this band. And this band is a metal band. I may throw in a little bit of those influences here and there.. There’s certain things we try to do with melodies. There’s definitely a bit of a Zeppelin influence on, say.. Off the new album? The song “Breathing Lightning.”

In this age.. With the money kind of out of the studios.. How’s the recording process work for you now? Do you do it completely on your own? Bring a team in? What’s your songwriting process look like?

I’ll have an idea for a song.. Go into my home studio and get it down somewhere. Work with it. And when I feel it’s good enough, I make a demo. I bring in our engineer. His. .. Heh.. His name is Awesome. It’s spelled like, Asim.. But we call him.. He’s known as Awesome. We’ll make the demo and send it to the rest of the guys. Get some feedback. We get together and arrange it. Play it. Scott will write lyrics. Frankie will bring some melodies. And then Joey (Belladonna – lead singer) comes and adds his magic. Jay Ruston, our mixer. That relationship is so great, and with this album we wanted Jay there from the beginning. He’s basically our George Martin. He’s a great asset to this group.

There’s a lot of talk about the you guys as one of the big four?

There is?

Well, yeah. When people talk about Anthrax, it’s usually in a context of the big four metal bands. Do you feel like that is an actual thing? Or is it just a marketing box?

Oh.. I see what you mean.. No. The four bands were always referred to as the big four. Those shows where everyone got to get together were really special moments. The fans loved to see it, I’m sure they’d love to see it again. And I wish that could happen.

I’ve always felt like.. The major difference between you guys and say, Slayer.. Is a sense of inclusiveness. Your mosh pits were unique at the time in that female fans could safely slam dance.

Well.. I don’t know.. I think our audience maybe cares about each other..? Look.. I mean.. Nobody.. You don’t want to break your fucking elbow going to see a show. There’s a lot of build up, you buy your tickets. Get psyched up for it. You don’t want people getting hurt after all that. The most important thing is that people have a good time. With your friends, or whoever. And maybe people get inspired to go home.. Play guitar. Write songs. Regardless of who people are or where they come from.. You want to inspire each other. That’s the goal.

It seems like mosh pits are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Outright banned in venues. How do you feel about that?

It’s.. There’s insurance and lawsuits. I don’t think you’ll ever see moshing go away completely. But it’s been clamped down on. And it’s just for safety reasons really. But yeah, some places.. There are some venues where they put a line of security right in the middle of the room. It’s a little bit of a bummer, but.. You know. It’s just how it is these days.

When’s the new album hit?

End of February.

And.. You know.. We’ve kind of left the days of gold records. I don’t think less people are listening to the music.. But.. I mean, who knows what happened? What makes this a success for you?

Oh, we know damn well what happened. It’d be really nice if people stopped stealing music. Radio support would be great, but really.. I.. I wish it could go back to the days when the music was something that you hold in your hands. That its a tactile experience.

There has been a resurgence of vinyl.. Is that doing anything for you?

I plan to do some special things with the vinyl releases. There’s a whole.. complicated marketing thing. Americans get a certain version.. Japanese get a different version.. Things you have to do these days. But on the other hand.. We did a special bit.. A deck of cards. These things are so cool. I was really involved in helping with that.. But you.. Well.. You can get it at a record store, but you have to specially request it. That’s the thing that sucks about nowadays. You can’t just leave your house and buy something. Maybe Best Buy will carry it, but it’s not a record store. You’re not getting to interact with people who love music so much that they made it their job.

Is the touring actually what’s paying the bills at this point for you?

Well.. Selling music isn’t. I can tell you that. And that’s the thing.. People don’t understand. Fans are like, you guys are fucking rich! You’ve been doing this for so long! And I’m like.. Man.. That’s the furthest thing from the truth.

Looking at record sales, you see the numbers just dive.

Every year it goes down. And we know what happened. The deal is this. I.. We were the first industry to fall to the internet. And I don’t know that it will ever recover. Sure the record companies were a part of it. I don’t subscribe to any streaming service.. Artists get shit on those. Spotify? The record companies get paid.

You’re with.. MegaForce, right? What’s the relationship there?

We went to where the love is. Back in the day they signed us in the beginning. They got bought out.. And when it was time for us to look for a new label, We didn’t go where the big money was. We went to the love. And I know at the end of the day they’re there working our record. We had no expectations for the last record, and it went on to sell like.. So much more than we expected it to. And that’s the lesson at the end of the day. If you’re gonna do this in this day and age, with how everything is?

Go to the love. Go to the love, and everything will work out.


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22 Jan 2016

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