INTERVIEW: Charlie Benante of Anthrax
SoCalMusicToday.com caught up with Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante yesterday to discuss their new EP ‘Anthems’ , which is available starting today, award shows, their upcoming tour and the recording process for their new album.
Anthrax has a new EP titled Anthems coming out on March 19 that features cover songs from several 70’s classic rock bands such as Rush, Thin Lizzy, Boston, Journey and a few others – all the songs sound great and are a very diverse choice of songs. Tell me about how the concept of a covers album came about.
A few of the tracks we had previously recorded when we were doing the Worship Music record and we had just left them and didn’t do anything with them. One day when we were on tour we started discussing the covers and one thing led to another (and I was wearing a Boston shirt) and Scott or Joey said “Let’s do a Boston cover” and immediately the first song I thought of was “Smokin” and everybody is like yeah, yeah let’s do it. Then the Rush idea came up, it would have been obvious to do something from 80’s Rush but we wanted to do something from their earlier days, Anthem was the first song mentioned and boom – that was it.
The best part of doing the covers is I used to play along to these songs in my room when I was young and now here I am years later doing the same thing only recording them for real.
With Neil Peart (Rush Drummer) being one of your all-time drum heroes how did you approach the drum tracks for the song Anthem? Obviously you want to make Neil proud of your interpretation of the song.
Oh Yeah – I paid a lot of attention to the fills and the way he plays them. I am just trying to pay tribute to Neil and throw in a bit of my own style but I think I got caught up in the moment playing this song.
Anthrax has recorded several other successful cover songs in the past that have brought the band much recognition such as Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time”, Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”, Trust’s “Anti-Social” and Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” just to name a few. How do you approach covering a song? What’s the formula to hold true to the original yet inject the Anthrax sound?
The songs go through the Anthrax filter meaning it always ends up sounding like Anthrax. We always want to stay true to the original recording but like I said, it comes out sounding like Anthrax in the end which is a good thing.
I understand much of the Anthems EP was recorded at several different locations, one being your home studio. Tell me a about how that worked out and if having your own studio changes your approach at all to how you record?
Having your own studio does make recording more convenient and it also is a little less pressure than being at a recording studio being billed by the hour – you have to be done by a certain time so sometimes you tend to just roll through things. In your own place you do have the luxury of spending more time on things.
When we were doing Worship Music – we needed a deadline or we would have kept adding stuff and re-doing things. So that pressure is the main difference between having your own studio vs being in a studio – other than that nothing changes.
I understand that you are also a graphic designer. How involved did you get on the design of the custom artwork for each song on the Anthems EP? It looks like you have a design for each song with the original album artwork that has been “Anthraxed”.
Well since the early days . . . As soon as I saw the cover of our first album which was Fistful of Metal, I knew I had to get involved with the artwork because I could not let that happen again. It’s no secret that I am not a fan of that cover – I understand the concept but the way it was executed . . . well it just didn’t do it for me. So from Spreading the Disease on, I took on the role of designer and artist or whatever. I would even draw some of the t-shirt designs and album art myself just so I knew it was us doing it and designing it – that kind of do-it-yourself approach. So yes I was involved with all the designs.
Friday March 22 Anthrax starts a month long trek across the US headlining the Metal Alliance Tour with Exodus, High on Fire, Municipal Waste, Shadows Fall and Holy Grail. Anthrax will be playing 1987’s Among the Living album in its entirety on this tour. Is being the 25th anniversary of that album the reason for doing this?
Well there has been lots of talk of doing it in the past so finally we all just said let’s do it now. We will see how it goes – by doing this we are trying to keep things new and fresh.
What challenges does playing that entire album pose? Is there any songs on that album that have never been played live and is there a specific song you personally are looking forward to playing live?
Some songs we have never played before so that challenge is there. There is a song called “Imitation of Life” that we have never played live so I am looking forward to that one.
So you are looking forward to playing “Imitation of Life” live for the first time?
Now I say yes, ask me that question a week into the tour and we’ll see if I am still looking forward to it.
When was the last time Anthrax has toured with Exodus? Two great thrash legends on the same stage.
I think it was way back in the early 90’s – they recently did a show with us in Columbia – but we have not done an actual tour with them for quite a while.
Do you have any thoughts about the fact that Disney is not allowing Exodus to play on their property at The House of Blues in Anaheim and The House of Blues in Orlando due to Exodus portraying a negative image and violent lyrics ?
I don’t understand it at all; to be honest I don’t even have an opinion because I just don’t understand it.
Jonathan Donais from Shadows Fall will be playing guitar in place of recently departed Rob Caggiano on this tour. I am personally looking forward to seeing Donais play with you guys – does having Donais onboard change the live approach at all for the band or is it business as usual?
He is a REALLY good guitar player, I think he brings a freshness to the live show. I just think it is going to be good for us. I say this now but give me two weeks into the tour and I will blow him up even more – he is that good.
Will Anthrax be playing any of the songs from Anthems live on this tour?
We have talked about it . . . we may pull two songs from Anthems out live . . . you will have to wait and see.
Back in January I saw you participate in the Bonzo Bash NAMM JAMM 2013 – a tribute to John Bonham from Led Zeppelin. You played “Dazed and Confused” – was that your personal choice to play that song and if so why did you choose that particular song?
I am a huge Led Zeppelin fan and I like how the band would pull out these live jams during “Dazed and Confused”. They would take a relatively short song and make it 15, 20 minutes long and that always appealed to me so when I got asked to do the Bonzo Bash I said I don’t just want to play one song, I want to do something of a challenge so I said I wanted to do “Dazed and Confused” and they said OK we can do that. When we did it live we cut it to about 10 minutes but we could have gone on for a lot longer.
I really enjoyed the Bonzo Bash. That’s the one thing about doing covers, whether live or in the studio, that it actually helps your playing because doing a cover you put yourself in the role of that drummer and you learn a lot like different ways of approaching things, you pick up a different type of fill here and there – things like that.
How did you get involved with Bonzo Bash? Are you personal friends with Brian Tichy (creator organizer of Bonzo Bash)?
Yes – I have known Brian for a while. Three years ago he asked me to do a previous Bonzo Bash and I had a ball doing it so he asked me to do the one this year and I was out there for NAMM so I said yeah I’ll do it.
What is the story behind the black hat and white jumpsuit you have worn at both Bonzo Bash events?
It originated from the Clockwork Orange movie but during Zeppelin’s ’75 tour Bonzo would wear that when he played. So three years ago when I showed up wearing that Brian got a kick out of it and thought it was great so now I will always wear it at Bonzo Bash.
The USA now has its own Heavy Metal awards show (finally) – The Revolver Golden Gods Awards. How does it feel for Anthrax to be nominated in the Best Live Act category?
(Laughs) . . . Yeah it’s great . . . I don’t know what else to say.
I get the feeling you are not a big fan of award shows?
No I am not.
But Anthrax is also playing live at the Golden Gods . . . how does a band get asked to play at the show – are you involved in that decision or is it a management thing ?
Yeah – yes we are playing. We were asked to do it and we said yeah we’ll do it – simple as that.
Recently Randy Blythe from Lamb of God was on trial in the Czech Republic for manslaughter of a fan who he was accused of pushing off stage. Anthrax is a classic thrash band so moshing and stage diving are a part of the live experience. What are your thoughts on fans jumping onstage and how that should be handled?
At the end of the day I don’t want to see anybody get hurt or die at a show. Back in the day when we had some crazy shows and kids used to get onstage a lot it was always something that we didn’t encourage but we also didn’t say don’t do it. A lot of times when kids come onstage they would get a bit crazy and people would accidentally get hit in the mouth or a mic stand gets knocked over and hits somebody or kids would come onto the drum riser and try to shake my hand while I’m playing – it’s like how am I supposed to shake your hand while I’m playing.
It seems to be much more of a safety thing these days, especially after the Dimebag incident.
I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for fans to get up onstage . . . it freaks people out now.
After 25+ years of being a drummer and playing live has your pre-performance routine changed at all over the years from when you were younger ? What is your nightly routine prior to hitting the stage ?
Same thing over the years, I like to warm up as much as I can and just try to get a good vibe each night you know. When you hear the audience out there it just makes you want to play.
Looking back at the entire Anthrax catalog, do you have a favorite Anthrax song to play live and why ?
No I do not, no favorites.
Looking back at all the bands you have toured with over the years who is your favorite and why?
I really enjoy touring with any of the Big 4 bands (Metallica, Slayer & Megadeth) because we have known them for so long – it’s always fun with any of those guys.
What’s next for Anthrax in 2013 after The Metal Alliance Tour? Any plans for a new album?
We will be working on new songs as we tour. No timeline for the next album yet. We have the Golden Gods in May, a few shows in Mexico and South America also in May then a few European festivals in August. That’s it right now.
Anthrax 2013 Metal Alliance Tour Dates
3/22 Anaheim, CA House Of Blues
3/23 Las Vegas, NV House Of Blues
3/24 Tempe, AZ The Marquee
3/25 San Diego, CA House Of Blues
3/27 W Hollywood, CA House Of Blues
3/28 San Francisco, CA Regency Ballroom
3/29 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom
3/30 Vancouver, BC Commodore Ballroom
3/31 Seattle, WA Showbox
4/2 Denver, CO Summit Music Hall
4/4 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue
4/5 Chicago, IL House Of Blues
4/6 Detroit, MI The Filmore
4/7 Cincinnati, OH Bogart’s
4/9 Dallas, TX House Of Blues
4/10 Houston, TX House Of Blues
4/12 Lake Buena Vista, FL House Of Blues
4/13 Charlotte, NC Tremont Music Hall
4/14 Silver Spring, MD The Fillmore
4/16 Cleveland, OH House Of Blues
4/18 Philadelphia, PA Theater of Living Arts
4/19 Worcester, MA Palladium / New England Metalfest
4/20 New York, NY Irving Plaza
4/21 New York, NY Irving Plaza