Joey Belladonna: 'I'm Glad They Were Open To What I Was Doing'

artist: anthrax date: 09/09/2011 category: interviews
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Joey Belladonna: 'I'm Glad They Were Open To What I Was Doing'
Joey Belladonna last sang on an Anthrax record 21 years ago when he crushed the vocals on "Belly Of The Beast" and "In My World" from the Persistence Of Time album. Belladonna had been responsible for providing the vocals on the thrash metal band's most important records beginning with Spreading The Disease, continuing with the breakthrough Among The Living recording and followed by the Eddie Kramer-produced State Of Euphoria. The singer brought range, melody and passion to a genre that sometimes lacked all three. Belladonna has returned to the band to front the Worship Music album, a record that runs the range from blistering rockers like "The Devil You Know" and "Earth On Hell" to dark half-time dirges such as "In The End" and "Crawl." In the intervening years since he left the band, the native New Yorker fronted his own self-named band but he has now come back to put his unique stamp all over Worship Music. The reunion with former bandmates hasn't been exactly seamless. In the interim, the group brought in Dan Nelson and John Bush to fill in the vocalist's gap but neither worked out. So they called Belladonna and passed the torch to him. While he was excited to be back and loves the final recording, there were some questions that still needed answering. UG: Scott Ian said to me recently, If you go back and listen to Persistence of Time, it has more in common with the Sound of White Noise than it does with State of Euphoria. That's where we were going and we just felt like we needed a new voice to go where we were going because we were trying at the time to move forward with Joey and we were hitting a wall. How do you respond to that? Joey Belladonna: To me, I think it's a crock myself to be honest with ya. I think they just wanted something different. Period. I don't know what I wasn't doing that wasn't fitting their style. Granted they went down a new road like anyone else does [to do] something different. If that's what you want to do, be different but it don't mean I wasn't able to do what they would have liked to have done or could have accomplished. You know what I mean? They can argue with it too all day long but my view is they went and got somebody different to fit the new style of what was happenin' in the 90s or whatever. I was too melodic; the vocals were too high or whatever. I don't knowwhatever you want to call it. All the stuff that I was doing, it was working and that doesn't seem to work in their style? And then all of a sudden if you look back now and you wind up right to this point, we're right back where I could have done anything really. You would have felt comfortable singing on the Sound of White Noise album? There wasn't anything they did on those recordsand forget John [Bush] for a minutethere's nothing on those records that I couldn't have accomplished something that would have been comparable to anything we've ever done before that. I just don't see it; I just don't. I have never even really had this conversation with them nor do they want to go there because (A) they probably don't want to debate it and (B) and it's just something no one wants to dispute. I don't knowwho knows? The question wasn't asked to antagonize you. No, it's fine. It could have been interesting if you'd sung on the Sound of White Noise record. It sure would have been. Forget that you've heard it now with someone else singing it, I coulda just continued. I sang Only [live] and it's really nothing to me to do that thing. It's not like, Oh, my god, this is a style that I couldn't even have dared to try. The thing is when I do my own style, I give it then and moreso because I have my own little thing going on and that's what was working and that's why it's working now again because it just sits right. I don't knowit's just weird. What feels weird? It's a weird place for me to be in; it really is. Sometimes just to debate why I wasn't there and if I wasn't good enough?

"There's nothing on those records that I couldn't have accomplished."

What are your memories of the Persistence of Time record? You know what? I thought it was cool we were taking on a little bit of a heavier route. It seemed like we were getting into little bit more of a pre-production type of thing where we spent a little bit more time, which we hardly spent before writing a record. Of course, then the downside of it was I saw some people trying to kind of like look at me as if I wasn't right for the band. I saw things start to take that little bit of a note and I didn't like the feeling towards it and I was trying to figure out why. I was at a pretty good state at that pointI was ready to take that next step with the band as long as we were gonna keep going. Songs like In My World and Belly Of the Beast were Yeah, those were rockin'. You listen to the new record and there are some of those remnants of that and look how long apart they are. If anything, it's probably way better because I didn't spend any time doing this record. You didn't spend time with the songs before going into the studio for Worship Music? I just walked in and I might have fiddled around at the house briefly just tinkering in the studio a little bit on my own just to get a feel for what I might be up against but nothing thorough. And to get those results was really cool and really not prepare for it. What did it feel like being with Anthrax again? The way they asked me to come in was if something didn't work out on their end, they'd call you at the last minute to see if you wanted to do it. So right off the bat I'm thinkin', OK, I'm the second thought in mind. I had to think that way. Did you really? Yeah, well that was the fact. They even stated that they asked somebody that nobody knew [Dan Nelson] and they knew full well it wasn't going to work out. And then you get John [Bush] in there, you try to get him, and he don't wanna do it so who do you call? Me [laughs]. Fine, I'll come in, but you have your thoughts of like, OK, here we go. Now I'm gonna go and do a record and they're gonna kinda push me around and try to build around something that sort of has somewhat of a foundation. I mean granted the songs were all torn up and we did all kinds of cool stuff to it in the end. But you walk in and you're thinking, OK, I'm gonna get pushed around and I'm gonna have to mop up the rest what someone else didn't accomplish and all this kinda stuff. And everything is on me cause all there's left is a vocal they think. But there's a lot more to it and hopefully they'll let me do it and they let me roll. How did you go about recording your vocals? I was in alone with the producer, Jay Rusdon, and we did everything alone; we spent time together and we were real quick and we were doing a song a day. Things were real smooth and nobody was there to lean on any mishaps and there was very few of those. But if you're sitting there and people are reviewing every word, every minute, every second, you're like, Ahh, c'mon, let me roll here. Just give me some time. But none of that happened so that was cool. But I definitely was hesitant and thought, Are you sincere about this? Do you really, really want me here? Are you gonna accept this? Or is it gonna go because there's a missing thing and you need to complete thatyou need to put somebody in that position. Were you thinking on some level that you had to prove yourself all over again? I'm always thinking, I've got to prove myself but now I'm done proving anything. I'm just gonna do what I do and it comes off naturally. I don't have to sit around and be like, Are we OK? You sure? Scott Ian did say he gave you free reign to do your thing with the vocals. Yeah, I mean I had a lot of room. I mean I wouldn't say I have room like if someone's to write a song. Today if me and you were sitting in a room and you've got a riff and I start singing over something and I go, OK, but wait a minute. Why don't we change that chord and that chord and we'll stretch it out and I'll sing a little bit more and then you change the next chord. There was not a lot of that; it was a lot of other things. I was good at doing it early on where I walked in with Spreading the Disease and everything was finished except for the vocals and I did a whole lot with that. So it's not hard to do it that way and it works great and no one has to worry about me chiming in and going, OK, what about this riff to go over that? It sounds better. What key are we in? and all that kinda stuff. There's a lot of things to consider but I walked in and we did a lot of stuff, a lot of vocals, a lot of harmonies, a lot of melody and a lot of pronunciation; a lot of things and a lot of arrangements and stuff with new guitars, bass and drums. It was a lot of stuff but at the same time, I don't have a problem doing it one way or the other. I'm just glad that they were open to what I was doing. Did the band come into the studio after you'd finished a vocal to hear what you'd done? We send it off email [sending music files] at the nighttime or by morning and you'd get a little bit of a feedback and if people were good, we moved. And that's what we did pretty much on a regular basis. These past several years you've been out there with your solo projects. Do you think you brought in anything new or different to the Anthrax sessions because you'd been working up ideas for your own music? Well, you advance a little bit when you do things and whether you're practicing more, playing more or developing more and that kinda stuff. I don't think I came in with any different or other twist on doing a record: You put the words on the music stand and you start lookin' at em, you roll track and you go. I don't think anything was really that much different for me. It all seemed very much the same again and the only difference was everybody wasn't hanging around the control room and peeking in. And seeing everybody talking and not sure if they're talking about you or last night's adventures so I didn't have any of that. Other than that, working on solo stuff and working on my own, it's good prep and it's also just good for me cause I like to play a lot and it's just something that I do probably moreso than some of the other people that I know.

"I thought it was cool we were taking on a little bit of a heavier route."

In the End is one of the songs from Worship Music that is really getting a lot of notice. When you first heard the track, did you immediately come up with the melodies and the phrasing? How did you approach a song like this? I hear the track and I hear the key and my voice will go right where it's the most comfortable. Crawl for instance starts off in a low key and you really can't go in a higher range; it just doesn't allow you to and nor was I looking to do that. For example, with that one you would stay lower. But In the End was right dead in the middle of the key and it just came right out the way it fit. I just see the words in front of me and bang, it comes together. We still had a little bit more words to put in on the chorus section but the melody was already there; it was just a matter of adding more section and more completed words. That's the only thing we were missin' there but at the same time it came together quick. I mean I did that whole song in a night; the only thing I didn't have was just some of the chorus words we needed to complete it. Scott comes in with the lyrics and shows them to you and then you take them and work the melodies around them? Yeah, the lyrics were emailed in and then we'd print em out, throw em up and then I take the lyrics and we sit in the room and we just black off the tracks and we start puttin' it together. The only thing again was I was left at that point was when we listened back to In the End was, We need a little bit more of the vocals so we wanted to write more lyrics. So it took a couple of nights or the night before and bang. I can't remember if it was a week or two days from then and Scott gave me the rest of the lyrics and then I came back in and banged it out. I think I might have left and come back two weeks later and we had another section. I didn't even go over it with himI was handed lyrics and I fuckin' started singing over that. You work pretty fast. It comes together pretty quick. I don't know, I just have a way of singing over something and just going for it. That's the coolest thing because it's an off-the-cuff and a more feel thing versus [talks in robotic, metronomic fashion] It has to be this way be-cause you must do it this way. That's the other thing: I don't really have a lot of leeway sometimes when it's like that. In the End paid tribute to Ronnie James Dio and Dimebag? Yeah, that's what the song's about you know. You can put that on anybody you've loved or been around in the music business. You spent a lot of time with Ronnie and he was one of your boys? Yeah, I loved Ronnie. Ronnie was an inspiration and he still is and he always will be. I'm constantly doing his music. I've been at his memorial [May 30, 2010) and I sang at that and I still do the song I performed there: Man On the Silver Mountain. I do that live and we do some other Sabbath stuff that he did and some solo stuff to kind of keep that feeling alive. He was great. Do your influences go back to some of the classic singers like Ian Gillan? Oh, big time. You've got the Who, the Priest, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin was big. Even Maiden was a great influence: I loved UFO and Thin Lizzy. I like a lot of British stuff and there's tons of it. There are some that I really loved over the years. And Bad Company of course with Paul Rodgers. David Coverdale, I love. I like a lot of things so I'm probably right across the board with all kinds of music. Were there songs on the album where it was more difficult finding a melody? The song Giant was just loaded with lyrics and there was just no way around anything so you gotta come up with a good chorus. It was a kind of happy medium and it was an interesting, powerful and a lot-of-words verse but then when it came to the chorus I had a lot of room to kinda shape her up and put it together. That one I knew was gonna be a lot more of an unfavorable vocal-oriented songit's more of a yakker. When you're doing something heavy like Giant as opposed to something slower and more melodic like Crawl, do you reach for a different place inside yourself? Crawl was the first song we did and we kind of walked into it a little bit slower. It wasn't balls out right off the bat. Of course when you start getting into those faster songs, there's a lot more power, there's a lot more drive, it's quick and there's a lot of changing in sections that call you to spit out words quickly. Crawl is a little bit more open and a lot more room and it was interesting to try that one cause we've never done something like that or I haven't other than like Armed and Dangerous or something. But it was interesting to see what their take on it was and they were diggin' it from that point on it was pretty easy. I'm Alive was a melodic track with those oh oh oh kind of chants during the intro. It's all good. Who knew what that song was gonna present to us as a band cause obviously it is a bit different. I don't think we were really trying to do anything different but you get a nice, cool riff that's slow and is a little doomy but maybe has a little bit more light to it than doom, it's cool but you never know what to expect when you're doing stuff like that. But I think people dig that kind of thing especially if it's done well and it's not like typical. You describe exactly what sets Anthrax apart from a lot of other thrash metal bands in that you're willing to go into these different areas and experiment. The thing is if you don't wanna do it or don't have the knowledge of trying it and being able to get around it, you're just not gonna do it. Plus it was funny because my friend was listening to some of the stuff and I played him a couple of songs in the car and he's like, I was listening to the tune and I always try to predict what's gonna come up next and you guys got me every time. I had no idea that part was comin' up next. So it's really cool how we go about puttin' songs together and that's the neat thing cause we have a way of putting songs together that aren't quite like anything else. That's what I like about me being in the band especially because I have even a whole wider view and take on things and developments and all that kinda stuff. That is absolutely true. On the earlier records was there ever a thought about going too far in a direction where the fans wouldn't follow? Oh, yeah! Shit, those guys would definitely put clamps on stuff. After a while they were starting to think, Hey, my vocals are not gonna fit with everything that's goin' on. And to me they [Anthrax] kinda bailed a little too soon on that. Again they could dispute it but after I finally heard myself, I said, Shit, you know we may have somethin' here. This could really workI kinda dig this. This is neat and I respect. But I don't know, I don't know how to explain that.

"I saw some people trying to kind of like look at me as if I wasn't right for the band."

Did you listen to what John Bush did on the post-Joey Belladonna records? I checked out some of it; I dig em. I was familiar with John back in the Armored Saint days. But to me when you start to compare us it's kind of a drag because you're just putting us both in a position of like who's better and I never wanted to go there. Neither of us wants to be put in that spot. When we were on our own, he was him and I was me and we did our thing and everybody dug what we both did and now you gotta compare em. Obviously it's a little bit styles and there's no doubt about that. I don't know, I thought it sounded like him with Anthrax moreso than what we used to, which was a little bit different. But hey, they did something different and it didn't mean it was bad. I don't know if it was that much better though and you go, Oh, my god, they finally figured it out. I don't know anything about that part of it. I didn't see that. You know what I mean? Anthrax seemed to have figured it out on Among the Living, which was the band's real breakthrough record. Did you have any idea at the time of the impact the record would have? Nah. That was one of those records when you hear the music and it's like, Wow. It went from Spreading the Disease to this and that's intense. It seemed like we had somethin' but there's no way to tell. Do you think Worship Music will touch Anthrax fans? How do I know? Yeah, I love the songs and there's a lot more of the songs to choose from and there's more interesting things going on sonically and all that stuff but you just don't know when you're doin' it. I felt good about it but there's definitely some interesting, quirky songs that you don't know what people's take is gonna be on it. I really don't. Even Spreading the Disease, when I did it I didn't know much about the scene so much yet to see what people's take on stuff was. I mean I thought it was done well and I had fun doin' it and I started diggin' the music bigtime but I had no indication really of what was gonna go down. You were part of the first Big Four show back on June 16, 2010, in Warsaw, Poland. What was that like? It's a great package and we're all very happy to be together. We have longevity together and it's just a great organization and it's very-well run and an awesome afternoon of show. It's an honor to be able to a part of all that stuff and I'm always excited to play a part of that day. Is there any sense of wanting to dig a little deeper when you're on the stage with Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer? All the time, man. But it's more of a natural [thing]. I just feel confident enough to do what I do so it's just more of a natural thing. At the same time we're so different from each other so even when we are doing excellent, then the other band comes up and they've got a nice set of songs and a catalog and they do well and it's all good. I'm sure people write about certain parts of the event and who they think was better and all that stuff but I try not to go there. I just assume everybody will be good that day so everybody's happy about it all and not dissatisfied about somebody. Interview by Steven Rosen Ultimate-Guitar.Com 2011
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