Thrash metal titans Anthrax recently announced the return of vocalist Joey Belladonna, who sang on Anthrax's breakthrough albums, such as 1985's Spreading The Disease and 1990's Persistence Of Time to the band's fold. This marks the third time Belladonna has fronted the thrash-metal band during its 25 plus year run, having previously been replaced by Dan Nelson and John Bush.
For founding Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian, a new found sense of optimism has engulfed the band. So much so that the band plan to return to the road soon for a summer tour with the Big Four, and also return to the studio to re-track the album the band recorded with their former vocalist which they now hope to have out in 2011. While the band was in rehearsals for their upcoming tour, Joe Matera spoke to Scott Ian about all the latest happenings in his world and that of Anthrax.
UG: The big news for fans is the return of Joey Belladonna to the group. How does it feel to have Joey back?
Scott Ian: It feels great to have Joey back. It was something we started talking about initially when we heard about the possibility of these Big Four shows [tour with Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax] that was the catalyst for the whole thing. It is just really nice that for the first time in awhile in the world of Anthrax, something that we really wanted to happen, actually worked out positively for us.
It is true that the turmoil the group has been through in the past couple of years with the departure of Dan Nelson amongst other things, brought the group close to breaking up?
Well probably yes it was. If it wasn't for the fact that last summer John [Bush] did step in after Dan had quit, and the fact that John came back and did the Sonicsphere shows with us, and did Japan and Australia with us too, he kind of stepped into a situation where we were really stuck. But for him it wasn't a case of something that he was going to continue with, as it is not where he is in his life at the moment. During that time as well, that was when the Big Four thing went from being a rumor to a reality and that was when the first discussions between the band were like, maybe we should do this with Joey' because he was the guy that just seemed to make more sense you know.
What is the status with Worship Music the album you recorded with former vocalist Dan Nelson, are you planning to re-record it with Joey on vocals?
It is going to be a combination of things. The one thing I can say and the only positive about having this record basically shelved, was being able to live with it for over a year now. We have got the luxury of hindsight whereas the normal situation would be we'd just finish the record and put it out and go on tour for a year. But now that we've lived with the record and played the songs, we're able to say, maybe this could have been different' or this could have been better'. So we've been living with this record for a year and it hasn't come out and we've been able to look back on it and say, here's the shit we really love' and here's the stuff that could be better'. So there are five or six songs that I think Joey will sing on and of course his voice is different and his approach is going to be different too so that is going to change things or enable us to change things. And then there are a couple songs that we think need to be rearranged and reworked a little bit. We like parts of them but not the whole song and then there are also ideas for three or four new things on top of all that. So it is a combination of all of those things. It is going to be a lot of work but at the end of the day, this record is only going to be better at the end of it.
You mentioned the changes you plan to do, so having the luxury to make the changes, does affect the songwriting process overall?
Well the songwriting has always been the same process no matter who has been there. Though I can say that with John in the band, he was certainly more he wrote more of the lyrics, he contributed a lot to the songwriting process which was kind of different to Joey where I was writing all the lyrics. But this time we'll see what happens. I would never close the door on any possibilities with anything. I want Joey to come in with a thousand ideas, so we would never close the door on any contribution or ideas that Joey may have, and I'm hoping he comes in with lots of ideas for the new stuff and even for stuff that is already been done because if you can make something better, then why not?
Still on the topic of songwriting, how does process work within the frame work of the group?
A lot of the times, Charlie [Benante] will be the instigator, he'll have the catalyst riff for a song and then everything will build off that. And then sometimes it just comes from Charlie playing a drum beat. He is always playing around with beats and stuff and I may hear something that will inspire a rhythm or an idea for a riff. It is a combination of everything, but mostly it's just from us being in a room together, is how it mainly works.
With the Big Four tour you'll be undertaking in the summer, what can fans expect to hear from your set?
For a lack of a better term, a greatest hits set, even though none of them are actual hits if you know what I mean. It will certainly be a great representation of the time with Joey Belladonna of the Eighties and even a couple of John Bush era songs thrown in as well.
Jackson Guitars announced recently that they're producing a Scott Ian Signature model guitar that is based on your original Jackson Soloist. You must be pleased with that?
Absolutely, I'm currently using three of my new Jackson signature models which are basically based off my 1987 Jackson Soloist that they made for me. The original had a New York logo and was fretless above the fourteenth fret, not that these are fretless, though they actually did me one as a fretless, but it would have to be a custom thing if somebody wanted that. So in short, it's the same Soloist, based on the same body though we kept it about one quarter of an inch bigger all away around. It is a mahogany body with a maple top and it sounds fuckin' killer. That old guitar from the Eighties always sounds so good and plays so good, that I felt like, why fuck with this thing?' I did some custom inlays for it too, lightning bolts. And I'm using my old school Seymour Duncan JB pickup in it so it is super clean and super simple.
What are you currently using live when it comes to amps?
I'm currently running my Randall prototype modules which are going to be actually become a head. We're going to do the modules first out, then eventually its going to be a three channel head. I'm running those prototypes into two Nuno Bettencourt 4 X 12 cabinets. The Nuno cabinets are the best sounding speaker cabinets. Also I have just redesigned a 4 X 12 for them which unfortunately I'm not going to have ready for the summer tour as we're still going through the process, where things are going back and forth in regards to changes. But I'll have my own signature cabinets later in the year, but until then, I'm using the 4 X 12s.
Did you ever think that some 30 years later along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, you'd still be here doing what you love and influencing a generation of other metal bands?
It is fuckin' amazing. I started this thing 29 years ago, I co-founded the band with Danny Lilker and its amazing to me. And I'm sure it is not only for Anthrax but for all four of the bands involved in the Big Four as well, they feel the same. It is like about 26 years since our first album came out and the fact that on a worldwide level, so many people still care about what we're doing and that it means so much to so many people all around the world, that just makes me feel great. And the fact that after all this time it is the first time that the four of us have ever played together, and that its happening after all this time on such a massive level, it is just incredible. These upcoming shows are probably going to be some of the biggest gigs any of us will ever play.
"It is just really nice that for the first time in awhile in the world of Anthrax, something that we really wanted to happen, actually worked out positively for us."
Aside from Anthrax you have several side projects, one is playing guitar in the group Pearl with your wife [Pearl Aday] and the other is playing guitar in The Damned Things. Are these other bands a way for you to reinvent yourself as a player outside of the Anthrax mold or are they just another creative outlet for you?
They're just another outlet for me. Playing in Pearl is amazing for me because I started out as a rock guitar player, the first stuff I ever played was AC/DC, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, things like that, so playing with Pearl totally brings me back to who I am as a guitar player. Getting to play big rock songs is so much fun to me. And with The Damned Things, it is way more in a classic rock and heavy metal type of sound, where we're doing a lot of harmony playing. There is a lot of Thin Lizzy-esque stuff, Queen-esque stuff underscored by a Maiden-ish kind of feel to it all. And it too is so much fun to play. Getting to be in three bands is really good for me. It is a lot of work but at the same time, it is like being on vacation.
Aside from your musical endeavors, you have a passion for writing comic books?
Yeah last year I put out my first book for DC Comics. I wrote a two issue series for their character Lobo. A two issue Prestige Format and each book had 64 pages, so it was like 128 pages of Lobo and it was called Lobo: Highway To Hell. It was so much fun for me and was a dream come true. It was something I have always wanted to do. I spent a long time, about a year working on the book with Sam Kieth the artist and it turned out great and I loved the whole experience. I'm currently working on my second thing for DC Comics right now for another character which I can't mention at the moment as DC are going to announce it soon so I can't really jump the gun on it. But it is coming along great and it is even more story intensive and more layered. And obviously the more I do the better I'll get at it all. I've been reading comics my whole life and to be involved in that world is something I never thought I'd get to do.
Speaking of writing, would you consider writing a book on either your years with Anthrax or the group's history?
Maybe that will happen somewhere down the line, but there is no ending yet in sight to this band as we still have long way to go.
Finally out of all your years spent in this tough music industry, what's the most important lesson you've learned?
To just do things your own way, the business is a necessary evil obviously, but you just got to have your own vision as an artist. And you have to know what you want and you have to know who you are because if you don't, somebody is going to mold you into something you're not and then you are going to suck. We've only ever done things our own way and that is the only way I know how to do it and whether it is right or wrong. That's the best lesson I've ever learned. So you better show up with a good sense of who you are as an artist otherwise, you're going to get fucked.
Interview by Joe Matera
"It is going to be a lot of work but at the end of the day, this record is only going to be better at the end of it."