Anthrax: The Zombie You Know - An Interview with Scott Ian of Anthrax
Interview conducted in October 2011
It's been a hell of a year for Scott Ian. Not that the previous years have been uneventful - by far. But 2011 has given birth to two new 'babies' for Ian. The first being his actual first born with singer Pearl Aday; a son - the second is, of course, Worship Music, Anthrax's long-awaited first studio album in eight years.
While Anthrax geared up to hit the road with supporting heavy hitters Testament and Death Angel, Scott Ian took a moment to discuss his bands, his baby, and his beloved zombies.
The new album, Worship Music, is a landmark release in a sense not just because it's been almost a decade since fans have had new Anthrax music to pump their fists to, but it also marks the return of vocalist Joey Belladonna. Belladonna's last studio release with the band was 1990's Persistence of Time.
Since its September 13 release Worship Music has conquered the band's highest chart debut in 20 years ranking at #12 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, the second-highest in their career. The album also debuted at #4 on Billboard's Hard Rock Chart.
"We spent more time on this record than any other record we ever made - it feels more complete than anything that we've ever made," comments Scott Ian on Worship Music.
"We had the luxury of hindsight. It was the first time we were able to do that in the history of Anthrax and that's what makes this record better than any other record we've ever made."
Worship Music as a whole shows obvious growth for the band in terms of their song writing; but for Ian that growth wasn't exactly a conscious effort.
"I don't know, I never think about it. We just do what we do, I have no idea. I just think if there's anything I can say about that as far as the process goes and where sh*t comes from and how it works - I don't have a clue. I just think we get better at maybe knowing what we want so when we're actually jamming stuff and trying to arrange music I think we just get better at feeling it and knowing what's right and what's not right a little bit maybe quicker than we did last time around. That's maybe the only thing. You know, I really don't know because I never sit and think about writing, I never think about how it works, why it works, what we do - it just happens in the room and you just write songs. I suppose other people maybe really think about that process and how they do it and they're super disciplined about writing and all that kind of cr*p but it's something I never think about. Maybe if I thought about it, it would go away. It's something I never think about."
Ian goes on: "It's not a case of learning new stuff or opening up to new things, it's just my approach to the guitar has always been [that] the guitar is only a tool for songwriting for me. I could care less about sitting around and practicing the guitar for hours a day and trying to be the best guitar player on the planet. A guitar for me is pretty much strictly in the context of writing songs for my band, coming up with ideas with my band, and then being able to perform those songs as best as I can on stage - that's what the guitar for me has always been."
Speaking of guitars - and lots of them, Anthrax has had the pleasure of being 1/4th of The Big Four - the powerhouse of a metal tour which also includes Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth. What has that experience been like for Ian on a personal level?
"It's amazing. If we could just play Big 4 shows for the rest of our careers it would be awesome. Everything about it is great - like there's nothing negative to say about it. We get to be with all our friends and all these other bands who we've come up with forever. You know, it's great to get to hang out with everybody every time we do it; I enjoy all the other bands from a musical level and a fan level. And then we get to play these giant shows which are just incredible. And since Metallica has given us this opportunity to play to their audience which certainly they've probably heard of Anthrax but maybe have never owned a record or seen us live and now we get to go and do our thing in front of a lot of people who have never seen us before; the biggest metal audience in the world - and to have that opportunity it just amazing, it's an amazing thing. Because if you put us, Slayer, and Megadeth,[we] have toured together quite a bit as late as last year. If you put the three of us together and we can do from like 5,000 to let's say 15,000 people - depending on what city we're in, and then if you add Metallica and you make it The Big 4 those numbers go 50,000 to 100,000 people. So it's just an unbelievable opportunity for us in the most fun way I can ever imagine. It's just awesome".
"And the fans," adds Ian, "I mean on that side of it too, obviously the excitement for the show is incredible all over the world because every city wants the Big 4 show to come to their city and that's something that nobody in any of these bands takes for granted because the reason we all get to do this all these years later is because there are so many people all over the planet that love what we do and love this music. And from that end we all understand that it's an absolute privilege that we get to do this."
So who does Ian think the next Big 4 will be - 20 years from now?
"Um, I think it will still be us. laughs] "We'll only be in our 60's. The Stones are going strong and so is AC/DC, so hey."
Anthrax aside, Ian has also made his mark with The Damned Things in the last couple years as well - the mistress super-group (not a side project) consisting of Ian and Anthrax band mate Rob Caggiano along with Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley of Fall Out Boy and Keith Buckley and of Every Time I Die.
The 2010 release, Ironiclast, with its magical blend of styles, made a lot of waves creating a cross-over buzz that Ian is not unfamiliar with. Does Ian have any thoughts regarding a future sophomore release for The Damned Things?
"You know, I would love to say yes because we all take it extremely seriously and we all went into it with the idea that this is a band, it's not just a side project, that if we were going to do it, it would be a real band. Of course we all understand because of schedules being what they are with all our other bands it's not going to operate on a normal schedule like other bands would. We all of course would like to make another album at some point; obviously the hard part is when and how. But we all love it, we all love the record we made and I certainly feel like we can make another great record, it would just be a case of with all of us wrapping up into our day jobs, in a sense, I don't know when we'd be able to focus."
And what about S.O.D. - and chance of reigniting that spark?
"No. I think I can safely say that, yeah. It was never supposed to be any thing more than it was. As far as I'm concerned we did too much with it. It started out as comic book strip that I drew in the studio and then turned into this record that we made, but you know, that's all that it is for me. It's the opposite of The Damned Things, for me, it was never meant to be a real band with a schedule and making records and touring. S.O.D. was supposed to be the 'anti' of that, it was supposed to just be about having fun and never having it turn into something real where all of a sudden it's not just fun anymore - it becomes a job, it becomes a business. And I'm glad everyone around the world got to see it at least once because in '99 and 2000 we played everywhere and I don't feel the need to go out and do that again."
Another cool event to grace Ian's career in 2011 was a role in the hit shot The Walking Dead. Ian, a life-long zombie enthusiast was thrilled to be able to play a zombie on the show:
"It was amazing. It's something I've always wanted to do and to get to do it on the most professional level was really cool."
Any fan of horror has their own personal favorite boogieman. For some people it's vampires, for others it's lycanthropes; what is it about zombies that has always appealed to Ian?
"I don't know. What is it about a zombie that appeals to me? I don't know. Maybe that it's just the most possible - I don't know - of all the supernatural entities. To me zombies are the most realistic I guess, the idea of a zombie holocaust to me is [chuckles] more realistic than vampires or wolf-men, or whatever else is out there - the Abominable Snowman. I mean, I guess there's just something about it that going to see movies or reading books or comics about that, it's just something - the idea of the Apocalypse, I guess, is just something that moves me differently than other things."
Ian adds: "There are certain vampire books that I put up on kind of the same level whether it's like Salem's Lot from Stephen King or even the early issues of 30 Days of Night where to me vampires are much more animalistic and it's nothing like these stupid tv shows or movies that are made now where there are these romantic notions of vampires that are sexy creatures - they're animals that suck your blood and kill you and want nothing more than to do that. And when they're written that way I actually think that vampires are even better than zombies because they have a little bit more intelligence therefore maybe they're even scarier and not just running strictly on impulse. But I don't know, there's just something - maybe because as a kid the zombie movies to me were just better than any of the other movies. Like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead - to me those movies were just better than any of the other horror movies I had seen up to that point."
Not that Ian doesn't already have a full plate between musical projects, his participation in the comic book Lobo, and the Ultimate Bet — but is there anything else that he'd like to accomplish in his career?
"Off the top of my head just one specific little selfish thing is that I do hope we get to play with AC/DC someday. Seriously, it's the one band we've never played with of all our heroes. I don't think we've ever even been on the same festival - even on different days. It's weird. Just out of my own selfishness I would hope someday we get to play a show with AC/DC because it's my favorite band of all time and it would be awesome to get to do that. That's just something way off the top of my head, as far as anything else goes other than getting to play a zombie in a movie, I can't really think of anything else."
And in regard to the most important role in Ian's life - becoming a father - has that experience changed Ian at all?
"It changes you from before the baby even comes and if it doesn't then you shouldn't have kids. He's the most important thing in my life, my first priority over everything."
Has it changed his perception of the world?
"My world-view is - in a sense - when it comes to that very small because I can't control what goes on outside of this house. I mean, you can't help but think crazy sh*t sometimes when it's four in the morning and your tired and you're up feeding your baby but that's just what every parent goes through; you've got this person that you're responsible for now and that you want to make sure that everything goes right for him and obviously that can be a bit daunting."
And Anthrax's agenda for the next year now that Worship Music has hit the atmosphere?
"We plan on going out and working as much as we can; as much as the world will have us."
Anthrax performed at the Congress Theatre in Chicago on October 15, 2011.
14 Orbit Room, Grand Rapids, MI
*15 Congress Theatre, Chicago, IL
16 First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
18 The Cotillion, Wichita, KS
19 Summit Music Hall, Denver, CO
21 Freakers Ball/98.9 Radio/Independence, MO (Radio show)
22 Nokia LA Live, Los Angeles, CA
23 Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA
24 House of Blues, San Diego, CA
26 Sunshine Theatre, Albuquerque, NM
28 South Side Music Hall, Dallas, TX
29 Emo's East, Austin, TX
30 Warehouse Live, Houston, TX
1 House of Blues, Orlando, FL
2 Revolution, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
4 House of Blues, Myrtle Beach, SC
5 Fillmore Charlotte, Charlotte, NC
6 The Fillmore, Silver Spring, MD
8 Northern Lights, Clifton Park, NY
10 Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA
11 Palladium, Worcester, MA
12 Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ
13 The Paramount, Huntington, NY
15 Town Ballroom, Buffalo, NY
17 Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
18 House of Blues, Cleveland, OH
19 Rave, Milwaukee, WI