Thrash Metal Pioneers Anthrax Set to Play The Fillmore in Detroit, Guitarist Scott Ian Speaks of Band's Unrelenting History

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(Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral)

In the early 1980s, the New York City-based Anthrax was on the forefront of thrash metal and would become one the most unrelenting bands with an in your face approach to the way they played music. Treading the troubled waters of the industry at times throughout their long career, Anthrax was able to survive by just not giving a fuck about how the music business tried to mold everything and just did what they did best with nothing but heart.

With frontman Joey Belladonna back in the band and feeling revitalized after 2011's Worship Music, Anthrax continued to tour incessantly and is currently wrapping up their still not titled new album, due out some time early 2016. Recently, I was able catch up with guitarist and founding member Scott Ian before they hit the road with Motörhead and talk about the band's history.

Going into this new album, what was the overall mood/vibe between everyone in the band when figuring out where to go with it?

The mood was great because we had come off basically three years of touring for Worship Music when we started writing this new record. The mood was awesome because the band was doing exactly what we wanted to be doing, which was making records and touring, and having a really good time doing it. It was just a great time to be writing.

Looking back at doing "Bring The Noise" with Public Enemy and touring with them, what memories do you have of that time?

Just getting to do something with our friends, getting to do something different, and it certainly, at the time, was very different and very outside the box from what was going on in the metal world. It's something that we obviously felt very strong and very passionate about because the genesis of doing "Bring The Noise" just came out of a mutual love and respect between us and Public Enemy. The fact we were able to just take an idea and have that idea come to fruition in such a massive way, just making a song and touring the world together, it just proved to us that as musicians, as guys in a band, there really were no boundaries or no limits to what we can do. People still to this day, whether it's the media or record companies, basically everybody outside of people actually in bands, try to categorize all the time and they try to make all the pieces fit neatly into a puzzle as far as musical genres and things like that. That's something we always fought against from the early days of the band was "so what if we're a metal band, but that doesn't mean that's ALL we are". We're people, we're human beings that like to create things and I just don't sit around and think about the same thing all day long, every day of my life. I don't only read one type of book. I don't only eat one type of food. From the beginning, we were always very much self aware as far as we can do whatever we want. We play our instruments and we write songs. We can do whatever we want. It's the rest of the world that tries to make you fit into this little small box of being "you're just a metal band, stay in your box". For us, "Bring The Noise" at that time certainly showed that, well that's not really just what we are. We can do whatever we want. Anyone can do whatever they want when you're in a band. Please don't listen to what people are telling you want to do. That's the point of my whole rant there (laughs). If you're in a band, do what you believe, do what's in your heart, play the music the music you love. Even from day one, yes, we are metal dudes certainly and that's the music we grew up on, and Anthrax is obviously a band metal. Even that, at the time, in the early days, in the beginning, even that was wrong because you try and get a gig, you go to a club and you bring a demo tape and picture and a bio. We were a band for four months, we had a bio! You'd show up and you'd play them your demo and the club guy would look at you and be like "come back when you learn a Van Halen cover set then I might book you on a Tuesday." Even back then, even just being a metal band in 81-82, nobody even wanted us to be THAT! The just wanted us to play Van Halen covers if they wanted us to play a show. What I'm trying to say is just don't listen to anyone else. Do what you want to do.

Even through all of that, you guys were still on the forefront of this whole thrash metal revolution back in the 80s, why do you think a band like anthrax was able to exist?

Because we just refused to take no for an answer. Through all of that in the early days, we just really dug our heels into the sand and said this is what we're going to do. This is what we love. Regardless of what happens, whether we "make it" as they say as a band or not, its not going to change what we do. We're just going to do what we love. We're going to write songs and we're going to play music that makes us happy. If the rest of the world wants to come along with that, awesome. If the rest of the world doesn't want to come along with that, that's awesome too. It wasn't going to make a difference. We were very focused on what we wanted out of our band and what we wanted to accomplish. We weren't going to compromise what we were doing. The business was going to have to compromise basically, and accept us. When I say the rest of the world, I don't mean the fans. I'm talking about the music business and their expectations. They want to bend you and shape you and mold you into something that they find marketable and easier palatable, but we were just like no, this is who we are. This is what we do. Finally, by 1985, four years in, suddenly the business caught up to where we were and obviously saw that there was a marketplace around the planet of people that wanted this kind of music.

When you look back into those early years of Anthrax from forming the band on through the first couple albums, what really sticks out for you?

Just the fact that we were getting to do what we were doing was pretty mind-blowing. There was definitely surrealness, or maybe more so unreality, at the time that everything was happening. All these ideas and dreams and everything we wanted was all starting to happening. Its an unbelievable feeling when the first time stepped on a tour bus. We had been in a van in 1984 touring on Fistful Of Metal, then a year later, we're out on Spreading The Disease, and we get to be on a tour bus. This after years of seeing our idols. We'd go hang out and find out where Iron Maiden was staying in New York City and you'd see their tour bus there, and be like "Oh my god! How cool would that be some day? Maybe we'll get to be on a tour bus." Then, there we are, 1985 walking on a tour bus. Little things like that would seem so impossible when you're just a band in a room rehearsing night after night after night, and having these dreams and then those dreams start becoming reality. Its just incredible. Every little moment, things that doesn't seem like it should be a big deal, like "Oh yeah, we got on a bus." No, that was a MASSIVE thing to be able to get on a tour bus and do that for the first time. I still get excited. Still to this day, I'll get excited like the first day for a tour and stepping on the bus. I still kinda get that energy of "Wow, it's happening again! I still get to do this!" Granted, a week in, I'm completely over being on the bus and it fuckin' stinks and I'm bored and I can't wait to get the fuck off the bus (laughs). That first day, I always still get that same juice that runs through my veins of that adrenaline. That same feeling 30 years ago, so it was the little things. The first time we ever saw someone wearing an Anthrax t-shirt outside of the family member or a friend, like someone walking down the street wearing an Anthrax shirt was such a big deal back in those days like in 1984. Or the first time you see yourself in a magazine, all little things like that when it puts a stamp of reality on the whole thing. It takes it from just a thing you and your buddies are doing and your friends and family will support to people that don't know you actually like what you are doing. That's a really crazy awesome feeling.

Do you remember a time or a moment when you realized this could be the thing that we do for the rest of our lives?

Yeah, it was probably 2 years ago (laughs). Pretty much when Worship Music came out in 2011, and people all around the world loved the record, that's when I realized, now we could probably do this for the rest of our lives. We hadn't made a record in eight years between 2003 and 2011. Granted, we were on tour most of that time playing shows, and we started writing Worship Music in 2007, but really that record was so important for us because if Worship Music fails, then that would pretty much been the end of the band. There would have been no reason to do another one if Worship Music didn't connect with people, but it did. It connected with people in more so than we could have even imagined or asked for. It really did give us that feeling of this is what we are supposed to be doing. Joey [Belladonna] came back to the band and we made the right record at the right time, and all the touring we've done since 2011 really cemented our feedback into this world that we never of course wanted to be out of, nor were we ever out of it, but certainly careers have peaks and valleys and it was nice to come out of the valley after a few years in 2011, and now, to use another cliché, we're back on the train and things are rolling around pretty well.

Before the success of Worship Music, was there any doubt that all of this could end or go away?

Certainly, more so back in the late 90s. That's probably where I definitely had that feeling a few times. It wasn't just because of us, it just seemed like everything was in a state of flux all the time, around us too. Like in the business, two albums in a row we went through record labels going out of business just when a record comes out. A month into the album being out, the label is going out of business. When something like that is happening around once, its bad enough to realized you put your blood, sweat, and tears into a record, I'm talking about the Volume 8 record at the time that came out in 1998, then only to have the label basically disappear. You get the rug pulled out from under you. OK, we have to start over now. Having that happen once was hard enough, then basically having it happen again on We've Come For You All, really that makes it hard to have any trust or faith or believe in anything because we could only do so much. We can write our songs, make the records, and go out and play shows, but everything around us, still at that time, you still needed an infrastructure to put a record out. It's different these days. Back then, you still needed a label, you still needed that kind infrastructure, and when that infrastructure around us was falling apart, we're seeing record labels were going through the same troubles that bands were going through. It makes it impossible to survive almost. Don't ask me how we did it. We just put our heads down in the late 90s all the way through the mid 2000s. We just went to work. We just went out and played as many shows as we could. We just stayed out there as much as we could because then we were being a band. We were doing what we knew how to do and that was go out and play shows. That worked. Obviously, it worked because we survived and I'm here talking about it fondly. To get through that as a band, I like to think that it enables to face any type of challenge. But yeah, there certainly were times were it seemed like it was going to be impossible to move forward.

Anthrax is currently on tour with Motörhead and will be landing in Detroit on Saturday, September 12th at The Fillmore Detroit. For more information on Anthrax, visit anthrax.com.