Anthrax drummer, Charlie Benante, sat down with PureGrainAudio.com’s Mitch Lafon to discuss the band’s latest release, Anthems. The drummer, who has been on and off the road for the past year with the renowned metal band, sheds light on the process and the group’s future recording plans.
When did you put the album together and how did you choose the songs for the album?
Charlie: Some of the songs were recorded when we did the basic tracks for the Worship Music record. I think the Cheap Trick and AC/DC songs were recorded at that time (and maybe Jailbreak). We sat on it and didn’t finish them at all. Then we started to dig up some of the old tracks and started listening and ‘oh, that came out really good,’ which sparked the idea of others songs that we want to do, but never had the chance to do. A lot of these songs are from bands that influenced us when we were growing up. We wanted to pay tribute to bands that influenced us musically or personally and then we just started putting it together. Some people have said the choices… ‘oh I would have chosen that song instead.’ I felt that that would have been the obvious choice, but a song like Anthem (RUSH) is close to the way we used to sound. We could have put Anthem on our first album; it has that feel to it. The Journey song…
That must have been Joey’s pick. He’s a huge Journey fan.
Charlie: Exactly. He’s a BIG Journey fan. I’ve also always liked Journey, but I had my ‘era’ for Journey. I don’t like the radio hit Journey stuff. I go for more of their late ‘70s… Escape to me is a great album. Those guys had no idea that a ballad from that record would catapult them to where they went. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with a good song.
Anthrax, over the years, have put out a lot of covers songs as B-sides, bonus tracks and more. At some point, will you put together all those songs and release an ‘Anthrax – The Covers Collection’ album?
Charlie: That’s a pretty cool idea. I guess that’s why we tried to do with the EP and we wanted to keep it priced really low. There was talk of putting the Worship Music album out again with this as the bonus disc, but then we felt ‘why would we want…
Fans to re-buy to it…
Charlie: Yeah, it’s just not cool. We just wanted to keep it low priced and something to enjoy. For us, it was all about having fun and that was it. Alex Lifesong commented on Anthem, to me, that was awesome.
Fans, of course, will be wondering what does this mean in terms of a follow up album to Worship Music? Have you started the process of putting new songs together. Is the EP a stop-gap measure or will you be touring on the covers album?
Charlie: We have shows lined-up, but I don’t know if we’ll be pulling out any of the covers. We may, but this was just…
Charlie: Exactly… For fun. We have two leftover songs from the last album and we were actually working on one of them for an episode of The Walking Dead, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
That’s too bad…
Charlie: Yeah. That would have been really good. But we have a bit of a head start going into the next record.
Check out the song “The Devil You Know”
With (guitarist) Rob (Caggiano) leaving, does it mess up the plans for the next record or can you continue? Is Jon Donais part of the process in making a new album or will you going in a as four-piece? How much affect does Rob leaving have on a new album coming out?
Charlie: None. None whatsoever.
The band was recently out in Los Angeles at the Grammy Awards. You were nominated. How was that whole experience for you? What did it mean to you?
Charlie:The Grammy nomination was totally out of left field. We didn’t expect it and when it hit me; I was really happy about it because sometimes we take all this stuff for granted. Some people come down on the Grammys and some people love the Grammys, but after going to the Grammys and sitting through the show… It was a bit like watching paint dry.
That’s how I felt watching it on TV. I gave up about forty minutes in.
Charlie: My problem with the Grammys now is that they put all the pop shit out there… That’s televised, but they’re missing the point about what the Grammys were about. It should be all forms of music. I don’t think televising the Hard Rock/Metal category would make your ratings go down. People are going to tune in either way. I had to sit through Justin Timberlake. That, to me, was the worst performance of the whole night. This fucking falsetto crap and trying to sound like Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. Why is it that I see right through this and others think it’s the greatest thing?
I’m with you. I see through it too.
Charlie: It’s just crap. There were other acts up there that I thought were great. I happen to like Mumford And Sons. I think Kelly Clarkson did great. There are moments. There are real musicians and artist, but I’m not into fucking machine that makes music. I was like, ‘let’s get the fuck out of here.’
What would be more important to you: To win a Grammy or be in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?
Charlie: That’s a good question. It just seems now that they give Grammys to whoever.
And for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame you have to be a friend of Jann Wenner.
Charlie: Yeah… So, I don’t know how it works anymore. People are up in arms about who didn’t get nominated this year. I equate it to the way The Baseball Hall Of Fame works. There are some people that didn’t get into the baseball hall – that should be in that Hall Of Fame… When you think of baseball, a name like Pete Rose comes to mind. When you think of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame… C’mon, KISS…
KISS, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden…
Charlie: Rush will be inducted this year, right?
Yeah, but they were almost bullied into letting them in. I don’t think they really wanted to let them in. Let’s move away from that and into your branded product lines of coffee, t-shirts, etc… Where does the coffee come from? Are you hands on or did you simply hire a fulfillment centre?
Charlie: No, no, no, no… The original idea for the coffee was a few years ago when I did something with Dave Mustaine and I took that really seriously as far as choosing the beans, how it’s roasted and all that stuff, but it fell apart. Now, I’m doing it again with a good buddy of mine and again it’s really hands on. I go and pick which type of bean I like and which type of coffee I like because I drink it, too. I prefer a darker roast (something with a kick to it), but I have a mild blend too because not everybody likes that. It’s not something where I said, ‘just do that.’ I actually enjoy doing it and it adds to the experience. It’s a total hands on thing.
Frank has dabbled in the movies and acting. Anything like that in your future?
Charlie: It’s not on my list.
It’s not on your ‘to-do’ list, eh?
Charlie: I would like to be a biker on Sons Of Anarchy.
The Metal Alliance tour with Exodus, High On Fire, Municipal Waste and Holy Grail runs through the end of April. It’s a great package. Is there anything past that for you in terms of touring?
Charlie: They came after us to do this type of tour, but honestly we wanted to get off the road and start working on a new record. They kept coming back and some of us were into it and then we all got into it. We’ve always loved Exodus. Municipal Waste do their thing and it’s a throw back to the ‘80s thrash metal thing which is pretty cool. The audience will get a taste of different generations of music.
For a band like Anthrax in the current marketplace (iTunes, single downloads, etc…), is there a need for the band to make a full length album and, if so, why do you feel the need to make a full length album?
Charlie: That’s a very valid question. We don’t need to make a new record every year or two. We really don’t need to do that, but it’s a question of ‘if’ you have material that you feel very strong or confident about… Well then, keep doing it. It’s an expression and it’s really why you do this. To go out and play the same songs over and over again does get a bit tiring, but there is that idea that the person in ‘Detroit’ didn’t hear your stuff last night in ‘Chicago’ so you have to play that song in ‘Detroit’ because they want to hear it.
What about the immediacy? Say Scott, Frankie and you write this great song tomorrow morning – you now have the possibility to have it on iTunes in less than a week. You don’t have to wait to have twelve songs. You can have it up now and it would sell. So, why not do that?
Charlie: This is the thing… It’s a catch-22 because have the luxury of doing that, but you also have the negative side where it’s diluted. It’s so fast and it’s forgotten about as soon as… Here’s my new song – ‘great, but what else have you got?’ There’s no anticipation anymore.
I take the Mötley Crüe song ‘Sex’ as an example. It came out before their tour last summer, but three weeks later we’ve all forgotten about it. Yet, thirty years later we still talk about Shout At The Devil (the album). I would imagine the same would apply to Anthrax. Still, it must be an exciting thing for a musician knowing that tomorrow you can come up with a great song and have it online for the world in under forty-eight hours. There’s no need to get the publicity guy on board, the president of the record company had to okay it…
Charlie: We have a great relationship with our record company. She’s very hands-on and has been with us for awhile. I respect her opinion and she really understands heavy metal, rock and other forms of music. If she says, ‘there’s eight songs on this record that are really good and there’s three that are not so good. Do you have something else?’ I would totally respect that and would take it into consideration, but that’s because of who she is and how much respect I have for her. I don’t think I would have respect for someone who has no idea of what this music is. This is the reason why we didn’t go and sign with major label. We didn’t want to go through that again. We didn’t want to get stuck in that machine where one day your management gets that call, ‘yeah we’re going to pull the plug on this because it’s just not reacting.’ I never understood that. You work a record for a couple of weeks and it’s not ‘reacting’ so it’s dead. That’s not the way it should be. If that was the whole mindset in the ‘60s or ‘70s then Stairway To Heaven would have never been. This whole Spotify thing… I’m totally against this. Do you know how much a band gets for their song?
I think it’s three cents.
Charlie: No no no… The record companies make the money and the bands get a quarter of a penny on each song. So, if you get five millions plays; you’ll walk away with 1500$ (maybe 2000$) and the record companies have sold this. Who gets screwed? The artist. This is my problem with music. We don’t have any union or health care. They take away so much of you and, of course, there’s nothing in your contract about digital rights because there were no digital rights when you did your contract (back then). This whole thing is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
I think it was the U.S. Congress that passed a law that gives musicians the rights back to their songs after thirty years…
Charlie: It reverts back to you.
Check out the cover of Rush’s song “Anthem”
But you have to file all kinds of paperwork and, of course, the record companies will probably sue the artists… It’s important that you mentioned no health insurance because at some point don’t you want to retire and just enjoy a beach in ‘San Diego’. But as a musician, you really can’t. You have to work until you are no longer physically able to lift up a drumstick.
Charlie: These are things that you don’t think about when you’re twenty-five years old, but you hit it right on the head right there. At some point, don’t you just want to say, ‘okay, physically I don’t think I’m up to playing Metal Thrashing Mad anymore and maybe it is time to pull back. That’s it; it’s time to enjoy my coffee on the beach…’
But you can’t…
Charlie: But you can’t because there is no retirement fund (unless you set one up yourself). That’s what I’m saying about the unions and things like that… In this industry, it doesn’t exist.
It might be time for ‘Anthrax – the Unplugged’ album. Just do very calm versions of the songs with peaceful shows. No more thrashing and no more feeling sore for hours after a show…
Charlie: Well, that’s the thing… Touring is hard on your body ‘as is’ even if you’re thirty years old. You just have to take care of yourself, but whatever… As you get older, you become wiser and your choices totally change from ‘I’m going to a strip club after the show,’ to ‘I’m going to Skype my little daughter.’ You know what I mean?
Before we wrap up, the guitarist slot, will it be filled in temporarily as you move forward or do you try to find a permanent replacement? Would you invite Dan Spitz back? Or is it simply four guys and we’ll bring people in as needed?
Charlie: People have been talking about getting another member or getting Dan back, but Danny is doing his own thing now… I don’t know if it would be the right move right now. I love Dan. I love him to death, but I just don’t know right now if we’re there.
Or if he’s there…
People always judge Scott and you or Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. They should get Ace back. They should get Dan back. But maybe Dan doesn’t want to go back. Maybe Ace doesn’t want to go back.
And the last question is: How has fatherhood changed you? At HeavyMtl our two kids played together for ten minutes or so… How has it changed your whole perspective about touring and your scheduling? When you were twenty you could do 280 shows in a year, but now…
Charlie: Yeah and that’s the hardest part about this because a lot of us in the band have kids and, you know, I try to take her as much as possible, but she’s in school. So, it’s hard. I don’t want to be away as my daughter grows up. I just don’t want to do it and I haven’t. So, I try to keep things short and not stay out too long. There was a situation last year where I was out for awhile and her teacher wrote me and said, ‘Mia has been very very sad at school.’ She broke down to her teacher and said, ‘I just miss my dad.’ She had a period of a few days off, so she came out and, you know, it refueled her and it refueled me. So, it’s hard on kids… To not have their parents. People think, ‘oh, it’s okay – they adjust.’ Why make them adjust? Just be there. That’s my whole thing.
Any last words about the new album, Anthems? I’ll just add Joey sounds slammin’ on it.
Charlie: That’s the thing about Joey, he approached these songs with… Like I approached them. He wanted to pay tribute to the artists. He did that and then he put himself in it as well. Joey is one of the best singers, right now, and he’s better now than he was back then. He’s only getting better and that goes back to making new music; if it’s good then, of course, we’ll continue. We may have a whole new chapter here with this, so let’s just go with it.