Scott Ian is easily one of the most recognizable figures in the heavy metal world. Everyone is familiar with his work with the groundbreaking thrash act Anthrax, but they might not be aware that he also does public speaking engagements around the world. Swearing Words In Glasgow is a new DVD that captures one of the early performances of Ian, with no band or guitar, telling funny stories to a more than enthusiastic crowd. I recently had a chance to sit and chat with Ian about this venture. Here is how the conversation went.
Now that Swearing Words In Glasgow is complete, how do you feel about it and are you satisfied with the outcome?
Ian: I am very happy with the performance. Yes I am really happy with it.
I have watched the show a few times now preparing for this and I was wondering do you do any sort of show prep, or do you just sort of get up there and wing it? Along the same lines, are the stories the same night to night or do you vary them depending on the location and crowd?
Ian: No I did not do any prep. My only prep came from just getting up on stage and just doing it. Just kind of really learning how to be up on stage in front of people. I didn’t prepare at all for the very first show I ever did. I just got up on stage and it was kind of a learning experience and a work in progress. I have done about 25 or 30 shows now and by no means is it an automatic for me and I can just turn on a switch and do that. It is not like playing guitar in Anthrax. I am very much still on the ground floor I feel, and as good as I feel about it, I think my show is good and funny and I think it is going to get better over the years the more I do it.
As far as the stories go it just depends. A lot of it just depends on how long I have to do a show. I was just on the Motorboat with Anthrax and I did a show on the boat but I only had an hour set. I kind of just try and tailor it to how much time I have so if I have unlimited time I will get up there and just tell stories for 3 hours, but if I have an hour I just try and pick a story that I think everyone will relate to. When I was on the Motorboat I told the Lemmy story because Lemmy was on the boat and I figured that would be a real good one for the crowd. I have so much material to pull from and the Q&A every night really keeps me on my toes.
Alright you touched on a couple things I wanted to cover here. I know it is a lot different being onstage alone as opposed to being onstage as part of a band, holding your guitar. Do you find that intimidating and do you feel vulnerable up there?
Ian: Public speaking doesn’t intimidate me because I am not nervous to talk in front of people. That is not an issue at all. It is more just finding a rhythm and just getting on stage. When I get up onstage with Anthrax there is a way you can read the crowd and it just comes natural over years. I can get up on stage and feel the energy of the audience right off the bat, literally in the first few seconds. As soon as I get on stage with Anthrax I know exactly what I am going to do to entertain the crowd for the next two hours. With this it takes me a little bit longer, sometimes 10-15 minutes, to kind of feel the energy of the people. Most of the time the energy is off, the people are confused and don’t know what they are going to be getting from me. Once the DVD is out people will have a better idea of what to expect and will have a better idea of what the show is going to be. Right now people have no idea what the fuck they paid their money to come and see and I think I feel that when I get up on stage. I am just trying to find the best path to making sure these people have a good time.
Do you find yourself watching stand-up comics and people along those lines in order to get a better understanding of the craft and a feel for how others do it?
Ian: No because I am not doing stand-up and I am not up there telling jokes. I am a fan of a lot of stand-up comedians and if anything I take lessons from their timing. I just try and learn how to deliver a line, how to tell a story, and how to get the best out of every line you are saying. But it is not like I am sitting watching videos and researching it. It is a different thing and I really just learn from doing it, from being on stage in front of a crowd and a mic.
What was the inspiration or catalyst to put this spoken word project together?
Ian: There was none. I just got asked if would do a show in London about two years ago as a one off. It was part of “Rock Stars Say the Funniest things” and I just said yes because it just seemed like something I was curious about and I had five months to prepare for it. I figured I would write my show and be real professional about it, show up prepared, and know exactly what I was doing. Those five months went by and I had done nothing, zero preparation, the night before the show I had planned on canceling because I really didn’t care, it was not like I was canceling an Anthrax show, and people would never know what they were missing so they have nothing to be bummed about. No harm no foul. But my wife talked me off the ledge and told me to just go out there and tell the stories that I have had in my head all of these years. Think of it as being in a bar with my friends and telling all these stories. That is what I went and did and had so much fun doing it so I told my agent I wanted to do more and we found a window of time to schedule some dates.
So walk me through the moment you walked out on stage, before you broke the ice, what was that moment like for you?
Ian: I was shitting my pants. Yeah that first show… I don’t think I have ever been that nervous in my whole life. Just because it was important for me to entertain people and knowing that these people had paid good money to come and see me without having a clue as to what I was doing was scary and could have turned out to be a train wreck. The first five minutes on stage were rough, but when I got a laugh at a point I was hoping for a laugh the nerves started to go away and I was able to settle into a rhythm.
I watched the DVD and didn’t notice any hecklers out there, but I am wondering have you had any one be disruptive and if so how did you deal with them?
Ian: Dealing with a heckler is pretty easy because I have the microphone. I am louder than them and 200 people have come to see me and if one person decides to be disruptive there are 199 that don’t want to hear what he has to say, so it usually gets shut down quickly. It really has only happened one time. We were in Dublin and this woman was really drunk and she kept repeating everything I was saying really loudly. I asked her a couple times to quiet down and she just kept doing it until finally I told her to shut the fuck up and I got a standing ovation and she shut the fuck up after that.
Are you planning on doing more of these dates?
Ian: I would like to, but it is difficult finding windows of time in between shows. If I am not working with Anthrax I would really just rather be home with my family. I do want to do more of these shows, but it is a matter of finding a balance between it all so I can go out and do more.
Check out a ‘Speaking Words’ teaser