Put July 18th in your calendars right now and celebrate the 40th anniversary of thrash/metal legends Anthrax! For anyone not following Anthrax’s socials, they have been releasing footage of their 40-year journey in metal in ten to 20-minute increments two or three times a week. Things began on May 3rd with the ongoing, eleven-week, online video docu-series presented on Anthrax’s social media accounts. Posted every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (following the album catalogue’s chronological order), each episode focuses on a particular album, with past and present band members, fellow musicians, colleagues, and industry veterans sharing behind-the-scenes stories of their interactions. Those contributing their personal memories include Kerry King, Robert Trujillo, Dave Grohl, Dave Mustaine, Gene Simmons, Henry Rollins, John Carpenter, Norman Reedus, Rob Zombie, Slash, Tom Morello, Mike Patton, Nergal, Darryl McDaniels (Run DMC), Michael Paulson, and Roger Miret.
These clips are helping to build anticipation for the band’s big celebration, a special worldwide livestream event presented by Danny Wimmer Presents. Filmed in Los Angeles, the event will kick off in North America on Friday, July 16th, beginning at 4 PM PT and 7 PM ET, and in the UK on Saturday, July 17th, starting at midnight BST. Livestream event tickets and special 40th-anniversary ticket bundles, one including a live video chat with the members of Anthrax, are on sale now. The special 40th-anniversary artwork was created by Brian Ewing and Stephen Thompson for limited edition t-shirts, commemorative tickets, and an anniversary poster. In addition to the livestream and merchandise bundles, fans will be able to buy a digital ticket to relive the past 40 years with exclusive interviews, testimonials, and behind-the-scenes stories of the band’s legendary career. All purchasing details are accessible at www.anthraxlive.com.
In February of 2020, Carla Harvey (Butcher Babies) noticed that her boyfriend Charlie Benante’s constant monitoring of CNN and the oncoming global pandemic made him depressed. She suggested that he disconnect from the news and his phone and do something creative. Benante set up his electric drum kit at home in his art room and started playing along with the music he had grown up listening to. Some of these clips he’d post to his Instagram feed and on YouTube if he liked them. These songs and clips reignited Charlie’s creative drive. He started asking some of his friends if they’d join him to make some cool covers together for fun.
In the months that followed, Benante’s Instagram feed became THE feed to watch. Dubbed the ‘quarantine video series,’ Benante wound up collaborating on jams with fellow Anthrax bandmates Frank Bello, Scott Ian, and Jon Donais, his girlfriend, Carla Harvey (Butcher Babies), Corey Taylor, Ra Diaz (Suicidal Tendencies), Mark Osegueda (Death Angel), John 5 (Rob Zombie), and Alex Skolnick (Testament), among many more. Some of Charlie’s favourite songs by Rush, Tom Petty, The Beastie Boys, Stormtroopers of Death, Kings X, Run DMC, Massive Attack, U2, Fugazi, The Chemical Brothers, and Billie Eilish were covered.
In May of this year, 14-tracks that feature an all-star cast of “who’s who” in the thrash, metal, and rock worlds got culled together from Benante’s acclaimed ‘quarantine jam video series,’ into an album, aptly titled Silver Linings (Megaforce Records). Benante earmarked a portion of the Silver Linings proceeds for the Neal Casal Music Foundation. This organization provides musical instruments and lessons to students and makes donations to much-needed mental health organizations that support musicians in need. A vinyl release is set for July of this year.
In tandem with jamming unique covers online, Anthrax made a graphic novel through the pandemic. Aligning themselves with Z2 Comics, the Among The Living project pulls together a who’s who of names from around comics and music for a track-by-track storyline inspired by one of heavy metal’s most iconic albums, with all four members of the classic Anthrax lineup contributing. The Among The Living graphic novel gets a global release on July 6th, but some direct market comic stores have copies already, thanks to an early release. In an effort to support the comic book specialty market, which had been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Anthrax and Z2 shipped a surprise limited number of copies early that stores could make available for sale this week.
Charlie Benante joined us on the phone last week for a chat. The audio is available here if you’d prefer to hear his answers in real-time. Our heartfelt thanks to Charlie Benante for taking a healthy chunk out of his afternoon last week to field a few questions for V13.
So listen, your Instagram feed was my absolute favourite thing online last year during the pandemic. So thank you for that.
Charlie Benante: “Oh, wow. Thank you for that.”
I love watching those collaborations come together over the years. Some of them were just mind-blowingly good.
“Wow, thank you. I really appreciate that.”
Was that Carla’s suggestion that you get busy doing something creative?
“Basically, it was definitely her motivating me to do something creative and stop watching the news.”
At what point did you know that you would turn it into something physical, like an album, that you’ve just put out for streaming and that you’re going to release physically?
“Well, honestly, it was never intended to be put out. I just kept getting more and more requests from people to do it. I had such a catalogue of songs at this point that it became a question of ‘Which ones do I put out?’ The label didn’t want to do a CD. I wanted to do vinyl; that was my whole thing. Let’s just do a vinyl version, and then, of course, a digital download and streaming, and that was it. But it was because of the demand from people. I wasn’t going to put it out, though.”
And what prompted you to actually do it? Was it the fact that you could give some money back? You’ve got an attachment to a Music Foundation that you’re putting some proceeds to, right?
“Correct. So there was that aspect of it, that a portion of it would go to put instruments into kids’ hands. So that was something that was driving me to put it out. It was also a chance for me to put ‘something’ out, after all these years, on my own. I don’t have any expectations, I just wanted to put it out, and that’s basically the heart and soul about the whole thing. This project was created because of the pandemic, the darkness, and the uncertainty that it created for all of us here. Not just here but around the world. And if this is what helped me to shine a light in a dark time, then that’s what it also gets for other people. That in itself makes me happy.”
Does having an album full of cover versions like this present any issues? There’s going to be some legal challenges, you’re putting other people’s stuff out there, and then there’s rights to sort out and whatnot.
“You just pay them the publishing on it. That’s how it works, really. The people who play on it get a percentage of the song they played on as far as the mechanical royalties. But as far as publishing, the person who wrote the song, they get it.
So it didn’t present any additional hoops other than just getting the licensing sorted out.
The cover of “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone, it’s better than the original man. It’s untouchable. I just couldn’t believe how good that was.
“Wow. Thank you. I put a lot of effort into that one, I put a lot of effort into all of them, but that one was one of the ones that I talk about that was a bit of a challenge because I played everything on it except for bass, and of course vocals. So I played the piano on it, I played all the guitars on it, and I’m not a really good piano player. So I just had to kind of teach myself. That was one of the things about this pandemic; that I, for one, bettered myself through it.
That’s awesome. And I noticed that “Speak English or Die” was not on the album, but it kind of went over to Bungle, so it makes sense. That cover lives on and got pressed to vinyl. I’m curious, was that version a Bungle song before you guys all covered it or was that something you did and it inspired the Bungle cover?
“No, Scott saw that I was doing some of these videos and he hit me up, and he was like, ‘Hey, you want to do a version of ‘Speak English Or Die’ the way we did it for Mr. Bungle, and I could ask Danny Lilker if he wanted to be a part of it? And I said, ‘if Danny agrees to do it, yeah, I’ll do it.’ And that’s how that one happened.
For me, I think I got into Stormtroopers before I got into Anthrax, so I kind of got into you guys backward (laughs), but I hold that SOD album in such high regard. That was a game-changer album for me in ‘85.
“Yeah, it was a pretty big crossover record for a lot of people.”
It was. Did you find that your process for recording all of these Silver Linings songs evolved as you progressed? You must have learned certain things were working, and certain things weren’t as you did video after video.
“I learned a lot from doing this. I learned that I don’t have to spend a ton of money to record something or do a video for it (laughs). I learned how the process works; I learned how to be a better arranger. My approach to things is completely different now because I had to approach it in a different way in each song. It’s not just guitar, bass, drums, vocals; there were so many other things involved on each song. The Massive Attack song, for instance, there’s a lot of textures on that song. So there was a lot of synth stuff. There was a lot of drum stuff to put down. There was a lot of atmospheric stuff so that one was another one that gave me a bit of a challenge.”
It’s not like you’re walking into a studio where you can set a room tone, and then you record into that either. This was all coming from different places, so I can’t imagine what that was like to deal with.
“Well, yeah. The thing about it is once it started to kind of snowball into more, you’re like, ‘Wow, I wanna push the envelope on this one.’ And the U2 song, that was another one that was a bit of a challenge just because of the guitar tones and the guitar delays that were going on. I had to program the effect in two different ways; there are two different delays going on in that song. So you have to, again, do a lot of research, and you have to do a lot of technical investigating.”
So did the files need some work afterward to convert them into the masters to put them out for streaming and mastering the vinyl? Or did you just send them out the way that they were put out on Instagram?
“Some of them needed some tweaking, But the only issue for me was the ones that were the first ones that I did. They were the Rush ones. We did it in a way where the technology was there, but we were doing it in like a Zoom kind of way, and I was kind of like when I played it; that’s exactly how you heard it. The other songs, later on, I was able to record it in just in a better way. But as you’re going, you’re learning, and it’s getting even better. So like the last one that we did, the ‘Subdivisions’ one, which isn’t on the record, of course, but it’s going to be on the EP that comes out November Record Store Day. ‘Subdivisions’ sounds like it was done in the studio.”
I was wondering if some of those other songs were going to come up. Thanks for answering that in advance. So the main vinyl, it’s still coming in July, correct? I don’t think that has been pressed and shipped yet?
“The vinyl was supposed to be out, but it’s late because of the COVID-19 situation. All the plants have been getting back to somewhat normalcy, and everything is so pushed back in delay. We finalized the vinyl eight months ago, but it has still lagged.”
So listen, I’m holding in my hands a copy of the Among The Living graphic novel. It looks frigging awesome, man.
“Oh, you have it too? (laughs)”
I do. I’m a comic book guy.
“That’s awesome. I just saw it today.”
It really turned out nicely. The colours on it really pop, and it’s got a nice flow to it. I like the way that’s all bookmarked, and every song’s got its little style, you know what I mean? It flows nicely.
“When I was looking at it this morning, I was so happy to hold it in my hand. It’s an achievement. I always wanted to do this. And it’s so great; it just came out better than I thought it was going to come out. I mean, everybody who was involved in it did such a great job. I’m still amazed by it.”
Because it could have belly-flopped, you know, those old rock n’ roll comics from about 25 years ago, the really crappy black and white ones; I hated those. They just looked terrible, but I bought a few of them because they were about the artists I liked, right?
“They were terrible. Yeah, exactly. And I wouldn’t say that I hated them, but it was… this is definitely a step up from that.”
It’s a BIG step up from that. It’s like, you know, if your music fans and comic book fans don’t get into this, I’ll be shocked because the production value is all here.
“Oh, absolutely. And I think word of mouth too, once that kicks in, and people actually hold it in their hands and read it and see it and just get absorbed in it, I think word of mouth is going to spread as well.”
So thank you for putting it out to comic book stores so early because I think I’m holding this thing, really, six weeks before it officially gets released to the world, you know what I mean?
“Well, that was something that we wanted to do for the mom-and-pop stores; get it to them first. Because some of us in the band are comic book nerds, and we felt it was important to do that.”
I don’t think your publicist knew that it was out at comic stores. When I told her I had it, she was like, “wha – what?”
“Oh yeah, I bet she didn’t know. We don’t tell her certain things that we should (laughs).”
Classic. So you have this idea to make a graphic novel… what then? Who did you go to and say, “We want to do this 176-page book. Help us.”
“Well, it was the opposite. I always put it out there that I wanted to do a comic book for the band, and I have this whole other concept, but it never came to fruition because I always got sidetracked with something else. And then Josh Bernstein from Z2 Comics actually contacted us, and we had a great talk about what we wanted to do. We worked together with him, and he really got the ball rolling. And through his contacts and our contacts, he really made this come to fruition and really made it so special. So we owe a lot to him.”
The last chapter, the Rob Zombie chapter, with all of all the pop-art references and stuff, that’s just wild. It’s so trippy. It’s psychedelic.
“I love that; that’s one of my favourites, the ‘Imitation Of Life.’ That’s one of my favourite stories. And the artists who did it (Erik Rodriguez and Steve Chanks), they just nail it.
When did you start into this then? I mean, to put this all out there, it has to be at least a year ago because you’d have to have it all rendered, and sent to the printer and then printed and marketed. So that’s a long time.
“Well, this was another project over the pandemic that we started early on, right when the pandemic hit. Because we kind of figured that no one’s going on tour and no one’s going to work, everybody’s going to be working from home. This would probably be the only opportunity we’d have to kind of nail down everything, you know? Because people weren’t doing anything. So the writers could actually take time to write, the illustrators can illustrate. We can all put our stamp on it.
I did the alternate cover for it with Judge Dredd and Judge Death, and it gave me a chance to do that. This morning when I was looking at it, I was so happy because I did a cover of a comic book. It was like accomplishing another goal.”
Hell yeah, that’s awesome. Can you talk a little bit about comic books and their influence on you and Scott as you were growing up?
“I was just telling the story the other day about how my mom worked in a bakery five minutes from our house, and I would go to work with her sometimes on the weekends or even go there after school. And two doors down from there was a stationery store that had magazines and comic books. And my mom would always give me money, and I’d go in there, and I’d buy a magazine and some comic books, and I’d come back to the bakery. So I’d sit in the back of the bakery, and the bakers were back there baking and everything, and I would sit in my corner and read the comic books and the magazines. And I would also draw superheroes from the comic books. So that’s how I kind of developed more and more of the style of the way I draw, just by mimicking what I saw in the comic books.”
Nice. I always thought it must have been so cool to be reading Marvel comic books in the city where Marvel comic books were set. I always wanted to go to New York so that I could find the Baxter building; you know what I mean?
“Yeah, of course. And another big thing for me back then, too, was Mad Magazine. That was one of my favourites because you go through the whole magazine, and then you get to the back cover, and you fold it up (chuckles). It was always one of my favourite things to do is just fold the back cover, and then you see the other image.”
Well, seeing that Mort Drucker portrait in Euphoria, for me, cemented Anthrax as the band that I felt the closest to. Because it was obvious that somebody in the band was reading Mad Magazine and had the chutzpah to go after Mort Drucker and get a portrait done. I just thought that was awesome, and it’s one of the reasons that I’ve followed you for so long.
“There were two artists that I wanted back then to do the back cover, and one was Mort Drucker, and the other one was Al Hirschfeld. Both of those artists I loved. There was something about Mort Drucker’s characterizations of people that were just so brilliant. And then there was Al Hirschfeld’s stuff too, and I always loved that he put his daughter’s name in every single piece that he did.
And the Aerosmith Draw The Line cover! He did the cover of this book that I had when I was younger about the Marks Brothers called Why a Duck? That was a Hirschfeld cover. And it was such a New York thing, both of those artists; it turned out that the Mad Magazine one was just suited the actual State Of Euphoria time, you know what I mean?”
Will this Among The Living graphic novel be your only foray into comic books, or do you think you might jump in and do something again?
“We already talked about a follow-up because the Persistence Of Time record really lends itself to another one.
Very cool. So listen, happy 40th anniversary! Or a Thraxtacular anniversary, if you will.
“Well, thank you very much.”
Those Instagram feeds. Wow! Yesterday, there wasn’t one up there, and I was like, “C’mon, man! I’m jonesin!’” I just watched today’s about 30 minutes before this interview. They’re so fun to watch.
“Yeah, yeah, there was a new one today, and I just saw it too. And that’s cool; I liked this one. Then the next one probably goes into the Killer B’s stuff.”
Yeah, yeah. Was this always going to be on social media? Or did COVID kind of push all this footage to social media.
“I think we’re going to compile this whole thing and then add more to it for a real documentary piece.”
Nice. I figured you might. Lastly, the global streaming event you guys are hyping all of these clips up to on July 18th; what nuggets are you allowed to reveal about that? Will there be any guests? Do you have an inclining to the setlist?
“Ooohhhhh yeah, there may be a guest.”
“Yeah, there may be a guest for sure. Yeah, that’s something we’re working on now because we haven’t played together in about a year and a half. So we are rusty as shit right now. (laughs) But I think it’s going to be a good package of stuff because we’re pulling out some tunes just to make it more interesting.”
Well, I would say that the Silver Linings recordings would say that you are not rusty at all, but I understand that’s not Anthrax material, so rehearsing might be a good thing.
“Yeah, the Anthrax material is a little more demanding.”
And I see live dates are starting to pop up. I think I just got a PR for Rocklahoma, and it looks like you’re on that bill, so it’s nice to see you getting out on the road again.
“Oh yeah, but that’s like a make-up from the year prior, you know what I mean? So it’s all good.”