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A Quietus Interview

Amongst The Thrashing: Scott Ian Of Anthrax Interviewed
Mark Eglinton , June 3rd, 2009 07:59

Thrash-mad Mark Eglinton catches up with Scott Ian to listen to the new Anthrax album and discuss Madonna

One of music's instantly recognisable faces, not to mention one of metal’s most gifted rhythm guitarists, Scott Ian is not one for taking any kind of shortcut. In his other role as true founder of the band and primary spokesman, he’s certainly not about to cave in to the increasing media demand for a new album before he’s convinced that the product is worthy of Anthrax’s somewhat legendary status.

So, despite the weighty fact that it’s been six years since their last studio offering We’ve come for You All, the thrash legend’s attention to detail is keener than ever. New vocalist Dan Nelson is a relative unknown outside of metal circles, so it’s easy to see why some new material from the seminal New York thrashers is so highly anticipated. And, as if any more pressure were needed, a support slot beside Big Four buddies Metallica at Sonisphere guarantees no hiding place in a year of important metal releases.

A brief listen to the four new tracks on Scott’s iPod, however, went a long way to dismissing any apprehension there may have been, given that the first ten seconds of track one induced something resembling mild orgasm. [Nurse, the bromide - Ed] There were a few causes of such an awesome and admittedly extreme state of appreciation, but the first would certainly be that in Dan Nelson they’ve uncovered a terrifyingly versatile and powerful vocal talent. The second and most welcome reason would be that the neck-snapping riffs and the power are back with interest, so if the rest of Worship Music stacks up similarly (and we’re told that it does) we’ll undoubtedly be eyeballing one of the records of 2009. Bring the fuckin’ noise.

Hearing the new tracks (four were made available) I’m blown away by what I heard. What kind of sound were you going for?

Scott Ian: “It does sound great you’re right. We’re really happy with how they’ve come out. Rob Caggiano has done a great job again. Remember it’s been six years since We’ve Come For You All and during that time Rob has got better and better at what he does. He’s been working on all kinds of different projects too and because he’s in the band, he knows us better than anybody.”

How many tracks are there? I’ve heard there are a few covers on there too.

SI: "There are thirteen Anthrax songs and we honestly haven’t decided exactly what is going to be on there yet. You’re right, there are some cover versions and one way or the other they will all be made available through all the different formats the album will come in. The mixing process has been the big thing and I’m so happy with the route we went down. We chose Dave Fortnam to do the mix and I absolutely knew he was the right guy. He came to see us at the Montreal Festival and we talked about it. Also, I love the way that new Slipknot record sounded so it was the right choice.”

It must be weird to be back out on an album promotion cycle again then?

SI: “For sure, ‘cos it was 2003 since I last did it and at times I thought to myself ‘Do I still know how to do this?’ I have been incredibly stressed out the last few days trying to pull it all together actually. Also, not many people have heard the music and that makes doing phone interviews difficult. In fact it really pisses me off.”

You don’t like phoners then?

SI: “I actually hate them and I just think that when the person on the other end of the line hasn’t even heard the music, it’s a total waste of everyone’s time. The internet is a great thing but the worst thing that it brought to the music business was piracy and it’s made making stuff available really difficult. That’s why the idea of having new songs on the i-Pod here is a good one.”

Dan Nelson’s voice sounds like a perfect vehicle for old and new material, agreed?

SI: “Dan has an instrument that makes him able to hit all the stuff and yeah he can do it all. I think of him as being like Chris Cornell singing in Pantera." [laughs]

Did you choose him because you could mould him to fit the band then?

SI: “Not really. In fact during the writing of the new material I had it on my mind that we didn’t have a singer. But, instead of worrying about finding one, we just wanted to write. With no singer in mind, when I was writing I had the voice of John Bush in my head, for no other reason that he had been our singer for such a long time. Then, Dan contacted Rob through MySpace or something. He just said that if we needed any help singing help he’d be happy to help. All we knew was that he was some kid in Long Island. Anyway, Charlie and I decided to get him to come to Chicago for a month to basically just hang out with us. No big audition or anything: just jamming and hanging out. This was in September/October of 2007.”

I take it he fitted in ok then?

SI: “Totally, he told us his favourite all-time bands were Anthrax, Metallica and Pantera so that was obviously great. But during the whole period of demo-ing songs we never actually discussed the possibility of him being in Anthrax. I knew though from the first second he opened his mouth that he was the guy. In fact, it has worked out that way with all our singers. With Joey it was like that. John Bush we already knew about because of Armoured Saint but with Dan it was definitely like that. Anyway, we asked him at one point which songs of ours he knew, and he knew them all! [laughs] So one night we were going out for dinner or something and we just asked him if he wanted to be in Anthrax and he said yeah, and that was it.”

Do you find it as easy writing songs as you did before?

SI: “ Well this is the longest we’ve spent writing an album since Spreading The Disease, it’s been basically two years worth of writing. This record was never ever going to come out until it was ready but there have been times along the way where I have thought that we’re getting there, only to go back and re-evaluate melodies or lyrics. Charlie has always been the one to say ‘Let’s go back and have another listen’ and I have in some cases radically improved songs as a result of that. ‘Down Goes the Sun’ is one example of a song that we did that with. Obviously it would be great to have the record out for the summer, but we’d rather have it right. We’ll play one or two new ones at our live shows, but a festival isn’t really the place for people to listen properly to new songs in detail. If I remember right it was the same when we played Donington in 1987; I don’t think Among The Living was even out then?” {It was]

Do you still listen to loads of different stuff? What, for example?

SI: “Umm . . . if I had my i-Pod with me I could tell you, but yeah, loads of different stuff but I can’t deal with modern pop. It’s basically all shit.”

Lady Gaga?

SI: “I don’t get her. My wife, who’s got her own thing going on musically tried to tell me that she’s the new Madonna, but I just don’t get it at all. I would rather listen to a Madonna song from 1988 than any of that stuff now.”

Yeah, but that’s because of how she looked around the time of ‘Like a Virgin?

SI: ”Man, she was HOT all the way back at ‘Borderline’ and we were from New York. Yeah, ok maybe because she was hot, but her music was great too. Lady Gaga just doesn’t do it for me, I don’t know why. [laughs] I haven’t liked a real pop record for a long time.”

What about hip-hop?

SI: “I liked the beginnings of hip-hop like NWA, but around 1995/1996 when the whole East coast Gangsta rap thing started, they lost me. Biggie and Dr Dre etc never ever worked for me at all.”

Are you still in touch with Public Enemy?

SI: “Definitely, I still see Chuck a lot and in fact he played with us during a recent show we did in New York and that was awesome. He is a genius and definitely someone I could work with again.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t in Anthrax?

SI: “I’d probably be in another band.”

OK . . . let’s say you can’t be in a band . . . what would you be doing?

SI: “I think I’d be writing comic books for a living, full-time. I have a bit of that going on already with the comic book character Lobo. [DC have asked Ian to write a two series story for their anti-hero.] I find it much easier to write comic-books than lyrics actually because it’s a natural dialogue. Writing song lyrics is not natural but over the years I know what I need to know to get it done. I find it quite easy to capture a character and use my own personality and humour.”

Your lyrics have a fair bit of humour too, you could say?

SI: “Yeah they do, even in the darkest subject matters there is some sense of humour in there. I don’t analyse lyrics anyway and I think people do that a lot. A song either moves me or it makes me happy, it’s that simple. And that’s the case whether I’m listening to Madonna or fuckin’ Slayer.”

So any regrets about your career in music?

SI: “None at all, I’m very happy about how my career has gone. But, if you are asking if I wish were as big as Metallica, then of course I do. Who wouldn’t? I think anyone who says that’s not the case is fucking lying.”

Did you like Death Magnetic?

SI: “Yeah I did, actually. It’s one of the things I still listen to.”

How important have the likes of Guitar Player and Rock Band been for metal recently?

SI: “They have been one of the biggest boosts for metal and rock in many years. For the simple reason that it has introduced this kind of music to a whole new audience that it would never have reached. I saw AC/DC recently in LA and it happened to be probably the best show of theirs I have ever seen, the audience ranged from seven to 50-years-old. When you hear songs like ‘Back in Black’ and with things like Guitar Player available, kids just want to play these songs. And Led Zeppelin and Sabbath. So by having this thing kids all of a sudden want to be like Kirk Hammet or something, and next they are asking their dad to buy them a REAL guitar and that part of it is great. It’s been awesome for the guitar manufacturers too, because when I go to the trade shows, they all say that sales have increased just because of these games. I am shit at the games though but it has turned the industry completely around.”