I made that pretentious set of statements to draw your attention to its opposite; a time when this section mostly ran stuff about what happened in some bearded scenester's living room a month prior. That is to say, I'm proud of where Weekly Alibi's music section has gone in the past few years; the support of my colleagues at the paper and an audience in tune with the local scene made excellent coverage possible.
That focused effort also makes possible what follows. I mean, really, what other local or regional newspaper—or national rag for that matter—gets to talk to the big names in rock and hip-hop? So far Weekly Alibi has brought you candid interviews with everyone from Buzzo, Exene and Elvis Kuehn, to Big Daddy Kane and Brian Wilson. There's plenty more to come, one hopes.
But now for some icing on said rocanrol party cake. Scott Ian is one of the founders of an outfit called Anthrax. Like a lot of folks in the business, he comes off as reserved and overly polite when you first start talking. But then something happens, some word, some generational or subcultural symbol gets exchanged in the conversation and suddenly you're really taking to someone you really dig.
That's the way it goes sometimes. I say sometimes because I'll always remember that Brian Wilson told me that my questions made him uncomfortable, but also recall the time I spent an hour off tape talking about The Doors and death with Michael Gira. Damn. Anyway here's me and the dude from Anthrax, one of the greatest rocanrol ensembles that ever came and went through this realm, talking about his band and his music.
Weekly Alibi: They told me you had a really long sound check today, how did that go?
Scott Ian: Just Fine.
So this is the second time you've gone on tour with Killswitch Engage; that makes for two really popular metal bands. How's that working out?
Yeah, we're two really popular metal bands. [Laughs heartily].
I know man, that sounds trite, I didn't mean it like that.
No, dude, I'm not saying it sounds trite, but I don't know what to tell you about the tour! We're two really great bands touring together. We get along really well. We did a first leg last year and it went so well that we got a sequel going. [Laughs]. We're all really happy about that. It looked good on paper and you could only hope that once you get out there, the people that actually buy tickets feel the same way. So far the shows have gone great! I just think it's a really good team; putting the two of us together really seems to work.
I guess that kinda reminds me of current fears in the music industry whispering that rock just isn't selling to the younger generation like hip-hop or electronica.
Well, it isn't. But there's nothing wrong with that. That's my opinion. I don't know why that is, you're asking the wrong person. How things are run or are dictated, how one thing is more popular than the other, I don't know. I can't tell you why hip-hop is bigger than rock.
But that all seems rather counter-intuitive. Despite what the press says, you all are still rocking out, and getting solid audiences along the way, amirite?
I really don't know what people in the press are saying. But we've been doing the same thing since 1984. Essentially we just go to work. And that's what we've been doing every day since then. We still get to go to work. And the reason for that is because people still want to hear Anthrax; they still want to see us. People who've been with us for 30 years as well as kids seeing their first [Anthrax] show are really into that. Like tonight, here in Charlottesville; there's a bunch of kids out there who are waiting for their first Anthrax show, their first rock gig! As far as counter-intuitive goes, all I study and research says that, at the level we're doing things, we're doing really well. Are we playing stadiums? No, we're not selling 50,000 tickets a night, but I have absolutely no complaints.
How have the first few shows gone, then?
Great. Just like the last leg. The've been packed and people aren't leaving. Sometimes when you do these scenarios with co-headliners, it doesn't matter who is on last, a lot of people will leave after the first set. Maybe they've already seen the band they really care about? But that didn't happen on the last leg of the tour either. I think people—even if they're just Killswitch fans or Anthrax fans—have enough curiosity to think to themselves, “I've always heard about these dudes, so I'm gonna check it out.” Of course I think that we're both so good at what we do that we happen to win people over. The curiosity keeps them in the room. It's our job to keep them there.
Besides successful touring, Anthrax has also produced some notable recordings recently, what's that all about?
The DVD, Kings Among Scotland is finished. We shot it in Scotland last year, I can't even remember [laughs], or in ’16 [laughs heartily]. I don't remember. But it's done and comes out in April. It features performances from our last album, For All Kings, as well as classics like the entirety of Among the Living; it's long! It's got a lot of great songs on it!
What songwriting process results in such a fierce catalog of music?
I write the lyrics. Charlie writes the bulk of the music. But we pretty much do everything as a band. It comes together as Anthrax, the band, when we're in the studio arranging the compositions.
I got a note from your PR people that said you tried to make each track on For All Kings totally different so that there was absolutely no repetition of form. How does that work?
I never thought that once in my life [laughs]. I don't know who is making up that shit!
Really? Fuck. That's cool. I always try to throw in a suggestion or two from the PR people behind meet ups like this.
I don't know what that means. I just write words. To the best of my ability, they're what I think. If I have something to say and I figure it out, it's gotta work well with the music and the arrangement. Obviously I'm not going to write the same thing twice; if I wrote something else and it was the same, I just wouldn't use it. Or I'd use the version that was the best. But that's not something I have to sit around and think about. Or plan. I don't really plan or think too much when I'm working on music. I just write; I just do it. I have ideas and I work with them. But that PR [thing], I don't really know what it means.
That's fine. It sounded like bullshit to me too, but we wouldn't be talking except for their attention, so I gotta schmooze ’em a little. I was just trying to get an idea about your creative process. It sounds spontaneous, improvisatory.
If I knew the answer to that, I'd sell it on the Home Shopping Network or something like that. I don't know where it comes from. Shit pops into my head and I start writing it down.
What happens when you listen to that produce afterwards. Do you think, whoa, that is totally coming from somewhere else?
Nope. Because once I begin something, it's work, it's not like it's easy. A shit-ton of effort and time are required. By the time I'm done with a record, I feel like I'm missing that part of my brain.
So, what, Benante writes a song, you hear the music and the lyrics flow?
Yeah, a lot of times I'll be motivated or influenced, literally, by a guitar riff, the way the riff sounds will sometimes give me an idea of what a song should be about. Charlie's definitely the catalyst when it comes to riffs, so when he sends out some ideas—he'll have some riff ideas and email them out—that's what gets me going. But Frankie [Bello] might have some ideas too; there's work on the last album that is Frankie's. But certainly Charlie is the catalyst. He writes the bulk of it; he writes about 85 percent of the music.
Is there a world outside of Anthrax for Scott Ian?
It all comes down to schedule. I want to do more spoken word, but there hasn't been time to do that lately. If there was time, I would for sure do another spoken word tour like Speaking Words.
So right now, is it really all Anthrax, all the time?
[Laughs heartily] There are no plans on quitting. We are going to keep doing what we have been doing. There's no set schedule because touring is kinda liquid in a way, because you can say, “alright, we'll stop touring on this record in whatever month and then we'll start working on these [new] songs. But then a couple of weeks later you get a call asking if you want to do another tour. And so on and so on. But yeah, certainly the plan is to make another album. We already have a bunch of really good ideas. I just have no idea when we'll get to that. It looks like we'll be on tour for most of 2018. Maybe we'll start on that next year, until that phone call comes in, again, forever, I hope.