We Refuse to Be Denied
CoC chats with John Bush of Anthrax
by: Jackie Smit
It's approximately four hours until the doors to the London Astoria open to welcome punters in for the evening's festivities, and already the queue of Anthrax fans, eagerly anticipating their heroes' third appearance of the year in the capital, is stretching well into the adjacent main road -- much to the amusement of the slightly befuddled passers-by. Later this evening, the 3000-strong will lay waste to the famous venue's dank interior with the type of ferocity you'd expect from naught but the most rabid fan. Rewind two years and matters were distinctly different however.

Dropped from Elektra Records due to poor sales, insulted in the press by previous band members and considered past their sell-by-date by all but a less-than-vocal minority, Anthrax were a prime example of a once-great band being chewed up and spit out by a ruthless all-consuming corporate music culture. Indeed, suggesting that Anthrax were on the verge of calling it quits would likely not have been contested, particularly after the veritable media witch-hunt that erupted after the band were labelled insensitive antagonists in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. Standing at the crossroads of their two decade plus career, the Anthrax collective could very well have decided that enough was enough; but lest we forget, we're not dealing with your average two-bit metal band here. In a display of almost warrior-like indomitability, John Bush, Scott Ian, Charlie Benante, Frank Bello and Rob Caggiano regrouped and unleashed _We Have Come For You All_ -- arguably their most vibrant, aggressive and confident album since 1994's _Sound of White Noise_ opus.

Now, signed to Nuclear Blast and seemingly hungrier than ever, the 'Thrax look set to ascend to the top of the mountain once more. When I am introduced to John Bush backstage at the Astoria, he is in good spirits, albeit still a tad hung over from a night-best-forgotten in Manchester two days earlier. The newly-shorn frontman is an invigorating person to talk to: ultra-confident, very friendly and surprisingly inquisitive. We spend the first quarter of an hour shooting the breeze on topics ranging from South Africa's metal scene to Relapse Record's superstars-in-making Mastodon before finally getting down to the business at hand.

CoC: _We've Come For You All_ has generally been hailed as a comeback record for Anthrax. Considering that this implies that Anthrax were regarded as being 'on the way down', how do you respond to that point of view?

John Bush: Well, in all honesty we were on our way down. I don't know about musically -– I mean, I'm the last guy who wants to say that, because I joined three records ago. <laughs> I do believe that we made some really good records in the last couple of years, but there were a lot of factors outside of the band's control that lowered the awareness of those albums, and because of that there was a decline, which caused us to not be in the public eye as much as we used to be and probably should have been. In terms of this album maybe having much more of an 'awareness', I think that's a perfectly valid point, and I certainly don't think that the last two records weren't any good; I just think that the new album is a very ferocious sounding record and it does sound like it's grabbing people by the neck and making a statement.

CoC: Well, one of the big factors in bringing Anthrax back into the public eye, albeit in a negative way, was the furore surrounding your name around the time of 9/11. Did this influence your approach to the new album in any way?

JB: No, at the most it probably influenced one song, "Refuse to Be Denied"; but other than that we were actually in the middle of writing already when the whole September 11 thing happened. We were actually about to start a tour with Judas Priest when it happened; we were in Nebraska and we were supposed to play, and then we woke up to that and the tour was cancelled. So, about a month after that, we got together and decided to get back to writing. The comment I've always made is that we're not going to write the soundtrack to 9/11 -– that will never be the basis for an Anthrax record. Sure, it affected us personally; we're a New York-based band, but again, we're not going to have ten songs about 9/11, because I have other things I want to talk about. And I know that Scott and the other guys feel the same way.

CoC: You had to have been surprised to see your band being dragged into the media frenzy though.

JB: Oh yeah -– things happened so quickly, from the first person who died to when all of a sudden the media decided that they weren't going to concentrate on it anymore and started going after every scapegoat they could think of. Then of course, here's this band called Anthrax and we started getting calls from Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine -– we were happy to talk to anybody associated with music, but we caught on pretty early that they weren't about to say anything nice about us, so we created a press release [the infamous "Basketful of Puppies" name-change saga] as a joke. And then CNN took the whole thing out of proportion and ran it as a serious story, which made us go: "Whoa, this is your fucking journalism?" The whole thing was meant as a joke -– we wrote on the website that it was a joke! It made me have a lot less respect for CNN, that's for sure. But eventually it went away. There were people that told us that it was a sensitive issue, but we basically said "Look, assholes -– we've been around for twenty years!" And at the end of everything, I think it probably made us feel quite a bit more resilient.

CoC: So, when you left Elektra, did you feel that you were caught at a crossroads, so to speak?

JB: Absolutely. I mean, there were times when we were all wondering whether it was over. I certainly never doubted the ability for the guys to get together and make good music, but there was so much legal business with the record company that it ended up being like five albatrosses around our neck. And there would be times where we would play together and come up with something great, only to get a phone call from some lawyer or someone from the label. But we hung in there, which I think is a testament to our endurance, and we're here now because it's our choice.

CoC: Now that you're signed to Nuclear Blast, do you feel that the whole business process has been simplified?

JB: Well, here in Europe they have done an amazing job exposing us to potential as well as old Anthrax fans -– telling them that the record is out. I mean we sold about 500 000 copies of _Sound of White Noise_ and at the end of the day about 150 000 of _Stomp 442_ and _Volume 8_, purely because Elektra never even did much to let the existing fans know that there was a new Anthrax album out. I've always said that I'd rather someone come up to me and say that my record sucks than tell me that they didn't know we had a new record out. That just means that the record company aren't doing their job, because there's only so much that we can do ourselves. But like I said, so far Nuclear Blast have done a hell of a job. Now we have to concentrate on Sanctuary in America -– they haven't really been as active as we would have hoped.

CoC: So how did the Nuclear Blast deal come about?

JB: Well, it had a lot to do with Charlie and Scott having a good thing going on with them with SOD, plus they wanted Anthrax, and I mean they're actually so big now that they're like a major label anyway. Also they know what they're selling, they love metal and they've really done an excellent job.

CoC: There were rumours that you guys were going to do a "reunion" tour with you and Joey [Belladona, ex-Anthrax vocalist] sharing the mic duties. Has there been any talk of this taking place recently?

JB: No, I haven't thought about it. We were going to do it in conjunction with our greatest hits compilation [_Return of the Killer A's_] and I thought that it was a cool idea. But he had a lot of demands -– primarily financial -– where he wanted certain amounts of money and wanted to play at certain size venues and we were like "Dude, let's do some math here -– this is what you want and this is what we're getting". But he wouldn't budge, so we called the promoters and they said that we needn't worry -– that basically we'd draw people because we're Anthrax -– so we just did a tour anyway. And it was a blown opportunity for him.

CoC: It's been a big year for metal thus far with a lot of veteran acts like Sepultura and Metallica releasing new albums. What do you think of all the older bands making a return to the fold?

JB: Well, it challenges newer groups to come up with something better, which is really good for the scene. And it's great to see that guys like Slayer and Sepultura are still doing it and are still doing it well. I mean, a lot of bands bring out one amazing album and the rest is shit. As far as Metallica -– I've only heard the new album from top to bottom once and I do believe that the production of the record hinders my enjoyment of the record. <laughs> I suppose that they were going for that kind of sound, but for me as a consumer, I don't like it because I don't think that it embellishes the songs or does the songs justice in any way. I saw them live recently in Germany though and they were amazing, so...

CoC: Anthrax have been around more than two decades now -– do you see yourself still doing this maybe ten or fifteen years from now?

JB: No, I don't think I will. I can only speak on behalf of myself, but quite honestly I am not even really thinking past tonight. I might wake up tomorrow morning and feel completely different, and that's the way I live my life. I'm generally pretty scared of the future. But I don't know -– I think that it really comes down to whether we can collectively still like each other in twenty years from now, and still make quality music and still feel like we're doing something great. That's definitely the most important thing. There's bands that have been around a long time that I wish would just quit -– it's like they've picked a name and they're milking it for all it's worth and taking all the integrity out of it. Especially bands that are fucking loaded. On the other hand, if they really love doing it and that's the driving force, then that's cool. If it's money and the quality of what they're putting out is crap, then fuck them. Or if it's not quality and they're just trying to make a living, then that's okay. <laughs>

CoC: So when Anthrax decides to call it quits one day, who would you say will pick up the torch out of the current crop of bands?

JB: Well, it's difficult to say, especially because it's so different in Europe to America, where everyone is just so trendy. In Europe and Britain they seem to be much more accepting and embracing of older bands, whereas in America if you've been out for three years, you're old, and I think that attitude stinks. We're lucky that way in Europe, because here they still embrace bands like Anthrax, where in the States it's a lot harder for us. I mean, there they're calling bands like Korn old now -- fuck, that makes me prehistoric! But metal will always be changing -– nowadays everyone says that nu metal is dead, but four years ago, every magazine were up those band's asses. As far as new bands that are really good -– I really love Queens of the Stone Age, I think that The Datsuns are really great. And System of a Down are a fucking amazing band, who will be around for a long time, I think.

CoC: When Anthrax was on Elektra, was there ever any pressure put on the band to change your image and your make your music more "trendy"?

JB: No one ever really specifically came to us and said anything, because we're fully aware of what's going on around us. We're not living in some time chamber and thinking it's 1985. So, no one suggested doing anything differently. And for us the most important will always be to make records that sound like Anthrax, but that still progresses and sounds fresh. We don't want to make another _Among the Living_, but at the same time _We Have Come For You All_ sounds to me like _Among the Living_ if it were to have come out in 2003.

CoC: Well, thanks for your time, John!

JB: Thank you and thanks to all the fans -– we hope we'll see you on the road.

(article submitted 4/9/2003)


CHATS
11/29/2004 J Smit Anthrax: Weathering the Storms (And Coming Out Smiling)
9/1/1998 A Bromley Anthrax: Still a Threat
ALBUMS
11/29/2004 J Smit 6.5 Anthrax - The Greater of Two Evils
4/11/2003 X Hoose 9 Anthrax - We've Come for You All
6/7/1998 A Bromley 6 Anthrax - Vol. 8: The Threat Is Real
GIGS
6/23/2004 J Smit Anthrax / Hatebreed Four Times Still Not Enough
7/18/2003 J Smit Anthrax / Kill 2 This They Came For Us All
12/13/1995 A Bromley Anthrax / Life of Agony / Deftones Caught in a Mosh With 'Thrax
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