Weathering the Storms (And Coming Out Smiling)
CoC chats with Scott Ian of Anthrax
by: Jackie Smit
At first glance, Anthrax founding member, guitarist and chief songwriter Scott Ian cuts a distinctly dissimilar figure to the Bermuda-short wearing blockhead of the mid-'80s. This is a man whose eyes tell tales of a road travelled that has had more inclines, twists, turns and slippery slopes than most dare to dream of, and almost remarkably considering the disposable nature of music in our day and age, is still going strong and still burning with the hunger of a young upstart dead-set to earn his stripes amidst some fairly gnarly competition. It's this attitude, however, that has seen Anthrax not only survive the untimely dissolution of key business arrangements, the rise and fall of nu-metal and a whole lot more to spare, but it's also been the driving force that sees the band still capable of maintaining an absolutely rabid fanbase, while consistently drawing fresh blood into the fold so that they might too discover what so many of us were weaned on. In that respect, the latest offering from Camp Anthrax, _The Greater of Two Evils_, which sees the band re-record a veritable diapason of classic tunes, might serve as a perfect introduction to fresh, unsuspecting ears. Says Scott about the record:

Scott Ian: It came from the idea that we were going to do a box set this year to commemorate twenty years of _Fistful of Metal_ being out, and once we started gathering all of our ideas together we realised that we would have needed to start planning everything for this box set about four years ago. There literally was so much stuff that we would have wanted to include, and just the time that it was going to take to make this happen... One of the ideas came from a discussion from where you would play a show and someone would come up to you and say: "Well, why didn't you play this song or that song?" So out of that came the idea to put all the songs from the first five albums on the website and have people vote -- not that it would actually solve the problem, because we would still have to put every song in our catalogue on to please everybody. But just as a cool thing, we thought for the box set we would put those songs up, have the fans vote, and then we would have a disc where we record a bunch of the old song that the fans picked. Because we aren't going to do the box set at this point, we just figured that we'd take that idea and still do that, so that's where it came from.

CoC: In listening to the finished product, do you ever find yourself comparing them to the earlier recordings?

SI: I don't compare it at all. You can't compare it because it's two completely different things -- different times, different people. You know, we're different musicians now as players -- it's just completely different. That's the point of it. These songs recorded now are exactly as you would hear them if you came to see us live tonight. That was the idea that we had going in. We weren't trying to remake anything, we weren't trying to reinvent the original studio versions. We just set up our gear and we played the songs live and we recorded seventeen tracks in two days. That was it -- done. This was a representation of what the songs sound like live. It's a live album recorded in the studio.

CoC: Have Joey Belladonna or Neil Turbin heard any of the tracks on _The Greater of Two Evils_, or given you any input on how the material sounds?

SI: Not that I know of. We didn't have any input from them, and I don't know whether they've heard it yet or not. I actually don't know how they would have unless someone sent them a promo copy or something.

CoC: You guys never wondered whether they would take this record the wrong way -- you know, perhaps seeing it as an insult to their work?

SI: I don't care. Truthfully -- why would it matter? They don't have a say, so... But I would find it odd if they had anything negative to say. I couldn't imagine them being negative about it -- that would really seem weird to me.

CoC: Speaking of Joey, care to shed any light on why the Belladonna / Bush tour never happened?

SI: Joey decided not to do it -- simple as that. You'd have to ask him his reasons for doing that. We were really disappointed, because we felt like we were going to do something really cool and special that had never been done before, and then he pulled himself out of the mix. I mean, we ended doing the tour ourselves anyway, and had a great time. And that's where things started again for me, anyway. I look back at that tour in 2000 and I think that's where it all finally started to turn back around for us after all the late '90s crap. But anyway, you know -- there's a part of me that wishes we would have done it, just to satiate my curiosity and just to see what it would have sounded like and what people would have thought. Then there's another part of me that's glad we didn't do it, because we really didn't need to do it. I'll probably always be curious, and who knows, maybe someday it will happen, unless Van Halen beats us to the punch, and I don't see that happening.

CoC: He never gave you any sort of hint about his reasons behind not wanting to do the tour?

SI: We were told things, but it's not fair for me to speculate or put words in his mouth.

CoC: And you don't have any more contact with him?

SI: I haven't spoken to him since 2000.

CoC: I remember talking to John [Bush] last year about the troubles that befell Anthrax during the late '90s, and now that the band is on track once again, what do you have to say about the last five to six years of your career?

SI: Well, like I said, beginning of 2000 is when things really started to flip around for us and you could tell that things had changed. In 1998 we released _Volume 8_, and everything was going really well for six months, and that's when the label we were on at the time [Ignition Records] went out of business. So six months into this project, we had a record that had just sold 100 000 copies in the States and we were about to hit with a second single which was going to be "Crush", and then right before Christmas our manager calls us up and says that the label is going out of business, we don't have any more distribution -- the record is done, and we have to go and find a new deal. And it was like "What the fuck?" We thought everything was great going into the project after getting away from Elektra on the _Stomp 442_ record -- which had already been a nightmare unto itself -- and then everything was set up for _Volume 8_, it was going great and then a rug gets pulled out from under us. The record company goes out of business -- what the fuck is that? So basically, ‘99 was just a lost year. We were fucked and we trying to find a new deal and then we did that tour in the beginning of 2000, and we did another one in the summer of 2000 and then toward the end of the year we started writing, and then in 2001 was when we were supposed to go and do the Priest tour, and then 9/11 happened, so that got postponed. So we finished writing the record and then we went into the studio at the end of 2001 and actually started recording. We did the Priest tour in the States at the beginning of 2002, finished _We've Come For You All_, and next thing you know we where back here in the UK supporting Motorhead; the album comes out in March 2003, and here I am sitting in front of you eighteen months later. It's been the best eighteen months of our lives, and the last record enabled us to get to the point where we're even better than we were before. Things have really started to go back up and with _We've Come For You All_ we actually had a label that did its job for us, which really isn't too much to ask for. And it actually worked this time, and obviously the support we've had has been the best, so yeah... That's about all I can say about that.

CoC: Looking back at those difficult times, did you ever think that Anthrax might be on the verge of extinction?

SI: Well, it was never going to go away. We were never going to quit because something bad had happened in the music business. That's just frustration for me and it just causes me to fight even harder. You know, the song "Refuse to Be Denied" on the last record -- that's where that title came from. After all that shit had happened at the end of the '90s, I remember writing that on a piece of paper and I had that stuck up in a room at my house for a year, so that every day I would see it. Admittedly that's not what the song is about, but that's where the title came from. My attitude was like there's no way that anyone is going to ever stop me from doing this unless I decide that I don't want to do it anymore. I refuse to have any outside source, outside of anyone who is not physically inside this band, to ever have an effect on what do or what we don't do, because that's the way it's been since day one. And as frustrating as it is, you have to overcome those fucking obstacles -- and that's what makes us as strong a band as we are. There's a lot of bands that never even made it out of the '80s, because they couldn't overcome those fucking low times and couldn't deal with stuff and get over the hump or whatever you want to call it. That's something that I would never let stand in my way or in the way of this band, and that's just how I am in all walks of life. It's just the way it has to be.

CoC: If you look back at your time with Anthrax going back to the '80s and the early days, is there anything you wish you had done differently?

SI: No. That's another thing I have never done, look back at our career. I will when I'm 75 years old or something, but I always go forward. It's all about what I'm doing today, what we're doing tomorrow, what we're doing next year or whatever. We've always been very good at being able to plan out x-amount of time in advance. You set those goals, you make those plans and you make it happen. That's how it's always been with this band. I always compare this band to a shark, because a Great White shark can't live in captivity, it has to be constantly free and moving or it dies. And basically that's how I feel about this band -- we always need to be moving forward. I don't need to sit around and reminisce -- I've experienced all that and it's all inside me. I have plenty of time in my life to sit around and do that when I'm not actually experiencing it. I'm right in the thick of it now.

CoC: So let's talk about S.O.D. for a second, if I may. A lot of news sources was quoting some really harsh comments from Billy after you guys had brought out _Bigger Than the Devil_. Care to comment on the reason for this bust-up?

SI: There was no bust-up. S.O.D.... you know, you can talk to all four members of S.O.D. and they'll give you a different answer on their opinion of what S.O.D. is, and that is because S.O.D. was never a band. Billy might give you a completely different answer to what I just did, but I look at it this way: Billy might be the mouthpiece for S.O.D., but I invented S.O.D.; I drew the mascot on a piece of paper, I wrote the first ten songs, and then I called Lilker up and we wrote the next ten songs, and we asked Billy to sing on the record. S.O.D. was never a band and there's never been something to bust up. It's something that was a project and it remains an on-going entity, but it was never meant to be a band that makes records and then tours and then makes another record. It was never supposed to have that kind of baggage. The fact that we even made _Bigger Than the Devil_ was a complete fluke in that sense. It's just something that was only ever supposed to be for complete and absolute fun without any of the things that being in a band entails -- without any of the business; without any of that. We were able to create this thing with _Speak English or Die_ that operated completely outside of the music -- it was the exact opposite of the way things are supposed to be done. And that was the point of it. Making that album was a complete reaction to doing _Spreading the Disease_, because we had spent six months in the studio, because we had a producer who was being paid by the day, so the longer he took the more money he made. I wrote that S.O.D. album during that time and then we recorded and mixed that record in three days, and it enabled me to call Carl Canedy and tell him that we'd done the album in that amount of time and it sounded pretty fucking good, and that with _Spreading the Disease_ he had ripped us off. That was the whole idea with S.O.D.: it was supposed to exist outside of the normal. Billy, I think, had different ideas: he would have loved for the band to more of a permanent thing. He would have loved to have made more records, done more touring or whatever. Everyone who has ever been in S.O.D. have always had their eyes open, though. Charlie and I obviously have our priorities, and Lilker has always had his -- whether it was Brutal Truth or Nuclear Assault --, and that's just the way it is. Billy and I have an interesting relationship: we're more like brothers than anything else. Sometimes you could not like each other, but you're still brothers, you know? That's our relationship in a nutshell.

CoC: Scott, let's talk politics. You're known as being a fairly outspoken dude, so what do you make of the outcome of the US elections? Are you planning on joining the outflow of US citizens to Canada anytime soon?

SI: It's so funny, you know, because I voted Kerry, but this reactionary thing where people want to move to Canada... It's good, you know, because there's too many people in this fucking country anyway. They got a lot of room up there. That to me is just fucking sheer stupidity, but the people that think that way can go ahead. I don't need to live somewhere cold, that's why I moved to California fifteen years ago. If I was going to move anywhere, I'd move somewhere beautiful like Tuscany -- what the fuck are you going to move to Canada for? There's nothing wrong with Canada, but just because George Bush won you want to move out? I'm obviously disappointed. I'm a very optimistic person in general and I believed in what Kerry was saying. I'm not a Republican and I'm not a Democrat; I'm a human being who bases my voting for a candidate on what that candidate says on issues that affect me and that affect the world, and it doesn't matter to me what party they represent. I voted for Kerry because I truly believe that the administration that's in power right now is not good for the world and I truly believed that Kerry's change was necessary -- not even just for the United States, but also from a global point of view, which I think I get because we're always touring. I'm not one of those people who think "Fuck what's going on in the rest of the world, it only matters what goes on in America -- we shouldn't let the world decide who becomes our next president!" Well, maybe we should. Anyway, Kerry was not the most inspiring candidate in the world and I think that the problem is only going to get worse going into 2008, because what I see happening is that it's not even going to matter anymore who the candidates are -- people are just going to start voting along party lines and it won't matter who's running. Republicans will only vote for a Republican and Democrats will only vote for a Democrat, and it wouldn't even matter if it were the second coming of fucking Abraham Lincoln. It could be the greatest guy in the world, but people are only going to vote for the party. I truly believe that Kerry was the better candidate -- uninspiring as he was. It's amazing to me that more people didn't see that and people who live in the Republican state just didn't seem to care. They just went: "Fuck all that, fuck that shit -- we're voting for George Bush." Why? "We don't know; we're voting for Bush." I heard so much of that in the last year -- I have friends who are Republicans and you can get into some crazy fucking arguments with them about this shit and no one can ever really tell me why. Let's take Billy Milano for example. Billy is a huge Bush supporter, and I won't even argue with him over stuff like that, simply because I don't feel like getting yelled at. I would never try and change Billy's opinion, but the fact of the matter is that Billy is a musician and he lives a lifestyle and expresses himself in certain ways that if it were up to the administration that he supports, they would censor everything he had to say, and they wouldn't even let him make records. Fuck, half the music that comes out these days would not be allowed if the Bush administration had their way, and if they were able to just keep going on in the way they're going on with taking away personal freedoms. I posed that question to a lot of people and particularly to a lot of my friends who are Republicans -- you're life style is 180 degrees opposite to what they condone and what they're getting at. How the fuck could you vote for this guy? And if they really have their way, you wouldn't be sitting in this bar right now talking to me. And these people are like: "Whatever, fuck that shit -- George Bush!" You can't get an answer. It's become this fucking robotic thing where people will only vote along party lines and I don't see how that's going to change unless they change how presidents are voted for in America. But I'm not going to move to Canada. <laughs>

CoC: Do you think that's just a matter of party-line politics that cost John Kerry the election, or do you think that he dropped the ball elsewhere as well?

SI: No, I don't really think he dropped the ball, personally. I don't. Like I said, he wasn't out there, all fire and brimstone winning people over with his amazing personality -- he's no Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton knew how to win over an audience. Bill Clinton came in 1992 against George Bush Sr., who should have won a second term realistically. Incumbents should usually win a second term, and Clinton came in and just knocked the shit out of a guy who had a huge personality and knew how to talk to an audience. Kerry was no Bill Clinton. Clinton could have come in 2004 and if he were allowed to run again, he probably would have won. I know this might sound crazy, but truthfully not 2008, but 2012 I won't be surprised if you're looking at President Schwarzenegger, because that law about having to be born in the United States will get changed, and that is someone who is capable of winning hearts and minds. He has charisma and a big personality, whether or not he's a good politician -- which is an oxymoron to me anyway. He might be a Republican, but I actually morally agree with him on most things. He believes that a woman has the right to choose whether or not she wants to have a baby. He's way more moderate than anyone in the Bush administration, that's for sure. In California, he certainly wasn't out there yelling for Bush, because California is such a Democratic state. He probably felt like he couldn't be out there being pro-George Bush because he would end up losing support next time round.

CoC: Well, one thing that in my opinion really threw Kerry out of contention was the way in which he handled the appearance of the most recent Usama Bin Laden video message. Rather than actually take the Republicans to task about the fact that such a video could even exist in the first place, he seemed to just ignore it, which in turn didn't do much for his credibility in terms of how voraciously he would seek to protect America.

SI: He came on and said that he'd hunt down and kill the terrorists, but certainly not to the extent that Bush had been doing. But Al Qaeda and Bin Laden -- you know, for those guys Bush is the ideal president, because he's like the poster boy for Al Qaeda recruitment at the moment. Kerry comes in and all of a sudden people are going to be like "Well, he doesn't seem so bad, he's not like that fucking asshole from Texas." I mean, with the Bush administration -- if they had their way, you wouldn't be able to release metal records. The Republican administration wants to shut you up and I would fight to the death for something like that.

CoC: So, Scott, what's next on the cards for Anthrax -- when are you guys going to start working on the follow-up to _We've Come For You All_?

SI: January is when we'll get together and start writing and see where the train takes us. I'm sure we'll be in the studio at some point during the year and hopefully have the new album out by the end of 2005. I have some ideas, which are mostly just riffs being sung into my cellphone, so things are pretty much in the stem-cell stage right now.

CoC: Last question: after all this time that you've been doing Anthrax, what's still left for you to conquer?

SI: We want to play Download next year. <laughs> Just kidding. For me this is all about the career, you know? It's been my goal and my driving force. I love doing this, I love being in a band -- and the day that it stops being fun, then it will end. I can say that it will end the day that all five of us can look each other in the eye and say that it was fucking great and walk away from it happy. But until then, I love doing this -- this is my life and my goal is to continue what we're doing and to continue doing things our own way and call our own shots.

CoC: Speaking of Download -- this is something I've always wanted ask your opinion on: Metallica bring out _St Anger_ and claim that they're returning to their roots, yet they take Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and Deftones on tour with them. I've always wondered why they don't put their money where their mouths are and take Anthrax or Death Angel or someone on the road with them instead. What are your thoughts on that?

SI: Ask Lars. I can't answer that -- he is the one who calls the shots and he'd probably never answer your question even if you had the opportunity to ask him. Believe me, if Metallica called us up and asked us out on the road with them, we'd do it without hesitation.

(article submitted 29/11/2004)

9/4/2003 J Smit Anthrax: We Refuse to Be Denied
9/1/1998 A Bromley Anthrax: Still a Threat
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
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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