Long Time Anthrax Vocalist Discusses Return to Glory, Security Mishaps and "Worship Music"
New York thrash outfit Anthrax released albums such as “Spreading the Disease” and “Among the Living,” in the 1980s, which will forever be understood as not only classic thrash albums but classic heavy metal in general. In 1992, Anthrax replaced singer Joey Belladonna with John Bush from Armored Saint. Even though the group stepped down the speed of earlier recordings, the first two Bush albums, “The Sound of White Noise” and “Stomp 442” were well received. Then the group experienced a blurry period, releasing only "Volume 8 - The Threat Is Real" in 1998 and “We’ve Come For You All” in 2003.
Belladonna rejoined in 2005 only to be ousted in 2007 to make way for an unknown singer named Dan Nelson. In 2010, Anthrax returned to its greatest glory in twenty years as part of the Big 4 European Tour (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth) and Festival in California. American fans were afforded the chance to see three of the big four thrash bands with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax that very summer on the “American Carnage” tour. This tour was a return to the “Clash of the Titans” lineup, bar Alice in Chains, of 1991.
These tours surely recharged the group’s batteries. A year later, the group has released what many consider the best Anthrax album since…well, since the last album featuring Joey Belladonna. Belladonna may not touch the sky in a Halford fashion on “Worship Music,” but good luck finding a vocalist with as much passion and tone clarity. As he proved on stage after this interview, he can still hit every high note with perfection. “Worship Music” relates a modern sound that just doesn’t warrant this type of vocal style. With said album came a headlining tour with Testament and Death Angel in tow (read the show report).
Metal Underground went backstage to speak with Joey about returning to the group and their recent resurgence. Drummer, Charlie Benante sat next to us in the dressing room, playing an unplugged electric guitar. Guitarist Scott Ian came in to give exciting news about the crowd and comment on Belladonna’s vocal talents. Belladonna frantically changed clothes, hurrying to make way for our interview. While putting on a clean t-shirt he alluded to the movie “Airplane,” saying, “Have you ever seen a grown man naked, Joey?” Death Angel vocalist Mark Osegueda warmed up his voice outside the door, letting loose soaring, eagle screams. This all made for an interesting and somewhat hectic interview, but other than a few words obscured by Osegueda’s voice, Belladonna gave us a candid look at his life as the front man for thrash legends Anthrax.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): First off all, you had a rough show in Los Angeles.
Joey Belladonna: Actually, it was all good. All I did was touch the fan. I was like, “Hey, everything is cool.” Then, within seconds—bang, the security guy bulldozed me down. He body slammed me to the ground. I don’t know what he was doing, if he was tackling out of spite to get everything out of the way. I don’t even know if he knew who I was. It wasn’t something I anticipated. It hurt! Then, there was the eight-car pile up on top of me. I was like, “ahhhh.” It was something I would rather not get into again.
Cowan: The band kept playing for a little while and the pile kept getting bigger.
Belladonna: Rob didn’t know about. Scott didn’t know, neither did Charlie. Nobody knew. It happened so fast, honest to god. I literally put my hand on the guy’s shoulder, I turned and he was there—bang! We have back ups. Stuff like that could have gotten worse. Last night, a guy came up and I thought Frankie [Bello] was behind me. I don’t know where he came from. It was a little spooky for me, coming up behind me.
Cowan: Other than that unfortunate incident, has the tour been smooth sailing?
Belladonna: Oh yeah, everything has been great! We’re gelling great. The band is tight. The new songs are feeling really, really good. We’re taking everything we can to really get it jacked up this time around, to get things really going. I’m always there for the interesting ride, to see how things are going. It’s business as usual.
Cowan: When was the last time you went out on a headlining tour with Anthrax?
Belladonna: The reunion in 2005! We did a little bit of headlining. We also did the Priest and the Zombie tour, too.
Cowan: Were you playing with Anthrax in 2001 that was cancelled due to 911?
Belladonna: Are you talking about the dueling singers? (Writer’s note: No, I wasn’t, but this is much more interesting.) I probably shouldn’t have brought it because nobody has been bringing it up. I think they were just trying to get me to go out there and do it, but nothing seemed to pan out right. It just didn’t sound right, for some reason. It just didn’t’ work out right. I’m glad it didn’t because I’m not into this whole battle-of-the- band’s-singer thing. It would have turned out that way, I think. It wouldn’t have been a friendly thing because somebody was going to compare us.
Cowan: Were you actually on the same stage as John Bush?
Belladonna: No, I never did it.
Cowan: In 2007, you left and Dan Nelson came in. What was going on during that period?
Belladonna: I don’t know what was going on with that. That was a flurry that happened out of nowhere. I just heard about it on the Internet. The next thing you know, there was some stranger there.
Cowan: I’ve never heard of the guy.
Belladonna: I don’t think anybody has. I don’t know. He was off of my radar, really. Although there was a gap there, in the end, we got back together. We got back on track.
Cowan: It seems like you’re at full force again with “Worship Music.” This album straddles the line between the eighties and the nineties material. Twenty years have passed (“Persistence of Time,” 1990) since you last recorded with the band. How do you perceive the change in your vocal style and range?
Belladonna: I don’t know. Some of the songs might be a little different, writing wise. Some of the tempos and patterns of vocals vary a little bit, but…
Scott Ian: He’s being too modest. Name one other dude who can sing as good as him right now?
Belladonna: One thing that was different this time around is that I did go in alone this time. There wasn’t anyone there. It was just me and Jay Ruston—the producer. We went in there, took a look at the songs, printed out the lyrics and went there and fired them off. It was a nice, easy go at it. There wasn’t any pressure, really. Sometimes, when people are there, you’re kind of performing in a way. Everybody is impatient, sitting and waiting for you to do something. There is a long wait, whether they are playing the guitar or the drums. It was just very easy. That was different. It’s great that everything turned out really good. I’m so happy that the songs were suited from the get-go. It’s hard to imagine anything else like that. The repoire that we’ve been getting has been great. I can’t thank everybody enough.
Cowan: Who came up with the album title?
Belladonna: That’s a good question. I’m going to guess that Charlie came up with it. It’s a great title.
Charlie Benante: I woke up at 5 AM one Sunday morning. I turned on the TV and saw a show called “Worship Music.” It was a Sunday morning sermon show. That title stuck in my head. I thought it would be a great album title. That’s how it happened.
Cowan: Did you write the lyrics for the album?
Benante: No, I wrote most of the music. Scott wrote the lyrics.
Cowan: At the “American Carnage” tour with Slayer and Megadeth, you played one John Bush song, “Only,” which was the single from “The Sound of White Noise.” What was it like learning that song and making it your own?
Belladonna: That one, god, I think I just worked on it at the house. I didn’t do anything extensive, just enough to know the arrangements. I learned it pretty easy. There was nothing unusual. In fact, the song is pretty easy. Doing other people’s music, especially in this band, it’s kind of hard to go back and try to cover all that other stuff. We have enough old music, and just to have to be judged. He wrote that. I would love to be able to do everything. Unfortunately, when he came into the band he had no choice but to cover old stuff because they didn’t have enough material. The whole comparison thing blows in that way. It’s great that there is all this music out there to do. I enjoyed doing the song. They wrote great music. All of that stuff is very open for me to do. It’s not like I’m going to run into problems. Obviously, there will be comparisons. You always run into, “Did he sound like him?” “Is he doing it right?” That’s the only problem I have with that. I don’t mind doing anything. I love a good song.
Cowan: You try to make it your own. You didn’t try to sound like him.
Belladonna: Yes! No way! There is no reason for that. Nor do I want to deviate from the song and try to be too clever with it and take it out of context. I kept it real to that song.
Cowan: Will we see a full-scale Big 4 U.S. tour?
Belladonna: I really think there is going to be some stuff. I believe there is room for more music, maybe 2013. Hopefully. We’re always ready. We’ve got the lines open. They always know we’re open for them. We’d love the bands to get some more music somewhere else in that package. It was a great day and a great show.
Cowan: You’re on VH1 Classic.
Belladonna: We’re also on the PALLADIA channel, which is cool. I’ve seen highlights. At least I’ve found highlights of myself (laughs). (Joey stops and peeks his head out into the hallway, telling Death Angel singer Mark Osegueda in a joking fashion, “That’s enough.)
Cowan: Going back to the television statement, the Big 4 tour was by no means Anthrax’s only television appearance. Scott Ian has many television/movie appearances, but the “Married with Children” will forever be burnt into your fans’ memory. What do you recall about being part of that episode?
Belladonna: You know what? Those five days that we shot were a blur. I can’t tell you what the story was, right. I was very excited. Unfortunately, at that time, too, it was such a cool moment because I know something was on the way, something was going down. I kind of got mixed feelings on that, but overall it was a blast. The five days that we spent there were really, really fun. It was an honor to do that show. It’s one of those things you can always say, “Hey, we were on that show!”
Darren Cowan owns and operates Louder Than Hell.net. He has written for several metal publications. An avid metal head for over twenty years, he has attended concerts throughout several regions of the U.S.
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