Interview with Scott Ian
By Peter Atkinson
Photos from https://www.facebook.com/scottian, http://scott-ian.com/ and http://anthrax.com/
As founding guitarist for one of thrash metal’s Big 4 bands as well as cult legends Stormtroopers of Death, television personality, occasional zombie, aspiring card sharp and son-in-law of rock legend Meatloaf, among many other things, Anthrax founder Scott Ian has seen and done enough during his long career in show business to fill a book, which, as it turns out, he is now writing. Ian signed on with De Capo Press last November for said memoir, called “I’m The Man” and written with the assistance of music scribe Jon Weiderhorn, in order to, as he says, “share all these killer stories” of everything he’s experienced over the past 30-plus years.
Ian’s actually been doing a lot story telling over the past couple years as it is. After being invited by a U.K. promoter to take part in a spoken-word series called “Rock Stars Say the Funniest Things” in London in 2012, Ian did several additional shows in Australia with wrestler/rocker Chris Jericho last year before launching his own “Speaking Words” tour in Europe. He kicked off a U.S. leg of the tour on Feb. 20 that will run through March 8. Just before heading out on the tour, Ian announced a crowd-funding campaign through Pledge Music to raise money for the release of a DVD of a “Speaking Words” performance in Glasgow, Scotland.
On the phone from his home in Los Angeles, Ian offered the following on his new sideline as spoken word performer, his appearance on “The Walking Dead,” late-Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman and what the future may or may not hold for additional Big 4 shows.
How are things in L.A.?
Scott Ian: About what you’d expect. Sunny and warm. Like always.
You’re missing all of the fun with the polar vortices back East.
Scott: That’s exactly why I moved out here. I don’t miss that at all.
I know you typically keep a pretty busy schedule, but are you taking it easy now before going on the speaking tour?
Scott: If by taking it easy you mean doing press, writing the next Anthrax record, working on my book and DVD and getting myself prepared for my tour, along with all the other stuff that occupies my day, then yes, I’m taking it easy (laughs). But I am home now with my family, so when I do relax and do it with them.
Holy crap, I’d hate to see it when you’re “busy.”
Scott: Yeah, it can be pretty insane. Once you add in touring with Anthrax and the traveling and all the things that come with that, it gets really crazy. The last couple years, since the last Anthrax album, have been super busy because we kept touring and touring, which has been great, don’t get me wrong. But I know how to manage my time, I’ve been doing this for long enough now that I’ve got it figured out. And I’d rather be busy because if I am it means people give a shit about what I’m doing (laughs).
You’ve done a bunch of the “Speaking Words” show in Europe over the last year or so, how did they go?
Scott: They went really well, well enough so that I decided to try it out in the states. They went surprisingly well considering I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing going into them. This is not really something I’d done before. I’m not uncomfortable speaking in public, but there’s a big difference between that, giving a talk or being on a panel at some conference or something, and getting up on stage and telling stories for an hour and half or two hours.
And it’s a a huge difference from doing a show with Anthrax, where I might only be onstage for an hour, I’m playing stuff I’ve played sometimes thousands of times and there are four other guys onstage and there is a frontman like Joey [Belladonna] who does most of the interacting with the audience. This is just me and there’s nothing to hide behind.
When I was first asked to do this, I jumped at the chance, because it’s something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but had never been able to figure out how I could do it. Once that happened, everything kind of fell into place from there.
You’ve done lots of stuff on camera for VH1 and whatnot, did any of that help prepare you for doing this?
Scott: Not really, because there a lot of times you’re just responding to a question or giving your opinion on a certain subject. And you can do it over and over again until you get something they are happy with – or that doesn’t make you look like an idiot, or, in some cases, that does (laughs). And there’s no audience, it’s just you and a guy with a camera in your face and a producer or someone. Maybe it helps you be a little bit less self-conscious, but other than that you really can’t compare it.
Did it take you long to get comfortable being out their by yourself and talking for two hours?
Scott: The actual performance, no, since I’m used to being in front of an audience. That actually turned out to be the easy part, what surprised my was how draining these shows can be. After all those years of jumping around onstage with Anthrax, I thought standing there with a microphone was going to be easy. But try standing and talking and pacing around and interacting with people for two hours or more and see how that feels. Dude, it’s exhausting. I didn’t have that muscle memory at first, and after the first few shows I couldn’t believe how tiring they were.
Plus, there’s a whole different level of concentration involved with talking for two hours and trying to hold peoples’ attention without making it sound like a lecture.
Scott: Exactly. It can mentally exhausting, since I’m basically just winging it. I was worried about repeating myself or losing my place or forgetting things. The first couple shows I was definitely worried, am I going to get up there and freeze and not remember anything, but that never happened.
So you don’t work from a script or notes or anything, you talk more off the cuff?
Scott: I don’t have a set list or anything, I just kinda go for it. Doing it night after night helps. After you do it a couple times it become easier to keep things moving. But it’s not like I’ve got a script or anything memorized, it’s all stuff that has been in more forever.
These are all stories that are a part of me, so accessing it really isn’t that hard. Once I get going, the details just come and one detail leads to the next. It was a bit nerve-wracking, especially at first, but once I got a big laugh or could see that I really had the audience’s attention, it helped me get comfortable and from there it’s usually pretty smooth sailing.
The stories you tell, are they a mixed bag of tour stuff, band stuff, travel stuff, family stuff, or do you stick primarily to one kind of theme?
Scott: No, it’s everything. A real kind of cross-section of experiences. A lot of it is just from my travels and people I’ve met over the years and people I’ve hung out with. Just ridiculous, ridiculous stories.
I can imagine. The list of characters you’ve been on tour or TV with include Flavor Flav, Ted Nugent, Sebastian Bach, and you’ve got Meatloaf for a father-in-law, you could spend a whole night just talking about any of them?
Scott: Funny enough, I haven’t really talked about many of these people. Flavor Flav, I definitely have some stories about him, but they haven’t made into the set yet surprisingly.
Is the Meatloaf as a father-in-law something you talk about?
Scott: I generally get asked that, it’s not something I specifically address during the show or a specific tale I tell. In the Q&A section every night, I would have to say I’ve probably been asked every time, “What’s it like to have Meatloaf as a father-in-law?” So I do talk about him, sure. That’s what’s cool about the Q&A, it opens to doors to other stories and whatnot and it keeps it spontaneous for me – even if I get some of the same questions every night (laughs).
The Q&A could be a double-edged sword too if you have a hostile audience member or people want to focus on a specific episode like Dan Nelson’s tempestuous tenure as Anthrax’s vocalist a while back and beat it to death. You have some famous friends who do standup comedy, like Brian Posehn and Patton Oswalt, did they offer any advice for you about handling situations like that?
Scott: (Laughs) No, and it’s a different situation. I’m not up there telling jokes. I’m telling stories and I’m answering questions. It’s not like I’m telling jokes and you don’t like my jokes. If someone was to heckle me, I don’t think it would be hard to put an end to that because everyone else who is there to see the show doesn’t want t be interrupted by some idiot, so I would leave it in their hands to police themselves and I think it would get taken care of pretty quick (laughs). That’s something you see time and again playing metal shows for more than 30 years.
I haven’t had anything like anyway. And what are you going to do, come see me and yell “you suck!” Who cares. It’s hard for me to imagine, maybe it will happen, but who knows. It actually would be hilarious – though I’m not telling people to come and do that. Don’t think you’re helping the show by being the loudmouth in the back. But so far the audiences have been great and rather gracious.
By the same token, since what you are doing is standup – just not telling jokes – and this is all something new to you, have you gotten any advice from your comedian friends about stuff like pace and delivery and breaks in the action and whatnot so you’re not just out there rambling and wearing the audience out?
Scott: No. I did have a big plan when I initially said yes to the first show I did a couple years ago in London, this one off, I had five months to prepare for it and I had this big plan where I was going to write my show – even though I knew all these stories, my plan was to write them all out – and put it together with what story was going to go in what order and have some of my friends over, do the show for them, pass out little note cards (laughs), ask them to give me notes and all the stuff, and I didn’t do any of that. Five months went by and I did zero preparation.
Maybe that could have helped, but the only thing I’ve really learned from my friends who are in standup and/or are writers is that really the only way to get better at this and to practice and to learn it is by doing it in front of an audience. The more you do it, you definitely learn about pacing and timing and phrasing. On the U.K. run I did, a week into the tour, just looking back at the first couple of shows, which were just a few days earlier, I was thinking “God, this is so much better now. I understand this so much more than I did a few days ago.” And that’s just from being in front of an audience every night. You come offstage and you make mental notes of things that happened and that goes into the show the next night and so on and so on.
For me, I’m in a place where I have so much to learn. Being in a band, being on stage for me, I know so much – not that I still don’t learn. But even in front of the lamest audience and the most boring crowd I can still get up there and have fun myself and make it fun for me. Whereas this, I’m so focused on just trying to entertain people and wanting people to like it and be happy and trying to learn this and hone this into something that to me, in my mind, is something professional.
Do the audiences you’ve spoken before seem receptive, responsive and curious, or has it mostly fanboys, if you will, just “basking on the glow of Scott Ian?”
Scott: (laughs) Certainly on the U.K. run, where it was only me, 99 percent of the audience was people who are fans of Anthrax and know who I am. The only people who weren’t were the people who worked at the venues. And the feedback a lot of times from those people, the bartenders or security people who didn’t have a clue who I was, they would come up to me later and tell me they were cracking up and had a great time. So that just shows me it doesn’t have anything to do with being into metal or being a fan of Anthrax or anything because these stories are just inherently good stories.
Yeah, it helps if you know who Lemmy is, or you know who Dimebag Darrell is, that might make something funnier. But I would try to look at it from the point of view of someone who doesn’t know who Darrell was and they are hearing this crazy story about this guy and what they might think. Like “is this guy for real?” And, of course, he was. I’ve had a lot of people who come from completely different worlds tell me they thought it was really cool, so that always feels good.
When I was in Australia, and I was going shows together with Chris Jericho. Granted there is a good amount of crossover in the people who are coming to see us, but at the same time, Chris is quite a popular dude, and a lot of the people who are coming are WWF people, they don’t know who I am. Maybe they’ve heard of me, maybe they’ve heard of my band, but they don’t know anything about me. And my set went over great in front of those people, so it makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
Are you thinking about continuing to do this, or will you do the tour, write the book, do the DVD, then move on?
Scott: It’s something I would like to be able to continue to do and keep growing over time. I don’t have an unlimited amount of time to do this and travel the world doing these shows. But when I do have an opportunity, I would like to keep doing them. Like when we have an open window of space later in the year, I’d like to do some West Coast dates. It just comes down to schedule. But it’s something I definitely intend to continue, because even if I don’t have a lot of time available, I’ve got plenty of stories left to tell – even after the DVD and book comes out.
I don’t know if “The Walking Dead” figures into your set, but I’d imagine you’re psyched for Sunday when the new season starts. How long ago did you do your zombie bit for the show – or at least the webisode you were on?
Scott: I don’t even remember, it was a couple years ago . It was season two probably, leading up to season two I think.
Your webisode was the back story for the half-a-woman Rick encounters in the park in like the second episode of the first season, right?
Scott: Yes. I spent hours and hours in makeup for a couple seconds of screen time, but it was worth it.
Since you know the special effects guy, Greg Nicotero, has anyone approached you about doing any more stuff with the show, behind the scenes or perhaps musically? Motorhead got a song [“Fast And Loose” from Ace of Spades] into an episode, so there has been some metal representation.
Scott: I wish (laughs). I haven’t been quiet about the fact that I would love to do more on that show. I’m going to see Greg Nicotero his weekend when I go up to San Francisco for Kirk Hammett’s horror festival thing because I’m doing a bunch of stuff with that. Believe me, I’m going to stay in his ear about getting to be a zombie again. It would be easier to be a zombie again than to get a song on there, that’s for sure.
Again, not sure if this factors into your show, but last Friday was Jeff Hanneman’s 50th birthday. For all of the times you’ve toured with Slayer, did you get to know him at all? A lot of people who were in your position said they didn’t.
Scott: Yeah, we spent a really good amount of time together a long time ago. Certainly on the Clash of the Titans tour in 1991. It’s not like I was hanging out with Jeff on a regular basis, but yeah I feel like I knew the guy, we were definitely friends. It was always great to see him and I feel like vice versa because every time he would see me I’d get a big smile and a big hug. He was always just a really fun guy to be around.
Because we came up together, the relationship is different than maybe some bands that toured with Slayer later on. We come from the same place, I just always think there is a certain amount of trust just because we’ve known each other for so long. It’s not like we were going to the bar and having drinks once a week, but we were friends for sure and I certainly will miss him.
The last time I saw him was the Big 4 show in Coachella [in April 2011]. We had a really good talk that day. He was like a little kid showing off his scar, literally. It’s like when you’re 10 and you’re super excited to show people where you got stitches or something. He was super excited to show me the scar from the surgeries he had had. And it was cool to see him play with Slayer again, even if it was just two songs.
Turns out it was the last time he played with the band.
Scott: Uh huh. He seemed like he was in really great spirits that day, actually. I think that’s why people were so shocked when things took a turn for the worse like they did.
Speaking of the Big 4, has there been any more discussion about shows down the road, or has that ship now sailed?
Scott: I have no idea. Even when that stuff was going on, we would only find out about it basically like “here’s what’s happening, are you in?” For us and Slayer and Megadeth, it really is Metallica’s ship. It’s not like we’re having conference calls or meetings around big tables planning this stuff. It’s Metallica’s ship and they were very, very hospitable to let us and Slayer and Megadeth hitch our little rowboats to the back of it (laughs).
We would love to do more, I think any of us would. I think if you asked anyone in any of the four bands would they like to do more Big 4 shows, I think the answer would certainly be yes. I think it just comes down to logistics and scheduling and stuff. I just saw an interview James [Hetfield] did where he said their Orion Festival thing has been a financial disaster for them. For him to publicly say that surprised me, because I just assumed it was a big success, because all I heard was great stuff about it. I could publicly say that the Big 4 shows were not a financial disaster (laughs). So if that helps the matter any, maybe Metallica will say “Let’s go play some more of those shows.” I know those [Big 4] shows were the opposite of that.
Maybe the lesson to be learned is if you’re going to do a big festival show, Atlantic City, N.J., or Detroit might not be the best locations. Pick a better spot – and may not such an “eclectic” lineup?
Scott: All I know, I feel like if you announced a Big 4 show like in San Francisco, where we haven’t done one yet, and for me it’s like “How could they not do a Big 4 show in their hometown?” if we announced one at any stadium there, it would sell out. If you announced a Big 4 show in Chicago, it would sell out. It’s just something nice to have in your back pocket, maybe. I don’t know.
Well, for the time being, enjoy your more modest venues on the speaking tour and good luck.
Scott: Yes, thanks. It will more like 300 or 400 people than 30,000 or 40,000, but it’s gonna be fun and I’m looking forward to it.