Interview by Robert Cavuoto
On February 15, 2017, at a sold-out show at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, New York’s Thrash Metal Kings Anthrax recorded a massive show for their DVD, Kings Among Scotland. The DVD includes the band’s entire live show, with classic tracks like “Madhouse,” “I Am the Law,” “Breathing Lightning,” and “Indians.” It also features interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and a gear rundown from each of the band members. Since the band Big 4 Tour in 2010, Anthrax has found its stride, gained momentum, and are rejuvenated. In 2011 they released a monster CD Worship Music and then in 2016 released, For All Kings which could possibly be the band’s best work to date.
Scott Ian [guitar], Charlie Benante [drums], Joey Belladonna [vocals] Frank Bello [bass] and newest member Jon Donais [lead guitar] are playing better, writing better, and working harder than ever before. To coincide with the release of the DVD, the band has just started on Slayer’s farewell tour with Lamb of God, Behemoth, and Testament in North America.
In speaking with Charlie Benante, he shares the challenges of recording Kings Among Scotland, what it takes for an Anthrax song to become a classic, and what fans can expect from the upcoming Anthrax CD.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the significance of recording the Kings Among Scotland DVD in Scotland. I assume it would have been easier to do in a more controlled environment like the US.
Charlie Benante: Scotland was one of the first places that embraced Anthrax. We have had some crazy shows back in the day at Barrowland, and we wanted to document a show this time around. It was one of the first shows on this tour that sold out quickly. We knew that people really wanted to be there.
Robert Cavuoto: Were there any thoughts if something went wrong that night of filming you might not have a DVD?
Charlie Benante: Of course. There was a lot of pressure on us because we were playing such a long show and some of these songs can be a bit challenging. You then have the element of the recording and filming which you have to be spot on; especially from a drummer’s point of view. If I fuck it up, that means the whole song is fucked up! The other guys can always touch up a mistake, but I can’t.
Robert Cavuoto: I imagine the way that these songs were recorded 30+ years ago have evolved as you play them live for so long. Do you find that’s the case or do you still play them note for note?
Charlie Benante: With a lot of those songs, I try to stay true to the actual recordings, but that being said, there is a difference between the way you recorded them and that way that you perform them. It is completely different because you have to keep your energy level up while learning how to perform the song. I try to throw in the drummer that I am now to some of the songs just to have a little fun with them.
Robert Cavuoto: Which of the songs from the DVD’s setlist still make the hair on your arms stand up when you perform it live?
Charlie Benante: I really enjoy playing “A Skeleton in the Closet” as it’s a relentless song. It has a lot of drumming in it, which makes me feel I’m driving down the Autobahn at 180 mph!
Robert Cavuoto: The cover for Kings Among Scotland has some borrowed interest from Kiss’s Rock n Roll Over album, what about that Kiss album that impressed you so much you decided to incorporate it into the Anthrax’s DVD cover.
Charlie Benante: Since I was young, there are certain album covers that made a stain on my brain, and that was one of them. I just loved everything about that album cover. It was so different from Destroyer. It was vibrant, and the composition was amazing. I knew at one point I wanted to do something like that album cover. This was my chance because Kings Among Scotland could use the Kings with their crowns along with the blues and purples theme. I immediately took that Kiss cover and transformed it into something that would be perfect for us. Steve Thompson and I designed it together. He’s a good friend and really good person to bounce ideas off as an artist. He does a lot of our t-shirts now. I’ll tell him about an idea and show him a sketch, and he will go off and do it.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think “Breathing Lightning” will become a staple in every show making it a true classic for years to come as it is one of my favorite Anthrax songs?
Charlie Benante: It’s funny because something that works on an album, doesn’t always work live. We have been playing that song since it came out and I don’t know if the audience digs it that much. That’s the honest to God truth. We play it more for ourselves because we enjoy it. I don’t think it competes with songs like “I am the Law,” “Caught in a Mosh” or “Antisocial,” but maybe it will get there.
Robert Cavuoto: The band has been touring extensively lately, how do you handle all the traveling and downtime in-between shows.
Charlie Benante: That’s the biggest hurdle after all the years. Playing my drums is the cake part of it all. Everything else is what makes touring hard. You have to expect it. Technology has gotten better when it comes to coping with not being there for your kids and family. You can now Facetime them every day, but it’s not the same as hugging them. It defiantly helps.
Robert Cavuoto: I know that you are an accomplished guitar player; do you ever look down from your kit and wish you were playing guitar at the front of the stage with the guys? If so what song?
Charlie Benante: No, I do not wish for that! I enjoy playing guitar on my own and not performing with it. I guess because I have played drums for so long on stage that when I’m not playing them, I feel naked. Nothing is surrounding me. I’m confident on playing guitar in the studio, during rehearsal, or for myself but when it comes to being on stage; it’s just not for me.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m curious, what is your go-to guitar and amp?
Charlie Benante: Funny story, when we started making some money, one of the first things I bought was a car [laughing], a VOX AC30 amp, and two guitars. One guitar I purchased from Scott, which was an old San Dimas Charvel that I have written most of my Anthrax songs on it from the 80s. I also bought a Howard Roberts signature series Gibson guitar. To this day, I still have the amp and the Charvel. I’ve retired it for a while in place of some other guitars but will pull it out of the case when I get home from this tour.
Robert Cavuoto: I know that you have some riffs and maybe demos written for the new Anthrax CD, is there a certain expectation or pressure within the band that the next CD has to be equally as good or better than Worship Music and For All Kings?
Charlie Benante: With Worship Music, I had no expectations. I felt confident about the record was great, but you really only know how great it is when other people hear it and give you their response. I have learned through the years that you think you are sitting on a fucking goldmine and when that goldmine comes out, it gets reduced to nothing. The momentum from Worship Music to For All Kings was great because I had Joey’s voice in mind and knew I was writing for that voice, so it became much easier. There was also an abundance of songs that just came out which I was so happy about. This album we are working on now they are a little more aggressive and angrier only because the climate we are all living in is reflected in our music. When I come in with something, I have hopes and dreams that the song is going to be as great as I hear it in my mind. I think the other guys stepped up as well think this is really good and want to hit a home run on each song. Everybody in the band stepped up their game.
Robert Cavuoto: What’s it going to be like watching Slayers last show ever?
Charlie Benante: I really don’t know. There is a part of me that feels like I want to get up there and be a part of it in that way. I want to signal to Paul the drummer and say, “Can you get up for a minute? Let me sit in for this song so I can have my little memory of it!” I have known these guys for so long, and we all came up together. It’s going to be said. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I hear that this is the end.
Robert Cavuoto: If Anthrax ended tomorrow, what’s your crown jewel accomplishment?
Charlie Benante: The one thing that I always go to is the record that gave us a career, and that would be Among the Living. I don’t know what it was about that record or the release time of that record or why that record had so much staying power. It’s the Viagra of our catalog. I always say that it is the record that gave me my career.
Robert Cavuoto: I know you are big Kiss fan, what is your rarest Kiss piece?
Charlie Benante: Oh shit [laughing]. I don’t know. It would have to be something that no one else has. We had a night off during the Kiss Reunion Tour in Boston, and we went to see them. I made my way to the front and was there all night. The guys in the band were giving me looks and smiling because they knew me. On the last song, Paul cracked his guitar and handed it to me. He later signed it, and I have that hanging on my wall. That was a pretty amazing moment as the 12-year old in me came out.
Robert Cavuoto: Great story, least you didn’t have to fight anybody to get it. I recall seeing Kiss at the Palladium in NYC in 1980 when Paul threw out his fire helmet; there was an all-out war in the first few rows.
Charlie Benante: I was at that Kiss show too. I’ve seen people punch girls for a towel and stuff like that.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have a prediction if the new Han Solo movie will be hit or a flop?
Charlie Benante: I’m looking forward to seeing Darth Maul in the movie as I heard he is in there. Whether or not it’s true, I don’t know. I’m going tomorrow with my daughter, and I don’t have any expectations. I hope it’s not as bad as The Last Jedi! That movie was painful. Sometimes we all get caught up in the moment of Star Wars and make it more important than anything else or get caught up in that “nerd” drama. An hour after all the drama, it hits you, “Did I just go off on Star Wars?” [laughing]. I wish they would make these last few Star Wars movies for fans and not the toy companies or little kids. Make them more like Rogue One, that was a perfect Star Wars movie for the fans. Get rid of Captain Kennedy too, that’s another thing!
Robert Cavuoto: Anything you would like to say about your Benante Blend Coffee.
Charlie Benante: Get it, drink it, and enjoy it! That’s the only thing you should do with coffee. Have your morning or afternoon experience with me because I’m good to hang with!