Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Charlie Benante of Anthrax has released a brand new album, Silver Linings, that features an all-star cast of “who’s who” in the thrash, metal, and rock worlds earlier this month on Megaforce Records.
Silver Linings consists of 14 eclectic and diverse cover songs from Charlie’s acclaimed quarantine jam video series. Charlie collaborated on songs with fellow Anthrax bandmates Frank Bello, Scott Ian, and Jon Donais, his girlfriend, Carla Harvey [Butcher Babies], Corey Taylor [Slipknot,] Ra Diaz [Suicidal Tendencies,] Mark Osegueda [Death Angel], John 5 [Rob Zombie], and Alex Skolnick [Testament] and many more. Some of Charlie’s favorite songs by Rush, Tom Petty, The Beastie Boys, SOD, KISS, Run DMC, and Billie Eilish were covered.
He has earmarked a portion of the proceeds to go to the Neal Casal Music Foundation, an organization that provides musical instruments and lessons to students and makes donations to mental health organizations supporting musicians in need. Silver Linings digital and vinyl pre-orders can be placed orcd.co/silverlinings.
I spoke with Charlie about why he started creating these quarantine jams, the importance of staying true to the original versions, his passion for KISS and what fans can expect from the next Anthrax album.
Robert Cavuoto: Your quarantine videos always put a smile on my face during the pandemic. How much fun was it to create and put these songs together?
Charlie Benante: It started as a distraction to get away from the darkness going on at the time in the world which I needed to separate myself from. Being creative takes my mind to a better and happier place. When I started to do them, it was my main focus. It was like when I was younger and would come home from school. I would run to my room to play my drums. It was the same fun feeling. Then it began to snowball. I started thinking about the songs I loved, and this was my opportunity to approach them with other musicians while having fun and taking our minds off what was going on around us. The responses I was getting from people were exactly what I had hoped. It was crazy because nobody knew what was going on, and nobody had an answer. People asked me why not do originals? That wasn’t the point of it at all! I didn’t want to put out original solo material.
Robert Cavuoto: I have to believe there was a lot of logistical coordination to set these sessions up, rehearsing the songs, and then the back-end production of blending the performances for video?
Charlie Benante: It was a lot of work to prepare the songs. There were some songs that I played most of the instruments and had to map out the drum parts and sample drum sounds. I wanted them to sound as authentic as possible. That was far more important than anything to me. Then I would either tackle the keyboard or piano part, followed by the guitar part. It was a bit of a process. If I was giving it to one of the other guys, I would ask them to pay close attention to all the details of the song.
Robert Cavuoto: The guitar tones were very authentic, from KISS to Maiden to Tom Petty.
Charlie Benante: The guitarist dialed in the tones. It helps that we are all big Maiden fans. The drum sound was definitely taken from Iron Maiden drums. It was a snare and kick drum that was isolated. Staying true to the song and staying true to the artist was very important.
Robert Cavuoto: What was the most challenging song to play or record?
Charlie Benante: There were two songs that I spent the most time on. In the U2 song, “City of Blinding Lights,” I had to put a lot of attention into the guitar sound. Edge has two different delays going on, and the two settings don’t match. That took a lot of investigating and figuring out. Once I got it, I was like, “There is that sound right there!” Fifty percent of the guitar sound with Edge is in the guitar pick. Most people aren’t aware of or know that. The other part is the delay which you have to get right. The other song that was difficult was “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. The song doesn’t rely on guitar, bass, and drums. It was a bunch of textured keyboards and synth parts, as well as some atmospheric stuff. It was like painting a picture that I would keep putting another color on and then putting another color on top of that until I felt that it matched the original. I wanted a heavier version of that song, and Carla sang on it. I had to push her out of her comfort zone. She did an awesome job on it.
Robert Cavuoto: You did a great job on the slide guitar on “City of Blinding Lights.” Was that a challenge?
Charlie Benante: I love slide guitar, and I wish I were better at it. It was easy [laughing]. There are some players out there that can find the perfect notes, like Duane Allman and Derek Trucks, who are fucking awesome. Even Joe Walsh has a signature lick that he does with the slide.
Robert Cavuoto: What was it like to collaborate on some of the songs with your girlfriend Carla Harvey?
Charlie Benante: The first song we did was the Tom Petty song, “Yer So Bad.” She really wanted to sing it. It now comes from a girl’s point of view rather than when Tom sings, and it came from the guy’s point of view. She has a rasp to her voice, and she did a great job on it. During the pandemic, we would be in the kitchen, I would set up a microphone, have some wine, and I would record her singing. It was a fun experience. The Massive Attack song was a little out of her comfort zone. It wasn’t an easy song for her to sing because the original song was sung by Elizabeth Fraser, who has a very distinctive style, and her voice is very identifiable. We weren’t in any way trying to top that with our version.
Robert Cavuoto: I think everyone needing a bit of nostalgia in their lives, you agree?
Charlie Benante: Absolutely, 100%! I often find that people don’t listen to new music as much as they listen to old music because the new music is not as strong. I think that is the problem with bands is originality. Everything sounds the same to me. A lot of new bands sound like everything else in their genera. I can’t differentiate them from the other bands. I strive to be different or better.
Robert Cavuoto: The tracklisting on this album is very eclectic, with a couple of songs that might make people pause. Being in one of the biggest Trash metals bands, what do you think some of your hardcore fans would think of some of them?
Charlie Benante: Since the early days, most people know that I’m eclectic when it comes to music. I don’t listen to one thing; I listen to everything. I come from the school of thought that a good song is a good song. I don’t care if it is from Billy Eilish or Fleetwood Mac. I never listen to just one type of music; I also don’t eat just one kind of food. I love to taste food from all over the world. Throughout the years, I have found heavy metal fans can tend to be closed-minded when it comes to staying in the lane. “Oh, don’t come in that lane; stay in your own lane.” I’m well aware of that.
Robert Cavuoto: Some of my favorite Anthrax songs have been the more melodic ones, particularly songs from Worship Music and For All Kings.
Charlie Benante: I never do one style like playing fast all the time. After a while, it sounds like the other songs you did on the last albums. My thing is variety, and when you have variety, it makes those songs stand out even more. For instance, if you listen to Spreading the Disease and then State of Euphoria, you can tell there is growth. Then if you listen to State of Euphoria and Persistence of Time, you hear total growth in style and musicianship. We are always trying to top the last one. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.
Robert Cavuoto: It will be hard to top those albums as they were both phenomenal.
Charlie Benante: Oh yeah, I love those two records. I would say that this next one so far is the culmination of the last three or four albums.
Robert Cavuoto: How far along are you?
Charlie Benante: It’s still a work in progress.
Robert Cavuoto: Growing up playing cover songs in my band not only help me make great friends, who I have to this day, but also helped my playing and shape me as a better and more diverse guitarist. How has exploring these songs helped you?
Charlie Benante: I have always said that playing cover songs and recording certain cover songs for B sides made me a better musician and orchestrator. While I’m learning, I’m thinking, “I would have never thought to put a part there.” It’s a completely different approach on how to do your own music. You just learn the different aspects of the song, like putting in a harmony part. Sometimes there are songs that have a harmony guitar part in 5ths or 7ths; sometimes, you don’t play them all. It changes the entire direction of the song.
Robert Cavuoto: Joe McGinness did a tremendous job singing as Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons on the two KISS songs “Mr. Speed” and “All the Way.”
Charlie Benante: Those two KISS songs are deep tracks that I always loved. “Mr. Speed” should have been a bigger KISS song, and I wished they played it live more. “All the Way” is a song that I wish was on Alive I. To me, it is one of the best KISS songs, which I think is overlooked. When it came time to do them, I knew exactly who was going to perform them. I have become close with the Klassic ’78 guys; we are planning something too. I can’t say too much about it. They did a phenomenal job.
Robert Cavuoto: Like me, you grew up in the ’70s when Kiss exploded. What memories you have about that time in your life and the effects of KISS on you?
Charlie Benante: Oh my God, KISS consumed my days! My walls were plastered with their pictures and posters. Everything was KISS, KISS, KISS! They had something that just grabbed me. I’m not sure if it was my love of horror movies and music. It was like the greatest marriage. The character that Gene Simmons developed was very horrific, and his movement on stage was identifiable from breathing fire to spitting blood. I was like, “I’m in!” I love everything about them and loved all the members equally because they each had a character that was hard for me to turn away.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have a favorite era of KISS? Mine was 1979 during Dynasty as it was the first time I saw them live at Madison Square Garden.
Charlie Benante: My favorite era probably goes from 1975-1978. I really didn’t like the Dynasty record; I was getting out of it at that point. My favorite album is Rock and Roll Over and love side four of Alive 2. I wish they continued in that direction for the next record instead of Dynasty.