Scott Ian of Anthrax on Worship Music, comic books, Doctor Who, VH1 and interviewing Ozzy
Anthrax (due Wednesday, October 19, at Summit Music Hall) is one of the Big 4 thrash bands from the '80s, and the only one originally based on the East Coast. More than most metal bands, Anthrax seemed willing to smile and display a wicked yet playful sense of humor -- even as its lyrics contained incisive social commentary and dark subjects -- and the band was progressive for its time in the way that it embraced hip-hop early on and occasionally incorporated elements of that style into its own music.
A few years back, the band teamed back up with Joey Belladonna, who sang on Anthrax's most beloved '80s albums. Touring in support of Worship Music and in commemoration of its thirty-year anniversary, Anthrax seems to have a renewed sense of vigor. We had a chat with guitarist Scott Ian about Worship Music, Doctor Who, VH1 and his almost abortive interview with Ozzy for Rock Show.
Westword: Why did you pick Alex Ross to do the cover art for Worship Music, and did you give him any direction about the imagery you wanted, much in the same way a writer and comic-book artist might work together?
Scott Ian: We've been working with Alex for years now. He's done four or five things with us. We just wanted to work with him again. We just love the way his work complements our work, is how we really feel about it. Charlie Benante had the title Worship Music, and basically, I don't think it was much more direction other than that with Alex. The reason we work with Alex is he is who he is, and I don't think we need to give him too much direction to come up with amazing ideas. For the cover, we said, "Hey, it's called Worship Music. Let's see what you come up with." For the piece he did for the inside, where we're fighting each other as zombies, we told him, "Hey, can you paint us fighting each other as zombies?"
You covered "New Noise," from the Refused's 1998 swan song, The Shape of Punk to Come. Why that band and that song in particular?
The same reason we've ever done any cover: It's a song we've been playing, a band we love, something that's just fun for us to do. Asking what it is about the Refused I like is like asking "What is it about the food that you like?" I don't know -- I listen to their music, and they move me in a way that any music that I like moves me. I can't tell you specifically; it's just that I think they're a great band. I break music into two categories: music that moves me and music that doesn't. Genres don't mean anything to me, and the Refused makes me happy when I listen to it.
Worship Music was a long time in the making. What do you feel Joey Belladonna brings back to the band that maybe helped to gel things in a way that you were able to put out the album you wanted to?
He makes us sound like Anthrax. I mean that as no disrespect to anyone else, either. That was really the first thing I thought. It's one thing to hear Joey sing with us and sing the catalog that he was a part of when we did that 2005-2006 tour and we played the whole Among the Living record and some other songs. That's one thing, because you're used to hearing that. When I say "you," I mean I'm used to hearing that. So the big unknown, obviously, is what is Joey Belladonna gonna sound like on Anthrax in 2011, and how is that going to sound?
Of course we went into this thinking it's going to be fucking great, but you don't know until you know. And the first MP3 I got sent after he cut the vocal -- he already sang "Fight 'Em" with us live, so we already had a good idea of how great it sounded. But we hadn't actually heard him in the studio yet, and I think it was the song "I'm Alive," and I got the MP3, and my first reaction to it was, "This sounds like Anthrax. This sounds like the band that we were, but it sounds like the band that we are." The best thing I can say about it is that he sounds like he's been singing these songs for ten years, and he just learned them. So he really brought everything to this record and elevated it to a better record than I ever thought it could be.
How did you first get interested in comic books, horror and science fiction?
Initially, comics were just something I gravitated toward as a kid. There was a store across the street from where I grew up -- I'm talking the late '60s -- you'd walk in the store, and there would be the old-school comic rack you would spin. I was definitely initially drawn to the artwork and looking at the covers. So I started reading Marvel and DC -- Spiderman, Hulk, Batman, Superman, Fantastic Four. I was buying them off the rack as a kid. My interest in comics literally just came from me looking at covers and thinking they looked cool, and then I started reading them and got hooked.
Horror was probably because my mom was a horror fan when she was a kid, so when I was a little kid, we used to watch horror movies on Saturday mornings. So that's probably what got me started into horror at an early age. And sci-fi, it just all kind of goes hand in hand, all of it together. I was watching Star Trek -- not when it was originally on; I can't say I remember watching it in its initial run. But certainly, in the early '70s, I was watching the reruns already.
Who is your favorite Doctor of the Doctor Who series, and why?
I'd have to say the newest series, for sure. I think Matt Smith just does a great...I don't know, maybe just because it's the most recent, and I just think the writing gets better and better on the show. I'm not taking away from some of the other guys that have done it, because I think the actual actors themselves who have played Dr. Who have been great, but I just think the writing has been better on that show than it's ever been.
When you were doing Rock Show on VH1, who was one of your favorite interviewees, and why?
It would have to be Ozzy. Well, A, because it's Ozzy. He's by far the biggest guest I was able to get on the show. The story behind why is it was our Halloween show, so I was dressed up in full Gene Simmons costume, makeup, everything. They had a costume, the boots, the whole nine. Ozzy was in New York doing promo for whatever album that would have been that came out around Halloween of 2001.
My show was the last thing he was doing of the day. He'd been up since early early in the morning. He started the morning doing Howard Stern and had been running around New York all day. So here he is, he shows up at four in the afternoon at the Rock Show. He'd been told -- and Sharon was with him, and I know them; I've known both of them since the '80s -- he'd been told that Scott from Anthrax would be dressed like Gene Simmons. But, you know, it's a long day.
He shows up, and I could see him staring at me from across the studio. I'm on the set getting miked. I see him looking with this look on his face like, "What the fuck am I doing here? Who's this jackass dressed like Gene Simmons?," right? So he sits down on the set and we start taping, and literally, I'm getting one-word answers, like, "Tell me about the new record," and I'm just asking questions about the record and blah blah blah, and I'm getting one-word answers, like nothing out of him. And I'm like, "Goddamn, he's so bummed on me. Why does Ozzy hate me? What's going on here?"
Ten minutes into it, right, we stop for something, he gets a drink of water, and I look at my producer and kind of shrug my shoulders, because it's terrible, it's just going so bad. He's staring at me, and he kind of looks at me and he's like, "It's you!" And I go, "Huh?" "It's you, Scott, it's you!" "Yeah, Ozzy, it's me, Scott." He's like, "Oh, man!" And all of a sudden he wakes up and his eyes get all big, and he's like, "I didn't know, I just thought it was some fuckin' asshole dressed up like some guy from Kiss!"
I didn't bother to say "Well, no, they told you." Then Sharon goes, "Ozzy, you knew it was him!" And he's like, "Oh, fuck it, I forgot. Whatever." I said, "Dude, I thought you hated me. You weren't even answering my questions." So we ended up starting over and had an amazing interview, and it went great from that point.
Have the people at VH1 ever told you why they keep bringing you back as a regular commentator over the years?
I guess they get feedback on the crap I say on those shows. That's the only thing I can think of. I'm friends with a lot of the producers there, so they know me, and they'll send me an e-mail saying, "Hey, we're doing Top 100 whatever. Do you want to be involved?" If I'm home, I usually do, because it's really easy to drive into Santa Monica and go sit for 45 minutes and talk shit.
It's a really, really easy gig and fun, so I can only assume they like what I have to say. I kind of find that I have a different point of view than most of the other people that are on there. I find them to really be not funny. I'm not saying that I'm funny; I just feel like that sometimes I feel I have something just a little bit better to say about some of the things they're talking about.
I agree with you, actually. You were an early champion of hip-hop among people playing metal. What was your first exposure to hip-hop, and what is it about it that initially appealed to you?
Well, my first early exposure was literally Sugarhill Gang. That had to be the late '70s just going to house parties. You'd put on "Rapper's Delight," because the girls would dance, and they would maybe want to drink. So anything to get girls in a good mood was all right by me and my friends, even though we weren't listening to any music like that at the time. There was just something about that track that seemed to have a much broader appeal.
Then again, as a kid, I was really open-minded about music. I loved funk, soul, disco, any stuff like that I would get to hear on the radio. So I was already pretty open-minded about music, even though I was predominantly listening to hard rock and metal. Then the first real rap that I really got into was when I first heard Run-DMC. It got the "It's Like That" twelve-inch. I walked into a record store, and they were playing it. I said, "What is that?" And they said, "It's Run-DMC; they're a rap group from Queens." I had to have it. So I got the twelve-inch, and that was my first real exposure to rap music, and that's what hooked me, basically.
Right from that, more Run-DMC, LL Cool J and all the early Def Jam stuff. It moved me the same way rock and metal did. I felt it had the same attitude and the same aggression, just, obviously, without guitars. But what they were saying and how they were saying it moved me the same way.
What is it about those Jackson guitars you've been playing that you like?
They're just the right tool for the job. I started playing Jacksons really early on, and they just feel right and they sound right. If it didn't sound right, I would use something else. It's the right tool for what I need. I've played through every guitar, and a lot of guitars sound good for other things; they just don't sound right for what I'm doing.
You've done voiceover work for Metalocalypse. What about that show strikes you as the funniest, and what strikes you as the most accurate? Of course, these are not mutually exclusive.
Wow. What strikes me the funniest? I guess the most accurate and the funniest is how retarded they are. There are a lot of bands in real life very much like that band. Granted, they're not the biggest bands on the planet, but I know plenty of guys in bands who are quite possibly dumber than even the caricatures on that show. So, to me, that's definitely the funniest and the most accurate depiction. Brendon Small really did his research. He knows that world really well.
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