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With a career that has spanned over thirty years, Anthrax was at the forefront of the thrash metal movement in the early '80s, alongside the rest of the Big 4, Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. While Megadeth was angry with the Ronald Reagan-era politics, Slayer was busy writing music that would scare the hell out of the devil and Metallica was taking over the world, Anthrax was writing party anthems and taking what Aerosmith and Run D.M.C did with "Walk this Way" to the next logical extreme with the help of Public Enemy.
In advance of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival at Comfort Dental this weekend, we caught up with Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante, who gave us his thoughts on downloading and the resurgence of thrash, discussed his reaction to the response Worship Music received and told us why Anthrax opted to play on the Jägermeister stage. We spoke with Benante before news came down that he's being forced to sit out a few weeks while recovering from a minor hand surgery (Jason Bittner of Shadows Fall will be filling in for Benante). Here's what he had to say:
Westword: How do you view the current state of the music industry, and what do you feel needs to be done in order for new artists to survive it?
Charlie Benante: That's a touchy subject, because there is no music industry. Basically, you're out there on your own, dude. The thing that sucks about the young kids is that they think that music is free, and they shouldn't have to pay for it.
In 2000, when Lars Ulrich went to the Senate over Napster, did you have an inkling that downloading music was going to be so hurtful to artists? Did you support Lars's decision?
Oh yeah I did and I did support Lars.
A lot of these younger kids aren't going to have album artwork or liner notes because bands are not going to be putting out physical CDs. It's become a financial and artistic loss.
Right, but what they don't know won't affect them. Well, think of things like this, people grew up never understanding what a record was, and then a tape came into play. Then, the CD came into play, and some people don't even know what a VHS tape was. It's just so far removed. In just a few years, you probably won't even know what a fuckin' CD is, because it will all be digital downloads. You won't even have a physical copy in your hand to enjoy. It'll just be air [laughs].
Do you think the new era thrash bands like Toxic Holocaust and Havok have the same spirit as bands like Anthrax, and how do you feel about the new resurgence of thrash?
Yeah, I think some of it is really good. We were driving around in Copenhagen, with Michael [Poulsen] from Volbeat, and he was playing some stuff. There was this band called Black Breath, and I thought, "Whoa that's really interesting." I really liked it.
Why do you think thrash metal has such a global appeal, and were you surprised to see places like Brazil and Germany become such a hotbed for it?
Well, let me tell you something about the South American audiences: They are probably some of the best audiences that hard rock and heavy metal bands will ever play to. They are so devoted and so passionate about the music. It's amazing to see that. I love it. I'm not talking bad about other places, like America, or parts of Europe, or whatever, but sometimes they get a little jaded because they get it so often. You go down to South America, where they don't get it so often, and you can just see how much they appreciate it. It's a different vibe, man. They fucking' let it all go.
You popularized the blast beat technique and opened the doors for drummers. Did you ever think you would see blast beat competitions and every drummer trying to outdo one another for beats per minute?
When that certain drumming style was created, it was created because the song "Milk" [S.O.D.] was so extreme. I never really continued with it, if you know what I mean, because, actually, we did two records, and both records were spaced out so much. I remember when "Milk" first hit. People would ask me all the time "What are you doing now? What is that actually?" and I then I would tell them. Certain styles of music just adapted to that style of drumming. In every song, pretty much, they were blasting, which is bombing. It just became a staple. Just like the 2/4 beat, now you've got the blast. To me, the black metal bands do it the best.
This year's Mayhem Tour has some amazing drummers with the likes Dave Lombardo, Mikkey Dee of Motorhead. Are you guys going to be geeking out and talking shop? Will we see any backstage footage of drum competitions on YouTube?
[laughs] Well, I was just with Dave in Europe a bit, and with Mikkey for a couple of shows, and we never really talked about drumming [laughs]. We talked about just about everything else but drumming [laughs]. About a competition, I don't know. Sure, why not? [laughs]
Speaking of Mayhem, Anthrax turned down a slot on the main stage. Why?
Because everyone told us playing the second stage would be better.
Well, you're definitely going to bring the energy. Are you guys sort of going for the punk feel with Scott Ian jumping into the crowds again and inviting the fans on stage, or what?
We're going to do a non-stop set. I mean, it's hard for us to kinda not get up there and just hit every cylinder.
Due to the economy, the U.S. is seeing more and more weekend festivals around the country. Do you think the U.S. is shaping up like the European festival circuit?
I think there are people that do it the right way. So, yeah, I do. I just hope they don't blow it. There are certain people who are organizing good festivals. I think the people who do Mayhem do a really good job. I hope to see this branching out.
When you say, "blow it", what do you mean by that? Do mean over-sponsorship, bad production, what exactly?
By ripping kids off. I just don't agree with certain ways that certain promoters, or whoever, are just wanting to make a lot of money by ripping kids off and not giving them value.
Tell us about the new EP Anthrax has coming out. Is it cuts left over from Worship Music? Is it already recorded? Do you have a release date set?
Well, we're going to put it out in September, a year after the release of the record. So, we're just looking to that release. Basically, it's going to be made up of a bunch of really cool cover tunes and some live songs too.
Are the live songs recordings from the last tour?
What bands are covered?
The covers that we did are basically a collection of bands and songs we love from the '70s. It may consist of Rush, Boston, Journey and Cheap Trick. So, it's a really cool collection of tunes.
Are you guys going to speed some songs up and put an Anthrax twist on them?
We do, but I wouldn't say we speed them up. I would say we stay true to what the songs are, but we give it our little imprint.
Slayer is also releasing an EP. Why not do a split?
Yeah, that would be fun. I don't know if they'll do that [laughs].
Are Anthrax fans going to have to wait another nine years for a full-length Anthrax album?
Worship Music put you guys over the top again and hit number twelve on Billboard's Top 200. Have you been surprised how receptive people have been?
Something that's was well received, for me, is always such an honor. When something you've put so much time, effort and love into, and when people really get it, it's the greatest thing. It just makes what you do that much better. In this music business, acceptance is fucking killer.
The year 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of Anthrax's debut album. Do you guys have anything planned for the anniversary?
Not really. [laughs] I mean, it is the anniversary of it, but I don't know, man. We're not looking back right now, just looking ahead.
Out of all the Big 4 debuts, which was your favorite?
Oh, shit. [laughs] I have no idea about that. That's a tough question. [laughs]
Do you still have that same fire you did thirty years ago? After all this time, what keeps you going?
Yeah, that's just it. It's the love of the music that keeps you going. There were some shows we played over in Europe, and we were like on fire.
Anthrax are actually going to be signing autographs on the Mayhem Tour. So, fans can just stop by the tent and say, "What's up!" to you guys, right?
Yeah, come by and say "Hi." I think we're signing CD's and stuff.