Considered one of the "big four" of the thrash metal era, Anthrax (see our preview here) put New York on the map with its inventive take on infusing metal with a punk rock spirit. When singer Joey Belladonna joined in time to record 1985's Spreading the Disease, that band had its classic, and arguably most fruitful, line-up.
Over the course of the next seven years, Anthrax pioneered a true fusion of rap and metal as well as expanded the idea of what metal could be by injecting a healthy dose of silly, and sometimes biting, humor along with warping the sometimes rigid lines of heavy metal's aesthetics.
Playful yet heavy, Anthrax made what could be unrelentingly intense music seem fun. We had a chat with Joey Belladonna, recently reunited with the band and spoke with him about how he joined, the appearance of Anthrax on Married...With Children and rejoining the band after the jump.
How did you come to join Anthrax?
Joey Belladonna: I got a call from management and they wanted to know if I wanted to check out a band called "Anthrax." And I said, "You know what? Why not?" It was my first flight on any type of plane at all from Plattsburgh, New York to Ithaca, New York. From there it was, "Wow, okay, I never heard of these guys before." Seemed pretty cool, though, pretty heavy. Seemed like they had everything going for them the way they wanted to do it. I wasn't sure what was going to come of it. I wasn't sure at first if I wanted to join because I didn't know if it was the best offer or the best thing for me to do. But it sounded good and I said, "Let's do this."
They were looking for a studio and they heard a demo from a band I was in called Bible Black. The demo was something we weren't even planning on doing and we had hardly worked it out. Apparently they heard me singing and wanted to know how to get a hold of me. So Carl Canedy, the producer, somehow hunted me down through the people that I was playing with. Bible Black actually was some guys from Rainbow -- they were part of the band Elf [the band originally fronted by Ronnie James Dio - ed.].
With Among the Living, the band became more experimental and humorous and I have to assume that you were integral to that shift. What influenced that change in sound?
It's so hard to say what influenced anybody or what turned the page. I'm writing an album now and where did those ideas come from? I don't know, collectively we just started doing it. Is it heavy enough? Is it not heavy enough? We're pretty humorous people and stuff like that starts to rub off on the songs.
Anthrax did music with Public Enemy and UTFO. Why was there such a strong link between your band and hip-hop that didn't really exist so overtly with most other metal bands in the 80s?
No, not at all. I was on my way home from, maybe doing the "Indians" video, coming in to do the UTFO thing. I was like, "Gosh, holy shit, I don't know." I forgot I even did that.
How did Anthrax become involved in that MTV contest to demolish that car in 1989 and what was it like actually going and doing it?
I don't think we planned on demolishing anything. We just knew somebody had won a contest so MTV, of course, arranged for us to go to that person's house and give the vehicle away. Next thing you know... I remember somebody said, "Now it's time to break the car." I think the person may have destroyed it long after us. She may have asked us to spray paint it or do some stuff to it. It was actually a jeep or something like that.
How did Anthrax end up on Married...With Children scripted and were your parts scripted?
Yeah, it was all on paper. You know, everything was logged in as a line for everyone. They change it daily on people and a lot of it's so strange. I think management or someone in the band approached doing something else, The Simpsons maybe. Someone had definitely been researching how we could get on that show. For 1988's State of Euphoria you guys covered "Antisocial" by the great French heavy metal band Trust. Why that band and that song?
I had never even heard of the band when it was broached for me to sing on it. I just took as a cool song and we ripped through it. I actually sang it in French, too. It's pretty wacky sounding. I know that Maiden liked them a lot so I think that's how that trickled into our laps.
Anthrax had, and still has a wide variety of subject matter for its songs. What were some of the ideas that informed your songwriting?
There's plenty of things in the songs. Like writing about Stephen King and some of his stories. We talked about Jimmy Swaggart at the time on one of the albums. We had some comic book stuff in there because we were always reading comics. Even "Caught in a Mosh" is about moshing at the shows. You just kind of hit up whatever you can. When you hit on something, it's easier to write about quickly. There's some war commentary there. We touched on a lot of topics over the years.
Scott was doing most of the comic stuff like Judge Dread with "I Am the Law." Of course, The Stand with "Among the Living." We had a lot of sayings like "BOLN" was "Bringer of the Late News" and you get texts like that now. "MOW" was "Man of Wrongness." I think "NFL," "Nice Fuckin' Life" was one of those type of things. I love football and I thought that was cool but it wasn't anything about that. [laughs]
After years of hiatus, how did the rest of the band approach you to sing with them again?
For the reunion, they just called and said they wanted to go do a reunion tour for the fans. And I said, "That sounds really great." I wasn't sure they even wanted to be a band anymore because they seemed to be doing baby steps. Obviously, when we got done with that, the hopped on and got someone else pretty quick and didn't give any business or any ideas a chance. Of course, that didn't pan out so well. The more I get asked that question, I think, "What a waste of time."
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Great, you get to venture into some new styles and other singers, but jeez. But there's no sense looking back at this point, at the same time. But there was a lot of time we could have achieved some goals. We both found out it's hard to develop that style and keep it rolling and that longevity. Something that's as dynamic as that line-up with the four of us.
Did you ever meet Joe Jackson before or after you covered "Got the Time" and what is it about his music that you find most appealing?
Yeah, I did. We were rehearsing "Among the Living" and he was rehearsing in the same building. This was before we covered the song. I didn't get to spend much time with him but we did get a chance to say, "Hey, what's up?" I remember him being really tall. He had some pretty good sized hits. I wasn't big into the music but I found him quite talented and he had some great songs. But hey, we turned that song around anyhow and it turned into a hell of a thing. I never even heard any comments toward the cover song. Somewhere he said he liked it a lot. It's hard to take a song and turn it upside down like that and get some legs with it.