While attending the NAMM 2016 Convention in Anaheim, CA last week, I was honored in being presented with an opportunity via AlternativeNation.net, to interview, one of heavy metal’s best drummer’s, the one…the only…Charlie Benante of Anthrax.
As the band is currently embarked on a massive 43 date world tour and set to release their 11th studio album, ‘For All Kings,’ on February 26th, Benante took the time out of his busy schedule to speak with me.
How do you as well as the entire band feel to be celebrating Anthrax’s 35th Anniversary in what will be your 11th studio album, ‘For All Kings,’ set for a February 26th release?
Benante: “Well I know we’re all pretty stoked about the record and the way it turned out. I think we made a really good record and the feedback so far…the people who’ve heard it kind of agree, so that’s a really good thing. I love good momentum. It makes everybody happy and in this time that we’re living in, especially musically speaking, if you can make a record that has more than 4 or 5 songs deep and it has a good variety of songs. You don’t frontload it with those first couple of songs. You continue the record taking the listener on a journey, musically speaking. I think you’ve really got something there.”
From 1st conception & recording ‘Worship Music’ to its completion in 2011, did you expect to receive such high praise from various rock & heavy metal media outlets? to name a few: Guitar World, Metal Hammer, Revolver, That Metal Show. When you were on That Metal Show, Eddie Trunk certainly expressed nothing less than how impressed he was with the record.
Were you also surprised when Worship Music received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock/Metal Performance (or) did you have a strong feeling it was going to happen?
Benante: “We had no expectations for that whole record. It’s really hard to say what a record’s going to do or how it’s going to be received. Basically you’re doing the best you possibly could do and until it’s out there and until people are hearing good feedback, I guess that’s how you know you’ve done something good. We’re so close to it that it’s hard to look outside because we’re inside of it, so it’s really nice when you hear good feedback on the outside.”
We live in a time where everybody has an opinion and everyone’s opinion can be featured somewhere, whether it’s an online column and everybody has their form because of the internet. I just find it really shitty that someone who never really produced anything, musically speaking, can just say, “I don’t really like it.” It just sucks because you put so much work into a record and someone disapproves.”
How are you holding up with your bout of carpal tunnel post-surgery? Have you had slight symptoms of it in the past or more recently, say around 2011?
Benante: “I struggled with carpal tunnel for about 15 years to the point where I was going anywhere from acupuncture to chiropractor to actually getting a shot or two of cortisone to dipping my hand in a bucket of ice water during a show to buying a can of air. You turn it upside down and spray it on your wrist to get the frozen aspect of it and hopefully it wakes your hand up so I could get the feeling back in my hand. I couldn’t deal with anything. I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing because of the situation. My Paiste rep, a symbol company, referred me to this doctor in LA. I went there and had a consultation done. So, he examined exactly what the problem was and I went for the operation and it was a success.
My problem now is I can play fine, I play great, but once I get past the three-week period on tour, it starts to get fucked up again. Not the way it was, but I need to take a little bit of a rest from it. A good friend, Jon Dette will come and fill in. I’m so happy that we have someone like Jon Dette. I jokingly would say that he’s my right-hand man, which is true because it’s my right hand.”
What date was it on the ‘Worship Music’ tour when you realized you were physically unable to play drums? Was drummer, John Dette your first choice to temporarily fill-in for the last tour & will he fill in on this tour as well?
Benante: “Yes he will. John will come out for just a few shows. You see, with the whole ‘Worship Music’ thing, you have to understand that we played over 300 shows on that tour and in the middle of all this, my mom got sick and she passed away during that whole Worship Music Tour, which took me out of the game for a bit to go be with her. Towards the end of the carpal tunnel thing, it just became too much for me and that’s when I decided to have the surgery. It was a very emotional time, but I didn’t want to hold the band back, so they went ahead with shows. During the time my mom was sick, Jason Bittner came in, did some shows and then Jon Dette came in and then basically stayed.”
Once you confirmed Dette as your replacement and took time off to heal, did you know you were eventually going to emerge with having written 20 new songs, some of which would end up on ‘For All Kings?’
Benante: “I just went into my studio and started to compile stuff. I was so happy with what was coming out that good momentum just carried over and when I would listen back to some of the riffs and some of the ideas, I was completely happy because I felt like, “wow, this was a breakthrough!” The ideas and the songs were really strong and I couldn’t wait to show everybody the stuff. I had demos that I’d send out of the songs and I’d get, “Great, can’t wait to get in a room and actually play this and work on the album.” So, it was good all-around because they knew even though I wasn’t with them for some of the shows, I was being productive, which was really important because I didn’t want to just sit on my ass. Once I was able to use my hand again, I would go right into it.”
You are highly revered as one of rock and metal’s greatest drummers. What steps have you taken in your music career that have equated to earning this spot and reputation as a drummer?
Benante: “I think you set up certain standards. I’ve always kind of believed in the Neil Pert way of making records where I’m trying to step it up every time I do something. You’re trying to better yourself. You’re also trying to make your audience or your listeners more interested. So, if you can up it, I think that’s important.”
Since the departure of lead guitarist Rob Caggiano, was Jon Donais of Shadows Fall someone you had in the back of your mind to recruit?
Benante: “Rob pretty much took care of that situation. He asked Jon before we even knew what his decision was going to be and he did it. We all knew Jon, we all like Jon. So, it was a pretty smooth transition.”
What is the overall energy like now that Jon Donais is the official 5th member and does the band feel a sense of comradery?
Benante: “I think he fit in very well with us from the start. He’s a great guy, great guitar player, easy to work with and he just loves metal!
Scott Ian recently interviewed with EMP LiVE TV about 2 months ago. In terms of what fans could expect to hear on the next record, he was quoted in stating “It’s A Fucking Metal Record.” As for yourself, you have referred to it as “Aggressive and super-thrashy.” Did Jon Donais have any influence on the band taking this creative approach?
Benante: “Nope, I think it had to do, especially with the first 3-songs that were written for the record, “You Gotta Believe,” “Evil Twin” and a song called “Zero Tolerance” and when it came off of that whole “Worship Music” cycle, a lot of those bands that were helping us, like Exodus and Death Angel, just had an old-school thrash vibe. I think sub-consciously it just came in and I think it just stayed with me and those were the first 3-songs that kind of came out. After that, there were a few other tunes that were written and then like 6 or 7 songs that gave us a sigh of relief. Then there were other types of music, like the song “Blood Evil Wings” and all songs that are a little different than those other songs I mentioned. I’m happy because to me, a record should be a variety under that umbrella of hard rock and heavy metal, you know?”
The lyrics in the 1st track, “Evil Twin” state:
“You represent your discontentSlaughtering the innocent
You’re no martyrs
The arrogance to reinvent
The holy words their meanings rent
You’re no martyrs”
Considering the song and lyrics pertain to modern day terrorism & the song calls out religious and political extremism, what initially inspired the band to write this song? Who’s idea was it initially?
Benante “Everybody is afraid to touch the topic of religion, especially with the extreme muslims. It’s such a touchy subject. You can attack any other religion and nothing bad will come about, but I think those that are extremists, the way they are taught or the way, as I’d like to say, “brain-washed.” they’re not of sound mind, They’re of a different mind. I think you should enjoy this life that you are given on this earth because we really don’t know what it is in the afterlife. We can definitely prove that this life is this life here because we wake up every day and do the same thing that we do. The afterlife I’m not so sure about. So, I don’t understand why you’d want to hurt other people in thinking that you’ll go on in the afterlife to have bliss. I just don’t understand it.”
From the tragic loss of Pantera’s late, great Dimebag Darrell in 2004 to the more recent attacks at both The Charlie Hebdo building & The Eagles of Death Metal concert…What are your thoughts on live event safety as a concert-goer and in terms of a band’s on-stage safety?
Benante: “It’s something that I am very aware of. I will always look to my left and right most of the time (laughs). I am very concerned about the audience, for their safety and ours. I think especially coming this Summer with festivals, somewhere like France, it’s pretty scary. I don’t understand why someone would want to fuck up such a fun time. We are concerned about safety.”
You seem to be the American Bruce Dickinson or renaissance man (if you will), drummer, guitarist, lyricist, songwriter, band leader, overseeing Anthrax’s marketing, merchandising, artwork & now with recently announcing ‘Benante’s Blend’ in early-mid 2015.” The coffee comes in two different varieties: ‘Be All End All’ blend which is a dark roast with a real kick, and the ‘Forever Metal’ blend, a milder coffee. ‘Benante’s Blend’ is currently available via your website, www.charliebenante.com/Store/
Benante: “Back many years ago, Dave Mustaine & myself released two coffees. I was 100% into it. It was a great moment and then something happened somewhere and it just stopped happening. I always said, “I’m going to continue this!” It took me a couple of years to find the right people to help me do it, but I did and I met with roasters and told them what I was looking for. We got together and tried each bean and kind of came up with a few together and we put it all in a pot and made it work. It just tasted great and I said, “This is it! This is the coffee I want.” And I just sell it online. Of course I’d like to branch out and get it into places, but I’m doing it very organically.”
How do you and the band feel to currently be on a 4-week/43-date tour with Lamb of God in celebration of Anthrax’s 35th anniversary. You also have opening support acts, DeafHeaven & Power Trip. Tell us a bit about how this Anthrax and Lamb of God tour came to fruition?
Benante: “We’ve known each other for quite a long time and were contacted about doing it. We agreed it would make a great package and a good tour for fans to see. As far as the other bands go, I’ve been a Deafheaven fan for a bit now and the band Power Trip, I love them too! I think they’re great! Overall, I think it’s a great package!”
As of March 1st, you’re set to tour with Iron Maiden in Monterrey, Mexico & on April 28th with Megadeth in San Juan, Puerto Rico? What are your thoughts on touring with both bands in 2016, especially with Megadeth given that both bands are 2 of THE BIG 4?
Benante: “The Maiden thing is going to be pretty cool. You know, it’s South American shows, they’re going to be huge shows, so I’m very happy about that.”
Worship Music certainly had interesting artwork displaying zombified, deformed creatures gravitating towards the Anthrax symbol. With a similar theme on the “For All Kings” cover, who was the artist who created the art for both records?
Benante: “The cover concept I worked with Alex Ross on. Basically, it was just my vision of how I wanted the covers to be and how I wanted them to look. I collaborated with Alex on them. For instance, this new one, I’m trying to tie-in the last three covers: “We’ve Come For You All,” “Worship Music” and now this one, they’re all in the same world. So, when I met with Alex, he started discussing it. My first idea, he didn’t really like that much, so I scrapped that and then I talked to him about this other concept that I had and that’s when he said, “Well now I think you’ve got something.” We bounced back and forth; he made the composition and felt it was better to have the kings positioned in a way where it shows the depth of the hall, the stained glass window with the beam shining through. So, he went with that and it just turned out amazing. I love it and can’t stop looking at it.”
What is your opinion on physical media versus digital downloads & streaming services?
Benante: “I don’t like streaming. I hate all that crap. I’d rather be a fan and have the piece in front of you where you could read the liner notes and everything about it instead of just consume. Enjoy it that way. It’s just a digital file. I know that’s how things have gotten, but I appreciate to listen to it the way it was intended to be listened to. The way the intro to the record starts. I just want you to stare at the cover, get absorbed in the whole vibe and let it take you on that journey.”
In your opinion, what is the current state of heavy metal music? What newer bands do you believe are currently making an impact?
Benante: “Some bands that are doing something new and something different. I’ve always been a Ghost supporter. I love the band Deafheaven, who’s out with us. I love the band Rival Sons. So, there are some really good bands. You just have to search a little bit.”
What are your thoughts on the recent passing of Motorhead’s, Lemmy Kilmister and the webcast memorial that was recently posted via YouTube?
Benante: “I played at his 70th birthday two weeks prior to his death. It was pretty shocking when I saw him. He didn’t really look that well and I thought to myself, “Lemmy doesn’t look so good.” Then I got the word and thought it was pretty shitty. We lost someone that was very important to this whole thing that we call metal and hard rock.”
How do you feel about the cancelation of Eddie Trunk’s, That Metal Show?
Benante: “It was pretty sad. I had a feeling it was coming and I think they did too. Maybe it gets picked up by some other outlet and maybe it can be better than it was. I just think it was a good show. It was kind of fun and I always equated it to a sports show for music. So, maybe it will get picked up.”
Official Anthrax Tour Dates