One of the four original architects of speed and thrash-metal, Anthrax, found itself facing an uphill battle in recent years. It wasn’t lack of drive or creative energy that was hindering their return to the scene, but lack of a frontman. The band abruptly parted ways with singer Dan Nelson, whom they had spent years cooped up in a recording studio on what was to be their 10th studio effort. Finding themselves adrift and in need of a voice, they turned to a voice from their storied past: Joey Belladonna. Belladonna’s return to the band prompted some of the songs originally recorded with John Bush to be re-crafted with fresh lyrics or tweaked to better suit his overall vibe and energy. Some of the songs were completely replaced with brand-new songs and, of course, all have Belladonna’s inimitable vocal stamp on them. The band is now poised to release their powerful new album, “Worship Music,” which is their first studio release in eight years to their adoring masses on September 13 via Megaforce Records. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Joey Belladonna to discuss his return to the iconic band, the challenges during the making of “Worship Music,” what the future holds for him and Anthrax and much more!
As fans of Anthrax, we are excited to see the band returning with “Worship Music.” As a fan of your work, I was curious to find out how music first came into your life.
The Beatles. For me, it was really just hearing a lot of that music, the songs, the harmonies, the writing, the whole vibe of a good song. I loved that! Then I moved into crazier stuff as I went forward. I got into YES, Kansas, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Foreigner and Bad Company. That is when it all started to evolve for me. I knew that was where I was going!
What made you pursue your music as a career as opposed to going a different route?
I just liked music so much and found it so appealing. I was playing the drums and singing for a while there and it seemed like the coolest thing to do! I was having so much fun doing it and nothing else seemed to take my attraction like music did, like it still has been for all these years. It was just the natural thing for me to stay with.
Looking back on the early days of Anthrax, did you think that you would be still going strong all these years later?
In the beginning, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t even know who they were! I had never even heard their music before but as I learned more I took the shot at doing it because I thought the band was great. At the time, music-wise, I had no idea what to expect but I thought that it was a good shot to take. Sure enough, it was just a matter of time for us until we kicked into high gear and took on our own originality, even though we had it from the beginning. The second I joined, I think it took on a whole new twist.
It has been years in the making and no easy process for the band. How do you feel about finally being able to unleash “Worship Music” on the world?
Yeah, they have had some difficulties getting it off the ground. I guess through the trails and tribulations, they had time to find me a spot in there. It seemed that I had been out of the band forever. It is cool in its own way but it is a shame that after we have done something so well, I wish we could have done more in the past and kept that going. That still bugs me. You have all of these comparisons now and reasons why you weren’t there. You just look back on it like, “Man, we missed a lot of opportunities. Who knows what we could have come up with along the way.” I think it would have been successful in its own way, especially when music was being centered around the stores instead of the Internet. But ya know what? I am happy to be there! I am very glad that the record is finished and ready to go, finally!
Did you have any reservations about heading back into the studio for this project?
Well, ya know, just getting me in there in a real situation where it was going to be legit that I was going to be doing it and that the music was going to be fitting to me because it seemed like the last touches were going to be the vocals on a record that was going to be sitting for a while. I had been out so the expectations of me coming back in, to me, were large. They had all these different singers, the longevity of doing other records with other people after I had been out. To have to come in and lift that all off your back and stand on your own, which was great because it obviously turned out that way. I wasn’t worried about it but there was a moment where I hoped that the songs were suitable because sometimes music doesn’t fit your need. Obviously, a lot of it doesn’t fit but I find a way to make it fit and I think I have done that again on this album. That was a little bit of a concern, just having the weight on my shoulders because they had been taking so long, so people are a little bit upset that it was taking so long and then to have me come in and hold it up again just because something wasn’t working or the doubt of a song or the whole thing in its entirety. It was that kinda stuff that made me think, “Wow! I don’t want to be the burden of this thing falling because they were rushing it or couldn’t get it together.” But as soon as I walked in and started doing stuff with them, it was clear that it was coming together. As the day was evolving, there were no problems whatsoever. In fact, it sounded better than I had even anticipated.
What was the biggest challenge in putting the record together?
No challenge really! [laughs] Honestly, the hardest part was finding the time for the producer on the project, I had things going on that I couldn’t make it on a particular week and then he couldn’t make it another week. It was a matter of saying, “OK, here is what I have open. What do you have open?” Scheduling, that was the hardest part, the rest was pretty easy, ya know? I had to fly out to California. The coolest thing was that no one was there but me and Jay Ruston. Nobody was there staring at me through the window, which can make you tense as you are trying to work. So that is the way to do it, it is for me anyhow. There can be those situations someone has to coach someone all day long and tell them how to do it, I didn’t need that.
I am sure there is some concern on your part in regards to your future with Anthrax. Where do you stand with the other guys in the band right now?
I stand pretty good right now. I mean, we are taking on everything according to the time-frame that is in front of us. Each day is a new situation. We just try to take everything down in numbers just to make sure that everybody is correct and that we are doing it together and that everyone is a part of it. You have to have good management and good people around you to make sure that things are done right. I think that sometimes over the years, we haven’t had the most adequate situations in place to help the band succeed. Between that and us working together as a band to make sure that we are on the same page and that no one is dictating to one another, out of fairness, and making sure that we all get a nice, even shake — together. We may all decide as a group that “We want to do this song” or “Yeah, we want to go out then.” Everything is a group effort. So right now I think that everything is in line, as best as it can be and we have a lot of stuff going on!
That is great to hear. We have been listening to the record quite a bit around here and we think it is great. Hopefully, this will lead to more great stuff from the band in the future!
Yeah, that would be nice, right?!
The band has always had a very passionate fan-base. What do you think it is about Anthrax that has always kept the fans craving more throughout the years?
That is a really good question! I don’t know what it is really but maybe it is because we are genuine in our sound, our approach and the attack! Even the vocals are a bit different from what you see in other bands, singing over the top of all that fast stuff all the time. Each guy in the band has a different way of playing, I have played with many people through the years, and I have never played with anyone else that plays the way that they do, even when we are doing the same song! It’s amazing! Anthrax is just unique in its own way and I think that is part of the attraction.
How closely do you follow the rock media and the more vocal fans and their reaction to the new album?
I am up on some of it. I hate to get too caught up on someone saying, “I never liked that guy” or “I hate his voice.” I mean, ya know what? I don’t even know who these people are. If indeed you ever get stuff like that, and I am not saying that it is an ongoing thing, but if I am going to read stuff, you have to get with the good and get with the ugly as well. Unfortunately, anybody can say whatever the hell they want. That is why I don’t read or watch a lot of it because I know what I am doing and I know what feels right. I mean, if I did a show last night, I might not even check out what I did because I know what it was like but I might be curious to see how it came off to the outside and how a fan gets to view it. I don’t read a lot of that stuff but I do know which bands are touring, that certain bands have different people, who has a new album coming out, that sort of stuff. Of course, you also get your fan Facebook stuff and tweets and stuff like that. But anything negative, I am not too cool on that, ya know. Keep it to yourself, ya know. What am I supposed to do? Fall from that? There are a lot of people out there that just want to throw shit at you for no reason.
I have been tracking the new album for a while. Our reviewer is a big Anthrax fan as well. I know that he enjoyed the album, as did I. The feedback that we have received from the review — on the site, on fan forums and from the band’s Facebook page where people are discussing it — have been overwhelmingly positive. There is a real buzz about the album in the fan community. No question.
That’s great! That is really what I have been reading in the press for the album and what they have been getting from the record. At this point, most of it has been really positive and it is really encouraging to see that it pays off when you actually put hard work into what you are doing.
You guys are set to rock Yankee Stadium on September 14th along with Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer as part of “The Big Four.” What are you most looking forward to about a big event like that?
That kind of event is so enormous that you hope that each hour that goes by that you can still get around to where you need to go without a bunch of hassles. You hope that everything is done right. Certain places, they have so much to carry, certain situations make it difficult for anyone to get around. I just hope that it is a nice comfortable day that everyone can have family and friends along to enjoy it where you aren’t restricted in a certain area. Who knows, it is a hell of a thing, in the city, to get everything coordinated but the show is the main thing! We are really looking forward to getting on stage and really putting on a great show! The rest is history really!
Do you guys have plans for more touring for “Worship Music?”
Yeah! I think we are looking for a Fall tour. A six week run. Maybe mid-October through November. Right now, we are in the process of working out all of the terms to get it done. I am really looking forward to it!
With all the years under your belt, is touring something that ever gets old?
No. It’s what you do, ya know? I think that once you start disliking that sort of thing, you are pretty doomed. I have been playing with so many different people who don’t really gel with that. They just end up not wanting to be there for all those other reasons, which just kinda stinks, ya know? It becomes a hobby of some sort for them.
What do you do, personally, to keep it exciting when you hit the stage?
Nothing really! I just hit the stage and tear it up every time, as much as I can! Being full strength is a big part of it. You have to be conscience of what you are going to do each night. You feed off the crowd too! A good crowd can give you extra emotion, ya know? That’s truly amazing!
Looking back on your body of work, how do you feel you evolved as an artist over the years?
I just keep working on what I do as a singer, a performer and a writer. I just try to find the time to make something as good as I can. You evolve on your own, ya know. I don’t do anything different than I have in the past. Someone might say, “Oh, he sounds a lot better now” or “He is this … he is that.” I don’t even know what I am doing to make it do that. Every situation opens the door for you to do different things. Maybe the songs are laid out a little bit differently. I still sing a lot and I do a lot of different styles. I am doing plenty of classic stuff right now, I have my own cover band. I do three piece and we do everything from Rush to John Hampton to Deep Purple to Journey to Pink Floyd. When I take my Belladonna band out, we do a ton of Anthrax and a bunch of originals. That is about all I do! That gives me opportunity and I guess that helps but I can’t cite one thing in particular. The writing, obviously, I have been on my own so to come up with lyrics, songs and originals centers around me now and I can do all of that stuff a little more because I have been doing it a little more often. So maybe that helps. When it comes to Anthrax, it is a little bit different of a situation. I don’t think I did anything different on this record, I just went in and found ease and not much tension, even though I was concerned how it was going to turn out.
You mentioned that you are always working. What is the status of new material from you on the solo side of things?
Well, I have songs, it is just so hard to get everybody in together time-wise. Availability is always an issue. It makes me wish I could play guitar and bass better, so that I could finish things! I do have songs laying around and right now they may not be in the best demo form that you could possibly want them, they haven’t been mixed or anything yet but songs, I’ve got plenty of songs!
Would you consider that to be back-burnered at the moment with all the things going on in regards to Anthrax?
Yeah, kinda. I could do it at any point, any time that I am open, but Anthrax is more of a priority all the way because I am still working on getting all the new songs up in a live setting. We have to put that together. I am sure that everyone else, in their spare time, is going over that as well. Usually, ya know, we just show up and play! It works great! I know what I gotta know and he knows what he’s gotta know!
As a fan, that is exciting to hear. You all seem very committed to bringing Anthrax forward.
Yeah, I totally am. I love playing new stuff. I know that a lot of people lean toward hearing the old stuff too. As a band, you collectively wonder how much is too much and how much do the fans know of what we picked out. Hell, we are probably going to be playing stuff that no one has even heard yet, except for you guys who get to hear an advanced copy. For me, I can hear something new, not really know it but still accept it but I know it is nice when you do know it so you know all the little turns, the arrangement and all that kinda stuff.
You’ve seen the music industry change so much through the years. What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in the music industry in this current climate?
I think that you just have to stay real and do what you do best. It is hard to chase something. For example, if you like the way another person does something, you don’t want to chase after it because you may not have any of those expectations that the other person has. It doesn’t mean that your ability isn’t up to their ability but you just have to be original. As a singer, or as a drummer, I am going to do what I do best and try to work within my group’s needs and put forth my best effort as opposed to trying to chase something that I might not be able to achieve. You can sit around and say, “I wanna be like that guy! He can do this!” Well, if you can’t, what about something else that may suit you and you may do very well? Even if it is simplistic, versus really technical.
I am sure you have seen your fair share of wild things over the years. Have you ever considered telling some of your tales in an autobiography?
Certainly I could! I never really think about that stuff too much though, I mean, a lot of it, you don’t want to put people up on the docket, ya know? I would rather do something more fun, more knowlegable rather than a He-said-she-said thing. I am not really into that. It would be nice to talk about your experiences being in a band, where you went, how you did it, what to do and what not to do. To me, it could sound a little boring but I think a lot of people could be into it.
Is there anything that you would like to say to all the Anthrax fans out there you are about to wow with this album?
I just can’t wait for them to hear it! I hope to see them all on tour and that they are in touch with what we are doing. We are going to bring as much music as we can for you and we are looking forward to some really fun shows! It is good to be back on track.
Thanks for your time, Joey! We will be spreading the word!
Thank you very much! Take care, Jason!