Anthrax’s Charlie Benante on New Covers EP, Upcoming Tour
For over thirty years now, drummer Charlie Benante has been captaining the mighty ship Anthrax through choppy metallic waters, alongside first mate Scott Ian and fellow crew members of differing rank, station and duration – all of them responsible, in some measure, for steering the band’s career into the so-called ‘Big Four’ of thrash and keeping it there.
Of course the voyage hasn’t always been a smooth one, but as they face yet another personnel change (the recently announced departure of lead guitarist Rob Caggiano) shortly after celebrating another Grammy nomination, Anthrax is armed and dangerous with a brand new eight-song covers EP entitled ‘Anthems,’ and a headlining stint with the Metal Alliance Tour just over the horizon.
It was for the purpose of discussing these two, major undertakings, that UCR rang up Mr. Benante for the following revealing interview:
Can you tell us about the recording process used for the ‘Anthems’ EP? How and when the songs came together and were recorded?
Some of the songs had been recorded a little while back, actually. We dusted them off and then started on a bunch of others, including the Boston song, the Rush song, the AC/DC song and the Journey song: those were all done fresh. We did some work in L.A., we did some in New York…
How were the songs picked? Was it by committee, or did each band member pick a different song?
A little bit of both, really. One day when we were talking about it, I just happened to be wearing a Boston shirt, and I think it was Scott who suggested we do one of their songs and everyone pretty much shouted ‘Smokin’’! Joey was pretty keen to do ‘T.N.T.’ but it wasn’t like everybody floated a name and threw it in a hat.
Did you oversee the arrangements, or did you all sort them out together in the studio?
Nah, for the four songs I just mentioned, I just recorded the drums on my own and then sent the tracks to the other guys to add their parts to. I also recorded a bunch of guide guitar tracks and some of those stayed in the final tracks. Like, I wound up doing the guitar lead on the Cheap Trick song, and that ended up staying through to the final version.
Some of the covers, like the Boston and Journey songs, may surprise some of Anthrax’s diehard metal fans – were you yourself a fan of those songs as a kid, or did you hate them in your metal-thrashing mad days and come to like them later on?
I was always a fan of Boston. It wasn’t until later in their career that they got labeled with that whole “corporate rock” tag, which I could never really understand since the [guitarist Tom Scholz] pretty much made that record in his basement, and then took it to quite a few labels that passed on it. That is the beauty of what I consider to be hard rock – that record. It’s made up of songs that [pauses] the first time you hear them, they’re so ‘friendly’ that you know them. There’s not a bad song on that whole album and the guitars are so loud and in your face – it’s awesome!
On ‘Smokin’,’ you guys enlisted Fred Mandel, who’s worked with Alice Cooper and a bunch of other artists – how did that come about and can you share some thoughts on the experience of working with him?
Actually that happened thanks to Jay Rustin, who co-produced and mixed the EP with us. He knew Fred somehow and we all gave him the thumbs-up to ask him whether he would lend his talents to the song. And I’m glad he did ‘cos it sounds so great!
I was also really impressed with Joey’s versatility on the new EP – how he used so many different vocal approaches depending on the song. It’s no secret that he’s a little older than the rest of you guys – was he particularly excited about this project?
Yeah, he was really into it, but then we all were. But Joey really put himself into it, even when it came to singing the Rush tune, ‘Anthem,’ which is one of those old Rush numbers where Geddy’s voice was really, really high. We wound up tuning it down a step to make it a little more comfortable for him, and then he went to town on it.
Speaking about that: all your performances, actually, seemed pretty meticulous to me. Did you guys intentionally set out to dig into the individual songs’ parts and replicate their nuances when you got into the recording process?
Yeah, we wanted to pay tribute to the artists who first did these songs while putting a bit of ourselves into them as well. Overall, I think we all paid a little more attention to those nuances and little details than we probably did [when covering other artists' songs] in the past. There were definitely some key moments in Neal Peart’s performance of ‘Anthem’ that I wanted to replicate, and others I tweaked slightly my own way. And the same is true for the other guys – when I hear Joey singing the Journey song, he nails that!
Final question about the EP: What’s your favorite cover, if you have one?
I really don’t. I like them all. I think they came out so great.
Any plans to play one or some of these covers on the upcoming Metal Alliance Tour?
Oh yeah, I definitely wanna do that. We’ll be working on figuring out which ones real soon.
You’ll also be playing ‘Among the Living’ in its entirety – any personal favorite songs you’re looking forward to performing off that album?
I’ve always personally liked playing “One World” from that record, so I’m looking forward to having it in the set again. But really, that whole album is a lot of fun to play, even the songs we’ve done almost every night for years.
Can you reveal any other Anthrax favorites that you plan to dust off for the upcoming tour? Whether from the early LPs like ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’ and ‘Spreading the Disease,’ or even the John Bush period?
I don’t think we’ll be playing too many of those really old songs this time around. We haven’t really talked about [the Bush-era songs], but no, probably not.
Finally, any plans for the next Anthrax studio album yet?
I think we’ll start working on some new songs pretty soon, but really can’t say when a new album might be ready. We’re all about plugging this new EP, preparing for the tour right now, and excited to hit the road and play the ‘Among’ songs and a few of these cover tunes.