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Exclusive Interview With Anthrax Lead Singer Joey Belladonna

By Charlie Steffens aka Gnarly Charlie, Writer/Photographer
Tuesday, December 20, 2005 @ 10:07 AM


Backstage at the Long Beach Ar

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If you are a regular on this site, chances are you don’t need to hear every detail about the Anthrax reunion with what many believe is the quintessential lineup of musicians. You probably heard the news after the press release nearly a year ago. Maybe you’ve already gone out to see one of their shows. Maybe you don’t want to get into the sometimes seething cauldron of debate over which singer had the best voice for Anthrax.

Some of us are really glad Joey Belladonna is back in the band, singing his ass off, after about a fifteen year lay-off (termination). Anthrax is doing quite well these days, and with Joey back out in front the Among the Living lineup has been resurrected.

Joey talks about being an “at will” employee and the music in this candid, after-show interview.

Okay, no more beating around the bush.

KNAC.COM: The show you played tonight was incredible. It’s like you guys are still in your youth.

BELLADONNA: Thanks. Well, it’s just one of those things—for me to get back in with these guys, I mean, I feel like I never left and I never wanted to leave …I just feel good being here, and that we can actually do what we used to do and better. So, it’s nice to have that, versus, like coming in and not being able to do it or not caring or any of that kind of stuff. So it really does feel good to do it the way we’ve been doing it. It’s heavier. We’re definitely into it a lot—makes for a better time.

KNAC.COM: I heard, or I read, that John [Bush] is still in your employ. However, you’re on for an indefinite period of time, so that means you’re going to make more music, right?

BELLADONNA: Well, as far a s John goes, I know nothing of what his status is …I don’t know if he’s here or if he’s happy or unhappy –I don’t know anything about where he’s at so it’s hard for me to give you an answer. As far I go, I’ve been into what we’ve been doing since April, and we have more commitments coming, and as far as what we’re going to do—or write --we haven’t talked about it specifically or indefinitely, so ..I would hope to do one [album] –if we were to do one, we’d want it quality so we’re going to have to get in a room and make some hard-nosed parts and some good riffs and the stuff to make it right instead of just slamming a record together. But, we haven’t officially talked about anything, it’s just one of those things that you would think that would be next, but right now next is just to keep touring a little bit and see what happens.

KNAC.COM: You can tour on this material …

BELLADONNA: We didn’t even do half of what we know. When we went out in April we rehearsed a good dozen more songs in two days …after all that time we had been away and we just hadn’t had the chance to play any of them. We’ve been doing festivals –same thing –hour, hour and ten. We did a bunch of headlining, but not a lot …maybe a good dozen or two.

KNAC.COM: So after this … this is the Priest Feast, where are you going to go? You’re heading out for more dates, right?

BELLADONNA: Two months off, finally. We’ve been going since April. Two weeks in January we’re going to headline and we’ll go from there.

KNAC.COM: Right now you’re out touring on the DVD and Anthrology . So far there are no new tracks in the works right now?

BELLADONNA: Nothing -- we’ve been so busy that even if we all were saying “Oh, man we gotta do a record, I can’t wait”, nobody has a desire to sit down and write anything, because we’re so … we’ve been pounding since April. We’ve have had less than a month off because we’re playing a lot. We’re traveling –we did Australia, we did the whole Europe run this summer, we did a bunch of festivals, and we came back, we did The States, we did the Priest tour, we did some of Megadeth’s …so we’ve been crackin’ since then and not a bit of new material. Hey, I mean if one guy might have come up with a riff they had sitting around –nobody’s talked about anything. I mean, it gets closer and closer, but again, that process is going to be very interesting if we were to put it together. I don’t know what to expect –I’d love to do another record –I can’t say I wouldn’t want to, because it may lead to better things. A new record would be very exciting for everyone, especially if it slammed, you know, and it was like really fuckin’ right on the money. And I’m sure it would be kind of cool because you got some of the newer stuff that they were doing that’s a little more accessible, a little bit more, like, “straight ahead”, like where we were “thrashed out”, and I can sing –and it would be a lot easier to sing their newer stuff, of John’s …it’s open—for both of us …more vocal oriented.

KNAC.COM: As a soloist –you have a lot of stuff written, don’t you?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, I got tons of stuff. I got series and series of tracks that are raw “demo’ish”, that are pretty cool as is. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not even finished –it’s done but not really recorded properly, or it’s just put together, and then there’s stuff from that record that I put out …there’s some with people I’ve never even met before, and we quickly did it or I did it with one guy and I played drums on it –having fun. I just want to play. I was playing drums and singing for the last year and a half. Getting with these guys …it’s just a well-oiled machine. It’s like; I can get to do my thing –I don’t have to worry about driving or setting up –which I love –but doing this I can really focus. It’s weird being back after they’ve done something with someone else again. Even though I don’t get sidetracked from it, but it was there, and they had done it and I’m sure they enjoyed it, so being back I really just fuckin’ wanna say “Hey, this is a cool thing, isn’t it?” You want to check in once in a while and see if everyone’s cool about that. You don’t know …you never know. You hear a lot of people say “Dude, keep the lineup”, and I don’t dictate any of that –if these guys want to keep it together that’s great. I’m an easy guy. I’m as loyal as anyone can be; it’s just, I think when they wanted somebody new, they wanted a new style that Alice in Chains, that whatever …somehow something clicked and they just flipped the switch and that was it for me. I don’t feel any different, that’s the thing –I couldn’t have done anything different.

KNAC.COM: So you didn’t burn with any kind of resentment …?

BELLADONNA: Oh, no, not at all –what can you do? Just imagine yourself being there. What could you possibly do? First thing I said to the manager when he called he says “They wanna part ways”, and I said “Alright, well I guess that’s what we’re going to do”, and he goes “Wow, you’re taking it pretty good”, and I said “What do you want me to say? It sucks, but what are you going to do?” I mean, am I going to cause you a lot of heartache and be a jerk or …see I never was like that in the first place. I was the easiest going –whatever these guys wanted to do, I did. But, until I give them everything that they want …that’s the only other point, and I tried to do that and I still do now. And I think this is what we were doing … this is okay. You know, I was wondering if they’d ever come around to ask me to do it fully—and again I don’t know how full this is; it’s hard for me to tell.

KNAC.COM: Five years ago you were approached to do it with John, weren’t you?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, but that was a lot different, it was almost like “Hey, if you don’t really have anything going on, like, uh …”, I felt like saying “I really wasn’t the flute player of the band or the side guy, ya know?” It was so quick and so late that for me to go in and just, like kick start something –just to come in and do something –it wasn’t set up right. I didn’t think it was going to be that fair and it was just too late. I think it was good idea that I didn’t do it because this is much better when it finally came together vs. id I had done that and then all of a sudden “Alright we did that” and we’d never get a chance to do this baby –I don’t know.

KNAC.COM: I think it would have messed it up.

BELLADONNA: I think it would have been a really twisty thing, because you got two guys going head-to-head, regardless if you like one another you’re in competition, and it’s like …I know people would get stoked over it for a little bit, but then the other side it’s like “God, what are they fighting for pole position to see who gets to sing what.” The old stuff, more than likely would have crossed the new stuff, just because it was that popular –look, they did a new record of that stuff with him [John Bush] –that’s how popular the stuff was, it was almost to a point like they knew someday they were going to try it, which is cool, I’m flattered by it, but it’s so hard to put it back into shape –to make it the same.

KNAC.COM: The Among the Living lineup, as we call it, transcends all the fashion. You’ve got some old fans and I think you’ll garner a new audience …

BELLADONNA: We are now …

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it’s evident.

BELLADONNA: What we do is well tuned and it does stand its own ground –the music and the way we do it, and I think most people could get into it, even if they’ve never heard it. It just seems to sit right … but again we could also …again being new, we could bring in a little of the new with the old and it could be a hell of a mix there. I don’t know if that’s what’s going to happen at all, and I don’t know if that has to happen –we could stay old school, but …I don’t think that’s going to happen –I think if we’re going to end up doing a little of everything mixed in.

KNAC.COM: They say you can’t skate on yesterday’s ice, but you guys could keep on with this stuff, man.

BELLADONNA: I think we could too and …well, some people do that. In fact there’s probably quite a bit of people that actually do that, which we wouldn’t want to do it too much unless we felt that that’s all we had to offer, which, if we do it long enough we probably would do a record. And I hope they don’t mold …like, if I do a record …there was a point in time when they were trying to make me into something, which sometimes you just can’t do. It would be all buttoned up and I’d walk in and it would be like being trapped in this window and I’d had to make it work. With my own stuff –from the start I know how to work it up. With Anthrax, you walk in and it’s like “This is it. Work with it.” That’s hard shit for the singer.

KNAC.COM: When you write your own music are you going from a simple riff …?

BELLADONNA: Oh yeah, man. I’ve got the drums in my mind …and I’ll even hum a simple riff, and if somebody can translate that –I got a great song, because I hear a chorus …and that’s the stuff that I’d never do with these guys. We don’t even go near that. In fact, they probably don’t acknowledge any of my ideas. I don’t even know to this day if they would. I’ve got some great ideas – I got melodies for days, I mean anytime they come up with something, if they would just give me some of this stuff I could send them back six different ideas, just melody wise and give them five different ways to do it …and if you don’t like it, don’t worry about it.

KNAC.COM: Do you think they’re watching you? I know you’re pretty loose whether you stay or go, you have no control …

BELLADONNA: No, I won’t. I don’t have any control …

KNAC.COM: Do you think in time you’ll get more involved in the creative process with them?

BELLADONNA: You know, when I joined them, the coolest thing is I’ve stayed out of that and I let them do their thing, because they had a system and I didn’t try to fuck with it, but at the same time I don’t think they would want me to get in the middle of it and maybe “pop” it up or something like that –believe me when I write I’m thinking heavy too, even though I like a lot of melodic shit. I hope they give me at least a little shot like saying “Here’s an idea on that riff …” Like one time they sent me “In My World” but that was just to hear it, it wasn’t to come up with an idea. Like, say for instance Scott [Ian] gives me “I Am the Law” –he has it laid out but I still have to sing it. I could have come up with something different there, but yet that was cool what he came up with. I’m sure with John they probably went in the room, like any other band that I would be in –we’d fuckin’ jam for an hour on something and go “Dude, there’s a great part right there …ya hear that? We gotta use that!” But if you don’t jam there’s no way you can tell.

KNAC.COM: Right now it’s just a matter of a couple rehearsals and you’re out there doing it.

BELLADONNA: I would hope, but who knows? I’m jumping ahead into possibilities. Those are things that really … I love doing. If I don’t do it with these guys and it’s just the same system that we’ve done it –fine, but I can offer a whole lot more. I can be a whole lot better than even the times I was with them, because, again, it’s a lot harder to do it that way than it is for me doing my own stuff where I can just …it might not be anything that they would even listen to, or even like …they could think it sucks, but there’s some really good there. Now, could you imagine if they were there with me doing my ideas? It would be a fuck of a lot different, because they’re a better band. I’ve never had a great band like these guys, you know? I’ve met a lot of good people, but not nearly as much a great band that knows how to work together and make something really happen. And sound great.

KNAC.COM: It blows me away that you were gone for that long, yet I’m sure when you looked out there tonight you know you nailed it …

BELLADONNA: Yeah, it felt good. Tonight was ten shows in eleven days for me, singing. That’s a lot. Judas Priest –they do two, maybe one, three, or two …they never go any more consecutive days. Believe me; ask Rob [Halford] or anybody –that’s a bitch to do. To me, I feel good doing it. I know how to pace myself …I know how to rest. Yeah, it felt good tonight. It is the last show. I mean, this room beats me up more than anything. Listen to how loud that is … (the room behind the movable partition is loaded with guests, along with the other members of Anthrax, celebrating. It has been very noisy throughout our interview, but this is rock and roll, baby) …it kicks your ass. I would have been on the bus, like an hour ago, just fuckin’ laying low, watching the Sunday night game or something.

KNAC.COM: But you’re doing all the media stuff.

BELLADONNA: Oh, yeah, but not in the middle of a room with ninety people who are yelling at the top of their lungs, drunk. I apologize for that.

KNAC.COM: No, no problem. It’s pretty wild. I was back there and I saw Rex [Brown] from Pantera, I saw Tony [Campos] from Static-X …

BELLADONNA: Steve Perry from Journey is here tonight, which is awesome –made my night.

KNAC.COM: That’s a guy I would sure like to meet.

BELLADONNA: Dude …fuck …I walked in to Rob Zombie’s room and they introduced me to him. It’s a great night. I’ve been feeling good mainly any night. I do what I can to please these guys and also do a good job for anybody that’s here to see us, so we live up to whatever it is instead of just, like “Yeah, whatever.” It’s nowhere near that.

KNAC.COM: No. You look like you’re glad to be here and to be back in the ring again.

BELLADONNA: I read somewhere that said that I was so grateful that it’s like I’ve never gotten it before, like “Oh my God, he had to beg?"

KNAC.COM: No, man! You got that swagger!

BELLADONNA: Yeah. Fuck him (laughs) I mean, if anything I just want to say thanks for being here. We’re here, you’re here, and we’re fuckin’ playing. Is there any more to it? I’m fuckin’ totally happy. What else can you say? Some bands take it for granted, thinking they’re hotter than anybody out there, who gives a shit about you? I don’t think that way. I’m really happy to be here. It’s a hell of a thing for these guys to just come back and do it again. Maybe they did this thing because they weren’t doing as well and maybe they thought they should do this.

KNAC.COM: The numbers weren’t there.

BELLADONNA: No. And I’m not saying our numbers are skyrocketing either, but we’re a new thing again. We almost have to beat the pavement and build it back into shape again. Little by little …you know I don’t even think people know we’re back together, surprisingly. I’m not sure.


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