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Anthrax: We’re A Happy Family? Peter Atkinson Chats with Singer Joey Belladonna

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, August 31, 2010 @ 5:55 AM

"Who needed any change, really, in my eyes? It's great that they did something different, but hell, we could have just kept going….that's how I've always felt."

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The frontman situation for thrash vets Anthrax has been a running comedy of errors/soap opera for more than five years now. To recap: after working with John Bush for a dozen years, the band decided to reunite their Among The Living-era lineup in 2005 with former singer Joey Belladonna and guitarist Dan Spitz — there had been prior discussions of a tour with both Belladonna and Bush singing that didn’t pan out. Nor did the reunion with Belladonna. Despite initial plans for Anthrax to carry on with him at the mic, he bowed out in 2007. When the band tried to make amends with Bush, he said “thanks, but no thanks.” So enter one Dan Nelson, formerly of Devilsize. After some shows with him in 2008, Anthrax recorded Worship Music, what was to be their first new album in six years. But then exit one Dan Nelson in June 2009. A statement from the band said he was “seriously ill.” Nelson later called bullshit on that. Regardless, he was out — a European tour and shows with Slipknot were hastily canceled and Worship Music went into limbo.

Bush — who by now had a pretty sweet voice-over gig going, making Burger King ads and such, and was recording with his old band Armored Saint — agreed to return so Anthrax could play the U.K. Sonisphere Festival in August 2009 and Japan’s Loud Park Festival in October. He also did a short run in Australia in February with them, but balked at returning on a full-time basis or reworking the Worship Music material. With more big shows looming over the summer — including the first-ever Big Four appearances with Metallica, Slayer and MegadethAnthrax needed more of a commitment, and called on Belladonna once again.

He agreed, and on May 10 was re-introduced as the band’s frontman. That’s where things stand at the moment, as Anthrax — rounded out by guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante — now ready to reunite with “Clash of the Titans” tourmates Slayer and Megadeth for the Jagermeister Tour of the states in September/October.

On the phone from his home in upstate New York, Belladonna tried to help make sense of the situation, while at the same time looking ahead to what he hopes is a stable future for the band that will include, in one way, shape or form, some new music. But given how things have gone in the past, he’s understandably cautious of what that future might hold.

KNAC.COM: So it sounds like you had quite a summer, going from getting ready to play club shows with your own band to playing some of the most eagerly awaited shows in metal history?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, it was quite a big turnaround, for sure, because everything happened so fast. I had to change gears as far as what I was doing and where I was going pretty quick. As far as preparing for the actual performances, they're similar in a lot of ways because I don't ever get too taken aback by the number of people. It's just as hard sometimes playing for 50 people in a small bar.

I'm not trying to downplay the status of these shows, they were a huge deal, there's no doubt about that. Like you said, these were shows people around the world have been waiting for for 20 years. But I just had to focus on the task at hand and being a performer and taking it on and giving everything I can.

KNAC.COM: May 10 is when the announcement came that you were back in Anthrax, how long before that did the discussions start?

BELLADONNA: Not long at all. In fact, it was a matter of a phone call, an e-mail and then it was "where do I gotta meet you guys?" (laughs). It literally took like two days, it wasn't a whole lot. There were just a few messages back and forth, nothing in great detail. We're still working on that now, to get everything intact the way everyone would like it.

KNAC.COM: So you basically had a month to get ready for the shows. How did they go? Were the performances good?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, we got better every day. The band got tighter and everybody started to feel their way around with everything. It usually doesn't take us too long because we've got a certain plan and each person has a way to make the show go by. There's always a few snags, the normal stuff. Nothing we can't get around. With these festivals it's a lot of traveling around then it's hurry up and go, you're on. Before you know it, the show's over.

KNAC.COM: The hype around those shows was so huge, do you think in the end The Big Four lived up to it?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, I certainly hope so. Where we were and how we did it, it was quite big. There was 100,000 people for the first show in Poland, so that just shows how interested people were to see that bill. I think the shows were good, and the people were really into it. I know the bands were.

KNAC.COM:I know a lot of U.S fans would like to get a chance to see The Big Four here.

BELLADONNA: I would hope the chances are greater than ever before. If nothing else, we all showed that it could be done. The bands all got along and I think we all had a good time. It's just a matter of making it happen, so we'll see how it goes. I think it's something we'd all like to do.

KNAC.COM: Given everything that happened with Anthrax over the last couple years, and with you having just come back onboard, did you feel like you had the most to prove on those shows?

BELLADONNA: It sucks to be in any position to feel like you have to prove anything as far as to those guys, like "I'm better than this you guy had or better than that guy." That whole thing, it looms in the background when you're around everybody and you wonder how it all feels, but in the end I just do what I normally do, and as long as I'm doing it well then it's all I can ask myself to do and all I can ask those guys to enjoy.

Personal preferences, you'll never be able to handle that. Over the years, the guys may have wanted a certain style and I didn't have it, so you're always wondering "people like what I do, is it OK with you guys? It seems to be working. I don't know what you hear or what you see, but from what I see, we seem to be doing good." I think they're catching on to that. I don't know, it's a bit weird, when you start thinking about it that way. Other than that, I think we're a good band, we play well and everybody's getting along well, so we can just get out there and do it.

KNAC.COM: With all the turmoil and John Bush having turned the band down just a couple months earlier, I'm sure some people might have been expecting a train wreck?

BELLADONNA: If they were, what they got was far from that. If anything, we have all the room to be even better. We are doing quite well, the chemistry is quite good. We've stepped it up as much as we can without getting silly about it. There's a lot going on with the band right now, so you've got to pace yourself and that's what we're trying to do.

KNAC.COM: Were you able to gel again with the guys doing those festival shows, or was the focus more just on playing the gigs and working on other issues once they were done and you had some time to catch your breath?

BELLADONNA: That's always a factor, just trying to keep the system intact as far as fairness and making myself feel a part of it where I'm an equal member and I feel we're working together to get to that goal, versus "we'll tell you about it later, after we've done it." I wanna be there, even if I'm not calling any of the shots, you want to know what's going on, you want to know how it's being run, you just want to be a part of it, that's all, and try to participate in every aspect of it.

I'd like to be able to sing they way I sing and not be put in a position where it just doesn't fit my style because they're trying something new. Those are the harder ones to deal with because those are about personal preference and sometimes physically you can only get so many things out of certain people. To me, I just want to be as natural as possible.

KNAC.COM: So the plan going forward is to have you continue on as the frontman, this is not a temporary situation?

BELLADONNA: I don't feel it being temporary, but I don't read anybody's mind. I personally think this is a good lineup to stay put, it works, it's been successful before and it can be successful again. We work well together. I'm the easiest guy to get along with, I don't cause any havoc, all I ever look for is great vision and fairness, that's all. And I try to do the best I can for the good of the group. So yeah, I see this thing moving as long as it wants to move. As long as everybody stays focused and just doesn't try to flip the coin real quick and find out that you don't have anything on the other side.

KNAC.COM: Given the way the singer situation has been handled by the band over the year, it's almost like karma that they would end up where they almost didn't have anything on the other side?

BELLADONNA: I'm not even gonna go there. It had gotten pretty ridiculous, but we are where we are right now and we've just got to keep moving forward.

KNAC.COM: Does this go-round feel any different than when you reunited with the band a couple years ago?

BELLADONNA: The reunion, it seemed like there was a discrepancy about how long it was gonna go. At first it was like "let's do it in baby steps" and I guess they claim that we walked into this thing too fast and went out of it too fast and nobody had a chance to get along with each other. I don't know if was really all that, I think it was that nobody really could put everything on the table and say, "This is what we're gonna do, let's make this happen."

Now I think we're trying to do that, where everything is on the table and let's be a part of everything we're trying to do together. I just don't want to be an outsider. I just want to be there and involved. Make it fair, make it interesting enough for everyone.

KNAC.COM:I wonder how much more of these shenanigans even die-hard Anthrax fans can handle before they say "fuck these guys." I think a lot of fans just want to know that the band they see now is the same one they'll see a year from now, two years from now - no matter who's singing?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, regardless of what you miss out on having the other guys because I think you can get all those elements no matter what because the band still writes the way they write. I could have been on any the records they did with the other guys just as well, it wouldn't have changed from my aspect of being in the band.

I think most people will be happy to see the band stay the way it is, the way it was. Who needed any change, really, in my eyes? It's great that they did something different, but hell, we could have just kept going. It really could have kept going. I know that's neither here nor there now, but that's how I've always felt.

KNAC.COM: I guess now you're getting a chance to sing some of the songs the band did with John, so people can judge for themselves.

BELLADONNA: Yeah. I could do without a lot of the comparisons because we're talking two different styles, two different stage presences, we're just two different people, period. But John, and for a short time Dan, were singing songs I did with the band as well, so it is what it is. It's Anthrax.

KNAC.COM:You must have been aware of what was going on with the band while all the turmoil was happening, did you think in the end they might ask you back or were you surprised when it actually happened?

BELLADONNA: I know what goes on most of the time, it's almost unavoidable. I understand what they were trying to do with Dan, but it's not an easy thing, you just can't throw anybody in there and expect someone to buck up and be professional and hang in there hardcore and actually be able to pull it off when they're not used to being in a situation like that. You just can't build it like that a lot of times.

In the end, I had no idea they were gonna call me. Many people were like "ah, they will, they will." I don't sit around and think that way. If they do, they do and we'll address it, if they don't I'll just move on and do my other projects. I'm just a musician, I like to play. I didn't dwell on it from day one, from '91 on. I was always ready, but if it wasn't there it wasn't there.

KNAC.COM: When they asked you this time, were there any second thoughts on your part?

BELLADONNA: Oh yeah, you wonder what's in store. What's different now? What do they want to do now? For me, it was "What are you asking? Do you want me to some shows? Do you want me to be in the band?" But the question was, "Do you want to join the band again?" So I was like "yeah, let's do it, why not? Sure, I'd love to. It would be absolutely cool as hell."

KNAC.COM: So they've got this album, Worship Music, that for all intents and purposes is done. Is the idea to now rework the album or rerecord the vocals and finally get that music out, or create something completely new together?

BELLADONNA: All the above. I think you'll get everything you just mentioned. I think there will be some down time along the way [during the upcoming tour with Slayer and Megadeth] where we might be able to whip up some ideas songwise. People were talking about writing a little bit on the road, which would be kinda neat if we could find the time and desire to do it.

With the stuff they’ve already done, we'll take every song and if you've got a second shot at anything, you can do whatever you want to them. If something's so good you don't want to touch it, we'll leave it alone, I'll just come in and redo the vocals. It's gonna be different anyhow. I already sang on one song and it's pretty cool, even the guys who are in the crew who were there for the session said it sounded like a completely different song, and that's the way it will be and it's cool. It sounds fresh. I don't even pay attention to what he (Nelson) did. I just don't think about it, I'll do what I do on a song and make it right with myself in mind. I try to be as focused and original as I can be, I don't like to follow anybody, that's the way to approach it. Make it sharp and maybe make it that much more awesome. Again, it's different, it sounds fresh. I've done Bush songs on the road and didn't have any problems there.

KNAC.COM: I was listening to the Attack of the Killer As best-of compilation, and it has you and John singing on the cover of The Temptations' "Ball of Confusion." Did you two actually record that together?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, that was in the same room together, simultaneously. That was an interesting moment. It was so quick I barely even remember it. I drove up a long drive and I drove back a long drive, but I was in and out of there so fast. The song was definitely one of those underground tunes that never got off the ground. I grew up with that song. I remember sitting in my friend's room in high school listening to that. I probably heard it a long time before the other guys did.

KNAC.COM: Was that at the time they were talking about doing a tour with you and John together?

BELLADONNA: It seems so. There was some talk there, but that was a tough negotiation, there wasn't anything enough there to put it all together. For me, it would have come down to having nothing else better to do. And I'm sure it was pretty awkward for John. It was a weird situation. I'm kinda glad it never happened. In one way it would have been interesting and cool, but sharing the stage together it also probably would have felt like we had to go to war and battle each other, "I'll show these guys who's best (laughs)." It might have been a little bit demeaning at times, having to introduce the other guy and hand over the mic, and then you've got one group of fans that likes my singing more and another that likes his. The whole thing, I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

KNAC.COM: Speaking of reunions, you're teaming up with Slayer and Megadeth to relive, if you will, the Clash of the Titans tour. You must be excited about that?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, that's a great bill. It's a good package of metal all night long. We're so different. When we played together over the summer I noticed that there is just so much going on live that's different with each band. We can fit on the same bill and it's cool, but yet we're all so different, which is great. Each set you get a different vibe.

KNAC.COM: I saw the Clash show at Madison Square Garden when you guys did the closing set. That must have been quite a thrill, since it was a hometown gig?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, that's a moment I'll never forget. Just being at the Garden and running up that ramp onto the stage feeling like you're Led Zeppelin in The Song Remains The Same. It doesn't get much better than that. That was a wild night. When the lights came up after Slayer's set all the chairs up front were in a big pile. But that's metal for ya.

KNAC.COM: Slayer's doing Seasons In The Abyss and Megadeth's doing Rust In Peace, will you guys be busting out a Persistence of Time set or something?

BELLADONNA: We're just gonna do what comes to mind, we'll probably do our semi-greatest hits (laughs).

KNAC.COM: I saw on your website you've got a couple shows scheduled with your own band, is the idea to keep your solo band going or will you be playing that by ear to see what happens with Anthrax?

BELLADONNA: Yeah, that's something I've been doing so long that it's hard to shut that down. I have a lot of fun, I get to write music, I get to perform other songs, I've got a new record I'm working on that's about three-quarters done and it's pretty slamming. I hope to finish that up by the end of the year. I've got a cover band that's a three-piece. I play drums and I'm singing. We do all classic rock and I've even got a whole Journey band that just does a whole night of Journey, which is pretty awesome. We give it a heavy edge, so it's got a nice zip to it. So I've got a few things going on and I'd like to keep doing them during the down time because I do enjoy it.

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