Anthrax’s Charlie Benante: “You Gotta Hear Electric Music Solid Walls of Sound”
By Jay Rollins
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Charlie Benante has been Anthrax’s rhymical foundation since ’83, however, some fans may be unaware about exactly how involved he is in the band’s creative drive and overall image as the archivist, as well as, artist. Promotional designs, album art, and any other image essential to representing Anthrax is often a product of his imagination. This is all in addition to his writing contributions since their debut record Fist Full of Metal. Now Charlie is back on the road participating in Slayer’s Farewell tour and during a hectic day in Canada he had some spare time to jump on a quick phone call.
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Charlie from a young age you’ve been interested in the visual arts. One element of good art is its attention to detail. The cover of Kings Among Scotland pays homage to Kiss’s Rock and Roll Over through intricacies only diehard fans would recognize. As an artist have you always placed symbolic icons throughout your work or is that something you’ve developed with maturity?
Oh boy, that’s a long one. I guess from an early age certain things, artwork just pretty much hit my eye and I just developed a sense of “oh I definitely like that” you know, “that definitely does something to me inside.” Kiss’ Rock and Roll Over was one of those album covers that I just completely loved and I always knew I wanted to do a sort of tribute or just a little bit of a mock up of that album cover. Then this last release gave me kind of the freedom to do it, and I just wanted to do it in a very fun and kind of clever way.
Yeah and I think that really definitely came across, and I saw that Gene Simmons gave his wholehearted approval as well.
“Kings Among Scotland” DVD cover art
After a brief stint at an art college you dropped out because Anthrax began to be successful and your art training in a sense was then taken over by the Island art department, followed by Elektra’s artists, who taught you about what catches a consumer’s eye. Do you find it laboursome balancing what you would like to draw and what is required for commercial success?
Of course, I didn’t really put all that information into every album cover because some album covers, especially like the Persistence of Time album cover, was a very dark looking cover, and that was solely based upon my love for Salvador Dali. At the time I was such a big Salvador Dali fan that I wanted to do something like that, [Persistence of Time] to me was very few types of colours, it didn’t really pop out at you. Like State of Euphoria, which was like fuckin bright yellow, bright red, you know what I mean?
Absolutely, so not every album has those elements, sometimes you did just go with what you really wanted to do inspiration-wise as an artist.
Yeah exactly, I mean how could you do that for every album cover, you know what I mean? Most of the time, cause its like if I stayed with that type of concept then every album cover would have looked like a fluorescent fucking group of colours, ha ha.
Anthrax’s eleventh studio album, For All Kings (2016), is the band’s second record back with Joey Belladonna and fans have been raging over the music being created. Joey’s voice is back at the forefront cutting through Anthrax’s distinctive tone, thereby giving a prevailing voice to a thrash beast. Capturing the intensity of your live performance, a few weeks ago Kings Among Scotland was released. Do you take a different approach to events when you know they are going to go on to become DVDs and are those events extra stressful?
Well there’s a reason why we film or document a live show, it’s gotta be something special. For instance, every show we’ve filmed we’ve tried to do it in a place that has a real vibe. So, the Chile shows had an amazing vibe so we [filmed a show] there, and then this one we’ve always had this kinda thing with Scotland ever since the very early days. They were one of the first territories to ever really embrace Anthrax so we always wanted to film a show there and at the Barrowlands. Going into it we knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge because we were filming two shows. We were doing a normal set of songs and we were doing a second set of just the Among the Living record which was a little challenging. But you just gotta pay more attention to what you’re playing when you’re recording it live. You don’t wanna make any real mistakes, but you also don’t wanna be so [particular] that you’re not having a good time and letting the audience affect your performance.
On stage at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom 2/15/17, L-R: Joey Belladonna, Frank Bello, Jonathan Donias, Charlie Benante, Scott Ian. Photo credit: Andy Buchanan
Absolutely, and Scotland also lends itself to the whole Kings theme, I mean when you think of Kings Scotland’s one of the places that comes to mind, I thought that worked out well.
The Killthrax tour was a massive success selling out on most dates and now you are supporting Big Four colleagues Slayer, alongside metal titans Testament and Lamb of God. This is a stellar lineup for a proper farewell to Slayer. However, Dave Mustaine has been campaigning to take a version of a big four show to a couple of continents. Do you think that this will ever come to fruition?
I do, I think there will be a future [event]. You just gotta be patient, don’t poke the bear, just be patient.
On the Slayer tour off days Anthrax and Testament are doing a few barebones dates. Charlie you used to spend your days off at museums absorbing Salvador Dali. What do you do with your days off now? Could we still find you roaming a museum?
I’m usually flying home or just kinda resting, catching up on some of my favorite TV shows that I’ve kind of accumulated in a queue, you know it’s like now I can watch those.
Even though Slayer is calling it a day the remaining bands, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica are still going hard. I heard in a couple of interviews a new Anthrax album is now well in the works. Do you think musically the band is in a similar place as when you were writing Worship Music and For All Kings? Maybe it’s just me but I sense a blatant cohesiveness in the latest two records.
I totally believe that we’re in a really good creative place, because you know you could only go from what you know. The last album to me really showed a lot of promise for the future records because we had a bit of overflow. We had some tunes left over that were really good. So I like to take some of those and maybe go into the next album, but what ends up happening is the new stuff that I start writing is better than the leftovers. I’m really confident that it’s gonna be another great record and this will be kind of the trifecta, you know?
Nice. Are there any tentative working titles for the new album or new songs you can share with us?
No, I’ve been titling these demos with like really crazy obscure titles, like
funny things. I’ll take ah, one song is called “You Gotta Hear Electric Music Solid Walls of Sound,” another one is taken from another song from another group, so I don’t know why I just do this but I just title them crazy tunes.
In a recent interview Robert Trujillo said that James Hetfield is a great drummer on his guitar and I understand that you write most of your drum parts on guitar. Do you think thrash metal in particular lends itself to be written in this way?
I totally do. I think if there’s one thing that I am is I’m very percussive on guitar. I like feeling the beat within my hand picking the string. I just like that kinda, I like that drum groove or that fast picking thing that is very primal.
Among the Living’s cover was inspired by Stephen King and similar images can now be found throughout pop culture. Would you mind elaborating on your and Alex Ross’s inspiration for the recent collaborative efforts for Worship Music and For All Kings?
For All Kings was a lot of fun to do as far as a collaborative thing with Alex. We were sitting one day having lunch and I asked him about doing the next record and he wanted to know what the concept was and I had two different concepts: the first concept we talked about he was like “meh I don’t really feel anything there,” and then I talked about the second concept that I had and Alex kinda lit up, he was like, “yeah now I think you got something,” and just bounced it back and forth. Alex did a sketch of it and it was just perfect. Like, “that’s it, that’s how I see it.” When he sent me pretty much the finished art I just fell in love with it man, I was just like dude it’s just beautiful. And that was it, I don’t know he’s just one of my favourite artists of all time.
Yeah it’s definitely a memorable album cover and just image and picture in general even if it wasn’t an album cover if you saw it in another context it’d still stick in your mind.
About a decade ago I had the pleasure of seeing Belladonna’s band in Halifax, during a special performance where Joey both sang and played drums, a truly mindboggling feat. At this show Joey was even friendlier than rumoured while telling my buddy John Rob and myself about his love of Rush. I was wondering what are some of the more remote places Anthrax has played?
Remote places? Wow, well we’ve never been to Iceland, I’ve never been to Alaska, I’ve never been to China, um these are the places that I haven’t gone. Right now I’m currently in Canada, as you know, we’re hitting some places that people don’t normally go to. You know usually, the U.S. bands tend to just go to Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver.