Given what a near-constant presence Scott Ian has had as a talking head on VH1, it’s a bit surprising he’s never done a spoken word tour in America before. That’s about to change, as his “Speaking Words” tour will begin next month (see dates below). We caught up with the longtime Anthrax rhythm guitarist to discuss what led him to undertake the tour, as well as to ask about the next Anthrax album (which could be recorded as soon as April), Jon Donais’ status in the band, the forthcoming Brian Posehn album, and even his TV presence.
So you’re about to undertake a spoken word tour. How did that come about?
A few years ago, the band’s agent over in Europe asked if I’d be interested in doing a solo show. I was a little confused at first because I thought he actually meant like a solo music performance show, and he said it was more of a talking show, like get up and tell stories. I said yes without even thinking about it because it was something I’ve had in the back of my mind that I knew I wanted to do at some point. Ever since seeing [Henry] Rollins do it for the first time when he first started doing it. It was so cool and he was so good at it and it was inspiring to me and made me feel like I could get on stage and do that, but without really knowing if I could or not.
So, I got this offer to come to London and do this one-off as part of a series they put together called “Rock Stars Say the Funniest Things.” They were doing one with me; they were gonna do one with Chris Jericho and they were one doing one with Duff McKagan. I figured I’d do it because I had four or five months to prepare and get my shit together. I thought I was gonna put a show together and then invite a bunch of my comedian and writer friends over my house and then do the show for them – like be super rehearsed and professional about it. And I didn’t do a fucking thing, dude. I was in my hotel room the night before the show with my wife and I was like sweating, just like ‘I can’t do this, who the hell do I think I am and what am I going to do?’ I was about to call my agent and tell him I’ve got the flu – I was just gonna completely pussy out and not do it. And my wife just said to me, “look, you tell stories all the time with your friends, that’s why you know you can do this. You’ve got these stories in your brain and it’s not like you need to rehearse them. You are them. They’re your life. Just pretend you’re sitting in a bar with your friends telling stories like you’ve done a million times because that’s essentially all you’re going to be doing. You’re going to be in a bar tomorrow night telling stories to people who want to come hear them.”
It was all great advice and it made total sense to me, but it didn’t change the fact that I was shitting my pants over having to go do it. And that lasted all the way until about 5 minutes into the show. I was physically shaking on stage, looking down at my hand holding the microphone. The microphone was shaking and I was just like trying to calm myself down. And after about 5 minutes of talking and I got a couple of laughs in the right places, I just totally calmed down and then I got into a really good rhythm and groove and the show went amazing. Two and a half hours later, I was in the dressing room with this giant, goofy smile on my face telling my agent ‘how do I do more of this? This is the most fun I’ve had in 20 years.’ Out of that one initial gig, I did a whole UK tour a few months after that, like 17 shows in 18 days. It was a crazy schedule. But the show got great. As good as I felt about that initial one-off, the show really became something that I honed and felt really strong about. So, that’s what gave me the balls to be able to now book another run here in the United States and Canada. This is something that I want people to see now. Since the UK tour, I’ve gotten a lot of requests about why I haven’t brought this to the states yet, so here it comes.
So you went from having no material to a whole show. Did you tell the same stories every night or did you wing it a little bit on tour?
I would say 75% of it was the same every night, of course the Q&A section being something that I have no control over, so obviously that’s always a free-for-all. As far as the main body of my set, there are a lot of stories I could pull from. Generally every night I would kind of take in the vibe of the room within the first 10 minutes and just get a feel for the crowd, and then that would tell me where to go story to story. I didn’t have a set thing where I had to do the same thing every night, it wasn’t like I was locked into it any way, shape, or form because of, let’s say, production reasons or something. I mean I do have photos and I have video, but I’ve got it all in the computer and it’s all changeable and moveable. I wouldn’t want to be stuck like that, feel like I was trapped and that I had to do the same thing every time because that would quickly get really boring for me. Truthfully, it’s hard enough for me doing the shows night after night and my voice telling the same stories. It’s like I kind of get sick of hearing myself. So, I have to keep it interesting for myself as well.
Now that you’re doing this, have you written down some of the stories?
That actually predates me even doing the first show. A couple of years ago, I came to the realization that I need to start writing shit down because I was starting to forget stuff. I guess at the time when I was 46 or 47, I would notice my recall wasn’t as quick as it used to be. You know, I find myself trying to remember some story, or forgetting stupid shit and having to Google it. I’ll just come straight out and blame technology for mine and everyone’s memories getting softer because with everyone having Google at their fingertips now, your brain just lets shit go. I used to have 200 people’s phone numbers memorized in my brain. I barely remember my own cell number now. It’s fucking crazy how technology is actually making us dumber.
So, I started writing stuff down because I do love to write and I like to write in longhand. I spent some time and made a list of just all the best stories and anecdotes and things that I could think of in my life and Anthrax. I’ve been asked many times to do a book and I’ve always just passed and said ‘I’m not ready to do a book. I don’t feel like I have really enough to talk about and/or a beginning, middle, and end.’ Truthfully, it was also because I felt that I just didn’t have the time to write a book. If I committed to it, they’d be waiting 10 years for me to finish it. So I started writing these stories down, and it was during that period of writing all the stories down when it really made me think I should go tell these stories. So I started writing them down, and of course on top of that, now I’m almost finished with the book which is going to come out in the Fall of this year, so it all kind of came together.
You mentioned Rollins as a source of inspiration. Did you also get a chance to see Corey Taylor when he did his spoken word thing?
I haven’t seen Corey do his talking bits. I’ve seen him do acoustic shows and stuff, but I actually haven’t seen him do just the talking thing. I mean, I’m sure he’s great at it because we’re friends and I know he knows how to tell a story. That’s the thing too; I also felt that it’s one thing to have stories and one thing to be able to write your stories down in an interesting way. I’ve never had any question about my ability to write the stories down and make them interesting, funny, and relatable. Writing them was one thing, but being able to tell a story itself is an art form. There are people who might have the greatest story in the world and they’ll bore you to tears when they tell it. I think I was always okay at telling stories, and then when I really learned how to do it by doing it in front of an audience.
And I guess it kind of helps that you’ve had a lot of media exposure. On any given weekend, you can turn on VH1 and see you holding court.
You know what’s funny? I haven’t done a new one of those things in years. People say that all the time about me: the guy who’s talking on all these rock documentaries on VH1. But, I think the last time I was interviewed for something was like probably – what’s that thing that Sam Dunn did – the History of Metal or whatever. I was interviewed for that like 3 years ago.
Did you feel like you were kind of oversaturating yourself a little bit?
Maybe at a point in time, yeah, I had done a lot of stuff. Especially on VH1 because it seemed like every other week I would get an email saying, “we’ve got another stupid list show, do you want to come talk about stupid shit?” To sit for an hour and talk about stupid trivia from the ’80s or ’90s or whatever it may have been – the best or worst songs of this time, or whatever stupid show it was – for an hour out of your day, and what they would pay me to show up and do that, it was kind of like a no-brainer for me. I sit around and talk about that stupid shit with my friends anyway so if you want to pay me to talk trivia, hey I’m not going say no (laughs). I think the ideas for those list shows eventually dried up, there’s only so many you can do. I guess give it another year and they’ll just start repeating them again, the same exact shows with a different title.
Yeah like “I Love 2013” or whatever.
Well, that’s coming soon enough (laughs).
Moving on to your main gig, obviously you’re working on a new record. How’s that coming along?
It’s really coming along. It’s crazy to think that we’re already in January of this year, it seems like we just finished touring in August and we said decided to start writing again. We decided not to take a break and we’re jumping right in because everyone felt we could. We’re sitting here right now with 12 songs musically arranged and really focusing on lyrics now. At the end of the month after the NAMM show is the next time we’re getting together at Jay’s studio to work on vocals. I like to think at the pace we’re going we would be ready to start recording maybe in April. I hate to ever put a stamp on something like this because you just never know. But where we’re at musically right now, this shit is just so killer. It’s not like we have that far to go. Sometimes as a band when we’re writing – and I’m sure this happens to other bands too – you could sit down and listen to where you’re at and think ‘this stuff is good, but maybe there’s too much mid tempo stuff, or we don’t really have an album opener yet.’ There are just certain ways you listen to it in the context of how are to sequence and pace it, things like that. I think we’ve got all our bases covered and we’re ready. If we come out with some better shit in the next couple of months that’s awesome, but the 12 things we have musically so far we’re really happy with. Things came together really fast for us and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we just came off such a good run with Worship Music. We were all really excited about getting back in a room and writing songs together, and it was the first time in a really long time that we weren’t going into writing a record coming off a really shitty time (laughs). So for us to have come off such a great run with Worship Music, we were all really excited about it and I think it really shows in the music.
From the outside, it felt like a career renaissance, because it had been so long since you put a record out. It’s not like people were dismissive, but any time someone comes out with a record after a long time, people are a bit more critical and it seems to me, from the outside, that it was nothing less than a huge success. Did it feel that way on the inside?
We feel the same way, and most importantly we feel like we made a great record. There’s no question about that. We knew what we had with Worship Music, it was just a case of if people would even give it a chance and if people would pay attention, or if people would even get to hear it. These days, everyone says it all the time, people don’t buy records. That’s true, so we were just worried that if we made a record that nobody was gonna hear it. But it wasn’t the case. It really connected to people around the planet. People loved it, and that afforded us the opportunity to go out and work our asses off and play 207 shows on the back of that record. We hadn’t done that since Among the Living. We were just ecstatic is the best thing I could say; it was more than we expected, it was more than we could’ve even hoped for and everyone around us – Megaforce and Nuclear Blast – that kicked ass with us around the world was just amazing. It was amazing that people just connected with it in the way that they did. So like I said, going into this record it made us feel good walking into the room for the first time going, “okay, we’ve got at least some solid ground under our feet again as a band. Now let’s fucking do our job again.” I can 100% say we’ve done that.
How would you compare it, if at all, to Worship Music?
It’s hard to compare. That, to me, has always been the hardest question and it’s something I just don’t like to do because to me it’s just all Anthrax. I would just tell you anything we’ve ever done is Anthrax, so I don’t know how to compare it to Worship Music. If you liked Worship Music, you’re gonna like this. The one thing I can say is that it definitely has more thrash elements. It definitely hearkens back to more of who we were in the 80s, yet at the same time sounding like us now in present day, which is what a lot of people said about Worship Music. I think this one hits even harder and faster, more brutal with crazier riffs. We were all super inspired coming in and working with Charlie and Frankie in the room, and then having Jay[producer Jay Ruston] in the room with us as well, has been amazing because he really pushes us. He pushes us hard. Like when we may get stuck on something in an arrangement or where to go with a melody, he will really push us and make sure we’re not just saying “Alright that’s good.” He’s like, “No that’s exactly what to do. It’s just good, now work harder.” We all trust him so much, so it’s great having him in the room there to push us.
Is Jon officially an Anthrax member?
For all intents and purposes, he’s in Anthrax. He’s going to be there for everything we do moving forward. As far as how you title it, yeah. As far as I’m concerned, Jon is in Anthrax and will be playing leads on the record and will be touring with the band starting at the end of May 2014.
Talk about being nominated for a Grammy for the second year in a row.
I hate to jinx anything, but maybe now we’ll just go 0 for 5 (laughs). Hey Megadeth is 0 for 9 and they’re doing okay.
Like the Susan Lucci of metal.
Look, I would never look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m not one of those dudes who’s going to say – and I may have said it in the past when I was an angrier person – but I’m not one of those dudes that is going to say, ‘Oh, fuck that, who cares. What does it mean?’ Any time we get recognized for our work, no matter who it is, it’s a good thing. It’s only going to be good for us as a band. It’s only gonna help us get recognized in the world and maybe bring in some new people. Any time we can get any kind of exposure these days, I’m never gonna look at that as anything but a positive. I have to say this time it’s interesting because the 3 of the other 4 times we’ve been nominated it was for our own music, and this time it’s for an AC/DC cover and strangely this is the one that means the most to me because AC/DC is my favorite band of all time. Doing an AC/DC cover was like a really hard thing for us to do because it’s AC/DC, and unless you play the song and you feel like you’re doing them justice, then shut up and don’t do it. I really felt like we could do it because I would hear Joey sing it when we’d be jamming on that or other AC/DC songs and I’m like, ‘holy crap, he sings the shit out of this stuff.’ And that’s what made me think we should be allowed to cover an AC/DC song because Joey sounded so good on it. That was important to me. So the fact that we’re nominated for an AC/DC cover just thrills me to death because they’re my favorite band in the world and that means we must’ve covered them really well.
How about the Brian Posehn thing you’re doing?
That record is really shaping up. A few years back, Brian had an idea to write some fun metal songs to put on his comedy records and going into this run, his idea was, “Let’s just make a whole album, do you think we could do that?” And I said ‘yeah we can absolutely do that as long as you have funny ideas that are going to work and I’ll come up with all the music you need.’ This time we had other people writing too, but it’s coming along great. We’ve got, I think, six originals and there are going to be two or three covers and maybe another original will get written between now and the album getting done. It’s fucking awesome, it’s heavy as fuck. I mean brutal, brutal, brutal musically. His lyrical ideas are fucking awesome , and I’m not gonna give anything away at this point like titles or anything, but it’s great. It’s like listening to an amazing metal record with some of the best lyrics you’ve ever heard in your life.
And that’s probably going to come out this year as well?
Oh for sure, yeah.
So you’ve got a busy year ahead of you.
A lot of that’s done already. We’re almost done with drum tracks. Charlie Benante is actually playing drums on five or six of the songs I think, and John Tempesta is playing on drums on the rest, another 4 songs probably. Brendon Small has gotten pretty heavily involved in it and Corey Taylor is already on the record and Michael from Steel Panther is already on the record. Jon Donais from Anthrax now is on the record. He actually wrote one of the songs. The list of other dudes that have said they want to come in and either sing or play a lead break is pretty incredible.
And lastly, I know this is probably not gonna happen for a while, if at all ever. But is there any talk about another Damned Things record?
That would certainly be something I would love to be able to do. But you said it: you’re talking about the schedules of us, Fall Out Boy and Every Time I Die.
All of whom are active again.
Yeah, and Fall Out Boy active in a way that they’re now bigger than they ever even were before. So it’s kind of like somehow we magically we able to find the time to make that last record happen. Most of that record was written and done when I was in Chicago writing Worship Music back in 2008 or 2009. I was kind of doing double duty at the time back then where I would be at Charlie’s working on Anthrax all day, and I would be with Joe Trohman at night writing Damned Things songs. We were able to figure that out at the time, where now it would be completely impossible. That’s not to say it’ll never be done. The whole Damned Things only happened because we were friends and we just liked jamming together and we’re all still friends obviously. I’d like to think some day we will make another record, when and how I don’t know. But my answer would be yes I want to. Absolutely.
Scott Ian’s “Speaking Words” tour will be in the following cities:
Feb. 20 - Chicago, IL – Maynestage
Feb. 21 - Detroit, MI – Token Lounge
Feb. 25 - Toronto, ON – El Mocambo
Feb. 26 - Kingston, ON – Masion
Feb. 27 - Ottawa, ON – Ritual
Mar. 01 - Annapolis, MD – Rams Head
Mar. 02 - Philadelphia, PA – World
Mar. 05 - New York, NY – B.B. King Blues Club & Grill