Two years ago, Anthrax weren’t exactly in a state of euphoria. They’d abruptly parted ways with singer Dan Nelson, who spent the prior two years recording a full album with them, and John Bush wasn’t willing to do more than a few shows with them. Faced with a career threatening problem, Anthrax turned to another familiar voice: Joey Belladonna. Fast forward two years later, and Anthrax have recorded arguably their best album in a long time with a frontman that already had two go-rounds with the band.
With Worship Music finally hitting stores on September 13, just one day before the Big 4 Yankee Stadium show, we got the chance to talk with the Anthrax singer himself. In our candid interview, Belladonna acknowledged how he wasn’t Anthrax’s first choice to front the band moving forward, revealed his discomfort with singing Bush era songs, and discussed the recording process of arguably one of the most anticipated albums of 2011.
The first question I want to ask is if there was ever a point where you said ‘this is it, no more Anthrax for me?’
I never anticipated anything else happening. I continued singing Anthrax songs. I never said never, but I always thought maybe there’s somewhere along the line that they’ll want to do it again. There’s always that chance, but on the other hand I didn’t sit around waiting for it.
So it was just a matter of course when they finally asked you to come in and finish Worship Music?
Well, there were a couple incidents. Of course we did the reunion and that was out and then they go get somebody else, [but] I like to play. The people are cool and if they’re sincere enough and the business side of it’s good and things can work out then let’s make this happen, but if not, then I guess it’s just not meant to be. I never really get too hung up on it. Not that we haven’t had our moments or times where it’s like ‘what’s going on here?’ or ‘what do you mean, I’m not good enough?’ that kind of crap. But I never hold it against anybody, there’s always a chance to have things work out. It hasn’t been that bad where I wouldn’t have ever even stepped foot back there.
What was it like jumping in and doing vocals on an album that had already been completed with vocals on it?
It wasn’t really completed. We did a bunch of new drums, we did a whole shitload of guitars, we did all new bass, all kinds of leads were redone or hadn’t been done. Vocally there’s new songs that came in, there’s all kinds of stuff that went down. You know, I walked in and Spreading Disease was finished, and I did everything I could do on that vocally. I don’t let a song that’s been put together by someone else influence me. I don’t really care about what went down, it would be just like some band calling me today and saying ‘hey we got a bunch of songs, you want to sing on it?’ I have to listen to it and give it a shot. It was pretty easy, me and Jay Ruston, the producer, were banging a song out a day, and it was quite awesome to be able to accomplish that without anyone there. I didn’t have anybody like looking in the window or commenting on every word, every sentence, every verse, chorus. We just banged out everything that we needed to do each day and then just emailed the band the cuts and they were digging it so it was just a nice, peaceful setting.
Yeah, I actually spoke to Jay Ruston a few weeks ago and he said it went extremely well.
Yeah, you never know, because like you said, some of it has been laid out and [it could have been like] ‘oh my God, no no no no, we don’t want that’ or ‘how come you’re doing it that way, why can’t you do it this way?’ Then to me it would have been like ‘you know what, you guys have at it, I don’t need this.’ Jay and I were definitely not going to let any of that stuff happen, nor were we incapable of actually putting something good together. I had the best time, to be honest with you, that I’ve ever had in the studio.
It was in his house, in a two car garage. Just a nice home setting, just simple-it wasn’t any corporate kind of thing where you’re on the clock, you’re paying by the hour, that kind of stuff.
Did you use any of the previous vocals as a guide or did you just look at the lyrics and decide to do your own thing?
I heard some stuff, but I try not to go by any of that. I hate following anybody. The only time I follow anything is when I’m doing a cover song.
You know if I’m learning a Rush tune I’m going to pretty much get as close as I can and then do my own thing with it. But I still stay in that kind of boundary. I didn’t want to use [Dan Nelson’s vocals], obviously for whatever reason, it didn’t work out for him. Any guide I’m going to use is going to be guidance from the guys in Anthrax, meaning Scott, Frank, Charlie, or Rob, anybody that had any suggestions. Obviously they had stuff that they came up with that they wanted to put in place. I definitely listened to what they were looking for, but I also didn’t have to do everything verbatim and there’s nothing wrong with that because people have good ideas. I mean Scott would come in with lyrics and he’d talk things through to me and I had to come up with my own ideas but I still knew where he wanted me to start it and how to phrase it, how to kind of go about putting it in the song.
You’ve been touring around for the past year with the band. How’s Anthrax compare now to when you did the reunion in 2005?
Well the reunion, it seemed like when they called, they wanted to do it but they didn’t really want to do it for some reason. It seemed like an ‘ok but don’t get comfortable, we’re not asking you to join the band’ kind of thing. I felt that way, as if ‘let’s just do some shows for old time’s sake and make people happy.’ The next thing you know, they call somebody else that nobody knows that they don’t even know and I would have bet money that wouldn’t have worked out. So I found out online – my friend calls me and goes ‘you know they just announced they got another singer?’ What am I supposed to think of that? You’re like dating somebody last night and three days later they’re dating somebody else. Like was it me, or what did I do wrong, or I’m not good enough? And then I left again – all I could do is like ‘well have fun with that again, here you go. I mean you got what you wanted, just go ahead and do it.’ Then again when they came back and asked to do this particular tour the first time out on the Big 4, of course Dan didn’t work out, and then they asked John and John doesn’t want to do it, who do they call but me? I guess I was like the last pea in the plate, you gotta eat it or there’s nothing left.
Sometimes I feel that way and then other times, it’s like ‘let’s just get serious here and stop bullshitting and try to do something that’s working here that did work, that should work, and will work.’ Other than that I can’t get caught up in all the reasons why, because they seem to have their finger on the pulse or they’re still kind of undecided like as if they aren’t sure that my vocals fit or my style is what people want. Sometimes what’s natural is a cool thing, it’s special, it’s done well. I don’t sound like anybody else and that’s one thing that’s cool. If you’re with somebody and they want a certain style like they did when I think they were looking for John, then I guess my style wasn’t suitable. But I still think I could have done any of those records, I mean I know I could have. Not to even compare, I just think it would have been no problem.
You’ve sang “Only” with the band right?
Yeah and it was fine. Nothing against John, but if he didn’t do those particular songs ever before, and I went and sang them, I think it would have been fine. I think we would have done a pretty damn good job and we would have still been Anthrax as the people hear it and wanted it. It’s so hard to sit there and compare all this stuff, because everybody’s got all these opinions about who’s better and I never thought I’d have to even go that route. At the same time, I’m not really hearing too much about it anymore and I don’t get too worried about it. I just assume let the people have fun with what we’re doing now and not worry about it. If I don’t even meet somebody’s standards it just wasn’t meant to be anyhow.
Obviously you have a large body of Anthrax work to draw from, but are there any plans to do any other of the John Bush-era material?
I’d hate to have to try to do too much of that when I’ve got a whole body of work that I could be doing that would be more suited for me just because it’s me and I did it. I’d also like to have more of the new songs become ‘us’ more so than their older catalog. I can’t say that I wouldn’t get forced to try something else but I do hate having to try to cop somebody right now at this stage. Again, if I was doing covers and somebody says “let’s do a Rush song,” I say ‘ok well let’s learn it because it’s a cover song,’ but I mean to have to try to do something that John did and have to compete again – not that “Only” was a competing thing, but I thought it was nice I did it. It seemed like a good gesture and I don’t mind doing it and it’s their song, but it does stink to have to do someone else’s stuff. Neil, I mean I really had no choice to do Neil’s stuff because I got in the band and that’s the only thing we had other than Armed and Dangerous and of course the new album when it finally came out, Spreading the Disease, still was kind of foreign to people so I copped as much as I can off that and maybe everything but two songs on Fistful of Metal.
Do you have a favorite Anthrax album that you sang on?
It’s between the first one and the second one I sang on, Spreading Disease and Among the Living. Spreading the Disease, I sang on a record with a band I never even sang with before. And I never heard myself being an original singer at that time because I hadn’t really done a lot of originals. To have that come out and be like that, there’s something special about that. And Among the Living has some happening tunes on it. It’s hard to deny that there wasn’t some great music on there, those are two of the ones that stick out in my head.
Right, but what about the new album? What are your favorite songs on it?
Lately it’s been “In the End,” “Devil You Know,” “Earth on Hell.” Stuff like that’s been some of my favorites just because they were real strong when I did them and I remember them well enough. But then there’s stuff on there “Crawl,” “I’m Alive” are really neat, neat tunes, they’re good strong. “Burn The Past” which is called something else at this point now. There’s some really good stuff on there, there’s a lot of songs to choose from.
What do you think of the current state of where the music industry is with the Spotify and streaming and iTunes?
Well it’s very hard to dictate what’s in store, even with the new album, where does it go and how much does it get out in certain ways? The internet has become one of the main places for people to accept the music and find a way to put it on their iPod and all that kind of stuff and we all do it but there’s nothing like going out and buying it myself. I love having the actual copy, you can buy it online too, but I like having the package and stuff like that and I just throw it on my iPod just as well and then leave the CD alone keep it in shape like you did the record, when you put it on cassette. I just think there’s all kinds of good possibilities to happen. Obviously it’s not as quite wide range as it used to be and the accessibility is quite large now so it’s hard to predict what you’re dealing with.