July 2, 2018 Interview – Charlie Benante of Anthrax
Back at the dawn of the 1980s, when bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer were blazing a trail for Thrash Metal out in California, a little band out of New York City by the name of Anthrax were making some noise of their own. Aggressive, fast, and with an east coast attitude, Anthrax would go on to become leaders in Thrash Metal.
Rightfully earning a spot a part of the coveted title of ‘The Big Four,’ next to Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, Anthrax continue to tear it up over 3 decades later. Recently wrapping up one leg of their run with Slayer, on the Bay area band’s final farewell world tour, Anthrax also dropped a new live album/DVD, Kings Among Scotland, and now gear up for a summer run of shows guaranteed to incite a mosh. In between it all, longtime Drummer Charlie Benante took the time to reflect on the wild ride of the band, flying the flag of Heavy Metal, plans for new music, Horror movies, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Anthrax has been going strong for over 35 years now and, in that time, has established themselves as leaders in the Heavy Metal world. All these years later, how would you describe the journey of the band?
Charlie Benante – I guess our musical story has had many ups and some downs. It’s been peaks and valleys. I was joking with someone recently saying, “They play a lot of Classic Rock,” and I’m like, “Well, shit, aren’t we considered Classic Rock at this point?” I think that is basically where it’s gone. You stay around for so many years and the longevity that we have has been pretty amazing. For us to be in a position that we’re in at this stage of the game, is pretty good!
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Anthrax has always stood out on their own among the other pioneering Thrash Metal acts and has never been afraid to try new things. Has it always been important to the band to try and push the envelope?
Charlie Benante – It is important to challenge yourself and take a bit of a chance here and there. How could you ever grow musically if you don’t take a bit of a chance? Even when people say do the AC/DC thing, as if AC/DC has stayed the same, but I never thought of AC/DC as remaining the same. They have taken some chances here and there. Let’s say an album like High Voltage (1976) and you go to Highway to Hell (1979), you will see a growth. There are some things that took them from High Voltage all the way to Highway to Hell and then Back in Black (1980). Back in Black is one of those records that I feel there are songs on there that completely took them into the stratosphere.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and every band has their progression – some bands push it more than others. You more than likely have heard this a lot, but what you guys did with Public Enemy opened up whole new thing with Rap Metal.
Charlie Benante – I know. The unfortunate part about that was we never continued it. The way I feel is we were on the cusp of something big, but we never reaped the benefits of it. Other bands came and took it while we didn’t continue it.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly did pave the way in that aspect. Anthrax has been one of the most prolific touring bands around for a long time now. At this stage, what continues to be the drive behind the band’s energetic live shows?
Charlie Benante – The audience, that’s for sure. It’s the reaction that we get and the enthusiasm that we get, that’s the best part about this. The other hours of the time is the work – the traveling, the this, that, and other thing. Once we get up there, it’s everything we can control, and that’s the best part of this. Not every person out there is going to be a fan, of course their not, but they get in the moment and enjoy it. That’s the best part about being a true metalhead. At some point you say, “Hey, I am not really a fan of this band, but I gotta give it up.” I think that’s the most important thing about this music, yea, it’s split up into different genres, but if a band like Behemoth can be on the bill with us and Slayer, and appeal to the audience, I think that’s a great thing.
CrypticRock.com – That is what’s great about Metal. It has been fragmented, but it is still Heavy Metal.
Charlie Benante – Exactly. I think that’s the most important thing, because you are flying the same flag. We are all under this umbrella of Metal. When I see people bash it, it makes me wonder why they even attempt to support it.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. There are a lot of haters, especially on the internet. The band released their 11th overall studio record, For All Kings, back in 2016. That in mind, what is the status of some new Anthrax music in the future?
Charlie Benante – Believe me, it’s not coming soon. We have to finish up this year and I think starting next year is when we are all going to get together, then start to get into that creative mode. I’ve got a ton of ideas and I think it’s fucking on its way to being really good.
CrypticRock.com – That is very good news. It is not as if the band has been stagnant, in between all the touring, you have put out some really great live DVDs, etc. Is it safe to say you like to keep busy?
Charlie Benante – I like to keep to myself, my business when it’s really good creatively. I don’t want to waste time putting out stuff that will not be remembered. I like to put out stuff that is – ok, they definitely set a standard here and raised the bar. I am really critical of myself so I have to get to a point where I really think our audience is going to love this.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly do put out quality material. Recently releasing the DVD Kings Among Scotland, it is yet another high quality release. You don’t just put it out there to put it out there.
Charlie Benante – Absolutely! We like to document things every few years to see where the band is and where the band was. I think it’s important in a band’s career to do that – to capture 2-3 years in the life of. For people who never got to see the band back in the old days, I am still trying to get my hands on the reels of the Hammersmith at Odeon concert from 1987. I would like to remaster that and put that out again.
CrypticRock.com – That would be awesome to see happen! It is important to document these things, it marks a footnote in the history of a band such as Anthrax.
Charlie Benante – Yea, there are so many people coming to the shows now who had never seen us back in the day. It’s a bit nostalgic to look back at it and see where you were. I think people love that stuff. People go crazy over old footage of Iron Maiden or KISS.
CrypticRock.com – It’s true. Speaking of touring, you are set to kick off the second leg of your tour with Slayer and will be launching the second leg along with Testament, Lamb of God, and Napalm Death at the end of July. What has this run been like thus far for the band?
Charlie Benante – I would have to say it’s one of the most enjoyable tours I’ve been a part of in a long time. Everyday, we’re all just hanging in each other’s dressing rooms, the comradery is really high. I think everybody is just a fan and friend of each other. I think that’s the thing about it, I just enjoy that aspect of it. Everybody is just sitting in catering, eating, hanging, and talking about bullshit. That to me is a great tour and the audience is having a great time as well.
CrypticRock.com – The second leg should be great. Yourselves, Slayer, Testament, Lamb of God, and Napalm Death is a classic bill. This is supposed to be Slayer’s final world tour. Being a band that has toured along Slayer many times since the early days, is it hard for you to see that this will be their final world tour?
Charlie Benante – The vibe I get is this is going to be it. It’s going to run into next year of course, it’s not going to be ‘it’ as of now, it’s going to continue next year. They’ll try and fulfill as many countries, cities, and states as they possibly can.
CrypticRock.com – Hopefully it will last a while! Beyond music, you also design t-shirts, you have your coffee. Tell us a little bit about those projects.
Charlie Benante – I just try and do other things other than music. My coffee thing is very important thing to me because I love it. It’s not something I just slapped a label on like other people do. I get into it, I make sure it’s exactly what I want and exactly how I want it. It’s not just about, “I wanna do coffee,” it’s a process. It’s like how I am with the band, take something from nothing and make it into something. The t-shirt stuff, I’ve always done the designs for the albums and t-shirts. To me, it goes hand in hand with everything and it’s something I enjoy doing.
CrypticRock.com – You have some really cool designs. People really need to check it out. Last question. We also cover Horror and Sci-Fi films on CrypticRock. Rumor has it you are a big Horror fan. Tell us about some of your favorites?
Charlie Benante – Some of my favorite Horror movies are some of the older ones and a mixture of some of the new. I don’t just like a Horror movie because it’s a Horror movie, if it sucks it sucks. I go back to the days that gave me a jolt when I was younger. I would have to say Jaws (1975) is my favorite movie. The first Night of the Living Dead (1968) really scared me because it was the first of its kind and fucking creepy.
I was into a lot of the Universal stuff when I was younger. I look back at that stuff and everything pretty much holds up. The characters, the way they did them, the makeup, they were great movies when your a kid. Moving on, I would have to say a lot of John Carpenter stuff I got into, especially The Thing (1982), that’s another one of my favorite movies, also Halloween (1978). Additionally, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). I would say lately I did like a lot of the movies like The Conjuring (2013). I am also looking forward to The Nun. I really like that character.
CrypticRock.com – Great selections. When you speak about Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, those are modern day monster movies. They created a monster, much like Universal. You do not see too often nowadays. There are not as many original characters in Horror.
Charlie Benante – No, it’s pretty hard to scare people nowadays because a lot of people are desensitized to some things. Back in the day, one of the other movies that really scared the hell of me was The Exorcist (1973). I was young when I saw it, but the reason it scared me is because of Catholicism, especially in America. You couldn’t touch that stuff back then, that was taboo. When you had a movie come out that fucked with the Catholics and The Devil, that is one of the reasons that movie was so successful. So many people were such devout Catholics/Christians back then, that movie really sent people into a tailspin. Nowadays, I don’t know if that movie could be made the way it’s made.
CrypticRock.com – Good point. The Exorcist scared the hell out of many people, especially kids. When you are younger, what kid did not lay in bed at night thinking they were going to be possessed by a demon?
Charlie Benante – Yea, that’s the thing. My daughter wanted to see it and I finally showed it to her last year, she wasn’t really scared. She thought some parts were comical, maybe a part or two freaked her out. When I explained to her what they put Linda Blair through, filming that movie, that freaked her out more than the movie. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It’s interesting what scares people nowadays and was does not. Like you said, people are so desentized. Not just with Horror movies, but in life. In order to get an emotion from people nowadays, you need to really shove it in their face.
Charlie Benante – Yea, you have to do that and you have to do so much more. Believe me, there are things that scare me right now, there is the The Handmaid’s Tale series, which freaked me out. It’s kind of this dystopian type of world… where we are right now, I feel it could be going that way, and it really scared me.