Interview with drummer Charlie Benante
By Brandon Ringo
As a member of the big four of US thrash metal, Anthrax have been incredibly busy over the last few years playing shows, as well as promoting Worship Music, their first new album in eight years. Somehow during that time they managed to record a brand new covers EP called Anthems, which features covers of bands like Thin Lizzy, Rush and Boston. They were also nominated for a Grammy for the Worship Music track “I’m Alive.” I caught up with drummer Charlie Benante while he was in L.A. for the Grammy’s, and we discussed his experience at the Grammy’s, the Anthems EP, as well as their headlining appearance on the Metal Alliance tour featuring fellow thrashers Exodus and Municipal Waste. The Anthems EP comes out March 19th on Megaforce/MRI.
Was it fun getting to hang out at the Grammys, or was it as boring as it looked on TV?
Oh boy, that’s a good question. There were moments when I was feeling like I was watching paint dry, and there were moments that I enjoyed. I thought it sounded great, but I have a hard time with what gets picked and what gets put on. I mean, it’s the Grammys. It’s about a celebration of music, but all you see up there is pop stuff. There were moments of what I call real music, but for the most part it’s just fellating. I guess it left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
Was it weird being nominated for the same award as Iron Maiden and Megadeth, but losing to a band like Halestorm?
What I have a hard time with is what they lumped us all into. It’s not fair to those bands either- to be lumped in a category with these other bands that are considered heavy metal. So when a band like Halestorm wins over Iron Maiden or Megadeth it’s gonna come out like a disrespect to that band, which I’m not saying anything disrespectful to them, it’s just so…Grammy. All of us were like “what?!” I guess this is the first time I’m actually expressing my feelings about it, and like I said, I’m happy for that band, and I mean no disrespect to them.
As far as your new Anthems EP goes, you guys obviously aren’t strangers to doing cover songs, but how did the idea come about to do a full album of covers?
Some of these songs that we have, have been laying around for a few years, and we really, really, really enjoyed listening to them and we just wanted our fans to hear what we were working on and just have some fun with it. That’s basically all it is. It’s just an EP of five guys having a bit of fun.
When you guys select songs to cover, do you ever do so with the purpose of trying to expose people to bands they might have never heard otherwise like Joe Jackson?
A lot of those covers, like the Joe Jackson one and the song “Antisocial” from a French band called Trust, those are songs that I picked that I loved, and I knew they were kind of obscure, especially the Trust one, no one’s ever heard that here, so people thought it was our song. The thing about it, with this EP we really were paying tribute to these artists who we loved growing up that have had an influence on us in some way or another, so when you hear us do a version of RUSH, it’s us paying tribute to them. We tried to do 70 percent RUSH and the other 30 percent is us putting ourselves into it, so we tried to keep it as interesting as we could.
The songs you covered feature some great musicians, but from a drummer’s perspective, which song was the most challenging for you to learn? I would think it would have been “Anthem” by rush.
Well, I don’t know if it was anything real challenging. With the Rush one I really studied all of the parts and the licks that he does and tried to do it as close as possible to what he was playing because I’m a completest. I have to go in there knowing that I nailed that part, so I needed to have it right. Same with the AC/DC song. The thing about AC/DC that people tend to forget is, it’s simplistic, but it’s also not simplistic, because you can easily play tons of drum fills in that AC/DC song and that would just be killing it. What’s hard to do is let it breathe and have a little tasty fill in the song that stands out, and that’s the beauty of AC/DC, ya know?
When you go out on the Metal Alliance tour in March are you going to be playing any of the covers or just focusing mostly on Among The Living and Worship Music stuff?
We have to pull off the Among The LIving album, so I’ve gotta get my ass in gear to play that album.
What kind of stamina is required to do those songs? On songs like “Skeletons In The Closet” and “Caught In A Mosh” it’s ridiculous the drum stuff you do. What’s your regimen for pulling that off each night?
I gotta get my breathing up to where I consider standard, and I’ve gotta get my chops up. I haven’t played in a bit, so I’m gonna start doing that soon.
Are there any particular songs from that album you haven’t played in a while that you’re excited to play again?
Oh yeah, there’s a few songs. I don’t think we’ve ever played “Imitation Of Life” before, so we’ve gotta get that up to speed.
With all that Anthrax has accomplished, what’s one goal that you would still like to accomplish before you guys call it quits?
I just want to be remembered as a band that took some chances and thought outside of the box.