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ANTHRAX’S JOEY BELLADONNA… Everything Is About Moving Forward

By Tammy Moore

It’s been an extraordinary 30 years since the band’s inception and no less than 8 of those years since ANTHRAX unleashed a new beast onto the battlefields of metal. In Worship Music, they’ve not only managed to showcase the supersonic scope and prowess of a band that has endured more than their fair share of time in the trenches, but they have delighted diehard thrash aficionados everywhere with the return of Joey Belladonna. ANTHRAX has managed to survive a fairly impressive turnover rate with various front men over the years and technically saw more commercial success with John Bush in particular. But it was Belladonna at the helm of all things vocal when the classic Among The Living was released in March 1987. That was the record that cemented the band’s status as one of the ‘Big 4’ of thrash… pioneers of the genre alongside Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth… and the record that launched what is considered the ‘golden era’ of ANTHRAX. In those days the classic line up of Belladonna, Scott Ian, Dan Spitz, Frank Bello and Charlie Benante was in place and, along with their innovative contemporaries, they spawned a movement that positioned metal in the mainstream. The band went on to record three more gold certified records, an EP with rappers Public Enemy, appeared on numerous compilations and were nominated for an impressive three Grammys.

So it might have been baffling to Belladonna when the decision was made that he and the band should forge different paths in 1992. Considering all that they had accomplished that was an event that might have emotionally crushed some, but the singer possesses a mindset that appears inherent with all members of ANTHRAX and is probably a subconscious force of attraction and a survival mechanism within that crew… perpetual movement forward. He didn’t let the situation beat him. He’d given ANTHRAX his best and he believed his former bandmates were doing what they felt was best, whatever their reasons. The chips would fall where they may and in the meantime, he would keep doing what he loved… making music. A solo project unfolded and in 2005 he was approached by the band to return for a world tour. He accepted. Ironically, in January 2007, on the tail end of the wildly successful ‘Among The Living’ reunion tour when it was expected that the classic line up would reconvene to collaborate on a new record, Scott Ian posted a message on Blabbermouth.net that said, “We were offered a direct support slot on a major tour this Spring and Joey decided he did not want to move forward. The reunion is over.”

The band moved on with yet another singer and then in 2009 Metallica was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Guests of the inductees, Ian and Benante were bullshitting with Lars Ulrich when he threw the idea of a ‘Big 4’ show into the mix and Ian came to the conclusion that Belladonna was the only rightful front man for that particular gig should it ever materialize.

Flash forward to September 14, 2011 and it’s an even bigger day than usual for ANTHRAX. It was declared ‘ANTHRAX Day In The Bronx’ by the Borough President. And the Big 4 are indeed appearing together that night at Yankee Stadium for what is expected to be the biggest metal concert on North American soil of all time. It’s quite a homecoming for the New York bred band and last week I called Joey Belladonna and got the lowdown on that day’s euphoria and the current state of things with ANTHRAX. The tone of his voice is calm, self-actualized, which is incredibly cool somehow, probably because of the rarity of that with people as a whole.

TM: September 14th must have been an incredible experience and I’m wondering if it felt like the crown jewel for ANTHRAX? Could it get any bigger or better?

JB: Well, it was very much an honor to be able to get in that building and be able to play a metal show at Yankee Stadium and be home for a concert where we could all enjoy being on the home turf and have a ‘welcome back’ from New York City. It was just awesome to have that line-up. Overall, I think the Big 4 has been great and to bring it to New York was super! It’s hard to top that but a lot of upcoming shows can be equally as exciting with the energy of the fans.

TM: Did they give you the keys to the Bronx?

JB: They gave us a nice plaque! It was a stamp of approval. Especially for Charlie and Frankie and Rob, you know? They’re actually from there so it was really special for those guys.

TM: What’s a day in your life like when not on rock star duty for ANTHRAX?

JB: Well, I got a lot of animals so I’ve got to take care of them and they’re like children. I’ve got a couple of Rottweilers, a horse, a bird and snakes. I’m like the Pet Detective here, you know? So there’s that and on weekends I’ve got my cover band, Chief Big Way, and I’m always gearing up for shows with that. Always loading and unloading PA and drums. It’s a little different deal from the Anthrax stuff! We play out three, four times a week and it’s classic rock stuff. Everything from Dio to Triumph to Rush to Deep Purple. I’ve been doing that for about three years.

TM: What is it like being in ANTHRAX today as opposed to the insanity of the 80’s and 90’s? Is it a more mellow situation or is it still balls to the wall?

JB: I think everybody is probably more business-oriented with what each individual has going on. We’re definitely to the point where everyone is concerned with how things are running… how to get there, how to get the day done. Music-wise we’re always very attentive to what we need to do and how we’re doing it. We might have mellowed a little bit. Maybe it’s not as stupidly crazy and nutty but… I try to have as much fun as I can.

TM: What would you say is the ongoing attraction to this band? How did Scott entice you back first for the reunion tour and then for Worship Music and the Big 4 shows?

JB: I just figured this is what we needed to do. I figured that whatever was next would be this, you know? It all seems to be the right thing to do. It’s the most suitable; most fitting… to me it feels good. Everybody just has to keep looking forward and trying to do more things. Bigger and better things. And just be a band. I think those are all reasons for things to happen. It seems to work really good without any extra props and efforts. Everybody individually fits well into this situation.

TM: Why did it take so long to pull Worship Music together? They started working on this several years before they brought you in…

JB: Well, before they brought me in, I have no idea why or how the chain of events led up to a lengthy time. I can only imagine. But, for me, it was business as usual. It didn’t take me very long. I just had to hear the song, get the lyrics and take myself on with the songs. One song a day. It wasn’t a problem and I think once I got in there everything came together quite quickly and it was moving faster with new drums, new bass, new guitars. It worked out well and I just think whatever happened before, they were in a transition mode and it just took a little longer than they expected. I guess good things can happen when you wait. Something might have come out premature.

TM: Do you write the lyrics or is there collaboration between you and Scott?

JB: I think there’s collaboration with the guys. I came in a little late with the lyrics on this. I shuffled things around a little but I initially didn’t have the lyrics in mind. A lot of it is the other end of it for me. It works good. Me and Scott did that long ago. He’d hand me lyrics and let me run with it. It’s kind of our Elton John/Bernie Taupin thing. I dig it. I can move things around a little bit to fit… but most of the time he’s pretty set with what he’s come up with. But I have a way of making it work!

TM: What are your thoughts on the finished product now? Would you say this is the definitive ANTHRAX or is it setting the stage for more to come?

JB: Yeah, there were songs left off and maybe that’s the start of the next one. I’d love to do another one as soon as possible because that’s the fun part of being a musician – creating songs and to be there from that point on. And I think it would give everyone much fuller thoughts and ideas when we’re all together doing it. I think that’s where this album became the album…when we did it together. The thought for sure is to succeed and move forward with new material. I’m happy with this record. I think it turned out better than anyone expected with such a small amount of time. They gave us about 14 days to finish it. That was because of my schedule and Jay’s (the producer), it was all the time we had. But we got vocals on it! And I listen to it and it’s so different from a lot of bands and we’ve always been that way.

TM: How do you think the band has survived and maintained the interest of fans with so many line-up changes over the last 30 years?

JB: Well, no one’s giving up on what we do. I think with all the moving around with people we’re all still fighting to make it work and be great at what we do and stay true to the music. Those are the main things… the “why”.

TM: Still, it’s unusual for a band to be able to withstand line-up changes like the ones this one has.

JB: Well, you can wish there wasn’t change. I’ve done everything I can do to be in the band and to be there and cope with everything that’s in front of us and to do this again. And I think it’s just a test of what it takes to be in a band. There’s so many ways to interpret it.

TM: Was there ill will between you and yours when you parted ways the first time?

JB: For me, when it happened, it happened. What do you do? Move on I guess. I don’t even need to know to be honest with you. I could go into it all and make it an interesting story but it’s just what they wanted. And I stayed open. I’ve brought myself back a few times which I don’t have a problem with because I love the music and I love to play great songs for the fans. Just like I would hope that any other band that I like would continue to bring good music to us. In real terms, it wasn’t my favorite idea of what they should do but look where we are now. You just move ahead. I’m a musician and I didn’t sit around and wonder why and what I should do. I knew exactly what I wanted to do was just play music so… you always want to move forward.

TM: So it’s 30 years down the road and with all that ANTHRAX has accomplished do you guys ever think about calling it a day and going out as untouchables or do you sense that the band still has a lot ahead of it?

JB: I don’t even let those thoughts enter. I feel like I’ve missed out on some years I could have done with them and I want to see the thing go forward. I think we’re really gearing up for that. We’re being positive and we’re really being a band right now and that’s how we’re putting it out there. Everybody has to just stay true to what they’re doing and keep looking forward.

And therein lies the lesson… it can look like all is lost. It can look like your friends have turned their backs for reasons that defy logic. But you take a deep breath and keep doing what you do. In Belladonna’s case it was making music. And one day you might wake up to a phone call where it turns out a band you were once associated with has been touted as one of only four in the world that will forever be known as architects of a genre and it’s thought that you’re the only one that can truly satisfy the appetites of legions of fans who have remained devoted to the band but regard you as the voice of a very particular point in time that matters… then you can revel in what came full circle and be grateful…knowing full well that you were blessed to learn your lessons within the realms of something you love so much and that no matter where the road leads, true satisfaction comes simply from bringing a gift forward.

ANTHRAX plays EMOS East on Saturday, October 29, 2011 with Testament and Death Angel.

Photos by Andy Buchanan & Matthew Rodgers


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