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
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