An interview with Anthrax vocalist Joey Belladonna (Anthrax's web site)
By: Chris McFarland
For more than 20 years New York's Anthrax has been a driving force in the metal community. With two Grammy nominations, and over 10 million records sold they have left an enormous footprint on American rock music, and influenced countless bands in the process. In March of 2005 the announcement was made that their most celebrated lineup would re-unite for the first time in 13 years to play a handful of European festivals and US tour dates. Vocalist Joey Belladonna took time before a Spokane, WA gig in October to conduct this phone interview.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): So this new tour with Judas Priest, how does it compare to the festivals you guys have been playing since the announcement of the reunion? Do you like getting back to the slightly smaller venues?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Yeah, I like doing the smaller venues, especially because it gives the fans a chance to see us up close, and we get a little bit longer set. Then you get away from what you were doing, with Priest, you just kinda break it up with smaller shows. And the reunion overall has been amazing. It's just nice to get back in the saddle with everybody, and roll.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): Would you say there is more excitement about Anthrax now than when you last toured with them in 1992?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Um, I think right now there is excitement, but I also think it takes time for us to kind of show the work that we're doing and kinda get everybody re-familiarized with what we're doing. And get the word out about that we are doing it. I am not sure everything is full board, I think, press-wise, yet, I think we are still working towards that. It just takes time to rebuild.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): Making sure that everybody knows what is going on?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Yeah, it just takes time to get all that together. Press is starting to pick up, and people are starting to get familiar with what we're doing and making sense of it all again.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): In your opinion, what is the biggest difference musically between now and then?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): As far as new tunes, nothing. We are still doing the older songs and stuff. But it's much heavier, I think everybody has matured so much more. Its just solid, everybody's just better musicians. So you get all that stuff that just makes a better environment.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): Through all the lineup changes and trash talking, mainly in interviews, that occurred between band members over the years, were you hesitant at all about re-joining the band? Would you say that most of the disagreements had been forgotten by the time rehearsals were under underway?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): I didn't really have any disagreements, with the things that went on. I mean I wasn't aware of anything hanging around that we hadn't already gone over. I think everybody was trying to talk things out, and deal with the changes. At that time I think the rest of the band was looking for something different, I didn't really "do anything" one way or the other. I know we were all trying to make small talk and catch up on the day to day things when we first came in the room together. But, I think everyone was anxious to do it in the first place, so it was cool.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): When you originally left Anthrax after the Persistence Of Time tour, the general understanding was that the band wanted to move into a different direction (vocally) and there was some resistance on your part, which led to the split. How much of that is true, and do you ever really feel like you were given an opportunity to tell your side of the story?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): I don't know if it was that I wasn't willing to do anything different, I think I just have a certain style that is kind of my own. I don't know if it's that they were looking for something new, and if they were, was I able to try that? Or was it just something that needed a change. I didn't really have time to say anything, and I don't know if there was really much to say. At the time they wanted to move on and get something different from somebody else, and whoever it may be at the time... there is nothing you can do about it. I?m not going to sit around and tell somebody how you should do something and who you should do it with. It's just kind of weird because you hear people say it all happened over one phone call. Really there was a little more of the "who" and "why", but I don?t think there's any fairness in anybody's part there, so I can?t worry about it so much.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): Did you have any real contact with any of the band members from 1992 until the initial talks of the reunion came up?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): I talked with Danny a little. He and I spent some time together here and there, late in 2000. That's really about it. One or two calls otherwise maybe, I'd talk with Charlie in and out, back in 2000 / 2002 also, but all very brief.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): Wasn't there supposed to be a tour with you and John Bush together a few years back ? or was that just internet rumors?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): There were talks. We tried to arrange something, it looked like it could possibly happen, but we couldn't get all the pieces together and put it out on the table, officially. It just didn't happen.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): I know Charlie and Scott have mentioned that the death of Dimebag Darrel really changed the outlook they had on life and the reunion of Anthrax, why was it important to you to step back into the lineup?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Hey, I hadn't even finished with these guys as far as I was concerned. We were a good lineup, we were building on something. We didn't have any problems, we were solid. We were moving forward. It was just... Why not, really? It's not like we're not capable of doing it, and I think if anything we're better, there is no reason why it can't or couldn't happen. I mean, someone's death like that, that's another piece of something that, you know, it just makes you think about life more.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): That could be a whole other interview... Such a massive impact on, not just necessarily the world of metal, but on the outlook of live music in general. The violence, crowd control, club security, and how much performers really put on the line, and what they are really risking to get up there and entertain...
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Right. None of that should be an issue. Nothing like that should ever happen, you know.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): The band has released a series of collections and anthology albums over the years, so in your opinion, what makes this newest installment any different?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): As far as the anthology, it is the old lineup, the old songs. And it's remastered, that's another good way to look at it. Reintroducing everyone with a little bit different sound to those songs. And live it gives you a little taste of what we are about immediately at this point. And all the videos, a lot of people have not even seen the videos, or have had a chance to own them. And there are still a few we couldn?t even get a hold of...
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): You released several records under "belladonna" ? how was fronting that project for you, did you enjoy having more creative control?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): I think it is always nice to be able to do your own stuff. I wasn't aiming to do that at the time of the split, but when all that it was done, the questions came up, it was "What do I do? Do I join a band?" I got many, many calls to do things. Nothing really seemed to be fitting. So I figured what the hell, I'll just do it myself. Just have fun doing it and try it, and that is what I have been doing. I really like playing a lot, so that is mainly my goal, just to play. Whether the success is there or not, I don't really hold that over my head. I just try to play with some people I can enjoy playing with and writing with. I love writing, just sit at home, working out new tunes, all the time. I have been writing since '93, since I've been out, a lot, so, it?s fun just to come up with material. I called it Belladona to just because I thought it was a lot easier to get people familiarized with what it is.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): I also noticed that you shared a few bills while touring with Belladonna with an Anthrax tribute band, was there always requests from audience members for older material, or do you feel like you were able to showcase what you were currently working on?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): That tribute thing was just one band, it happened to be a tribute band, I started off with on one set or run. Then I asked a band to come out with me that had played some of the stuff, we just did all old songs, and on that run I didn?t do anything new. The rest of the time I did new and old. I still do, the new and old, I like to split it up. It was important for me to do my original shit, too.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): Since 1993 Anthrax has released 4 studio albums of new material, and 1 CD set of re-recorded classics with John Bush on vocals. Has there been any discussion of bringing any of that newer material into the set list, or will it consist mostly of the '85-'92 material for the reunion?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Yeah, it'll just be old stuff. We have enough on the plate, we haven't even covered half of the old yet, let alone do anything new. So, at this rate, where we're doing its mainly what I did, so I don't have to worry about anything new right now. If anything new were to come in, hopefully it would be brand new.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): We've Come For You All is (in my opinion) the best of the Albums since Among The Living, and John Bush has a noticeably different vocal style than yours, are you looking forward to taking on some of his songs?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Not in particular, no. I don't want to get in to, like, "watch me do it now." I think that with him, obviously they had to cover some of the old stuff when they first started out. The stuff was so strong and they didn't have enough material, I think it is hard to walk away from the old tunes that were pretty popular. I can't say we'll never do it, but I am not in any hurry to challenge that music. Because it always seems to be a challenge, its like, okay, "who does it better?" or "what's it really sound like?" It sucks when you are in those positions, I'm sure for him it did too, you gotta kinda follow someone. And whether it's better or worse, or different and better, or different and worse, I don't know, you know? I'm not saying I wouldn't, but right now I got enough going on with the old stuff, and if we bring in some more of the old songs then we still gotta learn those. And hopefully there would be something new. That was the nicest thing that when I joined them, I didn't have too much over my head, maybe a little bit of Fistful of Metal, that no one really knew of so much, that went right in to the set without anybody worrying about me copying or trying to be like the other guy, so to speak.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): I don't think a lot of people (as far as Neil Turbin was concerned), knew. The band, at least for me, was established with you, not necessarily with Neil Turbin, even with some of the great early songs...
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Yeah, and that is another subject unto itself, when people see "original singer," and all that bullshit. So, yeah, I don't know, with this stuff, everybody is on their own, it's all individual. That is why I like it. It's nice to be original, and be individual, that's the coolest thing for me.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): How long will this tour be? Because I need you guys to come to Texas with this lineup.
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Yeah, I wish I knew. This one is obviously over the 30th, we're done with Priest on the 30th. We'll go home, take two months off. Then January we have another run of dates, I don't know where specifically they are taking us, that's gonna be 2 weeks, sometime like 6-20th, or something like that. I still don?t have them definitely in my hand. Major cities? hopefully we will do Texas, we were just talking about Texas, a minute ago, wondering if we were going down there.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): What excites you the most about the future of Anthrax? Are you comfortable saying that this will be the lineup for the next studio record?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Just being here and doing what you need to do as far as... I mean, me individually, being a team player, and enjoying it a lot. I almost feel like I have to be attentive to what I am doing so much, because there has already been another lineup that they enjoyed, too. So you kinda feel like you are coming back in, like, are you being evaluated and seeing if you are going to be a top dog to do something. It's a weird situation to be in. The main thing for me is continue to do what I do, and do it well, enjoy myself and let the cards be the way they are.
I can't really predict anything, you know. It's not even for me to call, I can't make the call, I can only try to better it.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): What do you think has changed the most personally between the band that has allowed the reunion to happen?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): Um, I don't know really. I just know everybody is a lot better players, I think the riffs are stronger, everything's just heavier, everybody's matured, I've gotten a lot better, everything just seems to be a little more on an upper scale. That helps for a better performance and everybody's attention is a little bit more fitting for that kind of situation.
Chris McFarland (for In Music We Trust): What do you hope the fans get from this reunion and anthology release?
Joey Belladonna (Anthrax): I just hope that people get that spark back, and enjoy everybody being back. That is about all you can really hope for. You're just kinda like "here is some stuff to get you back up to snuff" with what is going on, and kinda re-evaluate everything a bit little more. And maybe somebody that's never even heard the stuff before, I mean there are quite a few new fans that come out. It's always nice to see the audience grow.