Benante: It takes a believer to play heavy metal

Anthrax — drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello, guitarist Scott Ian, vocalist Joey Belladonna and lead guitarist Jonathan Donais — will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Little River Casino Resort. (Courtesy photo)

Anthrax — drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello, guitarist Scott Ian, vocalist Joey Belladonna and lead guitarist Jonathan Donais — will perform at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Little River Casino Resort. (Courtesy photo)

MANISTEE — Anthrax celebrated its 35th anniversary last year with the release of its album “For All Kings.”

It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Chart, and No. 9 on the Top 200, becoming Anthrax’s highest-charting album in more than two decades.

Drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello and guitarist Scott Ian work together to compose the songs, with Joey Belladonna on vocals Jonathan Donais on lead guitar. The album and the band’s live shows have consistently received tremendous reviews.

Anthrax is known as one of the “big four” thrash metal bands, alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. Albums include “Spreading the Disease,” “Sound of White Noise” and “State of Euphoria.”

Anthrax will be playing at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Little River Casino Resort.

The News Advocate recently spoke with drummer Benante via phone about what he loves about heavy metal, the writing process and more.

MNA: Who were some of your musical influence, especially in your younger years when you were starting out?

BENANTE: The Beatles were a big influence on me. I’d have to say growing up after that I would really gravitate to certain things more so than anywhere, that’s when I latched onto the Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Queen, Sex Pistols type of thing. That’s when I really started to musically take shape in my mind, certain things that appealed to me and why were they appealing to me. Why did I gravitate more toward this than another style of music?

Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante writes the music for the band and designs all of the band's cover artwork, ads, marketing tools and band merchandise. (Courtesy photo)

Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante writes the music for the band and designs all of the band’s cover artwork, ads, marketing tools and band merchandise. (Courtesy photo)

MNA: How did you get into this type of music?

BENANTE: I often think of heavy metal music in general as being the outsider. If you’re going to donate yourself to this type of music, you know you have to believe in it. It’s not something you just say, “yeah i’m going to play metal” because if you break it down to what it is, it is what I feel the outsider type of music — same with punk rock.

In a sense you are part of that community. I will say that if you’re walking down the street and you see someone walking on the opposite side of the street wearing an Iron Maiden shirt, you immediately have a connection with that person and you’re no longer an outsider. You are bonding with someone without knowing it because you both share this interest in the same thing.

I always felt that way when I would go see bands when I was younger, and I would go down to the show early and hang out. I would meet people and it was before there was social media. This was the social media type of thing, this was real, this was physical. I always felt that way with the heavy metal crowd. If you’re a fan, you’re a lifelong fan.

MNA: Why do you think that heavy metal is so different from other types of music; why are the fans so different?

BENANTE: Because it’s discriminate — you have a certain look, you have a certain style. People would look at us when I was younger, just long hair, people would just you know, “look at these dudes.” You’re not part of the basic framework that other people want to be like. You see other people looking more toward the pop acts. For us to play heavy metal, you better believe in it because it’s not the type of genre that gets accepted. You don’t win many awards for doing what you love to do if you play heavy metal. You’re pretty much pushed down; it’s not recognized like other forms of music.

MNA: You’ve been with the band from the beginning, what keeps you doing it if there’s not much fame and recognition in it?

BENANTE: I do it because I love it and I know what it means. Especially building an audience for all these years. I know how our audience feels, and I know how to make them feel good about things.

All it takes is a good song to change your mood. I’m pretty much a product of that. I can be in a sh***y, bummed out mood and a song will come on and it just puts my step right back in my walk. I feel the same way with fans. The only thing I would say nowadays is I think people have too much of a voice, especially with the internet and everything. I think people really should appreciate the music that’s out there nowadays. It’s just different times in music.

MNA: How has touring changes from 30 years ago to now?

BENANTE: Thirty years ago, I was a different person, that’s number one. Thirty years ago, the business was a different model. Thirty years ago the world was different. If you look back at all those things to today, of course it’s going to change the landscape; it’s going to change everything about the model that once was compared to the model that is right now.

Being on tour nowadays is forget about your free time. Your free time is done. That’s why I think there’s no room for casualties as much as there used to be because you used to have so much free time to get in trouble. Now you have no time to get in trouble. What my day consisted of on this European tour was — this is not an exaggeration, this is exactly how it went — I woke up at probably 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I’d get my coffee and go into my dressing room. I’d just start practicing. After that we’d do some interviews; after that go back to practicing, after that go eat. After that do a meet and greet, after that go back to practicing; get ready for a show; play the show. And the show that we are doing is over two hours, so took a lot physically and mentally took a lot out of me. After the show, i’m just chillin’, maybe have a drink. Stay up till 5 or 6 watch the sun come up, go to sleep — repeat.

MNA: And 30 years ago, how would that have gone?

BENANTE: Thirty years ago I would have probably not put so much attention into detail as much I do now because it is physically harder on my body and physically harder on me emotionally. I think too much about things, where when i was younger, whatever, I don’t care. Whatever happens, happens.

MNA: You write most of the music, where do you get your inspiration from?

BENANTE: Inspiration comes from anything really. I can go to a show tomorrow and come home with such an amazing amount of inspiration and just write, the next day I’ll just write songs. I can read something that will inspire me; I can watch a movie that will inspire. Something my daughter says will inspire me to do something. I’m just happy that it comes to this day. The past couple years it’s coming more than it ever did, so I’m really happy about that.

MNA: Can you tell me a little about that writing process?

BENANTE: I’ll usually start with something, an idea and most of the time I’ll put it down on tape and send it to the guys and see what their vibe is. Usually it’s like “yeah let’s work on that one,” or “eh, not feeling that one.” So I’ll go back and rework it before I show them stuff. Then it goes to everybody else at that point, and we’ll start making something happen with this idea. Or sometimes I’ll just come up with the basic start and finish, and we’ll just play it and boom it’s a song.

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Posted by Michelle Graves

Michelle is the managing editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3106 or mgraves@pioneergroup.com.

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