People don’t understand how much I was there

Anthrax

My video interview with Joey Belladonna from Anthrax, was a real eye opener for me, where it comes to the band dynamics. He came over as a down to earth, humble guy that just wants to play his part in something he truly seems to love doing, whatever that part may be. He is, and always was, simply put, there.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us!

Well, you’re welcome, thank you for coming. I appreciate it.

How are things in your world?

They’re good! You know, the band’s pretty tight and we’re just enjoying playing together. The music, the last two records have been great, of course. I like the vibe.

There’s a nice incline in the quality of the albums I think.

Sure, yeah. It’s just good producing, and recording too, for me. I always hear the stories. I’m alone, I don’t have anybody around and I can really just focus on what I’m doing, versus people coming in on all times, just engulfing you in just all kinds of things. Critiquing you, it just takes forever, and sometimes you just get beat down. So now I just feel really good about the records, at least on my end. Musically I’m sure those guys too have really taken on a more advanced type of writing, the arrangements, you know?

What is your current role in the creative process?

I come in later. I hear the cut as a full instrumental. It’s basically as I used to do before. Scott would layout some lyrics, and me and J just go in there and just hammer away, and in about three hours or so we don’t know what we’re going to hear.

So you get the complete package, and the lyrics and you just start singing it?

Yeah, and I kind of go wherever I can take it, you know? Especially the harmonies and all that kind of stuff. It’s good. It kind of reminds me of Elton John and his partner, Bernie, so… *laughs*

You always need a good partner, absolutely.

Yeah, it’s cool. It’s a different way of doing it, like I just asked you about writing and stuff (Edit: Before the interview we discussed songwriting).

Tonight, and this whole tour, you’re playing the 1987 “Among The Living” album in it’s entirety.

Correct.

How is it to play the songs on this classic album, back to back?

It’s great. I mean, we had a great experience with the record in the past. We had to revisit a few songs, like the latter part of the record. Like “One World”, “Horror of it all” and “Imitation of life”, those ones. With “Skeletons” we dabbled a it, but just doing those songs. It’s just getting the arrangements together, but I mean they sound great. I actually like them now more so than I did before. They just got a lot more meat to them now.

There are a lot of classics on this album. Many of those got into our DNA with your live versions.

Yeah, it’s great. I love it. What’s cool about that is that we’ve already gotten our feet wet with those songs. But it’s nice that people want to hear a record in it’s entirety, you know?

Is the reaction from the crowd different these days than in the earlier days?

Ehm, you know, it’s similar. I mean, it’s definitely energetic and very overwhelming. That part is different maybe, because you’ve got a lot of new people coming. They seem happy.

How do you feel the album has aged over the time, how does it hold up?

Well, production wise it’s a different animal. We were talking about it last night with Eddie Kramer being there, just talking about how we wanted to approach it. For me it was like, God, we went from “Spreading The Disease” to holy shit, we’re doing this fast, more Thrashy stuff. It was kind of fun, but it was all really quick. I mean, I was on board, and off we went you know? That’s my biggest thing, just remembering all that.

If you listen to the biggest hits on the album, I think live they evolved a bit from what they were on the record.

Oh yeah. I mean, I didn’t have a whole lot of time with some of those records, and again… Not only didn’t I have time, but just to experiment, to feel your way through it.. That’s the other thing. I now know this music much better than I did back then. It makes more sense to me, and it feels much more comfortable.

I bet. In what ways would you say this classic Anthrax album is still similar to the modern day material like “For All Kings”?

Well you’ve still got your Anthrax style, our way of playing, you know? A certain thing about Anthrax has a certain stamp of style. I don’t know, that’s a hard one, really. I don’t know how to really describe that. I almost would say, what do you think, you know?

It all starts with how you would define Anthrax. What is typical Anthrax?

Anthrax to me is sharp and witty, very precise in it’s own way, and yet we have a certain thing that people don’t have. It’s just something that’s hard to explain. You just hear it.

I think it always had that fun element.

Yeah. The fun is always there for me. I know everybody else likes that, but I even more so. It makes me more happy to do what I’m doing, because it can be fun. It doesn’t have to be silly or stupid, it can be fun, you know? I still hear the music and it’s still heavy.

Well silly can also be fun. The first Anthrax song I heard was “I’m the man”.

Wow, I see. And if you didn’t know us, as you know us now, you’d think wow. That’s not them.

My cousin had a mixed tape for me with “I’m the man on it”.

There you go, and I didn’t even know what the hell that was when I heard them rehearsing doing that, like oh my God, what’s this.

*laughs* Will you ever revisit that, like you did in 1991?

Yeah, in fact I think we played it on this tour one night too, and I think it got back off because the set was so long. We didn’t need it in there.

It’s a nice silly song.

Yeah, it is.

This is not the first time that you play this album in it’s entirety. You did the same during the reunion tour in 2005 and the Metal Alliance tour in 2013.

Yeah.

Will you be doing things differently this time?

Yes we are doing it different, because we are doing a full set of whatever songs, just an array of songs and then we go into an intermission as we call it, just to change the set around a little bit. Ten minutes tops, then bang, we hit the whole album. We play the whole album, and then something else, maybe.

I’m pretty excited to hear it.

Yeah. It feels good now, at this point. We’ve really got it all on full.

What songs on the album are the most fun to play for you?

Probably the ones I’ve done all the time, there’s no doubt. “Indians”, “I am the Law”, “Caught In A Mosh”. Those are especially fun. And of course “N.F.L.” and “Among The Living”, those are the ones that we’ve had plenty of time to pound with. They’re popular too. Then when you get the deeper cuts, “A Skeleton In The Closet”, “One World”, “Horror Of It All” and “Imitation of Life”, those are a bit quirky, they’re different, but they’re feeling good.

Do you ever feel you will grow tired of playing songs of this era, or do they stay fun?

Just pulling this stuff out, we haven’t had the chance to be tired of anything really. I usually don’t get tired of anything. There are just some songs that are just not as easy live, or they do not go over like, whoah. They’re not the big cut. So you think it’s maybe just a not working kind of thing. You don’t know. Other than that, I don’t really, I try not to get sick of anything.

That’s a good attitude!

Yeah, I’m happy that anybody wants to hear anything we have.

You’ve been around for Anthrax’s biggest successes, like this album. It has some really big hits on it. Yet you’ve been out of the band for eighteen years. How do you look back at your departure from Anthrax, that period?

While I was out? Or before I was out?

How do you look back at that whole period?

I was on my own. There’s nothing like being on your own after being in a band. You just don’t have all that to rely on; barely any assistance that came along with me, it was going to be like no problem. I wasn’t going to turn into Phil Collins overnight, you know? It just doesn’t work. You know what? I was okay. I was sad to see that thing, I didn’t know what they were really going for. They were going for some nineties style, and apparently I wasn’t the guy or something. That’s all I can think of. That’s enough for me to realize that, what do you do, you know? You don’t beg your way back in. So I just maintained playing music, as I do all the time. I haven’t stopped.

You kept busy, writing your own stuff.

Yeah, yeah. I wrote music, and a lot of it was demo stuff. Just whoever wanted to come over and jam. I had a cover band, I still have a cover band.

Are there any new songs coming out for your own projects?

I have stuff, I just haven’t had the time to really, like really work on it. With Anthrax, there’s just always so much going on. Plus, I do the cover thing. As soon as I get home, I go out and play drums in my band, and I sing, and we do 60 or 70 songs a night. So by the time I’m done with all that, doing originals sometimes has become like, wow. When? Because Anthrax is pretty busy.

You’re on the crazy train again! *laughs*

Yeah, that’s true. That’s right.

If you look at the stuff that the guys did while you were away, how do you look at that music, how do you feel about that?

I think good, I don’t know. If I was to compare it, I didn’t hear anything that we were doing, that wasn’t as good. I didn’t hear anything that blew me away. I thought the music end of it was acceptable, John’s decent, but must the overall thing… I think we had something cool there, and I didn’t hear that. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good, it just wasn’t my idea of better, being better about it. It was just different, you know? I enjoyed the style that they were trying to dig into. It kind of straightened it all out a little bit, but it wasn’t as Thrashy in some ways. I don’t know, it get’s crazy after some time, trying to explain it all. It was what it was, you know?

It was what it was, yeah. After the 2005 reunion tour, we had to wait for five more years to see you rejoin the band. Was this a hard decision to make?

No, that was a weird thing again. They got someone else for a little while. If I only knew what was going through anybody’s head. We’re talking about someone that no one even knew, or was experienced or something like that. It was kind of out of my hands, you know?

I tried to figure out what was happening at that time.

I wish I knew too. I remember my friend called me and he goes “Dude, they’ve got another singer! I just read that”, and I’m like, really? Oh, wow. I didn’t know that. Oh well. I wasn’t even sure if they wanted to be a band again with me. I couldn’t tell you. It was cool at the reunion, but it wasn’t like when I got back and we did the Big 4. That was the time they wanted to do something for real.

I think I read somewhere it had to do with indecisiveness?

No, there was no indecisiveness. I was there. I wouldn’t have come back in the first place, and again, you know? I don’t know why they would have said that. I had no reason to do that. They got another guy, it was really quick. It was too quick. It was almost like, you’ve been dating, I didn’t know about it, that kind of thing. It was too quick.

*laughs* Alright. How important is Anthrax in your life?

It is what I do, you know? When I get down to it, when I look at the most important thing musically, it’s that. That tops anything I’m doing. Unfortunately, when you do this for a long time, the way we’ve established it, it’s hard to go away from it. It works. It’s a good band. We really have a good thing. It’s hard to find that package, and be able to come out right now and be that band, where some bands have one guy, or nobody, and they’re still called that band. You know what I mean? That’s the thing. It’s just a lot of work. There’s nothing easy about it, everything you’ve gotta do. And I love playing, and I love singing, so I work hard at what I do.

Nothing good is ever easy!

No, that’s right. That’s why I try to tell anybody, if you want to get somewhere, you’ve got to keep working. And we do work a lot.

I bet. As mentioned, tonight we celebrate one of your most iconic albums, how did you experience the time of recording the album?

It was a little bit overwhelming, because I just came out of “Spreading The Disease”, and just understanding I’m in a band called Anthrax, and we just did a record and people are starting to like it. And okay, we’re going to do another record, and I’m still getting to know these guys. We didn’t really have a chance to really get comfortable with anything. And yeah, I was psyched to do another record and see what’s gonna happen. None of us knew what that was going to be like. It was fun. We went down to Florida, we had a nice setup in a hotel, we go to the studio every day and not much rehearsal on my end. So it was kind of thrill and go.

A bit of a thrill ride, you jumped on board the rollercoaster.

Yeah, you just go. We went from that little bit more straight up “Spreading the Disease”, a little bit more open, into a little bit more crazy, Thrashy, it was an upswing.

Crazy times, yeah. That album, it was dedicated to the memory of Cliff Burton, who passed away on that tour.

We were on the road with them at the time, yes.

How do you look back at that time?

Ooh, yeah. That particular tour, it was a sad moment. It was a great tour, that was another time, it was like, I was starting to get to know what Metallica was, and who they were, and their music. I got to meet everybody and get to know them, and all of a sudden that happened. That’s always a memory that you’ll never forget.

It’s a double edged sword I think. You were there for the most iconic tour for Metallica I think, the Master tour…

Yeah, for sure. It felt that way.

And then the tragic moment with Cliff Burton. What was it like to see him play live? Did you actually go see him?

Great, yeah at that time everything was just overwhelming. Just the whole touring, because that was one of the full length, decent, for real tours. Others when we used to go were with like Overkill and Agent Steel, we were in a schoolbus. It was just a bit crazy, but that Metallica tour was a bit more like what it was going to be like. A great package, you know? That tour together, I would have loved to do that tour three more times.

Yeah, it’s sad that it ended there.

Yeah, it was an awful moment.

Overkill, also nice guys by the way.

Yeah, I just saw Billy. Chuck, Billy, all of us around the boat. We did 70,000 tons of Metal, so it was good seeing everybody.

Awesome, that’s a nice setting!

Yeah, right?

I still want to go there one time.

Yes, you should! It was actually fun.

If you look at the current Anthrax, and you compare it to the old days before your hiatus, has a lot changed?

Well, you’ve got the record sales, and the internet, and the phones, the computers, all that stuff. All that stuff is like the big change. We had no communication to home for a lot of this. It was really not easy to be on the road for six weeks. We had to use like a phone in the back room, just to call your parents. “Yeah, I’m okay mom!”, it’s like that.

All before the texting.

Yeah, now we’re rocking with all kinds of tech, but you know. The internet has taken over a lot of stuff music wise. The whole music business went through a big change. But we roll through it.

What would you say is still the same from that time?

What’s still the same? Just getting to and from, you know? You’ve got to drive, the late nights…

The basic stuff.

Yeah, the basic stuff. Just getting through the day. Everything it takes to be full strength, to be on tour. And just having some fun.

And you’re still having fun, yeah.

Yeah, yeah.

You toured with the Big 4. You had a great, well received recent album “For All Kings”, the previous one also did really well, and it seems most of the struggles of the band are in the past now. So I think it’s a really good time to be in Anthrax I think, right now?

Yeah, I think it’s probably as good as any, because at this point, I mean no one is looking around our shoulders trying to figure out who is going to be where are now, and all that kind of stuff. I think we can’t be in a position to do too much stuff like that, because I don’t think anybody really wants that to happen. I didn’t personally, and I think at the end of the day, today you might everybody, I don’t know if they wanted it to happen, you know? I wish I knew what we could have done in that pocket of time, I just can’t imagine. But yeah, in my opinion we’re doing everything at a high level, and that’s really what you’re looking for.

Everything or nothing.

And it takes work every day, no matter what you do. I don’t care if you’re hanging with five of your friends, each guy has it’s own little thing. That’s just natural.

Yeah I bet. Do you have any regrets, if you look at the road so far?

At the band?

At the band, at your creative decisions, anything.

Well I wish I learned to play guitar and piano. Like we were talking earlier, it’s just being able to play a little bit more instruments. I really wish I did. I don’t know if it’s too late. I know how to play drums, but the instrument side of it, I wish I knew more about that, because I’d probably have a little bit more flexibility to make music on a daily basis, versus having to call someone to play guitar, or keyboards, or whatever.

That’s hard if you don’t play an instrument, to get a thought from your head, musically, to another.

Right, and I do it well! I have a way of doing it, some people would probably disagree, but believe me. I have a way of finding ideas and making something work.

So it’s not humming *laughs*

Yes humming! I’ve got a good.. I can hum pretty well. I can find notes and stuff. But again, just to be able to play an instrument, some other instruments.

Yeah, that makes writing easier. Absolutely. What are your fondest memories so far from your time with Anthrax, perhaps tour memories?

Mainly just being a part of it, just being able to find a band that I didn’t even know, that wanted a singer. I fit, and we hit it off. That’s really the ultimate thing. And seeing the success for the hard work you put into it, and still to this day, you know? It’s really a cool thing.

That’s a really cool thing.

There’s not many.. People don’t last that long, because there’s too many indecisive things. People just don’t really kind of stick with it long enough to see it.

Yeah, that’s important. You’ve got to have the long breath.

Yes, even if the success isn’t there, it doesn’t mean it can’t continue. There’s always certain levels of making it work and having some good feelings about being in a band.

You’ve got to keep the passion. What’s next for Anthrax, do you plan on sticking around a bit?

Yeah, I guess! I don’t even call the shots, you know? I don’t make any decisions as far as if anybody wants to continue. I’m usually there, I always was there. That’s the thing, people don’t understand how much I was there. And how much I am here. I try to imagine what’s people’s vision of me. Like I was this guy who wanted to be solo, and had enough. That wasn’t the case.

You still enjoy being there.

Yeah, I’m here, you know? I have no desire to really try to be a solo artist, although I want to be able to make some music with some different type of vocal, or different kind of music. Just a style. I love good straight up Rock, or Classic Rock, or even a really hard-edged Pop kind of thing. Not to say I’m doing that, but something. Even a good hard Blues, or a Fusion or something. A Yes or Kansas type of real good riffy, but still melodic. So I don’t get to do any of that stuff, I wanna try some stuff, but I’m not really itching to do it like I’m not getting anything here. I get it here. Vocally I don’t get the chance to do a whole lot with Anthrax, because it’s kind of a tight window what I can do with it, because it’s so fast and it’s a lot of words, you know? Even now, still.

It is, yeah. So just see what you can get there.

Yeah. We just go on a roll. I think any of us here try to put a time limit on something. If I can hear about it, then I’d know and I’d tell you, but I haven’t heard any time limits on anything.

No, exactly. Are there any plans on new material, stuff like that?

No, I don’t know anything about that right now. I believe we’ve been so busy. Unless somebody’s got a pocket full of tapes at home or anything that they’ve got that they want to put together in the future. I’m sure people have ideas, you know?

Then we’ve reached our last question, and that’s do you have any last words for our readers?

Ah, just thanks to the fans and everybody that’s been a part of the journey of being in Anthrax, and believing in the music that they hear, and enjoy coming to see us play. That’s kind of the end of that.

Well we do enjoy that, seeing you up on the stage from the crowd. That’s cool.

That’s the good thing man, I love to see that. That’s my favorite part, really.

It’s been a pleasure talking to you man.

No problem, thank you! I appreciate it.

Randy Gerritse