For All Kings Together 35 Years
Interview with Charlie Benante of Anthrax

Interview with Charlie Benante of Anthrax
With: Song River
For: Vents Magazine

Song River: Congratulations first of all on 35 years.  That is amazing. Does it seem a little surreal?

Charlie Benante: I know it's so weird when people say it has been that long, but really our first record came out in '84 and the band then really got serious around '83 when I joined the band.

SR: How did your connection to Anthrax end up coming about?  Did you already know Scott and Dan?

CB: No, we had some mutual friends, but I didn’t really know those guys very well.  Their drummer was leaving and a mutual friend of ours mentioned me to them and it clicked and it worked.

SR:  I think if the element of gelling isn’t there you can't do anything to make it move forward.

CB:  Definitely has to be some sort of spark. In the beginning, of course, that gelling isn't there, but it is over time you can sense that relationship is going to getting better and better or worse. (laughed) I think early on in the band there were just a couple of guys who weren't going to make it.

SR: That is part of being in a band though isn't it? There are those who come and stay and those who come for awhile and leave. That ebb and flow, that is life in general.

Do you recall ever asking Scott or Dan way back when... were they just sitting in chemistry class looking at cool sounding band names out of their chemistry book and ran across the word “Anthrax” and said, “That's it!”

CB: That's kind of how it went down, just how you explained it.  They were in high school in chemistry class and they just saw it and said that was it.

SR: It seems often when we visualize the '80's all we see is 'hair.' What was it about your truth of what you wanted to create along with your band mates that you didn't succumb to the makeup, pretty boy hair deliverance?

CB: It just wasn't our style at all. We were so into British music like Motorhead and Iron Maiden. I loved Van Halen, don’t get me wrong, their music could back up any look David had.

SR: Weren’t the bands like Van Halen and Hagar looked at as being more hard rock than metal?

CB: Really, look, I think the whole hair metal band thing took off with Motley Crue. Crue though was more of a sleaze type of thing, but they still had a tougher image compared to what would happen after that. I just  never dug that kind of look of what was to come.

SR: Did you ever consider even the eyeliner look?  
Photo Credit: Travis Shinn
CD: No definitely not.

SR: There are these different types of metal genres with numerous sub-headings. Can each of them you think to be clearly defined as their own and be accepted by each other?

CB: There was a thing back in the day where we were totally against that whole 'glam metal' thing. We called them posers. Of course, we were very young at that time when we were saying things like that. I think we were on a mission back then to confirm what we look or sound like. We wanted to look and sound as who we were.

SR: You clearly defined yourselves from out of the gates.

CB: Don’t get me wrong there were guys in the band who wanted to go a little more hair/mental'y' but if you can't go along with us you need to go.

SR: Were you and Scott really the architect of what was to come?

CB: We all had a hand it, but I would say he and I were really the architects of what was going to come. Once Spreading the Disease was released, that is really when I took over the writing for the band and directing it stronger as it defined itself.  I had the vision maybe more.

SR: I understand in '84 when your nephew Frank came in, he went from roadie to bass player correct?

CB: Yes.

SR: And at times you acted more like brothers as there was quite a bit of bickering and fighting between you both?

CB: He is impossible to deal with that is why.

SR: Have you found over the years as you've both aged and matured a bit that the fighting and bickering calmed down and did it ever have an effect on the band as a whole?

CB: He fought with everybody, not just me. It may get more attention towards us because we are related, but he used to have huge arguments with Scott, with some of the guys too. It wasn’t just me.  I don't think Scott and I ever had a yelling match.

SR: Is it just Frank's personality?  Have you seen it change and mellow over the years?

CB: No, no, no.

SR: Well, it obviously still must work because you all still play together.  As you have developed your drumming style over the years Charlie does you feel it has influenced the heavy metal sound for other drummers to pattern themselves after?

CB: I think it's the same of when I was growing up and looking to certain drummers and style of music. I have always loved Rush and Van Halen. Those drummers stood out in the band, they had a signature style. So every record we did  I would try to top myself. I wanted to step it up.  What really cool thing could I put here? I was always making a conscious effort.

SR: When do you think you recognized you had this signature style, so when people heard it, they'd know it was you?

CB: It was a sound, a style. Definitely differentiated from other drummers coming up. In my genre, we had two other drummers coming up that were really good that had a signature sound, but the three of us didn’t really sound like each other.

SR: Was there an album that you felt really set you up to be defined?

CB: On our second album we had this song called, “Gung Ho” and it was just really fast, double kick onslaught. It was one of the songs that people would hear and ask, “How in the hell did you do that?”

SR: Charlie it sounds like from what you're saying that drumming is really a natural extension of who you really are. Do you feel that?

CB: I think it's definitely a part of who I am.  For the most part, I am pretty quiet until it's time to make some noise and then I become the other person. Of course, then when I am drinking there is another part of me that is the funny Charlie.

SR: So there is the quiet Charlie, and the animal that comes out when I am behind the drums, then the funny Charlie who comes out behind the liquid.  How many Charlie's are in there? I thought women were complicated? (laughed).

CB: Quite a few, quite a few. (laughed)

SR: Watching great drummers plays. You can tell every part of who you are is being put into what you are doing. It seems to me that drummers are the only beings to be able to multitask at the level they do.  I can't even walk on air without falling... how do you do it?

CB: I think the drumming aspect has to come across as a primal thing that lives in a lot of drummers.  But you have to do it with some style and a bit of grace then it comes off as something special.  There are many drummers who are just cool just sitting regular time and not reaching, they don’t have much to say and just do their thing. I always felt I need to say more. Paint with many colors, not just black and white you know?

SR: Is it 'learnable' if you want to learn it?

CB: Of course, as with anything you can learn how to do. It's whether you have that passion and drive.  I have always put into what I loved since I was little. It wasn’t because I was being told to do it, I just loved it.

SR: How old were you when you got your first drum set?

CB: I was close to five when my dad got me my first drum set.

SR: Did you take lessons, or were you self-taught?

CB: I started taking lessons when I was around six and it was off and on after that. All I know is that I just wanted to play.

SR: I think the song “I just want to bang on the drums all day” probably fit.

CB: Yes, it always has been.

SR: Is it rare to be a drummer who is also a writer, as I know you have taken on that role.

CB:  I think it is very rare that the drummer takes on that role of bringing in that idea for the songs, but you know Neil Pert of Rush, he writes every lyric for Rush. It's not that far-fetched.  It always seems like it's the guitar player or singer that takes the helm.  But early on in our band when we didn’t have a singer, the roles kind of switched.  Scott took over writing lyrics and he is very good at it, you know. And I took over most of the music part.

SR: How has the writing dynamic over the years been between you, Scott and Frank? How has the formula specifically worked for Anthrax?

CB: Well, basically I would come in with the framework of the song- that’s it, that’s the truth and that’s how it goes. Some of the other guys would add a piece to it and a riff or sometimes Scott or Frankie might have a riff to add to it. Then once we have a good idea of a start and finish for a good piece of music Scott will take it and he will put some lyrics to it. I might say something or suggest something here or there and then Frankie you know works really good with melodies and stuff like that and Joey as well. Then, this time, I worked with John Donais, who has been in the band for a bit now, and this will be his first album with us. Working really closely with John I think his leads on our record is probably some of the best leads he has done.

SR: As I understand it on this latest album, For All Kings, the melody was done first and then the lyrics.

CB: Yeah, we all went over to New York to work on it and Frankie had a lot of the melodies for the songs. And we would just try things and Scott said it was working better for him then to apply the lyrics. We didn't do it on all the songs, but it seemed to work for those we did.

I was just in one of the biggest creative modes I ever been in. My goal was to write 20 songs, and I met that goal. You aren't going to hear 20 on this album, but you are going to hear 12 really great ones.  The rest will be for another time.

SR: You had to have surgery this past year for carpal tunnel syndrome and you had stated you were in one of your most creative spaces you ever been. What was it Charlie do you think that opened that door?

CB: I really can't tell you. I know I started writing this stuff back in 2013, so it took a bit to gather up 20 songs. I was inspired by different things, the success of our last record, the shows we had been playing, the bands that we were out on tour with.

SR: Do you think possibly as you've matured that it has become easier to observe and to open those doors of creativity?

CB: Possibly, it could be. I also know no one was on back to create. I wasn’t on a schedule.  It let me push myself, this time, more I think. To be honest, with you I hear a lot of bands coming out and I don't hear what I think could be possibly better if more time and attention was allowed. I get disappointed with that, so I say, “I want to push myself.” So, I did as hard as I could. (paused) And I don't think people push themselves anymore as they once did. Where is that hunger? Make a good fucking record, not just three songs.

SR: Thought. With the music consumer at times only buying one or two songs off of iTunes or streaming, wouldn't a band now days think why bother?

CB: I think if you lack creativity, originality and drive... (paused) it seems they are saying, “it's good enough.”

SR: I know Anthrax was out on tour in Europe when the multiple murders took place in Paris during a concert and sporting event, yet you all Charlie decided to still go on and finish.  As you all continued to finish the European leg Charlie was there a time when the thought of it happening again possibly hit you?

CB: My feeling was here were all these people who had been waiting to go to the show for a long, long time. The day came, the fans got off work or done at school and they wanted to go see a band and have a great time. Of course, all that was taken by a group of selfish people, who were full of hate, for their own religious reason or whatever and they set about to ruin what the people had come to do.  It's nothing but shit. (paused)
Believe me, when our friend Darrell (Dimebag Darrell of Pantera) got shot, from that point on I always look around me when we play. (paused)
It is sad that you have to worry about these things when all you should be there for is to have a good time. It's about getting up there and doing your gig and helping people have a good time. And then when I hear people say, “It's just the world we live in.” That is nothing but bullshit! Our own country is so divided over guns. I have no problem with people who own guns, but I problems with people who abuse this right. AS they go around saying, “My guns, my guns...,” that is just bullshit.  I wonder why do you feel like you need to have a semi-automatic? (paused)

SR: Charlie, any thoughts as to why you think the terrorists went after the arts and sports?

CB: I really don't know, I don’t understand it. But I guarantee you some of those who think that way listen to rap music and like it, I guarantee you some of them get high, I guarantee you some of them look up to certain artists and I just find it very strange that they don't seem to  associate artists being something that is against the establishment. I think though they really are just a bunch of thugs who need to be taken out.
I am just tired of the division. I am so over all this stuff.

SR: Understood.  Back to the new album, For All Kings. You went with the artist again, Alex Ross, to create your vision. How did you find Alex and why was it important to tie these last few albums together?

CB: I am just trying to do a running theme and create a certain look for the band. Staying consistent and true to who we are as a sound and band.  Back in 2003, I think it was, when Alex did our first cover we struck up a friendship with him and we always meet for coffee or dinner. He is just one of my favorite artists and he has such a great vision and hand.  We met then and talked about two concepts. He didn’t like the first one I gave him but loved the second one. From there it just all came together. For me, the concept on this last album is whoever your king is, whether it is your dad, your uncle, a baseball player when you were little it could be anyone who met something to you and that is how the title came together.

SR: Your “marriage” to Scott has probably lasted longer than most marriages. As you have been into this 35 years now. Any memories to share?

CB: (laughed) We have had so many great “anniversaries”  in our career. Just because we are from New York, one of  our dreams was to play Madison Square Garden and we got to play there. Then back in 2012, we did this big floor show at Yankee Stadium. For me it was the greatest thing, it was the last time my mom got to see us. It has such special, emotional memories for me. These are things that just stick out in my mind.

SR: Charlie, here's to you and Anthrax... 35 more years!

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Credits for
For All Kings

Album title:  For All Kings
Release date:  February 26, 2015
Label:  Megaforce Records

Anthrax is:
Joey Belladonna – vocals
Frank Bello - bass
Charlie Benante – drums
Jonathan Donais – lead guitar
Scott Ian – rhythm guitar

All songs written by Anthrax

Produced by Jay Ruston and Anthrax
Mixed by Jay Rustin at TRS West, Sherman Oaks, CA
Mastered by Paul Logus for PLX Mastering, NYC