Charlie Benante, from Anthrax: “Playing live got painful for me”

The drummer talks about the disease that leads him to miss dozens of shows. He also analyzes the group’s new DVD, “Kings among Scotland”, and dissects the reissue of “State of euphoria”.

By Fabrizio Pedrotti, for Rock.com.ar.

Note: this interview was originally posted in Spanish. This is an author’s translation from that article

“Luckily Gene Simmons approved the cover of our last live album”, explains Charlie Benante on the other side of the line, referring to the “tribute” they paid to Kiss. “‘Rock and Roll Over’ (1976) is one of my favorite covers of the music history, and it still moves me today. So I wanted to honor them. I got together with Steve Thompson -who also worked with Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Slayer-, I explained him the idea and told that I wanted to use the same colors as ‘For all kings’ (2016) “.

Then, it was time for Kiss to see the pastiche. “We spoke internally and decided that Scott Ian would send it to Gene,” adds the drummer. Simmons’ response surprised them: “He told us that he loved it, and that he felt that we spread Kiss more than they do (laughs). That made me happy, but at the same time they know our history and understand that we grew up with their music, covering them from the beginning. They know we’re not pretending”.

-And what would you have done if he didn’t approve the design?

-(Thinks). I guess we would have used it the same, and then we would have apologized (laughs).

“Kings among Scotland” was released on April 27, through Metal Blade and Megaforce. The DVD was recorded on February 15, 2017, and includes the complete Anthrax concert at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, Scotland. There are also interviews, behind the scenes and recordings in hotels. The film was directed by Paul M. Green (Opeth and The Damned), and 17 cameras, cranes and Go-Pros were used.

A double CD version -which can be heard on platforms such as Spotify and Deezer -is also available, with producer Jay Ruston’s mix (Stone Sour, The Winery Dogs, Adrenaline Mob, Sons of Apollo and previous Anthrax’s albums).

-What differences do you find between the recording of this DVD and “Chile on Hell” (2014)?

-It’s good to compare them. Every time we played in Chile, the show ended and we asked ourselves: “Why don’t we do a film of this?” So we said: “Next tour, let’s do it without doubts”. We wanted to capture the excitement and passion of the fans there, and it had a special color. We were also very nervous, because you never know what could happen: every time we played there, we saw very crazy behaviors from the audience. The first time we said: “Should we stop?”. But now it became part of the show, and it’s great that it’s been documented. Regarding the new one, it’s special because Scotland was one of the first places to embrace Anthrax and give us a place. We wanted to reward them for that, and show the passion they also have for metal, for music and for us.

-What were the “oddities” that you saw in Chile?

-The audience was absolutely crazy, so many times they exceeded the volume of the band. That show -at the Caupolicán Theater, in 2013- was the third that Jon Donais gave with us… he was nervous, so we too (laughs). But it’s good to feel that when you’re up on stage. It doesn’t make much sense to be relaxed: sometimes you want adrenaline.

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-Coming back to this last DVD, you started the tour playing “Among the living” (1987) in its original order, but at one point it got you bored and made you change it. What happened?

-When we got into the “deep cuts” from the album, I saw the public’s euphoria dropping. So I asked myself why we were being so predictable. Somehow I wanted to surprise the audience, and to let them think: “Now comes this song”… and no! It became much more interesting and cool. It took us a couple shows, but I think it was worth and worked much better.

-In which songs did the audience’s enthusiasm go down?

-The first was “Horror of it all”, that is quite long and talks about losing your loved ones. It was one of the ones we wrote about Cliff Burton, and we hardly played it live. The other was “One world”, one of my favorites from “Among …”, but for some reason we didn’t do it either. When we included them we started enjoying them again, and we realized that we missed them. And for the upcoming tours, we will try to put more songs of “State of euphoria” (1988).

STATE OF EUPHORIA, 2.0 VERSION

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In 2018, one of Anthrax’s most important albums turns thirty. And although it’s a classic one for the fans, the band was always dissatisfied, because they felt that it had been recorded in a rushed way. “Last months I spent a lot of time listening to the record again, and I started to appreciate it for what it was at that moment”, Charlie replies when asked about it. “I still think it was done very fast, but now I enjoy it and I’m not that critical anymore, you know?”.

“State of euphoria”, which reached the gold disc status and contains songs like “Be and, end all” and the cover of “Antisocial”, will receive a reissue according to its importance. “Everything is remastered, and we will include B sides, as well as live tracks and demos. The interesting thing is that we will show the evolution of the songs: how the riffs were born, how they went through the rehearsals, how they were recorded as demos and finally arrived to the studio”.

The remaster was approached by Paul Logus, who also worked on the last two Anthrax’s studio albums -“Worship music” (2011) and “For all kings”-. “He is one of the best”, explains Benante. “Sometimes he grabs something that doesn’t sound so good and powers it to 100%”. According to the drummer, the original cover of “State…” will most likely remain intact in the reissue.

As for the release, Charlie says: “Everything is ready, we are just waiting for Universal to give us a date. We are waiting and waiting, and they are scratching their butts! It’s quite annoying. I hope it comes out this year, because otherwise the anniversary sense gets lost”.

-After “State …”, you composed “In my world”, a song refering the dark moments as a band. Were you suffering a period like that?

-We were very fortunate with many things that happened, and very unfortunate with others. The tour of “State of euphoria” was very positive, and we were happy with what happened to “Among the living” and “I’m the man” (1987). But there are a lot of dark stories within the groups. In life you will experience ugly days: that’s normal and we are humans. There we really felt in a state of euphoria, very happy, because years before we were not even a band! And there we were in 1988, playing with our favorite groups, like Iron Maiden and Motörhead. The negative part was the people who wanted to “get out of the way” because we were so happy, wearing those shorts and posing in pictures with skateboards… they tried to get us down. That was a reflection we did when “Persistence of time” (1990) arrived, and we were heading into a darker sound.

-Years into the new century, John Bush and Joey Belladonna seemed to enter and leave the band. You even analyzed the possibility of having both recording a double disc. Was that a real thing?

-I don’t remember that…

-You said that in a 2006 interview with the French magazine “Heavy Music”.

-I remember speaking about doing a “once in a lifetime” style tour, with both singing their half of the concert.

-And why it didn’t happen?

-I don’t think it was such a good idea (laughs).

WHEN THE BODY SPEAKS…

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For almost two decades, Charlie Benante has been dealing with the “carpal tunnel syndrome”, a condition characterized by numbness and tingling of the hand and the arm. Although there are several treatments to cope, the disease is complicated if you are one of the fastest drummers of thrash metal.

“When you are 22 years old and you do show after the other without resting, it’s logical that at some point something like this will come. And it eventually happened to me”, Benante adds. “My current situation is the same as it was a while ago: I can only play two or three weeks, and then I need to rest my hands before returning. A lot of colleagues suffer the same, and I think it’s because of the abuse we did playing live”.

-Did you change your technique after this?

-Yes, I did. I modified the position of the drums and the way I play. That helped me a lot, in fact.

-What’s the scenery for the next years? Do you think you’re going to get better?

-(Thinks). I guess I’m going to suffer this for the rest of my career, and I don’t want to get to the point where I can’t play anything else, you know?

-I suppose it was a “relief” to find the diagnostic in time and to be able to take some precautions…

-Oh, absolutely. Believe me: the worst thing is to be on stage and not being able to feel the hand at the sixth or the seventh song, and to feel it completely asleep! Playing live got painful for me. And to be able to continue with the show I even got to put my hand in a bucket full of ice between songs, and also used other things to heal my hand and continue. Until I said: “I can’t play anymore feeling like this”.

-You got this problem a few years ago, right?

-Yes, fifteen years back, but it came and go. I treated myself with acupuncture and a lot of things, but we all knew that eventually this day would come. I never want to feel like this again.

-The positive side is that you could work more in the “operational” side of Anthrax: from doing the covers, to compose songs while the group is touring.

-Yes. I apologize to some fans who are disappointed because I’m not on all tours, but I prefer to be there next time… (Thinks and breaks himself). I don’t know, it’s a difficult thing. It a very sensitive subject for me.

-Anthrax plays a lot. Instead of hiring backup drummers -like Jon Dette and Gene Hoglan- didn’t you think about shortening the tours?

-I would love to do that if we could, it would be the perfect balance. It’s like the case of Metallica, that plays and leave a space in the middle. They can, we don’t.

-Why?

-Because they have a lot more of money than Anthrax (laughs).

A PROMISING RECORD

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Since the arrival of guitarist Jonathan Donais, a special enthusiasm flies over the band. A proof of that is that bassist Frank Bello began to frequent “jam nights” in pubs, where he tests his songs before introducing them to his peers.

Benante, on the other hand, likes to receive feedback through social networks. That’s why, every time he has a good riff -remember that he is also a guitarist-, he shares it in his Instagram account. “Definitely, those bits of songs are going to be on the next album,” he admits confidently.

-In the ’80s you were deliberately thinking about the parts that would be for the mosh situations and the so-called “war dances”. Are you still doing that consciously?

-Definitely. I write 100% that way, putting myself on the audience’s side and thinking about what they want to feel and see… things like that. I always believed that, for any artist, it’s important to put yourself in the public’s shoes. And I enjoy the feedback of the social networks. I write songs every day, I can even be driving and an idea pops into my head, so I record it on the phone. I don’t want to end up forgetting a great melody. Jon is so great that we had to extend some “For all kings” songs, because what he was “expressing” needed more time and space.

-Which songs got extended?

-A part of the solo from “Evil twin”, and also “You gotta believe”. We felt that we needed more space, so we said: “Yes, let’s go ahead”. When I see the Dave Matthews Band, who play a totally different genre, I enjoy them grabing the songs and giving them time to develop and flow. I once spoke with their drummer, Carter Beauford, and asked him how he knew how much time to give to the violinist, the saxophonist or the guitarist. He replied: “We always take it that way: if he has ‘all this’ to say, we let him do it. And we realize when it’s over”. That’s one of the most beautiful things about being a musician: being able to express everything you want. If you have something to tell… then go and do it!

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