ANTHRAX: Scott Ian Interview! Riffs, Jacksons, Anniversaries and Stephen King!
Published on 07 October 2022
Thrash legends. One of the Big Four, alongside Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer. First metal band to be heard on Mars. Genre-innovators, with collaborations with Public Enemy and Twin Peaks’ Angelo Badalamenti.
There’s quite a lot you can say about Anthrax, really. Such a band deserves a decent celebration if they make it to the grand old age of 40, a relative rarity in music. That’s just what they did, and although covid put paid to them bringing their 40th Anniversary tour to the UK last year, it’s now a year on and Anthrax are here with their full-on metal assault! A band at this level of pedigree and experience is a thing to behold indeed. 41st Anniversary? Yeah, why not?
Last time we caught up with guitarist Scott Ian, it was to chat about his work on the most recent record by avant-garde metallers Mr Bungle. This time, it’s all about Anthrax, with maybe a little diversion into the world of Stephen King…
Scott Ian Interview
guitarguitar: Scott, last time we spoke, it was all about Mr Bungle, so it’ll be good to chat about Anthrax this time!
Scott Ian: Sure! Of course!
GG: So, 40 years! Most bands do not make it to that age.
SI: 41 now! Haha!
GG: Fair enough! Thanks to Covid, exactly! So, the first thing I thought of asking you is a pretty simple one: what’s the secret to longevity in this industry? How did you make it to 41 years as a band?
SI: For me, it’s gotta be fun. Playing music that puts a smile on your face and makes you happy. Because so much of it isn’t fun, that if actually being in a band and getting in a room with your buddies and playing music isn’t fun anymore, or if getting on stage and playing shows isn’t fun anymore - or getting to record a record isn’t fun anymore - then you’re never gonna make it!
But for me, the fact that I love doing all those things - I love all of that, anything that has to do with the creative aspect of music - and getting to be with my friends in a room and play guitar with Charlie and Frankie and Joey and John, that still puts a big old smile of my face. I can’t believe it, I’m like, ‘Check us out, we’re fucking Anthrax!’ (laughs) Like, we’re a band and we get to do this! We’re privileged that people around the planet have connected with us enough that we get to do this, right? I mean, how could you not smile?
So, for me, that’s the secret. If it stopped being fun, we’d have been outta this ages ago.
GG: Totally! Brilliant answer. Now, in those 41 years, Anthrax have done lots of innovative things, like the collab with Public Enemy, or being the first metal band on Mars, the song with Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks composer), all that kind of stuff. Are there ambitions or anything else that you want to try within Anthrax that haven’t happened yet?
SI: (pause) That’s a good question! (laughs) Uh, you know, we’ve always wanted to write a song from the ground up with Chuck (Chuck D, Public Enemy vocalist), that’s something we’ve talked about forever. We’ve even gone back and forth on it, but it’s not like it’s something that’s just like Bring the Noise Part 2, you know what I mean? It needs to be different than that, but to do something with Chuck and have it be incorporated into Anthrax, and Anthrax incorporated into Chuck, and make something that we love. I think that’s something that will happen, because it absolutely can, because we’re friends and we love each other. I still think his voice is the heaviest thing ever, and his voice and my guitar tone together are the best thing ever, you know? So I would like to see that come to fruition at some point.
GG: Hell yeah, I’d love to hear that. So, knowing what you know now, is there anything you wished you could tell your younger self?
SI: Probably, ah…wear better shoes? (laughs) Wear more supportive shoes on stage in the 80s! I look back at videos sometimes at live stuff of us from the 80s and early 90s and I hadn’t really learned how to pull my stomping yet, I know how to do it now so it looks like I’m stomping real hard but I’m actually kinda pulling it. Back then I was just literally smashing my feet into the floor as hard as I could. Y’know, that’s not good for anybody!
Yeah, I wish I coulda worn more supportive shoes in the 80s, because your back and your knees and everything start to pay for that after a while! I guess that would be the one thing! (laughs)
GG: Haha, that’s good! Of everything! Totally!
SI: Yeah, of everything! Haha! Your back’s gonna feel like shit in a couple of decades, because of this! (laughs)
GG: On a complete tangent, you’ve got some awesome Jackon signature guitars. Obviously, you’ll get a load of them but is there one particular guitar from them that’s your go-to?
SI: I definitely have quite a few go-tos! The thing is, I can’t have sixty guitars in the house, so…I mean, I have at some point! Sadly, I live in an area where we have fires, so I tend to try and keep the guitars to a minimum in the house, so that if there was a fire - if that ever did happen - I wouldn’t lose a whole bunch of guitars. But yeah, I tend to keep certain ones around.
But, they change! I have older go-tos, like literally my original Rhoads from ‘82. I’ve used it on every record in some way, shape or form. It always comes to the studio, and with every band too, not just Anthrax. Anything I’ve ever done, that guitar shows up. It gets used because I just feel like it has the mojo: it needs to be on the record! I’ll show you just quickly. (Scott disappears off my screen and returns with a beautiful natural-finish Soloist)
My go-to of late has been this one. You know, the King V has been my sig model for a couple of years now but I’m still a Soloist guy as well. They built me this solid Korina Soloist, y’know, old school San Dimas style. This is straight outta 1982! It feels so good, plays so well, sounds so good! I’ve kept this thing close to me - and I haven’t had it very long, maybe a year and a half or something - but this is the one that’s certainly been in my hands the most of late.
GG: That is absolutely beautiful! And is it a Seymour Duncan there?
SI: Yeah, it’s a JB. I finally have a new signature model pickup coming, which is yet to be named because I haven’t thought of anything good yet.
GG: Loving that! On that subject, when we spoke about the Mr Bungle stuff, you brought the Marshall head that you love but you were also experimenting with the EVH 5150.
GG: Have you stuck with that since?
SI: Yeah, the Bungle tone was the combination of both. I was gonna do that same thing on the tour we just did in the States, because for my live rig, I’m running two of the EVH III’s with the EL34s. So, two heads into two cabinets, that’s it. And I told my tech Armando, I said, ‘Hey, let’s bring the Marshall to rehearsal too’ and I didn’t even use the TC Electronic box, I used my KHK pedal in front of it. We combined it with the EVH and of course it sounded great, but it was really kinda unnecessary for the live rig. Really, the EVH’s are covering all the ground I need. Live, it’s so fucking monster-sounding and crushingly heavy, I didn’t like that little bit of maybe mids or something that the Marhsall had, it didn’t even need it. It was so big and loud that really, if you turned the Marshall up, it wasn’t like there was a huge hole or something.
I think it works better in the studio, when things are way more under the microscope.
GG: Yeah, they are ultimately different things I guess. Also, it was standard tuning with Bungle, and 9 gauge strings. I wonder, is that the situation with Anthrax?
SI: Bungle was Eb.
GG: Eb, sorry.
SI: Yeah, Eb and I went to 9s on the guitar because playing all that crazy, crazy fast stuff, I quickly realised that when the low E was a .052 or even heavier, not only was it harder to play, the tone wasn’t right. I mean, everything I recorded in the 80s was 9-42 and in standard, basically. With Anthrax, it’s the same these days. Years ago with Joey, all the songs that we recorded in standard, we’d play live in standard, because Joey doesn’t need anything tuned down for signing. So, on the stuff that’s in standard, I’m playing 9s. We do have some songs that are in Eb with a drop C sharp, like Keep It In the Family or In The End, Devil You Know…there are some songs in that tuning. So, on that, I’m using 10-52, I believe, on those.
GG: Awesome! And is it still D’Addario .88 picks? (Scott holds one up to the camera) Yeah, those ones!
SI: And my tech scratches them so I get a really good grip on them. The ol’ Dimebag trick!
GG: The ol’ Dimebag trick! Exactly! So, after the anniversary celebrations are done, what’s next on the agenda for yourself and for Anthrax?
SI: More writing, hopefully getting the record written and done, then of course recorded. There’s no real timeline on that yet but we do have scheduled writing sessions coming up soon-ish. So yeah, getting that done and then figuring out when we’ll go into the studio to record it. That’s number one on the priority list, certainly. I’m pretty sure the plan is to come over and do festivals next summer. I dunno how much of that depends on if the record’s done or not done or blah blah blah: we kinda leave that to managers and agents to figure out that crap, but I’d probably say safe bet we’ll be over there next Summer.
Then I do have some Bungle stuff in South America which I’m super excited about. Charlie’s got a little thing with a reunion with some Pantera guys? (laughs) A tribute to Darrell and Vinne, so he’s got that coming up, which is obviously very exciting. So yeah, I think on all fronts, we’re gonna be busy for the next few years.
GG: Excellent, that’s great news! And so, the last question is more fun than anything else. You and I are both big Stephen King fans. I wondered, for someone who had never read any King before, what do you reckon is the ultimate first book to get them started on the journey?
SI: Um, well if you’re talking about horror, I would probably say read The Shining. I’m looking at my bookcase right now. But overall, I mean, my favourite is The Stand, still.
GG: Me too.
SI: I mean, The Dark Tower series is actually my favourite, but I wouldn’t say ‘jump in by reading these seven books!’ (laughs) and a whole bunch of other side things. I would say either The Shining or The Stand, certainly.
GG: Excellent choices!
And with that, Scott had to move on to one of his other interview commitments. Such is the life of a thrash legend! As always, Scott was a hoot to talk to, and his enthusiasm for what he does remains palpable.
As Anthrax's 40th (41st!) Anniversary tour stomps its way across the world, we can all rest easy that those titans of metal are still passionate about properly bringing it to the people of the world. Stomping, riffing, hair-raising stuff from first crunchy chord to last cheer.
Keep up with Anthrax’s movements via the official Anthrax website.
We’d like to once again thank Scott for making time for us in his busy schedule. Thanks go out also to Warren Higgins for putting us in touch.