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INTERVIEW: Charlie Benante – Anthrax

Considered one of the biggest bands in heavy metal, US thrashers ANTHRAX have enjoyed a fruitful and lengthy career decorated with success. Often cited as the band’s signature album, Among The Living celebrates a major milestone in 2017, turning 30 years old and to celebrate the band have been performing the record in its entirety on a widespread headlining tour of Europe and the UK. Before a show in Manchester (read our review here) we caught up with drummer Charlie Benante to talk about the tour and reflect on the iconic album, from stories laced in nostalgia to its place in heavy metal’s history books.

So we are about half way into the UK dates of this tour, how has the tour been for you so far?

Charlie: It’s been really good! Maybe because we haven’t done a tour like this in a long time, a headlining tour of the UK, it’s grown and it’s built and maybe people are really hungry to see a headlining tour from us and the fact we’re playing the record in full doesn’t help either.

So obviously that is the main focus of this tour, playing Among The Living in full, but the second half of the set playing other songs from your career. How have you chosen the songs for that area of your set?

Charlie: We did a poll and fans can vote for what songs they want to hear and those are the songs we’ve been playing. It makes it a little difficult sometimes because the band itself doesn’t feel like it is one of our favourites to play but you go for it anyway, which is the challenge of doing a full album. So last night I said let’s change it up a bit as we were doing the record in chronological order and I just got bored with that because what happens is at the beginning of the set you’re playing all those favourites and then you have to play the deeper cuts. I always felt you start up here and then you take it down and then it goes back up, so I said let’s mix it up, I don’t think people coming here are expecting to hear it in order, they just want to hear the Among The Living album. So we did it last night, we changed it around and it was way better! We had a nice flow.

So do you feel by mixing it up it keeps fans on their toes?

Charlie: It keeps us on our toes because when you look down at the setlist it’s like “okay it’s Among The Living, Caught In A Mosh, I Am The Law, Indians”, you’re playing those popular songs. So when you look down and you have these last three that aren’t really crowd favourites, for me it just takes a bit of time.

With Among The Living being 30 years this year and it is such a milestone and you have cited that it is your signature album, at the time of recording 30 years ago, did you know you were onto something special?

Charlie: Well there was a nice little giggle when we were recording it, we knew there were at least four songs that were very very strong. You just know something, when you hear a good song you just know that’s a good song. I mean of course we have been wrong before but those songs that are on that album are still in the set to this day so that tells you something about it!

At the time of recording, it was your third album, what was the mood of the band at the time?

Charlie: That was such a whirlwind I swear some of it was a blur! I don’t remember it because we were going from point A to point B, it was crazy! You also have to understand we were still just kids, I was in art school, you know two albums prior to that. I left art school to go on tour and I’ve never had the chance to go back to art school so you have to understand that I don’t think I was prepared for what had happened and for what was to come so I was just kind of going with it.

As you just mentioned, so many of the songs on that record have become a staple of your live set. Looking back at that album how do you think it holds up in the history books of heavy metal?

Charlie: If anything, I think it was an influential record. In that after the album was released I get a lot of that from other bands who say that record really shaped the band they were going to have. I think we were mixing up things that were an early influence on us, like IRON MAIDEN, MOTORHEAD and some of that punk rock and hardcore sound that some of us really liked in New York and we were just crossing it all together and just making that kind of sound.

So when you compare Among The Living to everything ANTHRAX has put out prior and after, how do you think it holds up? Is it one of your favourite albums that you’ve worked on?

Charlie: Well about four or five years ago I was working on the special edition of the record and I had to go into the vault and dig out some stuff and I totally revisited that whole time again. I was pretty happy with it! One of the other things we did on that record which was kind of weird but we had to do it was work with Eddie Kramer, because for me, Eddie Kramer was someone I always wanted to work with because he did some of my favourite records like KISS and LED ZEPPELIN. We just had to work with him! So that was a very strange thing at first because Eddie wanted to make a record that we didn’t want to make, he wanted to make a 90s record and by that he wanted to make a very atmospheric heavy type of thing. We were like fuck that, take away all the reverb, we wanted dry and heavy. So once we got that balanced down, it was smooth sailing. A funny story about that record is that we mixed it at a studio called Compass Point which the head of the label, the owner of the label, Island Records, this was his studio. So we had the chance to go and mix our record in the Bahamas and this was the studio that IRON MAIDEN used! So we get there first night and U2 had just finished The Joshua Tree, the last minute mixing. Bono and the guys were at this bar, this local bar down there, just having drinks and we missed them by minutes! It would have been nice to see those guys there. And another funny story is that our manager at the time, he rented a car and one of the assistants there who worked for the studio, he took a bunch of money to go get supplies for us and he took our manager’s car, he never came back! Two weeks later they find our car on the opposite side of the island, he was gone! [laughs]

So when you are coming into this tour playing the album in full and looking back on the album, does it bring back all these feelings of nostalgia and funny stories?

Charlie: Oh absolutely! It brings back a really good time and it was a time where this movement, like thrash metal with these other bands that were linked that would become the big four, it was a time of really good comradery and a little bit of competitiveness too, but it was good! It just made for better records.

So flash forward to now, 30 years later, you are up to album number eleven; For All Kings. Have you been happy to the reception of your latest album?

Charlie: Oh yeah, it’s been awesome! If you would of told me that we would have a top ten record in America and around the world it would have charted pretty high I would have said no way! We took something that I felt was a little broken, fixed it, and took it on a very positive turn.

And now up to album number eleven and with a career that spans decades, what has been some of your highlights in your career with ANTHRAX?

Charlie: Oh wow, I don’t know. Speaking in let’s say just the UK, I would say some the highlights in the history of the band for the UK would be the first time we played our first show in London and that was memorable! Lemmy was there in the dressing room, it was surreal! And the love we felt from the audience was just amazing and the next time we felt that was when we played Donnington, it was the same thing. It was just so amazing you know? I don’t know, it’s just one of those things where you know when you hit the stage and you can feel this vibe you know it is going to be a great show. Those two shows always stood out to me.

Did you ever expect to get to this level?

Charlie: No, it just happened and you know, we worked hard at it but there has to be a bit of luck to it too. Nobody just snaps their fingers and it’s here, there’s other bands that I see that I feel they don’t deserve this [laughs]. Just some bands are so overrated and people just don’t get it and you see these other bands that are just really good.

And really just to close off, once this tour comes to a conclusion what else is in store for ANTHRAX for the rest of the year?

Charlie: Well once this tour has finished we’re going back to American to start a tour with KILLSWITCH ENGAGE, that takes us across America and then I think we are coming back to do a certain number of festivals, not the whole thing. Bloodstock for us was awesome! That was one of the best gigs we’ve played here and once that happens, you can’t expect it to happen again, there were just certain things that made it that way. Who knows? Maybe in two years or three years we do it again and it will be the same.

Well brilliant, best of luck for tonight and the rest of the tour, thank you so much for talking to me Charlie.

Charlie: Thank you.

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