INTERVIEW: Jonathan Donais – Anthrax

Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral

WORDS: James Weaver

A band that needs no introduction. For over three decades ANTHRAX have ruled the roost as one of metal’s most influential and successful bands. Consistent success as part of the big four of thrash metal, ahead of the release of album number 11, the sensational For All KingsDistorted Sound spoke to newest member Jonathan Donais to talk about the record, the band’s upcoming special guest performance at this year’s Bloodstock Festival and the current state of heavy metal and the music industry!

So For All Kings is set to release at the end of this month, what are you hoping to achieve with this record?

Jon: Well I really think it’s going to bring the band to the next level. I can say that as a fan because I just wrote the leads and not any of the songs so I can still look at it as a fan and not someone in the band because you know when you write something and you get attached to it? I don’t have that attachment like the other guys. Yeah I think it’s a great album and I think it should do pretty well.

When you first joined the band back in 2013, you described it as a very emotional experience, can you elaborate on that?

Jon: I said it was an emotional experience?!

Yeah according to the press release anyway…

Jon: Hahaha! I don’t remember saying that!

I think it was something to do with because you were a lifelong fan of the band, it was quite a surreal thing to then become a full time member?

Jon: Oh yeah absolutely, because I’m playing for a band I grew up on as a kid so it still is messed up when you look over and see the other guys standing on stage with you. But yeah it’s a dream come true! I’m playing for a band that have been a huge influence for me.

ANTHRAX are considered part of the big four, they’re one of metals most biggest and influential bands. When you joined was there a huge amount of pressure to be able to step up to that level?

Jon: Well yeah, I didn’t even know that I was going to be full time guitar player. I was just filling in for Rob [Caggiano], I was just supposed to do a couple of tours. And it just worked out man they said do you want to stay around? And I was like yeah absolutely!

It’s not something you’re going to say no to is it?

Jon: Yeah! It was easy because they’re easy guys to get along with and I knew them before so it wasn’t like I was jumping in and I didn’t know anybody so that made it easier but yeah, as soon as they asked me if I wanted to stick around I was happy as hell! You know, why wouldn’t I?

So back to For All Kings, can you explain the meaning behind the title, what’s the story, what’s the album trying to portray in terms of its messages?

Jon: See with that, that’s more of a Scott [Ian, guitars] thing, he writes the lyrics, I just did the leads on this record so that’s something I can’t really answer.

Ok, so as you said you brought the leads to the musical side, how was the recording process?

Jon: It was real easy, it was my first time working with Jay Ruston, the guy who produced it, and the way we did it was he would give me the demos of the songs and then I would start writing the leads and then send them to Charlie [Benante, drums]. Charlie would then tell me what direction the leads should go in, there were a few times where it would take a couple of attempts to get him happy!

The record itself is kind of back to ANTHRAX doing what they do best really; it’s a very intense record. There are a lot of solos a lot of very strong riffs. Was there a certain pressure to deliver that or was it just we’re going to make the album that we feel is right?

Jon: well the pressure for me was the first time I had to do anything in the studio, I didn’t know how they worked or necessarily know what they were looking for. So I just did what I did and if Charlie wasn’t happy we just got on the phone and discussed the direction that he wanted to go in and most of the stuff didn’t take more than three demos to get right.

Yeah as well it’s the eleventh album from ANTHRAX, they’ve been on the scene for decades now. And it’s getting to a point where a lot of bands are doing their farewell tours and unfortunately a lot of these titans in our scene are passing away. Is it kind of a surreal experience right now being in a band that is considered to be one of the first metal bands?

Jon: Oh yeah! For sure and then on top of it, I’ve been a fan since I was thirteen, from watching this band on Headbanger’s Ball to seeing them live a bunch of times, to actually be in the band now is pretty crazy!

Yeah of course and it’s quite a special position being in ANTHRAX, you kind of get to see a lot of new bands breaking through, especially with the internet now. How would you say the metal scene is today?

Jon: Well you have LAMB OF GOD selling out big shows so I’d say it’s going pretty good!

And in the summer as well, you guys are coming back to the UK for a special guest slot at Bloodstock Festival, are there any surprises in store for that performance?

Jon: Not that I know of! But then if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise! Haha

Haha! Yeah you got me on that one! But because it will be in support of the new record, can you explain the balance of the set list? Will it mostly be a greatest hits performance or will it be a focus towards a lot of the new material?

Jon: Well you know the guys have a lot of classic songs so you can’t just do a ANTHRAX show without playing certain songs. So I can see it’s hard for the guys to get the setlist because you’ve got all these great songs and especially if they’re the support spot right now, in just 50 minutes you’ve got try and slip these classic songs in 50 minutes plus you want to let people know you’ve got new shit out there too. They’re doing pretty well right now, we’re playing two new songs right now and the rest is you know the classic stuff.

Again with the modern age, the album was leaked on the internet already. Do you think that’s still a massive problem for the music industry that records are getting leaked online and people are hearing it before the intended release date?

Jon: Well I don’t like it because I grew up when things were exciting and you waited months and months to get a record. And going to the record store, it was fun to me because I would sit there and go through the album of a certain band and then just looking through the CD’s was fun, it was fun to do that. And then there’s the magazine section too, I would get all the heavy metal mags and stuff, to me it was exciting to do that. I guess it’s kind of cool for a kid now because they don’t have to pay which was a pain in the ass. I’m older so I don’t dig it and I miss the excitement. But you know if I was thirteen right now, of course I would like the internet because I’d be getting free music haha!

I guess that’s one of the problems, because it’s so easily accessible a lot of kids don’t really see a monetary value to music?

Jon: I think people easily take stuff for granted because you can have too much at once. I remember getting one CD and I would stick with it forever because I couldn’t afford to buy five CD’s a week! I used to save up my lunch money in school just to buy one CD a week and then I would listen to it over and over again. Now it just feels like there’s so much shit and you can get as many CD’s as you want in one day for free. I think the focus on the music or having a favourite band is not as special to them I guess maybe? Because I felt like when I bought something I invested something in it, I’ll listen to this and it was the only thing I can buy for the week so I was stuck with that all week listening to that one CD memorising that album!

At the same time as well though vinyl’s have had a resurge and I can see it on your Facebook you’re having For All Kings pressed onto vinyl so do you think it’s a lot smaller than it used to be but there’s still people saving up to buy one record a week?

Jon: I think the thing with vinyl is it looks cool and it sounds awesome, to me it’s special. If you put vinyl on compared to mp3 it blows it away so it’s great but you know with free music, I don’t know how new bands are going to make a career. Unless you have a massive radio success because now there’s no tour support or anything, you basically have to go out and have no responsibility when you’re starting out and that sucks because there are so many great bands who will probably never get a chance now because they’re not going to get that support.

So do you feel like with being in ANTHRAX you always have a responsibility to make sure these up and coming bands can get heard to new audiences?

Jon: Yeah you want to keep the metal genre alive and keep the bands going because sooner or later all the bands are going to stop and there’ll be nobody so you want to get these younger bands in front of people. It means now with the internet too people can hear them right away and stuff so you get to decide if they like a band or not you don’t have to be like I don’t want to chance it buying a record or not. But hopefully people spend the money on their shows and buy the albums.

Really to close this off, we’ve got you guys coming over here in August for Bloodstock but can UK fans expect a headline tour of the country in the near future?

Jon: Yeah for sure! I don’t know when as this summer we are all booked for the Euro fests and then I don’t know after that but we’ll definitely be around the UK for sure.

Awesome! Well best of luck with the records release and it’s a cracking album, very well done and I look forward to seeing you guys at Bloodstock in the summer!

Jon: Awesome man thank you!

For All Kings is set for release on February 26th via Nuclear Blast Records.