THE ARCHIVE ORGAN INTERVIEW...  LONDON  -  JUNE 2003                                    HOME
ANTHRAX  
So, the ‘thrax, massive massive part of the mid/late 80’s musical landscape, rising out of the New York hardcore underground just as metal and punk were fussssing together… ah, you know the history - that tour with Metallica, that Madhouse and getting caught in a mosh and….. well, they kind of lost their way and made some pretty average albums as they became the metal establishment rather than the ones kicking over the establishment…. And then we encountered them again opening for Motorhead late last year and it was kind of “who cares?” until they hit the stage and…. well we got the fire again, we remembered why and how, there it was, Anthrax, a love reborn as I raced in to the pit….

A couple of months later and we, we this time being Sean and Shaari Sue, tagged-teamed with Anthrax frontman (and one time Armored Saint) John Bush in a bar in Soho…..

I was really impressed with the Motörhead shows.  I hadn’t seen Anthrax for quite a long time. I saw Anthrax so many times in the ’80s - then you kind of disappeared and we drifted apart. You’d been maintaining a low profile - you’ve not been gigging in this country, and hey, that show really just reminded me…... like meeting an old flame you know…

JB:  The last record we had came out in 1998.  We played one show in England, and that was at the Astoria.  The idea was that we were going to play that one show and come back and do a full length tour.  But then our label folded, they basically lost their distribution.  So there was no money and no support, so it just didn’t happen.  A lot of air got sucked out of the balloon, so to speak, and we really didn’t do much touring at all after that, business stuff was in a mess. To cut a long story short we got all that straightened out now and we grabbed the chance to tour with Motörhead, in a sense it’s setting up the record a little.  You know, we did a new song or two live along with all the old stuff.  It was an amazing time.  We just didn’t know how it was going to go...You know, I was surprised: as much as there were old school metal heads there, I was surprised to see a lot of young people there as well.

Yea, there really were a lot of younger people, but then Motorhead are a total institution over here - bollocks to the Queen, she’s just their to sucker the tourists, Lemmy is the real royalty. It was a big tour for Motörhead too, the first time they had ever played Wembley Arena - even when they had records going into the charts at number one they didn’t play Wembley, more and more people want to attend a motorhead show then ever (not so many Angels and riots now though)

JB: I was surprised by the turn out. I don’t know if it’s just cos a lot of older people are having children and telling them “you gotta listen to Motörhead!” or if was just the case of the younger people saying “this is Motörhead AND Anthrax, and these are legendary bands, so we gotta go...”

There was  a strange mix.  A lot of people were there in Anthrax T-shirts, obvious fans, you still have a loyal following…..

JB: Anthrax were a huge band in England in the 80s.  We lost the momentum.  You know we’ve had some problems that are on a much bigger scale than just England - they were more on a global scale.   We just had some problems on the business front....

Was it just on a Business front?  Or do you think it was on a musical front too – did the general idea of what was ‘cool’ change, didn’t Anthrax get a little stale back there for a while?

JB: Perhaps... when I joined the band it was 1992 and we came out with ‘Sound of White Noise.’ But that was also at the start of the grunge movement.  And metal was changing and all the bands that were successful in the 80s, whether they were harder bands, or more glammy bands, hair bands, the whole philosophy of metal became anti-image, anti-everything, you know, Kurt Cobain - it was harder for us.

But Anthrax was all that anyway!

JB: well, I don't know about anti-image.  The media exploited some pretty image-conscious stuff related to the band.

But that was the media!  The band was pretty close to a hardcore ethic in the very early days.

JB: And remains so until this day.  You know, it’s still about the music and it’s all about being loyal to ourselves and true to integrity.  I think that’s what kept us going in the lean years.  In my opinion, the credibility of the music we made stayed the same.  We got great reviews, even in England.  No one said: “Anthrax...this is not good...what happened?”  But things change.  We had some problems and they all added up to what seems like an absence.  Our last record came out five years ago.  These days, that’s a long time.  Especially with peoples mind’s being this wide and attention spans this big (picture appropriate finger gestures that mean narrow and small)...If you are in a band that’s five years old - the band’s considered old.  So a band that’s 20 years old - that’s hard to even fathom!  Regardless of all that - we believe in what we do and we think our new album is amazing.  We love it.

Did you think you had something to prove on that Motörhead tour?  There was a real kind of attitude of “Hey! We’re Here! We’re back, pay attention, show some respect!”

JB:  We do come out with both guns blazing when we play live.  But I don’t think it was necessary to prove to the English and European audience anything more than that we’re a bad-ass band, always have been, always will be.  It was kind of like let’s go out there and be bad-ass and attack!  Like we would be under any circumstances. We’ll have the same energy when we come back and headline.  We don’t ever approach the stage in any other way than that.

But you were playing to an audience that wasn’t particularly your audience on that tour. There were a lot of people who were there for Hawkwind who were opening up on the London gig and then you guys were stuck in the middle.  Motörhead and Hawkwind have a long standing relationship. And it was almost like: “What are these guys doing in the middle of it all?”  And I noticed that from the audience there was a bit of a standoff-ish attitude to start.  But then when you started to remind people of you history...

JB:  I don’t know.  From our standpoint, London is always a hard show to gauge.  Manchester was amazing, and Glasgow was spectacular.  London is a lot like L.A., they’ve just seen it all.  But from our perspective it seemed like a good show.  We were having a great time.

It was an absolutely brilliant show.  But it was kind of like a wake-up call.  I had forgotten how good Anthrax actually are!

JB:  Yea? Really?  aww - thanks a lot, man.  I don’t think it was a conscious thing - like we were standing around back stage before the show with a this-is-London rallying cry. It was a subliminal thing where we wanted to come out and do what we do best.  Our whole thing is that we just need the awareness to provide us with an opportunity. Over the last 5 years, I‘ve been saying that.  You know, I’d rather someone come up to me and say: “your new album sucks!” than for someone to say “you have a new record out?  I had no idea the band were even still together!”  I want people to have the chance to decide for themselves.  But were really proud of what were doing.  You know, another interviewer asked me what’s left to prove?  I just don’t think that’s where we’re coming from anymore.  When you’re younger you feel like taking over the world and to a point, Anthrax did actually take some portion of it over.  But twenty years later, it’s just about making the music.  My quests for world domination have come to an end….

But you still care about pushing the music forward?  Anthrax had always been at the forefront and pushing…

JB:  Absolutely, I think Anthrax do everything but play it safe.  This is a band that has made daring moves through out our career, to some people’s support and some people’s dissatisfaction.

And sometimes to your own chagrin:  I heard you apologising for crossing over metal and rap and causing us to have to suffer Limp Bizkit.

JB:  I was?  I did?  No, I think that was Scott at Wembley.  But of course that was just a tongue in cheek joke.

But the point being that Anthrax were there with that crossover even before the record with Public Enemy and at the same time crossing the hardcore and metal scenes.  In the early days it was all the New York Hardcore logos on the T-shirts and that got a lot of metal kids over here checking out that scene and discovering bands like Cro-mags, Anthrax introduced those bands to whole lot of new people.  And with the Public Enemy collaboration, there were a lot of kids that started listening to rap due to Anthrax.

JB:  That’s awesome.  People do ask sometimes how we feel about then newer groups -  do we feel like they owe us something?  Absolutely not!  There’s a new generation of kids.  If we are lucky, if bands of this new generation say that they were influenced by us, the kids will check us out too.  I do find that we are name checked by bands - which is just great.

Do you feel like you have a responsibility to the bands that have come after you or to the people that listen to your music?

JB: Do you mean in terms of the music we make?   I’d say just a little responsibility.  But as an artist, I think the most important thing is to love what you do.  If you love what you do that should translate into people feeling that. People should be able to say: “wow, I feel okay in feeling this cos I see that he feels it too.”  Just because a band repeats record after record, doesn’t mean that they are being loyal or true to what they do.  I think it’s more a case of them being safe and maybe they’re bumping up against their limitations.  Our attitude has always been that we can do whatever we want.  We had a country song on our last album and hey, that’s unusual, but we did it and it worked.

But isn’t that what people should expect from Anthrax?  A country song or a rap song or anything out of the ordinary...

JB:  Exactly.  As long as it feels natural to us and doesn't feel forced, as long as it feels like it’s coming out of you, like music should I think that’s great.  I don’t want to talk badly about bands, but there are bands where every album sounds like every other record they’ve done in the past and they claim consistency - well, I think that’s just plain playing it safe.

So what you are saying is that your commitment is to passion and to the expression of the passion... A few minutes ago you said that you have the experience of the music coming through you - can you talk about that a little bit more about that?

JB:  Well, I can only answer that for myself - but sometimes my music can give me goosebumps.  I don’t know.  I’m not a narcissistic guy, I don’t sit around saying: “Dude, I’m awesome.”  But when you can make something that when you do listen to it you feel the power of it coming back, and not just the chords or the volume, but the conviction, that’s all you can really ask of yourself as a musician.  We can’t control if the people will want to buy our records, or how people perceive us, but we can control the music we make.  At the end of the day, I’m just trying to be true to myself.  If it happens to connect to millions of people, than that’s amazing.  I do think about Kurt Cobain, the way he was called the voice of a generation. I don’t even know if he was a voice for himself.  So I think that title may have been too big.  He was just trying to write a good quality rock and roll song.  I don’t think that when he wrote ‘smells like teen spirit’ he thought he was about to touch a whole generation.  He was just writing a song for himself and that’s why it was organic and that’s why it felt so natural and that’s why people were touched.

When you write a song, can you tell if it’s going to touch people?

JB: Well, you don’t always know.  You don’t always feel ‘it’.  Making records is strange, in the process of writing it, you hope that things will align and it will be an amazing song.  The strange irony is that some songs you think aren’t quite there, but when you record them, they come together just right.  But other songs you write and you think “this is a winner!” but then when you record it, you think “not so much.”  What I really think, deep down in my soul is that making a record is a true ‘record’ of the time.  Because we put this record out 2003 - this is our stamp on 2003.  Our last record was our take on 1998.  So that’s why to me it’s bizarre when people make the same record year after year, because as a human being, you are constantly changing and developing.  How can you stagnate yourself like that.

When you listen to an AC/DC record, you wonder what they’ve been doing with themselves for the last few years?

JB: AC/DC are a good example.  I love AC/DC with all my heart, but they are the perfect example of it.  They make the same record over and over, only it’s just not as good.  Can they do anything different?  Probably not...At this point, why not try and do something new?  I mean it’s not like they are going to be affected financially!  Come on!  It’s AC/DC.

So how do feel when you sit back and listen to your old records?  Is it coming around again?  You can listen to some stuff from the 80s and you’re thinking  “did I actually like that? What was I doing with that Cinderella album? how could I ever have liked this poop”  But then you can listen to some stuff, like Armored Saint (JB’s old band) and you think “ah yes….”

JB: Thanks!  As far as the old albums, to me, they just sound like that time.  It’s hard to be timeless.  That’s something that you do aspire to.  I think that the Zeppelin records still sound fresh.  Maybe it’s just because of who they are, they’re kings.

Well, that’s my point.  Anthrax at Wembley reminded me how timeless this band is.  And I think that most of the audience felt that way.

JB:  One thing that I think makes us seem a bit timeless is the way we write our songs.  We don’t like the meaning of the lyrics to be clear.  Not only do we want each person to interpret the song differently - but we want each person to get different meanings from it across time.  As silly as this sounds, the song ‘Stairway to Heaven’, I still don’t know what it means.  It still gets me thinking.

It makes you wonder? Hey, it may not mean anything you know?

JB: It may not, and in a way I hope it doesn’t. The whole point is it always stays rather fresh because the meaning changes for me all the time.  I think if there’s one thing that does stay constant in the meaning of our songs is the theme of perseverance.

I have to go back in time here and just be a bit self indulgent because you did one front one of my favourite bands - Just a bit about your personal history: what was is it like when you were in Armored Saint and you the call to come join Anthrax?

JB: It was actually a bit hard, because the guys in Armored Saint and I grew up together.  Leaving, was very difficult, because of the friendship.  It was the right thing to do, but it was hard.

Were your band mates supportive?

JB: for the most part. But it was sad, because they knew it was over.  We did get together recently to do a couple of things that were pressure-free and fun.  And it helped it get things in perspective.  We didn’t have to think about doing it to make a living because that was already taken care of.  It was more like we were doing it just for fun.  That’s something I forgot about.  It’s something that I need to focus more on.  You know, when I think about it, it’s amazing to still be touring and playing.  On the last tour it was like “there’s Lemmy!  It’s really Lemmy and he’s singing overkill every night!”

But was that really good touring with Lemmy?  He’s such a legend, I don’t know if I’d want to do that and experience the reality, find out he’s a complete tosser or something

JB:  It’s funny you should say that.  Because when it comes to entertainers you hear so many stories about people and how they are horrible people or paedophiles or whatever.  And you think how much you don’t want to know that - you want to just stay in the corner and admire them. But Lemmy... talk about a gentleman and a real person and humble and a nice guy.  Even though he’s a legend, it’s not affected him.  He’s just down to earth.

Ok, we’ve just gotten the 5 more minutes signal, so Shaari is gonna jump ahead and ask the same question I always ask:  What’s your definition of Freedom?

JB:  Wow.  People think they are free, but most people don’t live like they are. I guess one way to do that would be to be really sure of yourself, really ok with yourself.  Regardless of who you are, and your flaws, and other people’s judgements about you, that your still free with yourself. Which is not easy to do, but I do strive for that on a daily basis.  My wife laughs at me, because I keep telling her that my goal is to die with out owning anything: I give things away all the time, I don’t have a huge garage full of stuff.  The only collection I have is about 6 boxes of magazines that I’ve been in, and I just started that for the sake of having something.  Other than that, I just don’t want to clutter up my world with possessions.  That’s a way to be free.  But I know that doesn’t work for everyone.

- There you have it, Anthrax, I’d forgotten how much they meant to me before that Motorhead tour

Anthrax’s latest album “We’ve Come For You All” is out now on Nuclear Blast, get the latest news at www.anthrax.com, (buy it mailorder via www.plastichead.com) meanwhile there’s a new Armored Saint DVD - A Trip Thru Red Times – check out www.armoredsaint.com.
 

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