För en tid sedan besökte Anthrax Sverige för att fira 30-åringen “Among the living”. När de besökte Stockholm satt vi ned med Scott Ian för att prata om just det albumet, men även om Stephen King, humor och politisk korrekthet.
Could a record like “Speak English or die” come out in 2017? Yes and no. I would probably take a whole lot more fucking shit for it than I did in 1985. In 1985 I would always answer “How could you say that?” with “Because it´s a fucking joke!” It was just a different planet.
What led you to work with Eddie Kramer on ”Among the living”? Was it because of what he had done with KISS?
Yeah, amongst others, yes. We loved his work in the 70´s. He had made so many of the records that we all grew up with. We didn´t even think he would work with us, “Eddie Kramer´s not gonna work with us.”, but then someone at Island Records obviously contacted him and he said yes. We were excited, it was like “Holy shit, Eddie Kramer´s gonna make an Anthrax record!” We were just a bunch of kids, I was 22 years old when we started working with him and recording that album. It was pretty mindblowing to be sitting in the studio listening to him tell stories about Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix and KISS. It was fucking mindblowing!
What did you learn from working with Kramer?
I learned how to stand up for myself, because when he started mixing the record… we came into the studio the first day of mixing and we got there around 7 o´clock at night and he had a mix ready for us to hear and it didn´t sound like Anthrax. Everything was a big wash of reverb and it didn´t sound right. We asked him “What´s this?” and he said “Well, I´m trying to make a modern metal record.”, because at the time “Pyromania” (Def Leppard, 1987) was like the biggest record in the world and it had that Mutt Lange production on it and nobody had ever heard that before. Eddie was trying to make our record sound like that kind of a modern metal record, but we don´t play songs like Def Leppard. That production works on “Pyromania” because of those songs, but we don´t play songs like Def Leppard. It doesn´t work on “Caught in a mosh” To me, it literally sounded like I was listening to a broken washing machine. It just didn´t sound right. We were like “This isn´t working, man. We want it to be really in your face and dry, like the records you made in the 70´s. We want a 70´s sounding metal record, like what Anthrax would sound like with a 70´s production. Very dry and tight and everything up front and in your face.” He didn´t want to do that. His attitude was like “I already did that.” And our attitude was like “Well, we don´t want to sound like Def Leppard either. It doesn´t work.” I had to stand up to Eddie Kramer. We got into a big argument and I said to him “Look, you´re gonna make 500 more albums, but this is could be our last album! You get to go and make all these other records with other bands, but this is our record. This is an Anthrax record and it has to sound like Anthrax. That´s the bottomline. It has to sound like what we want.” He was not happy. We kinda got into it, it got a little heated and we actually yelled at each other, but it didn´t matter. My opinion was so strong about it. I said “I don´t care what you think and I don´t care if you´re mad and I don´t care if you quit! We´re gonna make the album the way we wanna make it and they way this sounds, it´s not Anthrax.” He said “Fine! Come back in three hours!” We all went to the bar down the road from the studio and we came back a couple of hours later. He put up the mix and I think he on purpose went out of his way to literally pull every bit of reverb, everything and what´s crazy is that it sounded good, because all our tones were so good and the whole recording process went so well. It sounded great and the levels were all there. It really sounded like a really fucking punchy in your face metal record. He saw how excited we were about it so he got excited. We said “It´s ok if you put some stuff on the vocals and maybe a little bit on the snare here or something, but we just want it to be tight. This is what we´re talking about.” From that point on it went great, because we loved what we were hearing. It sounded like what you hear when you listen to “Among the living” It sounded like that in the room and we were all very excited. If I learned anything it was that it doesn´t matter who you´re working with, you have to stand up for yourself and your band. You can´t let someone else dictate to you what your band+s gonna sound like.
If you hadn´t stood up for yourselves…
It could´ve been the end of our career. It literally could have ended our career if that record would´ve come out the way he wanted it to sound. But I knew that. “That´s not us! It doesn´t sound like us.” If we knew anything at that point in our lives, we knew what we sounded like and we had a very, very strong self-awareness of who we were as a band and how we were supposed to sound and we weren´t gonna let anybody fuck with that.
The guy (Don Brautigam) that did the artwork for the album was the same guy that did Metallica´s “Master of puppets” (1986) and also Mötley Crüe´s “Dr Feelgood” (1989). Did that come about through Metallica?
No, he had actually done a couple of book covers for Stephen King as well, so I already knew of him. He had done the paperback version of “The Stand” (1978). I might even have been the one and I can be totally wrong, but I might have been the one who might´ve pointed him out to Johnny Z (Megaforce Records) back in the day, like “Look at the art on these books! It´s really cool!” and somehow someone got a hold of him to start doing album covers.
It´s been said that the album cover depicts the evil that surrounds us and if that´s the case, it still fits very well with the world we live in today?
For me, the album cover is specifically from “The Stand”. The character in the middle, to me, is the representation of Randall Flagg and his minions who just follow him blindly out of fear and only fear, because he´ll murder them if they don´t do what he wants to do. Randall Flagg is kind of this character that shows up in many of his books and he´s kind of the embodiment of evil. Personally I´ve always had that same kind of feeling about any organized religion and certainly in these days with extremism. But it´s nothing new. It´s been going on for thousands of years. The thing that nobody understands is that there´s no solution to this problem. Everyone´s always looking for a solution to it, but there is no solution. It´s more about figuring out a way to how do you actually coexist on the planet where we all have to breathe the same air. How you do that, I don´t know because there is no solution. Genocide isn´t the solution. Don´t look to me for answers. I´m just a voyeur, I´m just watching what goes on.
What is it about Stephen King? You seem like a big fan of his.
Yeah, I´ve read every book. Some multiple times. I don´t know. What is it about any author, what is it about any band or movie actor or director? I don´t know. It moves me in a way… I like plenty of other authors too, but it´s just the way he writes. I like the words he puts together in the sentences. I just really like his style and I like the worlds he builds and the characters he creates. Obviously there are a few other people on the planet who feel the same way.
I got to see your spoken word show in Stockholm a year and a half ago. Funny as hell. Growing up, were you into guys like Richard Pryor, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy?
For sure. I´ve been a comedy fan since forever. Since I was a kid, watching “The Honeymooners” with my dad. It was a TV-show from the 1950´s with Jackie Gleason. I would watch the reruns in the 1970´s all the time. Who doesn´t love to laugh? I´ve been a fan of comedians my whole life and I love comedy. I love that I´m able to take ridiculous moments of my life and have people engage in that and have people connect to these stories from my life in a comedic way. I´m not a joke writer and I´m not a stand-up by any means. I´m not writing jokes, I don´t know how to do that. I suppose I could try, but I´ve never done it, let’s put it that way. One time… sorry! I did a proper stand up set one time, maybe about a year and a half ago. I´m friends with a guy named Brendon Small. He´s got a band called Dethklok. He´s a stand-up comedian and a writer and he does a monthly show in LA called “Baked” with musicians and comedians and he puts a band together and they play songs. I got to be a part of the show one time and he asked “Do you wanna get up and do stand-up?” and I said “Fuck no! I don´t know how to do that. I just tell stories.” He said “Just go up and tell a story for ten minutes!”, but I didn´t wanna do that and I challenged myself to take some of my material and see if I could kinda retool it into a stand-up set and do ten minutes of jokes. I did it and I was never so scared in my life. Standing in a room in front of 50 people in this tiny little club. I get up and I did my ten minutes and it went so well that I did it again at the late show. I had so much fun doing it I did it again. I haven´t done it since, because literally, who has time? But it was a really cool thing to get up and actually do that and to know that I could put together ten minutes and make it happen. I still prefer the story telling kinda thing than actual jokes. For me it just works better.
These days there´s a lot of talk about how everything has to be politically correct. John Cleese has talked about this and he hates that. What´s your take on that?
Look, I made a record called “Speak English or die” (S.O.D.) in 1985… There´s no serious intent behind the title of that record. There´s a context, a comedic context to the title of that record and if you delve into the lyrics on the whole album and you know where I´m coming from… it´s coming from a comic strip about a zombie, a dead guy. He´s not a racist, he hates anything living. He hates flowers as much as he hates Jews, let´s put it that way. That´s the whole context behind the whole thing. It was written as this character who hates everyone. Is it politically correct? Hell no! It´s a certain type of sense of humour. I wasn´t screaming fire in the movie theatre out of context to panic or upset people. I wasn´t “sieg heiling” at a fucking Jewish rally. I´m a Jewish kid, by the way. I wasn´t doing things just to shock people. There was a context behind it, there was a comedic context behind the whole thing that made that record, yes, politically incorrect but at the same time ok because we´re not Nazis. Never were, never will be. We´re also not misogynists. I also don´t scream for milk in the morning if I run out. I don´t get upset. There´s a context behind what I did. All of that being said, yes, I still agree that the politically correct thing is a little out of control these days, but we live in a different world than we did in 1985 and some of this… I feel like we´re kinda dancing around a subject here. You know, Phil Anselmo did something last year that upset a lot of people, me included, because I commented publicly on it and I only commented publicly because Phil is my friend and I think that´s what friends do. I think friends look out for each other. Before I commented publicly I did reach out to him and we did have an e-mail discussion back and forth about all of it and I told him why I was going to say something. I had nothing but love for him as a friend and as a brother I just want people to not think of him as this person, because I know deep down he isn´t a Nazi. Anyway… because there was no context behind what he did, you know what I mean? “Speak English or die” is a completely different animal than what happened with Phil and it´s because of the world we live in now. We live on a different planet and words can really hurt you now, more than just hurt your feelings. Words get people killed in the world we live in. People die because of things people say or things people draw or things people write about in the press or in songs. People get murdered in the world we live in now. It´s fucking crazy! It´s a fucking scary place. I hate to be a person who says “You really have to be careful!”, but in some ways you do, you really do. Could a record like “Speak English or die” come out in 2017? Yes and no. I would probably take a whole lot more fucking shit for it than I did in 1985. In 1985 I would always answer “How could you say that?” with “Because it´s a fucking joke!” It was just a different planet.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Björn Olsson, Josefin Wahlstedt