Interview: Anthrax's Scott Ian on new 2011 album Worship Music

Anthrax's Scott Ian gets serious air during the band's Big Four show in Indio, California, April 2010. © Paul Hebert/Corbis

Heavy metal legends Anthrax will release Worship Music, their tenth studio album, on 12 September (13 September in the US). It's the band's first collection of new material in eight years, and it's also the first to feature singer Joey Belladonna since 1990's Persistence Of Time.

Recorded over a four-year period, Worship Music was intended to be the studio debut of frontman Dan Nelson. But when Nelson left Anthrax and longtime vocalist John Bush wouldn't commit to working with the group on a full-time basis, Belladonna rejoined the lineup.

The results are magical, with Anthrax - which also includes guitarist Scott Ian, lead guitarist Rob Caggiano, drummer Charlie Benante and bassist Frank Bello - sounding more forceful than they have since the '90s. MusicRadar sat down with Scott Ian, Anthrax's sole constant member, to discuss Worship Music, riffs, his new Jackson guitar and what it's going to feel like to play Yankee Stadium next month.

Being that Worship Music is the first Anthrax record Joey has been on in 21 years, did you feel a greater level of pressure or expectation?

"Only from myself, just from the matter of 'What's Anthrax going to sound like in 2011 with Joey Belladonna?' It's a question I've asked myself for years. Our album Sound Of White Noise - what would that have sounded like with Joey? So this big question wasn't new, but now I was finally going to know the answer. It was a reality.

"Actually, to step back, we had already heard Joey sing with us before we went into the studio. On the day before the first Big Four show in 2010, we had a rehearsal with Joey, and he was unbelievable. He was singing songs from the John Bush era, and he just nailed it. The crew guys, who couldn't give a shit, even started cheering once they heard him.

"So live, we felt great about what Joey was doing. Being in the studio is a different thing, though. But I'll tell you, he recorded his first track for the album, and the producer, Jay Ruston, sent an MP3 to everybody in the band. Within minutes, we were all e-mailing one another going, 'Holy shit, this is amazing!' One after another, the songs kept getting better and better. We're pretty thrilled."

Anthrax have seen various members come and go over the years. Has it been hard to maintain a true band identity?

"No. No, I don't think so. We're Anthrax. The core has always been there. It's not like we're Anthrax with no original members. It's Anthrax with Charlie, Frankie and me. And then, over the years, we've had either John Bush or Joey on vocals, pretty much. To me, it hasn't been that confusing. There's really been only two years where all of those people haven't been in the group."

Let's get into some of the new songs. The Devil You Know has very intense riffs and rhythms. How do you go about composing riffs?

"Geez, I don't know! [laughs] Charlie and I pretty much write most of the music, so…I don't know, I just hear things. I don't know where my ideas comes from. Most of what I do comes about when we're in the studio writing, jamming, working on tunes.

"I'm not the kind of guy who sits around at home and writes songs. Once in a while I'll pick up a guitar and noodle around, but it's rare. Perhaps I should say to myself, 'I'm going to sit for an hour a day and practice the guitar,' but I think that would bore me to tears.

"To me, the guitar is a tool for songwriting, and it's fun, too. The day that it's not fun, that's when I'm not gonna play guitar anymore. I never wanted it to feel like work. I think the best riffs and the best songs come when you're jamming and having a good time. You can't sit there and say, 'OK, I'm going to write a great song now.' It doesn't happen like that."

The song In The End is pretty epic. It has something of a Black Sabbath vibe.

"Yeah, I guess so. Initially, it started out much different. That song went through several versions before it became the song on the record. We were just never happy with it, even when we had what was almost a finished album. The chorus needed work, it was boring…we had to make it great.

"Over time, though, we hammered away at it. I'm glad we didn't let the song go because now it's probably my favorite song on the record. I think it's the centerpiece of the album in many ways.

"Maybe it sounds a little different for Anthrax, but that's fine. Lyrically, I think it's one of the heaviest things we've ever done. We knew we wanted to pay tribute to Dimebag Darrell and to Ronnie James Dio, both of whom were our friends. This was going to be the first album we put out since we lost both of them, so wanted our tribute song to be really great. I think it's one of the most important songs we've ever done."

However, the song Judas Priest is about the band, but it's sort of not…

"Yeah, it was a song we were working on, and while we were doing so we heard that they were doing a farewell tour. The guys in Judas Priest are heroes, they're mentors, they've taken us out on tour, so we just started calling the song 'Judas Priest' as a working title.

"After a while, it took on a life of its own. It's very metal sounding, so we went with it. When it came time to write the words, I decided to write the most blatant heavy metal lyrics I possibly could. I had fun with it. There's a line that [theoretical physicist, J Robert] Oppenheimer said: 'I am become death, destroyer of worlds.' I just started with that. Nothing is more heavy metal that those words."

Ian on stage at the Big Four show last April with singer Joey Belladonna. © Paul Hebert/Corbis

How do you and Rob Caggiano work on guitar parts together?

"Well, Rob is also a producer for us, and to me, he's just the greatest taskmaster. He makes me play better than I can play. Because he's in the band, he knows how the guitars should sound. He's very demanding, and that's fine. I want somebody to kick my ass.

"When Rob is doing his lead parts, I'm not really serving the same role, because honestly, he can play circles around me. I don't mind saying that. But I do give him input and cheer him along. We have a good relationship as players. We each have our specific sound and role, so it all works out."

You have your own signature Jackson guitar. What were your specifications when designing it?

"To be honest, I'm one of the least-technical guitar players around. I just want a guitar to feel good and sound good. That's it, period. You could tell me that a guitar is made out of fucking gum wrappers - if it sounds good, I'll play it.

"I have certain guitars from the '80s that sound great. I have a black Soloist that Jackson built for me in 1987, it's the one with the New York Yankees logo on it and the 'Not' inlay on the neck. I told them, 'Look, this is one of the best-sounding guitars ever. I've used it on ever Anthrax record since I got it. Can we do something like this?'

"We went with that model. My only note to them was to make it a little bit bigger. That was it. But the funny thing is, I thought my old Soloist was mahogany with a maple top, but Mike Tempesta at Jackson told me, 'No, I'd say it's solid maple.' So I said, 'OK, let's hear what that sounds like.' They made a test model and it sounded great, so I said, 'All right, let's do it.' The guitars are killer. I'm very happy with them."

Lastly, you're gearing up to play another Big Four show with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth at Yankee Stadum in New York in a few weeks. I have to imagine you're psyched.

"Oh, definitely! [laughs] This is the one, you know? I hate getting my hopes up for certain things because nine times out of ten, even when things seem like a home run - no pun intended - you wind up getting crushed. But it's so hard not to feel like this could be one of the best Big Four shows so far.

"For us, it's a hometown gig. We're a New York band, and most of us are lifelong Yankee fans. I mean, you just couldn't pick a better scenario. Next to the Roman Coliseum, which I wouldn't be as excited to play, you can't touch Yankee Stadium.

"To think that I'm going to be standing in that outfield, playing where so many of my heroes have played…there are no words. All I can say is, if the fans have a great time that night, they might not be having as good a time as me."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.