Anthrax co-leader, and multi-instrumentalist, Charlie Benante has been a key member of the Big Four icons since their inception in 1981. Taking a step away from the mothership during the past year of the pandemic, the audiophile has assembled a cast of musical friends to record ‘Silver Linings’, a collaborative covers set which features an eclectic mix of tracks from the likes of U2, Massive Attack, Fleetwood Mac and more. We sat down with Charlie to chat the new album, his love of U2, and Anthrax’s plans for 2021. In a zone; Eamon O’Neill
Hi Charlie, how are you doing?
Yeah, I’m fine.
First off, thanks so much for at long last getting a vinyl release of Anthrax’s ‘Volume 8’!
Right! It felt like an eternity because ownership of that record, it wasn’t ours. So finally we had a chance to put them out of vinyl [‘Sound of White Noise’, ‘Stomp 442’, and ‘We’ve Come For You All’ have also had a re-release via Megaforce Records], and I saw some people loved them, and I was happy to do it and just put it together. So I’m glad that they’re out.
So you actually were fully involved in these reissues?
Oh, I did all the designing for it, and bear in mind, we didn’t have a big budget to do it, so I know that’s why people were like; “oh, there’s nothing inside”; well, there’s nothing inside because there wasn’t a big budget for it. I wanted the vinyl to be coloured, but other than that, I wanted them to sound really good.
We’re here to talk about ‘Silver Linings’, and given that the album was born out of the lockdown, it’s an apt title.
Well that’s exactly where the title comes from. Throughout the year, there was so much going on in the world, and there was so much going on within our country, and I started to go into a very dark, depressing kind of state. I didn’t even realise it until Carla, my girlfriend said to me; “you need to stop watching the news, man. It’s doing something to you. It’s really depressing you” – and it was. So I stopped it, and I just got back into being creative with music and art, and I’m thankful that I did that because I look back at it now, and it’s like, if I stayed glued to the television, man, I don’t know what I would have done.
The album includes so many classic songs, and there’s a really attention to detail in covering them; how did it all come about?
Basically, the first batch that I did – the Rush songs – the reason why the Rush songs came out first was because I was really depressed; not only about what was going on in the world and the country, but I was really bummed out about the death of Neil Peart from Rush. And I think some of my musician friends were probably going through the same withdrawal that I was and were in the same type of state that I was in, so I called them up. I called Alex Skolnick from Testament, I called Ra [Diaz] from Suicidal [Tendencies] about doing this Rush jam, and they said; “absolutely, let’s do it!”, and then we just did it. That’s how it started, and then it just snowballed into that.
There are some unusual song choices, from musicians associated more readily with heavier music.
I called some other friends about doing this, doing that one, and I may have pushed some of them out of their comfort zones, like Mark [Osegueda] from Death Angel. I always heard this kind of Bono quality in Mark, and I knew he could do it [‘U2’s ‘City of Blinding Lights’], and then the other song that Mark did with me was the Mother Love Bone song [‘Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns’], and the one thing about that song and that band was, Mark and I always bonded from bands, and Mother Love Bone was one that we just loved. That, to me, was one of my favourite pieces that was created.
You originally played that piece together at the Metal Allegiance show in Anaheim, in 2019, but only got to do the first half of the song.
The reason why we didn’t do ‘Crown of Thorns’ was, some things got cut, and that song got cut, plus, I couldn’t find other people that could play that song during that time. So, it was hard for me to jump on the drums, or on guitar, you know?
Read eonmusic's coverage of Metal Allegiance's January 2017 show, here.
Another unusual song choice is ‘Tear Drop’ by Massive Attack.
There was one song by Massive attack, and back in ’95, I think it was, and our record company A&R person always knew that I liked different forms of music, and she gave me an advance [copy] of this new Massive Attack record, and throughout the whole tour, I listened to that record ‘Mezzanine’ and was just transformed into another world. That, to me, from start to finish was so amazing. It was just, the songs were amazing, it had this vibe that created this atmosphere, and I always wanted to cover that song. And I pushed Carla [Harvey, Butcher Babies], I think, out of her comfort zone too, and at the end of the day, she’s pretty happy that I did that.
What way did you work out the drums on that one?
Well, there’s something you mentioned there earlier about ‘attention to detail’, and each song, I wanted to have this authentic side to it. So, that song, I sampled Led Zeppelin’s ‘When the Levee Breaks’, and I cut up the drums and I put them into a rolling theme, and basically, made a drum kit out of those sounds, and that’s what you hear in that song, so that was it.
The beat is actually reminiscent of Anthrax’s cover of The Beastie Boys’ ‘Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun’.
Right. So that one is a different sample, but I basically took it from the source, which is Led Zeppelin.
Did you have specific people in mind for each cover that you did?
Exactly. That’s exactly how I approached everything.
You mentioned working with Mark Osegueda, and the album features a fantastic version of U2’s ‘City of Blinding Lights’.
So, I knew Mark and Frank [Bello] from the band were big U2 fans as well, and I knew that they could both create that vocal style of Edge and Bono. So, they handled that part; Frank handled the bass, and I just did all the other instruments. That song in particular was pretty difficult because Edge’s sound on that song; there’s three different sounds going on with his guitar. There is, of course, the main riff, and delays are not the same; they’re both off, so you have to ping-pong those to work in unison, but yet sound like they’re delayed, eighth-note delays. So, that was a bit of a challenge, but then once it happened, it started to come together. And just learning how Edge plays, man, he’s just got such a style, and such a technique that; you play with the back side of the pick – you don’t play with the pick, with the pointy part of it – you play with the back side of it to get the scrape off the strings, and once you do it, you can totally hear that Edge sound come out of it, so yeah, it’s a lot of attention to detail in that song.
It’s not the first time you’ve covered U2; Anthrax did a cover of ‘Exit’.
That was on ‘We’ve Come For You All’ [era].
In both instances, you’ve chosen less obvious U2 tracks; was there a reason you went that way?
Well, it was either that song, or ‘Bad’; those were the two that I was juggling, and I felt that ‘City of Blinding Lights’ was a newer U2 song, and maybe old U2 fans may know it, may not know it, but whenever I heard that song, it always made me happy.
What some people may forget is that Anthrax and U2 were label mates on Island Record, and you both released your biggest albums for that label – ‘The Joshua Tree’ and ‘Among the Living’ in the same year .
So, I was a U2 fan before we were signed to Island. A funny story; we were going to mix the record at Compass Point studios in the Bahamas, and the day we got there, U2 were finishing mixing ‘The Joshua Tree’, which was like ’86 sometime. Bono and Edge were still there, and they told us to go down to this bar down the street that most of the artists who would come to do records, would always end up at. So we made our own way at night, and we met and were having a drink and something to eat there, and the bar tender said; “the U2 guys were just in here. They were here a couple of hours ago”, and we were like; “oh fuck, it would have been cool to see them there!” But, yeah, it’s funny because ‘The Joshua Tree’ is one of my favourite albums of all time. I don’t think there’s a bad song on that record, and I never put it in terms of; Island had that album, and then ‘Among the Living’. I mean, of course, U2 sold way more records than we did, but it was still a very successful run for that label. It was a very eclectic label too, to have a band like us, and U2, and Bob Marley. Wow! you know? That’s different.
Is there an Anthrax song that you could see U2 covering? How about ‘Safe Home’, for example?
I think that U2 could definitely do a good version of ‘Safe Home’, or ‘Catharsis’ is another one, or one of the songs that we had on the last record was called ‘Breathing Lightning’, and I think Edge could probably put a nice textured delay on that song and do it justice.
Moving on, and you also covered Iron Maiden’s ‘Transylvania’.
Yeah, Anthrax did, on the ‘Stomp’ album, we did ‘Remember Tomorrow’ as a b side, and we would always joke around with like ‘Sanctuary’, and then recently, I wanted to do a cover of ‘Revelations’, and I ended up doing a little guitar medley. ‘Revelations’, to me, is still on of my favourite Iron Maiden songs. There’s something about that song that just makes me kind of emotional when I hear it. I don’t know, it’s just such a beautiful song. But ‘Transylvania’ came together; Snake from Skid Row, he’s on that one; John [Donais, Anthrax guitarist] is on that record, Frank is on that record, and I just did that song as us being kids again, jamming on an Iron Maiden song. It’s exactly what it is. All of us grew up on Iron Maiden. That’s the only metal song that’s on this.
It was recently the anniversary of the release of Maiden's ‘The Number of the Beast’, and Scott Ian tweeted that the first song you jammed with him and Danny Lilker was ‘Invaders’.
I don’t even know why! I think it’s something that they knew, and I knew it, and dude, I don’t even know, because the funny thing about that album and that song is, it’s not even one of my favourites off that record. But I knew it, and again, I don’t think there’s a bad song on ‘Number of the Beast’.
Moving on a little, and I wanted to talk about the ‘Among the Living’ graphic novel that’s coming out; what’s it been like putting that together?
Well, it’s been very satisfying, to say the least. We started off this thing with the idea and concept and a list of people that we wanted to have, and then we started putting all those ingredients together, and the ingredients started to get better and better, and before our eyes, this thing started taking shape, and it was just like; “wow, I can’t believe this is happening!” From the things I’ve seen – some of the pages and stuff - it’s looking better and better every day. So, I’m extremely happy with how its going, and I think the end product is going to be like, one of the best things that we’ve ever put out. And the thing that people have to understand is that we are all involved in this. First it was just Scott and I that were really involved, but now Joey [Belladonna]’s involved, and Frank’s involved, and it’s become very much a band effort, with these other talented writers and artists. So, it’s going to be a real special thing.
Something you did last year, which was really special was when you performed ‘Packaged Rebellion’ with John Bush. What was it like to revisit that song?
That album [‘Sound of White Noise’] to me, was a watershed moment. It was something that, the songs that came out of that, once I head John Bush’s voice, then I started to flow, musically, and things started to come out. ‘Packaged Rebellion’ was one of the songs that I just felt; “there’s something different about this song”, you know? And [I thought] “I would love to play that song again”, because it’s one of my favourites off that record. And I played that and did a video because I knew the anniversary of the ‘Sound of White Noise’ was coming up, and I wanted to kind of commemorate it by doing that, but also, I had touched base with John again, and kind of, I don’t know, almost repaired our relationship. And I don’t know, it’s tough for guys in bands sometimes to maybe go back and repair relationships, but I think it’s very important to do that because, we repaired our relationship with Joey, and now musically and everything else has been so much better. So, I didn’t understand why I wasn’t talking to John that much anymore, but it was a small issue, and that issue grew into a bigger issue, and then it was just like; “what’s the point of this?!”, and then, just squashed it. And then he sang on it, and we had a little fun with it, and it was for that.
It’s all about the music; that’s what people always have to remember. You’ve got to make it about the music because if you don’t speak the same language, you still speak that universal language of music. It doesn’t matter, once you hear something, it’s just like; “why was I mad?!”
Anthrax have been on a roll creatively for your last two albums; how are things shaping up for a follow-up to ‘For All Kings’?
I think, so far, I think it’s going to be really good, because it’s exciting me, and whenever I get excited, it’s like it spawns more. So I think this next record is basically going to be a reflection of the dark times, and some of the good times too, but I think it’s definitely an angrier record, but that’s only because of the surroundings.
You’ve been working on reissuing the Anthrax catalogue over the past few years, and obviously ‘Attack of the Killer B’s’ is next on the chronology, but I’m guessing you’re working on ‘Sound of White Noise’?
Yeah, I already have sone stuff that was left over, I just don’t know when I’m going to get to that because, as you mentioned, the ‘Killer B’s’ was there, but I don’t really have anything extra for ‘Killer B’s’ because that was the extras that ended up on the ‘Killer B’s! But it’s funny, I was looking at it during the pandemic, and that cover is basically symbolic of the year that we’ve all had, with masks like this [*covers face*]. But my idea behind that cover was because of the smelliest bunch of guys that I’ve had to live with in the band, on the bus, and you’d be sitting and then someone would just start tooting the horn, and then all of a sudden you’ve just got to cover up your face because the smell was so bad! That’s how the concept of that cover came about.
That album is the only one that hasn’t had a reissue in your catalogue, so it’s probably due even a vinyl rerelease.
Well, I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I don’t know if there’s going to be any extras, but it may get a vinyl reissue; a remastered vinyl, because there are some cool things on there, and at the end of the day, it probably deserves to have. So yeah, maybe give it a go too, but I don’t know when, though.
Back to ‘Slilver Linings’, and it really does carry on from the great tradition of cover songs in Anthrax, that began with ‘I’m Eighteen’, from your first album.
Well, like you said, the first one that we ever did was ‘I’m’ Eighteen’, and then the one that we really had fun with right after that, was the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ one. We really wanted to make it our own, and put our own little stamp on it, because Black Sabbath were just one of our all-time favourite bands. And then is just started to grow. My idea behind ‘Antisocial’ was I loved this band Trust from France. I loved their records so much that I would get them in French, and then get them in English, and I presented ‘Antisocial’ to the guys, and I think at first they were a bit like; “well, it’s in French!”, but then I played them the English version, and I think everybody kind of heard something in it that we could definitely make it our own, and to this day people think it’s our song, but it’s not! And then I had the idea for the ‘Got the Time’, which is a Joe Jackson song. Those first two Joe Jackson albums, to me, to this day are so amazing, and ‘Got the Time’ is such a great song, and if you just make it your own, maybe you’re doing it justice, you know? But with ‘Silver Linings’, I wanted to pay more attention to the detail of the song, and the essence of the song.
Finally, what’s happening going forward for you; what’s your focus for the immediate future?
Well, we’re working on something big for June, maybe July, which is going to commemorate our career, and we’re putting that together now. It may be like a livestream type of thing, and it’s going to consist of a lot of songs, and a lot of songs that we’ve probably never played before. We wanted to make something special out of this, but yeah, look out for that announcement. We’re just putting it together, now.
Please play ‘Time’!
Yeah yeah yeah! That’s one of the songs that we want to do. We did play it on that run [2005 reunion tour]; we just didn’t play it everywhere. We would make a special thing, because the song is a bit of a workout! I like that song.
Like this interview? Like us on FaceBook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates & more of the same.
Charlie Benante's 'Silver Linings' is released on 14th May 2021 via Megaforce records. Pre-order here.
Anthrax's 'Among the Living' graphic novel is available to pre-order in various limited edition packages, here.