Interview:Scott Ian and Charlie Benante On Composing Music Of Mass Destruction
by Lisa Sharken
As one of the original patriarch bands that created thrash and speed metal in the mid '80s, Anthrax has continued to flourish musically, and remains a vital and valid force in the metal world. Since its formation, the group has undergone a variety of lineup changes, and most recently, the departure of longtime bassist Frankie Bello — a situation the band was not yet ready to discuss at the time of this interview. However, stepping in to cover bass duties on the group's upcoming tour dates will be Armored Saint's Joey Vera, although he has not been signed on as a permanent band member.
Guitar.com spoke with Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and drummer/guitarist Charlie Benante, who are the group's primary songwriters. While fans certainly know Benante as the group's drummer, many aren't aware that he is also an extremely competent guitarist who actually writes many of the group's heaviest riffs and plays lead guitar on all of the albums. The two spoke about the group's recent Sanctuary Records release, We've Come For You All, and everything that was involved in writing and recording the material. They were also very candid about what it was like to work with their newest band member, guitarist Rob Caggiano, who was responsible for directing all aspects of production on this project, as part of the Scrap 60 team consisting of Caggiano, Eddie Wohl and Steve Regina. "They really put us through the grinder," Ian admits. "I would have to say we definitely needed it, because the results are there. It's the best sounding record we've ever made!" Ian and Benante also described how each have matured as players and writers, and explained what it is that keeps Anthrax so potent today.
To bring the ultimate live Anthrax concert experience into your own home, be sure to check out the group's brand-spanking new DVD, Music Of Mass Destruction: Live In Chicago.
Guitar.com: In what way has the band's music and songwriting style evolved since the early days?
Scott Ian: I would like to think that we get better! For us, it's easier for us to know what we want out of songs because we don't have to think about it as much now. Actually, it's easier for us to write songs than it is for me to answer this question! I've listened to Fistful Of Metal and Spreading The Disease quite a lot lately because we did this re-recording thing where we redid a bunch of songs live in the studio. I had to relearn a bunch of those songs and going back and listening to some of that stuff, I was thinking, "Why did we do that here? Why would we have gone to that part? What was the thought process?" I just think that over the years, as writers and coming up with riffs, you just learn how to put it together better. It's kind of like anything you would do in life. If you were a painter or you were a writer, or anything else. You just get better at what you do if you keep at it. It doesn't necessarily become easier, but I think you get a more focused idea and a focused view of the finished product. Now, from one riff, when we start writing, I will already have a pretty clear picture of the finished song in my head and where I want it to be. Then it's a case of getting there. In the past, it was just kind of like we were stringing pieces together — piece after piece — and then we just somehow get to the end, and then hey, we have a song. So we have more of a real idea and a focus now.
Now I'm kind of able to see the whole picture. It took me a while to get there in my thought process. But I think that would be the best way to put it. If you go back and listen to some of the stuff from the '80s — and I'm not saying anything negative towards it — that's where we were as musicians and as songwriters. You can listen to stuff off State Of Euphoria, and we were writing these seven- to eight-minute songs, and I listen to them now and think that we could have had three really good songs with all the parts we put into just one song. So it kind of trips me out because it's almost like we wasted a lot of good riffs, in a sense, because we could have done the same thing on those records with a lot less material. But that's just where we were at the time. We just didn't know any better.
Charlie Benante: I think that there are two different ways of looking at Anthrax, as far as the music goes. There was the '80s sort of version, then the '90s version, which of course, became what the band is now. In the '80s, my writing was a certain way — a certain style. Once 1990 came around, I just started to develop a certain "growth," although with every album I was hoping to grow. But when 1990 came around, I just had this whole change in the way I was writing. It wasn't just concentrating on playing fast and furious. I still concentrated on playing furious and keeping the same elements of the aggressiveness, but I was focused more on using it in a better way — not just writing a song for the sake of having a fast song.
Guitar.com: Charlie, were you a guitarist or drummer first?
Benante: I was a drummer first. I was a guitar player trapped in a drummer's body.
Guitar.com: So when you write songs, do you typically write on guitar?
Benante: I'd say that 80 percent is written from the guitarist's perspective first, and starts with a riff. The other 20 percent is written from a drummer's standpoint, and sometimes I'll come up with a beat first. That happened in the past with certain songs like "Room For One More," "Only," "Nobody Knows Anything," which is a song on the last album that was written around a drum groove, and the same for the song "Crush" from the Volume 8 record. "Indians" started out as sort of a drum tribal thing.
Guitar.com: In what ways have your styles and techniques changed as guitarists?
Ian: Because I've been playing for so long, all of those rhythm techniques—whether it's playing fast or down-picking — have become second nature. I don't really even think about it — it's just there. When I first started playing and developing my style of playing, it was something I was working at and had to practice. But now, it just comes naturally.
You know, so many times, I think about how I would like to take lessons to learn how to play more chords. Not necessarily jazz, but the thing that would interest me most would be to learn more chords. I watch Brian Setzer play all these chords and he tells me the names of them, and he might as well be speaking Russian. When he starts telling me about 11th chords and this and that, I don't even know what he's talking about. I watched the DVD of him live in Japan, and I watch where his hands are going. I could copy that, but I have no idea of the theory about what's going on behind it. I've even taken a step to go outside of the box and I've gotten a couple of guitars that have very different sounds from my signature model or your typical guitar that's really only good for a heavy tone. I actually got a Gretsch Setzer model, a Strat, and a Gretsch Malcolm Young signature model. So that might be my first step into maybe trying to expand my playing technique. I mean, over the years, I've just gotten better, for sure, and things do come easier to me. I can actually learn leads now, if I actually put my mind to it, which is something in the '80s I never would have attempted. So I guess that's something that's changed in my playing.
Benante: For me, it's not worrying about finding the next greatest riff to come. If it's going to come, it's going to come right out of the air, and it's going to hit you one day. You're going to wake up with it, or you're going to be playing and you'll approach your guitar in a different way, and the riff will come. So in the past, I would sit down and keep waiting for that greatest riff, and it just didn't happen. You can't force yourself to do that, it just happens. And as far as learning licks off of other guitar players, and de-tuning and alternate tuning, all that stuff plays a big role in the writing. I'm a huge Jimmy Page fan, so studying the stuff that he did, and he learned some stuff from listening to Joni Mitchell or Crosby and Stills, and that's how he discovered his alternate tunings and things like that. So I learned that from Page, and applied it to what I do.
Guitar.com: Which players were most inspirational in developing your individual styles and techniques, as well as shaping your guitar tones? How have those influences changed over time and who are you most inspired by today?
Ian: I guess my earliest influences would have been Pete Townshend, Ted Nugent, Ace Frehley, Rick Nielsen, Tony Iommi, and Johnny Ramone. I think Tony Iommi was the reason I learned how to chug along on the guitar. But those would be the biggest ones who I felt the most connected to at any early age, especially Johnny Ramone because the Ramones were from Forest Hills [in Queens, New York] and I grew up in Bayside, just a couple of miles away. Kiss was from Queens, too, but that was a whole other level which seemed completely untouchable at the time, in the '70s. The Ramones looked like me, but they were a little bit older. They wore leather jackets and Levi's, and they made the dream kind of a reality. I figured if these guys could do it, the idea of being in a band might be completely possible. Johnny's whole style was just so cool to me. He would stand there with his legs apart and just down-pick everything. I really had no idea what he was doing, but at the same time, I liked the way he did it. It was really cool. It definitely seemed more accessible to me than Ted Nugent or some of the other guys who were really amazing lead players.
So I would have to say that in the early days Johnny Ramone was maybe the biggest influence. And then from there, my influences were all just based in the music that I was getting turned on to or finding out about. I was on this path with my friends in junior high where we got into rock and metal really early on, in the mid '70s, and we were on the constant lookout for the next coolest hardest rock or heavy metal band. I remember the first time I heard AC/DC and the first time I heard Venom. With AC/DC, immediately, Angus and Malcolm made an impression on me, and to this day, those guys may have been the biggest influence on me over all since the late '70s. Especially Malcolm and his whole approach to guitar playing, which is strictly from the idea that he's the rhythm player, and he approaches guitar pretty much from a songwriting point of view only. He comes up with these riffs, and he's the guy who just stands there, bangs his head and just drives the band. I was really into guys like him, Rudolf Schenker, and Tony Iommi.
From that point on, it was always new players. Jump to the '80s. Guys like James Hetfield and Dave Mustaine, and from that era that came up at the same time as us. Then if you jump further ahead, it's guys like Page Hamilton from Helmet, but then it kind of thins out as time goes by. As of late, I would say it's almost like it goes full circle, because I listen to a band like System Of A Down, then think they're doing stuff almost like what we did in the '80s. But here it is like 15 years later and they're playing thrash metal, but they've take it to a whole other place. So I can listen to Toxicity and completely be inspired by that record guitar-wise, and think that this obviously comes from what we were doing, but they've taken it here. So I could listen to that and then try to come up with where it all goes next.
Benante: Other than Jimmy Page, I've always been a big fan of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. I've always looked up to those two as players and songwriters. Then of course, Ace Frehley. He may not be the greatest, fastest guitarist or anything like that, but I can sing you every Ace Frehley riff that he's ever played. To me, that's the sign of a good guitar player. Some of these guys can play a million notes, but I can't remember any of it! So Ace is one, and Eddie Van Halen is another one because he was so percussive on the guitar. If you listen to those early Van Halen records, especially the first three, when Eddie is playing rhythm like he's a drummer, that's where my approach comes from, too. I'm trying to beat the guitar like it's a drum. Most recently, I'd have to say that as far as over all aggressiveness and riffs, I think Daron Malakian from System Of A Down is one of the best players out now. I think he's got it.
Guitar.com: How would you each describe your guitar tone?
Ian: Angry, dark, exciting, physical, burly, energetic, electric, thick, clear, and it's in own way very clean because I can't stand overly-distorted fuzzy tones. It's just all those things together.
Benante: Well, it depends. Scott has his signature sound and he has that totally down. For me, it depends on the song. If I'm writing riffs in my house, I go through my Vox AC30 with my T.C. Electronic Distortion Booster Line Driver pedal and an old Zoom distortion box. That's what I play through all the time. On the last few records, I used that setup to record. And on this last one, I went through Rob's Boger Uberschall head.
My whole thing is that I appreciate all guitar sounds. I appreciate George Harrsion's tone on the lead on the song "Nowhere Man." It's all ****ing trouble, but there's a beauty to it. I love Bob Mould's tone from Husker Du on "New Day Rising," it's just a ****ing distorted wall of sound. It's just beautiful, but yet aggressive. I love Ty Tabor's sound on King's X Gretchen Goes To Nebraska. I don't think anyone ever will copy that tone. That is one of the greatest rhythm guitar tones I've ever heard. I think Dimebag Darrell, and the sound he got on Vulgar Display Of Power, it's beautiful. It rips my head off. All of those things are sounds in my head that I'd love to get.
Guitar.com: Scott, in what ways does your style and tone differ from Charlie's and Rob's?
Ian: Well, Charlie usually only plays leads and filler stuff on the records, so it's a completely different animal. Charlie really doesn't have a rhythm tone that he goes in with for recording. Rob has been using the Boger Uberschall. I would say that our tones are very similar, but mine is a little bit denser and maybe his has got a little bit more midrange going on. The two complement each other very well because it's not like we have the same sound.
Guitar.com: Charlie, when you're writing additional parts for songs, do you write riffs that complement what Scott is doing?
Benante: Scott will pretty much lay down the whole rhythm for the album. Then I'll go in, and sometimes I'll play some rhythm and do more of the textures on the song. I'll play the acoustic and the clean stuff. But he's the meat and potatoes of the thing.
Guitar.com: Which players have influenced you most in your choices in gear?
Ian: Initially, I played Marshall amps because growing up, that's all you would see in the magazines. Everybody played Marshall. From the time I started playing guitar, it was my dream to have a Marshall head. Then once I started playing a Marshall, I was with Marshall nearly forever. Then about five or six years ago, I made the switch over to Randall because I felt that the Randall heads were delivering the tone I had been looking for with my Marshalls, but I always had to put something in front of the Marshalls to actually get that physicality. I always had to put something in front of it. It's not like I could plug straight into a JCM 800, put the gain on 10 and crank it, and get that thickness, edge and chunk that I always desired. I always had a T.C. Electronic box in front of it, and then I started using the BBE Sonic Maximizer in front of it to tweak it. I always asked, "Why can't I just plug into an amp and get the sound that I'm looking for?" So I started experimenting, and it was actually when we were playing in Dallas, Texas years back, and we went to Dimebag Darrell's house and we jammed in his jam room. He plugged me into a half-stack, and I was like, "Wow!" I just had this crazy tone. So he called up Randall and they sent me a bunch of stuff to check out. Then pretty much, that was it. I went back to Marshall at the time and said, "I'm playing through these Randalls and they sound awesome, but I've always wanted to design my own head. I would love to design a head for Marshall and have a signature head." It was just something that they weren't going to do at the time. But they were behind me 100 percent and said that I should be happy playing whatever I chose, and if I was ever unhappy and wanted to come back, it's not like they're going anywhere. So everything was cool and I've got to say that since I've been playing these Randalls, I don't think I've been happier. I'm never worried about it. I know I can just plug in, and the tone is going to be right there. They keep experimenting and coming out with new heads. From the time I started working with Randall, I was playing through regular stock heads, then went to the Warhead to the Cyclone and now these VMax heads, which I just think are the best. That's what I'm using now. They're tube and solidstate. They sound amazing and they're really just crushing. It's nice to know that anywhere in the world that I am, if I don't have my own amp, I can just get a VMax head and sound killer.
Benante: I have an old Charvel star body that I bought from Scott around 1983, and that has been my primary writing guitar since then. It's got a Strat headstock and I remember that Akira Takasaki from Loudness used to play them. There's something about that guitar — I can pick it up and riffs just pour out. I think a good 85 percent of Anthrax songs have come from that guitar. I can't find another one like it, and if someone does, please let me know! I love those guitars and I love my 1981 Les Paul Standard, too.
I'd have to say that for different sounds, I go to different people. Like for a clean sound, I like the Johnny Marr clean AC30 tone. There are also certain sounds that Brian May got way back that came out of a Vox, and I try for that, too. Then, of course, Van Halen from Fair Warning and back. To me, Diver Down is where it started to change in a way I wasn't really loving. There are just certain sounds that catch my ear. I love the sound that Dean DeLeo got on the first Stone Temple Pilots records. He had this tone that was so just rich and it was probably layered over and over again, but it was just beautiful.
Guitar.com: What was the greatest challenge in writing material for We've Come For You All?
Ian: The greatest challenge is always the same. It's just getting together in a room and saying, "What have we got?" There's always that thought in my mind that what if we get together and start working, and we don't have anything? What if we've written all our riffs and we're done? So to me, that is always the greatest challenge to overcome, and it usually happens pretty quickly, on the first day that we officially decide to jam and see what's happening. Usually in the first ten minutes there's a riff. Either Charlie or myself will come in with a riff and we'll start jamming on that. It's typically the first two or three songs that always come together pretty quickly, and that's always the way it's been since the beginning. Then from that point, we start looking back on it: We've got two or three songs together, now where is it going? We never sit down and say, "Here's what we want our album to sound like: We need three fast songs, two slow songs, and one radio song." It's never planned out in that way. We just start writing, and it kind of just dictates to us what's going to happen.
Benante: I just think that once we got to the point where the album was starting to take shape, that's when I started to get excited about it. We already had a lot of music for the record and we were happy with that, and then some of the vocals were coming in, and it was all starting to make sense. The first song that was written was "Superhero," and it came from a riff that I had been hanging onto since the last record. It wasn't fast and it just had a very slow groove, but it just had something to do that you couldn't help but move to it. So that was the first one and the album just started to take shape after that.
When you're writing a record — I'm sure other people will totally agree with what I'm going to say — you can have four songs written, but you're still really nervous because you don't know how fast the others are going to come, or when they'll come, or how it's all going to fit together. But once you get through the halfway mark, I think you can breathe a little easier and then it will flow more because you're less worried about it.
Guitar.com: Do you write individually or together as a band?
Benante: Pretty much, on every record that we've ever done, I come in with the basic framework for a song and show it to everybody. Then we'll bounce it off each other and start arranging it. Someone will add something to it or we'll take something away, and we'll modify it. That's how it starts. We'll get what we feel is a good start, middle and end, then tape it, and come back and listen to it. Then I really nitpick it a lot because I just want it to be really good from start to finish. Like if there's too much of this, then let's take out four bars here. Why are we waiting so long to get to this section if it feels like it should go there earlier? I'm all over stuff like that. Then Scott or John will take the song and start applying some lyrics to it. After that, we'll all sit around with it and add melody lines to it and any other stuff. That's how it pretty much takes shape.
Guitar.com: Did you demo the material before you went in to record the whole album?
Ian: Yes, we did. We've been getting really professional with our demos. We bought one of those 24-track Yamaha digital boards with a CD burner in it, so our demos would come out killer. That's one amazing thing I'd have to say about still doing this because when we first started, technology-wise, we started out where basically, demoing material was recording on a boombox or with one of those old tape recorders from school with the plastic microphone and the on/off switch. I mean now we could make a record in our jam room. The next step is we'll just get Pro Tools and do it ourselves. But it's really amazing to me where it's come to from the boombox days. It's so nice to be able to make these demos that just sound amazing, and it gives you so much more of a chance to — in a good and a bad way — analyze and understand what you're doing. You can demo songs, put all the parts down and come up with all these ideas for other guitar parts, and figure out all the vocals you want to put on it. That's great because then you can go into the studio and not waste time in the studio when you're paying tons of money to do it. But then at the same time, the curse of the whole thing is that sometimes it's really hard to know when you're ever done writing because you can sit there and work on these songs forever and ever. The technology enables you to do that when you've got everything digital, and you can constantly go back in there and nitpick on parts. But the problem is that when it's like three months later and you're still finessing these songs that you should just recorded these three months ago because they're getting old already. That's where sometimes I think the basic strategy is still best — a song is a song, and once it's done, let's go do it. If you keep working on it, sometimes it's not as good as it was when it was just a more raw idea. And sometimes I'll go back and listen to the demos that we've done when we're actually in the studio and decide the original demo has more energy than this song does now, so we need to go back to where it was. That has actually happened a few times.
Guitar.com: Were there many songs written that did not make it onto this record?
Benante: There were like two.
Guitar.com: Tell us about the experience in the studio this time around. What was it like to work with Rob Caggiano and the Scrap 60 team?
Benante: The biggest difference was that they approached it in a different way than we've approached other records. On other records, we would go do the song. We wouldn't do multiple takes of it. At least I wouldn't. If I felt that if that was a good take, then why am I going to go and play it all over again? If I liked what I did, then let's just keep it. But this time, we did maybe two or three takes of each song, and then see which one we like afterwards.
Ian: They really put us through the grinder. I hadn't ever been worked that hard! I think that we had gotten kind of comfortable as a band, and working in the studio. Old dogs don't learn new tricks, and we were just getting comfortable and set in our ways in the studio for how we do things. Those guys came in and turned it all upside-down on us. I would have to say we definitely needed it, because the results are there. When you hear the record, it's the best sounding record we've ever made! They pushed us. They pushed all of us. That was their job and they did it. Having Rob specifically, a guy who's actually in the band, being the guy who's telling you what to do made a difference because he really knows what's going on. He's the guitar player in the band and he's a huge fan of the band, and he already had a clear picture of where he wanted this album to be when it was finished. So he was going to work our asses off to get it, and he knew how hard he had to push us. He was on me when I was sitting there doing guitar tracks and he really had me under the microscope and was analyzing everything I was doing, whether it's my timing or my tuning, or just little tiny nuances in picking. He's a guitar player and he's a musician, and he's got an unbelievable ear for timing. I've never worked so hard in my life as I did in the studio with him. I'd have to say it shows because I don't think I've ever sounded or played better on a record than I do on this one. He did that with everybody. He pushed Charlie harder than he's ever been pushed, and he really just worked John more so than he's ever done on any record, and it shows. Eddie Wohl and Steve Regina [ Scrap 60 engineers/producers] did their part, too, more in an engineering capacity. But Rob was more of the hands-on guy telling you, "Nope. Do it again!" But it was more like being a movie director than a producer. "Do another take, then do another take." That was his role, and I'm just glad he was there to do that.
Guitar.com: How did you determine who would play the additional guitar parts on specific songs?
Ian: Whoever was best for it. Charlie comes in with a lot of material, and comes up with a lot of the riffs. When we finish a song, the basic arrangement is done — the guitar, bass, and drums. And then from that point, you start hearing the other guitar parts, all the ancillary stuff. I hate using these stupid terms like adding "colors" and things like that with your guitar — "ear candy," as Rob would call it. Basically, whoever would hear stuff as we were demoing, we would just throw it on, and if it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. Charlie would come in and say he's got this other melodic part to put with this chorus, and so he would put it down. Then maybe it would sound killer or maybe it would get in the way and we wouldn't use it. Basically, whoever would have ideas would add them. Rob would come in with ideas, too, and sometimes make suggestions about arranging sections. It was pretty much an open forum on this record, and I'm sure it will be a very similar process on the next record.
Benante: We would do guitar rehearsals and just work out the guitar parts, and I just knew the little textures I was going to do here and there. Me and Rob actually did a lot of the double lead stuff. I would sit with Rob while he was doing a lot of his leads. Originally, I was going to do the lead on the song "Safe Home," but I felt that he could probably do it better than I could, so he just did it.
Guitar.com: Tell us about the tracks that Dime played on and how that came together. Did you pick the tracks or did he?
Ian: We sent him a tape with four or five tracks on it and let him pick whichever ones he felt most comfortable with.
Guitar.com: Did Dime record his parts in his own studio?
Ian: Yes. He did them there. Technology is amazing!
Guitar.com: Describe the rigs you each used for the recording.
Ian: It was a combination of different things. Obviously, I have a main rhythm tone that didn't change up too much. That was actually a combination of the Randall VMax and the Bogner Uberschall. For other stuff, for instance, on "Safe Home," I didn't need my big, fat, huge, crushing rhythm tone on that because that song has a different vibe to it. So I actually went back and used a Marshall for that. I went straight into a JCM 800. But over all, I didn't use too much amp-wise because we weren't using that many different rhythm tones on the record. And guitar-wise, my main rhythm guitar on the record was my maini MISS YOU signature guitar with the hot-rod flames on it. You can pick up six guitars and they all sound a little different, especially in the studio. We really put them under the microscope and listened to every guitar. I even picked up Rob's ESPs at the time and checked them out. I'm willing to play anything — whatever sounds best, because that's what it comes down to in the studio. My hot-rod flame guitar just has the best rhythm tone, so that was my main one. Then for other parts, I just used any one of my other Jacksons.
Perhaps many people don't know yet, but I'm switching over to Washburn. Washburn started wooing me about a year ago through my Randall relationship. They were just basically coming up with a lot of things that I was trying to get done through Jackson that I couldn't. So Jackson has been totally been cool about it. They want me to be happy, and don't want to stand in my way. My new signature model is sort of a more evil version of an SG. It's so killer and tough looking, and I'm so happy with it. We're still doing the final revisions on it and it should be ready for winter NAMM 2005.
For effects, I used the BBE Sonic Maximizer 482i running in line, and that was about it.
Benante: I brought the Vox AC30 amp in, which I think is about 10 or 15 years old now. I used that and I also used Rob's Bogner. I played my Les Paul and I used Rob's Angus Young model SG for a song or two.
Guitar.com: How are your guitars set up?
Ian: I'm using .011-.056 gauge DR Strings and I keep my action as low as possible, but not too low. It's more medium height. I'm playing rhythm all night, so I want to sink into it. I play really heavy with my right hand and I really dig in, so I can't have the action too low, just because I'd be fretting out all over the place and it would just be buzzing constantly. So I keep it set in between. For a while, I was keeping the action really high because I felt like this is the tough way to do it, but I was tearing my hands up, and it was terrible. I felt like I could really dig in more, but night after night, the fingers on my left hand were just aching constantly. I thought it was the manly way, but it was ridiculous.
Benante: I like .009-.042 and I don't like the action set that high.
Guitar.com: What type of picks do you favor?
Benante: I play those old gray textured nylon Dunlop ones.
Ian: The Dunlop green Tortex ones.
Guitar.com: Scott, what are you using in your live rig?
Ian: I've got my new Washburn signature guitars which have the Seymour Duncan El Diablo, which is a pickup they wind for me, and Randall amps, my Korg tuner, my Samson wireless. I'm also using a DigiTech digital delay stompbox and their stompbox stereo chorus.
Guitar.com: Charlie, do you ever play guitar live anymore?
Benante: Not anymore. I don't really enjoy it because usually it will be after I've played a bunch of songs on the drums. Then my body is just so into the drumming aspect of it, that when I play the guitar, my hands are just shaking and I can't really play that well. At that point, I just want to break the guitar!
Guitar.com: What do you like and dislike most about playing live and playing in the studio?
Benante: I love the studio. Playing live is your chance to do whatever you want to do, as far as create. You can change the song here and there. But it's just that in the studio, you can over think things sometimes, and you don't know when to stop. This is going to sound really stupid, but in the studio, there is no audience, and sometimes I wish there was an audience. But then again, there are some times when I'm playing live where I wish there wasn't an audience there! If you're having just a bad night ... Why? Why? Why?
Ian: In the studio, the thing I like most is when I complete the initial rhythm track on a song, from top to bottom, and I go to the other side and start doubling it. When I first hear that sound of those two guitars together, I love that. Generally, when you're in rehearsals and you're writing, you just never get that fullness and the quality. Bit when you're sitting in the control room, hearing it back, and playing along with the track, and you hear the two guitars meshing with each other, it just fills up and just starts pushing the track. I love that. That's probably my favorite thing, other than being handed my completed mixed, mastered record when it's done! But that moment when I first hear the two guitars together in the studio is always pretty amazing.
The worst thing about working in the studio is when there's tuning problems. It doesn't happen very often, but when it starts to happen, it can throw your whole mental state off. Because then even when you are in tune, you start thinking you're out of tune, and it's so frustrating. You start becoming unsure of everything you're doing, then you listen back and wonder if it's in tune. I can't stand that! It makes me nuts! Sometimes I think we're too stringent about it because I could go back and listen to endless records that I've grown up with and hear them playing out of tune on the records, then I wonder why we worry so much about it. But I do understand it. If it's out of tune, with our tones and the way we play, and this type of music, it would just sound bad. So you have to be stringent about it, but it drives me nuts.
The best thing about playing live would be the energy. In the studio, maybe some people do, but I'm not jumping around like I do live when I'm in the studio. So the energy of playing live and having an audience screaming at me and feeding off that energy is the best thing about playing live, for sure. That's my favorite thing — just getting pushed so hard by an audience and being able to jump around, and just feel the music. Based on what I do onstage, people think that in real life I must be this insane dude who is constantly jumping around and banging my head. But it's really just being onstage with my guitar and letting the music push me that gets me to that point.
The worst thing about playing live would be technical problems, especially if something goes down and you're stuck trying to tell jokes for five minutes while the crew runs around like chickens without their heads trying to figure out what happened. But thankfully, it hasn't happened in a while. I've got a really simple rig, which was always very important to me from day one. I'm not a lead player and I don't need a refrigerator rack filled with outboard gear, where every single piece has the potential to screw you up live. So for me, I've got a really simple rig and I've gone two years now without ever having a problem.
Guitar.com: Charlie, what's the most horrible thing that's ever happened to you during a live show?
Benante: I broke my nose! And I was playing guitar, not drums! It happened years ago. We were in Japan and we used to trade instruments onstage. I remember I was telling our old guitar player Danny [Spitz] something, and he just happened to just cock his head back and plow! He smacked me in the nose with his guitar. I didn't fall, but I almost passed out. They had to take me to the hospital after the show. I actually finished the show, but I was a ****ing mess! That sucked!
Guitar.com: What are you each listening to for enjoyment these days?
Ian: I listened to Aerosmith Rocks two days ago, and that's the last thing I listened to! I can open up my iTunes ... I always listen to classic stuff. I go hiking a lot wear my iPod. I've recently listened to Thin Lizzy's Johnny The Fox record and AC/DC's If You Want Blood. I love the Audioslave record and the Outkast record, too. I also love the last Brian Setzer record, Nitro Burnin' Funny Daddy. I also love a lot of Cheap Trick, CKY, Dimmu Borgir, Otis Redding, Faith No More, Helmet, Iron Maiden, King's X, Ministry, Mother Superior, Motorhead. I'm just listening to stuff constantly. System Of A Down, Refused, Sepultura, Squeeze, Stone Temple Pilots, Turbonegro, UFO, Whitesnake.
Benante: I just got is a copy of The Grey Album by Danger Mouse. It has the Beatles' White album mixed with Jay Z's Black album. It's pretty good. Other than that, it's just been a real dead time for me, music-wise. I can't tell you the last thing that I really liked and that I'm constantly listening to. But I always revert back to the classics. I was listening to Queen's News Of The World in my car, and to me, all that stuff is still golden.
Guitar.com: What advice would you give to other players on developing their own sound and style?
Ian: Just play what you love — whatever makes you happy, whatever makes you feel good when you pick up a guitar. It should be fun and something that you enjoy. I wouldn't pick up a guitar for any other reason than that. That would be the only reason to play guitar. I know Gene Simmons says that's a lie, but when I started playing guitar, it wasn't to meet chicks.
Guitar.com: What tips can you offer on becoming a better songwriter?
Benante: Study the best and listen to what they do. That's the key. Listen to good songs and don't listen to the current state of pop music because then you'll just be writing crap. There's really no structure to it, it's just crap. If you have a song like "Stairway To Heaven" and it came out now, do you realize that it wouldn't ever get played? But it was a major radio hit! That would never happen nowadays, unless R. Kelly or Ashanti sang on it.
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