From lockdown in Dublin, Ireland to lockdown in Charlie Benante’s US home, Overdrive managed to [virtually] sit down with the iconic drummer to talk about his new ‘Silver Linings‘ LP, and the latest news on that highly anticipated Anthrax follow-up to 2016’s ‘For All Kings‘.
OD – From what I’ve read, this was a project that was born from your frustrations with the lockdown, hence the title of the record. Did you have any hesitations at first, or did it all just make perfect sense?
BENANTE – No, it was never intended to go on a record. It was really just to fulfill the boredom that I was experiencing as a result of being in lockdown, because of the Pandemic.
Back at the end of February/beginning of March when things got really bad over here [America], I was on my phone 24/7 and watching the news 24/7 and it really started to have a very negative impact on my overall thought process.
I was just trying to find some truth or anything at all that could explain the madness that was unfolding before my eyes every day. There was so much uncertainty and nobody really knew what the hell was going on.
While all of this was happening, there was total chaos over here and it seemed to be getting worse by the day. Nobody could get a straight answer about most things that were happening, and it was just really getting me very down, not to mention, angry, and frustrated.
From what I could see, things were being covered up to make a certain person look good, and unfortunately, we the people were just left wondering: “What the fuck is going on!”
Anyway, so eventually my girlfriend, Carla [Harvey, Butcher Babies] said to me; “You need to turn this stuff off! You need to get creative, start playing music! Do something that makes you happy“, and that’s exactly what I ended up doing.
During this time, I was just getting over the death of Neil Peart [RUSH drummer passes Jan 7th, 2020. R.I.P] and I asked my friends Alex [Skolnick, Testament guitarist] and ‘Ra‘ [Roberto Díaz, Suicidal Tendencies bassist] to get involved, which they did with no hesitation, and we then worked out we were gonna do it.
Honestly, there was a certain way that this had to be done in order to do it just right. We had to pay attention to detail and make sure that we filmed it just right.
OD – Did you have any problems at first doing it live?
BENANTE – The problem of doing it live was that if someone had a bad internet connection then there would be a lag, and then we would never lock into the groove because of the delay. So, I found a different way of doing it, and that’s how it all happened.
OD – Obviously, you have a great understanding of music in general, and have [over the years] expressed your love for many different genres. So, how difficult was it to whittle down the track-listing on ‘Silver Linings’?
BENANTE – Once I got the idea and the concept and how I could pull it off, I just went for it. I was really determined to be authentic as I could, and for the other guests involved, to be as authentic as they could, because that to me, was the best part. I didn’t want to go and play a wild cover version, I wanted it to match the original; with loads of attention to detail.
OD – Were there any tracks that proved to be a lot more complicated than you had anticipated?
BENANTE – Yeah, a few [Laughing]. The Massive Attack cover of ‘Teardrops‘ was a bit tricky, as it has many layers to it, so, I couldn’t approach it as I would normally do when writing Metal, as there is an abundance of atmosphere to it. I had to go about it in a different way.
OD – How so?
BENANTE – I had to play some keyboards, some textured keys, guitar, and drums/beats. I wanted it to be their song but wanted it to have more testosterone and a bit more of a “Rock” vibe to it. [Listen to the track below]
I also asked Carla to do the vocals and I really pushed her out of her comfort zone, and I’m really happy that she did that.
The other song on the album is the cover of the Run-DMC Medley [Featuring Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Rob Caggiano, and Ra Diaz]. I had to approach this cover with the mindset of a DJ and I had to trigger beats that would take it into the next section, and while I really enjoyed doing that, it was a bit tedious. But it sounds so fucking good! It was awesome! Everybody on that track, fucking killed it! [Listen to the track below]
OD – Working with such a prolific and eclectic group of artists, did it spark off any inspiration for you personally for new Anthrax music, as I’m sure, [like every album or project] it was a learning experience?
BENANTE – This gave me the freedom to explore and I guess… a few years ago I would have had some limitations. But now, I no longer have any limitations with my creativity, because people are open to more things these days.
I find new music, in general, to be quite boring. A couple of years back, I believe music, as in “the sound” of music, took a backseat with people becoming more interested in the way people look and the overall image of the artists, which is just sad.
When we’re doing an Anthrax record, you wouldn’t believe how much I fucking nitpick at the ideas, and that’s even before I bring those ideas to the rest of the band. It goes through so many compartments in my head and I’m like: “Okay, let me store that idea for a while and bring it out when I feel that it’s right.”
Doing ‘Silver Linings‘ gave me a different perspective on the way I do things. I’m now more like: “Fuck it, let’s just try this idea, so what if it’s a kind of Jazz-inspired part, how is that gonna sound when it’s filtered through the band“. The way the other guys interpret things is really interesting and that’s one of the things that keeps me so inspired. And because of that, in my opinion, the next Anthrax record is gonna be the best LP we’ve ever released.
OD – Now that this album is under your belt, can you see yourself doing a ‘Silver Linings Vol. 2′, anytime soon?
BENANTE – I’ve already got three more finished [Laughing]. It’s no so far-fetched! One of the best things for me is that I can this idea on the road with me and do this from the bus or a backstage room. I could grab certain people and get them to sing or perform on certain tracks, and record them then and there.
I don’t really think I’d stop doing this if I’m enjoying it. That’s the reason why I put it out in the first place. There was a huge reaction to the songs, with people asking for me to put it out on Vinyl, so, if things keep going along the way they have, yes, I’ll totally consider a Vol.2 of ‘Silver Linings‘.
OD – We understand that you’ve liked up with a charity foundation to donate some of the proceedings of the album sales. Can you tell us about that?
BENANTE – Yes, I’ve linked up with Neal Casal Music Foundation [An organization that provides musical instruments and lessons to students and makes donations to much-needed mental health organizations that support musicians in need]. This is very close to me because when I was in school, I was always in the art and music programs and as most people know, these are the first to go when it comes to budget cuts, which is just terrible.
There are kids that are just like myself that excel in those creative areas, rather than say, maths, etc. I remember that being a total outlet for me, and I think kids need that in their lives as well as being able to express themselves in these areas. If I didn’t have these facilities in my life, I don’t know what I would have done. It’s so important.
OD – Let’s talk about the ‘Among The Living’ Graphic Novel. I’m sure this was a bucket-list desire for you for many years. Of all the concepts you could have chosen based on Anthrax discography, what was it about ‘Among…’ that made this story work for you?
BENANTE – The beauty of this was that it was presented to us in a different way, and by that, I mean, Z2 Comics approached us thinking outside the box with the overall concept. [The graphic novel is comprised of individual stories on each track featuring guest writers such as Slipknot’s, Corey Taylor, Rob Zombie, Gerard Way, Mikey Way, Grant Morrison, Brian Posehn, Jimmy Palmiotti, Brian Azzarello, Rick Remender, Joe Trohman, Anthrax members Scott Ian, Frank Bello and more. Order here.]
Each song is represented with its own story. It’s not just the song words, which I thought was such an awesome idea. When I first read some of the stories, I was blown away, and to be honest, it’s amazing how good it is all came together.
OD – Naturally, I’m sure you had a list of candidates you wanted to take part in the novel. Can you tell us more about that?
BENANTE – Yeah, we had a list of names. [Laughing] One by one, they all came back to us and agree to do it and that was the best part of this project, as they were taking time out from what they do, to lend time and their creative talents for this book. As I’m talking about this, I’m just recalling the Rob Zombie story, which is just genius. Corey’s [Taylor, Slipknot] story is just….well, you just have to read it. I can’t believe the way it all came together and how it looks and is packaged etc. It’s just so awesome.
OD – Of the variant graphic novel covers, which is your favorite?
BENANTE – Well, I’m gonna be biased here and choose the Judge Dredd cover art I designed for ‘I Am The Law‘ [see below]. That’s the one I’d pick if I was choosing. [Laughing]
OD – Now that you’ve got the novel about to come out, as well as the album, and with all of your other achievements with Anthrax, you’ve also been keeping busy with your prints/art stuff and recently curated an exhibition of your and Carla’s artwork, which was a great success.
Of course, you’ve mentioned that Carla has been a big inspiration for you, as you have been to her, with both of you being artists. Do you find you’re more creative than ever these days and can mix up each of your creative talents with ease?
BENANTE – I owe a lot of this creative energy to her [Carla]. She moved here last March and we kind of started to evolve and started to do things together. She encourages me to do things outside of my comfort zone, as do I for her, and I guess we really just bounce ideas and inspiration off each other, and it’s a really positive feeling.
Before I knew it, I had a whole body of work from music to illustrations and small interesting projects like the exhibition and of course, this ‘Silver Linings‘ album. Some weeks I’d just concentrate on illustration and art, and then switch it up, and turn my creativity to music.
In fact, writing this new Anthrax record in light of this new fresh creative perspective has really opened my mind to approaching things differently. For example, learning how to create new sounds, how to mix, how to create a video that doesn’t cost the band over a hundred thousand dollars, etc.
I’ve figured out that with an understanding of certain advanced tech programs, I can do most of this stuff myself now! I just need certain key players, such as my musician friends, mixing engineer Andy Lagis, and my video editor, Dima Levanchuk.
OD – Having witnessed the changes in the industry firsthand over your 40-years in the business, there are things that have changed for the better, as well as for the worst. Do you miss those golden years of club shows, Headbangers Ball, fanzines, etc?
BENANTE – I would have to say, 100%. I miss those days of going down to Greenwich Village in Manhatten and visiting certain record stores, picking up a copy of Sounds Magazine, and checking out what was going on in England, because that was the only way we knew what was happening.
Nowadays, as much as the internet has been great, its’ also been the worst! It’s ruined so many aspects of life and the arts. We can never go back to those golden years, which is really sad because it taught us to have more respect for music, art, literature, movies, etc.
I know there are a lot of people like me who want that smell of opening up a new record, the feel of an LP in your hands. It’s all about “the hunt” for me [Laughing]. Finding that one album you’ve been searching for in the basement of a dusty old record store. I don’t just want to press a button and it’s done! I’d love to have that time back.
It was so special to wait in line outside a record store to buy an album from your favorite band. The feeling of finally getting your hands on it and rushing home to put it on the turntable. Listening and reading the liner notes. That feeling is priceless and so many of the younger generation will never know what that felt like.
Now there’s an app for everything. For every fucking feeling we have! I just think that imagination is such a huge part of ourselves and not having certain things, fed our imagination, and that led us to be inspired, and ultimately be creative and tenacious.
This all goes back to kids picking up a guitar for the first time, or whatever they are interested in, and just going for it! Imagination gives freedom to think big and believe in ourselves.
By and large, the technology that exists today just spends all its time telling us how we SHOULD be feeling what we THINK we need in our lives. That whole culture has got to stop. It’s sad to see.
OD – Have you ever considered a book much as The Beastie Boys did. Covering your life, Anthrax, your art, food, music, movies, etc?
BENANTE – Absolutely! I’ve already been talking to some people about something like this already and I’m really starting to get the ‘itch‘. My only issue about putting a book out is that I want it all to be finished. I don’t want to be actively doing what I’m doing now, as I would feel the story is not complete. Do you know what I mean?
I want to do this right and that means including everything from start to finish. So, that’s gonna be something to do way down the line.
OD – As an avid record collector and artist, what is your all-time favorite cover art for any album in your collection?
BENANTE – Easy, it has to be Queen, ‘News of the World‘. I just love that cover. It’s so mesmerizing to me. I don’t know what that robot is thinking.
That cover just gets me. I still don’t know what’s going on with the cover. Was it accidental, or did he mean to kill those people? I just can’t stop staring at it. I love it.
‘Silver Linings‘ will be available via Megaforce Records on May 14th. Pre-order your copy via this link.