Scott Ian and Danny Spitz of Anthrax Discuss New Album, 'Sound of White Noise,' in 1993 Guitar World Interview

Here's an interview with Scott Ian and Danny Spitz of Anthrax from the July 1993 issue of Guitar World.To see the Anthrax cover -- and all the GW covers from 1993 -- click here.

Scott Ian shows up at the recording studio dressed, as usual, like a man ready for a hard day’s construction work.His T-shirt and jeans, Stussy baseball cap and heavy Doc Martens boots are particularly appropriate today -- building a heavy-duty wall of Anthrax rhythm guitar is strenuous labor, requiring meticulous, workmanlike precision. Music so powerful and bottom-heavy demands rigorously close rhythmic tolerances if it isn’t going to turn into toxic sludge. And for Anthrax’s new album, Sound of White Noise (Elektra), Scott decided to layer each rhythm part a Herculean six times.“It’s a little tedious,” he says apologetically, “but it works!”The goateed guitarist sets about performing his task with a soldier’s resolve. He is seated high on a gunmetal-gray stool in the control room at El Dorado, a funky Hollywood studio that once belonged to Marvin Gaye and is now the haunt of Anthrax’s co-producer on Sound of White Noise, Dave Jerden [Jane’s Addiction, Alice in Chains]. Cradling his trademark Jackson “Not” guitar in his arms, Ian is the antithesis of the stereotypical spoiled heavy metal guitarist. A short, beetle-browed guy from Queens, New York, he doesn't need to have the lights dimmed or his ego stroked to "get in the mood" to play. No record-biz bimbos are on hand to fetch him mineral water or massage his shoulders between takes. He just sits there and slams out track after track of unrelenting heavy power chording.Since 1983, Anthrax have been barreling along just as relentlessly. Five guys from the unfashionable outer boroughs of New York City, they've always played heavy metal their own way: hard, fast, loud, low, raw and mean. Oblivious to trends, they've stuck to their guns with admirable tenacity. Meanwhile, the world has changed around them, and now the rock scene is suddenly filled with guys in work shirts and gym shorts playing a harder, dirtier, un-prettified brand of heavy metal. Grindcore, death metal, thrash metal, rap metal, grunge ... all roads trace back to Anthrax.
Yet Anthrax has stood by and watched friends and colleagues like Metallica outsell them many times over. As Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante puts it: "We were there on the ground floor. But a lot of other bands caught the elevator up first." No question, Anthrax have had more than their share of woes, including lackluster support from their former record label and a growing rift with their former lead singer, Joey Belladonna.So it's great to see them back in fighting form, with a new label (Elektra), a new producer and a new singer: John Bush, formerly of Armored Saint, who gives the band a fierce new melodic edge. With Bush burning at the helm, Anthrax have come up with one of the strongest, most diverse records of their career. No wonder Scott and Anthrax lead guitarist Danny Spitz look especially contented as they settle in for an in-depth chat with Guitar World.GUITAR WORLD: How has the addition of John Bush changed Anthrax?SCOTT IAN: We're basically happier. There was a lot of frustration in this group, leading up to the change in singers. It was something we knew we wanted to do, probably since 1988. From '91 onward it really became stressful.DANNY SPITZ: Some of that frustration came out in the music on this new album. We were all just in a different frame of mind than we'd ever been before -- really pissed off. We started writing before John joined. And once he did, his voice just fit the mood we were in.How has that affected your guitar approach?SPITZ: It's changed everything. In the past I had to try to match Joey's high-pitched singing style. Now I've got a voice that's in the music.Obviously, you guys and Joey were growing apart, musically.IAN: Maybe it's because the music kept getting heavier, but he stayed the same. In my opinion, his best album with us was the first one, Spreading The Disease. I think a lot of Anthrax fans feel that way too. After that his voice just wasn't going where our music was going. I think that was obvious on Persistence Of Time and even more so on Attack Of The Killer B's. I think I sang more songs than he did on that one.You mentioned that many of the songs were written in anger. “Packaged Rebellion" is particularly interesting because it attacks something you obviously love -- rock and roll music.IAN: "Packaged Rebellion" basically came out of things that happened last summer -- Lollapalooza and MTV and the whole grunge deal. The title just refers to the way the media is now selling this whole supposedly "rebellious" image. By being a Lollapalooza-type fan and going to Lollapalooza you're supposed to be participating in some kind of rebellion or something. But you're not. It's the big-corporate mainstream making millions of dollars. Everyone's dressing down now -- like wearing a certain shirt makes you a rebel or something. That's why I say, "revolution on your sleeve." To me, the whole thing is bullshit. I have nothing against Lollapalooza in general. It was a great show. But I think the people involved should be a little more honest about what they're putting on.I guess I get extra angry about this, because it just so happens that our manager also manages Ministry. So we found out a lot of the behind-the-scenes workings of Lollapalooza, Inc. And it really doesn't stand for what people think it stands for -- this whole unity, love, peace and awareness thing. No. The bottom line is money. If you're gonna put a concert out on the road, fine. But don't shovel all this other crap down people's throats and try to come off like you're better than anybody else. It's the same with MTV. MTV sells every 13-and 14-year-old kid a complete "How To Be A Rebel" package: "How to Have That Cool Look of the Nineties." And it's a bunch of bullshit. All of a sudden, everywhere you look, in every single magazine, it's "grunge." My girlfriend gets all the fashion magazines and you've got these big designers now selling $500 flannel shirts. These people are insane!It's the same thing with the so-called "Hip Hop Look."IAN: It's all ridiculous. Kids wearing size 38 pants when they really should be wearing a 26. Fashion rules the world. And it shouldn't be that way.Do you think there was ever a time when rock and roll was genuinely rebellious?IAN: On the whole, no. I think certain people in certain bands have been more so than others. I think there are people who really do believe in what they're doing and take things really seriously. But on the whole, rock and roll is a business. Everyone's in it to make money -- myself included. So I think people should be more honest about it. It really bugs me when you get these bands who make it really big and sell all these records... and then complain about success. Or they say, "We're not corporate rock." The bottom line is anyone who releases a product for sale is commercial. That's it. You're selling something in a store and you're making money off it. If you don't want to be corporate, either don't put anything out or else give it away for free. Or just sell it for exactly what it cost you to make.I think rock and roll has now become more of a contradiction than it's ever been. To me, Fugazi is the only band out there that's really sticking to that idea of, "We're not gonna do what the system wants." They're not gonna sign a deal. They release their own records and do things their own way. That's one band you can't say anything about. Any other band out there is a corporate rock band. If you sign a deal with Geffen Records, you're a corporate band. Bottom line. I don't care if you wear a t-shirt on the cover of Rolling Stone that says, "Corporate Magazines Still Suck." You're still on the cover! I don't know why a lot of these groups have to be so careful about their image: "We're selling a few million albums, but we better look like we make no money." Gimme a break! It's ridiculous.But hasn't the grunge vogue been good for Anthrax?IAN: Any time any form of heavy metal does well, it's good for the whole genre of heavy metal. 'Cause it's all heavy metal to me. Nirvana and Soundgarden are heavy metal, in my opinion. They're certainly not alternative. To me, Depeche Mode and the Cure are the more alternative-type bands. But a lot of kids who were really into them are now listening to Nirvana and Soundgarden. And from there, some of them may go on to Anthrax and Metallica. So it's just like when Bon Jovi and Def Leppard sold their 10-million albums and it was great for the heavier metal bands. Metallica would never have sold what they sold without Def Leppard and Bon Jovi.Do you see the whole "dressing down" thing -- the Doc Martens and $500 flannel shirts -- as something Anthrax helped start?IAN: Well, we were never big on flannel shirts. I was surprised when I recently saw some pictures of us, back in '87 or '88, where me and Charlie actually had flannels on. But we've been wearing shorts on stage for the past eight years, so maybe that opened up people's minds. Because we were one of the first metal bands that didn't look like a Seventies or an early-Eighties heavy metal band.When did you and Danny first meet?IAN: 1983. SPITZ: I was working on 48th street [Manhattan's "Music Store Row"] selling guitars at "We Buy Guitars." And two of the guys that worked there kept saying, "You gotta meet this guy Scott. He's got 15 Marshall cabinets. He's into the same music you are." At the time, Scott was just forming Anthrax. Scott came by the store, but he'd just found a lead guitar player for the band. I was really cocky then, like I am now. So I said, "Ah, the guy probably won't last for more than two or three weeks." So two or three weeks later Scott comes walking in and says, "Think you want to come down and try out?" I put all my Marshalls in a van, played an audition and that was it. Charlie had joined just three months before that.Scott, you switched to a Charvel Surfcaster for this new album?IAN: I used the Surfcaster only for the clean parts on this album -- not for the regular rhythms. Because the Surfcaster only has those little lipstick pickups, which just don't cut it for my rhythm sound. But now I've had a Surfcaster with humbuckers in it made for me, and that's going to be my main guitar now. I'm tired of playing that regular Strat-shaped one.You're not gonna retire the "Not" guitar!IAN: I was gonna retire that one anyway, because that's my main studio guitar for rhythm sounds and I don't want to bring it out on the road. Plus that whole "Not" thing has gotten so out of control. If I went out with that on my guitar now, people would think I was being trendy or something. But anyone who knows this band knows that nobody was saying "Not" 10 years ago except for us. I have videos of us from 1985 with the giant "Not" sign on stage -- which we kind of took from the old Ramones thing, the "Gabba Gabba Hey" sign. So we had this word "Not" that was just part of our vocabulary -- that sarcastic way of saying it like everyone does now. We even wrote a song called "Not." It was a C sharp chord over and over again. We'd do it as the final encore of the show every night, after "Gung Ho." I'd drop my guitar, run out and get the sign and the whole audience would be chanting "Not, Not, Not." We had this on video from seven or eight years ago. And all of a sudden Wayne's World does it and you see it on Budweiser commercials.SPITZ: Little old grandmothers say it. But what's even funnier is Scott grew up saying it in Bayside [Queens] and I grew up saying it in upstate New York, in my country house. And then the two of us got together and he said "Not." And it was, like, "Dude! Not!"IAN: Not too long ago, the L.A. Times did a history of the usage of the word "Not" in that way. And they think the first time it was ever used in the media was in a Saturday Night Live skit in 1977. I think it was Dan Aykroyd who did it. But I knew this kid, Alan Luckman, and he used to say it all the time in about '74, '75. And that's what made me say it. That's how it became Scott Not and all that kind of crap.SPITZ: Now it's trendy and dumb.IAN: So now my guitar goes away.SPITZ: It's basically the same as when I had all those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on my guitar. It got trendy and the guitars are away in a closet. I started putting Marvel comic book characters on my guitar in 1985. I was the first one. Now it's out of hand. So now I play black guitars.You mentioned the Ramones earlier. Are you friendly with them?IAN: We don't hang out with them or anything, but we know the guys. Some guy did a documentary movie about them, and we were in it. They came down and filmed us at Electric Lady, just talking about why I was into the Ramones. Growing up in Queens like I did, I guess there was no way for me not to be into the Ramones. The Ramones were from Forest Hills [Queens] and everyone liked them. That was it. I've loved them since around '77. I was always way more into them than all the British punk. 'Cause I wasn't into the fashion thing, and the Ramones dressed just like I did, even though I was younger than them. I still wear the same Levis and leather jackets. So I really just identified with them. I remember seeing them on TV way back when. I still think Johnny Ramone is, like, the best rhythm player ever.Was his heavily down-picked style a big influence on your rhythm approach?IAN: Yeah. I love muted chords. I love playing chords without actually hitting notes [i.e., with the strings completely muted]; that's probably my favorite thing. There's a lot of that on this record -- different places on the neck where I know I can mute if I want a heavier sound, or a higher, biting sound. Today I'm working on this intro thing that's going to open up the album, where I just play these muted chunks. We're going to speed up the tape machine really fast to record it, and then slow it back down so it'll come out as this big, giant monster. The thing is going to be about 30 or 40 seconds of syncopated, industrial-type noise that leads into the opening track. It should be pretty cool.How did you decide on Dave Jerden as co-producer for this album?IAN: We thought we'd work with [Steve] Thompson and [Michael] Barbiero, who mixed our last record. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we didn't want to repeat ourselves. Everything was new for us: a new singer, a new record deal, so we really wanted a total change. Elektra mentioned Bob Rock, but we didn't want to use the same guy who did Metallica and go the same route. Flood, [Depeche Mode, U2] was our first choice. I thought he'd be cool because he's never produced anybody even remotely like us. He thought he'd be able to do us, during a three-month break he'd have from Depeche Mode. But then their schedules changed and he couldn't do it. We had already spoken to Dave Jerden and the more we thought about it, the more we realized he was the guy.SPITZ: We've had trouble with producers in the past. Each of us knows how to get his own sound. And we all know what an Anthrax song should sound like. We had arguments with guys who'd say, "Why are there 16 bars before the vocal comes in? The vocal should come right in if you want to get on the radio." And we'd say, "Don't you understand? We don't get on the radio. We're not aiming to get on the radio. We wrote this song to please ourselves. Why are you trying to change it?''IAN: But Dave had a lot of ideas of his own, too. He didn't see any need to change the songs, but he did come in and say, "This is how I do drums. And here's what I want to try with the guitars.... " We were apprehensive at first, 'cause we've always been the anal retentive recording band. I have one Marshall head that I've always used to record. But Dave said, "I really want you to try these amps." So I ended up doing six tracks for each of my rhythm parts. The rhythms are in stereo with three tracks per side, and with each track recorded with a different amp: a Marshall, a Bogner and a Matchless. It's really a great rhythm sound. The Matchless is the "secret ingredient" -- really ballsy. In some cases I added a seventh track of little accents and things. And sometimes I did the seventh track on a Jerry Jones six-string bass. That's the real killer.Danny, what kind of vibe were you going for with your solos this time?SPITZ: I went back to just basic blues and pentatonic-type scales -- more feeling and raw stuff. I'd always wanted to do things like that, but it just never fit our music until now. It takes me a long time to write a lead. I don't come in and burn them off in the studio; it takes like three months. I have to really listen to the music and work them out on my four-track cassette machine at home. This year, though, I left some of the leads a little more open-ended. 'Cause in the past I'd concentrate so hard on playing what I had on tape that I wouldn't be able to adapt or change the part if somebody said, "That lead just isn't working."So the other guys in the band critique your solos?SPITZ: Oh, yes. I prefer to have it that way.IAN: He makes us do it. Even if we have nothing to say.SPITZ: And with Anthrax, you're talking about four people who mainly do not like leads. They feel the song is more important than having six different solo sections. So it's almost like I have to fight for the space to do a solo. But the space has to be right. There are a lot of problems in this music as far as playing over what Scott plays is concerned, because, theory-wise, anything goes. It's not I-IV-V in any kind of normal progression. It could be F sharp to F to B flat, real fast. Now, how do you play lead over that? Go find the key. It would be all right if it was in 4/4 time -- but it's not. You can't just follow Scott's rhythm, because he's playing it so fast. You can't jump between the three keys. So you've just got to find the correct notes. Or almost create a mood instead of a key. It's very difficult. To me, playing over other types of heavy metal is baby stuff. This is a challenge. I think it was Robert Fripp last year who said the most creative music out there now is what we're playing.That's quite a compliment.SPITZ: At least he understands it. He must have sat down and tried to learn it.What a thought: Fripp jamming with Anthrax! Maybe we could arrange it.SPITZ: That would be pretty weird. [laughs]How did Scott end up playing the lead on "Burst?"IAN: It just kind of happened. I had an idea in my head throughout months of rehearsals in New York and on one of our eight-track demo tapes I actually put it down. Dan heard it and said, "You should just do the solo."SPITZ: That was actually one of the songs I was going to leave for last, because I didn't have a clue what to do for a solo. As soon as I heard Scott had an idea, I said, "Go for it." It's a perfect lead for Scott's style.IAN: That whole song is just noise.That solo is pure wang-bar madness.IAN: It's two tracks left and right. When you put headphones on and hear those two different trem parts in your ears, I want it to be so intense that you gotta remove the headphones. It's gonna just drill into your brain.SPITZ: Scott is the master of noises you've never heard come out of a guitar before. Seriously. Sometimes we'll be working out a song and he'll just start making the most fucked up noises you ever heard in your life. Everyone just stops and looks at him, and all of a sudden it just turns into something amazing. It's really cool.IAN: My favorite thing on the whole album is that part after the intro in "This Is Not An Exit," where everything stops and there's just that little "brinnnk!"Is that just picking behind the bridge?IAN: Yeah. It's the best thing on the whole album. And there's this other sound, at the end of "Packaged Rebellion" -- I don't even know how I made it. The song stops and there's this sound: eerrhhhh.... It must have been a string buzz or something. It sounded cool, so we left it on the track. It sounded like an angry bee in a glass jar. It's a sick noise. I'm definitely gonna sample that.When I came by the studio the other day, Scott was recording his rhythms in a dropped D tuning. Is that typical for Anthrax?IAN: There are a couple of songs in dropped D on the new album: "Room For One More," "Sodium Pentothal," "Invisible" and "Potters Field." On "This Is Not An Exit," the E is down to C sharp and all the other strings go down a half-step. There are a lot of songs where the whole guitar is tuned a half step down, like "Packaged Rebellion" and "Black Lodge."We just found that certain sounds would immediately start sounding better if we tuned down a half-step-or up a half-step. People say if you tune everything down it's automatically heavier. That's not always true. Depending on the riffs and the music you're playing, sometimes everything gets too muddled if you tune down. With everything so low and heavy on a lot of songs, do you have to make the rhythms especially tight?IAN: Well, yeah. No matter how many tracks I do on a song, the idea is to make that many tracks sound like one guitar. Sometimes it can be a real trial on my patience. There's a lot of punching in. Each time you double the track, you learn exactly how you played it the first time. I'll figure exactly how I picked each note and now much the string moved. I call it my Fascist Rhythm Technique.SPITZ: That's why we work together so well. He doesn't want to play lead. He's a fucking amazing rhythm player. There aren't many bands like that anymore. As far as I'm concerned, they're all gone. There are no more bands like AC/DC with Malcolm Young on rhythm. Malcolm rules!IAN: For me, the only other bands that have real rhythm guitar are Metallica and Soundgarden. I like Kim Thayil of Soundgarden; I think he gets a really different kind of tone, and he plays really good rhythm. But there aren't many good rhythm players anymore.SPITZ: 'Cause everyone thinks if you don't play a lead you're not gonna be the star of the show and get all the girls.Is that the way it is, Scott?IAN: I don't know. But you know who I met last night? One of my ultimate idols of rhythm guitar: Rudy Schenker. I was flattered that he knew who I was and knew Anthrax's stuff. For me, growing up in the Seventies, it was him, Ted Nugent and of course Kiss. I was the biggest Kiss fan in the world in the Seventies.Did you do the makeup and all?IAN: Oh yeah, from like '75 to '78 . But my favorite guy was Gene Simmons. I didn't give a shit about the other guys. Everyone loved Ace Frehley, but Gene Simmons, he held it down. And then Tony Iommi on the first five Sabbath albums. And Malcolm Young.... I could go on and on about Seventies bands. But I always gravitated toward the rhythm guitar guy. It's weird. All my friends loved Angus Young in AC/DC, but I liked Malcolm.You can 't really have rock and roll without rhythm guitar.SPITZ: That's right. But now everybody just wants to go wheedeeleeewheeedeeleewheeehaaa…. I can't even listen to that. I listen to old school lead players. I can't listen to these guys who sound like everybody else. Be yourself. Or else don't play.Well, there are so many schools for that kind of guitar playing now.SPITZ: Yeah, and it's only getting worse.IAN: GIT is the kiss of death, if you ask me. Anyone who comes out of there has been molded into something…. I don't know what. You see these guys, it's like a....SPITZ: ...a disease! Wailingitis.IAN: I went to the NAMM show for the first time in my life this year, and it was like my worst nightmare. 'Cause you walk through this huge place and every 10 feet there's some guy standing on a little platform going
wheedeeedeeeewheeeedeee.... I walked around with Frankie [Bello, Anthrax's bassist] and we both had our hands over our ears. No escape! It was really disgusting.Speaking of ordeals, there was a flood in the studio while you were recording this album.IAN: Yeah, it was when they were having all that rain in Los Angeles. El Dorado has a flat roof with a brick wall running all around the top -- kind of like a big swimming pool. It kept filling up with rain water, until the level got so high that the water came gushing into the air conditioning vent -- right onto the console. Dave Jerden had to climb up there to see what was going on. The really strange part came when he found that what had been blocking the drain was a decaying dog's head.Nice. Were you there for this discovery?IAN: No, Frankie called me up and said, "You're not gonna believe this, but..." Truthfully, I wasn't that surprised -- it's the sort of thing that always happens to Anthrax.I guess it just isn't an Anthrax album without some natural disaster happening during the recording.IAN: Exactly. We had a fire when we were writing Persistence Of Time and an earthquake while we were in the studio recording it. And now we had this flood. The fire was in January of '90 and the flood in January of '93 . I just can't wait to see what January of '96 brings!