RECENTLY, ANTHRAX'S CLASSIC SPREADING THE DISEASE-ERA LINEUP of vocalist Joey Belladonna, bassist Frank Bello, drummer Charlie Benante, and the dynamic guitar team of Dan Spitz and Scott Ian decided to reform and hit the road to kick some serious metal ass. After numerous sold-out dates throughout North America, they’re working towards a new album and hitting up the festival circuit in Europe with their high-speed ferocity, addictive instrumental melodies, and ear-numbing yet delightful guitar riffs. GP’s Canadian editor, Pamela Porosky, filed this report from Spitz and Ian exclusively for Guitar Player online.
How has the reunion been going?
Ian: It just keeps getting better. These shows have been some of the best shows we’ve played in a long time. This lineup hasn’t been together in 13 years, but we’ve had the chance to actually become a real band again.
Spitz: Almost all the dates have sold out, and we can feel that old aura in the air we used to feel in the beginning days when we were on the road with Metallica. We would be the opening band, and we’d come out to watch our friends play. Before they came on, you felt like you could cut the air. It’s that kind of thing all over again. I think I’ve been blessed to have round two.
The band has what a lot of fans are calling a “we’re back” attitude.
Ian: Maybe it’s because people haven’t seen us before, or they haven’t seen us in a while. I have that attitude every time I step on stage. When I step onto a stage, I own that stage, and I don’t give a sh*t who’s been on it before me, or who’s going to be on it after.
Spitz: I was the one in the band who, for ten years, stopped playing. I spent six of those years in Switzerland becoming a master watchmaker, so over the last few months, it’s like I’m 16 again. I think that’s reflected onto and into everyone else in the band. We’re finally cracking jokes and doing practical jokes on the road like we used to, and just having fun. I think that’s what our fans are seeing.
Was it difficult trying to rediscover the old chemistry?
Ian: No—because you can’t force chemistry. It either happens or it doesn’t, and it’s pretty obvious either way. We just let things gel. We didn’t try and rush anything. We didn’t even think that we should practice for a week before the tour. We just rehearsed for two days to make sure everyone knew their parts.
Spitz: As far as playing for the first time, the chemistry was instant. But it’s the first time the Ian/Spitz team has been back together in ten years, so it’s only been the last three months or so where I’m starting to feel comfortable again.
Dan, how did it feel after you put down your guitar and left the music business in 1995?
Spitz: It was weird for the first few years, because I didn’t know what happened to me. I literally lost the love of my instrument. I lost the love of playing, and I didn’t think I would ever want to touch a string as long as I lived. I’d had it.
You went to Switzerland to successfully pursue degrees in micro-mechanical engineering and micro-electrical engineering at WOSTEP (Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program)—as one of only ten students chosen each year for attendance—and didn’t touch a guitar for more than eight years. Then you returned to the U.S., and became one of the most highly sought-after watchmakers in the world. What brought you back to the music?
Spitz: I got the anger back from listening to Korn’s Untouchables album, and I started listening to music again. I got the hunger to play a bit, so when my brother Dave—the bass player from Black Sabbath, Great White, and White Lion—was jamming with Nicko McBrain of Iron Maiden, I decided to step on stage and it all came back. I was just having a little fun, but when Charlie [Benante, Anthrax drummer] asked me if I’d like to come back and play some shows, I found that I couldn’t say “no.” This was a life-changing experience.
While Dan was off in Switzerland becoming a master watchmaker, and before Rob Caggiano was recruited to fill the slot of lead guitarist, Dimebag Darrell was a frequent guest guitarist for a number of tracks on Volume 8: The Threat is Real, We’ve Come for You All, and Stomp 442. Can you comment on what he brought to the band?
Ian: To put it extremely mildly, Dime was pretty good at what he did, and pretty good with coming up with the leads for the songs he played on the Anthrax records. Dime played the way he played, because he was born with that natural talent inside him. I can aspire to play as well as he did, but I don’t think that aspiration would ever become a reality—even if I practiced for six hours a day for the next ten years.
We would send him the tracks, he would pick the songs he wanted to play on, he would send us the stuff back, and we would be blown away. It was that simple. I mean, it wasn’t like we had to give that guy a lot of notes!
You also name-check Randy Rhoads as someone who has been inspirational to you.
Ian: Randy Rhoads was one of those guitar players who was the whole package—both lead and rhythm-wise. I remember when I first heard Blizzard of Ozz, I felt like I was listening to someone who understood that having a super-heavy rhythm tone and anchoring the track was just as important as having a sick lead break. At that time, when shredding first started, I felt like so many guitarists could give a sh*t about whether or not it was a song. But Randy understood both.
Are lessons really necessary in order to become an accomplished metal player?
Spitz: Without being schooled, I wouldn’t be able to survive. If you’re going to be proficient at what you do, you better know it, because it’s beautiful when you feel confident enough to just step in at rehearsals and on stage—or into the recording studio with one of the best producers in the world—and talk shop. People who aren’t schooled can’t do that.
Having said that, lessons can make you stale. The teachers might try to tell you all these rules and regulations, and I don’t follow rules. I remember during my last lesson, the gentleman teaching was telling me not to bend the strings. He said, “You don’t do that. When you bend them, you do it exactly this way.” I said, “That’s the last time I’m here, buddy!” I know enough now to create my own sound, and that’s something no one can teach you. It’s a blessing and a gift you’re given. Practice your ass off, and strive to be unique, because 98 percent of everything comes off your fingers—no matter what amp you plug into.