Local musician/producer Ken Sarmiento (Phuz/Channel K) is a metal fan from way back, and he recently had the opportunity to discuss music and the new album, Worship Music, with Anthrax drummer Charlie Benante. Anthrax will be in Houston this Sunday (10.30.11) for a show at Warehouse Live with Testament and Death Angel.
Ken Sarmiento: Charlie Benante, it’s an honor to have you in this Houston Calling interview. You’re a metal drumming legend in my book. You’re still down to earth every chance I’ve had to talk with you. How are things with you and Anthrax going?
Charlie Benante: Things are going really well. I would say that we are most relieved about having our record come out and entering the charts at #12. What a great feeling it was not having a record out in eight years and then really working hard on this one and to having a such a strong showing, especially in this climate where people don’t sell CDs that much anymore. You know what I mean?
KS: Congrats on making #12 on the billboard 200 charts. My personal favorites are “The Devil You Know,” “In the End,” “Fight Em,” and “The Constant”. What a treat for Anthrax fans to have Joey [Belladonna] back in the band and on the new record. You’ve got to be pleased with that success so far.
CB: Oh yeah, I’m very pleased. Believe me, it’s been a weird road, a long road, and I’m happy that we can all regroup and make such a strong effort to make a strong record. For all of us, we’re extremely happy with everything with who’s in the band and stuff like that. We’re just excited to kinda play these new songs. It’s been a long time and we can’t wait.
KS: Are there any new songs that didn’t make it on the new album that fans might hear in the future?
CB: Yeah…there are a few left over.
KS: Maybe on a B-Side or another album?
CB: Another album that won’t take eight years to make.
KS: Back in the early days, I was a huge fan of Joey. After Joey left Anthrax, I still remember trying to get used to John [Bush]. I eventually became a huge fan of John. Then having Joey back again, it’s been a weird process of how all that all worked. Can you explain how that all worked out for Anthrax?
CB: For me specifically, this time for us regrouping together felt like the most natural it’s ever been. I think the reunion tour had some great shows, but it wasn’t done for the right reasons. This was done for the right reason. I keep saying the word organic, but that’s true either way it came about. You know we just took it by steps and went out and did some shows. The Big 4 shows. That was awesome and the momentum started to build from there and everyone felt good about things.
KS: The cool thing is that you have Rob who is an awesome lead guitarist and a producer himself, and you add producer Jay Ruston to the mix and add them together. What a powerhouse of people to work on the album.
CB: Everybody really did their part in the production side of things. I mean…I was doing stuff here in Chicago like putting the intro to the record and just doing some last minute demo stuff for some of the songs and some guitar stuff for the songs. And then I would then send it through the internet to Jay and he would fly it in into the songs. Rob was in Europe and one of the last guitar solos he did was for the song, “Judas Priest”. And he actually did that on a bus in Belgium. He had to wait until he got to some good internet to send it off. It was pretty funny how this record was made. It was pretty much made all over the place.
KS: Personally, I think Jay Ruston’s work on Joey’s vocals are great and probably the best I’ve heard on any Anthrax album. Can you elaborate working with both Jay and Joey?
CB: It was just Jay and Joey in the room together. Joey and Jay had a good relationship and they worked really well together. You can tell just the way the songs sound. Joey was comfortable, nobody was there, it was just Jay and Joey. So there was no jury in the room, saying ‘try this, do that.’ Jay would send us a rough mix on what they did for the day, and all of us would listen to it, and we would have some minor comments. And for the most part, it was pretty much there, and that’s how we worked.
KS: Charlie the drummer is what everybody knows. You play Tama drums, Vic Firth sticks, etc. But you’ve played a big part on playing guitars on the record, with almost every Anthrax record, correct?
CB: Yeah. I get to fulfill the guitarist in me. I’m so happy I get to do that because I love to play guitar so much. I hear things in my head when I’m writing some of these songs, like Scott will do the basic meat and potatoes of the songs for guitar. You know, he’ll [Scott] do all the rhythms, and I’ll always throw in these textured things, or even throw in the lead or harmony. And I usually play all the acoustics too on the record. For me, it’s like it’s almost better than playing the drums [laughs].
KS: Do you have a favorite guitar that you use, a certain rig you practiced with?
CB: I have a few of them, a few guitars I love to play with. On this record, I probably used seven or eight.
KS: Charlie, you’re such a creative person outside of the music with your work on the album graphic art and design. How do you even begin with coming up with the album concept?
CB: It’s something I just see inside of my head, something that inspires me.
KS: So it’s something natural for you then?
CB: Usually I get an image in my head and just go with it. This time the image that I had for a couple different pieces of artwork I went to one of the best artists there is on the planet, Alex Ross. Talked to him about it. Told him the concept and we bounced around some ideas. He basically drew up a rough sketch, and I was like, “That’s it, dude, do it!” And he did it, and he captures exactly what I see. For me, a piece of Alex’s art is always something that I can stare at from time to time and just be in awe of it. He has such a style, that I can just stare at it like it’s a freakin’ museum piece, you know?
KS: Alright Charlie, briefly a little bit about you. Describe in as few words as possible what comes up in your mind:
KS: Joey Belladona
CB: Sports fanatic
KS: Lars Ulrich
CB: The brains
KS: Kerry King
KS: Dave Mustaine
KS: Alex Skolnick
CB: Wow, virtuoso
KS: Favorite Anthrax T-shirt?
CB: I have to go with the original “not man” idea. I would see so many people wearing it. It just basically said it all. It just said Anthrax, his face, and then “not.”
KS: Xbox or PS3?
CB: I’m gonna go with the Nintendo Wii. [laughs]
KS: Favorite non-Starbucks drink
CB: Modelo Negro
KS: Favorite female singer at the moment
CB: Stevie Nicks
KS: Favorite Simpsons collectable
KS: Curve ball!
CB: That’s good! That’s a tough one. There’s so many I have a ton of them. I don’t know. You kinda got me on that one.
KS: Album you’re listening to most, non-metal?
CB: I’ve been absorbed in this Pink Floyd box that came out. Been listening to Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, and Meddle a lot.
KS: Biggest Influence that’s not a musician
CB: Steven Spielberg
KS: Rob made a comment about how the music industry needs to change. With rock clubs declining and the state of the music industry overall, there’s hardly any artist development. What’s your take on the overall music scene in the digital age we live in?
CB: Basically the days of musicians being catered to, I think it still exists, but I think for a lot of us we’re just back to that, “do it yourself” way of doing things. I have a lot of issues with the way music is being made nowadays. I know it’s become so common like when a rap record comes out they have to have like at least 10 guests on these tracks. I never understood why an artist gets talked into doing this. To me it’s fuckin’ cheesy. Like okay, here’s the obvious rap now that’s gonna come in, or the singer that gonna come in and sing the chorus. It’s just so calculated and it’s just cheesy. It’s one of those things that seem to be predictable. And people just buy into it. If they keep doing it, then you get so accustomed to it and you just accept it.
KS: Congrats making history playing with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeath at Yankee Stadium last month. That must have been really incredible. Tell us what it was like and what it means to you.
CB: Well for us, for me especially, growing up in the Bronx, basically playing a place that has such an amazing vibe, and to be able to say I played Yankee Stadium, it’s just an amazing thing.
KS: It’s such a huge accomplishment.
CB: Yeah, for all the bands it was an amazing thing, but for us, being from New York, I think it had a little more value to it.
KS: Right, it hit home for you.
CB: Yeah, it hit home, so I was extremely happy.
KS: Charlie, thanks for your time. Keep up the awesome work. The fans here in Houston are looking forward to seeing both Anthrax and Testament playing here at Warehouse Live on October 30th. And I’ll see you in Houston brother.
CB: OK, thanks for the interview…cheers!
For more information on Houston musician Ken Sarmiento, visit www.kensarmientomusic.com.