Guitarist Scott Ian has been metal's No. 1 fan ever since his first whiff of Kiss back in the '70s. He's also been the one constant in every lineup of Anthrax, now one of the “Big 4” originators of thrash-metal set to land on the site of Coachella in Indio this Saturday.
While Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth have their roots in Southern California, it was Anthrax that represented the New York contingent of thrash. Now based in Los Angeles himself, Ian tells the LA Weekly in an exclusive interview why thrash outlasted hair-metal and why he's no fan of that other festival in the desert:
What are your expectations for the show?
There's going to be 50,000 kids there for one reason – to see the greatest metal show ever put together in the United States. Nobody is going to disappoint. I predict some of the physically biggest moshpits that have ever been seen will happen on April 23. Kids who aren't in such good shape are going to be in trouble. [Laughs]
This is taking place on the site of Coachella. Have you ever been to that festival?
I've never been, and I would never ever go. This is our own show. We just happened to be playing the same field that hosts that Silver Lake festival in the desert.
You have a problem with Coachella?
I'm just not a big fan of the too-cool-for-school indie world. Metal bands have never been invited or been able to be part of the cool kids, and I like it that way. I don't want to have anything to do with you, I don't like your music, I don't like your scene, I don't like your ironic mustaches, and I don't like your stupid hats. So go have your Coachella and take your drugs and see a bunch of shitty bands. Good for you.
What is thrash?
Thrash is smart. There's a lot of intelligence in the music, in the lyrics, in the business of all four bands. You got a bunch of smart dudes. Maybe we don't look like the smartest dudes in the world, but every one of these four bands has some really smart people in it – creatively, professionally. We all had a very strong vision.
There's going to be a lot of people in Indio. Is it still underground?
Metallica is like Coca-Cola. Strangely enough, obviously they are mainstream, but at the same time they're still a thrash-metal band. As big as Metallica are, they're still not like a pop act. As big as they are, they're still not U2 or Lady Gaga. It's still underground. It's still 50,000 people coming to a show for a fuckin' bunch of dudes playing really fast non-commercial music.
Why is it that three of the four original bands are from Southern California?
They had a lot to be pissed off at. We didn't have the hair metal thing going on in New York like they did here in L.A. in the '80s. We didn't have to fight against that to get gigs, where all the clubs would book were those lady bands. Not that there was a thrash scene in New York. There was nothing going on. But at least didn't have that against us at the time. Maybe three of the thrash bands formed here because there was more to hate.
There was no hair-metal in New York?
Not like out here. I don't like to call it “hair-metal” because there is nothing metal about it. It's not glam, because real glam to me was David Bowie and the New York Dolls. That stuff you had here in the '80s with guys dressing like ladies, I don't know what to call that. Maybe that's truly crossover – cross-dressing.
Are you surprised that it's thrash that turned out to be the big one from that era?
To be completely honest, yeah. Nobody gets into a band and thinks they're going to have a 30-year career. Every year goes by, and I can't believe it. But at the same time, all four of us always worked. Even at times when it went up and down like a rollercoaster, we were always a constant even if we weren't always massive. We really did just outlast everything. Therefore there will always be an audience for it. It so happens the audience is a lot bigger now.
What makes this the “classic” version of Anthrax? You've had some high points with different lineups.
It's the band that people discovered Anthrax on in general. Granted, we have a lot of new fans that didn't get into the band until the 90s or the 2000s, but they all go back and get the catalog. You just see it from playing the songs live. No matter who's ever been in this band, the biggest songs in this band's career are off of [1987's] Among the Living. That's the album. That defines what this band is about.
What was the Big 4 tour like last year in Europe?
It was like a huge hang. It was like summer camp. We loved being there and the fucking crowds were losing their minds over it. Metallica are where they are for many reasons. One of them is that they run an extremely well-oiled ship. It's like a military operation. When they do something, they do it right.
What did you like about Metallica musically when you first met them in 1983?
They were like Motorhead-times-10. It was the most intense thing. There was nothing more intense than Metallica at that time.
You witnessed some dramatic moments when the band was in New York for the first time to record an album.
Everything back then looks so pretty when I look back now. Other than the accident with Cliff [Burton], there's no outstanding negativity when I think about those days. When I was in it, it wasn't like we were just out raging, having fun and drinking beer and killing posers every day. We were working our asses off and working jobs and rehearsing every night. We were doing everything we could to try and make it, looking at it from every angle and every possibility.
You were there when Dave Mustaine was suddenly out.
Anthrax rehearsed and then I was up in their room hanging out and watching them jam and went home. I came back the next day, and Cliff was standing out front smoking a cigarette. I said, “Hey, what's up, Cliff?” He goes, “Oh, not much. We fired Dave today. He's on a Greyhound bus on his way back to California.” I go, “Yeah, right.” I go upstairs, and I see Lars [Ulrich] and James [Hetfield], and they said “It's true, we sent Dave home.” I'm like, “Holy shit! What are we gonna do? We have gigs in two weeks!” We were playing some shows together, and they're, “We already have this guy Kirk from this band Exodus.” Holy shit. Well, what happened? And they're, “Well, we woke him up before he could realize what was going on and we put him on a bus.” It felt like their whole plan was to get him out of there before he realized what was going on. He would have been out of it and hung over.
When did you see Mustaine again?
It was our first tour of the states and we were playing the County Cub in Reseda in the summer of '84, and Mustaine and [David] Ellefson both came to the shows. Dave had demos for the Killing is My Business record and he was so excited to play them for me. We hadn't seen each other since he was fired from Metallica in late '83, so it was super-exciting to see him.
I remember sitting in somebody's car in the parking lot of the Country Club, and he was playing me the demos off that record, and I was blown away. He gets fired from this band, and Metallica weren't huge by any means in the summer of '84, but they were certainly off and running. And he had to start over again, and you could tell right away that he wasn't going to have any problem starting over again. He had already written a killer record.
How was doing “Am I Evil?” with the bands onstage together in Sofia, Bulgaria?
I'm still there. I never left. It really was a magical moment. It was a really amazingly intense, wonderful, fun, beautiful, heavy, crazy moment and culmination of all 30 years of work. It was really mindblowing to look to my left and see Dave [Mustaine], and look to my right and see James. I couldn't even feel my hands.
Will there be anything like that this time?
I hope so. Nobody has said anything yet. I've heard rumors.
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