Rob, thanks for taking the time out to do this interview today.
Rob: Awesome man. No worries at all.
This tour has been a bit stressful for you guys. You had Charlie (Benante; drummer) leaving the tour because of a family emergency and now Frank (Bello; bassist) has left as well for the same reasons. With this sudden shift in dynamics having to work with fill in players with little to no notice, how has this affected your playing or the band’s playing as a whole?
Rob: Well, it first started when Scott got really sick and ended up in the hospital. The first show we played without Scott (January 26th) we had Alex and Eric from Testament and the Death Angel guys helping us out on that show. The next show (January 27th) Charlie left so we had no Charlie and no Scott and that was a little nerve racking. We even put up a sign letting the fans know that Charlie and Scott weren’t there and offered refunds. We expected to go out to an empty room, but it was packed and the crowd loved it. For me, it wasn’t that big of an adjustment but it’s just playing a lot of Scott’s intros to songs like “Caught In A Mosh” and “Antisocial” but it was fine.
So you just kind of shifted roles basically.
Rob: Yeah. Pretty much. As a metal guitarist you’re playing rhythm guitar 95% of the time regardless so for me it was the exact same show, but when I’d kick into a lead there was no rhythm underneath it so it was kind of like Van Halen style which I don’t mind [laughs]. It was cool. I mean obviously it wasn’t Anthrax without those guys, but the spirit was still there and I think the crowd respected the fact that we didn’t cancel the shows. There was a lot of love in the room.
Kudos to you guys for keeping it up. I know a lot of bands that have cancelled tours for a lot less. From what I could see, there was a lot of mixed emotions from the fans as to whether you guys should keep touring, but I could see the people in line tonight and they were just as pumped to see this show. It almost makes you want to see it more to see how these other guys do filling in. I mean, you’ve got Gene Hoglan on drums. Holy fuck man.
Rob: [laughs] Gene’s amazing. He’s a monster and he’s doing two sets a night (drummer for Testament and filling in for Anthrax’s Charlie Benante) and that’s just insane [laughs].
You guys better hire him a masseuse or something.
Rob: [laughs] That’s just so crazy. I mean, we’re not trying to pull a fast one on anyone. We post a note at the front doors of the venues letting them know what the situation is. If you want to come in and hang and watch a good rock show, come on in, but it’s not what you bought a ticket for and we understand that. So far, the rooms have been packed. Scott’s now back so it’s alright now, but tonight we’re missing Frankie (Bello; bassist) tonight [laughs]. Joey Vera’s a great bass player and he’s played with us before and he rules. It’s fucking Anthrax man. You never know who’s going to show up on stage. We like to keep it interesting [laughs]. It’s fun!
Worship Music is definitely a return to form for Anthrax. It’s without a doubt my favorite Anthrax record since Persistence of Time. You guys were on one hell of a roller coaster ride making this album though. Am I correct?
Rob: Thanks man. We’re really proud of the album. The recording of this album was definitely a roller coaster. There were moments where everyone was so excited and getting along and then all of the sudden we didn’t even know if the band was going to exist anymore. There were some dark moments. We braved the fucking storm and got through it all. I think Joey Belladonna coming back into the band was the best think that could have ever happened. We needed to go through all the stupid shit to get to where we are right now. Lesser bands would’ve definitely called it a day a long time ago. It’s just something that we’re really proud of and the reaction from the fans and critics have been so positive. It’s a really good feeling.
You produced this latest masterpiece. Is it hard to remove yourself from the performance aspect of the music to change hats and be a producer?
Rob: No, not really. I’m kind of used to it at this point. It’s just learning how to let go and keep the spirit intact and not over produce stuff. I hate over produced stuff. One of the things with this album that I tried to capture sonically production wise was that classic Anthrax sound, but I also wanted it to be modern and cutting edge as well. That’s kind of the vision we all had and I feel like we definitely hit the mark. It’s definitely not over produced. It’s loose and it’s got that classic Anthrax sound with Joey being back. The band is just in top form at this point I think.
Anthrax has had its busiest couple of years in a long time. With all the Big 4 shows and the Jaggermeitster tours behind you, do you feel like Anthrax has some new found energy?
Rob: Oh yeah. I do. It just feels really good. We did that first Big 4 show in Poland and that was actually my first gig with Joey Belladonna and I didn’t know what to expect. I remember half way through the first song we were on stage and we all just looked at each other like, “This is fucking awesome” [laugh].
Lately we’ve seen bands playing full albums live like Megadeth’s Rust In Peace and Slayer’s Seasons In The Abyss. Would you ever like to see Anthrax do a full album live and if so what album would you like to perform?
Rob: There are some bands that I would love to see do that kind of thing. I’d love see AC/DC do Back In Black from top to bottom. That would be killer. I never got to see Pink Floyd and I would’ve loved to have seen them do The Wall but with Anthrax, I don’t know. In the Metal world it can either be really cheesy or it could be cool. I guess it depends on the band and the album. I think we have such a blast mixing up the set list that we don’t really feel the need to do that right now.
That’s so true. Anthrax has over 20 years worth of material to pull from for a live show. Is there a particular song that didn’t make the setlist on this tour that you would love to see?
Rob: There’s one song that we never played with Joey that I really miss. The John Bush (former Anthrax vocalist) song “Room For One More.” I really like that song a lot and it was always such a blast to play. I love everything that we’re playing live right now and we try to mix it up from night to night too.
So I have to ask you Rob. How does it feel to be playing in a band that you were a fan of as a kid? I mean, you’re living the dream, man.
Rob: [laughs] Man, Anthrax has been one of my favorite bands for as long as I can remember. As a kid did I ever think that I’d be playing on stage with Scott Ian? [laughs] I never thought that. It’s a crazy world and anything is possible.
It seems to be a trend in metal for bands to go out on the road and perform “live” to backing tracks. What’s your opinion on bands who do this crap?
Rob: I think that to some degree the art of being a good musician is kind of waning at this point. I can talk for days about this shit. I think computers on one hand really helped music progress and on the other hand it completely destroyed the business of music, the making of music, and the writing of music. It’s so easy to make somebody sound good but in reality they can’t really play or sing [laughs]. You can just click the mouse a few times to finagle it and make someone sound great. I believe that if you can’t pull it off live it shouldn’t be on your record. I mean there’s always bells and whistles that happen on a record that you don’t need live.
You mean like certain sound effects and what not?
Rob: Yeah. That or it might be an overdubbed guitar part that’s not crucial to the song, but adds something cool on the recording, but you don’t miss that live.
You’ve expressed in the past that there needs to be a serious change in how the industry is doing things. In your opinion, what needs to change to make things better again?
Rob: Well, it’s hard to say. This new generation of kids just doesn’t seem to respect music. They don’t respect it as an art form like they did years ago. To these young kids, they don’t understand the concept that this is our lives. This is our career and it costs a lot of money to make a good record. When you go on the computer and hit a fucking button and download something for free you’re stealing, but the kids don’t realize that. Somehow that needs to change and I think it will. I think musicians need to take the power back at some point soon because it’s just getting worse and worse. This is how we make our living and pretty soon bands won’t be able to survive and then what? [laughs]
Do you think that bands have started to take that power back by not going with major labels and starting their own record labels and handling distribution and what not?
Rob: Yeah. I just think that everything is going to be different at some point soon. I don’t even know what “major labels” are any more [laughs].
Oh yeah. That’s because so many major labels are gone and independent labels are now the new major labels with different names and so on. It’s confusing.
Rob: [laughs] Major labels these days have like 10 people working for them [laughs]. It’s just a huge mess. There just needs to be a way for them to figure out how to make sure the musicians are getting paid properly and this whole Internet piracy thing needs to be controlled.
We’ve talked about how you feel about the piracy aspect, but how about buying music online. How do you feel about that? It’s like the magic of going to a record store is long gone so this is the only alternative it seems.
Rob: There are barely even any record stores left anymore. In New York City, there’s Bleeker Bob’s and Generation Records. Those are the only two record stores I know of and they’re around the corner from each other so that’s convenient [laughs]. Other than that, I don’t even know where to go. I mean, WalMart carries music, but they don’t carry the music I want. Best Buy. Same shit. It’s all online. These days I buy most of my shit on iTunes.
How do you feel that this seems to be the best way to get music these days?
Rob: My only problem with downloading music from iTunes is that the music doesn’t sound good. The files are not full bandwidth. That to me is just weird. It’s like we go through all of this trouble to make an album sound really awesome and then it goes on iTunes and it gets compressed and then it’s playing on someone’s broken iPod and shit so what’s the point [laughs]. Honestly, I have no problem with iTunes, but I do miss going to record stores and picking up the CDs, feeling it in my hands, and seeing the art work.
OK Rob let’s loosen things up a bit here. I’ve got a few fun “get to know you” type of questions if that’s cool.
Rob: Of course man. Go for it.
If Hollywood was to make a movie on your life, who would play you?
Rob: [laughs] Wow! Now that’s a good question [laughs]. Hm, hopefully it would be De Niro [laughs].
Man, that would be great. [In my best De Niro] You… want me… to play in Anthrax?
Rob: [laughs] That was pretty good [laughs].
Are there any bands that I would be surprised to hear that you were a fan of?
Rob: Oh yeah. I listen to so many different things. There’s this guy from the UK named James Blake. He’s kind of like a real cutting edge electronica artist. Phenomenal voice with a lot of soul. His record is fucking smoking. I’ve been listening to that one a lot. It’s so not metal that it’s not even funny [laughs]. It’s a really good album though. I’m really into the new Skinny Puppy album too. I’ve been rocking out on the bus to that one every night [laughs].
What was the defining moment for you where you knew you wanted to play music?
Rob: When I first heard Eddie Van Halen that sealed the deal for me. When I was a kid I wanted to be a baseball player and that was my dream. My mom took me to the local flea market one day at Yonkers Raceway and they had a little record vendor there. I bought an AC/DC record and I bought a Van Halen record and that was it. I was fucking done [laughs].
If someone came up to you and asked you to define Heavy Metal, what album would you give them to answer that question?
Rob: Oh man. That’s another really good question [laughs]. For me, it would have to be Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast [laughs]. That’s one of my favorites. That one or Judas Priest’s British Steel. That’s another awesome record.
What is your most prized music memorabilia possession?
Rob: Man, I don’t really have anything cool like that. I don’t really collect music stuff although I should [laughs]. I do have something cool but it’s not music memorabilia. I was playing somewhere once with The Damned Things and this kid brought us a couple of cells from the actual Star Wars film. I’m a huge Star Wars fan [laughs].
So am I. So then which movie reigns supreme?
Rob: Actually, Empire Strikes Back is probably the best one. Man, Empire’s fucking amazing.
What’s next for Anthrax?
Rob: This run of the American tour ends on February 8th in New York City. I go home for a night and sleep in my bed and then the next day we fly to South America [laughs]. We’re doing the Mayhem tour this summer and I’m really excited about that one.
Rob, thank you so much for doing this interview man and best of luck tonight and for the rest of the tour.
Rob: Thank you Don. This was a lot of fun.