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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Anthrax Vocalist John Bush

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, January 26, 2005 @ 12:56 AM

Greater of Two Evils: Kerby's

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Anthrax remains one of the few bands in metal that has been able to endure the transition from one high profile lead vocalist to another. That isnít to say that the move from Joey Belladonna to John Bush has been seamlessóit hasnít. That being said though, most metal fans have finally gotten used to the idea by now even if they werenít initially receptive to the concept of Armored Saintís old front man belting out the very standards that Joey originally made famous in the Ď80s. Any new singer that joins an established group is going to have to deal with the potential discomfort involved in performing at least some of the older material in a live setting, but the new release by Anthrax entitled Greater of Two Evils takes this a step further by featuring new takes on fourteen classics that have been rerecorded with Bush at the helm. This record caps a productive period for the boys as they have recently released two other projects over the last year and a halfóWeíve Come For You All and the live offering, Music of Mass Destruction. Many fans of Anthrax have voraciously picked up each record, but overall sales have still been a bit sluggish which has prompted guitarist Scott Ian among others to continuously lament the state of metal in America.

Those who appreciate the musicianship of Anthrax never really doubted that Greater of Two Evils would end up being a masterful recording of the bandís previous work. The larger question seems to center on whether or not a band should ever redo vocals or alter the instrumentation of previously released music that listeners have developed an attachment to over the years. Megadeth recently reworked a huge portion of their catalogue and Twisted Sister recently reworked their seminal record Stay Hungry, each with varying degrees of success. Even though the results of those projects were somewhat uneven, at least in those cases, the vocalists were the same--to redo a grouping of songs with a completely new voice seems like a monumental risk in certain ways not the least of which would concern the alienation of fans who are in love with the versions they grew up with and became familiar with over time.

Donít expect the band to remain stagnate in the wake of the birth of John Bushís first childóinstead, expect Anthrax to be hitting the road in support of this project as well as writing new material for a record that could conceivably be released later this year. What you should not expect, however, is for this band to end up in the opening slot of any of the upcoming Motley Crue reunion dates as the last tour which featured Motley Crue/Megadeth/Anthrax ended rather unceremoniously when Anthrax ended up leaving abruptly amidst a cloud of financial uncertainty only three short weeks into it. The band hopes for better fortunes this time around, and for a group who demonstrates the kind of solid work ethic and commitment to metal that Anthrax does, any good fortune that comes their way is deserved.

KNAC.COM: What is the best part about being a member of Anthrax?
BUSH: For meóIíd have to say the traveling. Traveling around the world has given me an awesome education. It has given me the opportunity to be more worldly than I ever imagined. It was the best college education that I never got.

KNAC.COM: Most musicians claim that often they donít get enough time to see the places that they have traveled toóare you able to build in time in your itinerary to explore a bit more?
BUSH: It sort of depends on the day and schedule. Sometimes you get into town, and you wake up on a bus at 11 or 12 oíclock. Then you may have an interview or need to shower. Other times, you may need to get your head together and look around for breakfast. Then, you may have an in-store followed by the show. For me, the objective is when I go to a place I havenít been before, like Russia or Poland or South America, is to try to get out and be able to see things. There are even some places in America that I try to get out and explore. Sometimes the schedule doesnít cooperate, but you do try.

KNAC.COM: Well, and as much as you tour, if you donít see a city in the U.S., chances are that youíll make it back.
BUSH: Yeah, thatís true of like Milwaukee, but I donít know if Iíll ever get a chance to go back to a place like St. Petersburg. For that one, it may be the one and only time Iíll ever be thereóyou never know.

KNAC.COM:As clichť as it sounds, does being overseas make you that much happier when you come back home?
BUSH: Well, I miss coming home because I miss my wife and miss being at home with her. Leaving is the hard part of the job. Now that weíve just had a baby, itís going to be that much harder for me to leave now. I think that whenever youíve been gone for a period of time, you are excited about going home. To make things worse, Iíve always had this heavy, weird anxiety every time I leave to go on tour. Iíve had it since the first time I left to go on tour with Armored Saint in 1984. As much as I was excited about leaving, I had this weird feeling that leaves usually about the time weíre getting on an airplane or something, but it is always something I have to deal with before getting out on the road.

KNAC.COM: Do you find yourself looking at anything in the same way now that youíve had your child?
BUSH: The feeling I went through with my wife all the way up until the birth of the child was really exciting. It was just an experience that Iíd never been through before. Iím always excited to embrace new things. People always say that ďitís going to change your life.Ē Well, no shit itís going to change my life, you know? To what degree, Iím not sure. As far as what difficult times lay ahead, you just roll with them.

KNAC.COM: You have actually had most of this time surrounding her birth almost completely off, correct? There hasnít been much in the way of recording?
BUSH: No, not really. We kinda just finished up doing that tour with Dio. I think the goal for the band should probably be to start writing songs for a new record that could be out sometime next year. Right now, we are just focused on promoting the Greater of Two Evils project.

KNAC.COM: Does it make it any different for you to promote this record being that the songs have already been done? Is there any less enthusiasm?
BUSH: Well, they are songs that I was never really involved in recording originally. The biggest difference when you talk about a record of new songs, is that a lot of times youíre talking about what each song meant to you or something like that. Our objective was just to get in there and do the songs. Just make it live--make it raw. We just wanted to make it sort of like a backyard party in a really nice setting and record it like we would record a rehearsal. It was cool and different.

KNAC.COM: Was it pretty easy for you considering you guys have played these songs a million times live?
BUSH: Some of the songs were easy to do like ďCaught In a Mosh.Ē I know that song like the back of my hand. Obviously, I didnít take anything for granted, but yeah, these songs are very second nature for me. There were other songs though like, ďKeep It In the FamilyĒ that I never played, but it was still fun. Actually, some of the songs that we donít do every night may have come out a little more fresh since we had either never played them or hadnít played them in awhile. I took everything seriously, and my main goal was to make everything raw and heavy while paying tribute to the original versions. This isnít an attempt to fix something that was wrong. It was just an attempt for us to do these songs again with me singing them. Instead of doing something kind of traditional, we thought weíd do something a little unusual.

KNAC.COM: Have you ever sensed some people taking the prospect of a band altering a song or album way too personally?
BUSH: Iím sure there are people like that. Iím sure there are people who arenít going to like this album because they didnít even like it when they heard the idea. I understand that, and I always try to acknowledge the old schoolers who feel so touched and connected. This isnít an attempt to redo a bandís careeróitís just another version of these songs with my voice and not taking anything away, but just giving it a kick in the ass. I canít worry too much about that stuff, and I donít think I ever really did. Once you do start paying attention to that kind of thing, then you start worrying about when to make the next move. I acknowledge what happened before, but youíve got to do what youíve got to do. If somebody is that offended, then donít listen to it. It did come out great though.

KNAC.COM: The remakes here do have a good tone to them. Many of the bands now doing remakes seem to be doing as much harm as they are good when altering their catalogues.
BUSH: The thing is too, and keep in mind is thatówe did this is because Iím singing it. If Anthrax had went back and redid all of those songs with Joey Belladonna, then what would be the point? If you do something like that, then I think what youíre doing is that youíre telling the public that you donít like the way those records sound, so weíre gonna do them over again. Usually, those donít sound as good because there is something about the magic of when you first record a record. In Armored Saint, we did an original take of a song called ďFalse AlarmĒ and when we went in to try to redo it for the record, it wasnít the same. We played it the same, and sang it the same, but it just wasnít the same. I just think this works this time because it is me singing and itís a different voice, and Iím a different human being obviously.

KNAC.COM: Itís funny that you should mention the vocals because it seems like it is the hardest aspect to try to reproduce. A lot of the time on Twisted Sisterís remake, it just didnít translate as well.
BUSH: In this case, my vocal delivery is definitely different from Joeyís. The other thing to keep in mind too is that a record like Among the Living is like seventeen years old, so itís gonna have a different vibe and a different sound to it. Itís just going to feel a little different. Letís face it, the singing is the thing that most people emphasize the most when it comes to rock music.

KNAC.COM: It does seem that people get attached to vocalists in a more personal way than say a drummer or a guitarist. You do get your fans of those musicians, but it does appear as if the vocalist is without a doubt the center of interest.
BUSH: Anthrax did a lot of great things in the Ď80s with Joey, and he does have a unique voice. I can understand why people might have a problem with the new vocalsóI did too. Iíve said it before when David Lee Roth left or Dio replaced Ozzy and Bon Scott died. The thing is, life changes, and things happen. You just try to roll with it. As long as this band feels genuine about what theyíre doing, then I think people will pick up on that.

KNAC.COM: Canít you feel a little better about what youíve done and what youíre doing because you werenít hired to be a facsimile of Joey?
BUSH: That helped--along with the fact that I had accomplished some things on my own already, and the guys in the band made me feel welcome. It does make it easier, and once youíve made that decision to do something, you have to go in with all guns blazingóyou canít go in with an intimidated feeling.

KNAC.COM: Could you have been successful in your current role with Anthrax if it wasnít for your previous experience with Armored Saint?
BUSH: If I were some twenty-two year old kid who was wet behind the ears, you never know. Itís hard to say. Luckily, I didnít have to go into it that way.

KNAC.COM: Donít you think that there was a certain amount of toughness that you probably developed over that time that was invaluable to you?
BUSH: Probably. You get some resilience about you and a little bit of bravado so that you arenít worried too much about it. Iím not here to say that all people were enthusiastic about the change because I know better. Iím sure there were people who quit listening to the band after [Attack of the] Killer Bís. The reality is that I never felt too many times, and I can count them on one hand, where I felt any negativity from the fan base. That isnít to say that people werenít thinking it--they just werenít saying it. Now, there were a couple of people who did and said it to me. You know, I got a finger here or a comment there, but again, you can put those instances on one hand. I was pretty lucky that I was embraced by the fan base.

KNAC.COM: During those times when maybe a fan irritates you in a certain way or a guy from a different band says something that you donít like, do you ever think of speaking your peace through the press? Does anyone ever win a situation like that?
BUSH: Is it ever a good thing to do? Hmm, I donít know. God love Dave Mustaine--I think he is an awesome talent and an all around great guy, but there is no denying that in the early days of Megadeth all of the comments he threw Metallicaís way probably ended up helping them in some capacity. I donít know. Itís just not my style. There have been plenty of bands that Iíve disliked, and thereís been bands that Iíve loved. There are things that I appreciate that a band does and things that I think suck, but at the end of the day, what am I going to do? Am I going to go to the press with that? Who gives a shit? Itís just my opinion. Just because Iím in a band doesnít mean that my opinion is any more important than anyone elseís. I think of the bands who do that, about eighty-percent of the time it comes back as a negative.

KNAC.COM: On one hand some of it can make for a good story, but on the other, you run the risk of sounding like youíre whining.
BUSH: Yeah, it sounds like sour grapes or sounds like youíre bitter or something. Why would you do that? I just seems kinda cheesy to me.

KNAC.COM: On your website, there is a picture of a t-shirt that has a caption that says something like, ďBack at the mall for the first time since the Ď80s.Ē How strange is it to appeal to a younger audience to the point of where they buy your merchandise at a place as mainstream as a shopping mall?
BUSH: You feel fortunate. Iíve been making records since 1983. For a band to still be making music in this era of any group who makes three or four records as being a veteran band is incredible. When you get a band that has as much out as we do, people want to point at us and say that weíre dinosaurs. At the same time, Iím looking at the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith going, ďWhat about them!Ē [Laughs] Iím not that old. I do feel lucky though that weíre able to do this. My voice probably feels better than it has in the last ten years. Iím singing, and I feel youthful. Weíre still making music that people are connecting with even now. Everyone is always looking for the next big thing, especially in hard rock or heavy metal music. There is no denying that, and there is no way that Anthrax is going to come out and be cutting edge. It just isnít going to happen. If there is a new band who comes out and says that we are an influence, then maybe some 15-year-old kid who is into Shadows Fall might get turned on to us. It has all been beneficial, and when you think about it, itís all just one big family tree of metal. Sabbath was the top of it, and it all just trickles down from there.

KNAC.COM: Can you clarify what exactly happened at the end of that Motley Crue/Megadeth tour a few years back? Did it end badly?
BUSH: It ended badly in the sense that the tour wasnít doing very well. At the time there was a lot of competition during the summer of 2000. It was really busy. We were probably playing bigger venues than the bands at that time should have played. Ticket sales were struggling, and Motley wanted to cut everybodyís pay. We couldnít afford to do that because then we would have been losing money. I mean, that was one of the reasons we did the tour was to make a little moneyónot shitloadsójust some. Now, to take a loss to do that tour would have been an error, so three weeks in when they came to us wanting to cut our pay in half we couldnít do it. We werenít going to take tour support to do that tour. It would have been the stupidest thing we could ever do.

KNAC.COM: That tour support would have basically just meant taking a loan from the record company, right?
BUSH: Yeah, it all has to be paid back. For Anthrax to ever do that, it would have to be a situation where a group or us is playing to an audience who has never heard them before. If the case was where we were playing with a younger band like Korn or System of a Down where we would be playing in front of people who had never heard us, then it might make sense, but this wasnít like that. All we had out at that time was a greatest hits record that wasnít even that recent. It just didnít make a lot of sense to do it at that time. We were bummed because we had blocked off ten weeks for this tour, and we were back in three. It kind of screwed us up.

KNAC.COM: What was it like recently hitting the road with Dio?
BUSH: I had actually done a tour with him with Armored Saint. It was great to be on the road with him and to be able to watch him every night because he is such an unbelievable singer. It was awesome. Again, that was a tour that probably wasnít exposing us to a whole new fan base, but we were also able to go out and play and make a little bit of money. We were just rocking out for the fans and doing what we do best.

KNAC.COM: When you look out at a crowd and see that Anthrax is a band that has some multigenerational appeal, does that affect your writing at all?
BUSH: No, no--that doesnít influence the writing at all.

KNAC.COM: So there is never a danger of Anthrax busting out with some song about cleaning your room or something because some kids are turning onto the band these days?
BUSH: No, we just write whatever comes into our minds at that timeówhatever is in our soul. Itís just basically whatever we feel like writing about or commenting on at that time. Weíre not looking to target a single audience. You start doing that, and you end up second-guessing yourself all the time. We donít want to do that.

KNAC.COM: Would you advise your child--or children if you end up having more--to pursue a career in music?
BUSH: Right now, Iím playing music all the time for my baby. I might be cranking up some bluegrass or some jazz or some metal or rhythm and blues. I just want to expose her to all different types of music. It would probably be hypocritical for me to keep my children from it, considering that itís what Iíve done my whole life. Iíd just try to prepare her for the realities of it. The music ďbusinessĒ is exactly that.

KNAC.COM: Do you think the adherence to the bottom line has gotten worse from 1984 up to now?
BUSH: I think itís worse on a major label level. I think it has gotten much worse and the attention span of the public has gotten shorter. People are too worried about whether or not they are going to have their job in a month or two because someone is downsizing on a major level. I think independent labels are doing great though, and they continue to do well, and I think thatís a positive for the industry. That is especially true for hard rock and punkóindependent labels have really come on strong.

KNAC.COM: Is that because there are so many people that the majors arenít reaching?
BUSH: I think itís a combination of a lot of things. A lot of people donít like the idea that modern music seems so formulaic or like a factory. Once something hits, you end up with a thousand artists who sound just like it. People catch onto that and start getting a little annoyed by it. Itís a drag. Iím hoping things turn around for the business. Iím just trying to stay positive.

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