Quantcast ICONS Interview with Charlie Benante of ANTHRAX

Charlie Benante
of ANTHRAX!

FRIGHT fans, you're in for a treat! This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with ANTHRAX drummer Charlie Benante! A life long horror fan, Charlie recently appeared in the JAWS documentary THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING to talk about his all time favorite movie! We also got to chat about all things horror including his meeting with Freddy Krueger, working with master of horror John Carpenter and the meaning & inspiration behind the front cover images of ANTHRAX's records! Read on! - By Robg. - 1/08

When we’re young, we’re very impressionable and everyone kind of has their earliest recollections of the horror genre. What was that for you? Do you remember the first movie that really scared or had an impact on you?

Um, I remember this movie that my sister would watch and I was really young at the time, but it was CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED. It’s an old black and white movie, and certain kids had this ability where if their eyes started to light up, they could look at you and paralyze or kill you. That was one of the first ones. THE BLOB was another one. But I wouldn’t necessarily say they scared me though.

They just opened up your fascination into that world?

Yeah, because I was always into the Universal monsters. When I consider horror movies, I don’t know if I consider them to be horror movies in the sense that… well, they are in the horror genre, of course. FRANKENSTEIN, WOLFMAN, DRACULA. I’d seen those when I was little and just automatically took a liking to them. I thought they looked cool.


That’s the interesting thing. All those creative outlets, they all lead into each other. I loved movies, and music and artwork, but I always found them kind of relative. The thing that drew me to a lot of metal records growing up were the front covers of the albums!

The imagery of it all.

Yeah! Same thing for me, the Universal monster movies are what I remember as a kid because they were just always on TV and I loved them. They looked cool!

As a matter a fact, I still have them. I have a lot of the regular 8 and super 8 reels of some of those horror movies. My mom would order for me from the back of the FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine. And I still have a lot of those. Like ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

Wow!

I remember, my mother and my sister would set up the projector for me and I would sit there and just watch these movies.


Obviously, when you got a bit older, one of the most pivotal and influential movies for you was JAWS, because you talk about it in the documentary THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING. Can you talk a little bit about first discovering JAWS and what it meant to you?

Actually, before JAWS, the 2 movies that did something to me, that had an effect on me in a mental type of way was THE BIRDS – which I still have a thing about that movie! I’ve said it to those guys for THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING that there’s a tie-in between THE BIRDS and JAWS. Just the way Hitchcock shot it and the way Spielberg shot that movie, they’re similar! There’s certain things about those movies. And then the other movie in between those two movies was THE EXORCIST. That was one of the movies that really did a fucking number on me.
(Laughs) I still can’t watch that movie! I think it scarred so many of us as children.

Scared the shit out of me!
I went to see the re-release of it a couple of years ago with the new footage? Still scared me. Especially the “spider-walk”.

So cool. That was awesome. See, for me the best thing about that movie is that it still gives me a bit of a chill. Which means, that movie will always stand the test of time. I don’t care how desensitized people have become or say “That’s not scary.” You can’t help but think about that after you see that movie.


It’s definitely one of the ones that still has the same punch.

So, those 3 movies in a very different way really scared me, as opposed to seeing something like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, which scared me but in a different way all together. These were things that… I don’t know, that had a real big effect on me. JAWS had an effect on me because of the water. Which is a very scary thing for me anyway. I grew up in the Bronx and we have the Long Island Sound over there, and we would go fishing when I was younger. After JAWS came out, I stayed on the peer. I didn’t go in the water anymore! (Laughs) Because it scared the hell out of me. If I couldn’t see below me, there was no way I was going near it. So yeah, that movie had a tremendous effect on me.


Would you say that because of the effect of those films that you always maintained an interest in the genre as you got older?

Uh-huh. Absolutely. And people say “JAWS, that’s not a horror movie.” I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” “It’s more of a drama, suspense…” Are you crazy?! That is a horror movie!

There’s a monster, it kills people. Yep, that’s a horror movie to me.

That one scene with the kid on the raft, if that’s not the most horrific thing you’ve ever seen, then what is?

I agree with you there.

I told those guys (for the documentary) and this is no lie, I would go see that movie every weekend when it was out.

(Laughs)

They would drop me off at the movie theater for the matinee, and then come pick me up and that was it. Got my JAWS fix.


Are here any other movies within the genre that have had a similar effect on you again? Or that you love so much that you’d go see them over and over?

(Laughs) Ah, no. Growing up, if you lived in the 70’s or 80’s, you had to love the STAR WARS movies. They became a part of your DNA. But JAWS to me the one that I held onto. That’s the one. Every time we’d go on tour, that was the movie on the bus. I must’ve owned that movie in so many different formats. It’s hilarious. But of course, there’s other movies I love. There’s a movie called THE THING by John Carpenter, it’s another one of those movies I can watch all the time.
Oh, of course.

The paranoia of that movie. Remember when you first saw it? You really didn’t know who was next!

Yeah, Rob Bottin did such amazing FX work on that. And it was one of the first movies where even the monster was unidentifiable. Because it’d always appear as these crazy dogs or the upside down spider head, it’d make you go “What the hell is going on here?!”
Did anyone ever expect for the thing with the dogs to happen? It was just a “Holy Shit” moment. And we saw that in the movie theaters too. We were just looking at each other thinking “What the hell?” That was another movie I went to see over and over again. Because this was before things were really released on VHS.


Yeah, you had to go out of your way to keep seeing these movies. I know they re-released JAWS a number of times before they decided to make a sequel to it.

Well, because they were smart! There’s of course other movies that you have to praise like the first HALLOWEEN. When you first saw HALLOWEEN, that’s another movie that just… that was a scary movie. Movies have come and gone. That movie, I can watch today, still that one scene freaks me out where he kills the kid. The teenager, Bob, he lifts him up, puts him to the wall and just kind of stares at him like a piece of art.


I don’t know. My friends sometimes argue that we’re getting older and we’re just used to this stuff, but I don’t think that’s it. I think there was a certain craft to the way those films were made, because you can still see EXORCIST and HALLOWEEN and they’re still great movies.

Well, if you show everything, you think well ok. Whereas, ok Spielberg. In JAWS, if you saw the shark early on, it would’ve really ruined it for you.

Yeah. The fact that that shark didn’t work was probably that movie’s biggest benefit!

Yeah, which is a great thing if you think about it. If that thing worked it would’ve been a totally different movie.
I wanted to talk about how some films might have been an influence to you and your music. One very obvious example is in S.O.D., you guys wrote the track “Freddy Krueger”. Now, the S.O.D. record, you guys did that in 1985. At that point, maybe the second Freddy movie was about to come out? What was going on around the time you were doing S.O.D and at what point did you decide to write a song about Freddy Krueger? Because that was pretty early on!
Well, before um, and this may come out really bad, before Freddy Kreger kinda got gay, (Laughs) … the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was just one of those movies that opened up the door for so much. Because it was unlike HALLOWEEN. In a similar way, it was a “slasher” thing, but it had such a coolness about it. Then once the sequel came up, we wrote the song in 85 and I think the second movie was about to come out. And we actually got to do a photo session with Freddy Krueger.

Whoa. Was it Robert Englund?
With Robert Englund, yeah.

That’s cool!

And we thought we were going to be on the soundtrack for that record. But I think they gave it to Dokken instead.

Oh! Well, Dokken did the theme song for Dream Warriors, which was the 3rd one.

That was the one. That was the one. Before that, we did a photo session with Freddy and… it was awesome! That song was all about Freddy Krueger.
Was that while they were making one of the movies? Or did they specifically put the make-up on him for a photo shoot?

Well, it worked out like this. He was going to be doing a bunch of press photos, so it worked out perfect. He got all dressed up, we were there for the whole thing. Just hanging out, watching him get made-up. And then we did the photo shoot and then he continued the photo shoot to do NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET promo photos. And at the time, a friend of ours Bob Everett, the editor of FANGORIA back then. Yeah, he was in our MADHOUSE video too. He has a little tiny head he’s carrying in a wheelchair. But anyways, Bob was instrumental in setting that up as well.
Wow.

So, that’s how that whole thing went down. And then we went to the screening of that movie. I don’t know. It was pretty easy back then it seemed like. (Laughs) But anyways, that movie was another one. I love the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
Oh yeah. Like I mentioned before, the one thing that stands out about the records that not only you guys did, but a lot of the bands from that era were the album artwork. I know Scott Ian created Sgt. D for S.O.D. This pertains to any of your records – How much thought went into the imagery that was going to be on the front cover of your album and how it related to what everyone else was doing? Because ya know, MEGADETH had Vic, IRON MAIDEN had Eddie, but you guys used different images for every record. I remember the cover of SPREADING THE DISEASE freaked me out!
Well the concept with that, that whole thing was my concept about the spreading the disease victim, he’s coming in from the show and you have these people dressed up in gas masks with the detectors, so that was what that whole theme was about. But then after that, the AMONG THE LIVING thing, which was pretty cool. The cool thing with that is I had this concept of this cover that was similar to the Stephen King story, and Scott had these lyrics. But we didn’t talk about it together.
I just told him the concept, and he was like “That’s weird! Because I have lyrics that I’m basing on the Stephen King book!” And it just ties itself together. I remember at the time, we saw this movie POLTERGEIST and the guy scared the hell out of us, his face was just so scary! We just wanted (the cover guy) to look like that, and he’s “among the living”, ya know? So, that’s how that came about. And then I totally changed things up for the next record with the big yellow and red thing, but I’d like to forget that one. (Laughs)
So, pretty much your front cover album concepts come fairly naturally depending on what’s going on at the time. Because it seems like you and Scott were on the same page to come up with a similar concept at the same time.

Yeah, the “spreading the disease” title, I had that forever. I just wanted the cover to be a striking image. One of my favorite covers of all time is Queen “News Of The World”. I always said I want to do a cover that’s equal to that one. It’s just my attempt to try to do that.
Every single band has a different writing process, but I know you’ve written a lot for Anthrax, with guitar stuff and lyrics – have you ever been influenced by film or art or things in pop culture? I mean, Freddy Krueger with S.O.D. was again an obvious one. But were there ever instances where certain songs were pulled from things that you loved, things you watched or read?


Yeah, absolutely. As a matter a fact, the best example I can give you of that is when John Carpenter asked us to do the soundtrack for his movie GHOSTS OF MARS. And it was such an exciting thing to do, because John Carpenter is one of the greats.

Yeah, you mentioned THE THING before. He’s one of the masters!

He’s one of the masters. He did THE THING. He did HALLOWEEN. He did ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and all that stuff, and to sit in a room with him for a week, you know he’s getting pumped for answers, you know what I mean? So, everyday it was a question/answers thing. I would sit next to him and ask him about this, ask him about that, and then we would have to get to work. The coolest part about it is, in the studio, we had 3 monitors. I had a monitor, and the other guys had their monitors and he would play the scenes and say “Here’s what I need music for.” And bam, it would inspire us right away. We would get so inspired and we’d start doing something for the scene. And it worked out great. It was just awesome the way he’d say, here’s the scene, what do you think about it? We would kind of debate it about what it should be and what it shouldn’t be. And just wrote these parts for it, and it was just so cool to do that.
Wow, that is really cool! Not many musicians get to say they collaborated with John Carpenter!

Yeah! It was awesome!

One of the other things I loved growing up besides horror movies and metal was MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, one of my all time favorite TV shows. And you guys of course popped up in one of my favorite episodes! How’d that all come about? And were you fans of the show beforehand?

Oh yeah. We were big time fans of the show. At the time, the only two shows on FOX that were worth watching were THE SIMPSONS and MARRIED WITH CHILDREN. So, um, our management knew the love I had for THE SIMPSONS, and I always wanted to see about “Hey, can you get us on THE SIMPSONS?” (Laughs) They spoke to the people at FOX, and THE SIMPSONS just didn’t have anything to put us in at the time. MARRIED WITH CHILDREN, the writers decided to write a show based around us. Like, Kelly and Bud win dinner with Anthrax. And that’s how that just came about and it was so funny how it did! And I always say that was probably one of the best weeks of my life. Just being there. The first script they give you, you sit around the table and go over it. From that day to the end day, that script changed so much! It was just awesome.


Did you guys get to adlib at all or put in your own 2 cents?

You can put a little bit in, but they want you to read what they wrote and hit it, just like that. The last day, we did 2 shows. The 6PM show and then you do the 8PM show and they change stuff in between, so some of us got different lines to say, so that was exciting.
They really filmed that in front of a live studio audience?!

Yep. Yep.

I know they always said that, but I always never believed it! (Laughs)

Yeah, it was different audiences for both shows too.
Well, thank you for confirming that after years and years of wondering.

Yeah, that was an awesome time, man. And I remember I was back in LA 2 or 3 weeks after that, and I went down to the show to watch another taping. It was so cool because they were all like “Hey, good to see you again!” We all went out to dinner again after that, it was such a great time.
Wow, that’s so cool. To be a fan of a show like that, or even being a fan of Freddy or John Carpenter and getting the chance to work with them, that’s pretty amazing.

Yeah, ya know, there’s some people that study film… If I didn’t do this, I would’ve gone into the art world and did that stuff, but probably more in the film/animation side of things. But this kind of hit, so I kinda said, guess I’ll stay with this for a while. (Laughs)

Good for all of us! You guys have obviously toured quite a lot. What’s the frequent DVD’s you break out every time you go out on tour? What are among your favorites?

Ok, well the obvious of course.

JAWS?

Yeah. Well one year, on tour, the special edition came out on my birthday and they all got that for me on my birthday, so I spent hours that day in the back of the bus watching the special edition and features, and that was awesome, because I need to know every single detail/piece of that movie. Because there were so many unanswered questions for me! I, like a lot of people that are on the documentary had this book growing up called THE JAWS LOG. And there were photos in there that weren’t in the movie and I was like “What is this? This isn’t in the movie!” Just that one scene in the pond when the fisherman gets his boat knocked over and the shark bites his leg, but then he drags him. And then, the scene that they didn’t put in is when he grabs Brody’s kid and starts dragging him. I guess Spielberg took it out because he thought it was too horrific. But I always thought “Where is that?” Ya know?


That’s the weird thing, with DVD’s now or even the internet, you can pretty much find out everything. But I miss the thrill of seeing a still or a picture from a movie and thinking “That’s not in the movie! What the hell is that?”

Exactly. I always tell people, the internet, it’s great and everything but it also ruined a lot.

Yeah, it’s both a blessing and a curse. I know for years I’ve always seen this image from EVIL DEAD 2 of Evil Ed with half his face cut off, and I’ve always been searching for that as a deleted scene, but I just don’t think they ever shot it. I think it was just a picture someone took on set that every magazine used!

That’s another one of those movies. That trilogy is another one I love. That comes out on tour with us too. One of the hits of the last tour a couple of years backs was the new DAWN OF THE DEAD. I thought that ruled.

Oh, yeah, Zach Snyder. Same guy that did 300. I will say this about that remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. That’s probably going to be the best 15 minute opening to a zombie movie ever.


Awesome.

Yeah, that was a really strong, kick-ass opening.

It just got your heart pumping! It fucking ruled! (Laughs) Another movie which I saw recently was 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, which I thought was awesome. Loved it. Thought that was done right. Even though I don’t care for Hartnett, he didn’t bother me much. That’s just the way I am. I wish they would use unknown people sometimes. Another thing I’ve been really into lately is this MARVEL ZOMBIES comic book series.

Oh yeah! Those are great!

Then they did the ARMY OF DARKNESS VS MARVEL ZOMBIES. That was great! I was cracking up!

Ya know, they’ve been pumping out a lot of ARMY OF DARKNESS comics in the past few years and I never feel like they capture the Ash character right. But that was the first series, the one with the MARVEL ZOMBIES where they nail him.

Yeah. I used to love the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series. So, I’ve been reading those comic books.

Oh right! They’re doing Season Eight via the comic books.

Yeah! It’s actually really good! I love that show. I thought that show rocked.

That’s cool! I didn’t realize you were a comic fan!

Yeah, well it takes something really good to get me back into it. I’ve been finding more and more stuff to get into the past year.


Writing has been really, really good in comics at the moment. Top notch talent in comics these days. Anyways, my last question, artistically what is currently influencing you guys? I know you’re writing a new record, so anything fueling the new material? Or are you guys influencing each other?

Actually, it’s funny because there’s a song on this new album we’re doing, and it’s called “Fight ‘Em ‘Til You Can’t Fight No More” and it’s about zombies. And it’s… it’s really good. (Laughs) It goes well with the music. It fits really well. But for me, lately? I was a huge TWIN PEAKS fan when it was first on, and they put out this gold box maybe about a month ago. And I’ve been really, really back into the whole TWIN PEAKS thing. That’s another one of those things that came out and really did something. It totally revolutionized television, ya know? David Lynch overall, he’s got his good stuff and he’s got his bad stuff but TWIN PEAKS was one of the best things that he ever did. I’m collecting a lot of crap lately as well.
Do you have a huge collection of memorabilia or stuff like that? Judging from the background in the JAWS doc, it looked like you had some cool stuff.

Yeah, they filmed that interview down in my room. (Laughs)

What kind of stuff have you collected through out the years that might be horror themed?
Well, the horror themed stuff is hard to get, I don’t have much of it because I was little when I had it and I pretty much played with it. It’s gone now. But I do have… fuck dude, I probably have the biggest SIMPSONS collection in the world. It’s just unbelievable. Because I was collecting that stuff from when they were on The Tracey Ullman show. So it’s been a long time! I collect too much shit. (Laughs) I can’t stop! I’m a completist. Even as we’re speaking now, I’m on eBay bidding on a set of TWIN PEAKS postcards that came with the boxed set. But they only give you 12 in one set and there’s a set of 100.


Good luck on your bidding, I hope you win it! (Laughs) Thanks for chatting, Charlie!



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