Anthrax are back in the UK and relishing the chance to reconnect with the British fans who propelled the thrash metal legends into the big time five decades ago. Simon Rushworth caught up with a typically bullish Scott Ian.
Rushonrock: Take us back to the mid 80s and Anthrax’s blossoming relationship with the UK’s metal community…
Scott Ian: Our first ever show was at the Hammersmith Palais — I want to say — and it was either May or early June of ‘86. We’d come off a very short European run through Germany and Belgium. And then we had the one date in London. It had sold out and, you know, we were super excited about that. I remember we had a plastic pint glass fight with the crowd at the end of what was an amazing show. I remember it ending on a very high note and having a battle with plastic glasses. Could it get more rock and roll?
We were quickly back to the UK right after that. Just a couple of months later we were supporting Metallica and they were on the Master Of Puppets tour. That was in September of ‘86. We were still on the Spreading The Disease run and we had that full UK tour getting to play all of these legendary venues.
Rushonrock: How did it feel following in the footsteps of your rock and metal heroes?
SI: Just crazy. We weren’t that far off from standing in the same places on stage that Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy and AC/DC all our heroes had literally just been. We couldn’t believe it – we would see photos of bands playing these venues in Kerrang! and now here we are at Hammersmith Odeon, Newcastle City Hall and Edinburgh Playhouse and it was just unbelievable. And then we got to come back again after that.
And you know, all of those shows were sold out: we sold out Hammersmith in early ‘87 and then came back and did our full own headline UK tour in the fall of ‘87 for Among The Living and everything, everywhere, was sold out! After that it just kept getting bigger and bigger.
Rushonrock: Did it feel almost unreal to have come so far in such a short space of time?
SI: I mean suddenly we were playing Birmingham NEC and multiple nights at the Hammersmith Odeon and, you know, we couldn’t believe it. We played Donington in ‘87 and that’s still one of the best shows we’ve ever played.
The UK was the first place that really, really got it and the fans over there were the first who really accepted us. I think it’s safe to say it’s the first place on the planet where we really broke as a band. We were playing the biggest and best shows of our lives at a time where, in a lot of other places, there still wasn’t much going on for Anthrax. That felt incredible for us. We have unbelievable memories of touring the UK over the years.
Rushonrock: Until that first tour with Metallica did you have any conception of just how popular Anthrax was in the UK…or how buoyant the thrash metal scene had become?
SI: No, not really. At that point we would do a little bit of press, you know. Spreading The Disease came out and, of course, there was some press for that. But it wasn’t like we were getting magazine covers or anything like that. We probably had a feature in Kerrang! and Metal Forces but nothing big. We really had no way to gauge the popularity of the band overseas until the Palais sold out in advance. That was a wake-up call. It was even better than the German shows. We realised that people in England must be really stoked to see us and they were! The reaction was incredible. And throughout that Metallica/Anthrax tour it was the same thing. Every show was sold out on that run and, you know, it was just kind of mind blowing to see how the British took to what was happening.
I guess, in retrospect, it’s not surprising because those metal fans knew their shit. Nobody knew what the fuck Iron Maiden was when they were playing bars and then they blew up in England and went on to become one of the biggest bands on the planet. So, you know, good things tend to happen in the UK when it comes to metal.
Rushonrock: Did you have time to soak it all up at the time or was it a whirlwind of tours, promo and stints in the studio during the late 80s?
SI: A little bit of both, I guess. We definitely got to enjoy a lot of it. That was certainly the case when we were in England because it just seemed like we got treated so well there by everyone at the label — Island Records at the time. We had such a great crew of people that worked there and they always took such great care of us.
We’d also become friendly with so many of the UK’s metal writers. You know, all the 80s writers from Kerrang! — we became personally friendly with the likes of Xavier Russell, Howard Johnson and Malcolm Dome. We would go out and drink together and travel together, and they would come out and tour with us all the time. And so it just seemed that when we arrived back in the UK we always had such a good time. We’d actually go out of our way to make sure we took a moment to enjoy it, you know what I mean? Like live in that moment because next week this is going on and then you’re not going to have a second to even think!
In London we’d always have a day or two off because we’d have to do promo or something. And so of course that would give us the time to soak it all up. Same in Glasgow — we’d always have time off in Glasgow and get to hang out with friends. So yes. I’d say we did get to feel it all back then.
Rushonrock: How vibrant was the British metal scene and how pivotal was it to the long-term success of Anthrax?
SI: The British metal scene was the best in the world. Germany, I think, had Metal Hammer magazine and so that was influential. But in England you had Kerrang! and that was huge. It’s funny now because maybe a younger audience wouldn’t recognise the version of Kerrang! magazine that was coming out in 1986. But for us it was the Bible. They would even put me on the cover at that point in time! I think the first Kerrang! cover we got was probably in late ‘86 or early ‘87. The next week Steve Harris would be on the cover and the week after Kerry King from Slayer or (Dave) Mustaine! It was straight up metal. It was all about metal. And almost everyone who wanted to be a part of the scene that we were involved in — that US thrash scene that really blew up between ‘86 and ‘89 — was extremely popular.
The UK and the UK metal audience had so much to do with our success around the planet. We’ve never forgotten that.
Rushonrock: Even at that point did it feel as if the so-called Big Four — as they would go on to be known — were becoming an unstoppable force in metal?
SI: I never really thought of that at that time. We had never teamed up at that point. Other than really early on, even before Kill ‘Em All or Fistful Of Metal were even out, when us and Metallica played shows together in New York and New Jersey, we forged our own paths. All through those formative years it was kind of rare for us to even be on the same shows together. It just didn’t happen that often.
I remember we supported a couple of Metallica shows in ‘88. We were over at the beginning of the summer for festivals and Metallica was on the …Justice tour. We were on the State Of Euphoria tour and we opened a couple of shows for them in the south of France. It wasn’t that long since we’d done that entire UK tour together and we came back after that in ’87 to do a few shows with them just after Jason (Newstead) had joined the band. But then after that, it’s like everyone just kind of went their separate ways. Everyone was so busy because we all became headliners in our own right. I guess that would be the answer to the question — we all started headlining and we all had our own fans so it didn’t feel as if we were a gang of four at that point.
Rushonrock: When did you realise you had collective power as well as individual pull?
SI: Even by ’88 Metallica was already bigger than us, Slayer or Megadeth. But we were just too busy doing our own thing to think about anything else. Then, in ‘91 in the States, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth got together and did the Clash Of The Titans thing. I guess that was the first time I ever really thought about the benefits of being part of a bigger beast.
A lot of times when you do a tour, you try and put a tour package together and you’re hoping with the bands you book that one plus one equals two — not one plus one equals one because you’re just bringing the same audience. On that Slayer/Anthrax/Megadeth package one plus one plus one actually did equal three! All three bands — even though we were under the same thrash metal umbrella — had our own audiences because all three bands sounded completely different. It did work and we were able to go out and play to crowds twice as big as we’d been used to.
At first, we didn’t want to do that tour. Our attitude was that we’d rather play to 7,000 of our own fans. But our manager pointed out that the end game was to play for 15,000 fans. And that’s what happened on that tour.
Rushonrock: More than 40 years down the line, why does Anthrax’s legacy continue to stand the test of time?
SI: I just think we really enjoy what we do. It still puts a smile on our faces to get in a room and make music or to get on stage and play a show. It’s still what I love to do. It never became not fun — ever. And, to me, that’s the key. I think that translates to people all over the world who’ve connected with this band. Whether it’s because you’ve seen Anthrax live or you’ve borrowed a friend’s record. Whatever it may be.
I think people feel that we really enjoy being in Anthrax. And that’s never changed. The enjoyment’s never waned. You know what I mean? It’s just never gone away. Whether you saw us in the 80s or you come to see us now the question’s always been the same: holy shit, how do you put on a show like that? It just translates into something that people see is honest and real.
Rushonrock: So what was it like to have something that you enjoy snatched away by an unrelenting global pandemic?
SI: It was terrible in those first few months. We were lucky in one way that we weren’t in a band that had just released an album and had 18 months of tour dates cancelled. You know what I mean?
We had just finished all the touring for For All Kings in November of 2019. And basically our plan was to work through 2020 and get a record written. And so we didn’t have to worry about tour plans but, at the same time, certainly in those first few months of the pandemic when nobody knew what the fuck was gonna happen, it was frightening. There were moments of ‘do we ever get to do this (touring) again?’. I remember thinking ‘what is this world now?’. Is it gonna get worse?
I’m a big sci-fi fan and I’ve read endless books about viruses that have wiped out the planet. So it was hard not to compare it to The Stand or something. I just kept thinking, what if this keeps getting worse? You know, what do we do? Is this the end of the world? Are people ever going to be allowed to be in a room together again? Who knew? Nobody knew.
Rushonrock: How do you look back on that period now?
SI: Well a few months went by and then slowly but surely we realised ‘all right, shit’s gonna open up again and slowly but surely we’ll get to do what we love again’. But there were some scary moments. It was the first time in history — not just modern history — that live entertainment came to a complete standstill. Even during the World Wars people were travelling around entertaining the masses. Mozart’s parents used to cart him and his sister around to all kinds of places to play for royalty, whatever the situation. Live music has been something that’s been going on for centuries and centuries in some way, shape or form. But for the first time in history it came to a dead stop around the planet. Just think about that in the context of history. That’s a huge thing.
Music aside, I don’t think anyone’s really going to be able to quantify the fact that the world basically stopped for more than a year. Maybe 30 years from now we’ll be able to look back on the pandemic with a fresh pair of eyes and understand its true impact. But even right now, in many ways, it’s still like the wild fucking west out there. We just had to cancel a whole European tour because the dates were booked years ago. Now the cost of everything is triple what it was when those shows were booked and it’s impossible for us to go and do that tour. You know, you can’t call people up and say ‘well, we know you’ve already bought a ticket, but do you mind paying 20 more dollars so we can afford to come over?’. We can’t do it.
Rushonrock: But you have been able to salvage the UK leg of the tour – how much does it mean to be reconnecting with your British fans after 40 years?
SI: I can’t wait. I think 2018 was the last time I was in the UK. This is the longest I haven’t been in England since our first time visiting in 1984. I’ve never been away from England longer than a year or a year and a half since 1984 — whether it was touring or just to go and hang out. So yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time. I can’t wait to be there. I can’t wait to see friends. I can’t wait to play these shows.
We’ve been waiting so long for this to happen and I’m just so glad we were able to at least save the UK leg of the run and because all we want to do is play. I don’t know how else to say it. I’m very excited.
Check out the Anthrax tour dates below…