Anthrax Guitarist Scott Ian on ‘Anthems,’ Rob Caggiano’s Departure, and Dubstep’s Expiration Date

Scott Ian performs with Anthrax in Indio, Calif. April 2011. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Anthrax didn’t want to make an EP of cover songs, it’s just something that happened. So says guitarist Scott Ian, relaxing in his L.A. home, about the classic thrashers’ forthcoming release Anthems, which contains Anthraxified renditions of tunes by likes of Rush, Cheap Trick, Journey, and Boston. The original idea was to record a few songs that could go with a deluxe “tour edition” of the group’s latest album, 2011’s Worship Music, but it couldn’t get it together in time. So, with no deadline in mind, Ian and his bandmates set forth to record some of the songs they grew up on just for the hell of it. Then it just became fun.

“Every time another little piece of a song was finished, we’d get all excited,” Ian beams. “I was like, I can’t wait to finish this Boston cover, then it came back with the keyboard solo, and it was like, ’Holy crap! Listen to that.” When the group realized how many songs it had, it reached out to its U.S. and European labels who offered to put out Anthems as a stand-alone EP, which suits the band fine. “We just want people to hear these songs,” the guitarist says.

The EP’s release is just one part of what is a busy start to 2013 for Anthrax. After finding out whether they’ve won a Grammy for the Worship Music tune “I’m Alive” in February (they’re up for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance), the guys will embark on a tour that will lead them a string of March and April dates in the U.S., where they’ll play their celebrated 1987 album Among the Living in its entirety. To make things even more interesting, the tour will feature Shadows Fall axeman Jon Donais filling in on lead guitar, since the group’s previous six-stringer Rob Caggiano recently departed its ranks to focus on album production. Once they wrap that up, Ian tells us Anthrax might start working on a new album. But before that, they’re taking things one anthem at a time.

How did you pick the six tracks on Anthems?

We’ve been doing cover songs since 1985 on our Armed and Dangerous EP. [Editor’s Note: as a reader pointed out, the first Anthrax recorded cover was Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” for their 1984 debut full-length Fistful of Metal.]¬†They’re songs we’ve been playing since we were kids. They were all written before we were even a band. When it comes to doing stuff like these covers, I’ll do ’em all day long. For me, it’s just fun to play these songs.

What was the hardest song to play?

For me, personally, it was the Rush song. I knew the song going in, but I had never played “Anthem” before literally tracking the rhythm guitars on it. I listened to the Rush live version a bunch, just over and over again, and went in and basically just threw it down. I had never actually played the Journey song [“Keep On Runnin'”] either, but it’s an easier song riff-wise.

Which one did you really want to record?

[Boston’s] “Smokin'” was my pick. “Keep on Runnin'” and “Anthem” were both songs that Charlie [Benante, drums] picked. As much as AC/DC are my favorite band, Joey [Belladonna] was the one who picked “T.N.T.” And I think we recorded [Thin Lizzy’s] “Jailbreak” years ago, like in the late ’80s, and never put it out.

This is the last release you recorded with guitarist Rob Caggiano. Was his departure a surprise?

We didn’t know he was planning on leaving while we were tracking this. He was literally finishing solos in Berlin on the last days of the tour. It wasn’t until after the tour ended and we started having conversations, and just to put it in a nutshell, he just needs to do his own thing at this point in time. We knew he had a record that he was going to be doing possibly. We had already told him, if you need to take a hiatus, that’s fine. The best thing I can say is that he’s on a mission to do his own thing at this point. And I’m certainly not going to stand in his way.

How did you end up picking Jon Donais for the upcoming tour?

It was actually Rob. He had already spoken to Jon and had kind of filled him in about what his plan was. He didn’t want to leave us hanging. As much as it sucks, this whole thing has been friendly. I may think Rob has made a mistake by leaving the band, but at the same time he’s my friend and I back his decision all the way in whatever he needs to do. He feels the same about us. We all know Jon. I’ve actually worked with him before on [comedian] Brian Posehn’s record. We all know he’s a great lead guitar player. And Jon said absolutely he wanted to do it.

Watch Anthrax play “I’m Alive” at the House of Blues in Myrtle Beach, S.C.:

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