INTERVIEW: Scott Ian of Anthrax

L-R: Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Scott Ian, Joey Belladonna, Jon Donais

L-R: Charlie Benante, Frank Bello, Scott Ian, Joey Belladonna, Jon Donais

Anthrax has done what few bands get to do: put out one of the best, most memorable, most crushing albums of their career a good three and a half decades in. For All Kings is everything you loved about Anthrax, amplified and brutalized. Scott Ian’s rhythm guitar is as aggressive and tight as ever and his tone is massive. I caught up with him to talk about the record and how he gets that sound.

Not a lot of bands get this far into their career and are still putting out albums that get the response this one has. How does it feel?

It feels great! Obviously we work very hard on a record and we spend two or three years of our lives writing and recording. So for people to hear it with the same ears that we hear it feels great. That’s all we can ask for: for people to give it a chance. And if they love it, that feels awesome.

There’s a great flow to this record. Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do with this record or did it evolve as you started writing? 

There’s never a plan. That’s not something we do. Even if we tried, I don’t know if we could do that! We never talk about songwriting or an idea or an overall goal for an album. We just start writing songs and arranging music. We write music that we want to bang our head to – or I should say, makes us bang out heads. That’s our formula.

How do you approach your guitar tracks? 

As far as how I stack my guitars it’s generally one left, one right. Sometimes there’s one in the middle if a part of a song needs something dynamic. Sometimes I’ll put something up the middle depending on the song, and sometimes there are other overdubs too. Different types of chord phrasings or whatever. But a lot of those are done after the main rhythm guitars are done, and then it’s “Let’s see what needs to be done dynamically to make this song the best it can be.” So it’s kind of a song-by-song thing as I’m working with Jay Ruston. Basically every song has the left and right rhythms and then we just go from there to see what a song needs or doesn’t need.

image012You’ve always seemed to be a guy who appreciates that you don’t need eight distortion pedals chained together to get a heavy sound. There’s still punch and attack in what you’re doing. 

Yeah. To me, distortion takes away from the strength, it takes away from the power. Too much distortion just sounds shitty to me, personally. I’ve always looked for that line of just distorted enough that I’m getting the edge that I need but it’s not taking away from any of the sonic beauty of my guitar sound. I want to be able to hear every string when I’m playing a chord. I want it to be that clear. So it’s always a matter of finding that line. And the micing technique in the studio too: you could have the greatest tone in the world but put a mic up in front of the cabinet and all of a sudden it sounds like shit. So it’s all a matter of trying all those things in the studio to make sure that the sound you hear in your head is how you want it to sound on your record.

Tell me about your new Jackson King Vs.

I’ve always loved Flying Vs. My main recording guitar up until this record had always been my ’81 Gibson Flying V. And it’s not something I ever take on tour. I leave it home because it’s too special. So Mike Tempesta at Jackson came up with this idea of ‘What if we took a King V and put a pickguard on it?’ Nobody had ever done that at Jackson. And they threw that custom pickguard on it and it gave me a feeling of ‘Okay, it’s the best of both worlds.’ It gives me the best of what I love about my Jacksons and my Flying V. And they all sound great, but specifically the white one that they made for me without a Floyd on it was my main guitar for the recording of For All Kings. It’s the best-sounding guitar I own now! There’s just something about this guitar that is killer.

So you’re a Seymour Duncan JB guy. 

Yes! I’ve been using it since the 80s. I have my own Duncan as well, the El Diablo, and that was working really well in a different shape. When I was with Washburn and I was playing that double-cutaway shape, it was a bigger, thicker body than I had ever played before and the JB wasn’t working. I wasn’t getting enough power coming from the guitar and I had to wind something hotter, which was the El Diablo. And it worked great in that body shape. But when I went back to Jackson and started playing Soloists and now these King Vs, the El Diablo was now too powerful, too much gain coming from the guitar. So I put the JB back in and it sounds exactly how I wanted it to sound. So maybe I just need to make my own signature pickup that’s closer to the JB! Or I’ll just keep using the JB. Either way!

Well the JB is one of those pickups that has kept up with all sorts of changes in musical styles for like 40 years now. 

Well I’ve basically been using two pickups my whole life so I don’t really know much else. This is all I know. The JB really works for me. People tell me all the time, ‘Have you checked this out?’ And no, I don’t care! I’m happy with what I have and I’m not looking for anything else. I’m not one of these guys who is constantly searching. I basically have the same sound I’ve had since the 80s. The only change is that with modern amps I don’t need to put a TC Electronic boost box in front of my amp any more. I used to do that with Marshalls in the 80s but I don’t need to do that any more.

So what amp did you use on the record? 

It’s my signature Randall Nullifier EN 120. I used a combination of two of them, just EQ’d a bit differently. And the blend was just insane.

You used a pretty interesting amp-blending technique on Sound Of White Noise, yeah?

Yeah, Dave Jerden had me use three different amps and I was doing three tracks a side. Each amp was EQ’d differently: one for for mids, one was for highs and one was for lows. So I would do three tracks on the left with three different amps, then three tracks on the right with the same amps. So it was six tracks of rhythms which was completely superfluous, to be honest with you. It was a giant waste of time. It was his idea to try it and I went for it. I spent all of that time playing six tracks of rhythm on every song, but two well-EQ’d tracks would have worked just as well in the end. That’s something I’ve learned: don’t use six tracks of rhythm! I think it was a good idea on paper but functionally it was kind of a waste of time.

It must have sounded like hell on ‘treble day.’

Haha. Well no because I’d start with my midrange and have those tracks done then do the treble next. So when I did those tracks I wasn’t just hearing the high end, I was hearing the whole tone. The hardest was the low end because he had this Matchless amp that we used, and we had this Russian Sovtek fuzz box in front of it so it was like this blown-out, super-bassy, stoner-rock low end tone that on its own would have been completely unusable. All together with the mids and the highs it sounded good, it’s just that a lot of the frequencies started to cancel each other out. I can do just one left and one right and get a tighter sound. I mean, some of the things on that record sound great. Open chords sound awesome. Anything picked or fast or tight, not so good.

For All Kings is out now.