Full Circle: An Interview With Anthrax's Joey Belladonna
Photos by Thomas Garner
It's been some 13 years since Joey Belladonna's name has been included in the Anthrax lineup, but in the hearts and minds of long-time fans, Joey's the guy who fronted the band during their critical years. With much of today's metal and even rap/rock having been influenced by the lineup during his time, I had to get together with this rock icon to see how the reunion was treating him. I hooked up with Joey in Salt Lake City just before the show. We talked about a lot of different things; from the reunion to football to a cause worth fighting for.
[John Foxworthy] How’s the tour going so far?
Joey Belladonna It's great. Everybody stepped up over the years and time's been good to everybody. It's mutual, you know? We're all getting along real well and we're focused. You can't beat that.
[John Foxworthy] You’ve been out of the Anthrax game for something like 13 years. How does it feel to hook back up with the old crew?
Joey Belladonna It's amazing. It's like getting back together with old friends again ... especially when you've got a lineup that works and it's solid. Look at how long we've been together. We practiced twice when we got back together ... and it was there already. Some bands really have a hard time doing a kind of thing like that, because they're having to feel their way through it, maybe they can't play as well anymore or they're not into it as much. None of that was there for us.
[John Foxworthy] So you guys have the same old juice?
Joey Belladonna Oh yeah. In fact, it's better. I mean it's heavier, it's more efficient ... everybody knows what they have to do.
[John Foxworthy] Let’s go back in time. When you auditioned for Anthrax, legend has it that you came to the table with a Journey tune...
Joey Belladonna Actually what happened was, I went into the room and they said "just go on in" and they hadn't heard me sing. They'd heard of me and they asked me to come in, but we were going in to start tracking and stuff, to get the mic set up and all that and they said "Let's get you in there and get you warmed up." I hit the mic and belted out some Journey.
[John Foxworthy] What song was it?
Joey Belladonna I think it was "Lights." I didn't know what the hell I was getting into in the first place. I just wanted to lay some vocals or something. Just to kinda give an idea and that's what happened. It wasn't really anything more than that. I just kinda belched it out. I think I did "Oh Sherri" too or something. I dunno why, but I just did. It was something off the top of my head I could do accapella and it was kinda challenging. I thought maybe in range or something that would be kind of intriguing. It was definitely one they weren't expecting.
[John Foxworthy] And you got the job.
Joey Belladonna Yep.
[John Foxworthy] Let's talk about rock and rap. I'm sure you get asked about this a lot, but when you guys first recorded “I’m The Man,” was it meant to be like a joke?
Joey Belladonna No. I think everybody grew up with Beastie Boys and RUN/DMC ... and being in the city and stuff like that. Why not just add some guitars and do it ourselves? It definitely wasn't a goof. I mean, we were having fun with it, but not making fun of it. We put in some heart and soul. As you can hear with "Bring The Noise," we did a fine job of that too. I'm not really the one too much on the rap as far as knowing and being the one to bring it to the table, so I'm really a hard one to ask for that. I'm more of rock 'n' roll, metal, thrash ... whatever the hell it may be other than the rap. I don't know what really spawned that idea, but I think being in the city and being around it ... it was something everyone wanted to try.
[John Foxworthy] When you guys started doing the rock/rap thing and one could basically say Anthrax godfathered the whole genre ... what do you think when you hear that?
Joey Belladonna It's nice to hear that. I don't know if I wanna put my finger on the pulse of that being specifically us. Again, I'm not the one to really say that. I'm sure a lot of people thought we may have. I mean, we did it early ... yeah. Earlier than a lot of people were ... I'll go that far.
[John Foxworthy] Did you have any idea it would take off the way it has?
Joey Belladonna I don't know if anybody had any idea or specifics on that one. It's kinda hard to determine. Who knew anything? When you're doing what you do, I think you just go ahead and do whatever your heart desires and you hope that people catch on.
[John Foxworthy] It seemed to work out pretty good for you guys.
Joey Belladonna Yeah. It's definitely still fun to even do it now. I'm not even doing the drums ... I'm just kind of out front...
[John Foxworthy] Are you guys gonna do that one tonight?
Joey Belladonna It's possible. We switch that one around a bit.
[John Foxworthy] Now, I know over the last 13 years you've had a solo project called Belladonna, and I've even downloaded a couple of tracks from your site. How's that been going for you?
Joey Belladonna It's been cool. It keeps me busy. I just like playing, so for me to fill the void with writing music and being a musician still ... it's just what it's all about. I don't really have any expectations ... I just wanna play. That's basically what it is. I'm using the name "Belladonna," because it's just something that's like familiar for me to use, and then the rest of it's just a matter of being able to write music. To keep busy, you know?
[John Foxworthy] Nowadays, when you're out walking on the street, do you still have people recognize you from Anthrax?
Joey Belladonna Yeah! Yeah! All the time. It's like I almost never left. It was just kinda lingering in the background, flowing and waiting and a lot of people asked, "Did you ever think you were gonna get back together?" And sometimes I thought really there was a good possibility that we could cross paths again. It was good. It was something that I don't think we really needed to end. But, they wanted to change for other reasons ... vocalwise ... stylewise ... so what do you do with that?
[John Foxworthy] Speaking of that ... I know you've probably read a lot of the drama that the Bush and the Belladonna camps have basically split Anthrax fans in half. What do you think of that?
Joey Belladonna I don't hear much about it right now. I mean, if I want to sit online all day and read the jibber-jabber, or whatever you wanna call it, I guess you could get caught up in it. We're so different, and what are you gonna do when someone else comes in? It's like anything else. It's two different people, it's two different styles ... it's two different sets of music. We have our own styles, so all I can think of is ... no one wishes for the comparisons. I think we're all kind of like one family. We can hang out and rock. You can do no wrong by being there, but then ... yet ... he's still amazing, but he still doesn't get to do what he needs. Everybody already knows about the "other guy." I get my due and he gets his due, but I try not to think about it because ... what can you do to change that? It's already been said. You put it in there and now you have to live with that.
[John Foxworthy] This reunion you guys are doing ... I personally found it to be very good news, because this lineup was my Anthrax era. Are you guys talking about a future? Are you going back into the studio with more new stuff?
Joey Belladonna There's a good chance for things to happen. I think as we go things get closer to more developments, but we've been pretty busy since April. We've been cracking ever since. Can't go wrong there and everything we do gets better. I think everybody gets more optimistic. I guess you have to feel it out. As far as doing a record, I think it'd be a nice thing to do, but you have to get in a room. You have to decide to do something like that and you have to spend some time. So for us to do that ... we haven't gotten that far. We've been so busy that even if we wanted to write like this second we wouldn't, because nobody would have the time or even the mindset to do it.
[John Foxworthy] And you guys have been touring non-stop since April, right?
Joey Belladonna We've had a month off ... tops! It's been at least five, six, seven months ... in and out. Whatever we added up.
[John Foxworthy] Does it get kinda tough?
Joey Belladonna It's good! I don't wish to stop. Unfortunately we'll have a couple of months off in November and December, which I still don't think we'll do anything in that time. I think everybody will just chill down.
[John Foxworthy] Right now you guys are supporting Judas Priest. I think that's phenomenal. I don't know why you never did before.
Joey Belladonna They had played with them with Ripper and Bush, but I don't think that either one of those are ... the dynamics of maybe say ... this. As Halford would say, "Reuniting the singers." That was the best line from him when I first met him on the tour. He came over to me and I think it's great. I love these packages. The old metal ... it's just cool. It's nice to be around somebody like that, especially if you love a band that you've grown up with.
[John Foxworthy] I was reading on Anthrax.com about the Slave To The Metal Foundation. Are you also involved in that?
Joey Belladonna Yeah. We're all lending a name to the cause of something that people are not familiarized with. A lot of these vaccinations are something that are really tough on the soldiers. Some don't even know what they are or what causes these symptoms of like very bad things that happen to the soldiers. And, some of them don't even have the right to refuse.
[John Foxworthy] What are the vaccinations for?
Joey Belladonna For whatever's in the war ... the Anthrax and other biological stuff. Anything you can think of when the body's been hindered. But again, we're just being a part of something and being familiarized with it and whatever we can do to make people aware of it. Hopefully it doesn't trickle down to all of us at home ... and demand you must take it too ... for no reason or because they thought you had to.
[John Foxworthy] So you guys are basically advocates against these vaccinations?
Joey Belladonna Yeah, but it's not like we're going to bat every day. We're trying to let people know with the name and hopefully people say, "Well, geez. I just saw it on their site!" Just trying to open the door to people. We're not going door-to-door, but we're just opening the door to anybody that doesn't know or even some of the soldiers that might not have known. Whatever we can do to make it right or to help in any way ... even if we have to be a part of some of the festivities and stuff, that'd be nice. Anything ... whatever it is.
[John Foxworthy] When you’re not playing or practicing, what do you listen to? What’s in your CD player right now?
Joey Belladonna Sometimes I'm afraid to say. I listen to everything. I've got a bad selection to some people and some great selections. I listen to everything, man. I'm just so into anything ... especially with vocals. I like a lot of sh*t with vocals. When I joined these guys, God. I probably scared the sh*t out of 'em. Although they hadn't probably crossed into the heaviest and heavier at the time, but I was listening to Priest, Maiden, Leppard, Scorpions and all that stuff when I joined 'em, yet I hadn't heard of Accept and a lot of these deeper, darker underground bands of the time. And there's a lot of good new stuff and a lot of good old stuff ... you name it.
[John Foxworthy] I understand you’re a football fan and, as a matter of fact, I hear you're a huge Vikings fan. Didn't you sing the National Anthem last year in front of a Vikings game?
Joey Belladonna Yeah. In Seattle I did. It was awesome, you know? Got to hang out on the field all day and just do a lot of good little goofy things you don't ever get to do ... have lunch and brunch with the guys...
[John Foxworthy] With the team?
Joey Belladonna Yeah. All that sh*t. Talk afterwards and hang out...
[John Foxworthy] We have a question from a fan for you. Do you watch cartoons?
Joey Belladonna Yeah. I like the Looney Tunes and I don't know if you wanna call the Simpsons a cartoon, but I like all the old stuff like ... God, what's the rooster and the dog?
[John Foxworthy] Foghorn Leghorn.
Joey Belladonna Foghorn Leghorn ... and the other day what was on was amazing. Remember the Mutley with the bird ... and?
[John Foxworthy] Oh yeah! Catch That Pigeon or whatever...
Joey Belladonna Right! It was amazing. I couldn't believe it, although Looney Tunes is my favorite by far.
[John Foxworthy] You're still stickin' with the old school...
Joey Belladonna Yeah, but I don't watch it that much. I'm so sports oriented I barely get a chance to watch that or some goofy programs that get around or a VH1 special or damn ... "Survivor" or something. Whatever. You get on a kick or something and other times, like now, I'm missin' it at all and I don't give a sh*t. But if I'm home I can get locked into it.
[John Foxworthy] Totally! I went through the same thing with "Entourage" on HBO. My son and I watched that both seasons like every Sunday night.
Joey Belladonna And it's weird. You would never think some of these programs you'd get sucked into or lost and when they're on, some of 'em, you're kind of embarrassed to watch, right?
[John Foxworthy] For sure. I don't wanna take up much more of your time...
Joey Belladonna That's alright...
[John Foxworthy] But who's out there you wanna give special props to? Is there anyone out there who's maybe influenced your career or that's basically really been there?
Joey Belladonna As far as growing up and learning how to sing, I did it all by myself. But as far as bands, there are so many bands I loved when I was younger that got me singing? Kansas, Rush and I could go on and on ... there's just so many. The Beatles. I just used to sing that shit for hours every day and just learn how to sing. Other than that, our fans are who I'd give a shout out to really. Them being able to still stick with what we do and be fans and keep being fans ... it's everything, you know?
What a guy! I'd like to thank Joey for taking the time to speak with me. After this interview I caught the show. Anthrax was absolutely phenomenal and I recommend catching the old lineup next time they're in your town. Good luck, guys!
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