Posted February 17, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Anthrax’s Scott Ian: A man of many words

Scott Ian
Scott Ian

Even if you don’t know Anthrax’s music, chances are you’d be able to identify guitarist Scott Ian if he were in a line-up. He’s the guy with the shaved head and goatee. For 30 years, he’s toured and recorded with one of thrash metal’s most seminal acts. Now, inspired by punk icon Henry Rollins’ early spoken word tours, Ian’s speaking to audiences across the country. During the shows, Ian talks about his childhood in Queens and revisits some of the more outlandish things he’s experienced on the road with Anthrax. He recently spoke to us via phone in advance of a15-city tour that kicks off in Chicago.

You recently performed in Europe. How was that?
I did a whole run of the UK. I did some dates in Ireland. I did Germany and Australia. It was great. I wouldn’t be doing more of it if I didn’t enjoy it. I’m not looking for ways to leave home, let’s put it that way. It has to be something that I really enjoy doing to add more traveling to my schedule. I did a one-off in London a couple of years ago. The only reason I took that gig was because I had five months to put the show together. I spent those five months doing nothing and then I got on stage and just winged it. I knew the stories I was going to tell. It was just a matter of being entertaining. It went so well that it’s just snowballed into what it’s become.

You’re calling this tour “Speaking Words.” Did you have an alternate title that was maybe a bit more creative?
I think “Speaking Words” is really creative. I can’t believe no one else has thought of that. That’s all I’m doing. Spoken word — the context of those two words has nothing to do with what I’m doing. All I think of when I hear that is a dude sitting in a shop reading shitty poetry and smoking a cigarette. That’s not what I’m doing. I’m just trying to make it clear. I’m telling stories.

Talk a little about how you decided upon the material that would make it into the show?
A couple of years ago, I started writing down stories. Not just from the 30 odd years of Anthrax but from even before that…from the time when I was growing up and going to school. About three or four years ago, I started writing them out in long form. The impetus for that was that I was starting to forget stuff. Mentally, I was really noticing that my recall was kinda crappy. I was becoming a slave to Google and had to Google myself to find out when things happened. I started writing stuff down and collecting it so I would have it all. That was the beginning of the whole thing. What I started doing by doing the tour in the UK where I did 15 shows is to learn how to tell a story. I could quickly gauge a room and determine how drunk they were already and what kinds of stories should I be telling. If it’s a really drunk crowd, I’ll lean on stories that don’t take much to follow. I’m not going to get into a convoluted thing. If it’s a pay-attention audience, then I can go into a 40-minute story about [Pantera guitarist] Dimebag [Darrell] and this joke he played on me and the revenge I took on him.

So it’s not the same show every night?
I would get really bored telling the same exact stories and hearing my voice tell those stories night after night. I would start to hate myself.

I have to change it up for me just so I don’t start going through the motions.

Are your stories better than Rollins’s stories?
I have different stories than Rollins. We have completely different life experiences. When he first started doing it, having read all his books, it was coming from that kind of place. I saw a lot of Get in the Van type of stories. That was made me think I could do it too. I’ve had this life experience. I’ve been in a band for a long time. There’s a lot of crazy shit I could talk about. I saw him do that in the ’90s. I was so impressed. I was a fan of him for so long and he held an audience for so long. That was my first idea and I wanted to do that. I didn’t know how or when. He was a huge inspiration. His show has gone away from that. I don’t get political at all. My show is much different than his is now.

Do you have any good stories about Meat Loaf?
Besides the fact that he’s my father-in-law? I started dating [his daughter] Pearl back in 2000 and we’ve been in each other’s lives for 14 years now. Still, after 14 years, I can’t believe he’s my father-in-law. It’s a trippy fuckin’ thing. I saw in the Bat Out of Hell tour in 1978 on Long Island. My dad took my brother and me. Now, the guy is my father-in-law. How the fuck does that happen? I do have some crazy stories. Those come up in the Q&A. I’ve got some pretty funny bullshit answers. The truth isn’t as exciting, but it definitely comes up.

I think you make the point that most of these metal guys aren’t as mean and angry as you’d think. Who’s the nicest heavy metal icon you’ve ever met?
People would be surprised how nice, and I’m using that word in the truest definition of the word. I hate to blow anyone’s façade, but it could be Tom Araya from Slayer. You couldn’t meet a nicer guy. He has let it out a bit. It used to be that the dude would never crack a smile. He’s become this venerable old man. The song ends and he leans back and has a big smile on his face. I think he’s become comfortable to show that side of himself. There was a time when there was no smiling in Slayer. He’s one of the sweetest dudes you’ll ever meet in life. Even a guy like Rob Zombie is nice. If you just saw him on stage with robots and fire and half-naked chicks, you wouldn’t think that. He’s the nicest guy. I apologize to him if I’m ruining his image. Anyone who could have a successful career in this business is really smart. It would be harder to name five dumb guys in this business. I can name a 100 smart before I can name five dumb guys. Even people that come off dumb aren’t dumb. Unless you want to be one of those horror stories about getting ripped off by your manager and label. Those are the dumb guys. You have to have your shit together to have a career in this business.

You sometimes get mistaken for that guy from System of a Down, but you came up with your look first. What originally inspired the shaved head and goatee?
I was going bald. I wasn’t going to be a balding dude in a band. There’s nothing sadder or more pathetic than the dude trying to hold onto something that’s never coming back. I hadn’t cut my hair in ages. My bangs in the front were as long as the back. You just have to push long bangs over the back to hide a bald spot. But I thought, “This is bullshit.” I didn’t want to be that guy. It wasn’t a question for me. I was sick of having long hair too. It was a relief to shave my head. I cut it super short and I had a braided ponytail. It wasn’t long after that when I got rid of the Krishna look and just shaved it.

What keeps Anthrax going?
Just having the opportunity to do it. We love what we do. We had a period of time from 2003 until 2011 when Worship Music came out that was a tough road. We were touring and we kept pushing to move forward to get to the point where we would write and record and release Worship Music, not knowing if anyone would give a shit. Around the world, people connected with a deep and strong way. We did 207 shows in 2011 and now we’re 12 songs deep into a new record and getting ready to go and record with the most positive outlook we’ve had in forever.  It’s almost scary. It’s the first time in 20 years we’ve come off writing a record with a positive attitude. We just had a great run and people connected with it. It afforded us the opportunity to do what we do. We’re a working band. That’s all we asked for. Like Jake LaMotta says in Raging Bull: “Just give me a stage where I can rage.” We get to do it again and again and everyone is super happy and excited about it. Hopefully, the new record will come out later this year.

Upcoming 2014 “Speaking Words” Dates















Chicago, IL @ Mayne Stage

Westland, MI @ The Token Lounge

Pittsburgh, PA @ Rex Theatre

Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theater

Toronto, ON @ El Mocambo Club

Kingston, ON @ The Mansion

Ottowa, ON @ Ritual

Baltimore, MD @ The Ramshead Live: Power Plant Live

Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live

Boston, MA @ Hard Rock Cafe

New York, NY @ BB Kings

Syracuse, NY @ Lost Horizon

West Warwick, RI @ Manchester 65

Portland, ME @ Port City Music Hall



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].