A stand-up metal icon? Arguably there was no such thing until GRAMMY-nominated Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian started his Speaking Words tour in Europe in 2013. Up and down the metal highway with Anthrax for more than three decades, Ian has pretty much seen it all, and as you might expect, the straight-talking New Yorker has plenty of stories to share.
Audiences on this side of the Atlantic can get in on the fun with Ian's North American Speaking Words tour, which launches in Chicago on Feb. 20 and is scheduled to wrap in Portland, Maine, on March 8. Those unable to make it out will soon be able to enjoy the show from the comfort of their own home. Ian has launched a PledgeMusic crowd funding campaign for a Speaking Words DVD.
Meanwhile, Ian hasn't quit his day job as Anthrax's blitzkrieg rhythm guitarist. He's currently at work on a new album with the group, who were nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 56th GRAMMY Awards for their hard-slamming cover of AC/DC's classic "T.N.T." from the band's 2013 EP, Anthems.
On the eve of his Speaking Words tour kickoff, Ian spoke to GRAMMY.com about the genesis of the tour, his crowd funding campaigns and the status of Anthrax's new studio album, among other topics.
Is the title Speaking Words a way of differentiating what you do from the more usual spoken word performance?
Yes. When I think of spoken word I think of s***ty hipster coffee shops with a guy smoking a s***ty cigarette reading s***ty poetry from his s***ty book that will never get published. I'm not doing that. I just want to be as far away from that image as I can possibly be.
How did the idea to do these shows first arise?
It's just something that fell in my lap. I wasn't really looking for any new ways to leave home. But back in 2012, I got an offer to come over to London and do a solo gig. At first I thought that meant sitting on a stool playing acoustic guitar and singing songs, which I don't do. But my agent said, "No, they want you to come and tell stories. It's this series that this venue wants to do called 'Rock Stars Say The Funniest Things.' They want you, Duff McKagan and Chris Jericho." "All together?" I asked. He said, "No, no, it'll be all your show."
The show was about two months down the road. I thought I would be real professional and prepare and write a script, but I kept putting it off. So the night before the show in London I'm in a hotel room with my wife Pearl and I'm sweating like a pig because I'm so nervous. I'm not afraid of public speaking, but I had no idea how to do a show like this. Yeah, I could tell stories. But would that be good enough? People were paying to come see this. I was freaked out to the point where I was gonna call my agent and say, "Cancel the show. I can't do it. Tell them I have the flu or something." But my wife said, "You know all these stories. You are these stories. All you're gonna do is go to a bar, sit with your friends and tell stories, like you've done a thousand times before." That was enough to get me onstage. Two and a half hours later, I'm standing in the dressing room with my agent asking, "How can I do more of this?" That snowballed into a whole European tour and now these U.S. shows.
When you do the show now, how much is scripted and how much is extemporaneous?
None of it is scripted. I've got 10 or 12 hours-worth of stories stored in my brain, basically. I've got all of that to choose from in a two-hour show. Although there's a Lemmy [Kilmister, Motörhead singer/bassist] story and a Dimebag [Darrell, the late Pantera guitarist] story that I told every night on the last tour. I don't get tired of them. If I did, I'd stop. That's something I learned from putting set lists together with Anthrax. We never want to look or feel bored playing something. If you're bored it's always gonna show.
What are some of the more interesting and unusual topics that have come out of each performance?
Pretty much every night someone asks me something about having Meat Loaf as a father-in-law. Depending on what kind of mood I'm in or how the room feels to me, that basically dictates what kind of answer they're gonna get, which obviously isn't always gonna be truthful. If I tell the crowd, "Oh dude, he's got the whole Bat Out Of Hell set in his backyard and we f***in' jam that s*** every day," obviously that isn't true. But I'll say that totally seriously and people will believe it.
There's a DVD of the tour on the way, and you're crowd funding it?
Yes. We all know how things have changed in the music business. For artists, bands … anyone; to make money, you have to find new ways to do things. It was actually my record label, Megaforce, that pointed me in the direction of PledgeMusic, because they had worked together on projects with a couple of other artists and it went really well. So basically I get to own my own content and fund the whole project by selling merch and experiences. You donate $50 and you get a signed DVD; donate $250 and you get to chat with me on the phone — all the way up to a private show, where I would actually show up and hang out with your bros in a bar and shoot the s*** all night.
What were your feelings on learning that Anthrax had been nominated for a GRAMMY for your recording of "T.N.T."?
I was happy about that. … AC/DC are my favorite band. So maybe the fact that we got nominated kind of validates that we did a good cover version. I was actually pretty nervous about that. I didn't know if we could do it justice. And it really wasn't until [Anthrax vocalist] Joey [Belladonna] sang on it that I realized, "OK, this is f***ing great." He just channels Bon [Scott, the late AC/DC lead singer] on that.
Your version is pretty faithful to the original. But was there anything you wanted to do to interpret it your way?
No! We're doing a cover version because we love the song, so why would we want to change it? It's just that our tones are a little bit bigger and it's a more modern production. So it sounds maybe a bit more muscular [than the original] overall. But as far as changing arrangements or anything like that, no.
Is there a new Anthrax album on the way?
Yes, we're in the thick of writing it now. We started back in October and we've got a lot of material. The vibe has been great. It's pretty much the fastest we've ever written songs, which is awesome and scary at the same time. We're not working to any schedule at this point, but I would like to think it would be out later this year, if not early next year.
Can fans expect more of the classic Anthrax sound?
We're just continuing from where we were at on our last album, [2011's] Worship Music. People all over the planet connected with that one, and we had a two-year run touring on that record. We really couldn't ask for more. There's certainly more of a thrash element in a lot of the material that we've come up with, because it's just really fun to do that. We still love to play fast.
(Veteran music journalist Alan di Perna is a contributing editor for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado. His liner notes credits include Santana Live At The Fillmore East, the deluxe reissue of AC/DC's The Razor's Edge and Rhino Records' Heavy Metal Hits Of The '80s [Vols. 1 and 3].)