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February 2, 2000
If there was a heavy metal hall of fame, perhaps John Bush would be in it. A metal veteran of the highest order, John has entertained us for over fifteen years now, through stints with Armored Saint, Anthrax, and now both. This night, he checked in from the road on the Anthrax tour to call the Metal Update and talk about adapting to change, keeping egos in check and making it work as front man for one of the "big-four" late- eighties speed metal bands in the year 2000.
Metal Update: Is the tour over?
John Bush: No, no. We're in San Diego tonight. We play here, and then we've got another week and a half to go.
MU: You're a busy man right now.
JB: Well, that's good. 1999 was pretty much a dormant year for me. I want to be busy. 'Cause busy means I'm able to pay my bills. (laughs)
MU: Do you pay attention to the metal "scene"?
JB: Well, I try to. Absolutely. It's my life. I have to. I'm not a nerd. I'm not into the whole computer, web world, as much. I use it for practicalities more than anything. But I read magazines, and I try to stay as universally informed as I can.
MU: Anthrax didn't follow the common paths of many of its peers. The band never sold-out, never became a nostalgia act, but yet never downsized and did the whole "underground metal" thing by signing with, say, a Nuclear Blast. Sometimes it seems it has been a struggle.
JB: Well, you do what you gotta do. My attitude is, if this band wants to make records for twenty more years, it can. It just might have to adapt to the market, and what's going on. Anthrax has been makin' records since 1983, and here we are in 2000. Seventeen years later. You can't expect to be on the top that whole time. It's pretty much impossible. Very few bands are able to ever do that in the history of rock and roll.
MU: Still, Anthrax consistently outsells even the most popular of the new metal underground elite.
JB: We're at this point now with Anthrax, that I think this is a legendary group. I really do. I believe that is the case. I think it comes down to adapting to what's around you. As long as you're willing to do that . . . that takes a lot of . . . well, your ego has to be challenged. Your lifestyle. All the other things that come into play. As long as you're willing to do that, you'll be all right.
MU: When was the last time you had a day job?
JB: Well, not that long ago. But, believe me, I'm in a position where I am looking for other forms of, other ways of making money. And probably that is because I don't want the pressure to be in this band. To do the wrong things. We've done that a few times in the past. You just gotta do what you gotta do to survive. As long as you're willing to do that. As long as you don't feel it's a compromise. You gotta check your dignity, and make sure it's OK. And if it isn't, that's OK too. I mean, if you feel like, aww . . . this isn't -- I don't like where this is going, then there's nothing wrong with calling it a day.
MU: Is 'Attack of the Killer A's' one of those things you just needed to do to survive? Or is that something you really needed to get out there?
JB: You know, when the idea of a greatest hits album first came up, I was a little reluctant. Which is funny, 'cause I own so many greatest hits records. Predominantly in other forms of music. But then I started really embracing the idea. My reasoning, somewhat selfish, was that the last two records that we've made, 'Volume 8' and 'Stomp,' got a real raw deal as far as the proper way to promote those records, and I still think there's amazing songs on those records. And, so, I started thinking, if we put a couple of those songs on our compilation of greatest hits, and somebody goes out and buys it because they love "Madhouse" or "I Am the Law" or even "Only", and they're able to discover these other songs, like "Crush", "Inside Out", and "Fueled", then it's a good thing. Then they might go and buy those records. So I embraced it.
MU: You're one of the first metal acts to bust out with a DVD.
JB: Originally, the idea was to not even do a videotape. But not everybody is up to that level of sophistication yet. People like me.
MU: I never saw the "Inside Out" video until I saw the DVD.
JB: Oh, it's a great video.
MU: Would you ever make another video for Anthrax?
JB: Yeah, if it was the right situation. It's just one of those things. I mean, we spent, I don't know, roughly, a quarter of a million dollars on "Black Lodge". Which was, I thought, a unique video.
MU: Jenna Elfman is in it?
JB: Yeah, Jenna Elfman is in it, and Mark Pellington directed it. But I mean, for the cost, and for the results, it was ridiculous. We didn't get our money's worth. The "Inside Out" video probably cost us $70- 80,000, and I thought it was an amazing video. So, I mean, again, those are the kinds of things you do - you adapt. Spending money doesn't necessarily mean you're doing the right thing. You can do a lot more with less money sometimes.
MU: Why isn't Anthrax signed to a total metal label like Nuclear Blast? Scott and Charlie are on Nuclear Blast with S.O.D.
JB: It just depends on what the best situation is, really. It just depends. Beyond is a label that we liked what they said about Anthrax. We liked what their gameplan was.
MU: A lot of guys are playin' in more than one band right now. You yourself are pulling double duty with Anthrax and Armored Saint.
JB: Well . . . . These are different times. As long as you're able to put a lot of work into a lot of things and make them different, it's cool. Sometimes one band is not enough to bring out all the things that you want to say musically. That's kinda how I feel.
MU: It's amazing how distinct Armored Saint sounds from Anthrax. When you listen to the new Saint album, it strikes you how much this sounds like Armored Saint, and that sounds like Anthrax. They are very different.
JB: Well, I think a lot of that has a lot to do with the people making the music. The way Joey Vera writes is a lot different from the way Scott and Charlie write. So I just try to gravitate toward that. Really bring out my style, with those people.
MU: What's you're favorite record you performed on?
JB: I don't know if I can say that. I always look at records as a reference in time. And I just look at any record I've made as kinda symbolic of living in that time.
MU: What do you think of 'Delerious Nomad'?
JB: I love that record, 'cause it was really, really rebellious. Really rebellious. Everything that we did wrong on 'March of the Saint', at least in our opinion, we totally rebelled against and that's why 'Delerious' came out the way it did. So I do like that record a lot.
MU: Are you going to tour with Armored Saint?
JB: I don't know yet. I don't know what we're gonna do yet. We haven't really discussed it in detail. I think that the chips will fall where they may. I want everything about that project to be as stress-free as possible. I don't want any memories to . . . I don't want anything to go back to the times when I was unhappy with that project. So everything will probably be done in a real, step-by-step, calculated manner.
MU: If you toured, what would the set-list be?
JB: I don't know. But on the Armored Saint web site, we told people to send in the twelve songs that they would like to hear. So you should go to the web site and add your set.
MU: Cool. I suppose I won't be able to get you to choose a favorite from the Anthrax catalogue, either?
JB: No, no, no. To me, even the old material that Joey sang on, to me, it's just Anthrax. Somebody will say to me, "do you like doing the old Anthrax"? I don't even think of it in those terms anymore. It's just Anthrax.
MU: Anthrax had almost a kind of a comedy act thing going back in the Joey years, with the long flowered shorts, the hats with the brims flipped up with the word "injun" written on it. It was pretty silly. That changed when you replaced him.
JB: This was how I put it, and I even told the guys this. The Anthrax that happened in the eighties was totally fresh, and it was unique, and it was kind of like -- it happened then. It's gonna be impossible to duplicate that, that's when the band kinda peaked, honestly. I don't think that I'd ever want to compare to that, because that was the origin of Anthrax.
MU: But from 'White Noise' forward, it wasn't "silly" anymore.
JB: Well, that was probably a change that was necessary then. That was something that the band felt like it had to do. And that's why changes happen. So you can go, "we're done with this episode of life, we're gonna go this way." Which I think is a great thing. I mean, you have to do that, otherwise you're gonna get stale.
MU: Your ego was chill enough to embrace the return of Joey for this tour.
JB: I had to check it at the door for a little bit. And then once I did that, I thought the idea was really cool. I thought we were gonna make some metal history, so to speak. So, it was something that I embraced. And when it didn't happen, it was like, business as ususal for me. It was like, OK, let's go on and do what we do anyway.
MU: Do you think Anthrax would have sold more tickets if he did the tour?
JB: No. I don't. But, I don't know. We'll never know I guess. I don't think it was gonna elevate us to playing arenas, that's for sure.
MU: Do you know Joey?
MU: What was the guy thinking?
JB: I can't answer that. You'd have to ask him.
MU: It was just such a shock, at the last minute . . .
JB: In my opinion, he got some bad advice. Some miscalculated suggestions. And I think that he probably is not fully aware of where the band is in 2000. That's the nicest way I can put it.
MU: And perhaps, someday, in the future . . .
JB: Nothing surprises me in this business anymore. Who knows?
MU: You've seen it all, John. Really, what's left to accomplish with this shit? You havin' fun?
JB: Exactly. That's the best way of putting it. As long as you're having fun, then carry on. When it is no longer fun, then that is the time to stop. And for me, that is the source of it. I always want to make sure I'm having a good time.
MU: Who are your fans today?
JB: I think Anthrax is in a place where we have old school fans and we have new school fans. I think that there is a cross. We're not Slipknot, so we're not attracting nothing but young kids. 'Cause we're a band that's from the eighties originally, so obviously, we're still attracting a lot of those fans. But a lot of those fans have also moved on and are now listening to other kinds of music. So to keep going, to be fresh, you're going to have to connect a little bit with the youth and I think we've done that.
MU: What do you think the next Anthrax album will sound like?
JB: I don't know. We have to talk about it. Usually Charlie is the catalyst for writing, and I'm sure that his wheels are turning. I'm sure he's thinking about certain things, but the last thing we want to do is to formulate what we're gonna do. It'll just happen.
MU: But I hope you're not going to incorporate a new school type element into your sound!
JB: Well, I think we do. I think a song like "Inside Out" has a real new school element to it without sacrificing credibility or integrity.
MU: But how about any rap elements?
JB: This band's done that. This band's done that already. And if this band wants to do that again, then we will do it. But, you know, we won't do it for any other reason but our own. That's the point.
MU: What are you listening to right now?
JB: I like Fu Manchu, they're opening for us. I think they are doing something different than what other bands are doing.
MU: What other bands? Black metal? Emperor? Does that have any relation to what you are doing?
JB: Probably in some ways. As long as it's metal, it all fits together somewhere, somehow. But I find that stuff a little bit humorous, to be honest with you. 'Cause I used to be a guy who dressed in this goofy gear and stuff. But, so, you know, if that's what they like doing, more power to them.
MU: Do you like death metal?
JB: I love the energy.
MU: What about Slayer?
JB: Great. Awesome. I think "Stain of Mind" is an awesome tune. Totally sounds fresh.
MU: What about Megadeth?
JB: I think Dave Mustaine is a creative guy. I'd like to hear some more riffy, crazy older-style stuff that he used to do. It sounds like he is getting a little poppy, and I'd like to see him get a little harder.
MU: What about Metallica?
JB: Well, you can't really say anything bad about them, 'cause they're the kings. They're just the kings.
MU: But of course you hear a difference between 'Master of Puppets' and 'Load'.
JB: Of course. They're never gonna be able to make another 'Master of Puppets'. They're just not going to be able to do it. So, I mean, for them, it seems like the best thing is to just do what they want to do. And if that means they want to play with a symphony, then they should play with a symphony.
MU: What would you have done for the second single from 'Volume 8'?
JB: I don't know. I think we were talking about doing maybe, "Catharsis". That song can sit right next to a song like "Everlong" by the Foo Fighters and have that same kind of feeling. That's just my opinion. I don't know, we're a different type of band, but it has that same type of vibe.
MU: So we'll be hearing your music for ages to come, right John?
JB: Well, we won't put a time frame on it. We'll just say that as long as I love making music and I think I'm doing it with pride and integrity, I want to keep making music.
MU: What does Anthrax have to offer the underground metal audience?
JB: We're legendary. (laughs) That's the best thing that I can say. I really think that this band is legendary. I know that sounds pompous but I really believe it. And for that reason alone, people should come see Anthrax.
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Interview: Eric German [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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