CHARLIE BENANTE – “I Tried To Look For Silver Linings Throughout This Whole Ordeal”

May 14, 2021, 6 months ago

By Aaron Small

feature heavy metal charlie benante

CHARLIE BENANTE – “I Tried To Look For Silver Linings Throughout This Whole Ordeal”

This is not a solo album. Yes, the masthead reads Charlie Benante, however the Anthrax drummer is resolute that Silver Linings, out May 14th via Megaforce Records, is a collection of quarantine jams performed with his friends. The wide-ranging selection of fourteen cover songs quelled cabin fever caused by the various COVID-19 lockdown orders that were so prevalent in 2020. 

The saying goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” For Charlie, the cloud is the pandemic and all the restrictions that came along with it – the lack of touring, recording, even seeing your bandmates in person. And the silver lining is these online Zoom performances that really took on a life of their own. “Yeah, it’s very true,” confirms Benante. “The process of it… in the beginning I was trying to figure out how I could do it. Then I found a couple of pieces to the puzzle, and I approached some of my musician friends, who would be large pieces of the puzzle. Some of the songs I did on my own; I played everything. Then there were other songs that I wanted to incorporate my friends and fellow musicians that I knew were probably going through the same thing I was going through. There was that uncertainty of, what’s going to happen here? Is this going to be over in six weeks, or six months? Of course, the government that we had running the show (in The United States) – we weren’t getting any real answers. It was very bleak, to be honest with you.”

A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Charlie’s girlfriend, Carla Harvey from Butcher Babies, as she’s the one that lit this musical fire. “She’s pretty much the one that forced me to shut everything off and go be creative,” recalls Benante. “I don’t think she had in mind what I was planning, but it definitely pushed me to a place that was much better than where I was going.”

When Charlie first reached out to his friends for help on these cover songs, “They didn’t think I was crazy. And I think it gave them an opportunity to also take their mind off what was happening, and be creative again, and entertain. Not even just entertain other people but entertain themselves. I did have a few guidelines, I just wanted… if we were going to cover a song, I wanted it to be a bit of ourselves doing it, but I also wanted to pay attention to detail, and not just phone it in. I wanted it to be pretty accurate.”

Mission accomplished. Carla appears on two songs – “Teardrop” by Massive Attack and “Yer So Bad” by Tom Petty, making it the first music to be released that the couple has played on together. “The Petty song, we both love Tom Petty. I always loved this song, it’s a song people know, but it’s not as popular as some of his other ones; but I wanted her voice on it. I wanted a different take on it, and she nailed it! She adds a little bit of this southern twang to it, even though she’s from Detroit. Then the Massive Attack song, I’ve always loved Massive Attack. As I started to plan out what I wanted to do, this was one of the songs that probably gave me the most… I wouldn’t say it was difficult, but it did take a little more out of me. I had to put more thought into it than the other ones. But as far as her singing it, I definitely pushed Carla out of her comfort zone; I definitely stressed her out with it.”

There’s a real eclectic mix of artists covered on Silver Linings from U2 to Run DMC to Iron Maiden to Billie Eilish; and “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish, released in 2019, is the one modern song; with the others being much older. “So, a couple of years ago, my daughter… whenever I would take her to school or pick her up from school, she would plug into the stereo in the car, and play her songs,” begins Benante. “A long time ago, she was playing this song called ‘Ocean Eyes’ that was from this kid Billie Eilish – and I loved it! I thought it was a great song. She would play that first album a lot. Then the second album came out, and there were these other songs on it that she would play in the car; I just thought it was really good. It became popular, of course. I just wanted to do almost a metalized version of it with Ra, the bass player. That was basically it. I heard the song over and over again from my daughter, and just took a liking to it.”

Ra is none other than Ra Diaz, who plays bass for Suicidal Tendencies. He seems to be the “go-to guy,” appearing on six songs, which is almost half the album. “Yeah, Ra is on a lot. We met on the Mega Cruise we did about a year or two ago. We did this jam at the end of the last night of the cruise, and it was so much fun! We just kept in touch, and when this came about, I knew he could handle anything! He can play Rush, Billie Eilish, Beastie Boys – just run the gamut of anything. So yeah, he was kind of a go-to. The Rush songs don’t appear on this record though.” They are being saved for an EP, coming out in November on Record Store Day. “Correct, and that’ll feature all five of the Rush titles.” Those titles being: “Subdivisions”, “YYZ”, “Red Barchetta”, “Freewill”, and “La Villa Strangiato”. “Yep, that’s it. If we end up doing another one, from now until November, that’ll be on it too. People keep asking me now for more ‘80s Rush. I’ve got to be quite honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan of ‘80s Rush, as much as I was ‘70s Rush. I do love, don’t get me wrong, Signals, and I love Power Windows – those two records are up there with the ‘70s Rush albums.”

As much as Charlie loves Rush, he might love The Beatles a little more; especially when you take the Yellow Submarine tattoo on his arm into account. So, why not cover a Beatles song on Silver Linings? “Wow! I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it. That was one that just never came up, tackling a Beatles song.” Would you have felt more comfortable with a McCartney solo song, or a Harrison solo song? Or do they all hold the same untouchable status? “I don’t know if it’s a question of being untouchable, because if I really put my mind to it, I probably could have pulled it off. But vocally, I would have had to gone the opposite of what the vocal was on the record. It’s just hard… and Beatles fans are so tough. They would have just crucified me.” 

Silver Linings has really put vocalist Jennifer Cella on the map. She’s not a household name by any means, but does an amazing job on the Fleetwood Mac classic, “Rhiannon”. Turns out, she’s a backing vocalist for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. “When we were doing the Fleetwood Mac song, Alex Skolnick (from Testament), knew Jennifer from Trans-Siberian, and Alex also knew (keyboardist) MeeEun Kim, who plays on ‘Subdivisions’, from Trans-Siberian. It was this community that we all knew someone from somewhere. It was cool that they were so into doing it. ‘Absolutely, yes! We’ll do it!’ Jennifer is awesome on the Fleetwood Mac song. We also did a version of ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, but it’s not on the record.”

It sounds like it would be easy to release Silver Linings Part Two if you wanted to. “I could, yeah. But what I may do is, once it comes out, do a bonus digital download of some of the other songs that weren’t on the vinyl.” Unfortunately, Silver Linings is not being released on CD. “Basically, the climate is not… we decided to just go with vinyl and digital download,” explains Charlie. “Not many people are doing CDs anymore. This is more or less the record company’s call, not mine. They said it’s just too expensive to do; they’d rather spend the money on vinyl.”

The one bonus aspect of vinyl is its size, so you really get to see the artwork, created by Brian Ewing, who came up with a terrific piece. Looking at all those faces, with the words behind them, it’s like an old horror movie poster. “That’s exactly how we wanted it to be. I wanted to use the colors of COVID, which is red and that silvery-greyish tone. But I didn’t want to have the word COVID on here at all, because it brings up a negative. Silver Linings is basically the truth. I tried to look for silver linings throughout this whole ordeal that we’re all living in. While I would go online and see people complaining about this, that, or the other thing; what I was trying to convey is – you’ve been given a year. Even though we don’t want this, try and find the silver linings in it. You get to spend all this time with your loved ones, kids, whatever it is. You really should use this to re-evaluate things. I don’t think a lot of people did that. There’s still miserable people.”

Returning to Brian Ewing, the artist behind the Silver Linings cover art, he’s done some wonderful concert posters for numerous bands, including Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Metallica, Megadeth, and Clutch. He’s an incredible artist. “He is. I met Brian a few years back. When I met him, he was doing a con, and I saw some of his work. It was like, wow! That’s awesome, that’s awesome, that’s awesome; and I bought a bunch of his posters. We just remained friends, and when it came time to do this, I knew exactly who I wanted to go to.” Does the artwork continue inside the album, on the sleeve that holds the vinyl? “No, no, there’s nothing. I don’t have a big budget. Sorry, there’s no Love Gun inside that pops out, or anything.”

Speaking of KISS, they’re the only band who have two of their songs covered on Silver Linings, namely “All The Way” from Hotter Than Hell, and “Mr. Speed” from Rock And Roll Over. “How could they not? Everybody knows my love for KISS from ’73 to ’78. What they meant to me back then, they still mean that to me. Some good friends, who have a band called Classic 78, helped me out with those two songs. PJ (Farley, bassist for Trixter) is also on those songs. Fuck, we just had a ball with it! The reason I picked those two songs is because, yeah, they’re deeper tracks, but for me, they’re just as popular as ‘Love Gun’ or ‘Detroit Rock City’. ‘Mr. Speed’ is such a great fucking tune! And it’s overlooked. ‘All The Way’ is another one of those songs that I wish was on Alive, but it wasn’t. It would have been so amazing on side three of Alive. Those two songs were like, please, let’s get it as close as possible. People think we just lip-synched it in the video – no, no, no. We all played this!”

Another big metal band covered on Silver Linings is Iron Maiden. However, Benante chose an instrumental song, “Transylvania”, from Maiden’s self-titled debut in 1980. Admittedly, Bruce Dickinson, who would replace Paul Di’Anno in 1981, is not an easy vocalist to emulate. “So, Dave the Snake from Skid Row, we were talking, and he said, ‘I love these videos you’ve been doing. Let’s pull one out, what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t care. I’ll do anything; a Maiden song, a Priest song.’ He’s like, ‘Let’s do a Maiden song! One of my favorite Maiden songs is “Transylvania”. That’s the song before a Skid Row show that I usually walk to with Scotti (Hill, guitarist).’ Okay, I know it. I did it at a couple of these Metal Masters shows. It came to be, and I asked Jon (Donais, guitarist for Anthrax) to do the Dave Murray part, and Snake did the Dennis Stratton part; cause Adrian (Smith, guitarist) wasn’t in the band yet. And Frankie (Bello) played the bass. It was easy, and we didn’t need a singer. That came together really quick.”

Benante wasn’t the only one to focus on cover songs during the COVID quarantine. There’s a band from Cincinnati, OH called War Curse who’ve just released a video for their take on “Only” from the 1993 Anthrax album, Sound Of White Noise. “Oh, I know. About a month and a half ago, Chris Santos, who signed them to his label through Metal Blade sent it to me, and I was blown away! I was like, this is fucking awesome! I even tweeted about it. I just thought those guys did such a great version of a song that has since been forgotten about, cause we don’t even play it any more. It’s really missed. I really want to bring that song back into the fold of this Anthrax band (with vocalist Joey Belladonna), and maybe do it again, because it’s such a great song. And they did a great version.”

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, Charlie revealed what Anthrax has in store. “We’re going to try and pull something off in June, maybe a live stream. Then, we do have some festivals in the fall that we’re hoping are going to happen, including Louder Than Life (in Louisville, KY). We’re really looking forward to those.”

And the status of the new studio album from Anthrax… “We’re definitely going to start working on it again. The last week or so, I’ve been listening to the demos for it again, and I started to get excited again about it, because we put it on hold. Then I started to revisit it, and this is going to be really good!”

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