A few years ago, a promoter in London booked Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian for a spoken-word performance. Ian had never done spoken word. But he had five months to prep for the show and figured that would be enough time to get a script together. He figured wrong.
“The only reason I took that gig was because I had five months to get ready,” he says in a recent phone interview. “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.”
What “it’s become” is regular spoken-word tours (and a forthcoming live DVD) for the goateed Ian, who talks about the ups and downs of playing with one of thrash metal’s biggest bands for a span of three decades. But let’s be clear: Ian doesn’t call the show a spoken-word concert. He’s dubbed the tour Speaking Words.
“That’s all I’m doing,” he says when asked about the title. “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.”
Punk rocker Henry Rollins embarked on similar tours back in the ’90s. Rollins’ spoken-word tours have become much more political, and that’s not something that Ian wants to pursue. But those initial tours inspired him to put together something similar.
“When he first started doing it, having read all his books, it was coming from that kind of place,” Ian says of Rollins. “I saw a lot of Get in the Van type of stories. That 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 his 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.”
Ian says his shows vary depending on the audience. If audience members appear to be drunk and rowdy, he’ll stick to material that they’ll find appealing. If they’re not, he’ll take a different approach.
“I could quickly gauge a room and determine how drunk they were already and what kinds of stories should I be telling,” he says. “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 could 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 how did he decide which material would make it into the show?
“A couple of years ago, I started writing down stories,” he says. “Not just from the 30-odd years of Anthrax but even before that, from 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 all so I would have it all.”
He says it’s not the same show every night either. “I would get really bored telling the same exact stories and hearing my voice tell those stories night after night,” he says. “I would start to hate myself. I have to change it up for me just so I don’t start going through the motions.”
And there’s little that’s off limits. While Ian says he doesn’t talk extensively about his wife Pearl (Meat Loaf’s daughter), the topic does come up in informal Q&As he hosts after the concert.
“I started dating Pearl back in 2000, and we’ve been in each other’s lives for 14 years now,” he says. “Still, after 14 years, I can’t believe he’s my father-in-love. It’s a trippy fuckin’ thing. I saw 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?”
He also makes it a point to show just how nice some of metal’s fiercest front men really are.
“I hate to blow anyone’s façade but Tom Araya from Slayer couldn’t be a nicer guy,” he says. “He has let that 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.”
While Anthrax has had its ups and downs, the band is more up than down these days. Last year, it toured extensively and put on a terrific show at House of Blues. The group is currently at work on a new album and Ian says the band is really rejuvenated. “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,” he says. “It’s almost scary. It’s the first time in 20 years we’ve come off writing a record with a positive attitude. 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.’”