TAMA :Anthrax has sustained a loyal fan base and a successful career for over two decades. To what do you attribute this success?
Charlie : We've always had this connection with the fans, whether it was in the 80s, the 90s, or now. We were never the type of band that was a radio band. If we sold a record... well, a record sold was a ticket sold. We made a lot of noise with our records and our live shows. And we just built up a reputation that if you come and see us, you'll definitely get your money's worth.
TAMA : Your contributions to the band go far beyond filling the drum chair, which is no easy task in itself. You are also the primary songwriter and have played guitar on every studio album since Sound of White Noise. What led you to take on these additional roles?
Charlie : Well it's always been this thing inside of me... I've always been a guitar player trapped in a drummer's body. I just wanted a bigger role, in order to add another voice to the band. And I just couldn't express myself with the drums alone. I needed to teach myself how to play guitar in order to convey what was in my head to everyone else. So if I was writing a song, I could be like, here's the part, and it should be played like this. Scott (Ian, rhythm guitar/vocals) has a very distinct style of playing. I tend to throw in a texture type of guitar, as opposed to his meat and potatoes type of rhythm guitar playing.
TAMA : Has writing and playing guitar helped or influenced your drumming at all?
Charlie : It's totally helped. A lot of the times I would have a riff in my head, and also have the beat in my head, so it just gave me the chance to kill two birds with one stone. I could present it to the band, and already have the timing and beat and everything for it. So it's made things simpler... instead of being the guitar player, then trying to explain to the drummer I would like it to be something like this, I can do both as the same person.
TAMA : When you sit down to write an Anthrax tune, do you usually come up with a drum or guitar part first, or does it just depend?
Charlie : It just depends. Sometimes I'll have the idea for a drum pattern, and I'll have to put a guitar riff or music around it. That's happened quite a bit, which is actually a pretty cool way to do it, because the beat lends itself to what the riff will be. But most of the time the guitar riff will come first, and the beat will come afterwards.
TAMA : When did you start playing drums, and how did you develop your skills?
Charlie : I started playing the drums when I was like 4 years old. I wasn't allowed to take lessons until I was 5, or until I was learning how to read. That was the thing. I remember my dad brought me to the local instrument store, where they taught piano, guitar, drums, and whatever else. I remember them telling my dad that they couldn't accept me because I didn't know how to read yet. And my father was like, "It doesn't matter that he doesn't know how to read yet, because he can play." So we went to another school, and the drum teacher there, Louie, was this hip jazz guy. And he was really cool. They were saying the same thing about me at first, but then Louie suggested that they put me on the kit and see what I could do. So I went in there, and started playing, and they were like "wow." So I got taken early, because I could actually play. From there, they would put me in ensembles for the year-end recital. And they would put me with much older kids. At that time, I was around 5 years old, and I have a picture of myself playing with this band of 16 year-old kids. I remember playing Venture songs and stuff like that.
TAMA : Did you come from a musical family?
Charlie : My mother. My mother and my grandfather, who played guitar. I come from a family of four older sisters, and they were always playing music. So I was exposed to all of that stuff, like the early Beatles stuff. There was always music in the house.
TAMA : So when you first when in to take lessons, you were already able to play a bit. Did you have a kit in the house, and were pretty much self-taught?
Charlie : Well, the funny thing that happened... Across the street from us, there was this family that had 3 girls, and they had a little band together that would do little things here and there, parties and stuff. And the oldest girl, who was the drummer, was going away to college, so they were selling the drum kit. It was an old Gretsch kit, and my dad offered them some money for it, so I got it. So I was always playing in the house after that.
TAMA : How long did you continue with the private lessons?
Charlie : I continued with the lessons till I was about 9 or 10 years old. And then I wanted to just be a kid, and not go to lessons 3 times a week. I was interested in baseball and whatever else. But I continued to play on my own, learning from bands and whatever I could get my hands on.
TAMA : What were some of the first bands that you played in like?
Charlie : Well, the first real band I played in was when I was about 15. They were all older than me. We would play the bars, and I was young, so I couldn't go through the front, I would have to go through the back. I remember playing 4 sets a night. We would start at 9:00 pm, and end at 2:30 am. I remember that the repertoire was just ridiculous. We were playing anything from the Cars, to UK, to the Who... I mean, it was just such a wide range of stuff. But it was cool, and I guess it was one of the ways I got to get my chops up.
TAMA : So was it all covers, or were you guys writing original music as well?
Charlie : Well, that's actually the reason that I left. I was unhappy with only playing covers, and didn't want to become this weekend cover guy. I just wasn't interested in it anymore. I wanted to pursue making original music. So I was actually going to art school at that time, and that's when the Anthrax thing came along.
TAMA : How did that all come about? How did you end up joining the band?
Charlie : It was a mutual friend. He had been a friend of mine for years, and was friendly with Scott and those guys in Queens. And that was it... he told me that they (Anthrax) might be losing their drummer, and asked if I'd be interested. And I said sure, why not. And that was it. They were together from like '82, and I came aboard in May of '83.
TAMA : You've been playing Tama drums for years and years, right?
Charlie : Yeah... I think my introduction was in 1986... that's when I became an endorser.
TAMA : What's your setup like these days?
Charlie : It's pretty much the same as it's been since about 1990, when I changed my whole setup around. I'm playing the Starclassic Maples, with 3 racks toms up front (10", 12", 13"), 2 floors (14" & 18") on the right. Double kick drums (18"x22"), of course. As for snares, I change it up a bit... but I usually use a 6x14 Starclassic G Maple. On my left, I'll sometimes put a 13" snare, but sometimes I substitute a 16" floor tom, depending on whether we play a song that requires it or not.
TAMA : Do you have a favorite snare to use live?
Charlie : I have a 6.5" maple which really cracks, I love it, that's pretty much my favorite one. I love that Kenny Aronoff snare. I played that at NAMM, and just loved it. I'm also currently in the process of developing a snare drum.
TAMA : What do you look for out of your drums in terms of sound?
Charlie : I've always liked the drums to ring and have a lot of depth. Same goes for the snare drum. I don't like a lot of padding in the drums, I like to keep them open. And I love to feel the bounce of the stick, especially on the snare drum. Bounce is important.
TAMA : Regarding your setup, you seem to keep your snare and toms angled forward quite a bit... do you find it easier to move around the kit faster this way?
Charlie : Correct. On the last few tours that we've done, I've also been trying to discipline myself to not cross my sticks as much. I'm trying to play the hi-hats with my left more than I have in the past, just so that I can get around the toms easier. So if I go for a fill, I don't have to cross my sticks. If I'm playing a real intricate part on the hi-hat, I still use my right, because my left hand is not as developed as far as that. But if I'm just playing time, I can lead with my left, and don't have to cross sticks when I go into a fill.
TAMA : You play some very fast and powerful bass drum patterns. What kind of pedals do you use, and how do you keep them tensioned?
Charlie : (laughs) This is the question. Well, recently Tama discontinued the pedals that I've been playing since like 1984, the Camco ones. And I was really, really bummed out about this. And I'm hoping they will bring those back fairly soon, or else my career is over (laughs).
TAMA : So you've been using those same Camco pedals for years and years, and they're still working and holding up for you?
Charlie : They rock. Gene (at Tama) made a joke to me that they have a glass case with two Camco pedals and a sign on it that says, "In case of Charlie Benante emergency, break glass."
TAMA : Can you describe your bass drum playing technique? Do you play heel up?
Charlie : It depends on the part. If I'm just playing regular time, I can give it a break. But I'll go through different movements when I'm playing the fast double kick stuff. It will usually start with my heel up and then once I get my footing and get going with it, I can move around a bit. I watch myself sometimes, and notice that I keep the ball of my foot on the pedal, but I'll slide it to the right or left, just so I don't cramp up... especially in the beginning of a tour, when I'm a little rusty.
TAMA : You guys have toured all over the world, and are gearing up for another European tour next month. Are there any particular cities or regions outside the U.S. that you enjoy playing the most, or that have been particularly good to you guys?
Charlie : When you play shows in Europe, and I've always said this, it's a totally different animal. And this isn't knocking the American fans at all, but I've always felt that Europeans have this incredible loyalty. I don't know if it's because they don't get shows as much as Americans do, but they just really, really love you when you come there. And they don't just sit back and watch; they get involved. And that's a great thing, because it makes your show that much better. We've always said that Chicago is the closest thing to playing a European show here in the states, because they're just absolutely ape-shit over here. Japan is like that, too.
TAMA : Anthrax has been extremely influential in the metal world, and played a major role in the emergence and development of speed and thrash metal. Which bands and/or drummers on the scene today have impressed you the most?
Charlie : Well, there's quite a few. I really like the way John plays, from System of a Down. I love that band, what they do, and the way that John plays within the songs. I'm actually going to see Mike Portnoy play Saturday, and he asked me to get up with him during his drum solo. He's a cool guy, and is another one of those drummers that is very well-respected now. But yeah, there's tons of drummers that do things that are really good, and I'm like, "wow, I wish I'd thought of that (laughs)."
TAMA : Do you ever find time to practice at all?
Charlie : Well, being a new dad and all, it's hard. But I totally have to start getting back into playing, and get my body in shape for this tour. So yeah, I am going to dive into it soon.
TAMA : When you're on the road, how do you stay physically fit in order to play such high-energy music night after night? Do you do a lot of warming up?
Charlie : Yeah, I definitely warm up for at least 45 minutes on and off, just getting everything going. It really helps if the room is nice and warm. But I'll just sit by myself with a pad, sometimes I'll put my headset on, and will zone out with something. I just try and do as much as I possibly can to feel like I'm prepared.
TAMA : So you work out on a pad to get your hands warmed up... what about your feet?
Charlie : As I'm working on my hands, I always do this exercise that Dom Famularo taught me. He said to keep your heels down and just lift up the balls of your feet, and play a pattern. So I'll just do singles, then doubles, then triples... and the amount of pain that comes with that is incredible. But once you get to a point, it doesn't hurt anymore and you feel ready and warmed up.
TAMA : What other projects have you been involved with, or do you have in the works?
Charlie : Trying to just come up with some new material. I'm also starting to get involved with producing other bands and producing songs for other people. That's a big goal for me. That's the thing I'd love to crack, make someone else sound really good.