Joey Belladonna has commented on his original split with ANTHRAX, saying he “got sideswiped out of” the band.
Belladonna, whose most recent return to ANTHRAX was officially announced in May 2010, was originally the lead singer of ANTHRAX from 1984 to 1992, and was considered part of the influential thrash metal group’s classic lineup (alongside guitarists Dan Spitz and Scott Ian, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante), which reunited and toured during 2005 and 2006. His voice was featured on over 10 albums, which reportedly sold eight million copies worldwide.
The 61-year-old upstate New York-based singer reflected on his initial departure from ANTHRAX three decades ago during an appearance on a recent episode of the “Beer Rum & Rock N Roll” podcast.
Belladonna said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): “I didn’t quit… Like, I wanted to sit around for 13 years while these guys just kept [going]. People don’t wanna hear it, but that’s the truth. Why would I quit?
“Forget about that record without me,” he continued, apparently referring to 1993’s “Sound Of White Noise” album, which featured John Bush on vocals. “I could have been on that record regardless of what they came up with. Let’s just pretend they didn’t even write that record yet. That record would have been cool too regardless of what you’re already familiar with. I’m not saying whatever was on there wasn’t right. I was in that car that rode into that record. I got sideswiped out of there.
“So, yeah, I didn’t quit,” Joey added. “I didn’t quit anything. I don’t want anybody thinking that, ’cause I wouldn’t even have the heart to do that.”
Belladonna also addressed the fact that he returned to ANTHRAX despite having been publicly dissed by some of the other members of the band in various interviews over the years.
“Some people are, like, ‘Why the hell are you back with them? Why would you go back? That’s stupid, man. You’re an idiot. She cheated on you twice, dude. Don’t go back with her. Come on, man. She’s just gonna go out with that other guy tomorrow night,'” he said.
“It took them a long time to go, ‘You suck. We didn’t like you that much. And now you’re all right.’
“Every day I walk in their presence in the room knowing that these people felt that way, ’cause I never felt that way about them,” Joey admitted. “I don’t feel that way about those people. I respect and I highly recommend everything that they do. And obviously I’m back. And I dig what we’re doing right now, I dig what we’re doing. But it’s hard. It’s hard. You get a complex, you know?”
Back in March 2010 — just a couple of months before Belladonna rejoined ANTHRAX — Ian and his wife Pearl Aday appeared on an episode of VH1‘s “That Metal Show” and took part in the program’s “The Throwdown” feature, where the guests and the hosts debated who was the best singer for ANTHRAX: Bush or Belladonna. Countering co-host Eddie Trunk‘s point that ANTHRAX was in a unique position with Belladonna in the band of being able to “play incredible speed metal” while having “someone who could sing like a bird,” Ian said: “We didn’t need a bird; we needed a lion.” After Pearl offered that she was a “huge fan” of “The Greater Of Two Evils”, a collection of re-recorded older ANTHRAX tunes with Bush on vocals instead of Belladonna, Ian said: “And that’s the way we, as ANTHRAX, wanted to hear those songs.”
Speaking to Radio Metal in August 2011, Benante was asked about Ian‘s “That Metal Show” comments. He said: “I think Scott had to eat some of the words he said about that. But he only said that because I think he left things off with Joey kind of bad, and their relationship wasn’t very well back then when he said that. And I think Scott just harbored some ill feelings towards Joey and I think that’s kind of why he made that statement, you know?”
Last year, the members of ANTHRAX opened up about their 1992 split with Belladonna in a 40th-anniversary video focusing on the making of the aforementioned “Sound Of White Noise” album. Regarding the decision to part ways with Belladonna, Ian said: “By the time we finished the year-and-a-half touring cycle — 20, 21 months of touring cycle, and then ‘[Attack Of The] Killer B’s’ comes out. I think the last thing we did together as a band with Joey was [our appearance] on [the] ‘Married With Children’ [TV show]. And then it wasn’t long after that when we made the change. But it wasn’t a quick decision. We were very much a united front, the four of us. Because otherwise it wouldn’t have happened.
“There’s never an easy way to talk about this stuff,” he continued. “Certainly when you’re in the thick of it, when it’s happening, it’s horrible when you’re having to make a decision like this. But it just really came down to, creatively, we all just felt like there was just no way for the band to move forward. We had just hit a wall. It was the heaviest decision in the history of the band, certainly. And even that I feel like doesn’t give it the weight that it needs. And there was never anything personal with Joey — it was never personal with him. It just really came down to the creative ability for the band, honestly, to move forward. And I hate that it’s something that happened.
“Obviously, things are meant to be,” Scott added. “I am somewhat of a spiritual person. I’ve seen and done enough in my life to know that sometimes shit doesn’t just happen randomly. The way everything worked out in the end, with Joey coming back in 2010, and the band, for the last 11 years, being creatively better than we’ve ever been and in a better place than we’ve ever been, I have to say that I really believe that it all worked out for some reason. That doesn’t make it any easier on Joey certainly; there’s nothing I can say that ever would.”
Bello said about Belladonna‘s exit from the group: “It’s so strange for me to even talk about this now, because Joey‘s back in the band now, and it’s like he’s never been gone.
“It was a hard thing when Joey was out,” he admitted. “It was a change, but I think it was best for the band ’cause of where we were going. It was a hard decision. I think we were going in a different way musically, and you could hear it.”
Added Benante: “The 1991 me was more arrogant than I am now. Because the problem is I love Joey so much, and at the time we were different people doing it, and we felt this was the only thing for us to take us into the next level or the next chapter of the band. Yeah, it was tough.”
Ian previously opened up about the decision to fire Belladonna nearly three decades ago during a 2016 appearance on the “WTF With Marc Maron” podcast. He stated at the time: “I just truly didn’t have the patience anymore. I think my biggest problem was I was writing the words, and I couldn’t deal with the fact anymore that someone else was singing my lyrics, but I couldn’t sing; there was no way I could be the singer of ANTHRAX. I think it really, really did come down to that — that I couldn’t stand it anymore. These are my words, these are my feelings, it’s my emotions, and you’re not me. And even learning the songs and hearing them back, that’s not how I hear it in my head. ‘No, no. Like this. Like this. Like this. Like this.'”
He continued: “My solution at the time was turning around to the rest of the band and saying, ‘It’s either [Joey] or me.’ I pulled the same shit Neil Turbin [former ANTHRAX singer] pulled years before that. I said, ‘I can’t do this again. We need to make a change.’ And it wasn’t just me holding the gun. Everyone was on the same page. Everyone felt like what we had done as ANTHRAX in the ’80s into the early ’90s, we had already moved past that. The sound was changing.
“If you listen to ‘Persistence Of Time’ , musically, that record has more to do with ‘Sound Of White Noise’, the first John Bush record, than it has to do with ‘State Of Euphoria’ , the previous ANTHRAX album. Musically, we were already going somewhere else, but Joey, for us, I guess at the time, felt like, ‘He’s not representing us anymore.'”
Ian went on to say that he has since come to see Joey‘s unique vocal contributions in a different light than he did more than twenty years ago. “Of course, I spent a year of my life writing a book [‘I’m The Man: The Story Of That Guy From Anthrax’] and looking back on that time and really kind of getting back into those shoes, and… we should have given the guy a shot,” he said. “Why we didn’t give him the shot, I really don’t know why we weren’t able to… Because I even remember, I remember Jonny Z, our manager, he was, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure this is the decision you wanna make?’ ‘Yes, yes, yes.'”
The guitarist added that at least part of the reason ANTHRAX made a singer change was to take the sound in a heavier direction, something that they didn’t think was possible with Belladonna at the helm.
“I wanted it to be harder,” Ian said. “I couldn’t do it, but I wanted someone who could almost… I wanted it to be harder. I didn’t want Lemmy — I didn’t want it to sound like that — I just wanted it to be harder. And John [Bush] brought it, for sure.”
Belladonna had been critical of ANTHRAX‘s decision to fire him at the height of the band’s success, telling MikeJamesrRockShow.com six years ago: “Personally, it sucks just to think all those years went by that I didn’t really have a chance to do anything. ‘Cause I could have sang on any of those records [that were made during the John Bush era]. Not to say that what they did was… whatever reason and whatever style and all that stuff. I could have easily sang that regardless, no bones. It would have been easy to sing. It’s just I think they were chasing some other idea. I always say that, whether they disagree. I don’t think there was any reason to move. But you know what? We’re here now.”
Bush told Metal Talk about the task of replacing Joey Belladonna in ANTHRAX back in 1992: “I respect Joey Belladonna; he did great for ANTHRAX in his heyday and in the years that he made records and they were popular. You know, I think I just went out and did it from my heart and just said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna go out and kick ass and sing to the best of my ability.’ And I think we made some great records. I just think they were different records than what ANTHRAX did in the ’80s.”
He continued: “The funny thing is, sometimes there was this, ‘Oh, we’re the same band. Oh, we’re the same band,’ and looking back, well, we kind of were a little different band. I think we were. But at that time, we kept trying to convince people, ‘Oh, it’s the same band. It’s the same band.’ But when you make a singer change, the sound will change a little bit, which, that was what the intention was at the time.”
ANTHRAX‘s latest album, “For All Kings”, which features Belladonna, came out in February 2016 via Nuclear Blast.