Scott Ian has spent most of his life making music, but he’s also become a recognizable fixture in pop culture, from his love of comic books and horror films to his television appearances on VH1. The distinctively bearded Anthrax guitarist is now stretching some new creative muscles with “Speaking Words,” his first U.S. spoken word tour where he shares some of his best and most personal stories with fans, followed by a Q&A session.
Having recently stopped in Lancaster and Philadelphia, Ian, who is also working on Anthrax’s follow-up to 2011’s “Worship Music,” will be in New York for two performances starting tonight. The Weekender talked to him right after his kickoff show in Chicago about how he developed his storytelling abilities, appearing on stage sans guitar, and living the quiet life of a zombie.
THE WEEKENDER: This started with “Rock Stars Say the Funniest Things” in 2012 and then a U.K. tour. What was that first time like?
SCOTT IAN: Obviously it was really good because that’s basically what snowballed into everything else, so I kind of went into that with really no idea what I was going to do other than just get on stage and tell stories. I came up with the opening to the show, which I’m not going to give away, but at 4 a.m. the day of that show, I was like, “What do I do? Do I just walk on stage and start talking?” I didn’t have a clue how to make it a show, and it became a show on that first U.K. tour. You start to learn how to do it; it’s a completely different skill set than anything else I’ve done in my life, and every time I do it I’m just learning more and more.
W: Were you always a good storyteller, or has that come with experience over the years?
SI: I think you’d have to ask the people I’m telling stories to. [Laughs] I’d like to think I’m a good storyteller.
W: Is sharing music and sharing stories with an audience connected in any way for you?
SI: It’s the same but different. Different emotions – it’s certainly a different level of aggression. Being in the band, there’s certainly a level of aggression on stage with Anthrax and an emotion that I’m sharing when I’m playing my guitar that I don’t get from standing on stage telling stories, but there’s also a different emotion standing on stage telling stories and sharing these parts of my life. … You could say it’s all a part of this wonderful tapestry of art that I’m a part of. [Laughs]
W: How do you decide what you’re going to talk about?
SI: I just have a whole bunch of material in my brain. I have a lot of stories that I know really work in front of a crowd, and I feel like it’s stuff that people are going to be interested in and I just kind of take it from there. Like last night, I may be telling a story about Lemmy (Kilmister, Motörhead frontman) that I’ve told before, but every night it’s a little different. I would say things and go off on little tangents last night that I haven’t on any of the other shows. … I may tell the same story, but it always takes me down different roads.
W: Has this given you a different perspective on your life and career at all, looking back on all these memories for this as well as your upcoming book?
SI: I think it makes me appreciate things a lot more because it’s the only time I spend rehashing the past. If I wasn’t telling these stories to an audience or working on a book, I wouldn’t be thinking about this stuff at all. I’m only ever moving forward generally in life, so I never sit around and think about this kind of stuff.
When I’m laughing on stage, it’s truly because some of this s—t is just so funny and ridiculous, and at the same time, when I have a story I tell about (Pantera guitarist “Dimebag”) Darrell I share with the audience, to me that really is about keeping him alive. When I tell that story, it makes me feel close to him again, almost like that he’s in the room with me, and I think people really appreciate that because that’s a life and a spirit that always needs to be celebrated and remembered.
W: You’ve had a pretty full career. Is there anything else you want to do?
SI: Yeah. I’d like to be a zombie on “Walking Dead” all the time. I did get a little taste of that two years ago, whenever that was, when (effects artist) Greg Nicotero had me come down and made me up and I got to be a walker. If I could just be a regular walker – they could make me up differently every week and hide my beard – I think that would be the best job I could ever have. … That would make me so happy.
W: Ah, the life of a zombie.
SI: Exactly. I know I’m good at it. I’ve already proven it. I had to show one of their expert zombies my walk before they would let me be on camera and I nailed it, so it’s the job I’ve been preparing for my whole life.