“From across the room Lemmy spots me. ‘How you feeling? … we were having a drink then all of a sudden you stopped speaking English and ran screaming from the bar!’”
It was the opening show of Scott Ian’s Speaking Words tour of the UK. The Anthrax guitarist, comic book writer, and now raconteur is in Oxford, England, as he kicks off his latest venture.
The great bearded one is sharing stories from his life, 30-plus years of which have been spent in the heavy metal world. Throw in Meat Loaf as a father-in-law and recording a reality TV show with a heavily armed (and dangerous) Ted Nugent, and there is much to talk about.
The diminutive guitarist (I’m no giant, but there’s clean air between my shoulders and his smooth bald head) has the audience laughing throughout his tales of the perils of playing ‘drunk itunes’, the aforementioned brush with Lemmy – and death – and trying to help Pantera guitarist Dimebag (apparently just Darrell to his friends) in stopping Sebastian Bach from bothering goats and committing suicide. Sort of.
It was the day after Jeff Hanneman’s memorial service. The Slayer guitarist died only days before, an autopsy showing cirrhosis of the liver. Hanneman was only 49 when he died – the same age as Ian is now – and inevitably being part of thrash metal’s ‘Big Four’, their paths had crossed over the years. Ian’s remembers Hanneman’s intelligence and “incisve wit,” a “super nice guy” who, had it been the occasion of one of their other metal brothers passing would be “the first to raise a glass” in their memory.
There was less than a hundred people in attendance that night, but as the show came to a close, Ian seemed genuine in his thanks, and clearly relieved. And as he pointed out, it took Henry Rollins (surely the example to follow) years to reach the point of selling out venues as he does currently. On this basis, Ian will soon follow.
After the show and a meet-and-greet for those who bought tickets, Ian suggests a well-earned beer back at his hotel for our interview. We find a seat in the dark bar and start talking. At least two groups sat on nearby tables are quietly playing Scrabble. Party on, Oxford.
Geeks of Doom: What’s your assessment of your first show?
Scott Ian: I thought they were really receptive. I felt like everything worked, people were laughing in all the right places, and I think people really connected with it, they felt good about it. I could tell right away, even just the dead silence when I’m reading my intro bit, that’s when I knew I had them. Because I could feel it, when you’re up there you can feel people if you can feel how uncomfortable they are in the beginning and then when I break that tension I feel like OK, I got it now. Then I know I’ve got them and they’re willing to follow me down any path I’m going to take them at that point. I thought they were really, really receptive, really got it and were really happy to be there.
Geeks of Doom: Does Anthony Kiedis know you chose him as the subject of your opening?
Scott Ian: No, not at all as far as I know. I don’t know how he would because it’s not out there on the internet and please don’t put it on the internet because I need to get through this tour without [audiences] knowing that’s what I do! I’m shooting the show in Glasgow and I’m gonna do it and of course I’m gonna need to get permission, so that’s when I assume he’s gonna find out. And then we’ll see if I get permission or not to use it.
Geeks of Doom: Do any of your other friends know you’re talking about them?
Scott Ian: No… [Pantera's Dimebag] Darrell’s dead. Everyone I talk about is dead! [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: Don’t say that to Anthony!
Scott Ian: No! I think Sebastian knows I tell the story. I told Lemmy that I tell the story. Trying to think of other stories I have. Cliff’s dead. Al Jourgensen [of metal band Ministry], which I didn’t tell any of my Al stories tonight, Al knows about the story I tell. So yeah, I have no problem letting people know. Most of them aren’t negative towards those people at all. The Anthony one’s not really negative, except, well, I do say I’m not an ex-junkie cunt! But I don’t mean that really because I’m just saying that to get a reaction. I have no ill will towards Antony at all.
Geeks of Doom: How did you decide which stories you would tell tonight? Like you said you have the Ministry stories and I’m guessing loads of others.
Scott Ian: I just felt like going into the stories about drugs [hilarious stories about tripping on mushrooms and bad experiences with smoking pot] made sense after the opening and I knew I wanted to do the Lemmy story because I just got the illustrations back yesterday and I just wanted to see how that played. So I wanted to do that and then I wasn’t sure if I was going to do Darrell. I thought I was going to tell the Cliff Burton [late Metallica bassist] story and then I ended up telling a shortened version of that in the Q&A. I don’t know why I went into the Darrell story because I really wasn’t sure where I was going to go after Lemmy and I just decided on the fly that I would tell that Dime story right then and there.
Geeks of Doom: Who’s idea was it to take you on a Speaking Words tour of the UK?
Scott Ian: The tour was my idea. The initial one show that I did last November was my agent’s idea. He booked three shows: one with me, one with Chris Jericho, and one with Duff McKagan. They were all about two weeks apart and each did a talking show and it was his idea to do that series of shows and it went really well for all three of us and I was the one who said after my show, I want to do more, can we do more dates, can we book a tour? And here I am.
Geeks of Doom: So you have no problems with talking in front of people on your own?
Scott Ian: No, it’s easy. I wouldn’t be doing this if it was uncomfortable for me in any way. I wouldn’t do it. Like I said [at the end of the show], I would rather be home with my son, so if I had really any negatives about doing this, I never would have done it.
Geeks of Doom: But you said you were a little apprehensive before you did it?
Scott Ian: My first one, yeah. But not now. Now I know I can do it but that first one last November, no, I had no fucking idea what to expect and that went so well and it made me want to do more.
Geeks of Doom: Are there stories that might be going into your book that you would rather your wife didn’t know?
Scott Ian: No. No, I haven’t really led that kind of life, although my single years in the late ‘90s I definitely talk a lot about that in my book and she already knows all of it anyway. There’s nothing in the book that would surprise her, let’s put it that way.
Geeks of Doom: How did you prepare for the show?
Scott Ian: Drank a Guinness!
Geeks of Doom: Before an Anthrax show you would be warming up, doing your jumps.
Scott Ian: Yeah, Anthrax shows for 30 minutes before I warm up on guitar and stretch, but for this, no, there’s really no warm up. I get down here and the soundcheck is make sure the computer works to show pictures and I say Hello into the mic and we’re ready to go! No, because it’s all in my brain there really is no warm up. I read the intro once backstage just to get it in my brain again so I wouldn’t be tripping over words and that was it.
Geeks of Doom: Did you do any other shows in preparation for this? You did the London show…
Scott Ian: And I did two in Australia. Those were great; one had 250 and one had 300 people. So yeah, much bigger than tonight. But there’s a lot of other shows on this tour that ticket sales are really good so it’s kind of hit-and-miss depending on, I guess, where I’m at.
Geeks of Doom: Like you said, it took Henry Rollins years to get to where he is at.
Scott Ian: Yeah. I don’t have any expectation that I’m going to come out and sell out 400 people a night, it’s the first time I’ve ever done it. I’m not that big enough of a guy in a band. I feel those ticket sales are just based on curiosity. If I was Dave Grohl I’m sure I could get 500 people to show up to watch me read a book for two hours! But that’s Dave, he’s in a much bigger band than I am, so I think it’s definitely a growing process. I can only hope that people had fun tonight, it seems like they did. If I come back through Oxford another time, word of mouth will have spread and maybe 150 people will show up.
Geeks of Doom: Kevin Smith is possibly just as famous for his spoken word shows as he is for his films. He sometimes has Jason Mewes waiting in the wings. Any surprise guests when you perform and film in Glasgow?
Scott Ian: No. Unless I bring my friend Andy out who nobody knows, but he’s a funny dude! But no, I don’t. It’s just going to be all me unless someone happens to be in Glasgow that I don’t know about. But we don’t cross paths with Rush anywhere, disappointed I won’t get to see them. As far as I know, no there won’t be anyone in Glasgow coming out.
Geeks of Doom: No way you could persuade Lemmy to share the stage with you?
Scott Ian: Lemmy’s in Los Angeles, he’s not anywhere near Glasgow!
Geeks of Doom: You’re prolific on Twitter and you’ve been telling your followers about sampling our British beers. Iron Maiden have just released their own…
Scott Ian: I haven’t had it yet, I keep meaning to. I was going to Tweet out that I’ll put someone on the guest list if they bring me down a bunch of Iron Maiden beers so I’ll probably put that out tonight for these up coming gigs. I’ll trade tickets for Iron Maiden beer!
Geeks of Doom: Would you like to do an Anthrax Ale?
Scott Ian: Oh yeah, absolutely. Just nobody’s offered us the opportunity. At home we might do one with Sierra Nevada, it may happen, but over here I don’t know.
Geeks of Doom: I put this question to Rob Caggiano once and he disagreed with you because you once said that you were a “tenacious Jew” and a “stubborn prick.” Is that how you see yourself?
Scott Ian: Yes. If I want something, I don’t stop until it happens.