Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian was perfectly content shouting the occasional backup vocal until a U.K. promoter invited him to take part in a spoken-word series called "Rock Stars Say the Funniest Things" in 2012. With over three decades in one of thrash metal's pioneering bands, he certainly had enough stories to tell. But he didn't know he could do it until he got onstage. "As soon as I got this big laugh at the opening, it was smooth sailing from there," he tells Rolling Stone. "Two-and-a-half hours later, I was back in my dressing room with a big smile on my face, asking my agent, 'How do I do more of this?'"
The guitarist did a slew of European spoken-word dates, and his Glasgow performance served as the basis for a DVD that he's currently crowd-funding. Now he is embarking on a 15-city North American leg of a tour he has dubbed "Speaking Words." It kicks off tonight in Chicago (see the full tour dates below).
After the tour, Ian will return to the studio with Anthrax to work on the follow-up to their last album, Worship Music, and will be releasing his autobiography, I'm the Man, in October.
"My story doesn't follow that same storyline that every single book seems to," he says. "My book – I hate to sound cheesy – but it's really a tale about how anyone can do something if they really work hard at it. I swear to God, just out of being a fucking tenacious prick, that's how this band happened. I just never, ever, ever took 'no' for an answer and never stopped working. And I still have that attitude."
Speaking of your work ethic, when you were prepping for your spoken-word concerts, did you ever get any pointers from any of your comedian friends?
No [laughs]. I hang out with Brian Posehn a bunch, and I'm friends with Patton Oswalt and [Metalocalypse creator] Brendon Small. If anyone helped at all, it's Brendon. He said, "Go up there and do it as much as you can, and that's the best way to learn." I know that might sound completely cliché, but after my first week of shows in the U.K., I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I was just up there telling stories. Then it kind of evolved; you start to learn how to do it. You learn your timing, how to milk the most out of every word for effect, for pathos, whatever it may be. You really learn how to tell a story in front of a crowd.
Do you practice your show at home?
I can't really rehearse it. I'm going to sit down my wife Pearl, and 2-and-a-half-year old son going, "OK, daddy's going to do a show now." The best I can do is watch the DVD that I filmed just to remind myself of some little things.
Maybe your 2 year old would like it.
It'd be a minute and a half and he'd say, "Daddy, Hulk voice." And he'd hand me his Hulk doll.
That could work. So what sorts of stories are you going to tell on this leg of your tour?
It's everything from being a pathetic 13 year old dabbling in drugs for the first time to touring the world for 30-odd years with Anthrax. I have stories about the people I've met and the people I've had insane experiences with – people like Lemmy and [deceased Pantera guitarist] "Dimebag" Darrell.
The Lemmy story is from when I first met him in London in 1985 and basically how that ended up with me in Germany fighting off Nazi doctors. I did not not make up.
Then people always ask me what my favorite memory of Dimebag is. I can't say I have a favorite memory, because that'd be too hard to pin down, but I have a favorite Dimebag "experience," that began with a phone call in 1997 in the middle of the night and how that turned into a three-year revenge story. That whole story takes about 40 minutes. There's a kind of video intermission halfway through.
You released a teaser video for your tour. In it, you talk about people mistaking you for other rockers. Who have you gotten over the years?
Shit, since I've shaved my head, it's been either been [Pantera frontman] Phil Anselmo, the singer of Live, Flea and Shavo from System of a Down. Certainly when Live was really big, I'd get that a lot.
Have you heard that people have been mistaking your supposed doppelgängers for you?
I met that dude Ed from Live at a show years ago and told him that and that sometimes I go with it and act like a dick 'cause I won't get blamed for it [laughs]. He thought it was funny and said, "I get it all the time, as well. 'Aren't you that guy from Anthrax?'"
Do people really come up to you and ask to touch your beard?
Oh, all the time. I don't get it – even if you're a lady coming up to do it. A dude coming up to me saying, "Let me run my fingers through your beard," that makes no sense at all. But even for a girl. I got this crazy idea about personal space that's important to me. I don't walk up to ladies and say, "Can I run my fingers through your hair?" You get in trouble for shit like that.
I've had women at meet-and-greets ask that. You're in some tent at a festival signing autographs and everyone's filthy, you know, I don't want anyone's hands in my beard except for my wife's. People get mad at me when I say that. Like, really? I'm the one who should be mad.
I make a point to tell stories about all the beardy guys I've hung around with for the last 20 years and not once have I ever thought I would want to snuggle up with Zakk Wylde. It's not something I've ever wanted to do.
Do people really think you that you, uh, slept with Kelly Bundy when Anthrax was on Married. . . With Children.
Yeah, everyone has seen that episode around the world in every language. That's one of the things still to this day we get asked about. I just love the context of someone asking you, "Did any of you sleep with Kelly Bundy," because it just adds this whole level of weirdness to it because she's a character. I could understand more if they said, "Did you have sex with Christina Applegate?" That makes sense. I didn't, but I joked with someone once, "I did, and Christina stayed in character, which added this whole awesome weirdness to the whole thing."
And there's this great story about that that I don't want to give away because it's in the show. In the script for that episode, all the way up until Thursday of the week that we shot, there's a scene where Kelly takes me by the hand up to her bedroom to have sex. And that scene didn't make the actual taping, but I won't give away why it didn't make it here.
While we're on the subject of Anthrax, are you guys recording?
Yeah. Frank [Bello, bass] and Charlie [Benante, drums] came out here to my house and we jumped right in in November. Not to jinx anything, but things have been going pretty fast creatively, which normally isn't the case. We've got a ton of material; I'm talking 12 songs now, musically arranged. I'm on my fifth and sixth lyrically, and Charlie sent over ideas for two more songs. He even wrote in an email, "Now the really good stuff is coming." And I was like, "Really? The shit we have right now is pretty fucking killer."
This could probably be the first time in this band's history that we'll go into the studio with more original material than we need. Normally we have nine or 10 songs then do a bunch of covers, but I can safely say this time, we'll be recording about 15 of our own songs, if not more, which we've never had before.
The vibe has been great. I think we're all just happy to be doing it because we came off this great run with Worship Music, two years, 207 shows, and people all over the planet really love that record. It just afforded us the opportunity to do what we love to do, so we can't wait to get back in and start.
So when are you hitting the studio?
I'd like to think May, so we can get guitar, drums, bass done before we go to Europe. If we could get that done, live with it for a month, then finish the record in July or August, that'd be the perfect-case scenario, but it depends on if we really feel ready or not.
You mentioned recording covers. This year, you were up to win a Grammy for Anthrax's cover of AC/DC's "T.N.T." Were you OK with losing to Black Sabbath?
[Laughs] I said to people, "I would love to win a Grammy for 'T.N.T.'" AC/DC is my favorite band of all time, so if we can get a Grammy covering them, that would just validate, in some weird way, that we did a good job almost where it would make me happier for winning for "T.N.T." then one of our own songs. But I'm just glad Sabbath won. As soon as I saw them in the category, it's like, "If Sabbath doesn't get it, it's pretty ridiculous." If it went down in history that Sabbath lost to our AC/DC cover, it would just add more fuel to the fire to how pointless the whole thing is anyway.
Scott Ian's "Speaking Words" tour dates:
2/20 Chicago, IL - Mayne Stage
2/21 Westland, MI - The Token Lounge
2/22 Pittsburgh, PA - Rex Theatre
2/24 Cleveland, OH - Agora Theater
2/25 Toronto, ON - El Mocambo Club
2/26 Kingston, ON - The Mansion
2/27 Ottowa, ON - Ritual
2/28 Lancaster, PA - Chameleon Club
3/1 Baltimore, MD - The Ramshead Live: Power Plant Live
3/2 Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live
3/4 Boston, MA - Hard Rock Cafe
3/5 New York, NY - BB Kings
3/6 Syracuse, NY - Lost Horizon
3/7 West Warwick, RI - Manchester 65
3/8 Portland, ME - Port City Music Hall