Be it kismet, luck, or simply damn good timing, but there are times in life when certain things or people come together right when they need to for the best of both parties, and it's easy to view it as fate. A solution rectified, a situation solidified, and satisfaction abound - if all problems in life were able to be solved as flawlessly what a wonderful world it would indeed be. But it doesn't happen all that often, which is what makes it all the more special when it does. And one could say the set of circumstances that brought Shadow's Fall guitarist Jon Donais into the band Anthrax, as well as all the good that's come since that moment, certainly seem to create a match made in metal heaven.
Having just released their brand spanking new, eleventh studio album, For All Kings, Anthrax has just upped the ante in the metal music world. In the first week of the album's release, For All Kings reigned supreme selling more than 34,000 units in the U.S. alone and nailing the #9 spot on Billboard's Top 200 Albums Chart, outdoing their previous release, Worship Music, which debuted at #12. And with For All Kings also marking the studio album debut with Donais on lead guitar, this is a pretty exciting time for the guy who bought his first Anthrax album when in junior high school. Just before jetting off to South America to begin a tour with Iron Maiden, Anthrax's Jon Donais took some time out of this chaotic and amazing time to talk to AXS.com about his transition into Anthrax, the new album, and what it's like to be in a band he's been a fan of since his youth.
AXS: Looking back through the eyes of that kid who brought home his first Anthrax CD all those years ago, what is all this like for you now?
Jon Donais: It's crazy, it's a dream come true. If you had told me when I was 13 that I'd be the lead guitarist of Anthrax I wouldn't have believed you. I still look over and see those guys on stage and it's crazy, I still can't believe it sometimes. [laughs] I remember going to guitar lessons and bringing Anthrax songs to my guitar teacher to learn.
AXS: Just before you signed on with Anthrax, things with your band Shadows Fall were changing and some members were having kids and wanting to spend more times with their families. So were you actually looking for another band or project to play in yet or did Anthrax just kind of fall into your lap?
JD: It all happened at the perfect time because Shadows Fall was slowing down and not really very active anymore. So once this opportunity came up I jumped at it and I was really just trying to get the job. I got so lucky with timing.
AXS: And it was Anthrax's former lead guitarist, Rob Caggiano, who called to see if you were interested?
JD: Yeah, Rob called me and said he was going to leave the band but they still had a couple tours to do for the Worship Music album. So he just wanted to make sure that he was covered and he wanted someone that they knew. And he knew that we got along and it would be an easy fit. So as soon as he asked I was like 'yeah, of course,' and then Scott [Ian] called me up and asked if I knew what was going on and if I could do it, and I said absolutely. And then after I toured with them for about four of five months he asked if I wanted to stick around and I said of course.
AXS: This past August you were able to do some reunion shows with Shadows Fall - what was that like?
JD: Yeah, we did three or four shows and it was fun. All five of us hadn't played together in so long, there was always a guy missing – we had fill-in guys for years. There always seemed to be someone missing so it was great for all five of us to be together. And there was no stress, it was fun.
AXS: Are there any plans to do that again?
JD: If all five of us can get together we'll do shows, we're just not going to do any touring. And I don't see us making any new music any time soon. Definitely no full-length records, maybe just a song here or there for shows but that's as far as I see that going.
AXS: With Shadows Fall you handled a lot more of the writing process for the band, but for the album For All Kings it was mostly just solos. Was it refreshing at all to not have as much on your plate?
JD: Yeah, it totally took a lot of stress off. In Shadows Fall I worked on everything from vocal melodies to guitar solos to rhythms, everything, so it was nice to just concentrate on solos. With Shadows Fall it was stressful if we didn't have enough songs and you're racking your brain to come up with stuff. But in a way this was still stressful too because I wasn't totally in the band, it was still part of my audition to see how my solos were fitting in and how I played in the studio. It's different, but it was still stressful. [laughs] But it ended up working out so that's great.
AXS: Did you handle the actual writing process any differently with Anthrax than you did with Shadows Fall?
JD: I didn't approach it any differently, I just did what I do. I try to write solos that I want to hear, same thing I did with Shadows Fall. The only difference was I'd get on the phone with Charlie [Benante] and discuss things, like the direction for things. And I'd demo out the solo, send it to Charlie, and if he was ok with it that was it, if not then we'd go into certain parts and talk about it. Or, we'd get on the phone and I'd jam other ideas and we'd figure stuff out over the phone.
AXS: It must be interesting to write with someone like Charlie who's an amazing drummer but he's pretty proficient on the guitar as well.
JD: Yeah, he's a really good guitar player, and he's great to work with. He comes up with a lot of great ideas so it was fun. It was just like working with a producer. It was all good.
AXS: As For All Kings was coming together, what was going through your head?
JD: Well, I can look at this album like a fan because I didn't write it so I don't have that attachment that the other guys do to it, and I can still look at it as an outsider. And I can say I think it's a great record, I think it's one of the best records they've done actually. But when I started to really hear it coming together was when the vocals were starting to get on it and you could start hearing the melodies, that's when I knew it was going to be awesome. That's when I was like 'wow, this is all catchy and great.' And what I like about Anthrax is for this album, each song kind of has its own identity and it's not just one song - which, I feel a lot of modern metal bands right now do; once you hear one song it's like the record kind of. And here you have peaks and valleys and each song is different, I think they all stand out on their own. This record takes you on a journey, and you can listen to the whole album and not get bored. If you have an hour's drive in your car then it's one those f--king perfect records to put on.
AXS: Would you like to be more involved in the writing process on future Anthrax albums?
JD: Yeah I would love to. I get along with the guys and I think it would be great to jam with them and see what I could come up with with them. I think I have riffs that would definitely fit with them, but as far as that I don't know where that's going to go. But me personally, I'd love to.
AXS: You had said in another interview that the song “Mr. Crowley” is the National Anthem of guitar solos. Which of your solos thus far would you consider your National Anthem?
JD: Well, I don't think I've achieved "Mr. Crowley." [laughs] But I think one of my favorite solos off the record is on "Breathing Lightning." I'm glad that song got added to the set so I can play one of my favorites off the record live.
AXS: Anthrax is going to be touring South America with Iron Maiden and actually flying from show to show aboard Ed Force One, Iron Maiden's own jumbo jet...
JD: Yeah, touring South America with Iron Maiden – they're like a religion out there. There are going to be plenty of those giant stadiums, it' going to be a mess, I can't wait!
AXS: You guys put out the Chile On Hell concert DVD and you're basically going to have a whole tour of that kind of show night after night...
JD: I was just thinking about that the other day, that was probably the craziest show that I've ever played. The fans there are just unbelievable, they're so passionate. And then to be playing with f--king Iron Maiden – the whole thing is mind blowing.
AXS: And being on the plane ... and having Bruce Dickinson flying the plane ...
JD: It's just going to be unbelievable.
AXS: Is there anything new that you're experiencing with Anthrax that you haven't before?
JD: Well the whole thing with Anthrax is that their peers are my idols. So like Slash will just come in and hang out, or the guys from Metallica or Megadeth. Just like Anthrax, these were all bands that were an influence on me, and they just come in and hang out. [laughs] Their friends are my heroes.
AXS: Is there anything that you'd like to add or say to the fans?
JD: Yeah, I would just say to metal fans or hard rock fans, just give For All Kings a listen. If you're not an Anthrax fan or you are, I think there's something for anyone who likes that kind of stuff – there's a bunch of different feelings on the record, there's thrash, there's hard rock, there's metal. And give it a few spins, like any great record it takes four or five listens and you start to know where all the changes are and all the melodies and stuff. I think there's something for everyone who likes hard rock or metal on that record.
Anthrax is currently on tour in South America with Iron Maiden and will return to the U.S. for a series of festival dates this spring. Click here to check out their official website and list of tour dates, and if you don't have For All Kings yet click here to get yours.