He is one of the most recognizable faces in heavy music. Yes, Scott Ian needs no introduction to heavy metal diehards. Longtime guitarist to big 4 thrash legends Anthrax, and seemingly an endless fan of music decades into his career – see recent viral performances alongside both family and celebrities for proof – Ian rides once more with Mother Superior tribute turned full blown burner of a band, Motor Sister.
Comprised of Ian alongside an all-star cast featuring vocalist and guitarist Jim Wilson (Mother Superior, Rollins Band), bassist Joey Vera (Armored Saint, Fates Warning), drummer John Tempesta (White Zombie, The Cult) and vocalist Pearl Aday (Pearl, Meat Loaf), Motor Sister drops their sophomore album Get Off on May 6 through Metal Blade Records.
The legendary thrasher himself sat down with Metal Injection for a deep dive into all things Motor Sister, his heavy metal home-life with wife and frequent collaborator Pearl, a trek through time to his hard rock upbringing in the 70s, details on a new Anthrax record and more!
When did the idea come together for a new Motor Sister record? Was this kind of a "pandemic project," or something that preceded it? Obviously between all of you there are so many projects demanding attention that it must be difficult to delegate that time.
We always knew we wanted to write a record and not just be a Mother Superior cover band, which we loved for the first record. But that first record was a very specific entity that happened because we all love Mother Superior and just wanted those songs to be played and heard again. So we played a show at my 50th birthday and it turned into an album. But we knew from day one that we wanted to make a record and get to write a record together as this unit just to see what would that be like to make music together. Because already Jim and Pearl have been writing songs together for 21 years. They've been working and playing together forever, and I've been involved in those scenarios when I can, like out on tour or playing with Pearl and Jim. Joey's been involved in that. Johnny, I don't think he ever played [with the group], but of course we're all great friends, so we see each other and hang out with each other all the time, even when we're not making music together. So we always knew it was going to happen. It was just a case of, like you said, when.
Anthrax released For All Kings in 2016 and we toured that pretty much until November of 2019. So it was hard for me to be around. Pearl was busy with her stuff. Jim was busy. He's in Daniel Lanois's band. They were making the soundtrack for Red Dead Redemption, which went on forever. All the music you hear in that last one that came out, that's all Jim and Daniel Lanois. And Joey was busy with Armored Saint. They put out a record, I think, in that time period, and Johnny is always doing stuff with The Cult. So yeah, it's tough. But it was at some point in 2018 I think that Jim hit everyone up and said that he had some riffs that he thought would be really cool for Motor Sister. And everyone got really excited because I guess we were just all waiting for that catalyst.
And Jim is the main songwriter. So yeah, that was kind of the spark, and then at some point we were able to say, "OK, when can we all get in a room and jam?" And we figured that out. There were a few times in 2019 where we got together and worked on songs and arranged the songs and got to a point where we've got an album. So it took about a year, I would say, of us being able to schedule time to be a band. But then we realized we've got it and we got in the studio. It was like March of 2020 that we started making the record and it was in the middle of recording when the lockdown started. We pushed pause for a year and then we went back in and finished it.
You have Jim in the band and obviously the rest of you are huge fans of Mother Superior. Is it a fine line for Motor Sister where you want to pay homage to that band while also making something original?
There's no thought process, Jim just writes songs. He's a great and prolific songwriter, and he's constantly working and he'll write stuff that could work for Motor Sister. He writes stuff that works for Daniel. He writes stuff that works for Phil Jones, another guy who he plays with all the time. He writes stuff that works for Pearl, so he's always writing. So when he comes in he says, "I have stuff that I think is Motor Sister," no one's going to question that because he is Motor Sister. He is Mother Superior. He's the guy that wrote 95 percent of all of it, you know?
Of course, you hear the rest and it's not like ehhh. He sends the riffs and you're like "oh my god." It's like "Right There Just like That". It wasn't called that yet, but I remember when he sent that idea and I was like, "dude, that's a fucking riff." And I got so excited and immediately started playing it and couldn't wait to jam. We don't ever think about the legacy, it's just about moving forward. And of course it's going to sound like it because it's Jim. It sounds like Jim because that's what it is. And I have a couple of co-writes on this one. I added riffs to four or five songs, and Pearl wrote lyrics to a couple. But other than that, it's all Jim.
As a musician and as an artist, a lot of what you've done in 40 plus years is rooted in thrash and heavy metal. And this certainly has the hard rock sensibility, but obviously there's a lot of blues involved, a lot of layered elements. Is that freeing to be able to touch on a different side of rock and something different than fans normally see?
Of course, unless you really know me. But most of the people in the public world who know me, they know me from Anthrax and they have an idea of what that means to them and that's all great. But I'm a '70s rock kid. I mean, if my beard doesn't do it, I'm giving away my age. I started playing guitar when I was nine. That was in 1973. And the words heavy metal didn't exist for all the ;70s. For me it was probably around '79 or '80 when that term actually became part of the lexicon. And even still, it was "heavy metal, that's a magazine! What do you mean, heavy metal?" Of course the words thrash metal and speed metal was even a few more years into the 80s.
You know, I'm a kid in the '70s and by '75-76 I'm listening to KISS and Zeppelin and Aerosmith and Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick and The Ramones and AC/DC. It's '77 and there's Scorpions and Rainbow and Sabbath, so on and so on. I'm a hard rock kid from the '70s. That's how I learned how to play guitar by listening to all of those records and sitting in my room and playing along. And so getting to play in Motor Sister very much takes me back to the reason I started playing guitar in the first place. Because Motor Sister is very much more akin to let's say Free or Bad Company or Humble Pie or Sabbath than it is to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
Was there a gateway album that got you into heavier music? You would have been around with that emergence of Sabbath and Deep Purple and really the formation of heavy metal as a whole.
Yeah, I mean it's KISS Alive, because for me my parents listened to a lot of good music. I didn't understand then when I was a child. But of course looking back on it I could say there was a lot of good music in my house they were listening to. I remember the soundtrack to the Woodstock concert being played a lot. They loved Elton John. My dad was way into stuff like Dave Mason and The Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton. There was a lot of good music in the house.
But as much as I was into that, when I discovered KISS in 1975 that was something my parents wanted nothing to do with. That was my thing. And of course it was like, I guess, if you were a drug addict and you found a bag of heroin you'd be really stoked. Well, I was a kid into comics and horror and suddenly there's rock and there's a band that encompassed all of that. And I heard "Rock and Roll All Nite" on the radio, and I didn't know who it was and I couldn't get the song out of my head. And then I saw them on television playing "Rock and Roll All Nite" and I was literally clawing at my mom to get her to take me to the record store. And I saw there were a few records, but I bought the Alive album at the time. And yeah, just unbelievable. That was it and that opened the door.
And of course I knew about Zeppelin already, but for me Zeppelin was the older kids. Me and my friends who are all 11, 12, a lot of my friends had older siblings who loved Zeppelin and Hendrix and Pink Floyd and stuff like that. And they were all 16-year-olds and 17. And to us these are like older kids with long hair and they're smoking weed. To us they were like the burnouts and we were just kids. We weren't into any of that yet, but we loved the music.
Right after KISS it was like The Ramones because they were from Queens. They were from where I lived and we saw them on television and quickly got into that. Of course I had already known about Sabbath too, but then kind of rediscovered it with a new ear as someone who is now listening to hard rock. I got to say Sabbath would have been my real bridge into what was to become my future, because obviously Sabbath sounded a lot different than KISS. And it was just something about it that I really connected with. And then in '77, AC/DC. Those two bands for me were the most important and the biggest because as much as I loved KISS, it wasn't so much about the guitar playing aspect of it. But with Sabbath and AC/DC, I sat with those albums and I would just learn every song, you know? But that's my formative years right there. The first five Sabbath records and the first five AC/DC records.
I doubt my generation can appreciate how groundbreaking and flying in the face of convention KISS must have been in the 70s. That first KISS record, how much did that shake the ground in the 70s? People weren't playing music like this, with that presentation.
No. Look, you had Alice Cooper, of course, who was around doing the horror theme and combining it with rock and putting on the big show. But now you had four Alice Coopers. It was like you had the whole band involved and the fact that you never saw their faces. You could go pick up Creem magazine and you'd see a photo of Alice Cooper without his stage makeup on. So it was definitely more of like it's a show, whereas KISS kept the secret as long as they could, especially in the 70s. I mean, what a big deal that was as a kid when the magazines would do those articles like "KISS Unmasked" and you'd see them like this [covers half his face]. I mean, it was such a big deal. The mystique was huge. And I mean, look, in 1977 there was no bigger and as far as I know there was nothing bigger on the planet than KISS. I saw them twice that year in February '77 and again in December of '77. And it really just was the biggest most important thing for me as a kid. It was just mind blowing.
By '77 I was going to shows. Things were different back then. My mom would let me get on the train at 13 to go into the city with my friends, and we were going to shows at the Garden and at the old Palladium on 14th Street. And so I was already seeing a lot of shows in '77. You'd go to shows and it was great going to a concert and seeing a band tear it up. But KISS was a different thing, man. It was completely bigger and larger than life and everything you expected it to be, they'd deliver.
My KISS period goes from '75 to '78. Like for me it's the first album to Alive II, and that's it. I was out. Me and my friends went to see KISS and Judas Priest at Nassau Coliseum in '79, and we were going to see Priest. Like I was already out. I still loved my KISS first album to Alive II, but by that point something had changed. In '78 I was heavy into Rainbow and then we discovered Priest and like all bets were off. It was like wait a minute, there's this thing that's like in its own way heavier than Sabbath. More brutal twin guitars than Thin Lizzy. It's like they took everything that we loved and made it even heavier. Priest instantly became our favorite band.
The Brits just came and changed the game entirely, right?
And then of course '80, that was the defining year because the first Maiden record came out, and that's the year Ace of Spades came out and Sabbath put out Heaven and Hell that year, and Priest put out British Steel that year. '80 was, to me, the biggest year in heavy metal. Changed everything.
For yourself and Pearl, music has been in your lives forever. Getting to perform together in this band, whether it be on stage or in the collaborative process, juxtaposing that with the life of a couple, is it odd separating that? Or, because you guys have been so rooted in music for decades, is it completely natural?
It's totally natural. In some way shape or form it's music all the time in the house. With our son too, because he's a player. And yeah, it was always totally natural from day one, even when Pearl started making her own solo records. And I didn't just assume I would be in the band. But at some point she asked "do you want to play on this?" You know, I felt like if there's something I could add and not just be a caveman [laughs] yeah, then great. But there's probably other dudes who are way better at playing this type of guitar than me.
But yeah, it's totally natural. Look, we've been together 22 years. Any time we get to be together doing something that we love so much, which is making music, it's the best. I get to turn around and look at stage right and see Pearl banging her head. It's just completely inspiring and the most fun thing ever.
I'm sure you can't give much away. But anything you can share on potential new Anthrax material?
We were just together writing. We have songs and all I can say is we will get in the studio when we're ready, which I hope is this year. I would love that. I think we're getting there. I think we have great songs. I think people will be very happy.
Not to make a weird comparison, but it's our third record back together with Joey. Actually, it's an odd comparison. I should just say it's our third album since our kind of our reboot in 2010 and our third album back in the day was Among the Living. I'm not saying that this is, because it's not Among the Living II in any sense, but I just think we have some great songs and there's like a fucking mountain of great riffs. I think people are going to be very happy.
Stay tuned to part two of our one-on-one with Scott Ian where the legendary guitarist talks Anthrax anniversaries and the turbulent '90s. Motor Sister will release their new album Get Off on May 6, and pre-orders are available here.