By Andrew Bansal
Former Anthrax guitarist Dan Spitz has been an active supporter of the Autism Speaks organization for a few years now. More recently, he teamed up with Megadeth mainman Dave Mustaine for a new music project called Red Lamb. Mustaine and Dan Spitz co-wrote the lyrics and co-produced Red Lamb’s self-titled debut album which came out in early 2012. Dan wrote all the music and played the lead guitar parts. The current lineup of the band consists of Dan on guitar, Don Chaffin on vocals, Kevan Roy on drums and Alan G on bass. This quartet has been doing a North American run of dates under the title ‘Anarchy For Autism’ in March and will continue to do so this month as well. As the title suggests, the main aim of the tour is to raise awareness about Autism. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dan himself to discuss the tour, the Red Lamb album, Dave Mustaine’s involvement, Dan’s future plans and custom guitars. Check out this intense and insightful conversation below.
You’ve been doing this Anarchy For Autism tour for a month now, and the tour will continue through April too. How has everything been going for you so far?
It’s been going really well! We’ve been playing almost every day with very few days off to really get back and get in the groove of doing our thing and getting the message out for what I’m trying to do, not only being back on the stage live playing full-time again, but to get the message that Red Lamb stands for out there on a global level because it’s never been done before in music. For those who don’t know, my wife Candi and I have identical mirror image twin boys Brandon and Jaden, who are five years old, and they have Autism but they weren’t born with Autism. So my wife is the national spokesperson for Autism Speaks, which is the world’s largest non-profit organization regarding Autism. She travels the country all through the year, speaking all over the place and training police officers on how to find missing children, to wear global positioning bracelets and how to use the systems. So she in her own right does her part, and on my end it’s time for Red Lamb. It’s time for someone in music to speak the truth about the daily life that the Spitz household lives with Autism, how hard it is, and what we go through each day. We’ve seen many areas of the arts step up and very, very famous people who have an autistic child have been trying to get the message out. Film, football, soccer, racing, Formula 1, it’s pretty much everywhere because of the epidemic global level that we’re in, which now the United States government has proved with their latest statistic.
One in every 50 human-born will be under the Autism spectrum. You can pretty much combine ten of the biggest diseases and that statistic still doesn’t come close. It’s everywhere, and the best way to get the message out is through metal, as we all know from my past starting with Anthrax and Scott. Our music always spoke the truth through the lyrics. The feeling of the music was us, it wasn’t a fabricated art that you went to go see. You got me on stage and you got Scott. It’s the same thing with Red Lamb. You get the truth in our lyrics, and it’s going really well. The reception here is crazy of course because I do a bunch of Anthrax songs as well. There’s no one walking the planet that can do them, except me and the guys in Anthrax, because I wrote all that stuff and I wrote all the lead parts and nobody else can play it. So it’s a lot of fun. It’s an incredible feeling. All around we see heartfelt open arms. I meet all kinds of people whose world has been affected by Autism that are true metal fans. It happens everyday, and they are very happy that the metal community is finally doing something, at least at its beginning stages.
At these shows, besides raising awareness through the Red Lamb lyrics, do you also speak about it in between songs or something like that?
No, mainly it’s about bringing what I call awareness. If you don’t know what Autism is, we’re not stuffing it down your throat or selling anything. There’s just one song called Puzzle Box for which Dave Mustaine and I wrote all the lyrics for, and there’s a video for the song as well. In addition of course, Dave and I wrote lyrics for the entire album together, and we co-produced it too. And I wrote all the music. So before that song, I say a little something and introduce my family. The object is to let you see how hard it is. You guys figure out what to do with it, and a lot of the bands that I helped on their way up who are a lot bigger than what Red Lamb is now, probably later on this year or 12, 18 months from now, I’m sure somewhere along the line in many bands, Autism has affected a lot of my friends that I helped, and that they will recognize that I’m playing again and we can have some bigger, better tours together as a metal community to really make a difference for the first time in metal on a permanent basis, and not raising money for a cause at one festival. That kind of one-off event is a beautiful thing for the help people need, but I really want to do it on a permanent basis, globally.
I feel musicians can play an important role in this, because you guys already have an audience of people, many of whom might not even be knowing about the topic you’re trying to raise awareness for. So do you think musicians can play a bigger part than what they’re doing right now?
Yeah, that’s what this is all about. The first generation of metal started with the likes of Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi, and back then we were the generation of heavy metal fans listening to those bands. What everyone said was, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll grow out of it! When you’re older than 23, you’ll start listening to mellower kind of music or Elton John or whatever it may be.’ But you know what, that didn’t happen for the majority of us. We’re three generations deep, and the community on a global level is so powerful if it’s banded together. We have people in governmental positions all over the world. We have people who are doctors and lawyers. It’s the whole gamut, all the way up and all the way down the totem pole. We’re a force that’s way more powerful than the film industry is in California. If we come together, we can make changes. Music is the most powerful thing. It’s not film. We just need to get it together, and metal is the only music that tells the truth.
Exactly! So, you mentioned that Mustaine co-wrote the lyrics with you. Is he also deeply involved with this topic?
Well, only one song Puzzle Box deals directly with Autism, but you feel my pain in all the other songs as well because it transcended into whatever the topic may be that Dave and I wrote about. It’s all a piece of me, and the place I was in when I wrote this album is not a good place to be. My daily life is hell. We’re locked in our house most of the time as prisoners. There are chains on our doors. When our kids get outside they don’t know their name, they cannot transition simply from inside the house to getting in the car. They could literally have what we call meltdowns. Someone else’s child might have temper tantrums, but ours are brought on very severe and it could just happen with a change in pattern in their daily lives. The pattern has to be exactly the same. To get themselves in the car is a major transition for them, to the extent that they can really throw themselves on the driveway and try to injure themselves. They can’t handle it. There’s a plethora of many of those things in our daily lives, the ritualistic things, that are very difficult to deal with. We can’t simply take them to grocery store, for example. The police are called and they think quite often that we’re trying to hit our kid or something like that, and it has to be explained to the officer that they have Autism. So we have all these little things all day long. To answer your question, Dave has stayed in my house and he has held our children, so he knows the pain that I live through. He knows what it’s all about. Even for me to leave my house and come out to Dave’s studio in California, he understood that my time can be stopped at any moment when there’s a disaster at home that I need to take care of, and that comes first. Other producers might not have understood that because they don’t understand the Autism world. My world operates differently. So yes, Dave has played a large role in getting the feeling and anger that I feel inside, out there.
I had taken the album as far as I could go, I finished it and then was getting ready for a producer. I was out at Dave’s house doing some stuff with him and he asked me to play the music in the car on the way from his house to the studio one day. We don’t really talk about music in our friendship. Our friendship obviously is very long-lasting, and it’s more of a family friendship. When I’m really down, I’ve got somebody to call. And when Dave’s not feeling good one day it’s vice versa, and we’re very very close in that respect. Because we were so engulfed in music, we always just tried to keep that out of our relationship. So for Dave to say, ‘Hey Dan, I know you got the music in you somewhere, why don’t you put it on in the car? I want to know what you’ve been doing. I know you’ve been hard at work at this!’ So he kind of took me aback that morning, but I did put it in the car and he listened to a little of each one of the songs. He just fell in love with the music, and he asked if he could roll up the sleeves and help. And I was like, dude of course! So he kind of stopped everything Megadeth for a very long time and we just engulfed ourselves with Red Lamb. We had no plans to do anything but that. The message within all our songs is very important. For us to play together some day and stand on stage together, we’ll see what happens! It’s me and Dave, so we’ll see what happens as Red Lamb gets bigger on a global level, we started heading over to Europe and doing festivals and all that kind of stuff. I have pretty much surrounded myself with some of the most incredible musicians walking the planet for my live band now.
That debut CD came out early last year. Is there a plan to write any new material or are you just going to promote this album for a while?
I have a bunch of material already written for the next project, so absolutely. But right now I need to take this tour around the world a couple of times and by the time I’m done, we’ll probably have everything ready to go straight into the studio and make the next record with the new lineup, which has crazy incredible musicians. If you listen to the album, it’s not what you’re going to see live. Musically, we all kind of know that in our genre. That’s the reason everybody comes to see what we do best, which is to stand on the stage and play live. There’s no background tape going. We’re live musicians, and that can be very rarely captured on CD. So what you got on the Red Lamb CD is a very good representation of me and Dave working together, two guys from the Big Four for the first time ever have done a full project like this. We were looking at each other one day and Dave was always yelling at me, ‘This is your album! You wrote all the music and you wrote all the lyrics first. It’s yours!’ But it’s because of him basically that I came back to play full-time. I was in Switzerland working on the world’s most complicated wrist watches. I didn’t have to come back and play. Dave was the one who said, ‘You’re the only one that’s that’s still alive. You have Anthrax in your veins. You are it! You can’ remove that. You’ve got to stop tinkering with those little watches in Switzerland and come back here and start playing.’ So he knew the passion I had, and he made me decide to follow it. So my passion is full time, to take this around the world many, many times and feel everybody’s love once again. It feels really good to be back doing it.
That’s awesome, man! For the recording of the music on this debut CD, didn’t you originally get Peter Baltes of Accept to play bass? I’m such a huge fan of Accept and of Peter’s songwriting, I just had to bring it up.
Peter Baltes is one of my dear friends. When I first came back from Switzerland, I just needed someone to start writing with, to get my feet wet and see where it brings me to, just kind of messing around a little bit. Peter was obviously glad to do that. We worked on some fun stuff. When I decided that it’s time for us to get a drummer and step it up to the next level, Peter got the call from Wolf Hoffmann for the Accept reunion. So that immediately engulfed all his time, and I said, ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Don’t worry about it.’ I totally understood his commitment, and as we know, Accept is doing so well now. But we still talk all the time!
On the Anarchy For Autism tour, you’re doing the Red Lamb stuff and the Anthrax songs as well. How are you feeling now, doing these Anthrax songs again? Obviously the fans must be loving it at the shows.
Well, now that we’re live, I can allow Donnie, who is an incredible singer and really in the vein of a Myles Kennedy, to be more open and kind of bend that way. So, he is very good at learning other people’s music and nailing it to the T. I’ve never heard anything like that before. So the Red Lamb songs we’ve changed up quite a bit. I’ve kind of corrected it in a fashion where he can really sing in certain parts. And the Anthrax stuff, he just nails it and there’s a whole bunch of songs we can pick in and out of the set. He does a great job with either John Bush or Joey songs. So we have a lot of fun doing it. I went back almost for two months just revisiting all the lead breaks and rhythms that I wrote, and I’ve really been playing them better than I played them since the days when those albums first came out. The fans really get just destroyed when they see it. Kevan Roy on drums, probably one of the most prolific and incredible drummers I’ve ever seen walking the planet, I’m sure he’ll be on the cover of most drum magazines within the next year. He’s just an incredibly nice guy as well, metal dude to the core. The bass player Alan G is from the band Aghora. He plays a six-string bass, so you could say he’s fusion oriented as well as a metalhead. So the combination is incredible. I don’t even know what to say. He takes all the Red Lamb stuff to a great level. played the bass on the album, so it’s really simplistic, but live Alan takes it to the level one of the world’s best bass players would take it to.
Well, I’m working with a Polish company called Skervesen Guitars and designed my own guitar, which is a fanned fret guitar. First of all, this is one of the most incredible companies that make guitars by hand, basically, kind of like when me and Grover Jackson made them in the old days when it wasn’t a corporate entity, let’s say. Me and him came up with groundbreaking ideas in guitar construction. If you know my history, as of now I hold the highest Swiss degrees in micro-mechanical and micro-electrical engineering, and I’m considered one of the world’s most premier master watchmakers. So you know, I’m a very technical person, so I usually break barriers and design things. I just like to do that. That’s where those old guitars came from in the past, and now I’m designing guitars with this feature. The Skeverens have fanned frets with two different scale-lengths in one guitar. So it has a Fender scale length, and Gibson/Santana scale length, all in one guitar. You just have to see the guitar. It’s quite revolutionary. I’m also playing a bunch of Teles too, so hold the horns high for John 5 (laughs).
Awesome! Well, it was a pleasure talking to you, Dan. Thanks for your time and all the best with everything that you’re trying to do.
Thank you! I can’t wait to bump into you, have a cup of coffee or something. I thank you for your time and taking the time out for the cause, because if we can help even a few people, it means everything in the world to them.