ANTHRAX's JOEY BELLADONNA 'Can't Get Down With' Lead Singers Lip Syncing During Concerts
February 19, 2023
ANTHRAX's Joey Belladonna says that he "can't get down with" singers who lip sync during their concerts.
In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they're not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.
Belladonna addressed some rock acts' reliance on pre-recorded tracks in a Cameo video message requested by the Syncin' StanleyYouTube channel. Asked for his opinion on singers use backing tracks for their lead vocals, the ANTHRAX frontman said in part (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET): "I know that some people have no alternatives to enhance the quality and the likelihood of being a really great band night after night after night… But lip syncing the vocals? Eh. If I can't do it, I don't wanna be there. That's the fun part about being a musician, is to try to achieve that expectation of what you've been really working hard to get in the first place, is to be a great, great band and a great musician and just fight on each night to do a great job.
"If people go [to the shows] knowing that [the lead vocals are being lip synced], and they're okay with it, then what are we talking about? We're just trying to get through and be good. That's my take on it. I don't know what people really wanna do, if that's the case… I think one of the hardest things, too, it seems like there's a little bit of unfairness there. If two people are competing to do something, say, the same, or whatever genre of music, and one doesn't do it and one does it, then you already have the answers there."
Circling back to the topic of lead singers lip syncing, Joey said: "That part is tough for me. I can't get down with all that. I'd just as soon cancel or just not be out there at all. But as far as maybe some keyboards and a clean guitar or a synthy part, if you only have one hand to do one part and you want something just in the back… I like filling up the space — that kind of stuff… But the main singer? Ooh, that's tough.
"It's hard for me to judge. I don't wanna be the guy to put anybody in a place… We all have our opinions and stuff. You can just choose not to be there as a band and you can choose not to be there as a fan.
"There's nothing like people just getting together and jamming in a room and it sounds great and everybody's doing it and it sounds great and everybody's doing it and there's nothing there but them," Belladonna added. "That's the bottom line with our stuff. I worked a hell of a lot of years trying to get to that point, to mail it all in… What is that, really? All the bands that I've loved, it was all real. It was all genuine."
In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that "90 percent" of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: "It bothers me that it bothers people. I'm, like, 'Why does this bother you?' It's the way it is. People have been doing this since the '80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that's not how we wanna do it."
Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is "one of the last people" who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. "I don't know how much longer I can say to you that I don't use tapes onstage, because I don't, and I never have," he told Consequence Of Sound. "And I still don't. When I have opening bands, and they're using tapes, and then I come out and I don't use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I'm like, 'What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don't have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?' Sometimes, I'm like, 'Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?' It's becoming very rare to come see a good band that's actually a real band — that's not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on."
In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn't "agree" with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. "I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don't think it's a good thing at all," he told the New York Post. "I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We've toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it's not real. You're supposed to play live; it should be live. I don't agree with using tapes … I think it's a real shame."
One musician who has been open about his band's use of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: "We've used technology since '87." He added the group employed "sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can't tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc.... We love it and don't hide it. It's a great tool to fill out the sound."
In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn't comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. "I don't like it," he said. "I think a band like ours… I have to say '60s bands were my favorite — '60s and '70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It's the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that's what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don't wanna do that."
KISS lead singer Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band's classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS's ongoing "End Of The Road" tour.
Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.
"I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks," Simmons said. "It's like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that's at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you're paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they'll sing sometimes, sometimes they'll lip sync. At least be honest. It's not about backing tracks, it's about dishonesty.
"There's nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there's no samples on the drums, there's nothing," Gene continued. "There's very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can't even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There's very few bands who don't use [backing] tracks."
Earlier this month, KISS's longtime manager Doc McGhee defended Stanley's vocal performance on "End Of The Road", explaining that the "Star Child" "fully sings to every song" at every concert. He explained: It's enhanced. It's just part of the process to make sure that everybody hears the songs the way they should be sang to begin with. Nobody wants to hear people do stuff that's not real, that's not what they came to hear."
When McGhee was asked to clarify if he was "actually saying there are backing tracks that [Paul is] singing to," Doc said: "He'll sing to tracks. It's all part of a process. Because everybody wants to hear everybody sing. But he fully sings to every song."
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