Interview with bassist Frank Bello
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: December 30, 2015
Of the so-called "Big 4" it was the turn of Slayer and Anthrax to arrive in Finland on December 17th, 2015 (with Lost Society and At The Gates at the same event) as part of their European tour. Anthrax, formed in 1981, have kept their Thrash engines running for an incredible 34 years, releasing no less than 11 studio albums and selling millions worldwide. Anthrax's lineup has changed quite a few times during their career; they have had several vocalists from Neil Turbin to Joey Belladonna to John Bush but none of these changes has affected the popularity of these NY thrashers.
Joey Belladonna, who has sung on five of Anthrax's studio albums, returning to the Anthrax ranks in 2011 to sing on Worship Music, is considered the band's "true" vocalist by the majority of Anthrax fans around the globe. Anthrax's 12th studio album, the upcoming For All Kings, will be released by Nuclear Blast on February 26, 2016, and it's said to be one of Anthrax's best albums, if not the best. That's the hype anyway...
I met up with Anthrax's bassist Frank Bello at his hotel in Finland's capital Helsinki about four hours prior to show time at the Hartwall Arena to talk about the For All Kings and all kinds of stuff related to it plus some other topics from Frank's personal charity work for kids to his jam project called Altitudes & Attitude with Megadeth's Dave Ellefson. Frank was also keen on tell a story that happened at a luxurious hotel in Helsinki just one day earlier when Finland was celebrating its 98th Independence Day on December 6, 2015.
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland Frank. How's it going?
Frank: Good, good, thanks for asking. It's nice to be back here in Finland. Let's start with the craziness about today waking up with no coffee and having people talk about what happened last night. Dude, I don't know anything. Here's the God's honest truth about what happened yesterday. Last night, I had dinner, went to my room and Kerry and I were going to have a beer together. The bar in this hotel was closed so he said, "Why not come over here? My hotel bar is open." Okay, there's booze there, we'll go there. A couple of my friends and I went there and this whole thing started. First, we walk in and there are people in tuxedos and beautiful gowns with security everywhere. They look like FBI guys and secret service and military guys with badges and medals and there we are (*laughs*) in the middle of this. So we walked in and I'm thinking, "This can't be the hotel." There's no fucking way that Slayer's staying here and I'm not. We're in this hotel, we're fine, but we're looking to get out. All of a sudden, a really nice girl from MTV calls me over. She said, "Frank, Frank, Frank!" I said to her, "Hey, how are you, nice to meet you," She said, ""Mind if I film you? All right, ready? Are we filming?" Then she said, "I'd like to introduce you to the Prime Minister or the Foreign Prime Minister."
Luxi: Really? You have to be kidding!
Frank: I have this on (a t-shirt) and jeans. This guy is in a full suit. I said, "Pleasure to meet you." In the moment, I didn't know anything, right? So I said, "Nice to meet you." He said, "Oh, Anthrax. You're playing tomorrow." I asked how he knew that. He said, "I know everything." So whatever, we're talking back and forth and I said, "Why don't you come to the show tomorrow? Have some beers, I'll get you in free." (*laughs*) He was funny and said, "I might be busy, but I'll let you know." He was nice and then Adella, not Adella, a girl, the singer, the singer girl I've met. I forgot her name. She's the Adele of Finland or so they tell me, but she's really nice. I'll find out her name but she's a really sweet girl (Elli from Haloo Helsinki!, a highly popular Finnish Pop/Rock group - Luxi). She's a bass player and singer and we were talking for a long time. Everybody was so nice there. At first, I think they all stared because it was me, a couple of guys like me, Kerry King and his tour manager and we were drinking. We had our own little group but then everybody started coming up to us, taking pictures and when everybody saw Kerry they took pictures with him, too. I was like, "Oh my God, this is strange." But everybody was so nice. And then we were just having conversations.
Luxi: That was awesome.
Frank: It was crazy. And then today, I wake up and the tour manager of Slayer was giving a flower away and everybody was talking about it. So I guess it's good for business. (*laughs*) It's good. We got free press from having a beer.
Luxi: Lucky for you they didn't have any dress code at this party, you know, haha!
Frank: They would have thrown us right out. But everybody was dressed crazy. It was tuxedos, beautiful gowns, crazy.
Luxi: Alright, some Anthrax talk next maybe...
Frank: Oh yes, a little bit.
Luxi: How has it been for Anthrax to be on tour with Slayer? Do you have good chemistry between the bands?
Frank: Oh, how we get along? You can see like last night it is pretty good. To say the least, we've been friends with Slayer since the '80s. We're very close. We tour together a lot. The crazy thing is that this tour is going to end. It is going to be weird not being with them every day, because even on days off, like last night, I hung out with Kerry. We have a good time, we're drinking buddies and stuff. It's going to be weird, but every night after the show we're in each other's dressing rooms anyway. After the show, I'll go shower, have dinner, go watch some Slayer, watch them finish, they'll come off stage, eat, and then everybody goes in the Slayer dressing room and drinks Jägermeister. It starts from there and I almost have to hide sometimes because there's so much Jägermeister going on and you feel grey. Sometimes, I have to cut it down. I can't keep up with Kerry, there's no way. There's no way I'll be able to drink anywhere near the amount of Jägermeister he can.
But this tour is great. This is the seventh week, as you can see on my face, because I'm beat up. All the promoters are saying it's 95% sold out through the whole tour, so it's been sellouts pretty much every night, packed houses, so many people seeing this. It's a great set up for our record For all Kings. This is the perfect time for us to do everything we have to do and talk about the record to the press. I can't imagine doing something better than what we did for this record. Everything's set up perfectly for us. People are coming out to the shows despite all the negative stuff that has happened recently in Paris and everything, and that's great. That's part of the reason why we wanted to keep going. The only reason we would have stopped this tour was if the promoters told us that we shouldn't play, right? We never even thought about leaving. That would mean they win and we're not doing that, we want to play. We just want to make it safe for everybody, of course. We don't want to have fans or us getting hurt. Just make it safe for us to play, and we'll be fine, so thank God. It's been good.
Luxi: This is going to be your second show in Helsinki and two days from now you will play your last show in Russia before going back to your home territory.
Luxi: And then you're going to have a short break and start touring in the middle of January 2016. You have a tour with Lamb of God coming up.
Frank: You've done your homework, I see. Yes.
Luxi: And if that wasn't all, you are going to have a South American tour with the mighty Iron Maiden after you are finished touring with Lamb of God.
Frank: Yes. I am pretty excited about that, to say the least.
Luxi: Next year is looking very busy for you guys...
Frank: Yes, to say the least. It will be nice to see my family. (*laughs*) I have a nine-year-old son with my wife. I see them on FaceTime, you know, on the computer.
Luxi: Thank God for modern technology.
Frank: Thank God for that, right? But seven weeks is hard. I want to be a dad. I love my son, as fathers do, so it's very tough to stay away so long. But this is our business. So at the same time, yes, go home for the holidays then the plan is tour, tour, tour, work the record, make people hear the record. We think this is our best record. Everybody says that. Every band says that when they have a new record coming out but I truly believe, as an old school lover of this music, this is the best Anthrax record we've ever done. I think this is probably our heaviest record. I think it's very diverse and I think anybody who likes Worship Music, this is the next step up. Everybody we've been hearing from is saying that it's really good to hear. Have you heard it? That's my question.
Luxi: Actually, I've only managed to hear three songs...
Frank: Only three? You should hear the whole album.
Luxi: Yes, I know. I was supposed to attend a pre-release listening session today but unfortunately I couldn't make it. I only managed to hear those three songs here at the hotel via your promotional lady's phone about 30 minutes ago...
Frank: Well, that's okay. So you have something.
Luxi: I remember the first song, "Impaled." My first impression was like "Ah, this actually sounds like Anthrax."
Luxi: The two other songs, the names of which I can't remember, also did have a strong Anthrax vibe to them.
Frank: Nice to hear that from you. The important thing is that you have had a little taste of it, right? The whole record is made up of songs that we lived with, you know what I mean? We wrote these songs and we just kept making sure they were fine. The right way is to live with them for a while, listen, put them away, listen to them again. How is it? Maybe this doesn't work as well. We really took our time with writing the record and living with it. We tried to live as fans honestly. It's got to live up to that fire in your belly. I got a feeling about these songs like "I can't wait to play this fucking song." I'm a fan and it makes me feel the fire in my belly, you know what I mean? It meets that fire. So I can't wait to hear the rest of the record, I swear man. Because I think it takes you on a journey.
I like to listen to the whole record and not one song. I want to listen to the whole record and have it take me where it goes. In Anthrax we make sure that the record lives. Each song is specifically chosen to be where it is on the record. I'm always interested to hear what people have to say after they hear the record and live with it. I can't wait to hear their opinions about this album. The next time we talk we'll do an interview and I'll be interested to hear what you think, because I think you got a little taste and I think you got the vibe. I'm very proud of it and I'm telling you, it's been a great with Anthrax since Worship Music. People say that was our best record and blah, blah, blah, whatever they want to say, it was very complimentary and very nice. We're on the rise again which is really great to hear. We've never left but there's a great buzz about it now. To be on this side of the table and feeling that vibe and the buzz that's going on is a really great thing. I'm very excited about the future for Anthrax.
Luxi: Do you believe that this new Anthrax album, For All Kings, contains a lot of the best elements that make up your trademark sound?
Frank: Yes, I don't think Anthrax tries to write anything. I think we just write. The three of us, Charlie, Scott and I, when we get together, we just write what comes out, whether it's Charlie starting a riff or me or whatever. I think we know each other so well at this point. It's been a while. Again, it's got to meet that fire and you have that feeling of "fuck yes!" And you know when you write something good because it's like "Man, that's going to make the record. That's got to make the fucking record because it gets me going nuts."
So you don't try to write anything. This is us now and I'm really proud to say that because you can't try to recreate anything. All we can do is stay in the present. Even when Scott writes lyrics he has to stay in the present. Unfortunately, bad things happen. It's a fucked up world right now so there's a lot to write about.
Luxi: Yes, there surely is.
Frank: I'm really happy to see where this band is right now. If there's any positive thing in this world right now, it's where we're going with the band. I think we're in a really good place and the band is very close as people. We're all getting along really well and I think it's a very hungry band. We want to reach another level. I don't even know what that level is, to be really honest with you. I don't know if it's fictional but we feel like we want to get to another level and that builds fire man. It really fucking gets you going. That's why we did a seven-week Slayer tour and just keep pounding the pavement and playing hard. Look, the bottom line is this band has always worked hard. Since day one, we toured and we worked hard. We want be one with the fans and at a show like tonight, man I want to connect. I want to connect with the audience. So I think it's a really great time for Anthrax right now.
Luxi: Was making For All Kings somehow an easier and more relaxed experience compared to the making of Worship Music, which was sort of a comeback album for your original singer, Joey Belladonna?
Frank: Well, I think it's easier and here's the only reason; because it's a band. When we had the songs written for the last record, Joey wasn't in the band yet. But now this is a band. This is absolutely a tight-knit group. I think we know who we are. We're unified for the same cause. We want to get to this goal together. I say that made it easier because there's no guessing. All in, everybody says "leave everything on the table," 110% so in that way, yes. It was easier just knowing that and then writing a great record. You have to make sure it's the right record.
Anthrax has never put out anything we weren't ready for. We make sure every song is ready. It's really hard to let go with this record now but now we know it's ready and that makes it easier.
Luxi: Yes, as you just said Joey wasn't in the band when you started the songs for Worship Music. On that album you obviously also had to write the kind of songs that fit Joey's vocal range, I guess? There's no doubt Joey's got a very wide vocal range actually...
Frank: It definitely helps and Joey is at the top. He's at his best. Joey Belladonna is at his best right now. We're very lucky that we have a great vocalist that can sing and that's the thing I think people like about Anthrax. We've always had these great riffs and great songs with great melodies to go with Joey's vocals. It's like a cake. You mix the great riff, the melodies and the vocals and that makes the package of Anthrax.
You know what dude? I couldn't be more happy and stoked to perform this album. I don't know what songs we're going to play off the new record because I would really want to play every one of them so maybe we'll let the fans choose. It's going to be tough to pick.
Luxi: Do you think that when the album is out at the end of February 2016, it would be a cool thing to play a special show where you do all the songs from this new album start to finish and then continue your set with the old stuff?
Frank: You're not the only person who's asked that question and I think it's a great idea. I would love to do that for the fans. That's a great idea and we've been talking about doing special things. That's one of the special things that I would love to do. We'll see if it's feasible to make that happen but I would love that because it will make it really special. I would love it.
Luxi: Now if we're talking about Anthrax albums, this year means the 30th anniversary of Spreading the Disease. Have you done any special shows for the album like concentrating on just those songs to give something truly special to your fans?
Frank: I would love to do that. That's another great record. I have to say this, 30 years is insane. Do you know what I mean? Think about that, right?
Luxi: And you are still here making music with Anthrax, not showing any signs of slowing down.
Frank: Thank you, right? I mean it's so crazy that we're still here, right? We're talking about a record from 30 years ago. That was my first record, so for me, Spreading the Disease was very special. I did an EP before that but this was my first official record. An 18-year-old bass player coming in to the band from high school, coming right into the band, it's a scrapbook of my life. It really is. It was the story of us getting to be a band; do you know what I mean? At the beginning we were part of the Thrash movement and nobody even knew what that was, where it was going. It was a very special time.
So when I look back at that record and I hear the songs, I remember being in the studio. I remember being nervous in the studio because it was my first real record. A lot of scary, great, fun, exciting times but I still relive them even when I hear those songs and when we do headline shows, we play some of those songs like "Lone Justice" and stuff like "A.I.R." which are just fun. I have a lot of great memories from that record. I do.
Anybody who hasn't heard that record should check it out and there are some cool things that come with that 30th anniversary. So if you haven't even heard anything off that record it's time to check it out. I look at that record with really fond memories.
Luxi: What can you tell us about the album's cover concept? Would you like to open up that topic a little bit?
Frank: Well, for the new record For All Kings, the idea for me in the title is you can be your own king. It's all about trying to achieve your best. Be your king. Be the king of your kingdom wherever you are and whatever you do. It's about being the best you can be. Anybody, whatever you do in your daily life, be the best at that thing. Whatever it is you want to do, go at it and be the best at it and be your own king.
So For All Kings it's like anybody on the earth could be a king. Go after it. I think it's a very special title. That's how I see it. As soon as Charlie came up the title, I loved it. I said, "Fuck yes, that means a lot to me and so we could get behind it." Charlie designed the cover with Alex Ross. It's fucking awesome.
It really fits where we're going right now. It's almost like it's too good. Everything fits so well together and people see it now. Alex Ross has always been great. He's done few of our covers.
Luxi: Yes, when I first saw that album cover, I thought it's really powerful.
Frank: Thank you. Yes, it strikes you.
Luxi: True. That's the first impression you get out of it.
Frank: I'm an old-school guy and I always looked at album covers, right? If you look at Iron Maiden you think "fuck yes" and you want to hear the music inside. That's very important to us. When I opened Kiss Alive! "fuck yes' I'm going to listen to this music." It makes you curious, right? For the people that may not know Anthrax maybe that's the way to get them in there so artwork is very important to Anthrax and our fans. It's another thing Anthrax always thinks out.
Charlie has always been a great artist. He can draw just about anything. When he designed it with Alex Ross it just fit the record.
Luxi: Nowadays Anthrax most often plays at bigger concert halls and arenas compared to 30 years ago when you played at small/mid-sized clubs. How much do you miss when you traveled by van and were basically just a bunch of young lads from New York that wanted to achieve something?
Frank: Sometimes you have to let them go.
Luxi: Yes, but still, have you ever been thought "that would be a great idea to go back to those little small clubs where we started and do a little club tour"? Maybe just do 150-200 tickets for a limited audience just for fun or nostalgia or whatever...
Frank: Of course, we just did a place in Glasgow. It was an anniversary for our friend Donald. It's called the Cat House and it holds 350 people, a small place. We did a headline show there. It sold out in minutes. That is something we just did that on this tour. So when you say "would it be nice," we do things like that periodically just to have fun. Do a headline show, boom, out.
What I like about Anthrax, being a band member, is to keep it alive, keep it fun. I'm always up for that stuff. We didn't know that was going to happen. It's good to keep people guessing. So it's fun.
Luxi: Yes. Would you say you are touring as much as in the old days?
Frank: Well, we have to. That's what we do. For Worship Music we did over 300 shows. Dude, we haven't done that since the '80s. I mean literally. Thank God the record was so successful. Every time we wanted to start writing the new record people would ask us to do another tour and we had to do because it put us in front of the fan base. You want to keep building the name and the band so you do that but over 300 shows, we couldn't believe it. We are a touring band. We are a very hard-working, blue collar band. That's what we do. It's what we've always done.
Luxi: Up next we could sidetrack for a moment and talk about your side project called Altitudes & Attitude that you have with Dave (Ellefson) from Megadeth.
Frank: Hey, you gave me a curve ball there, very good.
Luxi: Yes, I am curious to know a bit more about it...
Frank: That's a good curve ball. I didn't see that coming, good job.
Luxi: In Altitudes & Attitude, bass is the only instrument so gets a lot of room to breathe, so to speak. You released a 3-song EP last year and now you have a full-length album coming up.
Frank: We have a full record ready.
Luxi: So the album's fully ready to be released?
Frank: Basically, it just needs to be mixed. Jay Ruston worked with us again. It is a full-on record and I have to be honest, I'm totally excited. I'm working the Anthrax thing now but that's my next thing. We can't wait! We know we have a really cool selection of songs. Remember it's just Rock, it's not a Metal thing at all. I couldn't believe how many people heard Altitudes & Attitude and liked it. We didn't expect that fom just three songs. "Wow, this is really something." We know we have something special but with all due respect to our bands, Megadeth and Anthrax, we have to work our cycles with this but that's absolutely in the future. I can't wait until people hear it. It's definitely Rock and Roll but it has big vocals and I'm singing on it again. It's just a lot of fun and it's just big hooks and Rock. It rocks with big hooks and that's what it's about.
Luxi: Do you see this band like a relaxed therapy project for you where you can just take a guitar or bass and just jam together without any pressure?
Frank: That's what we do. We literally do that. Dave and I, we have ideas we put together and they come out to be Altitudes & Attitude and with Jay Ruston it just makes it so easy. Boom, I mean I'm so proud of the songs because they sound how I want them to sound like. There's nothing fake about them. The ultimate compliment is people saying they like my voice, so it meant a lot to me and I was very happy to hear that. It gave me a lot of confidence to go forward, to do more. So when people say they want a record, okay. I'm very excited about the future for that. Thank you for asking.
Luxi: ...and after doing some research on the internet I found that you have played a show with Altitudes & Attitude...
Frank: We did.
Luxi: Uh, I forgot already. Where did it happen?
Frank: We did Metal Allegiance but we did a headline show in Chicago at a small club. It was a one-off show. We just wanted to do it and have fun with it and because there are only three songs on the EP we did a lot of cover songs at that show. We would like to do some touring next time when we have some time off, Dave and I, but we're pretty busy right now. People are crossing over from our regular fan bases and saying, "Wow, this is a different side of you, we like this," and it really feels good to hear that. So I'm really excited about that.
Luxi: Cool! Then I know that you have been doing some charity work, donating some of your instruments to this Little Kids Rock thing.
Frank: Yes, Little Kids Rock of course.
Luxi: And many of these kids have jammed with you and stuff like that.
Frank: Of course yes. We've done that a lot.
Luxi: I guess all this charity work is very important for you personally, as a father yourself, doing something good for the kids.
Frank: It is.
Luxi: You being a musician and teaching these kids to do something with their lives and not just playing video games and watching TV all day long is a great thing.
Frank: Music has been very good to me. I'm very thankful. I'm humbled by the success we've had but my thing is, I was that kid that didn't have a chance. Now it's the computer, now it's the video games and stuff, my thing is to turn that around and get a guitar or bass or drums or sing, get them to the next creative stage and make them feel that feeling I got when I picked it up. That was my way out because there was a lot of negativity in my life when I was young.
Music and playing guitar and bass got me out of that. It gave me a way out when I was in a bad mood because my dad abandoned us when I was young, when I was 10 years old so I had no heroes. My heroes were musicians; Steve Harris, Geddy Lee, Geezer Butler. I looked up to them and I can't imagine not having music in my life to get me out of my bad zone because you can go either way. You can go the bad way or you can go the creative, positive way. I was lucky enough to go the creative way and I want to help people. I think it's important to help people that need help and if I can get somebody to pick up an instrument, it really is important to me. It's the next generation quite honestly.
Luxi: Absolutely, I agree.
Frank: I want to pass the torch. I've been very lucky. I want to give back; I want to make people get the vibe that I get when I pick up a guitar. It's life. It really is fucking life man. If I can do that it's a way of paying back and saying, "I'm passing the torch. This joy that I've had, I can give to somebody else."
Luxi: And you just never know, maybe 20 years from now, some of these kids may come to you and thank you for the inspiration.
Frank: That's what I love. People have come up to me and thanked me for the inspiration though I still feel I'm a student. I feel like I'm still the student learning but if I can help somebody like that and make them feel good, I've done my job. That's what it's about now. It's really the right thing to do and I feel it from inside. I have a nine-year-old son. If music can make him feel the way it feels to me, that's good. The next generation has got to come up. It's important. They need that instead of the video games and all of these distractions.
Luxi: Yes, there sure are a lot of distractions.
Frank: Music is a gift. It's a real gift for all of us. So why not nourish it and make people feel how important it is.
Luxi: Yes, okay one last question and I'll let you go. I guess it was Anthrax who came up with this slogan "Mosh it up!" back in the day, right?
Frank: How do you know if it was?
Luxi: I recall you were the first band to use this slogan some 30 years ago. I remember seeing it used on some of your earliest T-shirts and in magazines and stuff. I was just wondering what it means to you today? Has this particular slogan changed over the years compared to the old days of Anthrax?
Frank: I don't know if we made it up. In fact, I don't think we made it up. Somebody probably put it to us. When I hear it, when I think of it, mosh it up is when pretty much the crowd loving a vibe. The band and the crowd moshing it up means it's fucking time to get nuts. It's time to get nuts and enjoy this music the way it's supposed to be enjoyed. Whatever, it doesn't have to be mosh, you could head bang, fucking throw your hands in the air, just enjoy it. So mosh it up is really like fucking enjoy, let's do this. Just enjoy the music. It's time to have fun, so mosh it up, it's a celebratory kind of vibe.
Luxi: Some people don't even know what the heck it means, but basically, it's just all about having fun in a moshpit or just in general at a (Metal) concert...
Frank: Yes, so I think it's just get in there and have fun man. You could say it's the mosh pit that's fun or you could put your hands up. You could head bang, whatever you want to do, just have fun and that's why you come to shows like tonight, it's going to be insane. The show's going to be insane, you know that. Mosh it up! (*laughs*) Have a good time. That's the idea.
Luxi: Yes, having a good time is always the main thing. Thank you for explaining this. I was kinda curious to hear this from you, you know.
Frank: Dude, really great questions!
Luxi: Thank you, and thank you for your time, Frank.
Frank: No problem.
Luxi: Enjoy your show tonight.
Frank: Will you come in or are you taking a break?
Luxi: I'm coming to your show tonight, most definitely!
Frank: Wow, two in a row...
Luxi: Yep, two in a row indeed. Seeing Motörhead live yesterday was well worth it. However, I need to admit that sometimes it's kind of tough to go concerts two days in a row at this age. I'm 47...
Frank: You know what, you see but I think there's still a fire inside you, a passion for the music that you love. It gives you the needed fuel to keep you going, you know.
Luxi: Absolutely! That's what it does for sure. Thanks one more time and enjoy your time here in Finland!
|Other information about Anthrax on this site|
|Review: Spreading the Disease|
|Review: Worship Music|
|Review: Anthrax/Testament Live in Worcester|
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