Interview by Robert Cavuoto
After 35 years, Anthrax bassist Frank Bello is still humbled and appreciative of fans paying him a compliment. The band’s career has never been easy as they have weathered the storm despite member changes, the introduction of grunge, and the downturn of the record industry. With dedication and hard work, the band has prevailed; overcoming all the challenges that have been hurdled at them. After speaking with Frank about the band’s career he seems to take things in stride, chalking his resilience up to being a New Yorker who loves the pressure – in fact he thrives on it.
Since the band Big 4 Tour in 2010 with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth; Anthrax has found its stride, gained momentum, and feels rejuvenated. To prove it, they release a monster CD Worship Music in 2011 which was met with critical acclaim and sales. In 2016 they released, For All Kings which could possibly be the band’s best work to date. I’ve interviewed countless musicians and rock star and found Frank to be a regular guy; grounded quite possibly by his modest Italian upbringing. A guy that knows what is important and they follows it through. With his partners Scott Ian [guitar], Charlie Benante [drums], Joey Belladonna [vocals] and newest member Jon Donais [lead guitar], the band is playing better, writing better, and working harder than ever before. He sums up his career in Anthrax in one statement – “We’ve rolled with the punches and we never went down!”
I caught up with Frank prior to leaving on a 7 week tour of the US with Slayer and Death Angel to talk about the band’s career and the legacy they have forged!
Robert Cavuoto: Being a fan of Anthrax for a long time, it really comes across that you guys are re-energized since Worship Music. From the band’s perspective does it feel that way as well?
Frank Bello: After all these years of hearing that, it never gets old and it still feels great. After 35 years you just have to say that I’m very thankful and want to do is be my best. Thank you! This band has new life, it’s like a resurgence; even before Worship Music it really started with the Big 4 Tour. I have to credit Metallica and will always be thankful to them to for that. They didn’t have to do the Big 4. That really gave us a kick in the ass to be a band again and be real with it. I swear there has been non-stop momentum since that tour. After 35 years people are saying For All Kings is our best work to date. It’s the most humbling thing you can hear. I feel that way too, but hey I’m one of the songwriters and in the band. When you ask, “Are we are reenergized?” that’s an understatement to how we all feel. We are hungrier now as a band than I can remember being in the 80s. We know who we are as writers and tapped into something that gets us going. We are fans of writing music! What you want to do as a songwriter is to hopefully connect and feed that fire in your gut. You want to connect with other fans. For All Kings and Worship Music are really connecting with all the fans.
Robert: Anthrax has a unique signature sound from CD to CD regardless of who is singing. I attribute that to the rhythm section and writing of you, Scott, and Charlie all in lock step. Do you agree?
Frank Bello: Thanks for saying that, I believe that too. You know that I grew up with Charlie in the same house and same family so we had that connection from an early age. I’ve known Scott for 35 years. That’s longer than a lot of friendships or marriages. [laughing]. That’s the way I look at it, Charlie, Scott, and I have been together so long and know each other so well. It’s all about songs starting with that same fire in your gut. You bring that to the stage and all you want is that vibe between you and that audience and it all starts with a song.
Robert: Anthrax is a band that wrote some albums without the benefit of having a steady singer, when you are creating music and coming up with riffs. Whose voice do you hear in your head when you didn’t have a singer?
Frank Bello: First you want a good riff and melody. When knowing who the singer is, it’s a lot easier from the perspective of the person’s range of what he can or can’t handle. Coming into Worship Music and All Kings, it was much easier writing melodies just knowing Joey’s voice. I have to tell you and this is not a kiss up to Joey but he’s better now than he has ever been. I stand on stage with him every night and the dude is just a phenomenon. I never heard of any singer that doesn’t warm up and can still sing like he does. I’m a background singer and have things that I do to prepare. He is so consistent and I’m a fan of his voice. He has a gift from God and it’s a beautiful gift. I’m thankful to be in a band with him. We heard from fans that the band has never sounded better live. That’s the pay off when people like your songs and telling you it’s was an energetic live show. That’s why we do it, for that hour and a half on stage! Next Friday we start a tour in Cleveland with Slayer and Death Angel and I look forward to that.
Robert: In Scott’s book I’m the Man, he points out some of the band’s darkest times, whether it was a bad LP, cancelling a tour, losing a member, or losing money – what do you think was the band’s darkest time?
Frank Bello: There was a few of them [laughing]. For me personally it was the death of my brother who was a big fan of the band. We were going to cancel a tour of Japan like 10 days later. I had to do it because my brother was such a fan of the band he wouldn’t want to see me holding up the momentum of the band. He was always very supportive of us. So I did that in memory of him. That was the darkest time for me because everything else is business. You have to realize after 35 years, life takes on a whole different character. In life everything goes on and you have to roll with the punches; you have no choice. We recently met Robert Deniro and it’s like the line in Raging Bull, “Never went down.” You can take your punches but never go down.
Robert: That’s a great perspective on how to look at it, you can always replace the money, but you can never replace a lost life.
Frank Bello: I hate the music business. I know hate is a strong word, but I love music with all of my heart, love with a capital “L.” But the business side is ridiculous and what goes. The politics takes all the fun out of it and you really have to learn how to balance it out. That’s the hard part. Records are replaced with downloads and you have to stay on the road. That’s just another punch you have to role with. I feel bad for the younger bands as it’s much harder. Anthrax never really had radio play or videos on heavy rotation we made it was the old school way of staying on the road and making people hear our music. We are about to embark on a 7 week tour with Slayer and Death Angel, they are both good buddies of ours and we will have a blast, but it’s not easy as we all have families and it’s tough being away 7 weeks in a row.
Robert: Speaking of the music business Anthrax has proved many bands wrong who have gone in the press saying there is no sense to making new CDs when they will always be compared to their previous work. Anthrax has made new music equal to or not better to their past work and been successful! What do you say to those bands?
Frank Bello: Thank for saying that and spreading that message. There is nothing more fulfilling to hear. Thank you sincerely and it’s what we as a band want to hear. I can’t image us resting on our laurels. You have to create new, we are songwriters. I don’t want to live on songs we wrote 20 years ago! I can’t do it; we’ll play them of course. It’s the spark that happens in creating the atom, it’s that energy. That hope of a new riff and melody, that’s why we all started this. That’s the reason I picked up a guitar and bass. I really don’t understand any other thinking. Business-wise I understand that side of it. Creatively Anthrax is ready and willing to make new music. I want to see what will happen next as we are in a really good place in writing; it’s the sweet spot and we are happy with it. I think we found ourselves.
Robert: Is there a certain expectation or pressure moving forward with each CD that it has to be equally as good or better?
Frank Bello: I love pressure. Maybe it’s a New York thing [laughing]. I love the challenge of it all. Just write the best songs you can, don’t try and compete with your last work. If it comes from your gut then you are set. All I want to do is leave it on the stage. In terms of the process, you won’t believe what goes into each song. We have to live with it and listen to them over & over. We just can’t throw it out there. That’s why it takes so long to write an Anthrax record. I’m glad we have that process; you don’t want to write and just put it out. You want to dissect it and make sure every part gets you going. It important you have to care about what you are doing. The songs are my life and then turn into fans life after they listen to it. The last thing you want to do is let yourself down first, if you do that you let everyone else down.
Robert: Getting a bit nostalgic, tell me about the first time you realized your success?
Frank Bello: It’s funny that you say that because I’m oblivious to a lot of things. A lot of people say the 80s were a blur, but I didn’t even drink in the 80s. We weren’t drug or liquor induced; we were just doing so much touring. The first time I guess I noticed was when we played the Hammersmith Odeon in London. I remember says “Wow, we are playing two sold out nights?” That was big time. Of course there is Motorhead’s LP No Sleep ‘till Hammersmith and that was a big thing in my life. I thought we must be doing ok. It was the 80s and this type of music was on the up rise. It was a fun ride.
Robert: Did you treat yourself or buy anything special once you felt you had “made it”?
Frank Bello: I don’t treat myself to anything! [laughing] Here is why, I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, I know the value of a dollar and I’m not extravagant. I had a Honda and I have an 11 year old Nissan Pathfinder. I don’t go extravagant, it’s not my thing. I just need to get from point A to point B. You have to realize the days of multi-millionaire rock stars is gone. You have to remember lawsuits take away from a lot of that as well. [laughing]. I have a family and a child and I want to support them. I’m very much a family guy and when I’m off tour I’m in my house working; probably cutting my hands up. [laughing] I was just outside working on my deck before speaking with you. I’m leaving next week for the tour and have to make sure everything is done.
Robert: If Anthrax ended tomorrow, what be the crown jewel accomplishment for you?
Frank Bello: Wow, great question. Thirty five years and it’s been a great run; I’m very thankful. I have to say the #1 thing would be playing Yankee Stadium. I thought when we played Madison Square Garden with Clash of the Titans that was the quintessential New York band moment but when the Big 4 called and said we were going to play Yankee Stadium, you kind of shit your pants [laughing]. Until I saw the tickets, I didn’t really believe it was going to happen. I grew up in the Bronx 10 minutes from the stadium and a Yankee fan. It was a very surreal thing to have the band I’ve been with for so many years with all trials and tribulations to actually play Yankee Stadium. That’s was a big time. My Grandmother who I grew up with in the same house was Charlie’s Mom. She was at the show as it was her last Anthrax show so I was really thrilled about that. She got to see the biggest show for her son’s and grandson’s career. There were a lot of things going on that night, not only for Anthrax but knowing that she was sick, we were happy knowing she was there.