Interview by Robert Cavuoto
The new full-length debut CD from Altitudes & Attitude, Get it Out, was just released via Megaforce on January 18th. A&A is a collaboration between two of the world’s greatest Thrash Metal bassists, David Ellefson of Megadeth and Frank Bello of Anthrax. These two leviathan bass players have anchored some of the fiercest thrash records of all time.
Get It Out reaches far beyond the boundaries of an all-star metal outing or an instrumental chops fest. The songs are fast, aggressive, and melodic with thought-provoking lyrics. The album is a testament to the expressive strength finely crafted songs. For this release, Frank and David reached out to many of their musician friends to help like guitarists Ace Frehley, Gus G, Nita Strauss, and drummer Jeff Friedl.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Frank and David at the Cutting Room in New York City prior to them taking part in a Q&A and live performance for BackStory with Brad Tolinski. In my interview, they both share their excitement for the new release, the pivotal moment they knew they were on to something great, as well as their passion and desire to create powerful music.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you realized you and Frank had a unique chemistry, and this CD is going to be great?
David Ellefson: Probably when we got together in my house to toss songs back and forth we both felt we had something really cool. That was before we even went into the studio. The original thought was we were going to write some backing tracks for a clinic. All of sudden it went way beyond that as we had some real songs. We went into the studio in LA, and Jeff Friedl from Perfect Circle laid down the drums. Once we started overdubbing, we were both taken back. It reinforced that we have something here. It put us on the track, and it’s been a labor of love making this CD for the last several years.
Robert Cavuoto: My thought prior to listening to the CD was it was going to be a thrash-fest of bass solos, but I was truly blown away by it how melodic, groove inspired, and tasteful it was. Tell me about the musical departure from Thrash and to take a different musical approach.
David Ellefson: We didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what this was going to be. We went from bass tracks to songs. We pushed out that three-song EP in 2014 and got a great response. People loved Frank’s voice, the melody, and the type of songs we were writing. That gave us the vote of confidence to keep going. Next step was to see what else we have in the pipeline.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m sure you could have both could have easily written songs that sound like Megadeth and Anthrax, but you chose not to go in that direction.
David Ellefson: We are already in two of the greatest Thrash bands in the history of the world; so why try to go head-to-head with that? We get to do that at the highest level with the best Thrash players in the business from our bands. This wasn’t a situation where we said we need to go form another band. In fact, the title of the CD and the title track, “Get it Out” is just what that is about. It’s about that need to get these emotions out of us. In this case, get these songs out of us. It is cathartic to write songs, but it’s also nice for someone to hear and enjoy them. To go through the process of recording and pushing a CD out is a good feeling. Now that it’s done, it’s out of our hands; now we do whatever is asked of us from this point on.
Robert Cavuoto: You have a very tasty bass lead on “Here Again,” having two talented bassists in this band was it a conscious decision to break the norm rather than play the lead on a guitar?
David Ellefson: That’s a track I brought in on guitar because I love playing heavy metal/hard rock riffs. I thought about it and figured I would step up and play lead bass. Let’s get real about it as people are going to want to hear that. It’s fun to do it and not just relying on a guitarist to put it in there. We had Gus G from Ozzy’s band come in and a shred a lead. But your right as far as the melodies are concerned you can strip the vocal out, and it can be its own instrumental track.
Robert Cavuoto: How important is it to influence musicians and kids just starting out to think out of the box on what a bassist can do other than laying down an unflinching backbeat for the guitarists?
David Ellefson: When we were set up to do this, I called Frank to ask him if he had any weird or quirky instruments in his closet that he could bring. He told me that he has a 12 string bass in his closet, the neck was kind of bowed, and it needs some work. I told him to bring it! We had an eight-string bass in the studio, and that’s what we started to use to play these lead bass riffs on. We plugged into a Kemper and got a nice distorted tone on it. We could have soloed all day on that bass! Different instruments have different tones which can inspire you, so I like to have a variety of instruments around the house and certainly when I’m in the studio working. When you pick it up, you can suddenly find a song in that instrument. That can be a special thing, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive instrument! You can use anything to find the magic of it and pull something out. We discovered that several times with instruments on this CD.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you and Frank struggle on who would play bass for certain tracks?
David Ellefson: Not at all. To be honest with you, when Frank was bringing in songs he was bringing them in from a guitarist and singer perspective. My natural inclination was to just grab the bass. I love playing bass to the kind of songs he wrote. I think I played bass on all the songs except “Here Again” where Frank and I both played bass and traded leads. In the late 70s/early 80s coming out of the punk scene, there were was this very aggressive pick bass style of playing which I loved when I was growing up. Adam Clayton of U2 is the most famous of that style. It is simple but very aggressive, and sometimes all the notes are played on one string [laughing], but it’s powerful. Also, so much of what we do in Thrash metal is very aggressive progressive it’s so it’s fun to divert off of that to just lay into the songs and play them a different way. My theory is that when the guitars are busy, the bass should be simple, but in this band, the guitars are really simple which allows for the bass to get a busier.
Robert Cavuoto: One of my guitar heroes, Ace Frehley, plays on “Late” how did that come about?
David Ellefson: Frank was in the studio strumming on “Late.” He looks up at me and says, “We should really get Ace to play the solo on this!” It was the perfect song for him, and we all looked at each other and thought it was a good idea! We got a hold of Ace, and he did this solo which is in typical Ace fashion. There are a lot of famous people on this CD and that’s because we needed great players and they happen to be our friends. This was not an attempt to flood the CD with a bunch of famous guys.
Frank Bello: We would never do that anyway [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: Frank you’re not really a shy guy on stage when playing with Anthrax; always giving the rally cry to whip the audience into a frenzy. Tell me about the dichotomy of playing bass in that situation and now being the frontman in this band?
Frank Bello: I really don’t feel like a frontman, I just feel like it’s David and me on stage. I just do the vocals surrounded by some great players. Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal helps me a lot with all the guitar tones. I’m a bass player who plays rhythm guitar and writes songs, that’s what I do. I’m very thankful for all the good reviews and what I’m really enjoying is the positive feedback which means we are connecting with people. They are reading the lyrics which is important to me as maybe it can help someone get through their day. It’s all therapy to me.
Robert Cavuoto: Any sense of nervousness being the frontman knowing you are the focal point when performing live?
Frank Bello: If it’s one thing in life that I have learned; only being 27 years old of course [laughing], is never to say, “I should have.” You only get one shot at life, and I want to do everything. What’s there to be nervous about? When I’m on stage, I think of it as being in my living room. This is exactly what I do in my living room; I even have a microphone set up in my living room! [Laughing] When my wife comes home, it goes away. I have a great time doing this, writing music, and playing songs. We are very lucky to do what we do.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have a favorite frontman outside of Anthrax and Megadeth that you try to emulate or channel while on stage?
David Ellefson: When I look over at him I see Paul Stanley. [Laughing] I just catch him doing it, it’s cool because it’s early New York Paul Stanley from the 70s.
Frank Bello: Paul Stanley is a big influence to me. He is a great singing who writes great songs, so that is a compliment. We are sponges, so all of our influences from our entire lives are coming out in our music. That’s what you hear on this CD.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the desire, love, and passion you still have for thrash that makes you continue to play it?
Frank Bello: We are fans! That energy in our gut never dies. I’m hungrier now than I have ever been. This music satisfies my inner rage. It’s helped me get through things through-out my life.
Robert Cavuoto: I think your voice has a similar sound and styling to Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters.
Frank Bello: Thank you that’s a great compliment. It’s a learning process, so I just sing how I sing and whatever comes out is the way it is. Thankfully people like it. I see it as another instrument. I don’t see it as a voice. David has a bass; I have a guitar let’s get this song out.
Robert Cavuoto: You even have a “Get it Out” coffee to commemorate the CD.
David Ellefson: It is lighter Indonesian espresso roast. With Sumatra being one of my favorite islands of the Indonesian Island, my favorite coffee comes from there. Megadeth recently did a show out there, and they had a coffee bar right before you walked out on stage. They were weighing it and grinding it with his nice red hair. It sounds like we are talking about marijuana but its coffee. [Laughing]. It’s funny that we can do that with the coffee company and push out artist roast for our friends. Sometimes it’s just a merch item for people to have me sign and others love to drink it. It’s another fun little thing for us.
Robert Cavuoto: You have a bunch of dates in Europe some opening for Slash, what was the thinking to go out to Europe first?
David Ellefson: The CD is releasing worldwide on January 18th, and this short run of dates in New York was just added a few weeks ago. St. Vitus Bar in Brooklyn just happened to be open so we can have the CD release show on Saturday, January 19th. We are doing an acoustic show at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on Friday, January 18th. BackStory was kind enough to have us here tonight; Brad Tolinski of Guitar World is a dear friend of ours. These three shows came out of nowhere, and we have the Shiprocked Cruise coming up, and we are talking about having A&A on there. Europe was booked back in October and Frank brought up that Slash was going on tour, he happens to be in town, so I ran down to see him and brought him our EP and some Roast in Peace coffee. My heavy metal love language is coffee [laughing]. Then I went to see Alice in Chains who were playing a block away from where Slash was playing. I think it is a good fit to play with him; he is one of the good guys in the business. His shows are all sold out; he doesn’t need us to play. The truth is that he offered us the stage for a handful of shows in Europe and we are really glad to go. The phones lit up last night, so there may be more things here in America. Frank and I are also working on new CDs for Anthrax and Megadeth, and Frank has tour dates with Slayer. Now we have the luxurious problem of scheduling which is a good thing.
Robert Cavuoto: Speaking of acoustic shows, I thought tonight’s show in the Cutting Room was going to be acoustic or a stripped down performance. You brought enough gear for MSG; I’m completely blown away about what’s on stage.
Frank Bello: So did the staff here at the Cutting Room! [he and David burst out on laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: Can you share where you are with your respective band CDs and what we can expect?
David Ellefson: Were working on it! [Laughing] That’s all I can say. It will be done when it is done.
Robert Cavuoto: Dave Mustaine said it will be the heaviest Megadeth CD to date, do you agree?
David Ellefson: It certainly is sounding like it. I’ll say Dirk Verbeuren really captures the spirit of Gar Samuelson more than any other drummer we have ever had. That’s exciting because Gar had a unique style that was very not metal. It gave Megadeth a different sound in the early days. We’re literally laying the tracks down now.
Frank Bello: Same thing for Anthrax, it’s in the works, and we are doing some shows with Slayer in Australia and Japan, in March we will be writing a record. It will be under the radar. It’s time as we have been out for quite a long time. It’s time to put it away for a while and recreate anger!