Interview by Paul Salfen
It’s hard to believe Anthrax has been around for 35 years now. As one of the Big Four in thrash metal – the other three being Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer, the band has been consistently consistent since the ‘80s, cranking out new and interesting music and always putting on an energetic show. Bassist Frank Bello, a member since 1984, who joined shortly after the release of the band’s first albumafter being a roadie for the band in high school, is now 51 and a family man, but looks exactly the same as he did decades ago on stage. Backstage at House of Blues in Dallas, he still looks great and still has the fire, despite the mundane surroundings. “At least there’s a Hooters outside,” he cracks.
The band is touring with Killswitch Engage on the “Killthrax Tour” in support of their latest album, For All Kings, which has been received very well by critics and fans alike.
AMFM Magazine: We’ve been getting a lot more Anthrax lately it seems, but this is an interesting package tour with Killswitch Engage. It looks like a great reason to see the band yet again.
Frank Bello: Yes! This is the Killthrax Tour and we’ve been very lucky along the way with all of our tours. We kind of like touring with friends and this couldn’t be better because the guys in Killswitch, they’re just fun people, good people, great band and the co-headlining thing totally works. We’re getting the people who have heard of Anthrax and never heard a song and are giving it a shot and it’s the same thing for Killswitch so it’s a good thing and then you’ve got The Devil Wears Prada – awesome – and Code Orange. And I’ve been watching each band each night because I like watching how everyone is doing and everybody is having fun, man. The crowds are really into it.
AMFM: Tours aren’t always like that, are they?
FB: No, man! Especially now – there’s so much competition with bands and packages playing every night so you gotta give people – and you have to, want to give them everything – give them your best package and this really speaks well of it.
AMFM: I can’t believe it’s been 35 years!
FB: Me either. I don’t feel it and I don’t think anyone in my band feels it and when you say “35 years,” it feels like a lifetime, especially for a band. That’s like two lifetimes – or something like that. We certainly don’t feel – and you’ll see this in the shows – there’s no slowing us down to say the least. I don’t see it. I look at that as a badge on honor that we can do it and do it well for this amount of time. That’s what people say – I’m not just saying it. I’m very proud of that. People are saying we’re at the top of our game now and that’s a great thing to hear.
AMFM: Well, you’re putting out new music that people are loving and you’re hitting just as hard as you ever did.
FB: Maybe harder. And touring – let’s face it: you’re only touring if people want to see you. So it’s a great compliment and we’re very fortunate and I feel blessed in that way. We all do. But I can’t remember touring this much since the ‘80s. We’re doing this and doing it hard. Before this tour started, we had ten days off and we all have families at this point, you know, so we had six weeks in Europe, we had literally ten days off to say hello to our families, kiss everybody, bring my kid to school for a couple of days, and this is six weeks, then we have a week off, and then go right to Japan after that. Look, this is all good stuff. I’m not bitching about it. I feel very fortunate to do this – but right after that we go into Europe again for festivals and wife a little bit, and hang out and decompress a little bit. I think it’s better for the band to have a month off. From what I hear, we’re starting again in October.
AMFM: Is touring harder for you now then because of the family situation?
FB: Yeah. I’ll tell you what helps – I mean a little bit because it’s not flesh and you’re not there, but FaceTime and technology. I tell ya, if this was the ‘80s, I couldn’t do it this long without seeing my boy. I have an 11-year- old son, so without seeing him every day, letting him know that daddy’s here because my father left when I was young, so I have to make sure he knows I’m there for him every day. Family is before everything for me. Music is great for me – I love it, but family first and everything after that. FaceTime helps because I flew home on a couple of days off and it really kicks the shit out of you. Airports – and you know this – are completely different now. I flew home and I’d be like, “Hi, hello!” and then passing out like Homer Simpson.
AMFM: So is it the fans that keep you going?
FB: It is. We’re doing an hour and 15 on this tour and that time makes it all worthwhile. It’s not just a bullshit line. It’s the truth. That’s what you live for. This whole thing during the day is good – we’re at House of Blues in Dallas tonight, I get to see my friend Vinnie Paul from Pantera, who I love and I got buddies coming out tonight and that’s good, but I haven’t seen my kid in a week now and I haven’t been home bringing him to school and stuff in a month now so this will all ware on you but the hour and fifteen or hour and a half on stage each night will make it all worthwhile.
AMFM: And now you also spend time meeting the fans where they can meet you guys before the show in a VIP meet-and- greet situation, which is fun for them.
FB: That’s the name of the game now. Let’s face it: all bands do this now and it’s a cool way for the fans to get a little more close to the band and it’s a side income for the band, and management makes everything work now. Let’s face it – record sales? With illegal downloading now, look, we’ve been very blessed and sold a whole lot of records but the record business – whatever that means now – is just not what it used to be.
AMFM: But you’re still putting out great records regardless and I understand you may have another one next year?
FB: Yeah. But we’re not working on it now because we’re booked until January I think. But everybody’s got their phones now and they go in and write their little riffs and we’ll start bouncing them together but not now. We need some family time first before that happens. We all have our personal stuff and then we’ll bring it all to the table.
AMFM: In the meantime, you’ve got a box set now and a DVD coming out – and your own beer for the fans to drink!
FB: Yeah, man. The whole thing is you’ve got to keep progressing and we’re working on the DVD now and the box set is out now and it’s awesome. It’s all about the fans. It’s not just a money grab because you don’t make a lot of money on it. I’m a fan of this music. I’m an old diehard KISS fan and they always made sure the fans had something cool for them. I think we do that. Yeah, it’s really cool for the fans and it costs some money, but that’s pretty special if you’re a fan. You open that thing up and – you know, I don’t even have one yet. They haven’t sent one to my house yet, but I’m in the band! But some kid showed it to me and I’m like, “This is awesome! We agreed on everything, but to hold it in your hands is really cool. We have this Anthrax Wardance beer that I’m very proud of and it took a long time I want people to know. We don’t just slap our name on anything. We’re pretty much beer snobs. We love our beer. There was a lot of back and forth. I remember tasting and testing and there were so many sendbacks. We all agreed on one – which is a rarity – and that’s Wardance. I’m so proud – you can’t drink just one. I had a case and when it was done – it only took a couple of days! I was like, “Fuck yeah, this is our beer!”
AMFM: Will we be able to have some of this at the show tonight?
FB: There’s a lot of licensing deals and it’s really hard to get it in to a lot of places so we’re actually telling people to ask for it. When the proprietors are asked about it, that’s the only way they can get it in. We can’t do it so people have to ask, which they’re doing, so that’s great.
AMFM: Speaking of the box set, you obviously have so much music you could play each night, so how do you narrow it down to a smaller set like that?
FB: This is the hard part when you’ve been around 30-something years. You have this plethora of songs and this list and fans tweeting in but it’s really hard to make people happy. So you try but mostly you just stick to a set and give it a punch in the face – give it everything you’ve got. I think we have a good set because we’ve seen the fans’ reactions and everyone seems pretty happy.
AMFM: Will we see you do more acting?
FB: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I actually owe my agent a call and that’s funny owing her a call. She looked at my schedule and she said, “I went to Anthrax.com. When are you not working so I can get you to read for some things?” Look, it’s good to work with Anthrax and stuff, but I do miss that. I don’t give a fuck about fame or anything like that but that is just something – living inside another person’s character that I love. I’ve studied and theater – that’s just another extension. It’s creating and it’s fun but Anthrax first.
AMFM: So what inspires you these days?
FB: My son. Songwriting? I have a side project with David Ellefson [Megadeth] called Altitudes & Attitude that we do that you can get on iTunes. We did an EP a couple of years ago. We’re making time – I’m actually going to his house tomorrow in Phoenix. We have a couple of extra songs recorded and we’re gonna write a couple more and putting that out next year and doing some shows with that, so that inspires me because I’m mainly singing on that for the most part – and it’s just a lot of fun, heavy rock songs.
AMFM: And he has to be one of the nicest guys ever.
FB: One of my best buds in the world. That’s why it works so well. It’s easy. We don’t think about anything, we just have fun writing songs and that’s what we’ll do tomorrow – we’ll have fun just putting some good music together with some good melodies and that’s what matters.
AMFM: What was the show that you looked at the stage and said, “That’s what I want to do.”
FB: KISS. 1976, Nassau Coliseum, the Destroyer tour. That was it for me. I saw those guys up there and I said, “That’s what I have to do” not “want to do” and it lit a fire under my ass to make sure it happened. Look, at the end of the day, with Anthrax, we try and write great songs and put on a great show and that’s what all the bands I loved did: Sabbath, AC/DC, Rush, Maiden, all that great stuff. We’re just trying to continue that for the next generation and pass it on to the next generation. That’s really what’s going on now.
AMFM: Speaking of the next generation, I know a lot of kids are looking up to you now and seeing what they want to do. What do you tell them now? The business has changed so much since you probably first started giving advice.
FB: Hey, don’t bullshit around. If you want this, it’s got to be all or nothing. Look…I sound like a father now, but get your education. To be really honest, I graduated with honors in The Bronx in high school. I graduated six months early. I doubled up my credits – and I’m not bragging, this is how badly I wanted to get in Anthrax. I got in the band and I was still in high school at 17 and I had to double up my credits because Anthrax was going on tour before the school year ended. I went to school from 8 o’clock until 4:30 in the afternoon to get in the band. That’s how badly I wanted it and I knew what I wanted to do. I could have gone for baseball because that was also a passion of mine but I knew this was going to win over. I got lucky.
AMFM: Not to mention, you started as a roadie for the band.
FB: Absolutely. You see, that’s the whole thing. I knew that I could do it when I saw it. It was easy enough to take it from here to there. I could string a guitar, I knew how to play, but I knew I wanted to be on the stage. That’s where I belonged.