“It’s not just music; it’s life.”
Anthrax has earned every fan, every sold-out show, and every gold album by never compromising, touring nonstop, and being the dependable construction crew of metal. With many of its peers breaking up after a few albums and tours, Anthrax has proven to be the Energizer bunnies of metal. Now in their 35th year of business, Anthrax continues to bring the noise and leave it all on the stage.
I was able to reach the affable, passionate, and articulate bass player, Frank Bello, weeks before the band left for another big tour. We discussed Anthrax’s enduring success, trials and tribulations, the legacy of the Big Four, and their 2016 release, For All Kings.
Where are you today, Frank?
In NYC and it’s raining hard. I’m just the handyman when I’m home, and I’m trying to do get some work done before I leave on tour. I’m doing some work on my deck, but I might screw it up and have to hire someone else to fix it. [laughs]
What has 2016 been like for you?
I actually forgot how hard we’ve been going at it with touring; it’s been nonstop.
We’ve been going at the touring thing for a long time. The more touring you do, the more people hear your music. It is it what it is. This is what we do and we’re lucky to be around for 35 years. It’s easy to break up. It’s a marriage and you have to work on it. When I joined in the band, I was 17. We’ve all grown up and have families. The constant is we still love writing a great song. That still feeds us. The hour and half on stage is why we do it, and to connect with like-minded metal fans. People are connecting with For All Kings.
Is there a lot of pressure to create and record new music?
People said that about Worship Music. Quite honestly, I like pressure. I totally feed on it and love being on the stage. It’s almost like a drug. I need the fire under my ass to get me going. All we can do is do our best as songwriters and performers. Feed that fire in the belly and you write these songs, and we have to live with them and dissect them. Each song has to be ready and we take our time with each song. I like that process and it means everything.
Anthrax has been around for 35 years. Did you expect that longevity?
No, not at all. We didn’t really think about longevity. Now that we’re older, it’s like, Wow, we’re still here, and thankfully it’s been very fulfilling.
I was a roadie when I first started with Anthrax. I didn’t think I’d be around forever. You play, so you understand. You just start with playing and getting your music out and playing live. Let’s just do our thing and do our best. It lies where it lies.
What is your opinion of modern metal and current bands?
I’ve been listening to a lot of different things on shuffle lately and crazier stuff. I was just listening to Tool last night. I dig them and their musicianship. Maybe I’m going through new songs. I like melody in songs and a good riff; I also like a good heavy vocal. I’ve been listening to Crowbot and they’re my good friends. Good guys and good songs, and they have a new record coming out. I always try to give everything a chance. The mind is a sponge, and I never close my mind or ears to any kind of music.
I heard that you guys lived on $5 per person, per day in the early days. That’s dedication.
I’ll tell you man, that’s literally a real story. On the first Anthrax tour, we had no money. It was 1984 and you could get an egg on a roll. Our per diem was $5 and you had to make it stretch. If you really wanted [success], you had to sit down in a van and crisscross the country. It was always about that goal and what was good for the band. We only could get one hotel room if we were lucky. No one cried about it and everything worked out. These are just the things that you have to go through; it’s called paying your dues. It makes you who you are. It’s not just music; it’s life. That’s my old-school mentality and I live it. I still think we leave it all on the stage. We can’t do anything or make music that we don’t believe in, and we’re still that way.
You’ve sold over 10 million albums and done so without massive airplay and only sparse exposure on MTV. To what do you attribute your success?
I attribute our success to the fans and us being able to play to them. It’s still all about word of mouth, even with social media. We’re still fans of music, of playing music. Thankfully, the music we’ve written for Kings and Worship is really being accepted by our fans.
Does being part of the Big Four still mean something to you?
Of course; I’m grateful. Number one, it’s given us this great life. Metallica was the biggest band at the time and still are. They didn’t need any of us, but they gave us all a huge opportunity. They’re awesome in every way. They don’t forget where they come from and I tip my hat to them. They brought us all [Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax] out to support the thrash thing. We’ve all grew up in the same thing, so it was a huge celebration.
I would love to do another one right now. If Metallica called today, Anthrax would be back. It was a very special thing and it helped us take our next step. It all really started from the Big Four tour. They’re awesome people and I’m happy about their new song. They should put out what they want and whenever they want. They’re still one of the biggest bands and we love the fact that they just put out a heavy song.
Is there any more acting in your future?
Yes; if I didn’t enjoy it, I just wouldn’t do it. It’s a great escape from the touring lifestyle. I liked going to an acting class, branching out, and becoming another person and character. I like that whole process. It’s a lot like building a song. For me, it has nothing to do with fame; it’s the challenge and fun of it. I found living another person’s life was really interesting. I just had a call from my agent the other day; she wanted to know when I’ll be home and available for auditions. It’s good to be busy. Now that I have a family, I have to balance everything, but I’d definitely go on some readings. Anthrax is still my day job and will always come first.
You were briefly in Helmet. How did that happen?
I’m still good friends with Page [Hamilton, Helmet lead guitarist and vocalist]. In fact, I owe him a phone call. I needed a break from Anthrax and we all needed a break from each other. Johnny Tempesta [drummer of The Cult, White Zombie, and Rob Zombie] told me to come jam with them. I had met Page, but I didn’t know him well; Johnny said just come out and hang with us. I came out on a whim and we had a blast. We did a year and half for the tour and playing that record [Size Matters]. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had touring, and we just had a blast. Page writes great songs and I was into them way before I played with them, so I already knew the songs. I cherish that time. It was also great playing with Johnny. In high school, we played together in jazz classes, so we’ve known each other for a while. It was just a good time hanging with good friends.
How does Anthrax use social media and the internet to connect with fans?
I fought it at first. Quite honestly, I didn’t understand it at the time. I didn’t want to spend too much time on it. I started on Twitter first; it was a direct connection to fans. You can’t be there for every question. It’s great way to let people know what you’re doing, because people do care and they want to know. Every once in a while you get a weird one. I do Instagram a bit; I kind of post things occasionally. It’s important in this world with illegal downloading and no music on MTV. That’s the way you have to do it and let people know about your tour and new records.
Is For All Kings a departure from or a continuation of the Anthrax sound?
It’s just the next step. I don’t like to look forward or back; all we can do is live in the moment. I’m excited because we’re tighter and we think we’ve tapped into something cooler. We’re stoked about the future and we live to play the next show. Even though we’re older, we’re still excited and love to play for the people.
We’ve always found a way to continue to make this music and that’s our mentality. We always just make it work.
I read that you were on tour in Europe during the Chernobyl accident. What was that like?
That was before social media and we were just kids touring Europe. Unfortunately, it hurt a lot of people. They were saying the radioactive winds were blowing over Europe and we had tons of warnings about not eating meat or vegetables. We got through it. It was such a disaster for the folks over there and just horrible.
You were on Married…with Children years ago. Do people still remember that?
That’s one of the biggest things, promotion wise, we ever did. That was huge exposure and it was just on a whim. Mitzy, that runs Megaforce [record label], asked the show’s people if they needed any bands. Turns out someone on the show liked us. They treated us like gold and flew us out to L.A. And, I still get a two-dollar check. [laughs]
Do you guys feel liked you helped create the marriage between rap and metal?
I guess you could say that, but I think we just wanted to do something really creative. We were fans of rap at the time, and Chuck D’s voice and Public Enemy specifically. It worked out really well. Chuck said it was one of the best things he’s done. People said it couldn’t be done and we thought, Why not? I know he’s doing the Prophets of Rage project and I’d like to see him if I get a chance.
How are fans responding to Anthrax in 2016?
Fans are telling us that we sound better live than ever. That’s the payoff and that’s why we still do it, that energy on the stage. I look forward to that and starting the tour with Slayer in Cleveland.
What was the most difficult thing you experienced?
The death of my brother was the worst thing that happened to me. We were supposed to go to Japan and my brother was killed right before leaving. I know my brother would have wanted me to continue with Anthrax.
In 35 years of Anthrax, things have taken a lot of turns. You have to roll with it and take the punches. We’re huge Robert De Niro fans; we love that line: “We never went down.” I hate the “music business,” but I love music. The politics of the business can take all the fun out of it.
I feel bad for the younger bands. We never really had a lot of airplay or video; we did it the old-school way. We stayed on the road. We’re doing it now, a seven-week tour. It’s not easy anymore, but we keep doing it because we love it. I still want to write new material and a great riff. That’s why I picked up a guitar and bass. Businesswise I get it, but Anthrax will continue to make new records, and I’m just waiting to see what’s next.
Is there anyone you want to collaborate with?
We’ve always wanted to work with AC/DC. [laughs] We’ve never played with them at all. I just want to keep writing good songs and keep the fire in the belly. That’s what keeps me going.
Have you heard Axl sing for AC/DC?
Yes, Axl is sounding pretty good and singing the old songs really well. I wasn’t sure he could do it, but if I have an opportunity, I will definitely catch them live. | Doug Tull
Anthrax will be appearing at The Pageant in St. Louis on September 22, with Slayer and Death Angel to open. Full U.S. tour dates follow.
09.09 | Jacobs Pavilion, Cleveland
09.10 | Freedom Hill Amphitheater, Detroit
09.11 | Streeter’s Ground Zero, Traverse City, MI
09.12 | Sound Academy, Toronto
09.13 | Metropolis, Montreal
09.15 | Stage AE, Pittsburgh
09.16 | Saint Vitus, Brooklyn
09.17 | Revolution Rock Festival, New London
09.18 | Rock Allegiance Festival, Chester, PA
09.19 | Egyptian Room, Indianapolis
09.21 | Concord Music Hall, Chicago
09.22 | The Pageant, St Louis
09.23 | Riverside Warehouse, Shreveport, LA
09.24 | Houston Open Air, Houston
09.25 | Ozzfest Meets Knotfest, San Bernardino, CA