There are some musicians who wear their rock star status like a golden crown twenty-four/seven. And then there are musicians who walk down the street and you’d never know they were in a superstar band. They chat with you while in line at the supermarket and wear the same old ripped-up jeans they’ve had for years. Being a rock star just never crossed their minds. Frank Bello of Anthrax is that kind of rock star.
“It’s just me,” he laughed when I told him I was honored to be interviewing him. Just a regular guy at the vet with his wife and son because his beloved dog was having some eye problems, his everyday job just happens to be playing bass in front of thousands of people on a pretty regular basis. But if you met him on the street, I bet you’d never know he was THE Frank Bello.
The first thing I want to ask you, Frank, is if you can believe you have been in Anthrax over twenty years? Actually it’s closer to thirty years, right?
Closer to thirty years, absolutely. We had this whole experience at Yankee Stadium (Clash of Titans with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth) and that’s where it came to this culmination of it all. It’s like, Oh my God. Not only was it an oh-my-God statement playing Yankee Stadium, which nobody usually does and nor did we did think we would, but it’s been a good run. We’ve had our ups and downs, obviously, like life takes you but it’s been a good run for the most part and now there’s this whole big resurgence going on and Anthrax comes out with a record, Worship Music, and it debuted at number twelve, which we completely did not expect. There is a lot going on and I didn’t expect it to debut at number twelve. A lot of people are digging what we’re doing and I couldn’t be more psyched right now.
I’ve been listening to the new CD and I am agreeing with what everyone is saying in that this could be your best CD ever. It’s just amazing.
Wow, thank you. You know what, hearing that couldn’t be a bigger thank you from anybody, the reviewers, fans in general, musicians, Eddie Trunk, who is a good friend of ours from years ago, saying it’s the best album of our career. I can’t say thank you anymore than I have cause it’s all the hard work and the pain. There’s been a lot of stuff going on with this band for the last year as everybody knows. Eight years ago was the last record. This one, there was a lot of ups and downs where nobody knew what the hell was going to go on next and to come out and have the kind of reaction we’re getting from people is just the ultimate thank you. We have to say that to people, thank you for understanding, and I think people are hearing all the songs and hearing what we went through in the songs, which is really important.
Well, I think it is amazing and my favorite songs are “I’m Alive” and “The Constant”.
(laughs) You know what is amazing? And I thank you for that of course. Hearing different people’s takes on the record. And you picked two completely different songs that a lot of the people haven’t been picking, which is great, I love it. There are songs on the record that you can go to that are your songs and got to be your favorite songs that aren’t the average everybody’s. I think everybody’s got their pick which is a testament to, thank God, I think we did something right here.
You have a tour coming up with Testament.
Oh yeah, we’re stoked. I’m getting my liver ready (laughs). Testament are some good friends of ours and we haven’t seen each other in awhile, touring wise, so Testament and Death Angel. A good friend of mine who I grew up with, Johnny Tempesta is playing drums in Testament and we couldn’t be more excited cause of the fan base and the shows are selling really well, from what I’m hearing, and there’s a good buzz on the tour and I can’t wait to play these songs live.
I’d like to know where you grew up and what kind of kid you were.
I grew up in the Bronx, New York, and really it was all about music and sports for me when I was growing up. That was it, that was my religion, my everyday thing. My thing was to get the new Iron Maiden record, Judas Priest record, and then go watch the Yankees game later on or maybe go to a game or go play ball outside. And that was truly my upbringing. I was very fortunate to have that kind of upbringing. I grew up without a dad. I grew up living in my Grandmother’s house with my Aunt. So it was just a perfect thing to have with my heroes being musicians and they turned out to be bass players.
Did your family support your love of music?
Absolutely, still to this day. They all came to Yankee Stadium and it was like a big thank you for all the support. From day one they knew it was a love, that it was a passion, and they said, “Go for it”, and I love them for that. And I have learned through that having a five year old myself so it’ll be all about music and whatever you want to do in life because I was lucky enough to have that freedom and I intend to do the same.
What the first band that you totally worshiped?
That’s easy, KISS. Just because it was the songs, they had the full package and that Oh-my-God vibe. I mean, obviously, when you say the full package, that was it. They had the show, they had the songs that I loved, just everything about them. Then you go to the Beatles. I mean, there’s a lot of bands around that genre, that time for me, but I’ve always loved the Beatles, always loved Zeppelin and Black Sabbath all go into my upbringing. But KISS made me want to play on stage.
Did you ever dress up as KISS when you were a kid?
Oh yeah, there’s some good shots out there somewhere (laughs). We dressed up a lot and had some good times with it. It was a big deal and we had a lot of fun with it.
What was it like going to school with John Tempesta?
We got into trouble just about every day. We were just talking about this and I talk about this at some of my bass clinics. John and I were in the same grade so we had the same Jazz class and we used to go to Jazz class early where we used to jam together. But we’d be jamming Iron Maiden and KISS, well, not KISS, but Led Zeppelin and just like very heavy like Black Sabbath. We were just jamming that kind of stuff and the teacher would come in and send us to the principal pretty much everyday. But it was a good time. We had fun and out of nowhere we’d have a group, a circle around us of kids headbanging. So it’d be like twenty kids surrounding us and headbanging. It was just the best time in the world. Then of course we’d show up at the principal’s office and our principal, thank God, loved us so he’d say, “Just don’t do it again”. And we’d get away with it.
What was the first album that you bought?
It would have to be, probably a Beatles record. A Hard Day’s Night maybe.
When did you pick up the bass and why the bass? Or did you start off younger with a different instrument?
I started with guitar because I was fascinated with guitar. But the fact was, I was playing all the bass parts on the guitar. So the drummer that’s in the band, in Anthrax now, Charlie Benante, I grew up with him. So he was the one that told me, “You need to just switch to bass cause you’re playing the bass parts, every bass part you’re playing on guitar”. But that’s just what I heard. I heard the bass first and it was the obvious choice. And then when I actually got the bass it was love at first sight. It was, oh my God.
How old were you?
Twelve or thirteen.
Do you remember your first bass?
Yeah, it was a Fender 72, I believe. It was a bass Fender Jazz 72. I think I got it stolen. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of good basses stolen in my life.
I’ve been hearing that a lot. Myles Kennedy had his first guitar stolen and he would love to have it back.
It’s a horrible feeling, it really is.
What was the first concert you went to?
I think it was KISS Destroyer, 1976. I was young but it was great. I still remember Gene Simmons throwing his make-up towel to this girl and this guy took it from her and beat her and they were going at it, beating each other up for this towel. It was amazing (laughs). It was pretty funny.
Do you do anything like that? Do you throw fans stuff from the stage?
I give people picks and stuff like that. I’m still a fan so I know what it’s like. So I’ll make sure to do whatever I can. I’ll throw the picks right to the person and stuff like that.
Tell me about the first band you were in.
Anthrax is my first band ever. This is it. It’s been a good run (laughs)
And you came in because of Charlie, right?
Yeah, they were auditioning bass players and I was already teching for them. I was originally a guitar tech in Anthrax. We were playing little local shows and I teched for them and they were auditioning bass players and I auditioned and it all worked out nicely, obviously (laughs)
What about your first time getting up in front of an audience playing? How did that feel?
It was at L’amours in 1985, I believe it was. It was very scary and it was all adrenalin. And I just said, you got to go for it, and that’s kind of what I still do (laughs)
You’re always happy, you’re always singing, when you’re up there playing.
Yeah, why wouldn’t I be happy? (laughs) Think about it, I’m playing on stage, I’m making a living, thank God, by playing music so I’m pretty lucky, I know that. There is nothing like being on stage. That’s what I love, so I’m happy with it.
So what would you say has been your most memorable moment on stage so far?
Yankee Stadium (laughs). That’s pretty easy. It all came into one there.
Do you remember the first rock star you ever met?
Oh God, I think it was Chubby Checker in the Bronx (laughs). I was really young, like eleven years old, in the Bronx. Chubby Checker, and not a lot of people know that, was going into a little deli and my Grandmother said, “It’s Chubby Checker”. I didn’t even know. I shook his hand and he was really nice.
Who has been your biggest influence as a musician and why them?
Hmm, that’s a good question. There’s two people. Well, it’s actually three people who I grew up on that still inspire me to this day. There’s Geddy Lee, Steve Harris and Geezer Butler. They’re still at the top of their games as bass players. I am still inspired by them and I look forward to when they come out with new stuff.
I saw Rush earlier this year.
Yeah, Geddy is just amazing. He’s timeless and ageless to me.
Tell me about the upcoming tour and what will happen after that.
This tour is for five weeks, with Testament and Death Angel. Then I believe we’re going to Japan and Jakarta in December. Then next year I think it’s the whole cycle we have going. We’re playing festivals, a lot of support for the record and we know the only way to do it is the way we’ve always done it, to tour. So we’ll be doing a lot of touring for this record.
Last question: You have a tattoo on your arm of somebody. I was just wondering who that was?
The tattoo on my right arm is a tribute to my brother Anthony who passed away. I have another one on my other side that Paul Booth did. I got it a few months ago and it’s supposed to signify my inner rage that I have and he’s looking at something glowing in his hand and it’s supposed to signify, the glowing is the thing that calms me down, which is my son. Paul Booth did an amazing job. He really got it right on. He designed it and he’s amazing.
Anything you want to say to your fans?
Just thank you for taking this album and listening deep to it. It makes us feel great that you actually worship music (laughs) to coin a phrase. We’re really right on, really stoked about coming out there.
Next week we finally have a drummer in the spotlight. Poison’s Rikki Rockett takes us on a tour through his youth, his glory days and how helping protect animal rights is a cause close to his heart.