Frank Bello of Anthrax Talks Slayer Tour & New DVD ‘Kings Among Scotland’ (INTERVIEW)

With the release in April of their new live DVD, Kings Among Scotland, and a big tour with Slayer happening as we speak, it looks like there are no signs that Anthrax is slowing down. In fact, while other bands are taking breaks or stopping altogether, the New York band formed in 1981 by guitarist Scott Ian forgoed their own time off to spend a year on the road with old friends Slayer, who are on their final world tour. It was an opportunity that you just didn’t say no to and the band was honored to be asked to help the metal icons celebrate their career.

Frank Bello, Anthrax’s spirited bass player, spoke with Glide a few days ago about not slowing down, working on new material and still loving what he’s doing. For the 52 year old, the music is what sustains him. “Why wouldn’t I be happy?” Bello said with a laugh during an interview we did back in 2011. “I’m playing onstage, I’m making a living, thank God, by playing music so I’m pretty lucky, I know that. There is nothing like being onstage. That’s what I love, so I’m happy with it.”

Bello’s first big love musically was KISS. “They had the show, they had the songs that I loved, just everything about them,” explained Bello with the same enthusiasm he had as a kid. “They had the full package.” He started playing when he was about twelve – guitar first, then bass – and, “It was all about music and sports for me when I was growing up.” Music was never discouraged by his family and the young man thrived, getting all the nourishment he needed from the recorded sounds of Steve Harris and Geddy Lee.

Coming into Anthrax through his uncle, drummer Charlie Benante, Bello was a tech before replacing co-founder Dan Lilker following their first release, Fistful Of Metal, in 1984. Their fanbase kept growing with every tour, with every new record. MTV latched onto their 1988 cover of the song “Anti-Social.” They collaborated with the rap group Public Enemy with great success in the early 1990’s. And they became a member of the elite Big 4 alongside Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. And through it all, their enthusiasm for what they do has only grown. “We still get in a room and write music that makes us want to bang our heads,” Ian told the Baton Rouge Advocate in 2016. “The only goal is to keep going.”

After all these years, why is Anthrax still so important to you?

Oh I’ve given all my life to this really if you think about it. I see the people in this band more than I see my family! (laughs). But it’s all about the music, at the end of the day. It’s what I grew up into. You got to realize for me, music was and still is a big part of my life. It was an escape. This specific music, metal, was a big deal for me because it got that angst out from when I was young. It made me feel good about things. It met the intensity that I felt inside and it still does that to this day. It really gets it all out. This music drives you. It’s a great community. Our fans are our friends. That’s the way we feel about it. We’re still fans of this music. We’ve always been fans being in a band. I think it’s a very important music and I’m very proud to be part of it.

Your new DVD, Kings Among Scotland, really captures all that energy and excitement and love of being in this band. But why did you pick Scotland to film it in?

You know, it’s funny, we’ve been very blessed and lucky all through these years to play all around the world, multiple times, and you know when you get to play someplace special, places like the Barrowland specifically in Glasgow, every time we have played that place, we always, at the end of the show, we come in the dressing room and we sit down and we say, “Man, we should have taped that one. We should have filmed that one.” Well, this time we did cause we knew the anticipation was there. It’s a great place to play, the fans are awesome, obviously, and I really think on this specific video, they really caught us. You know when we were getting the edits, I kept saying, “Man, this feels like I’m at the show.” And I was very happy with that because I think they really caught it live. So I think for anybody that hasn’t seen Anthrax, obviously the Anthrax fans will dig it anyway and it’s a great thing for your collection, but even if you haven’t seen Anthrax before, this is a pretty good representation of what we’re doing.

Do you remember the first time you ever played in Scotland?

Oh yeah, I met my friend Andy Buchanan, and I’m naming him because he’s still, after all these years, thirty something years, my friend. Andy Buchanan was the first person who ever introduced me to Scotch Whiskey (laughs). And to this day, we get heavily loaded on Scotch Whiskey every time I go there. Look, I learn something every time I go there about whiskey, every time, and it’s my pleasure to do it (laughs).

But it was in the eighties, 1986 maybe, and it was just magic. That’s the only way I can describe it, cause you know you read about these places, how great they are, the history, and when you actually get there, and believe me I know how fortunate we are to be able to do this, you want to look at it and really just enjoy it. Again, I am very thankful to do this and to have a lot of friends there now and fans coming back to these shows and singing every word. It’s a really great vibe so why not record that! It’s a time capsule. It’s awesome.

And they’re bringing their kids and their grandkids now

Yeah and you know what’s great, since the Big 4, since Anthrax had this Big 4 thing with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, there is a whole turnover of fans, a new generation of fans along with our own fanbase. A lot of people, maybe they’d heard of Anthrax but since that Big 4, now they are coming out in droves. So it’s really a great thing to see and it couldn’t make us more happy and more psyched up.

You pulled out some songs for these shows that you guys don’t usually play live. What was it like trying to relearn them?

You know what’s weird about that and I’ll tell you. First off, just to define this, there are songs that are made for a record and they don’t go over live as well as you want them to and they go on a record just to listen to. And there are songs that go over really well live and you play them all the time. You learn that, why songs aren’t good live. Some people just like to listen to them on the record and don’t react to them live the way you want them to. And that’s why to relearn these songs and play them live, you go back in your head and you go back in your memory to the recording session. For me personally, Among The Living, I remember being in the studio as I was relearning these songs and what it was like and when we wrote the songs. You go back when you revisit them again in your head and I think at this point we’re such different writers. I think we’re better songwriters now because we’ve grown older, and I think wiser, but I think it’s such a fun way to look at your history because that sense memory comes in and it’s like an oh my God moment. I’m going back to this song and sitting down and relearning it again and it brought me back to when I was in the studio and playing that song. It’s a very cool vibe.

What was one that surprised you that was maybe better than you thought it was?

Wow, “Skeletons In The Closet.” I forgot how great it is, and again, that’s a song that goes over great live that we can’t even fit it in the setlist we have so many songs! But that was a special song that we brought out and people were going nuts over that song. It’s a very intense, heavy song and I just really like the challenge of that song.

You guys have only released three albums in the 2000’s. What’s the main reason for that?

To be really honest, it’s really nice that people want to see us live. You know, what we’re doing right now, and case in point, exactly what we’re doing right now, Anthrax right now is supposed to be off. Right now we are supposed to be writing at home and this is our time, cause we did all this touring. If you look at our history from this record, For All Kings, we’ve done a whole lot of touring. So our friends Slayer come up, and we’ve known them forever, and asked us to do this really cool tour: “Lamb Of God, Behemoth and Testament are going to be on and we want you to be part of this and we’d love to have you, blah, blah, blah.” Of course you have to say yes! This is literally the tour of the summer. This is the metal tour of the summer. They’re selling out literally everywhere, there are so many people coming out to see this and then Slayer announces this is their last tour, their farewell tour, and we didn’t even know that. We were just coming on tour with Slayer so we didn’t even know that! But that makes it that much more special. So yeah, you asked for a reason why in the 2000’s we have a certain amount of records, well, look at our touring history (laughs). We work and look, the bottom line is, it’s great to be wanted and people want to see this band live. This band has a certain energy live that people really like and I’m very proud of that.

And we will get back to writing. I mean, we’re all writing on our own and our own things right now but there will be other Anthrax records. I think next year we’ll be writing an Anthrax record. Put it this way, we have another leg. We finish this leg in two weeks and then we have a couple of weeks off, we do another leg of this thing in the United States and then we go out in November for Europe on this same tour. So we’re booked till the end of the year.

What has been the biggest impact that Slayer has had on you?

Friendship. I’m friends with all these guys. You know last night was Tom Araya’s birthday and all the bands got together and we had a big birthday cake for Tom and we lit fireworks and we were on the beach. It was a great night. I was just talking to Tom and I think we appreciate each other cause we have been through a lot. Honestly, I can say we’re good friends. Kerry King, we’re really tight friends, all the guys in Slayer. We have a good time together and that’s really important and a big deal when you go on tour for months at a time, to hang and know that you can trust each other, you have a good time together, can have a beer and laugh about stupid things and just be guys. So that’s what’s going on and that’s why I think, again, going back to this metal community, we’ve been through the ranks all along with all these bands so it’s really special.

Getting back to the DVD, there is a clip for “Madhouse” out and that’s off the first record that you did with Anthrax as a member of the band. What is something you really remember about recording Spreading The Disease?

Well, it’s being nervous. You see, we did this EP right before that, which was my very first recording, but this was the first record that was on a major label, blah, blah, blah, all that stuff, very intimidating. I think I was nineteen at the time, eighteen or nineteen. It was very intimidating, coming literally from my room. Anthrax was my first band so this is coming from my room playing bass into this whole microscope that is the studio, with the producer, all that stuff. That’s what I remember. I think this is where I grew up. I really grew up then. You made that jump from playing bass in your bedroom to going right into a record into writing into a tour. I call it the College Of Anthrax. I had my choice whether to go to college or to go on tour with Anthrax and I chose Anthrax (laughs). I’m very thankful that it’s turned out this way.

Lyric-wise, for you, what song are you most proud of that Anthrax has written?

Wow, there’s so many but that’s a great question. Let me think about this. There is a song called “Who Cares Wins” that we did about the homeless population. Scott wrote the lyrics and I thought it really was poignant. It was on State Of Euphoria. I thought there were some great lyrics in that and Scott writes great lyrics for Anthrax.

How has your bass sound changed over the years?

You what’s weird, at this point in my life, I’m very, very lucky, and it’s a great compliment and believe me I’m very flattered by this, that people like my bass sound. I have a bass sound that’s in my head, that I can go to an amp and get that out of it and if it’s not right I’ll know it. When people say, “That’s how Frank Bello’s bass sounds,” that’s the ultimate compliment to me, because I’ve always wanted that. Look, my influences are Steve Harris, Geddy Lee and Geezer Butler. I know individually exactly those tones in my head so I’ve always wanted to combine those three tones of my heroes and have it to be my sound. I think, in my head anyway, to me, I think it’s a whole combination of all three of those people in my sound. In my playing, I’m hoping it’s all a tribute of whatever I do of what those guys meant to me in their bass playing. It’s all about paying tribute and how much of a fan I am, still continue to be, of their playing.

And what bass do you predominately use today?

I’ll put my selling voice on: I have the Frank Bello ESP Signature model (laughs). This is my second signature model with ESP Guitars. They have a wonderful signature bass there.

When you first started playing guitar and bass, what was the hardest thing for you to get the hang of?

The repetition of it all. The hardest thing was learning how to make the notes match the stuff, cause I listened to records – there were these things called vinyl records back then (laughs). So I would learn how to play bass through my heroes, the people I just spoke about. I learned how to play by listening to their playing and trying to emulate what they did. That’s literally how I learned how to play. Just note by note by note; repetition, repetition, repetition; nonstop, every day; as soon as I came home from school it was that, nothing else; all music, all the time. And after a while, after the repetition takes hold, you learn how to play and you get your own thing going.

I hear you have something coming up with your old friend Dave Ellefson this year also

Oh yeah, Dave and I, see we both have day jobs called Anthrax and Megadeth (laughs). So we’re pretty busy but a few years back, we did a lot of bass clinics together. So Dave said to me one day, “Why don’t we write some songs together so we can do them at these clinics?” So long story short, we did that and that turned into a three song EP [Altitudes & Attitude, 2014] with Jay Ruston, the producer, and Jeff Friedl from Perfect Circle on drums. And it got some great traction and great reaction from people. We did a few shows but there wasn’t a lot of time cause we both had to go on our day jobs again and go on tour forever.

So what we did was, on the side, we wrote a full-length record and recorded a full-length record and we’re coming out with it on Megaforce Records in probably January, I’m thinking right now. It’s a full record, ten or eleven songs. Me on vocals. It’s hard rock with melody really, cause we do so much metal during the day. But I think every metal fan that likes metal and likes Anthrax and Megadeth will like this and we are really psyched about it. We’re very proud of it and it’s just something we do just to get it out and have fun with it. We have a good time together and just seeing people’s reaction from this, cause it is still in the vein of heavy but it’s hard rock, guitar rock with melody and vocals. It’s cool and I’m really happy with it, very psyched about it.

Since you are not a sit still kind of guy onstage, what has been your most painful injury?

You know, this is perfect timing. See, on these big stages, some of them are concrete. Concrete stages are really horrible for your legs and your back, really horrible, especially for OUR show. We jump, we run, blah, blah, blah. So a few nights back, there was a wonderful concrete stage at one of these things and do you know what a sciatic nerve is?

Oh yes

Well, I learned the hard way. I had this issue before with concrete stages but I triggered something in my sciatic nerve that I had a masseuse yesterday and she goes, “Oh my God!” (laughs) She didn’t realize how inflamed it was. So right now as we speak, I’m in some good pain right now, cause I’m walking, I’m trying to walk this thing out. I woke up with it in my bunk. So tonight, two hours before the show, is stretch time. It’s going to be full-on yoga, full-on stretching, icing it down to work the stage tonight.

Is that something you’ve had to deal with as you’ve gotten older – to do more stretching, do more preparation for that time onstage?

Oh yeah, if I don’t do yoga, I’m over. There is no way I can do this without yoga. And I’m not one of those yoga guys but I go to yoga class three times a week when I’m home as a necessary thing. Yoga is totally necessary to keep my body the way I need it to be, not only for the stage but in life because it just stretches you out and it elongates everything and I really found that my body reacts to yoga.

When did you actually start that?

Seven or eight years ago. It’s a must. I have the yoga mat, the whole thing. In fact, I’m going to start today, as soon as I finish with you, I’m going to start stretching just to keep my body going for the whole day until the show.

You know the last time I talked to you in 2011, you were at the vet with your wife and your baby because your little dog had an eye problem. How is your little dog now?

Unfortunately, Zoe passed. She was an older dog but we did adopt another rescue and this one is named Chloe. She is a mix and she is the new spoiled brat in the house (laughs). But we’re big rescue people and we believe everybody should, if you want an animal, you want a pet and you’re a person that will take care of them, you should go and adopt a dog. You don’t need to buy something from a breeder or anything. That’s just my opinion but there are so many dogs and cats and animals that need help and they have a lot of love. Not to preach, I just see these things and it breaks my heart. I see these animals and it breaks my heart and I want to help them in any way I can.

 

Group photo by Jimmy Hubbard; live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough

 

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