Meet Frank Bello
By Alun Thomas
The New York Jets are down and out, trailing 13-3 to the Baltimore Ravens as inexperienced quarterback Brooks Bollinger is sacked yet again. But Frank Bello doesn't seem to mind. A native of the Bronx, the veteran Anthrax bass player is wrapped up in the success of the New York Yankees making the playoffs yet again. 'You should be happy with the White Sox making it' he tells me. I choose not to tell him I favour the Cubs. Meanwhile vocalist Joey Belladonna is mocked for the dismal perfomance of his Minnesota Vikings, who are being decimated by the Atlanta Falcons. It's easy to forget I'm here to interview Bello about his return to the band he left in early 2004, and the status of the reunited 'classic' Anthrax lineup, consisting of Bello, Belladonna, Scott Ian, Danny Spitz and Charlie Benante, who prior to their reformation in April, last played together in 1991.
Bello's presence in Anthrax has always been more understated than that of Ian, Belladonna or Benante, but having played with the band for twenty years after initially serving as the bands bass tech in the early days, Bello has always been a pillar of the bands sound. When Bello joined Helmet in 2004 for touring purposes it appeared his days with Anthrax were indeed a distant memory. But he surprised the metal world by returning, along with Belladonna and Spitz, in a move I wasn't in favour of. Bello however puts an end to all the rumours that surrounded the exit of vocalist John Bush, by giving The Zephyr an in depth look into the reunion, the past and future plans, all in jovial mood it has to be said. The interview took place on Anthrax's tour bus prior to their opening slot to Judas Priest on October the second in Moline.
The Zephyr: Did You expect to rejoin the band so shortly after leaving in early 2004?
Frank Bello: 'No. The way it was presented was the right way. I was just about done touring with Helmet and it worked out nicely. Plus I was looking forward to playing with this nut again (points to Belladonna). It was done right and the contracts were signed the right way.'
TZ: Who came to you with the idea of reforming the classic lineup and were you reluctant in any way?
FB: 'The management called me up just as I was concluding the last leg of the Helmet tour and they knew I was done. They came up and asked what I thought about doing it. I said let's do it the right way, everybody together and open to everything. That's what it is, it's very open, we're playing some fun shows now.'
TZ: Did John Bush's non participation affect you considering he was vocalist for twelve years and with the band through their hardest years?
FB: 'I love John Bush, he and Joey are both great singers, but this is another side of Anthrax I love too. I consider it a family at this point. That was a time in Anthrax and this is a time. It's important to me because this is where I grew up. I started with Anthrax at seventeen years old and it's been a good run. For me it's revisiting and making this generation know what Anthrax is about, what Joey's singing, which are great songs, so for me it's a win-win situation.'
TZ: Would you agree there is a section of fans who were Bush loyalists who might view the reunion as an insult to Bush's achievements?
FB: 'No, because we gave John the opportunity to participate. It was there on the table and that was before I came in and was already dealt with. So for me there's no animosity. Rob Caggiano (ex Anthrax guitarist) and I talked last week, we were both drunk on the phone talking to each other. It's all good. There's no nonsense going on. And for the people looking for that, it's just not there.'
TZ: How has the general reaction been to the band worldwide?
FB: 'Great, we've done a lot of touring. We started off in Australia, went to Europe for all the festivals, which killed us physically, getting up at five thirty in the morning flying and all that. But anytime you get to play to thirty to sixty thousand people for a show, you're good. And this, playing with Judas Priest is the cream on the top. In January we'll come back and do our own thing. It's a nice situation, we get to watch Football on Sunday's, our Yankees made the playoffs the other day, so everybody's pretty excited right now!'
TZ: What kind of a cross section of fans are you seeing at the shows?
FB: 'It's a good mixture. You'll have the Priest fans in front, the Anthrax fans a little more to the back and the older brothers bringing their kids or their brothers, which is really cool because it's a turnover of generations. You know you've heard about this, you should check it out, and that's what we're seeing a lot of.'
TZ: Was your brief stint on the Gigantour (an Ozzfest styled metal festival created by Dave Mustaine of Megadeth) a positive experience? How different is it working with Dave Mustaine in 2005 opposed to the Clas Of the Titans tour in 1991?
FB: 'We had so much fun, it was five shows, but I wish we could have been on the whole tour! As soon as we came in it was a party atmosphere, we had a card game and dice in our dressing room. The shows were great, but afterwards all the bands were in our dressing room having a great time, including Dave. He has always been a gentleman to me. I've heard all the stories about Dave, but it's never affected me.'
TZ: Was it easy reverting back to playing with Joey?
FB: 'Yeah. The funny thing about Joey is we laugh a lot. We look at each other and laugh and don't know why. You'll see tonight, stupid things like one of us hitting a wrong note or something. Or someone in the crowd perhaps. One guy last night was like this (folds arms, gives stoic pose, serious stare). He was like a musician checking us out (laughs). It was funny, something as stupid as that, because of all of a sudden it becomes our challenge to win him over. We're going to pick on him. He got into it, he gave us a nod (laughs), he was too cool. I like that. The challenge of 'fine, you want to be an old school fan, but we'll win you over eventually.' This is music. People have a nine to five job, they come out to a show and release. It's not about, 'I'm gonna kill someone'. No. Have a good time with the show. That's what I want. That's why I play music.'
TZ: How does this current tour compare with the Priest one in 2002 when both had different singers and played far smaller venues?
FB: 'That was a lot of fun. Ripper's a great singer man. but that was a different time. No disrespect to Ripper, I love him, but I grew up on Rob Halfrod's vocals and you did too, so to watch him do this every night, I mean last night they did 'Solar Angels', they're doing better and better songs that I grew up with'.
TZ: If the band is to record new material with this lineup could you envison what direction it would take?
FB: 'Here's what I know. It will be current. But we haven't even talked about it. If it was to happen it would have to be current and fresh. I couldn't see us just writing a record and saying 'this is it'. I feel like we're better songwriters now. We know how to take a song apart from riffing, to melody to choruses. We know how to make a song exactly what it needs to be. I take pride in that as that's where I want to be as a songwriter'.
TZ: Would you like to integrate some of the Bush era material into your live set? What personally do you feel was the bands best piece of work?
FB: 'I don't know. 'Safe Home' is my favourite Anthax song, the best we've ever written and it's current and people are like 'why wasn't this a hit?'. Whatever we do has lasting power. I'm not worried about having to go out and play 'Among The Living', you see the reaction, it's cool.'
TZ: Do you feel some valuable years went to waste with the long delay between 'Volume 8' (1998) and 'We've Come For You All' (2003)?
FB: 'Absolutely. We didn't know where we were going, the record company was putting us in a state of uncertainty and we decided we needed a break. We didn't even know if we were goingto be a band. We needed a break to get our energy back and now there's a driving force and hunger that can't be touched. Our die hard fans have always suffered with us. But nobody's crying here, we're tough guys from New York, fuck everybody else'.
TZ: Whe you replaced Joey with John in 1992 were you banking on the 'Sound Of White Noise' to be Anthrax's version of Metallica's 'Black' album? The record that put you in the same big leagues?
FB: 'No. but I thought it would get promoted better. Elektra paid us a good amount of money for that album, but what happens in the music industry is that they turnover, this one gets fired, that one gets fired. So whoever comes in and replaces them, whatever they like is their priority and you're with the last regime and that's exactly what happened. The music business is cyclical, it's sick the way it is. It's a sick business, the ony way to do it is by word of mouth.'
TZ: In the mid 90's you relased 'Stomp 442' which went almost unnoticed, unfairly so. Do you feel any resentment over how grunge came to nearly wipe out metal in the mainstream?
FB: 'Grunge of course changed the scene, but the label we were on had no more money, they were bankrupt. When the album came out we ran into some really bad luck, they were broke and said 'we're not a company anymore'. What do you do? We went on tour and tried to do it our way and it's not easy when you don't have a record in the stores for people to hear'.
TZ: What kind of sound was Anthraz heading for in the mid 90's? Did Dan Spitz's departure in 1995 take away your sound?
FB: 'No. We were developing anyway. I don't think anyones departure from the band, including my own, would be a departure from the sound. What people want to hear from Anthrax is fine, but we'll always expand that. But the actual sound, the rhythm tones, is the signature Anthrax sound. I don't want to change that. Scott's rhythm is the Anthrax sound and Charlie's bass kick, I want that sound for Anthrax, I want to be able to put bass in the middle of it. With Joey's vocals in the middle that's the trademark Anthrax sound. I don't feel that sound can be touched. So I don't think anybody leaving or not being there will make a difference.'
TZ: When you left last year however do you think it took even more identity away from the band in terms of identifiable members?
FB:' Joey Vera (Bello's replacement) is a good friend of mine. He's one of the best people in this life. He came to the Los Angeles show on this reunion, we saw each other, we were drunk, laughed at each other and I said 'dude it's the funniest thing'. I was happy. I told them to get Joey, he's the guy that could do it and I don't think it took anything away from the band, as people know Joey is a great bass player. I saw them with Joey, they were great and with the whole John Bush/Joey Vera Armoured Saint thing, it just fit.'
Joey Belladonna: 'We've (Frank Bello) and I have both been in and out of the band. When I was out nobody gave a shit about me.'
TZ: I did, I thought your 1998 album 'Spells Of Fear' was excellent.
JB: 'I just winged that one, did it in three days, I didn't even know any of the people recording it with me.'
TZ: Did you ever have any desire to follow up your hidden tribute track to your late brother (murdered in 1995) on 'Volume 8'? I found that to be a powerful moment.
FB: 'I have a few other songs written, it's like a catharsis. A lot of people who have lost people have come up to me with tears in their eyes which is a great compliment. It was nothing to do with heavy music. It was just about that issue. He was a huge fan, he came to every New York show and was behind me all the time, we were very close, so there is a certain heaviness to that song. It was just the worst, I don't wish it on anyone.'
TZ: The level of material Anthrax created at such a young age is almost genius compared to todays acts.
FB: 'Thank you. I always took pride in the fact we tried different things. Some albums like 'State Of Euphoria' were rushed, absolutely rushed. But we're fans and I don't want to disappoint myself so the fans won't be disappointed, and that's what it's all about'.
(Thanks fo Jensen of Adrenalin PR for his assistance in co-ordinating the interview)