Metal Army sat down with ANTHRAX bassist Frank Bello on the eve of The Big Four concert at Yankee Stadium. We were at the Hard Rock Cafe at the stadium directly following the ceremony declaring the day of the show ANTHRAX DAY in the Bronx. Frank chatted with us candidly about the honor of being recognized for their legacy, growing up in the Bronx and coming home again, their new album Worship Music and life in general. He was really funny, emotional and humble throughout our time together. What follows is an excerpt of our wide ranging chat.
MAA: This has to be a tremendous honor for the band. How does it feel?
FB: It’s massive! At heart I am a Bronx guy, always. I still live in New York, obviously. For me, having the Borough President (Ruben Diaz Jr.) here, a really good guy declaring it Anthrax Day, giving us the proclamation, it’s such a big deal for us. It’s amazing, really. I have to go back to my roots: growing up, being a New York guy, growing up in The Bronx, coming to Yankee Stadium all of the time; you always dream of stuff like playing in a band and playing Madison Square Garden. You never really fathom playing Yankee Stadium. When we got the call about playing Yankee Stadium, number one: I was intimidated and number two: I couldn’t believe it! All the the things go through your head like “Is it really gonna happen?” and “Is it gonna rain?” all those things. Even today it is really surreal. I think the only time when I’m going to realize it is happening is that I might take the train down, the Metro North from my house to the show to beat the traffic. And I think when I walk in the door and step on that stage- it will really hit me that when we walk in the door. Like “wow, I’m really going to do this.” Even with the press today, it’s great to talk about it, but when it is really happening, when we step on that stage at Yankee Stadium for the show, it will be overwhelming.
MAA: Yankee Stadium concerts are always big events like BILLY JOEL and PINK FLOYD in the old building and PAUL MCCARTENY recently in the new one…
FB: Wow! Think about that! Look at those names alone! And now ANTHRAX will be in that equation. Just being around that, that alone means so much. And understand that it is METALLICA, SLAYER, MEGADETH and ANTHRAX, but we are gonna get put in that crowd with all of them, it is such a beautiful thing. It’s an accomplishment I will never forget.
FB: (raising a glass of beer) Cheers!
MAA: Cheers to you sir!
MAA: How did the Office of The Bronx Borough President contact you about this initially?
FB: Well, they reached out to us. They found out that three of us are legitimately from The Bronx. I’m glad they took recognition of it. This is a big day for The Bronx. It is about three guys coming home. I’m proud of The Bronx. I feel very lucky to grow up where I did. Charlie and I are from here and Rob came into the band later, he is too. Right form the initial stuff in the band, Charlie auditioned in his room in The Bronx for ANTHRAX. So it’s a big deal to us. I could not be happier or more psyched that this happening in The Bronx.
MAA: America doesn’t get the metal festivals like Europe and New York only occasionally gets a show of this stature, certainly never for thrash metal. The Big Four is as big a single day event as NYC can have. How important is this for the band and fans of the band to share this together here?
FB: If you think about it this band has been around for thirty years. To have a record coming out before this show, which is shameless promotion, but I have to say that Worship Music, comes out September 13th , the day before. The next day is the concert we are playing Yankee Stadium and it is overwhelming. This entire press junket has been absolutely nuts. We played Jimmy Fallon the other day, tomorrow we are playing one show in Arizona and then the concert here Wednesday. And FYI I am shooting a movie in Brooklyn the day after the concert and I have a 7 AM or 8 AM call time and I don’t know how I’m going to look or feel. This is a crazy time in my life….
(At this point Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. came over to say bye to Frank and agreed to have a shot with the band on stage at The Big Four show, right before their set.)
FB: Wow! The Bronx Borough President just came over to say goodbye to me after declaring Anthrax Day. For a guy from The Bronx like me, this is crazy! Did you think that was gonna happen? We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been over all of the details and I think the thing for me and for the fans is to live in the moment. All of this work is leading to something big for us. You’re a music guy and you are from here so you can appreciate this. I just want to live in the moment and appreciate things because before you know it Yankee Stadium will be here and gone. Even for this beer (sips) I am living in the moment. (laughs)
MAA: Now that it is done and about to be heard by everyone, how do you feel about the album?
FB: It is the culmination of everything we have been through. It might sound like a sob story, but it is not a sob story and to be blunt about it, if people think it is a sob story go fuck yourself! But I’m really proud that we got here. There was a lot of times I never thought we would get here. To have a release date for this record is even bigger than the show. It was eight years of pain and hardship. You wanna talk about punching walls? I had to re-plaster a few in my house and that’s the truth. From all the negative came this great positive. I think we deserve that because we have been through a lot. We wear it on our sleeves because we are from The Bronx and we can’t hide our emotions. I’m glad we don’t. You have obviously done your homework, so thank you. You know this has always been a working band. It hasn’t always touring or making records, but we are always at work in this band. There has been a lot of hardship. And then lawyers get involved. When lawyers get involved with things, they can hold up a lot of stuff in your life. It’s not a parking ticket we got. It was a lot of bullshit, but I’m glad its done and over with now. We couldn’t be tighter as a unit right now. Personally we know there is a plight here. There is something we all have to do. We need to accomplish this. This is all part of what we are trying to do now. People hearing the record, that is great. That is the goal. We are trying to get this music out to the people and couldn’t be happier with it.
MAA: I have to say the thing that stands out most to me is Joey Belladonna’s performance. What do you attribute his performance to considering what he had to overcome?
FB: I’m still a big fan of this music. Just because you play in a band, doesn’t mean you aren’t also still a fan of the music. As a fan of this band and this music, for me Joey was like the cherry on top. I know it’s cliche, but we had these great songs that Charlie, Scott and I wrote a while ago. When Joey came in, I couldn’t believe what was coming back to me. My god! I was overwhelmed and I kept saying ‘oh my god, he did it again! He did it again!’ Joey’s gonna have to pay me for this. (laughs) He’s always been a great singer, but I don’t know what kind of fountain of youth he has, but he is better than ever. Joey has gotten better. He was always great, but as an ANTHRAX fan, he has never sung better. As a band member standing on the side of the stage with him every night, he has never sounded better. As I have said in other interviews, I am the background singer in ANTHRAX. I am jealous of him that I have to warm up for like 45 minutes before the show to get in the higher range and he just runs out there and sings (sings high notes like Joey), and it’s like nothing to him. He sounds amazing and is phenomenal. I say I’m jealous, but I say it in jest. I’m so impressed with the guy to come in with this mountain of songs and made them his own. Let’s face it, he put his stamp on his record. It sounds like ANTHRAX, you heard it so you know. It sounds like the ANTHRAX you know. After thirty years and having this album coming out in 2011 and playing Yankee Stadium, it is pretty good to be in ANTHRAX right now. I’m really psyched right now.
MAA: This record has more bass breaks than ever a bit of a meaner tone in your sound too. Where did all that come from?
FB: Thank you! To put it in perspective. I had done all my bass for the record. I tired the Hartke stuff out and I loved it. I switched to Hartke I went back in and redid all of my bass tracks. For me to do that amount of work, it had to be right. I take a lot of pride in my bass work. I was the fan who grew up listening to Geddy Lee and Steve Harris and Geezer Butler, studying every note until it was right. I did that until my fucking fingers and mind got it right. Just repetition until it got into my head. So when some 15 year old kid comes up to me and says I grew up on your bass playing, that means everything to me. I want to give something back and pass the torch. Bass saved me. And music saved me in general because I could have ended up like some of my friends in the streets and out on drugs, but instead I was in my room on a Saturday night leaning bass lines. I’m glad I took the route I took. I still want to be challenged. Last night I was up until 2 or 3 in the morning re-learning a rush song. “La Villa Strangiato”. I used to know it verbatim and I forgot a small part of it. I was playing this one part over and over until I got it down. I went to my iPod and I just kept rewinding it. I just wanted to get it right. It’s important to me. I’m not Geddy Lee. He’s one of my favorite bass players. But when I hear that it means a lot to me that you noticed that, so thanks!
MAA: The band just announced killer headline tour with TESTAMENT and DEATH ANGEL in support. How did that come about?
FB: Well if you look at it, we are all friends. First and foremost. My friend Johnny Tempesta just joined up with TESTAMENT again for the tour. I talked to Chuck Billy and suggested Johnny to them. And I told Johnny to call them too because I said ‘Johnny, they need you!’. We made it happen so I’m really psyched about that because we went to Lehman High School together and he’s one of my best friends. We also played in HELMET together. It’s going to be a drinking tour (laughs), I’ll tell you that! It’s all about packaging today. There is not a lot of money out there, we know that so we need to create value for the fans. TESTAMENT and DEATH ANGEL are really great bands in their own right. So it’s cool that all the bands are great and we are all friends and can have a good time together. That was our goal: come out with a strong record, a strong tour and kick fucking ass!
MAA: I think the only fear of the long-time fans of the band is whether or not we will get to hear the John Bush-era songs live ever again?
FB: First, I wanna hear from the fans. What they want is important to us. We also have new record out and obviously we have to promote this. The songs on this record, I would play them all! It’s that good. I don’t think there is one down song on the record and I would play any of them live. As a fan I would play everything. We have this big catalog and you have to ask the fans. You have to do the standards too, but I wanna pull stuff out of the closet. I have no problem with that. People still ask for “Lone Justice” at my clinics!
MAA: “Lone Justice”!
FB: Yeah! People on our website are really crazy for that one. I have no problem with any of that. We have been really busy with this show and and the album release so we haven’t sat down to talk about it yet. So far we have done “Only” and “What Doesn’t Die” with him. All I can say as one of the guys in the band is that we will find a way to do some of those. But I’m sure we will put a great set list together.
MAA: At the end of the day ANTHRAX has had as many highs as lows in thirty years. Can you reflect on this and how the band has survived?
FB: It makes you stronger. The tough times, I could have definitely done without some of that, honestly. Sitting in Yankee Stadium with an album about to come out, it’s a good time. But it makes you stronger because we have no choice. As New Yorkers and guys from The Bronx we know all about that. You can either crawl up in a ball or dust yourself off and get back on that horse. But today is a great day. We have a new record coming out and then a little show at Yankee Stadium. (laughs) I really want to run on the field. I need to find away to do that.
MAA: Just keep Scott away from the batting circle and Monument Park!
MAA: Thanks for your time Frank!
FB: Thank you and thanks for the knowledge!
(Special thanks to Frank Bello, ANTHRAX, James Rausse of The Office of the Bronx Borough President and HERFitz PR)
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes