Part of the pioneering ‘Big Four’ of thrash that includes Metallica, Megadeth and long time touring partners Slayer, Anthrax have been bringing the noise for more than three decades. Currently on the road promoting critically acclaimed new album ‘For All Kings’, as well as celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of breakthrough release 'Among The Living', we caught up with bassist Frank Bello to discuss the new album, touring, and some seldom talked about Anthrax history. Interviewed in December 2015, this is the first time that this article has been published in full. In a zone; Eamon O'Neill.
Hi Frank, I’m interviewing you today for eonmusic.co.uk.
That’s cool. That’s a porn site, right?
How are you today?
This is a long tour. This is a special tour. Right now I feel… I guess I’m ready. I’m kind of on automatic at this point. There’s been a lot of big shows, and it’s been a great tour. Yesterday we finally had a day off. I think we only had a total of seven days off on this tour.
Your new album ‘For All Kings’ is due out on 26th February. Are you excited to get it released?
I am more excited. You know what’s crazy? After a long time doing records for so many years, it’s easy to just phone it in. It would be easy to just do that, but the great thing that I love about my band is we can never do that. We never did that one day in our life; not one record, not one note of a riff, and I’m proud to say that, because I like the fight of the band, man in Anthrax. We have a lot of inner things, inside our stomachs and fire. I think we outdid ‘Worship [Music]’, and I think that everybody who liked ‘Worship’ – and I’m not just selling the record here – I think we tapped a good vein of writing. I think we went above and beyond, and that’s why we took so long.
That’s a pretty bold statement, given how well received ‘Worship Music’ was.
I don’t think any of us felt pressure. The thing you feel is, all you want to do is the best stuff you could put out, and you’ve got to live it, you’ve got to breathe it, and all you’ve got to worry about is, you’ve got to be a ‘fan’. When you’re writing this stuff you say; “would I like this as a fan and get off on it?” Really, you’ve got to play it on stage and you’ve got to live it, and if it’s not there? That’s why when we write a record, we live the songs – we listen to them over and over, pull parts out, put pieces in, and if it’s not sitting well, it won’t be an Anthrax song. We wrote a lot of songs for this record – more than ever, but these eleven songs, we put them together the right way on the record to really make the album live. It takes you on a ride, and it’s just got a lot of things going on. Whoever liked ‘Worship’, if you liked that I think you’ll be really happy with this.
Was the secret to ‘Worship Music’s success the return of Joey Belladonna to the band?
We always had a great record, and Joey coming back added the special cherry on top. We always had great songs, and just having Joey come into it and putting his tone and his voice on it just made all familiar, and it made it what we needed it to be. So this current Anthrax right now, in a weird way it feels like a new band, because I think we really tapped into something that people caught on to, and that’s just a natural thing – you can’t fake that shit. There's a whole new generation of fans that’s just finding out about Anthrax, and that’s partially to do with the ‘Big Four', and partially just because the band’s been around, and fathers are handing it down to their sons, or brother to younger brothers, stuff like that. It’s a really good time for Anthrax right now.
Were you surprised by how good Joey sounded when you first heard him on ‘Worship Music’?
I think Joey – and don’t tell him this because he’ll get a big head – but the truth is, I think he’s singing better than ever. And to have a singer after all this time, to keep up with us, to do what he’s doing right now? You’ll hear the new record and he’s singing stuff that he’s never done on an Anthrax record. So, I’m excited for people to see that. And then the other side of it is Jon Donais, the [new] guitar player. Nobody expected what he’s coming around with. It took it to another level. You’ve got to love this in order for the fans to relate, and Jon Donais, he came up with these leads that… I don’t think people understand how great he is -he’s amazing. He was always great with Shadows Fall, and I think he rose to a level. Wherever we were at, he wanted to stay above that, and he really did.
Jon has some tough acts to follow.
We’ve always been very lucky in the lead guitar department. All our lead players were great. But when you go see Jon on stage [now] he’s very much more comfortable with us – he’s ‘in’ the band - this is our band, this is what we have, this is it, so I think everybody knows that now, and I think the fans understand that this is Anthrax; this is the band, and it’s great to all be on the same record, and knowing what we have, I think you hear that in a record, I think you do.
I want to take you back through Anthrax history , starting with ‘State Of Euphoria’. It’s an album that largely gets ignored.
Here’s why I don’t want to play those tracks; there’s definitely some great tracks on that record, but I don’t think that record’s finished. I think some of us in the band feel that way. I don’t feel that we had enough time to live with the songs. If we had more time instead of being booked on another fucking tour, if we had more time just to cultivate and get those songs the way we really wanted them, I think we should have taken a little more time. Just that record – only that record. If we had a little more time, some things would have been changed. And that’s fine, I think every band has that in their career; at least one record where they had to really nurture it, and I wish we had have nurtured that record a little bit more. That said, I still think that’s a good Anthrax record – It’s definitely not my favourite, but it’s a good record.
Moving forward, ‘Stomp 442’ largely gets lost in Anthrax history.
You got to remember this, when we put out ‘Stomp’, the record company lost their funding. It was with Electra at first, but then we went to Ignition. But the truth is, those were the days, it was a tough time anyhow. It was just a tough time business-wise because the record companies were so up in the air, and we didn't know what label would be the right label to put it out. All that stuff, and management – it was a bunch of ugliness, and we had to get our business affairs sorted. We had a great record there, but it just didn’t have the promotion, quite honestly. When we lost all the funding that means the promotion went out, so nobody knew the record was out to begin with. So it was a really hard time for us then.
How do you feel about ‘Volume 8: The Threat Is Real’? Scott Ian has said that it is his second favourite Bush-era Anthrax album.
Yeah I could say that. ‘Sound Of White Noise’ is probably my favourite Bush-era record. It’s always ‘Anthrax’ because three of us [Bello, Ian and drummer Charlie Benante] have always been there, but I always say, for me, I feel like there was two different bands. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s two Black Sabbaths isn’t there?
That’s a great analogy, to even be compared to that is quite the complement. I just see, I love both bands, because at one time or another, it was a great ride, and like everything else, live goes on. I can’t believe, thankfully now, thirty-three years or whatever later, we’re going stronger than ever. There’s a buzz about Anthrax right now. We feel it, and all that stuff, believe me, we couldn’t be more humbled by this whole thing that started with ‘Worship’, That’s why all you want to do is do your best on the next record, and that’s where ‘For All Kings’ comes in.
There’s one song on ‘Volume 8’ that is particularly personal to you, ‘Pieces’; was that a difficult track for you to record?
Absolutely, in every way. I was crying singing it. It was the worst. I love the song, because it was just cathartic. I needed that song – and it’s not an Anthrax song by any means. It’s a hidden tribute to my brother. My brother was murdered at 23 years old, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. This is why I thank God for music, believe me, because I needed that ‘out’. It was a message to my brother, period – you hear it in the words. I mean you hear me, I hear myself crying in that – I couldn’t keep it together. Paul Crook was producing it for me, Charlie played the guitar. I didn’t play anything on it – I don’t even know if I played anything on it. I just sang it, and it was just really talking to my brother.
Have you ever performed the song? I know that you’ve been known to go to acoustic open mic nights in New York.
Yeah I do open mics, and I do this A&A thing [Altitudes & Attitude, a side project with Megadeth bassist David Ellefson], but here’s a question for you – would that be a weird thing to do? If I did the acoustic thing would that be a weird thing to hear that song? I’ve thought of it but I don’t know if I could get through it to be honest with you. I don’t know if I can get through it without breaking down. It’s that personal to me. I do the open mics and I have a little bit of a voice, and people ask me if I’m ever going to do this stuff, and I say, yeah, eventually. I’ve always thought about that song, so maybe, maybe.
Finally, you’ve toured with some legendary bands over the years. Who have you enjoyed touring with the most?
That’s a crazy hard question, because we have a way of getting along with a hell of a lot of bands. This tour right now, is easily one of the best because it’s very family orientated. Us and Slayer are very close, so we hang out even on days off. Yesterday was, I think the only day we didn’t hang out because we were too far from each others' hotels. After our show we’ll go shower, then watch a little Slayer then after their show we’ll all go into their dressing room and drink, and talk and laugh. So you make the seven week tour feel it’s not so long.
There have been some huge names in the past too.
We’ve been very lucky. Pantera; that was one of the sickest tours I’ve been on, because I was so drunk all the time. It was great when I got home from that because I had to sober up and get healthy again. We had a great time on Kiss; we did the ‘Crazy Nights’ tour. But I have to say, this tour, we always have a great time with Slayer. We have fun with just about everybody, because we like to keep it light. You know, have a drink, have fun without getting stupid. We have this vibe, and six weeks into the tour, everybody’s still really cool. Everybody’s still really comfortable and I bet you everybody really misses each other when we leave.
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Anthrax 'For All Kings' tour edition is out now, via Nuclear Blast.