A year on from the release of his incredibly candid autobiography ‘Fathers, Brothers, and Sons – Surviving Anguish, Abandonment and Anthrax’, Frank Bello is back with a musical accompaniment. “You take the book and all that emotion and angst I couldn't get rid of, and that's where the record came in”, he says of ‘Then I’m Gone’. Issued as a deluxe gatefold 12”, the three-track EP also contains excerpts from the book, as read by Bello himself. We caught up with Frank for a chat about the book, the EP, and Anthrax past, present and future. Catharsis; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Frank, how are you doing?
I'm good, man. I've been kind of nonstop promoting this EP thing. I didn't realise how tough it is when you don't have a band behind you, when you're doing everything on your own, because this is pretty much on my own with EP. Yeah, there's the record company and all that good stuff, but my god, when it's all you, all the time, my voice is hoarse. It's been a lot, but it's all for a good cause. I'm so happy with the reaction it’s getting. It's paying off because people are digging the songs, and that's all it matters.
Rewinding just a very short while, and how did you enjoy the recent UK dates with Anthrax?
The 40th anniversary UK tour man; ‘humbled’ is not the right word, but it's this closest one I can get. I guess during COVID you get to realise what you missed, and I think all of us did. I missed playing live, I missed seeing crowds, and I missed seeing fans. I just like the interaction and the connection with friends and fans that come to our shows, that listen to our music and support us. Honestly, I genuinely missed that. This past this past year we've done a couple of tours; we did that tour with Black Label Society and Hatebreed which was wonderful, in America. Then we came to the UK with Municipal Waste, and I have to say, man, I didn't expect that reaction.
What was it that surprised you?
It was so overwhelming. If the shows weren't sold out - and a lot of them were - they were packed to the gills, which was really, really fun. You just felt an intensity when we played; not only on the stage - you get that the band's always going to be intense on stage and have fun and all that good stuff - but the crowd; they met that energy, that's the best way I could describe it. They were waiting to see this show, that's what it felt like, and we were happy to see them. It built into this really great vibe, and I mean, this is every show, too, and I'm just very grateful for that. I think that's a rich feeling that you really take and you savour it.
It's been a year since we last spoke; how does it feel this be this far on from the book release, now that you've had that distance?
It's a year into this and you know, first, the word is grateful; the second word is connection, because I had no idea when we talked the last time what it was going to do, if people would accept it, number one; if people would really dig in and understand what it was about, because it's not your typical rock and roll book. It's just not. And I didn't want it to be like that; I wanted to tell my story, and I just I had something to say in my life that maybe could help even one person. For me, it's about paying it forward at this point in my life. Yeah, there's some hardships that I've went through with the loss of my brother, abandonment; a lot of issues I still deal with on a daily basis that I found out. Since then, so many people I've connected with, and that's the most gratifying thing.
You've found that people have connected with your personal trials?
So many people have connected with that side of the book. Yeah, there's all these great rock'n'roll stories with Pantera, Metallica, you know; touring stories, backstage stuff, and that's great, but what I was really happy about was they dug deeper and really got into how it feels to be abandoned. Look, my whole point of this was; I did this, and I went to therapy, and you get bounced on the floor and what you do is you pick yourself up, and you brush yourself off, and that's what people got out of it. I can't tell you the amount of letters and emails and messages that I've gotten saying that this book helped help them, and for me, and that's the payoff right there.
That must feel so rewarding.
That's the whole reason; that pay it forward and to make somebody feel good about themselves and saying; "look, if Frank did this, and he brushed himself off and got up and moved on with his life, then maybe I can just try". So this book became, from the rock and roll book, to more almost going into self-help, because so many people are finding that about it, which is great for me. I'm really happy about that.
Did you find it was perhaps even more cathartic than you thought it would be, once it was done?
It was. I finished the book and I felt cathartic, and this all leads into the next section of the process. You finish the book, you feel this relief that it's out, and it's not yours anymore. Once you write either a song or a book, I found out, it's not yours anymore; it's everybody's. That's why you want to share it. So I felt cathartic that it was done, but what I didn't know - and this came out a little bit later - I stirred up some things inside of me that I thought I compartmentalised in therapy and everything else, that when I confronted them again, writing the book with a bottle of booze and a lot of tissues, they were right here again in my face.
That sounds emotional.
What I found out is that it's not so easy; you can't just put them away again, you just can't because they're right here, and they stay with you. And you don't realise; “why do I feel this way? What what's going on?”, because I'm feeling those feelings again. What I always do when I feel in a bad way like that is I pick up a guitar. I've always done this my whole life; I pick up a guitar and I write, and somehow it just works for me and it soothes me. It's always been a great outlet for me, so that's what I did. And you know, it goes forward; you take the book and all that emotion I was dealing with, and I couldn't get rid of the angst inside of me, and that's where the record came in.
So the book directly led to the EP?
That's where the songs came in. It was a place to put that. Song is always a great place to vent and to get the anguish out, and that's what I did with the songs. It really made a lot of sense, and now from what I'm hearing from the reviews, a lot of people are getting that; they're digging in, reading lyrics. Seeing emails and texts and messages about how this song made them feel about their lives, is great. It's making people react, and that's important.
How did it feel to be holding a Frank Bello record in your hand, and not an Anthrax one for the first time?
It's very special for me. You know, it's a long time coming. A few years back I did a side project with my friend Dave Ellefson, formerly of Megadeth [Attitudes & Altitude], and that did well and people really liked that. I was very happy, and I sang on a lot of the songs, but I felt on this, because it was such a personal thing coming from the book, and I still had this anguish, that it was really important for me to tell that story and just do it on my own.
Is the majority of the recording all you?
I sang it, I played bass, I played guitar; everything except drums. I had a studio drummer play, and it was awesome. It really felt good.
How would you describe the sound of the EP for those that haven’t heard it?
I don't want to say it's a metal record, because it's not. This is just the stuff I grew up on; heavy rock and roll. Even before metal I've always liked heavy rock and roll, and then it got into metal. So this is me, straight out of what I'm feeling, and when I hear people talking about how they take their life and put it into the lyrics that I'm writing; wow, that's really strong for me. Again, it's about connecting with people and saying; "look, I got through this somehow; you can do too", because there's a lot of shitty things out there right now to in life.
Musically, the songs have an almost punky vibe to them.
I'm a big Clash fan. Some people say sounds like The Clash, The Foo Fighters; that's a great compliment, and I'll take it. I like Hüsker Dü, and people compare it to Hüsker Dü and Bob Mould as well. I love Bob Mould, so that's a great compliment. That's what I've heard and for anybody to compare any of my songs to Bob Mould, because it was I think he's a master songwriter who I love; it's a compliment. This is stuff I grew up on, then you can go back to The Beatles or whatever, and I still love to this day, so when anybody says something like, yeah, thank you for that.
'Won't Be Long' has a definite Foo Fighters vibe.
I get the Tom Petty thing too, which is cool because I'm a big Tom Petty fan. I understand that too, which, again, these are all great compliments attributed to the people that I truly love as songwriters. It's all it's all positive. It's putting more music into the world, and music has always made me feel good, so why not put more stuff positive stuff into the world?
What guitars did you use? I definitely hear a Fender Telecaster in there.
That's a great question. Yeah, I used a Telecaster, and a Fender Strat, which was killer. I also have a couple of Gibson's that I used on it, and I have an old [Gibson] Explorer that I used. I recorded the guitars just a here in this room right here, so I had my selection of whatever I wanted. That's what's great about home studios and stuff; I don't have a big setup or anything, but I have a little home studio like everybody else at home, and I just get it done. This was very raw, this was very street, street driven, so I was here doing my guitar tracks, my bass tracks, and I even did some of the vocals in here. It all made sense; very easy, and no stress involved, and that's what I like.
I was actually looking at the vinyl reissue of Anthrax's 'Volume 8' album, and I spotted a picture with you playing a Jackson Randy Rhodes V.
I think it was Scott [Ian]'s way back because that was probably a backstage shot. Backstage there's guitars in the dressing room and stuff. Usually backstage during the day, you're bored out of your face, so what else do you do? You see guitar, you want to have some fun, and that was me probably just picking up the nearest guitar. See, now I'm with Charvel, and I have a new signature bass coming out. That's not even a promotion; I just want to tell you. So I've been playing some Charvel guitars which they've been giving me, which I love. It's a whole lot of fun, and more to come.
Going back to the book, and in it you said that you were a little bit disappointed not to be asked to participate in S.O.D.
What I was disappointed in was Scott had these great riffs and I would have liked to have seen some of them used with Anthrax. I wanted Danny Lilker to play on it. I think Danny deserved to play on the S.O.D. thing; it was his and Scott's thing with Charlie [Benante] and Billy [Milano]. I think that was a great thing. I love the S.O.D. record, I love S.O.D., so my thing as a fan, and as a band member, I think that's a bit of confusion. I wasn't disappointed; I wanted Danny to play bass and I love him. I would have loved to have some of those riffs that Scott wrote, as I thought it was brilliant, for Anthrax. That's all it was because we were done with our record and he used them and, he had these extra stuff and he used it for the S.O.D., like; "oh man, I wish we could use that for the next Anthrax album!"
You did however, get to record the song 'Milk' when Anthrax did it on 'Attack of the Killer B's' in 1991.
Yeah, that was fun. I think it was the first time I used the 12-string bass on an Anthrax song. Yeah, that's pretty heavy. I love that song. I love a lot of the S.O.D. stuff.
After so much early success, what was it like around the period of 'Stomp 442', when Dan Spitz left the band?
What you learn after being in a band for a long time is, it's playing music, but there's also music business, and that's the God's honest truth. It's a business, and you have to deal with the changes, and that's just the way the business works. In order to continue the band, which is what we want to do, and we're very hungry to do, the only way is dealing with the blows. Something happens; you have to deal with it and make it right, and that's what we did.
You know, it's funny that you're talking about that just as I'm going to see John Bush with Armoured Saint, tonight, which I'm really excited about. I'm going to see him play about 30 minutes from my house. My manager and I are going to go and I'm hoping we can go have an early dinner just to chat and catch up because I love John. We're all good friends so, it'd be nice to catch up. I'm looking forward to it because I love Armoured Saint. I think they're opening for W.A.S.P., so it's going to be a fun night.
That leads nicely on, as 2023 marks 30 years of 'Sound of White Noise'; has the band any plans to commemorate it?
I love that record, and you're talking to a fan that's in the band, right? You know, Anthrax right now, we are in writing mode. I'm happy to say that, so I think Anthrax has to concentrate on our next record because everybody wants a record; we all want to record, and we've been hearing nothing but; "when's the record?!" I get it, I totally understand, so I would think people would want us to concentrate on the record, which we're doing.
So the new album is coming along?
I think it's important for us to get in the studio next year and really concentrate on that and make the right record because, you know, we take our time, and that's the whole point. So I really think yeah, we'll celebrate it, and of course it's great to have 30 years, but the main focus point of Anthrax right now is really to get to work on our record to make sure it's the right record. Nothing's going to divert that attention.
You’ve also a tour with Black Label Society booked across the USA for 2023.
We're going on tour. We're doing this tour with Black Label Society and our friends Exodus are opening it. So we're looking forward to that in January, February and freezing our butts off there. It's going to be a fun tour. The tickets are doing really well from what I've heard already. So yeah, aside from that, it has to be focused on getting the record going, and just really writing and making sure we have the right record.
The last couple of Anthrax albums have been consistently good, so is there a pressure then to follow them?
There's no more pressure than we put on ourselves to get that riff that turns you fucking crazy. I mean, when you hear a riff, when one of us comes up with a riff; “fuck yeah!” You know that's good; It's got to be that or nothing, and believe me, sometimes you come up with something that the other guys aren't feeling or vice versa, and it's like; “man, I love that”, but it's all for the good of the song. I don't think you can put more pressure than we put on ourselves to come up with something that gets us going, because we're fans, and it's got to get us raging on stage. There's no phoning it in here; everybody's got to feel every note that we play, and it's really important. And look, at this stage, nobody has time for bullshit. I just love what we do, so I'm pretty excited as a fan about what we're doing.
Do you think 2023 will see the new album released?
My publicist is going to kill me for even talking about this, because I promised that we're not supposed to talk about it. What I can tell you is we’ll know, when the records done; it's got to be right for us, and when we know what's right, it'll be it'll be done. Plus, we also have some other things; Charlie's playing in Pantera next year, so we're going to give him space to do that and let them do that, which is cool.
I'm glad you mentioned the Pantera reunion; how do you feel about seeing it for yourself? You must have mixed emotions, given the long history between Anthrax and Pantera.
Well you have to realise Anthrax and Pantera were family. It wasn't just friends hanging out; that was very much a family. I mean, we shared Thanksgiving dinners in Dallas with Pantera; it was Anthrax, and just the bands and crew. We lived with each other, so it was so very close. So you have to understand, to even think right now that Dime and Vinny are passed, I don't put it in my head like that; I always think they're right here. I have to keep that right here because they're our brothers. I mean, honestly, they were very, very close to us.
How do you feel about the line-up?
When this thing came up, and I heard that they wanted Charlie, I said “yes, of course”. Obviously Charlie is the guy. And Zakk, because as a fan, to see these songs played right, and with respect, and as a tribute, the guys that they have in that band are the guys that I want to see. And I'm talking as a fan who stood on a lot of side stages for Pantera, seeing them kill every show. There’s a lot of videos with me on the side with Rex [Brown, bassist], doing shots with Rex during the show. So I know exactly what I'm going to be seeing and I'm excited that they pick the right two guys. Zakk and Charlie are going to kill it, I think. I'm really excited. I want to see it, and I think it's a celebration. There's a younger generation that's never seen Pantera, and it's all about the songs, man. Those songs deserve to be heard live, and I think it's going to be a great tribute done right. Phil, Rex, again, family. So I just think it's positive for metal, and I think people are going to love it.
Anthrax have an incredible catalogue of songs; what are your favourites?
You know, I love the song ‘Room For One More’. I just happen to love the way that makes me go crazy. It’s just everything about it; the music, the vocals, and the way the crowd was reacting when we played that song. I also love that we’re playing ‘Only’ [in the current live set], and to see the crowd sing that song nowadays, it’s very fulfilling. I love that stuff, and there’s so many; ‘Catharsis’ is another great song.
And then you go back to the Belladonna era; ‘A Skeleton in the Closet’, and a song like ‘The Enemy’; it’s obscure but I just happen to love that song because I love his vocal performance. I also love that we do ‘Deathrider’ once in a while, and stuff like ‘Metal Thrashing Mad’. You can go up and down the list of records we have; it’s a good problem to have.
But you also have to remember that people are paying their hard-earned money to hear specific songs that they want to hear, and that’s important to me too. I love ‘Caught in a Mosh’, and if you don’t play that, you’re in trouble, right? There’s specific songs, like ‘Indians’, and I totally get it, and it’s fun to play them because every time we play a show, it’s like it’s new again because that’s a new audience. It’s a rebirth of it.
Off the top of your head, according to Setlist.fm, what do you reckon is the song that Anthrax has performed most live, during your career?
It’s got to be ‘Caught in a Mosh’.
It is ‘Caught in a Mosh’!
It’s funny because the bass starts that song, so when I start the bassline, I hear the roar. There’s nothing more that gets you started for a show like that. I go into fan-mode; “yeah, let’s DO this!”, and then it blows out.
Do you have all your gold albums from across your career?
I do have gold discs. I should put them up in my house. A lot of our records, thankfully went gold, and one platinum, I think. I don’t rest on that. I have them in my attic, believe it or not. It’s funny to say that, I know. When I moved into this house eight years ago, I didn’t need to have that because I want to stay hungry; I’m not going to rest on my laurels and what I’ve done in the past. There will be a day when I will reflect, but now I just feel like it’s perpetual and you have to move on. I guess when the time and the place comes for that, I’ll know, but right now I have them very securely stored, and I have so much more I want to do. It’s an emotional thing for me, and I’m hungry for this stuff. The drive has to stay alive. All that stuff is great, but like a shark, you have to keep swimming.
Right now of course, it’s all about the EP and the book.
It absolutely is. It’s very exciting, and you know what it is? It’s the expression, and getting this out of me and connecting. I did not expect that, and I did not expect the amount of people that are connecting with the songs, and that’s the most important thing. That’s all you want to do as a writer; you just want to connect with somebody and make them feel what you’re feeling and put it into their lives and make them use it, and pay it forward. That’s want I’m hearing is happening. It happened with the book, so the connection to the book is the EP, so it’s a nice little combination thing going on. As an artist who’s been doing this for a while, it’s very fulfilling.
It's a great outlet, and I think, by doing side projects like this it makes Anthrax stronger. We all have this homebase of Anthrax and everybody has side things – Scott does Mr. Bungle, I’m doing this, Joey [Beladonna] has the Journey thing, John [Donais] has Living Records, and Charlie’s doing Pantera – I think that’s all great. It makes it a healthier Anthrax because when we come back home together, that unity will be strong. I think it’s really positive.
What would you say to those that are connecting with the book and the EP?
For everybody who’s supporting my book and has gotten the EP and is writing the nice messages to me; “thank you”, because I know there’s a lot of competition out there. There’s a lot of music and books, and I just want to say to everybody; “thank you for giving me a chance”, I really, genuinely appreciate it.
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Frank Bello's 'Fathers, Brothers and Sons - Surviving Anguish, Abandonment and Anthrax’ book is available now via Rare Bird. The 'Tnen I'm Gone' EP is available on vinyl from Experience Vinyl.