» Frank Bello - Anthrax
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Interview conducted March 4 2017
Interview published March 21 2017

"So it's a different day. Record companies have not caught up yet. They don't know what to do with this streaming and everything. They don't know. They have no clue."

New York's veteran thrash/heavy metallers Anthrax are out celebrating the 30 year anniversary of the milestone record Among The Living and soon after the band's arrival in Stockholm, Metal Covenant seized the opportunity to talk to bass player Frank Bello about the current tour, the latest record For All Kings and the whole situation around today's music scene.

"I never put a limit on anything in life. Look, why? What am I going to do? Go to some elderly home?"

Tobbe: So you're out on another Among The Living tour, if I may say so, and how did that idea come into realization in the first place?

Frank: It came from… Look, we haven't done a proper headline tour in 10 years. People have been wanting it, and I understand, I'm a fan, you know, about this metal thing. The problem has been, and it's a good problem to have, every time we planned a headline tour another great opportunity came up from another band that is bigger than us, that had bigger audience than what we can make of Anthrax fans, so of course you have to do that.

Because at the end of the day you wanna get to the most people that you can to make them hear your music and that's what we're here for. So, it's been up to that and now we finally had this bunk of time and "Okay. This is the headline tour! What are we gonna put in that headline tour? What do people wanna see?". There's our promoters, all the managers and a lot of stuff. "Let's do something special!" and it's Among The Kings tour.

So what you see in the Among The Kings tour is, what I think, two sets. You have first 50 minutes that's just like classic and even newer songs from Anthrax and just a really cool, compact set and then you see a 5-10 minute break where the crew sets up the stage and then we come out and just pound them with Among The Living. The whole record in its entirety and I tell you, man: This has been a crazy, crazy, packed tour. This has been fun. People are just feeling good after they leave this show.

It's a lot of time in the show, but the pay-off, from what we see, My God, the reviews have been great, people are coming out in droves, so we couldn't be more happy. It's a great thing. This is the fourth week. Like, put it this way: This is our fourth in a row; I need a day off. Tomorrow will be a great day off. I'm just gonna be in my room and just be disgusting with food. [Laughs] So that's what I'm gonna do tomorrow, so.

Tobbe: So is Among The Living your most appreciated record over the years and maybe the record that influenced most bands?

Frank: Well, that's the record that broke us, so this thing is a payback to the fans and to say "Thank you!". You know, 'cause we currently have For All Kings out and that's doing really well and a lot of people wanna hear a lot more songs off of that, which is great to hear. And look, at the end of the day, just a little over a year ago we came up with For All Kings for people to review it and a lot of them are coming back and saying that's our best record to date.

There's something really special about that, and really gratifying, and it makes you wanna do more. It gets you hungry for more, 'cause we feel like we've hit a really good writing vein within the band. We're in a good writing place and we have a lot more to say. So we're looking forward to the future. I tell you: Anthrax is a hungrier band now than I think it's ever been, like since the early days, because we taste it now, and it's on the rise, and you feel this, the ground is swelling, and a lot more people are showing up to the shows, and record sales. All that good stuff, so it's a really good place to be in.

Tobbe: So what did your last record, For All Kings, have to offer for the old school Anthrax fans?

Frank: Good songs. You know, at the end of the day, you say old school/new school, what the people want, I'm a fan so I think I would know this just as much as you would know this: "Never stop being a fan!". What do you want? I want a good song that makes me feel something and you wanna connect with it. I'm a fan, when the bands that I love… when Iron Maiden writes a record I want it to connect with me and that's what they've always done and that's what I want from Anthrax to do with the other fans.

As one of the writers in this band I wanna connect with fans to make them feel something inside. And that's what's really important, so when they come to a show we can have this great energy together. 'Cause I don't think it's about just the band; I think it's about the fans, and the band, making this one great energy to make a great show. That's what I think it's always about.

Tobbe: And I think the previous record is also, like, in the same vein and…

Frank: Yeah, Worship Music. A lot of people say that we have come back with two great records, but I don't think we were ever gone. It's just I think we're in a really good place and it's a time of our lives. Metal's in a good place right now. I think it's vibrant and strong and I think it's a great fanbase that's there and there's a new fanbase coming up, which is great to see, for the future.

Tobbe: What about the front cover on For All Kings? Is that delusions of grandeur?

Frank: Well, the way I look at For All Kings is really about being the king of your own kingdom. It can go with any walk of life. Being responsible for yourself and being the best you could be at what you are and what you want in life. Going for it, right? And going for what you want in life and being the best you can be.

Tobbe: You know, it's been like 5-8 years, ever since '98, for a new record from Anthrax coming out, so are we looking at, like, 2021 for the next release?

Frank: I hope it's faster than that. You know, the crazy thing is with Worship Music we did well over 300 shows and we're gonna come close to that on this one. But look, again, you know what the great thing about this is? That people wanna see your band. And I'm very humbled by all this, I'm very flattered, it's great to see the world and all that, but don't forget we all have families at home and you gotta remember you need some family time. But this is a great thing.

But it won't be 5 years, 'cause I don't think anybody wants it to be 5 years, but we're booked until January [2018] right now and what I'm hearing they're gonna start booking January too. Then we'll start getting the edge. You know, to start and maybe putting some stuff together.

Tobbe: When you guys started out, the competition in music wasn't as big as it is now, so what does a band like Anthrax do to attract younger people and not only the old fans?

Frank: The thing is: We did this Big 4 tour, with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth, and that brought a lot of younger fanbase. Metallica is the biggest band in the world, arguably. I think they're the biggest band in the world and they were great enough and gracious enough to bring the other bands that we grew up with. Look, we all grew up together, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, so it was nice to celebrate this thrash movement.

I think that brought a big chunk of younger fans in, with a different fanbase that had maybe heard of Anthrax, but never saw them. Then when they saw them they became our fans, which is great. So what happened was you see anywhere a demographic now from maybe 12 years old to 60 in our audience. And everybody is welcome. We love everybody coming in and just having a great time and getting what you want out of it. So I see that happening now, man. That's caught on and we're having a really great time with it. It's fun seeing what's going on right now.

Tobbe: Regarding Metallica. It was a sad moment after you played in Stockholm 1986 with them and Cliff Burton.

Frank: Well, of course. I mean, we were just talking about that and it was a very, very sad time. We were very close with Cliff, and obviously Metallica. So you try to move on, and rest his soul. Cliff will never be forgotten. He's one of us, he's part of the family and I always think "What would he be doing now?" and I think he's making great music in heaven. That's the way I look at it. Makes me feel better.

Tobbe: So if you look at today's record sales numbers, which words out of these 3: sadness, disappointment, anger is most suitable for you?

Frank: Reality. Another one is reality. Look at the music business and what is the music business now, really? [The interview is taking place at the Spotify office in Stockholm and we both look at the walls and the ceiling before Frank continues.] Yeah, Spotify. I have Spotify and I listen to different bands now and I listen to different musics. If a Spotify song can make you go out to buy the record, I use that. I think it's a great thing. If you hear it once, you're trying it through Spotify and it can make you go buy an Anthrax record, then I'm all good with it. So it's a different day.

Record companies have not caught up yet. They don't know what to do with this streaming and everything. They don't know. They have no clue. They're still back and that's why they all went out of business and they still try to catch up and it hasn't even come close to it yet. But this is a part of it. At least people are hearing music with Spotify and hopefully it makes them buy a record and I think that's really important, so.

Tobbe: It's hard to know, but if you talk to your younger fans, like kids 15 years old or something, do they actually buy the physical product still or is it only Spotify?

Frank: It's interesting because I think there's a movement now. Look, you can just go to Spotify or iTunes and listen to songs and stuff like that, but I find that people want physical. I'm seeing it more and more. Maybe they see from their big brothers and fathers and stuff like that? Having a physical item like this album… I mean, there's a vinyl resurgence now, which is awesome. I used to love the experience of opening a record. I remember I got Iron Maiden - Killers. I remember opening that and I couldn't wait to open it. "Man, this is gonna sound great. It's gotta sound great! 'Cause look at this fucking cover.".

The whole experience when I put it on and what that meant when the album came out so great. That was my joy. Think about this fucking great album cover. The next thing is I wanna go see this band, you know. I mean, I remember Kiss - Alive, I did that. That was a great experience of opening a record. And the whole time. Putting it on the turntable, the needle, and listening. It was just a great experience. That was my time. I loved it.

Tobbe: And you didn't have the competition back then from, like, cell phones and great video games and stuff, so.

Frank: Yeah, yeah. Well, again, you gotta remember that also. There's a lot more distractions out there. Look, let's face it. Music, to me it's important, but not to kids as video games and stuff like that. There's a lot more distractions out there, so it's got more competition now music. Look, music will always be here and thank God for it, but there's a lot of more distractions.

Tobbe: You were active long, long before the internet age arrived, so if you compare today to back then, was it easier to run a band in the 80's, even if technology has helped you later on?

Frank: It wasn't easy. I don't think anything is easy. Look, at the end of the day nobody ever handed us a gold record, you know what I mean? We had to work very hard. I remember the days of the van tours. Living on $5 a day. No money and playing to a small amount of people in a club. Again, hard work. You want hard work to pay off. I don't think that's ever been more true with music, and especially now.

Yes, the technology is there, but still, it's so much harder now for young bands to get started. I feel bad for them. It's so hard to get started. Yes, you have the technology and you can put it on the web, but what does that mean? It's so much harder to get the actual people to listen 'cause it's so much competition, you know.

Tobbe: You know, Charlie [Benante, drums] has started a business around coffee and several other metal musicians all around the world start up different movements to get a living, so is the time almost over for a metal musician to solely live off his music?

Frank: Well, I think you gotta be creative. Look, that's why we are on the road so much more. At the end of the day, in general, for every band, album sales aren't there the way they used to be, so you have to make income other ways. So I understand people going out to businesses and stuff. We stay on the road a lot longer than we'd like to, but it is what it is, and look, the bottom line is: people are coming to the shows, they're asking you to play, you go play them! But yeah, it's not as easy as it used to be. Again, we're all big boys, you know. We are all big boys and we have to go with reality and this is the hand we've been dealt.

Tobbe: When you were young, musicians and the fans were very much more separated then they are now and a lot of things are now out in the public too, so is it stressful not being able to concentrate on the music to a hundred percent and instead also have to set time aside for social media and stuff?

Frank: The music is always first 'cause without the music the rest is all garbage. Social media is a way to get your music out. It's a way to make people know that the new music that you created is coming out. So I think it's a very important tool, in this day, that we never had before. And it is what it is. You can use it for what you want. That's the cool thing about social media. You can use it for how you wanna use it. You know, it's still free, which is cool. Still, we'll see.

Tobbe: Do you have people in your family, or friends, who don't care much about music and can tell you about this whole situation from another viewpoint?

Frank: Yeah, of course. Well, I mean, my family, you gotta realize, 35 years with Anthrax; they've grown up into this. We've all grown up into this band thing. Anthrax is definitely a family member. Look, like in every walk of life, we all have it, in everybody's job you have peaks, you have valleys, peaks, and valleys. Look, again, I always go back to this: I'm a New York guy, I deal with reality all the time, I'm a big boy, I wipe it off my shoulder, you know. We've had our dips. Anthrax has had our hard times. Now we're on the upswing again. It's really great to see. But there'll be more dips, but that's life.

I don't think because you're in a band it's anything different. Bands go up and down. That's the way it is. We are persistent. The thing I've loved about Anthrax, maybe it's a New York thing, we've always been persistent and just: Never say die! And I think that message goes out to a lot of people that like us and say "Never!". You know, you gotta wipe yourself off and get on the bike again.

Tobbe: A lot of bands from America, like Anthrax and Testament, like you said, in the last 10 years, are on the way up again.

Frank: Thankfully. Look, it's been a great resurgence. Again, you feel peaks and valleys, but it's one constant thing and it's just that it's a time in our life. That's it. I ride the wave. I know we're putting our best music out. A lot of people have told us we're putting our best music out, 35 years in. I'm very flattered by that. So to do a thing, like we're doing Among The Kings tour for our fans, is very special to me to, like, give back to them and say "This is for you. Let's all have a good time. A lot of different songs.". I think it's a great idea.

Tobbe: Do you get inspired by touring with a younger band like The Raven Age? They could be your sons actually.

Frank: Yeah. Absolutely. And George Harris is Steve's son. And yeah, look, they're a great band. I only wanna help young bands. This is a great shot for a young band. Steve Harris and Iron Maiden have been great to Anthrax, so what I see this is "Why not? Why not make our fans see a young and upcoming band who I wanna see do well?". It's not just about that Steve asked us, but I think it's a nice thing to see for our fans. Originally this was gonna be "An evening with Anthrax.", but we thought this would be a great idea to get them on here. And they're doing well, which is great. You'll see tonight. They're doing well on tour, so. I want them to do well. I'm pulling for them.

Tobbe: The musical climate is so much different to when you were young, so what can you teach those guys in a live environment?

Frank: It's just "When it gets tough, the tough get going!", really. It's that old line, because this business is not easy. The one thing they're learning is you have to play, and play, and play, and play. It's really about getting in front of people and making people know. They have a record coming out [Darkness Will Rise, March 17th.], so it's very important to just get in front of as many people as you can. The same way we did and the same way Iron Maiden did.

Really, it's that same thing and they're learning the ropes. So that's what you teach them. And if you don't have a great show; look, wipe it off and move on to the next show. You have another show tomorrow; go for it, you know. Tomorrow's show will be a great show, so you don't think the negative. Just keep going. Forward motion.

Tobbe: If we're not talking money, what has the touring life still to offer for guys like Anthrax?

Frank: The feeling. Taking a step on that stage is the ultimate drug. I'll be really honest, I don't do drugs, but… no drug can do that feeling. It can make you have that feeling at the first step on the stage. Your connection with the fans, that's the God's honest truth, is why I still can do this, with certainty tonight, that I'm excited for tonight's show.

Because all the rest of this, look, the whole traveling, we had a 9-10 hour drive here, you know, and you get up, off the bus, you brush your teeth, you get ready, come here to Spotify for 3 hours doing this stuff and talk to people and all I'm looking forward to is that hour and a half, I think we play almost two hours, on that stage tonight. And that's the magic, man. That's the magic. [The show went on for 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15 minute break in preparation for the Among The Living set.]

Tobbe: So you have that same kind of feeling for the whole two hours?

Frank: Always. Fuck yeah! Look, you need a breath once in a while, but the energy of an Anthrax show with the audience is just incredible. It's the ultimate drug and I look forward to it every night. And even if you're feeling like shit, 'cause we're all human, and if you have a cold, blah blah blah, you know what? The adrenaline from that show just carries over. It's the best medicine, man. Even though I look tired now, 'cause this is our fourth in a row, you'll see! I'm not even worried about it. It's like an electric shock, man. "Let's go!". I look forward to it.

Tobbe: And you personally are the guy with the highest energy on stage. Absolutely.

Frank: Well, thanks. I love what I do and I'm very thankful. I have a good time and I'm very fortunate. I'm very humbled that I'm allowed to do this. I know how lucky I am to do this. I want people to have a good time. That's my job. It's make people have a good time at this show. Forget about your problem for two hours with Anthrax and just have a good time. That's what this is about.

Tobbe: So, strange question. If Joey [Belladonna, vocals] hypothetically would part ways with the band again, is it even possible to continue with another singer once again?

Frank: I'd rather not. This is Anthrax. I can't even think that way. It's just so tight now. The band is closer now than it's ever been. It's crazy to say that after all these years. We've learned a lot and we get along really well and, look, at the end of the day we see each other more than our family. So, this is a family and people have, you know, bumps and grinds sometimes, but who gives a shit about it? That's all small potatoes. Live your life! We're enjoying it, we're very lucky to be here and let's just have some great shows.

Tobbe: So for how many years to come will we see Anthrax tour and continue making records?

Frank: I never put a limit on anything in life. Look, why? What am I going to do? Go to some elderly home? I wanna have a good time. The way I look at it, Anthrax is just starting up now. So, I'm just having a good time.

Tobbe: Soon 50 years of Anthrax?

Frank: Oh, no problem with me. I'm ready. I'll be there.

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