For years, the world of heavy metal has been ruled by a set of bands called “the Big Four.” Anthrax is one of these bands. (The others are Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, for the record.) 37 years after its inception, Anthrax is still wildly active in the thrash scene and rocking harder than ever. If you want to see it live, it won’t be too difficult—currently, it’s on the road with Killswitch Engage, and later this year, it’ll be part of Slayer’s final tour. Can’t make a show? Come April, the new concert DVD Kings of Scotland, which captures a performance in one of the band’s favorite countries, will be able to recreate the experience for you.
We recently had a chance to chat with Anthrax bassist Frank Bello, who was in a jovial mood as he called in from Texas. Read on to learn about his love for touring, his bass clinics, and his feelings about Guitar Hero.
TYF: You’re currently in the middle of your second co-headlining tour with Killswitch Engage, “KillThrax 2018.” How has it been different from the first tour?
Bello: It’s colder. (Laughs) It’s much, much, much colder. In fact, this is the first day in Texas I can say we’ve seen sun in a couple of weeks. Not even joking when I say that. It’s been really Arctic most of our shows. Really cold. The whole tour—us and Killswitch, and I think some of the Havoc guys—have gotten colds. It was spreading throughout the tour pretty rapidly, but we’re okay now. As you called, I was literally just sitting out in the sun to try to get some Vitamin D rays. (Laughs)
TYF: What’s the temperature there?
Bello: I think it’s gotta be in the 70s, which for this tour, is absolutely welcome. Everybody’s out and about just getting out of the bus for a little bit instead of living in it.
TYF: What are some of the most memorable things that have happened on tour so far?
Bello: The shows. Straight up, it’s the shows. These shows—if they’re not sold out, they’re packed. And that’s the best thing that could happen to all of us. Both bands are really having a good time with it. Fans that maybe haven’t seen Anthrax. Killswitch Engage fans—maybe it’s their first time they’ve seen Anthrax, and they’re getting a taste of that. Same thing for Anthrax fans who haven’t seen Killswitch. And having Havoc open—it’s a really cool package. Everybody’s really enjoying it; everybody’s having a really good time. Everybody’s very cool. It’s very mellow and just a good vibe.
TYF: Yeah, that’s great. And I know you’ve mentioned in other interviews that it’s so exciting to go on the road and see a new generation of Anthrax fans. Have you had the chance to interact with any of the new generation personally?
Bello: Yeah! We do meet-and-greets every night, so absolutely. Actually, we have some in-stores planned for next week. You know, the great thing that’s going on with Anthrax is the whole generational thing that’s happening. I’ve seen it happening from the beginning. I think it started when we did the Big Four. Metallica’s fanbase, thankfully—and I have to tip my hat to Metallica; it’s a great band—they gave us a chance to open us up to a whole generation of fans because they have such a wide, wide, fanbase. So I guess people on that tour who had heard of the band Anthrax but never really saw them got an actual chance to see them. And we’re putting out the DVD, so along with our own fanbase, which has always been great, thankfully, we’re noticing a whole bunch of new fans coming to the shows. Younger fans, too. So our age range now… I saw a kid on top of his father’s arms recently. He couldn’t have been 11 years old. [The age range is] from there to anywhere in the 50s and 60s. And it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s welcome, and it’s great to see that.
TYF: You mentioned the DVD, Kings Among Scotland, which is coming out in April. Do you have a favorite scene or moment from the film?
Bello: Well, here’s what I like about it. Here’s what I’ve been telling people that I like about it. When we were doing the editing, [I realized]… Everybody has to sell the DVD, [but] I don’t wanna just sell it. I’m a fan. I wanna know what the fans get out of this DVD. And I can say this as a fan—you feel like you’re there. That’s what I want people to feel. When we were getting the shots [and editing] and stuff, I keep saying, “Wow, I feel like I’m at the show.” And that’s the best thing I can tell you about this. I’m really psyched about it because it’s at one of our favorite places in the world, Scotland. That crowd… There’s places in the world where you always say, “Man, I wish we would’ve taped that show,” after the show. This time, we did it. (Laughs) This time, we actually did it. It worked out well. The crowd was insane. It was a great energy between the band and the crowd. And that’s really all you can ask for. Especially if you’ve never seen an Anthrax show… I really think it brings you there. That’s really important to me.
TYF: What are some of your favorite things about Scotland?
Bello: Well, I have a lot of good friends there. I have one specific friend who has been my friend for about 32 years—Andy Buchanan, who is now Anthrax’s photographer. He introduced me to Scotch. (Laughs) It’s just the people. The people are great people there. I mean, there’s great people around the world, but I have a lot of good friends there, and we have a good fanbase. And again, it’s really nice to see it keep growing.
TYF: You mentioned the community in the metal world. How would you say that today’s metal scene compares to the metal scene when you were starting out?
Bello: Well, you’ve gotta remember, starting out for me was Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, stuff like that. There’s more groups now, obviously, which is cool. Look, the more music, the better. Everybody should be able to express themselves the way they should. The way they want to. I think there’s something for everybody. I just wanna see this movement of music grow. ‘Cause of course, you’ve got your pop MTV stuff, and this metal would never be on MTV or radio. So we stay underground, and this is the way we do it. We tour. And that’s how we get around to making people feel what we do. It’s very important. We pretty much have to do that.
TYF: Speaking of tours, later this year, you’re going to be accompanying Slayer on what will be Leg One of their final tour.
Bello: Are we? I didn’t know that. No, no, I’m kidding. (Laughs) It’s funny, and I’ll tell you why. We’re on this tour, which is doing great. Very successful tour we’re on, the Killthrax tour. I’m very happy with it. And everybody keeps hitting me up for that next tour, too. So you’ve gotta realize… We’ve been around a few years, and you know this. Every friend from every state is calling me for tickets for the next run. And we’re just in the middle. It’s Slayer’s tour. I’m glad to be on that tour ‘cause they’re dear friends and I love them, and I’m happy to send them off and hang with them the whole tour. It’s gonna be great. I’m totally excited about that. And you’ve gotta understand, we’re very close with Slayer. We came up the ranks together. It’s gonna be a good time. I wonder what’s gonna be crazier that tour, the backstage or on the stage. It’s going to be one of those tours that everybody should see.
TYF: You’ve been on many, many tours over the years. Are there any rules for tour life that you’ve learned?
Bello: Yeah, stay alive. (Laughs) And you know what it is? It’s not easy. We have this flu thing that’s been going around the tour. And it doesn’t matter if you have a cold, you still have to play. You can’t call in sick over here, you know that. You have to be really on a hospital bed to cancel a show. All of us, we’ve just gotta get up there. Look, we’re very lucky—we’re very fortunate, to do what we do. But you can’t call in sick. That’s just the way it goes. So you have to eat right, all that good stuff. You can party and all that good stuff, but it’s all about the show. Don’t make it interfere with the show. That’s really what you have to live by.
TYF: Do you have any advice for people who are starting their own bands, specifically thrash bands? What would you tell them?
Bello: Get your diploma. Get your diploma first. Look, that’s what I did. It’s harder now than ever ‘cause you don’t have a lot of outlets. Thank God we have YouTube and all that stuff—we have the Internet. But it’s harder than ever now. Make sure you have something to back you. Get your diploma; get your schooling in so you can write smart songs. (Laughs) I just think it’s important—maybe this is the father in me; I have an 11-year-old son—get your schooling in. But you have to really want this. You’ve got to have that fire in your belly. I think that started for me when I was what, 13 or 14 years old? I wanted to be onstage; I wanted to be writing music. That was my goal. I know that I’m very lucky, very fortunate, and I don’t take that at all for granted. I’m very thankful for it. And look, even in this age it’s not an easy business. You have to work every day to get what you wanna get to. It’s important. Get ready to work hard! (Laughs)
TYF: Out of all the Anthrax lyrics, if you had to get a tattoo out of one of them, which one would you choose?
Bello: One, I would never do that—I would never get any lyric or anything like that. ‘Cause I live what we do. There’s too many… I can’t even come up with one. That’s a good question, but I would not tattoo anything, and I don’t recommend anybody getting our lyrics on a tattoo, ‘cause I’ve seen some crazy, crazy tattoos. I don’t recommend anybody getting lyrics. Read the lyrics; you don’t have to get ‘em tattooed. My own lyric in my head [that I live by]—“Live for today.” It’s not an Anthrax lyric. Maybe it is somewhere. But my thing is, “Live for today,” for sure.
TYF: That is definitely a good motto. And in addition to playing with Anthrax, you are also an actor. Out of all the roles you’ve played, which would you say is the most like you in real life?
Bello: That’s a good one. I’ve done some crazy plays where there was some inner anger that come out, some fun stuff—back in the day, ‘cause I haven’t been on a theater stage in a long time. Greetings from Tim Buckley, that was fun. I’ve done some Law and Order stuff. That was funny. I can’t remember the name of this play I did a long time ago. It was a small, small theater in Manhattan. I forgot the name.
TYF: What was the play about?
Bello: It was about kids growing up in the inner city. A lot of anger, a lot of angst, which all leads to one thing, you know… good songwriting! You know, I think acting and songwriting are very similar. [With acting], you have to build a character; you have to give them life. Same thing with the songs. You’ve gotta build the song. Verse, chorus, bridge… all that stuff. You build it till it’s right. And that kind of thing, it’s very satisfying to me—something I’ve always wanted to do more of. I always tell my acting agent, “Look, if you wanna know when I’m available to audition for stuff, go on Anthrax.com.” And then she looks at our touring dates and goes, “You’re never gonna be available.” (Laughs) Because look at this—look at what we’re doing now. And it’s great to be wanted. People keep asking us to do tours and stay out, and it’s great. But on the other side, I have a family, and when I have downtime I spend time with my family, too, since there’s not a lot of time. I would like more time [for acting], but it doesn’t happen.
TYF: Anthrax has a few songs that reference Stephen King. I’m curious—has Stephen King ever commented about these songs or reached out about them?
Bello: Stephen King was actually gonna come to the show last week. Where were we? Oh, we were in Florida! He has a house in Florida; I remember that. And he emailed [Scott Ian]. Scott has been a great Stephen King fan forever—I mean, we all are. But Scott’s written about it, and it’s been great, great stuff that he’s written about. Stephen King contacted us and said he was gonna try and come down. He had something else to do, and he couldn’t come. But on that Slayer tour we were talking about? I think we’re playing near his home. So the invitation will be out there.
TYF: Your song “Caught in a Mosh” has been included in a handful of Guitar Hero games. With that said, I’ve got to ask: have you ever played your own song on Guitar Hero?
Bello: (Laughs) I suck at Guitar Hero! I suck. I can’t even figure out the first thing… I’ve tried it! I’m embarrassed! I was in Best Buy and I was just trying to figure it out, and this kid who had to be 12 or 13 years old comes over and he was awesome at it! I asked him, “How do you do that?” And he showed me how to play the guitar thing. I didn’t know how to do it.
TYF: Guitar Hero is very tricky. I cannot even score well on beginner level.
Bello: Look, in this generation, with what’s going on now, anything that gets some kind of instrument into somebody’s hands, I’m all about. That’s why I do bass clinics. I think it’s important to put an instrument in somebody’s hands to give them that thrill. ‘Cause I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It gave me an outlet. And I want to give people an outlet to have in their lives. That’s why I want my son to play. He’s a gamer. He’s a video gamer. And just playing guitar in front of him… Hopefully, he’ll catch on. He sings now. That’s a start. I’m happy about that. But I think it’s a great outlet for anybody to play some kind of instrument.
TYF: You mentioned your bass clinics. What are your bass clinics like?
Bello: I keep ‘em light. I keep ‘em fun. There’s a lot of people that do bass clinics that just show [students] the theory and the technical stuff. And I’ve gone to a few of them, and I was bored, so I said, “I don’t wanna make people do this!” I wanna make people want to play instead of intimidate them out of playing, right? So I just make it fun. I bring people on the stage, and if they wanna know a song or something I can show them on bass, I’m more than happy to do it. They’re a lot of fun. You can look ‘em up on YouTube. If I’m doing one at any time near your vicinity, come on down. They’re usually free. We have a good time. There’s a lot of joking, a lot of interaction with the crowd.
TYF: That would be great. Finally, is there anything else that you would like to say to the readers and your fans?
Bello: Just thank you. Thank you for being a part of this ride. It’s been fun, and the ride continues. Obviously, we’ll be seeing a lot of you out there, either on this Killthrax Tour or the next tour with Slayer. We’ll be playing. You come on out.