Anthrax’s Frank Bello on Touring, Pantera’s Shows, Cliff Burton & More


In the wake of a successful EP and autobiography, one might assume that Frank Bello is riding high. Moreover, after years of chest-pounding success with seminal NYC thrash outfit Anthrax, you might think that the veteran bassist takes his place in the world for granted. But if you’re thinking that, think again.

As Anthrax prepares to hit the road for the second leg of its tour with fellow scene mates, Black Label Society and Exodus, Anthrax’s longtime four-stringer is as grateful as ever. Feverishly thundering away at Anthrax classics while basking in his success has left Bello humbler than ever.

And even though his musical plates are seemingly forever spinning, and with that, the success keeps mounting, Bello’s focus is eternally fixed on musical integrity and, more importantly, his fans. As one of the good guys in the business, Bello’s commitment to excellence and enduring appreciation for the people who have aided in his longevity is nothing short of refreshing, and it’s just one of the many reasons you should take in a show when the upcoming tour comes to a city near you.

As he prepares to hit the road, Frank Bello dialed in with Metal Sucks in the running through Anthrax’s upcoming tour, his favorite Anthrax to play live, his love for the bass playing of Cliff Burton, his thoughts on the ongoing Pantera reunion, and a whole lot more.

How gratifying has the positive response to Then I’m Gone been for you?

I’m overwhelmed by it in a very real and good way. I never saw it coming when I did this. I didn’t even plan on there being an EP, but after I finished my book, I had a lot of shit going on in my head, to tell you the truth. I thought I had put all that stuff away regarding my brother’s death and all the abandonment issues I had from my dad taking off when I was young. I went to therapy for it and thought I could compartmentalize it, but after writing the book, I realized that it was still there.

So, all that was full center again, and how I dealt with grief was to pick up a guitar and start writing. When it comes to dealing with the shit in my head, that’s the only thing that makes sense to me. It was very cathartic and organic. I got it to a point where I could say what I needed to say through the book and music and then put it all away. The response to it all has been very gratifying and very meaningful.

Anthrax is preparing to hop back on the road with Black Label Society and Exodus. What’s the vibe going in?

Oh, man, anytime we hit the road, there’s always a ton of excitement that comes along with that for me. During the shows we did over the summer, every place we went was sold out and packed to the gills. So, we knew we wanted to do the second leg of this thing, and considering the band’s got along so well, it was a no-brainer in that way, too. It’s a lot of fun because we’re going out on tour with our friends who we’ve known forever. It’s a win for all of us because we get to go out and play amazing music for the fans, and then the vibe backstage is awesome. We’re just hanging out, watching each other play, and all cheering for each other. It doesn’t get any better.

How does Anthrax look to build a setlist when touring with multiple bands?

Well, for anybody who’s seen the first leg of the tour, you’ll have a pretty good taste of the history of Anthrax because we’re trying to play songs from all the important records in our career. We love our fans, and we try to make everybody happy. You can’t make everybody happy; that’s impossible, but I think our fans know that when we get there, we’re going to give them the best possible show we can. Anytime, you know, that’s impossible. We’ve got so many classic songs to play, and even more that people want to hear, so it’s impossible to play them all. But it’s a good problem to have; that’s the way I look at it. Each band plays for around an hour and fifteen minutes, which is great. This way, we all have a good opportunity to get up there, deliver a great show, and have fun.

Anthrax’s Frank Bello on Touring, Pantera’s Shows, Cliff Burton & More
Image credit: Ignacio Galvez/All images courtesy of HERFitz PR

Was there ever a sense of competition between East Coast and Bay Area bands during the heyday of ’80s thrash?

For me, no. I loved all those bands like Metallica, Megadeth, and Exodus. Honestly, I always thought all of them were amazing, and it was all good for metal. It was always about the music, so I never saw a need for rivalry. All I knew was that the music made me feel good when I was young, so I never saw it like that. I was always a fan, and I still come from the point of a fan. That’s what’s great about this, but it’s selfish because when I’m playing these shows, the selfish thing about it is I’m gonna be the one standing by the side of the stage watching Exodus and Black Label Society every night. I’ve never stopped being a fan, and I still love getting out there to watch all these bands play.

What’s your favorite Anthrax song to play live?

Great question. That’s a tough one. I go back and forth, but I’ve always liked starting with “Caught in the Mosh.” The bass and all that stuff are awesome, and there’s nothing like hearing the crowd’s momentum build as I’m playing the bassline. You hear this growl from the bottom up, and suddenly, it starts up, goes crazy, and all explodes. That’s probably my favorite part, but there are so many different songs that have different little aspects that I love playing.

Which Anthrax record do you feel is most important to the band’s legacy, and why?

You can’t discount the importance of Among the Living. It’s the album that broke us and the record that gave us a career. And man, it’s great to hear people say that, and it’s great to have an album like that under our belts. But I have to say, our last record, For All Kings, I think that one was important for us. Because specifically, the last few records have gotten some great press where people have said it’s dddddddddddddddddsome of the best work we’ve ever done.

We’ve gotten some great compliments and great reviews on that record, and it seems as if it’s one that’s resonated with a lot of people. For us to be making music that some people feel is our best at this stage in our lives that’s the ultimate compliment. As I said before, we’re coming at it from a fan’s point of view. We feed off this music to get us going, and I think it’s important never to lose that hunger.

Is there a record that you would go back and change if you could?

Believe it or not, it would probably be State of Euphoria. I know a lot of people love that record, and we do, too. But there wasn’t much time to record that album because we were touring so much around that period. And I remember that we would have liked to live with some of those songs featured on State of Euphoria just a little bit more so we could develop them more. But that’s not to say it’s a bad record; we still love it. It’s more that we wanted to put it in the oven a little longer to bake right, if you catch my meaning. I have nothing overly negative to say about the record, and it’s great, but if there’s one I wish I could go back and fine-tune a bit, it would be that one.

I’d wager that you, Cliff Burton, David Ellefson, and Tom Araya forever changed the game regarding heavy metal bass. Would you agree?

That’s another great question, and thank you for noticing the bass players. But I get it, we’re supposed to be in the background and hold the rhythm, but the bass players are important. For me, bass has always been about complementing the song without taking it over. I call it “adding flavor” to the song, if that makes sense. If you can add flavor with a little bass run to compliment the riff or the melody line without taking over the song, that’s a win. It shouldn’t be about you; it should be about improving the song. For me, it’s always been about that.

But man, there are a lot of great bass players around, like my friend David Ellefson, formerly of Megadeth, he did some amazing things back in the day with Megadeth, and he continues to. And then you’ve got Cliff; rest his soul. Cliff was an innovator with a bass in his hands; he really was. The things he did were unreal, and I would have loved to have seen what Cliff might be playing now because I’m sure it would have been a step above what everybody else is doing just because of how he thought about the instrument. I’m a big fan of Cliff Burton, and I always will be because of how he thought about the bass. Cliff took it to the extra level there, and I always miss it. And then Tom Araya is great, too. Tom holds it down while also doing the vocals. To think about what Tom’s doing when he plays those Slayer songs is crazy.

Anthrax’s Frank Bello on Touring, Pantera’s Shows, Cliff Burton & More
All images courtesy of HERFitz PR

To expand on this: guitar heroics often get all the attention. How would you describe the importance of bass guitar in thrash metal?

There are so many bass players out there who are amazing, and I love learning from these people, both young and old. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it; I could learn from anybody. But I think it’s important that the bass has a voice in thrash music. It’s important that the bass is prominent, not just the background thing. Sure, at times, it does have to be a background thing, but if you look back on Anthrax’s song “Caught in the Mosh” or Megadeth’s “Hook in Mouth,” those songs have huge basslines; they make the song.

So, bass can be prominent, and there are times when the song has a great bass break or it’s the main riff. The bass’s contribution to thrash metal is huge, and I think it adds a lot to the song structure. The guitar, yes, I understand why it’s so well loved, but you have to also remember the bass is the complement of that. I look at the bass as a complement to the guitar to build a great song.

I’m sure you’ve been asked ad nauseam about Charlie’s involvement in the Pantera reunion, but as a fan of the genre, how do you measure its importance?

I am stoked about it. As a fan of metal, I think this is a great thing because it’s opening the music of Pantera up to the younger generation. You got so many people who never got to see them live, but now they’re getting to hear these songs live, and that’s a big deal. I think that catalog of songs deserves to be heard live by everybody. And it hasn’t been heard for a long time, so why not? Why can’t we celebrate it again? These are beautifully written songs designed to get people going, so it’s a great time in metal music to have Pantera getting out there again like this. This is also great for the community in general because it’s gonna get people out there to see shows. And after what we just went through with COVID, it’s great to see the fans getting out there again.

You know better than anyone how good Charlie [Benante] is. What makes him the right guy for this?

On a personal level, I have to say I was very close to done very close with Dime [Bag Darrell] and Vinnie [Paul]. I love all the Pantera guys, and Rex Brown just texted me last week from rehearsal to tell me how great it was going. So, I’m excited about all this stuff. And tonight is their first show, and you better believe I’m going to be texting them, “Good luck with the first show. Go kick ass,” because I think it’s good for everybody. This is a great tribute to Dime and Vinnie; they would have loved something like this. For me, those guys are family; it’s all family.

So yeah, I want to see this succeed. I want to see it do well. I think that people have a chance to see this happen live. As for what makes Charlie perfect for this, the two people they’ve got are great, and both Charlie and Zakk Wylde are going to kill it. Look, we all know how great Zakk is, and personally, I’m very excited for Charlie because I know how great of a drummer Charlie is. A lot of people have said that, but now it’s gonna be on the world stage for a shit ton of people to finally see. I’ll say this; I grew up in the same house as Charlie. I’ve known how great a drummer he is this whole time, and now the entire world will know what I’ve always known.

How do you view the use of backing tracks in the live setting?

My personal thing is that I want to see a live show. I like to see people singing. If you’re going to have a guitar track that fills it in because you only have one guitar player, I get it. But as far as background vocals and stuff, I don’t want to see that. It’s just my opinion, and everybody has their own, which I appreciate, and respect, but for me, man, I want to see live music. Rock music is supposed to be perfect, and when I go to a show, seeing the screw-ups is what makes it special. Look, I’ve done it myself and laughed about it. Honestly, I want to see people screw up because that makes it personal and real. I’m guilty of screwing up a vocal or bass part during a live show, but you laugh about it. It makes it special, and you remember it. I want raw, live music that doesn’t sound like a polished record.

To what does Anthrax owe its longevity, Frank?

The fans. It all starts with the fans. Like I said earlier, I am still a fan, and that remains my perspective. I honestly look at myself as a fan in a band; that’s what I am. If you look at it that way, you will never lose your hunger. I need to feel that hunger in my gut; it keeps me motivated. Because I think it satisfies us and allows us to translate and communicate our music to the people in the audience the way that we do. So, it’s all about our fans; they are the reason we are here.

But it’s also about the music you put out. And that’s why we take so long to put things out because we are to a point where we need to make sure things are right and digested. We never want to just put something out just for the sake of doing so. That’s why our last few records have people saying they’re some of our finest work. The reason is that we made sure to put out the right record at the right time. We need to stand behind our music, and that’s another reason why we’ve been around for so long because we can do that.

Anthrax’s Frank Bello on Touring, Pantera’s Shows, Cliff Burton & More
Image credit: Andy Buchanan/All images courtesy of HERFitz PR
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