By Cathy Moore
Over its 35-year career, Anthrax has been a pioneering band with its unique style, sound and heavy brand of thrash metal. They have had a myriad of accolades throughout their career including sales in excess of 10-million units, countless awards and recognitions, six Grammy nominations, the first metal band to have its music played on Mars, mention in a Stephen King novel, and of course one of “The Big Four” bands to popularize thrash metal for the world. In December 2016, Anthrax was presented with the “Innovator Award” at the Revolver Music Awards, in recognition of the band’s three-and-a-half decades of helping to shape and change the face of the hard rock/metal genre.
As part of the band’s 35th anniversary year, Anthrax released one of 2016’s most-anticipated metal/thrash albums, For All Kings, that debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Chart, and #9 on the Top 200, becoming Anthrax’s highest-charting album in more than two decades. Written by drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello and guitarist Scott Ian, the dynamic triumvirate whose unique composition chemistry is, in part, what sets Anthrax’s music apart from other bands’ in the same genre, combined with Joey Belladonna’s breathtaking vocals and the searing guitar leads by newest member Jonathan Donais, it’s no wonder the album and the band’s live shows have consistently received tremendous reviews.
On March 29 Anthrax kicks off a mega North American co-headlining tour with Killswitch Engage aptly titled “KillThrax” which will remind the world that even after 35 years in the music business, Anthrax is still a force to be reckoned with. I had the honor of chatting with Frank Bello about life as a member of one of the most successful bands on the planet.
So you are currently overseas finishing up a headlining tour. How is the tour going over there and are you excited to get back to the United States and hit the road with the “KillThrax” tour?
Bello: Yeah, the tour is going insanely good over here. I mean these are packed houses every night which is really, really gratifying. It’s really great to see. We’re doing a lot of shows. I have to say that first – there’s a lot of shows. This is a six-week tour and we’re doing a lot of consecutive shows. Like we just finished four in a row, we have a day off, and then the last ten shows are five in a row, day off, and five in a row, and then I’m on a plane home from Paris. (laughs) We’ve been great. This is a long show. Over here in Europe and UK we did this. We did like a best of kind of first set and then the second set we did the full Among the Living set. The reviews have been insane. People have been really, really psyched about the whole idea. And really some great fun is being had over here. It’s been great. It’s absolutely what we want to accomplish. This is our first real headline tour in a really long time – I think it’s been about ten years. So we’ve been promising this for a long time, and we wanted to make sure it was worthwhile.
I know I am personally so excited to see the KillThrax tour. When you guys are over in Columbus, OH I will be there with bells on. I’m super excited about it. How did this collaboration with Killswitch Engage come about?
Bello: Well…easy enough…we’re friends. We’re friends with a lot of bands. The metal community is very tight. We’ve all been friends with those guys for a long time. We’re friends with their management. And we’ve been teasing the whole idea of “we should tour together, we should tour together.” And it just came about that this is the right time because we wanted to do a headline tour and they wanted to do a headline tour. And it just made sense for a great package for the fans. We just always look at it as a fan. And that is giving people something special I think when you go see two bands like that – going out and giving a full headline set. So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
I absolutely agree! Will there be any onstage collaborations with the two bands?
Bello: No because there are two other bands opening and there’s not a lot of time. So I don’t think there’s going to be any collaborations. I mean I’ve known those guys for a really long time so the backstage will be fun. It’s not a big deal with that stuff. I’m sure everybody is going to get their money’s worth with this tour. I’m actually really looking forward to it because they are such good guys. And it will be fun to be back in the states too. Although we’ve done some great stuff over here. We’re just a very lucky band to be worldwide. Wherever we go we have a good time.
And 35 years. 35 years! Did you ever imagine that you guys would still be doing this at this point?
Bello: Well, I don’t think in any business – let’s face it – look, when you are a kid – I got into Anthrax at 17 years old so that’s when I started in the band and so when I look back at that and think about how long that’s been it’s pretty incredible. I just remember it was either college or Anthrax and I went to the Anthrax college. (laughs)
What’s funny is in my day job I work at a college. I’m definitely one of those people who doesn’t think college is the right path for everyone. You have to find what works for you and obviously this worked for you.
Bello: Yeah, the whole college thing was mainly based on baseball. Did I want to go to college for baseball and all that good stuff? And if I was good enough and who knew – all that stuff. But I knew my passion was music so I auditioned for Anthrax and got in the band and that’s when it all took off. It all just went crazy. I started touring at 18, and I’ve been on the road since I think.
Is it hard to balance all that touring with your family back in New York? How hard is that to be on the road so much like that?
Bello: As you know, it’s hard. I have a 10-year-old son and I have a wife obviously. It’s very hard when you leave – I don’t know if you’ve ever gone for a long amount of time. I’ll put it in perspective for you – I left for Europe it will be six weeks when I finally get home. I’m home for literally nine days and then I go out for another six weeks. So it’s not easy. It gets harder to tell you the truth because at this stage in the game you have to stay on the road longer just because nobody is selling records. I mean we sold a great amount of records for us we’re really happy with it, but it’s not like the heyday of when illegal downloading wasn’t – you know what I mean? So illegal downloading absolutely took that financial aspect of it out so you have to stay on the road longer to make the same kind of living. So it is what it is and this is what we do. The movie The Godfather has the line “this is the life we’ve chosen.”
So is that kinda why you guys did this great vinyl set with For All Kings? Did you do that to try to get people back into buying the actual physical music?
Bello: Well yeah, you gotta remember – again, I go back to always being the fan. Give them something. I go back to being a KISS fan and an Iron Maiden fan – bands that always gave you something special – something that was different. Still to this day both of those bands still do it. So I would love to hear something with a demo in it from an Iron Maiden thing or a KISS thing. I get stuff like that now and I think my god, this is so cool. I always put myself in that perspective and it’s not a greed factor it’s just a cool thing to have. And with our fans the big payoff is when you talk to these fans and they say, “Oh I love what you did in this thing.” Or “Oh that’s the way that song sounded at first?” How cool is that? I just think when you put yourself in that place of being the fan – because you can’t lose that, you never lose that fact that you’re still a fan. We are fans that are lucky enough to write music to play for other fans and just have a good time together. That’s what this is about.
So you guys have had some amazing accomplishments like you’ve sold 10-million plus albums, received multiple Gold and Platinum certifications, six Grammy nominations, the first metal band to have its music played on Mars. What stands out to you as your proudest accomplishment with the band?
Bello: Oh there’s a couple. Look, first of all like we said – 35 years. Just being around today. That’s our biggest accomplishment – and thriving. To say when we came out with For All Kings just a little over a year ago for people and reviewers a lot of them are saying – the bigger percentage – are saying that it was our finest work to date. You have to understand how that feels and what kind of accomplishment that feels like. So to hear people say that at this stage of our game – and I think we’re hungrier now. We’ve tapped into a great vein of writing where people look forward to the next album. How many bands that have been around 35 years people still look forward to the next record? We’re selling better than ever. Everything is going really well. Our numbers in attendance for these shows absolutely jumped if you look at these shows we’ve been playing. So Anthrax as they say – I know all these promoters have been saying – is on the upswing. Which is great and it makes us hungrier for the next move. So that’s our biggest accomplishment. You can talk about Yankee Stadium. You can talk about The Big Four and that kind of stuff. There’s just so many great things we’ve been blessed with and believe me we’re very humbled by it but also you gotta remember we’re from New York. I think we are a nose to the grind kind of band and we just want to work hard. That’s what we’re about. The energy is there for sure.
So how would you respond to people who say, “rock is dead” or “rock is dying”? What would you say to that especially after what Anthrax is experiencing now?
Bello: Look, it’s a hip-hop world. At the end of the day it’s a hip-hop world and that’s the way it is. Look, you could like it or you don’t like it – it doesn’t matter to me. I play metal. I play rock and roll and metal. I love this. It’s underground. It’s all in cycles. You gotta remember – music is always cycles. It comes around. There’s always cycles in music. Again it will be the leader of the pack one day. I don’t know when. I don’t think anybody does but life is in cycles. You know what I mean? So I don’t get how anybody can just put that line out that rock is dead. It’s just underground, but isn’t that a cool place that it makes you hungrier to write better songs. I look at it in the positive light. Rock will never die. Rock will never die. Somebody will always love rock. They are going to need a guitar. They are going to need to have that fire in your belly met. That’s what it does for me. That’s what it does for you. So as long as that exists I don’t ever see it going away. Just because it’s underground – not on the TV – the obligatory TV – and the horrible radio that goes on in America. I mean come on! And let me tell you something, thank god for satellite radio. Yes, thank god for satellite radio and the college stations. I have to say this – and the college stations. There are very few stations that play rock and metal in America. But you know what just because it’s underground doesn’t mean it’s dead. That’s my line.
So after 35 years in the music business, how do you think it’s changed?
Bello: Well first you gotta hit on the illegal downloading. It’s completely killed the music business and it hasn’t recovered yet. It hasn’t recovered yet where they found a way to pay people for writing music without getting it illegally downloaded. You’re really making music for free in reality. But record companies – if there is that record business thing – whatever that is now – they haven’t figured it out yet. But touring life is life and merchandise and bands have had to find other ways to make a living. And that’s how it survives. That’s why I buy my music. I support the bands that I like because I know the other side of it. Look, in my band we spend months away from our families paying babysitters and everything else to go write music for the new Anthrax record. Nobody pays me for that. So when you are illegally downloading – it’s the truth – you are just taking food – whatever you want to call it – pay, money, survival away. But nobody is crying here. At the end of the day we’ll adapt. Anthrax has always adapted. Maybe that goes back to the New York thing. It’s a New York survival thing. But that is a definite thing that they haven’t figured out – how to fix that yet. But we’ll see.
Even though as a reviewer I often get free downloads of the music I review – if I love it I always buy it. Always.
Bello: Of course. And that’s the thing. You talk about Spotify and everything else. Spotify is what I think is a good idea just because Spotify gives you a taste of what a band or music could sound like. And then I’ll go and buy that record. If I like the band that I happen to get a taste of on Spotify, or if I hear one song and I like it, I’m going to go buy the whole record. I’ll buy a CD because I’m old school – and that’s ridiculous even saying old school because what I think is missing from this current society right now – and I see it going back to vinyl which is a great thing to see because there was nothing like it. And I wish kids now – or people in general – could get that experience of opening the record, opening the plastic off a record, pulling it out, putting it on the turntable, and just having that experience of looking at the album cover and just listening at the same time as looking at the album cover and having that experience. That was an experience that I cherish. I still cherish it. I remember when I bought KISS’s Alive and I put that record on – I put it on the turntable – yes, vinyl. And I say yes, vinyl again. It was awesome. The crackling starting the record, “You wanted the best, you got the best!” It brought me to that moment. It really did. It was an experience I had in my bedroom. It was such a great experience and I wish more people could have that experience because I think it’s a great thing for life.
Yeah. That was the best. The lyrics used to come with it. I read the liner notes. Everything. Loved it.
Bello: Exactly. You actually got – it was a total music experience. And what I realize is there is a lot of distractions now. There’s video games – that’s the big game – I get it. There’s just a lot of other things to distract you and music maybe isn’t as important to some people in the world as it used to be. But that’s a great experience. That’s one of life’s great gifts I thought. I still think that.
So…any more acting in your future?
Bello: Yeah…you know it’s funny because if you look at Anthrax.com you see my life. It’s pretty much been on the road. My agent has been after me for quite a while. She goes, “When?!” My agent, Sarafina, she goes, “I just need time. Frank, you gotta give me some time.” So I think when our cycle is up – when Anthrax’s cycle is finished because I mean we’re booked until December. So I’m going to try to squeeze some in. I’m actually going to have a conversation with her next week. I’m looking in to just getting into some rooms and reading again. My god, it’s been forever because I’ve been on tour forever and believe me I’m feeling it.
How do you all not get at each other’s throats all the time when you are spending that much time together on tour?
Bello: You know what it is – we are very smart with this stuff now. You’re in close proximity but we all know it’s one cause. Like on a day off – for instance – last night Scott and I went to see the movie Logan…
Oh was it good?
Bello: It was awesome. I highly recommend it! It was awesome. So we went with a couple of crew guys and the other band members – some went to dinner and some just hung out. We know how to space it – you know – how to give everyone their space. You get together on the stage and it’s one big craziness – it’s one big party.
Don’t miss the KillThrax party. Here are the complete tour dates.
29 The Wellmont Theatre, Montclair, NJ *
30 Express Live, Columbus, OH **
31 Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL (Anthrax only)
31 The International, Knoxville, TN (KsE only)
1 Little River Casino, Manistee, MI (Anthrax only)
1 Norva, Norfolk, VA (KsE only)
3 The Fillmore, Silver Springs, MD *
4 The Dome at Oakdale, Wallingford, CT *
5 Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA **
7 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI *
8 The Fillmore, Detroit, MI **
9 Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA *
11 The Ritz, Raleigh, NC **
12 Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA **
13 House of Blues, Orlando, FL *
15 Texas Independence Festival @ Grizzly Hall, Austin, TX **
16 Boggus Ford Events Center, Pharr, TX **
17 House of Blues, Houston, TX *
18 House of Blues, Dallas, TX **
20 The Marquee, Phoenix, AZ *
22 The Wiltern, Los Angeles, CA **
23 The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA **
25 Showbox SoDo, Seattle, WA *
26 Roseland Theatre, Portland, OR **
28 The Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO *
29 Sokol Auditorium, Omaha, NE **
30 Midland Theatre, Kansas City, MO *
1 The Pageant, St. Louis, MO **
3 Danforth Music Hall, Toronto, ON CANADA **
5 Paramount Theatre, Huntington, NY **
6 Upstate Concert Hall, Clifton Park, NY *
7 House of Blues, Boston, MA *
* KsE closes
** Anthrax closes