Frank Bello on Anthrax’s New Tour and Future Plans

Anthrax - Sept 13 2016 - Metropolis, Montreal (Photo by Jean-Frederic Vachon)

It’s hard to believe that Anthrax has been active for close to 37 years. And since their formation in 1981, Anthrax must have played Montreal at least 20 times, in various lineup configurations. However, if the members sometimes changed, one constant remained for the New York thrash metal veterans: they delivered a kick ass metal show, every single time. “Montreal has always been one of my favorite places,” admits bassist Frank Bello. “The crowds are always insane and they bring it to us, and I love that.”

However, a Montreal visit brings off stage preoccupations for Bello. “The shows are always great; I never have to worry about that. Do you know what I have to worry about?” he adds laughing. “How much I’m eating before the show because the food… I know so many great food places in Montreal. I have to watch what I eat because there’s a show that night!”

If many of their contemporaries from the 80’s are content to surf on the strength of their classic material, Anthrax has enjoyed a revival of sorts since singer Joey Belladonna rejoined the band. Starting with 2011’s “Worship Music”, but especially with 2016’s “For All Kings”, the band’s new material stands up with their classics, and fans of all era love the new tracks. “Thank God they do,” says Bello, “and we love them for it. But you know what’s great? When people want to hear the new songs even more than the classic songs. It’s a great problem to have, I think. When people get mad that you can’t play more new songs.”

Following a successful co-headlining tour with Killswitch Engage, the same package is about to hit the road for a second leg, this time with support from Havok.  “Promoters were asking us during the tour: ‘Would you be interested in doing a second round?’” recalls Bello. “We’re friends from way back, great guys. The best time to tour is when you’re really friends with everybody; it becomes like a party.” The tour opens in Montreal on January 25th, and both bands will alternate who goes first. “It doesn’t really matter who opens or who closes it,” Bello pleads, “because everybody will still have the same production, the same amount of time. It’s two full shows, so it really works out great for everybody. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Frank Bello – Anthrax – Sept 13 2016 – Metropolis, Montreal (Photo by Jean-Frederic Vachon)

Building the setlist

For any artist with a substantial amount of material, building a setlist that pleases everyone can be a challenge, and Bello says they are facing that exact challenge. “I would love to play the whole record (For All Kings)” he admits, “but obviously, you can’t do that because you have a whole catalog of songs you have to do. There’s a couple of songs, the standard songs like ‘Caught in a Mosh’, you have to play, but we try to mix it up too. We’ll get to the first show, on the 25th in Montréal, and we’ll rehearse some songs, but we’ve been around long enough and we know each other so well as musicians, we know what will work at this point, put it that way.”

This dilemma over what to play has meant that a sizeable part of their career, while John Bush was their singer, is ignored. “First off, the John Bush years were great. I loved those years”, Bello interjects. “For a while there, when Joey first came back, we played ‘Only’, but then there were so many other catalog songs that people were asking for that Joey had sung on the record. There’s just not enough room.”

New Anthrax DVD

Anthrax will release a new live DVD, “Kings of Scotland”, on April 27th. Recorded last February in Glasgow, the show featured a complete rendition of their classic 1987 masterpiece “Among the Living”.  “It was fun,” recalls Bello. “As I was relearning it and reviewing the songs to play at home, you go back through the recording process and the writing. You remember the studio where you recorded and when we were writing the songs. Little flashes come in of memories of what went on. It was kind of cool to relive that.”

The DVD promises to capture faithfully the energy that is a hallmark of Anthrax’s live shows. “I’m really psyched about this DVD”, says Bello. “When we were editing this, all I kept saying is, ‘Wow, do you feel the energy from the crowd?’ You feel the energy, I think, through the DVD because we’re very at home in Scotland. We have a lot of good friends there, we’ve been going there for years, and it definitely came through.”

The band hasn’t slowed down with age, but I wondered how hard it has to be to play such intense music. “For me, it’s all about challenging myself. I think the whole band is like that: nobody lets it lay. Maybe it’s a New York thing, but there’s a lot of energy within, so you always want to do better than the last time. What’s going to fill that fire in your belly? That’s why we listen to metal: because It lights that fire in our belly.  “

Frank Bello – Anthrax – Sept 13 2016 – Metropolis, Montreal (Photo by Jean-Frederic Vachon)

Future plans

Bello hints at yet another big tour after the second round of ‘Killthrax’ is done (Note: it’s the newly announced Slayer Farewell tour), and it doesn’t sound like the band is seriously thinking of a follow-up to ‘For All Kings’ yet. “Everybody in the band has their home recording thing they do”, he explains, “and I write every day, Charlie writes every day, Scott writes every day. We all write individually, so probably after this tour, maybe this summer, we’ll start getting together. Everybody’s got individual stuff that we’ll start working on and see what works, what doesn’t work. But right now, there’s too much touring.”

Bello is also busy planning new material with his side band Altitudes and Attitude with Dave Ellefson from Megadeth on bass, and Bello on guitar and lead vocals. “When we’re not working with our day jobs,” he says laughing. “We worked with Jeff Friedl, from A Perfect Circle, on drums and Jay Ruston produced it. A few years ago, we did a three-song EP that got a lot of great traction on radio and we were really psyched that people wanted to hear more.” At the time, the pressure of being in two major active bands made it difficult for them to do shows and keep the band active, but they’ve got an album coming up. “Dave and I have recorded, with Jeff and Jay, a full record that will be coming out in September/October,” he says. “We’re pretty excited about it; it’s just hard rock with melody.”

Assuming the lead vocal role isn’t as much of a stretch for Bello as one would assume, though. Already, in Anthrax, he is a major contributor of back vocals, and writes most of the melodies. But he’s also a regular at open mic nights in New York clubs. “I go downtown with an acoustic guitar and I just sing songs that I’ve written, just to get it out and try them out. So, for me, it’s a pretty easy thing; I don’t even think about it. It’s just another way of expressing the songs.”

As our conversation comes to a close, I ask Bello if he’s surprised at the longevity the band has shown. “I’m thankful and surprised at the same time. On the other hand, I know we work very hard to make it be that. I don’t think we’ve let anything go. We’re fans of this music and the way we write songs, we write them as fans. I think that comes through and I think that’s what people like about Anthrax and I’m very proud of that. I would never want to let down the fans. So, I think that’s why the longevity comes in because we care. We truly care because we’re fans ourselves.”

 


The Killthrax tour, featuring Anthrax, Killswitch Engage and Havok will hit the road on January 25th, in Montreal at MTELUS. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster and at the door.

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About Jean-Frederic Vachon

Jean-Frederic Vachon is a pop culture aficionado who mainly writes about music, here on Montreal Rampage and at his site Diary of a Music Addict. But given the right subject, he also likes to cover comics, video games and hockey. Contact: Website | Facebook | Twitter | More Posts