Frank Bello har spelat i Anthrax sedan han var 17, men har samtidigt skrivit musik som bara legat och väntat på att få hamna på ett album. Nu har han tillsammans med Dave Ellefson snickrat ihop Altitudes & Attitudes första fullängdare efter att tidigare ha släppt en EP. Musiken är mer rock än hårdrock och Frank står för sången. Vi ringde upp honom i New York för att snacka om lite allt möjligt, bl a om hur mycket musiken betyder för honom:
“Look, I thank God for music just because it gave me somewhere else to go when so many negative things were happening. I had a great upbringing when I was with my grandmother, my aunt so they gave me a great life thankfully. When your dad takes off at ten and all that stuff, you have a lot of stuff building inside of you, a lot of angst, so music was my outlet to get rid of that angst and it still is. Funny thing is that as we talk right now, that is still my way out of feeling that angst inside of me.”
What are your earliest memories of music? Did you grow up in a home where there was always music playing?
I did. Me and Charlie (Benante) grew up in the same house. My dad took off when I was younger and I went to go live with my grandmother, who was Charlie´s mom. We lived in the same house and Charlie really got me into music. He was the first one and he always played drums. He played from when he was four years old and my grandmother, rest her soul, was always very open to and she was very supportive of that. She saw that I liked music and then Charlie started to play a little guitar and I started to play a little guitar and it really worked out that way. It was a really supportive house and I´m very thankful for that.
What kind of music was your grandmother listening to and was that music you liked as well?
My granmother just really liked the fact that Charlie was into music. I come from an Italian background, so there was a bit of Italian music in the background, which I loved anyway, and it was very family oriented. Charlie always went for the rock stuff right away, so obviously growing up as brothers, I took right into that too. It was cool and it made me feel good. Maybe it helped the angst that I had all those years, so music in general really helped with the upbringing of my life, because it could´ve gone another way for sure without music.
What were the first couple of records that you bought with your own money?
Great questions. This is classic rock we´re talking, back in the day. It would go from like Boston to Led Zeppelin and stuff like that. The we go into the KISS years and into Cheap Trick, Van Halen… all that great stuff as I was growing up in the 70´s is very influential. That was my way of feeling better about what was going on in my life with no dad and all that stuff and a horrible divorce. I felt like that was a really great outlet for me.
So music really helped you in a big way back then?
No doubt! Look, I thank God for music just because it gave me somewhere else to go when so many negative things were happening. I had a great upbringing when I was with my grandmother, my aunt so they gave me a great life thankfully. When your dad takes off at ten and all that stuff, you have a lot of stuff building inside of you, a lot of angst, so music was my outlet to get rid of that angst and it still is. Funny thing is that as we talk right now, that is still my way out of feeling that angst inside of me.
Something that I miss is the excitement of getting a new record. You hardly knew anything about it, you hadn´t heard any songs and you didn´t really know what the cover looked like. Do you miss those days as well?
Absolutely. I just think now, with the internet… let´s face it, the internet is helpful and it really hurts a lot, but at the end of the day, what I remember as you´re talking about it now, is the experience of buying a record. Maybe you just heard a song you wanted to check out. Buying that record and opening it, putting that needle on the vinyl and looking at that record. That whole experience of like ”I wonder what this sounds like?” I remember buying KISS ”ALIVE” (1975), I think that was my first album to buy and I said ”What the hell is this gonna sound like? Whatever it is, I´m sure I´m gonna love it. I´m sure I´m gonna love it because it´s so cool to look at.” I opened it up and put it on and I was so psyched. I loved it immediately. I said ”This is amazing!” That was a whole special experience that people just don´t have now and that´s a sad thing because I think it´s very missed in the music of today. That experience of living that moment and that connection with you and the record and your own take on that music. All that great stuff that came with it.
You mentioned the stuff with your dad and I´m thinking about the success you have had with Anthrax, touring the world, selling a lot of records and so on, at this time in your life, have you come to a conclusion of what true happiness is?
Family. True happiness is family. And you need your health to be good with your family, so those two things really. Health and family brings happiness and for me, it´s always been that. My next thing is music, because it´s always been my one constant in life and I love it and I wanna pay it back and I wanna contribute to it as much as I can to the world, whatever I have in me to make people feel good about this stuff. For me with songs, I just wanna connect with people. The title of Altitudes & Attitude´s record is ”Get it out”, to get this stuff out of me and I´d like it to connect and if it does connect with people to make them look at things in a different way. I needed to get this out.
The songs on the album are more rock oriented and quite different from the stuff in Anthrax. How long have you had this feeling that you have this other music that you need to get out there? Are we going back several years or…?
I just think that I´ve always written songs. The way these came out, I´ve had some of these stored for a while and I guess this is the way these songs came out because it´s such a connection from the inside of me, the angst I have in my gut. That´s the most honest way I can explain it. They came out as rock songs. I just had these things in me that wanted to sound like a rock record. With Dave, the way we worked together, it was obvious where we were going. We both have the same understanding about what it is. We do our heavy stuff in our day jobs, Anthrax and Megadeth. We wanted it to be a rock record and I think that was important and that was just the way the songs were sounding and we just let it be like that. I think you can´t force that.
Since you both come from music that is much heavier, how was it those first couple of times you and Dave (Ellefson) got together, did it all just kind of flow? And did you know which direction you were going in?
It really did. Honestly, it really did. From the beginning it started with me and Dave doing these bass clinics and Dave said to me one day ”Why don´t we start writing songs so we can play them at the clinics?”, so we did and it was just as easy as that. It became these songs and we said ”These ain´t just clinic songs. We have to record these and nurture them and see where this goes.” and this is what you have right now. It became this real thing and just snowballed from there. I´m really stoked and psyched about the positive reactions from the people that have heard the songs. I never wanted to do this whole singer thing, but it just made sense. This is the only way it´s gonna sound, the way I hear it in my gut, if that makes sense? To get it all out like that. People have been telling me for a while, when they heard me sing with Anthrax, that I should be doing more singing. I guess this is the time to try it and go for it.
Are there any singers that you look to as an influence in any way?
Dude, I love singers! I love a good rock singer anytime. I grew up on KISS, remember that, so Paul Stanley has always been a big vocal influence. He´s always had that incredible voice. Robin Zander from Cheap Trick… there are so many. I think Dave Grohl does a great job. I just like ballsy singers. Chris Cornell… all that great stuff. I´m influenced by everybody who sings. Everybody who has the balls to go out there and do it. I´m just learning this stuff. With Anthrax all these years it´s been background, but I´ve done open mics. I´ve been doing open mics in the city (New York), so I go down there just to try out stuff and that´s me and an acoustic guitar and a microphone. That´s the ultimate challenge and I love that, because it´s raw and it´s you and a microphone, a guitar and the audience. I love that!
Writing these songs, do you feel it has changed you as a musician in any way?
Yeah, I think I´ve learned a lot. I´ve been really fortunate. Look, first off I have to say that I know how fortunate I have been with my career. Not everybody gets to do this for this long and after all these records decide ”I wanna do a side group and I wanna sing and I wanna write songs.” I know how fortuante I am. I just really appreciate music and what it does for people. I know what it does for me, it gives me an outlet to… if I´m in a shit mood one day or if I´m in a bad mood, I listen to a song or I pick up the guitar and it gets me out of that mood. I think it´s a great tool for that. You get in a different headspace just by listening to a song you like and that´s a really cool gift from music.
How would you describe Dave as a musician and a writing partner?
I´ll go with writing partner first. I´d just call it easy. We bounce off of each other really comfortably and there´s no negativity and no judgment. It´s just very open. We try everything each other one puts into the pot. Whatever somebody brings in, we´ll try and work on that. If it works it does and we go with it. If it doesn´t, we know that too and that´s fine, we move on to the next. It´s a very easy environment and it´s fun. We genuniely have a good time doing this and I think you hear that in the songs. As a musician, I´ve always thought Dave is a great bass player. He´s always been a friend of mine, but he´s also been a great bass player who I´ve looked to and said ”Man, this guy knows his stuff!” On the Altitudes & Attitude record I didn´t play a lot of bass on purpose. I knew that Dave was there and I knew I would play most of the rhythms on the album so I said ”I would love to hear what Dave comes up the with on this part.”, because I have my way of writing bass lines but the whole thing was what Dave would put on it. It was such a pleasure to hear what he came up with and he´s come up with some great innovative stuff on the record. There´s one song, ”Cold” where he did this lead bass solo and it sounds like a guitar. He played like a lead guitar solo on bass and I was so impressed with that. As soon as he finished I said ”We´re keeping that!”
When it comes to bass players, do you have any favorites outside of the metal world?
For me it´s not only about the actual playing, it´s also sounds and rhythmic things. Tom Peterson from Cheap Trick, and Dave will tell you the same thing, he´s one of my favorites just because of the innovative sound that he has. He´s sound has always been a piano like bass sound. It´s like a bass and a piano blended into his bass sound and that´s really important to the sound of Cheap Trick. And that carries over to Altitudes & Attitude, because we have 8-string all over the place on this record and a lot of it was inspired from a guy like Tom Peterson, that sound.
Ace Frehley is on the album, right?
Yes and I have to say, for me and Dave, since we´re diehard KISS fans from way back, to get Ace on a song… if you had told me as a 15 year old kid that Frehley was going to play on a song that I wrote, I would never have believed you. No possible way. I´m still a fan at this point, but Ace was so great. We got him to play on this song and he played a killer solo. I´m so stoked to havet hat. It´s really a feather in our cap. For me and Dave it´s very special to have Ace.
Can we expect more albums from Altitudes & Attitude?
Yes. This is when Dave and I have time. Our day jobs are in Anthrax and Megadeth and that is first and foremost, but when we have time we want to get back to this. We´ve been very busy and that´s why this took so long, but when we do have time I would love to bring this on tour everywhere.
When was the first time that you realized that playing music was actually going to work?
In the 80´s I guess. I got in the band at 17 and I graduated early from high school. I doubled up my credits and graduated six months early to go on tour with Anthrax. I was going to college, but instead I got in the band so it was all or nothing. Thankfully it worked out. I knew back then that I wanted to do this, that was it. I was fully focused on that this was gonna be my life and I had to give it every try I could and thankfully it worked out.
Has there been a time where you felt you wanted to walk away from it all?
I´ve always wanted to play music and I remember when the grunge era happened in the 90´s and that was a rough era for metal, let´s face it. It was a rough period and those were tough times, but at the same time I couldn´t wait to play, so I don´t think there´s ever been a time I didn´t wanna play. I enjoy the experience of connecting with people with music. It´s why I´m here. I need that energy.
A final thing, Anthrax started out the same year as Slayer, 1981, and Slayer is now retiring. Do you see Anthrax going on for another 10 years or…?
Well, first off, I hope so and I don´t think about it that much. The reaction that Anthrax has had for the last two records, I think we´re in a good place writing wise and I think we´re in a good place with people coming to our shows and our fanbase is growing. It´s a really postive thing in Anthrax. Let me tell you something, in the band Anthrax we are hungrier now than ever. We have a writing session in January and I can´t wait to get into the studio and start writing heavy songs with these guys. I´m looking forward to the next page.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen