Back in 1981, guitarist Scott Ian pulled together a group of like-minded musicians to form the heavy metal band Anthrax. More than 30 years later, the lineup might have changed, but the music always rocks. The group is set to play Sunday, April 14, at the Fillmore Silver Spring. Bassist Frank Bello, who’s been with the band almost from the beginning, had a chat with A&E about the band’s new CD, “Anthems,” being on tour and his love of acting.
A&E: Let’s talk about “Anthems.” You’ve got Rush, AC/DC, Boston, Journey … how did you guys come up with the song you chose for the album?
Bello: These were the songs that kind of rounded us out as we were growing up. This is the stuff we grew up on. I mean, you listen to Cheap Trick, Rush — one of my biggest influences on bass is Geddy Lee. Charlie [Benante] the drummer, his biggest influence is Neil Peart. … This is the stuff we jam with at sound check, to be quite honest. You’ll never hear an Anthrax song — unless there’s an issue with it, a sound issue — you’ll never hear an Anthrax song. We usually jam to someone else’s song, just to have fun.
A&E: Geddy Lee really liked the cover of “Anthem.”
Bello: Yeah, the whole band, actually, came back to us and said they loved it. The ultimate pat on the back, the Cheap Trick guys liked the song, the Journey guys [did as well] … we’re getting some really nice feedback because this is sort of our thank you. These are great songs by great artists, and it just feels so good.
A&E: Over the years — you guys have been going for 30 years now …
Bello: Yeah, I just say “early ’80s” now. I just put it like that. [Laughs] It’s been a while.
A&E: It has been a while. In that time you guys have had a lot of members in the band …
Bello: Well, the four consistent members with Joe [Belladonna], Charlie and Scott [Ian]. Then we jammed with John Bush for a while. Now we’re back with Joey. We had Danny Spitz who was the original guitar player, and now John [Donais] from Shadows Fall is helping us out.
A&E: How would you characterize the relationship you guys have?
Bello: Well, brothers. It’s family, it’s just a complete family. You know, throughout the years, you gotta remember when I started with the band I was 17 years old. So yeah, that was 30 years ago. It’s been a good run. We grew up as brothers. We’re together more than we are with our families, so this is very much a family. Now we’re all having kids, and everybody’s got families, and it’s just a really nice cycle.
A&E: You have done a little bit of acting …
Bello: Yeah, yeah, you know it’s a side thing that I do, but I love it. I’ve always done it. When I’m off tour, I’ll put myself in a class. It’s just another form of expression, and I equate the acting, and stuff like that, I equate it to writing a song. … It’s just another way of performing. I’ve always liked that, and I’ve been doing it forever. I’m a New Yorker, so I got to New York theater — that’s what I do with my side time. I get roles. I go when I’m actually home, which is a rarity. I get to audition for films and stuff. So I did this Tim Buckley film, ‘Greetings from Tim Buckley,’ last year. It’s gone to some film festivals, and actually it’s in the Tribeca Film Festival, which is next month. I’ll be going to that, which is cool.
A&E: Would you say you’re a musical guy? Like Broadway stuff?
Bello: No, no, no, man. I just like getting into that character. It’s just like building a song. I’m not in it for the fame game — we all know about the fame game, it’s all [crap]. I just like the actual part of being someone else. I like doing that … I’ve always loved digging into someone else. It’s just cool.
A&E: Who did you look up to growing up?
Bello: Well, it’s funny because I grew up in a, I don’t know if you know this or not, but I grew up without a dad. So, without a dad, I looked up to my musical influences and my bass heroes, as in Geddy Lee, Steve Harris, Geezer Butler. These are my influences, and those are the ones I looked up to growing up. It always made me wanna get to that next level of play and all that stuff. It always inspired me. So that kept me pretty much focused on what I wanted to do in life.
A&E: You guys are going to be performing “Among the Living.” The title track on the album is based on the bad guy in Stephen King’s “The Stand,” Randall Flagg. What possessed you guys to write that?
Bello: Scott wrote the lyrics to that. He read the book and was all into it. It totally worked with what we were about and what we were doing at that time. You know what’s great? I have to tell you this – Watching these kids, even the younger generation now singing every word of those songs … it’s just so amazing to see. I mean, just with ‘Among the Living,’ oh my God! These kids, I mean, like now you have 15-year-old kids in the audience standing along with my normal audience, singing these great songs. … It’s so cool.
A&E: Well, you have a new generation following you guys now.
Bello: It’s a beautiful thing. We’re so psyched just by that alone, and it makes it all worth it. I do youth clinics around the world, and I have kids coming up to me, 14 and 15, telling me ‘I’m learning how to play,’ or ‘you inspired me …’ That is the ultimate compliment, and all I wanna do is pass the torch, man, because I know what music’s done for me, and I just want someone else to feel, everyone else, to feel even a little piece of that and how great it could be, and I just want people to play music.
A&E: I think I read Scott said you guys are looking at the end of this year going back into the recording studio?
Bello: Yeah, yeah! We’ve been consistently touring for years now. I mean, we were at Yankee Stadium with all that “Big 4” stuff, and it’s been nonstop since then. It’s been a great run, and we’re going to go into the studio and write another record and going with a nice vibe right now. We have a really good vibe within the band, and the energy off the fan base is great and a whole new fan base … it’s all really good, man. It’s all very positive right now.
A&E: Between going on tour and hitting the studio, do you guys ever have time for yourselves?
Bello: The downtime is when we write the record. We all have families – believe me, it’s not easy being away from your family … this is a four-week run on this tour, this Metal Alliance tour, and I have a 7-year-old son who’s not exactly happy that Daddy’s away for so long. I try to do the Skype thing and all that stuff, but this is the next step in our lives. I take it all with a grain of salt.
A&E: Have you thought about, “OK, when I hit a certain age, I’m hanging it up?”
Bello: No, because all of my heroes are still doing it and doing it really well at top-notch caliber. If you look at Black Sabbath, they’re still doing it. You look at Rush, still doing it. Iron Maiden, still doing it. And doing it well. That’s all I want to do, man. I love playing. I’m very lucky, and I know how fortunate I am being a musician and making a living out of it. There’s just nothing like performing. I know there’s a future out there somewhere, but right now, I just wanna enjoy the moment.