Anthrax is "taking the music back"
By Naughty Mickie
Photos courtesy of www.anthraxtheband.com
Hard rockers Anthrax have managed to keep alive in an ever-evolving music scene. They haven't wasted opportunities, such as an unforgettable appearance on television's "Married With Children" and have kept true to their fans. Their current lineup includes vocalist John Bush, guitarists Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano, bassist Frank Bello and drummer Charlie Benante.
I have followed Anthrax over the years and was pleased to get their latest effort, "We've Come For You All" (Sanctuary Records), in my hands for a listen. It proved up to stuff and helped lead me to a nice chat with Bello.
Bello grew up in Bronx, New York and now lives in Yonkers. He was one of the last to enter Anthrax's domain, but he certainly isn't any less.
"From the beginning it was mainly Scott and Charlie. They were working with another bass player with the original Anthrax. I had heard that he was departing and I asked for an audition. As simple as that sounds, that's how it worked out, I auditioned and it just worked out that way," explains Bello.
I ask him about his childhood.
"I was always musical and theatrical, I just like to perform. I've always liked to perform and music was a great way to do it, I always had to do something with it and I feel very fortunate that I'm able to," Bello replies. "I actually played guitar first, in high school. In sixth and seventh grade before that I was playing trombone and baritone I was mainly always playing the bass parts anyway. But then as I got into high school I was playing rhythm guitar. I was playing all the bass parts on rhythm guitar so when I got older I just started to play bass and it worked out easier for me."
I remark how some people's personalities tend to draw them to certain instruments.
"It was a natural progression it happened that way." Bello adds that his talent was encouraged, "My mom and my grandmother, all my family pretty much, loved that I was musical, so it worked out to do it. It wasn't like, 'Don't do that, go to school,' it was, 'Go to school and do that.'"
"So what about your education?" I ask.
"I went to the 'School of Anthrax' college literally because I graduated at early with honors I might add, I'm very proud of that and instead of going to college, I went on the road at 17 years old. It was either go to college or join Anthrax and it was time," Bello says.
Bello received his honors in science, "It was fun, but I always think maybe one day I'll go back. Right now I want the whole music thing to keep going and I've studied acting for nine years now, so I want to do a little more theater stuff and just have fun with it."
"Live theater?" I say, surprised.
"Sure, I like New York," Bello replies. "Actually I just saw a great play in England, the David Mammet play, 'Sexual Perversity in Chicago.' It was great. Matthew Perry, Hank Azaria, who absolutely rules I love him to death, and Minnie Driver, they were great."
I wonder if he has done anything on stage.
"No, just in rock stages. Not in London. I've done small plays here in New York, off-off-off-Broadway, not Broadway at all. I've done some really small plays. I do it to keep my chops up and it's a lot of fun," Bello says.
He has a bright personality, so I ask if he is into comedy, like I suspect, or drama.
"I've been told I'm better at drama, that I have a knack for drama, so that's good, but my personality says I want to do more comedy," Bello laughs. "But it's always fun, there's any way you can go with it. Oscar Wilde, you can go anywhere with the stuff; Checkov, you can go anywhere. It's all fun for me."
Bello hasn't had to work a "day job" because he has been able to get by on his music.
"The music thing keeps me pretty busy. I would do it anyway, I'm a blue collar guy. If I have to work, I'll work. If I have feed my family, I'm going to work at a day job, what's the big deal? Everybody else does it, who am I to not do that? You have to eat, that's the bottom line, you have to eat," says Bello.
I prod him about his hobbies.
"Like I said, the acting stuff is definitely, I go full-throttle and I'm back into class. I write songs solo and one of these days, everybody keeps asking, I'm going to put out some solo work. One of these days, I'm actually going to put it out." Bello goes on, "A lot of people see me sing on stage and they like my voice and they compliment and they say, 'When are you going to do a solo thing?' When it's time, when it's the right time."
Bello then tells me about his "zoo." He and his wife, Teresa, have seven pets, Picolo, a Pacific parolet, cockateils Homer and Rocky, three iguanas and Zoey the dog.
"My wife loves animals to death. 'Pet Detective,' when you come to my house, that's what it's like. Everybody says it's like a safari. She's (Teresa) on all the Web sites. She's online all the time finding out more, learning more. She's good, my wife, she adopts these things. She adopted one of the iguanas and she adopted one of the birds." Bello gets soft, "Zoey, that's my baby. I love all the animals, but Zoey's definitely tighter with me. She still loves my wife more, but I call her mine."
We discuss how Anthrax writes their music.
"Actually more openly. I think it's gotten better over time because it used to be so hard to get riffs in and different music and fighting about it," Bello says. "I think we've come a long way because we've been together so long and we do what we want and if something's not good, we automatically look at each other and we just nod our head, 'Nah, that ain't gonna work.' So we get in a room, lock it, start arguing and fighting, which is always fun, which I think helps build the aggression of the work and then we come up with riffs and put them together as songs, put melodies lines together and then lyrics come after that. If one person in the group is not happy with it, then we have to change it."
Bello is mainly responsible for bass part, "The melody lines in most of these songs are mine too, some of the riffs on these songs are mine. It's really collaborative, just a lot of different ideas going around which is the only way I want to work, I don't want to work any other way."
We talk about the music scene globally.
"Today's music scene in America is different than Europe," Bello states. "We just came back, we've been to Europe three times in the last eight months on full length tours and I can see that it's a lot hungrier in Europe. I think that they appreciate their music just a little more. I think over here it's really MTV driven and very corporate, originality is forgotten. I'm just being truthful, I think it's very very corporate. I just think there's not a lot of originality coming out of bands. People are just copying other bands and it's not growing. Especially the metal genre, it's so complacent right now. There's a couple of bands that are all right, that are doing good and trying something different, thank God. But there's a lot of these bands that are the bigger bands out now, they haven't grown.
"We just played with Iron Maiden last Sunday in front of 40,000 people at a festival and every hand was in the air and you know why that is? It's just because it's from the heart," continues Bello comparing old bands to newer ones. "They were innovators, they did it from the beginning and I appreciate it. Halford just came back to Priest, I knew that was going to happen when we toured with them, it was inevitable, we knew it was going to happen. I'd actually love to play some shows with them just because, I mean we're friends, but it would be a good time. Anthrax and Judas Priest, I'm looking forward to that.
"I know where we're from, we're from the same school of originality. We took stuff from Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and we did something different with it. We took it and brought it to the next level and that's what I think other bands have to start doing now. Bring it somewhere else, grow with it." Bello continues, "I'm not patting myself on the back, there's no need for that, I just want to see the music that I love grow. And the younger bands, I just wish they would try different things and be smart about their music and say, 'I don't want to copy the same thing because it's going to be the same thing, let's try this.' And come out with something really fresh sounding."
The Internet is also helping Anthrax.
"I just started getting more into it, my wife's into it, she's a graphic artist and two guys in my band, Charlie and Scott, live on the Internet. I'm not opposed to it, but I don't want to live my life like that. I check my e-mail, that's cool, I just think as of now I have to start getting on it a little more, I just have to have the urge and the need to do it. There's more to life than computers, I like to be outside too." Bello concedes, "I think any kind of promotion, especially when you can reach so many people with the Internet, helps the band. It's way easier now than it used to be to promote a band. The big problem now is there's so many bands now. Anything you can name, any word in the dictionary is probably a band if you think about it."
I ask Bello if another record is in Anthrax's near future.
"This album ("We've Come For You All")is a long process here because it took too long to write to just let it go like that and we feel very strongly that there's a lot of singles on this record, a lot of life in this record." Bello goes on, "I really want to work hard in America and really make the album work here. We're re-establishing our name and re-establishing the band after five years of having no record out and it's certainly not an easy hill when you don't have a lot of radio play. We're just going to do it our way-- on the street."
"Do you have a favorite song on the release?" I query.
"It's weird because I think biweekly it changes," Bello replies. "This is my favorite Anthrax record because I lived the songs. The melody, the riffs, the music, I think they're well written songs. The single, 'Safe Home,' I love that song, it's probably the best, my favorite best-written Anthrax song there is. It's got everything, it's got great music, it's got great melodies and I think the vocals are extraordinary. I feel like people who want to be introduced to Anthrax, if they like good melodies, should listen to that song.
"I just want to make this happen," Bello continues. "The video has Keanu Reeves in it, everybody knows about that. We're trying to get people to call up or e-mail MTV to play it more because it's a great video. Roger Daltry sang on the record, 'Taking the Music Back,' so that was a great thing in our lives, in our career. It was amazing and he's a great guy too."
Bello also mentions that he, Bush and Ian have scenes in the upcoming film "Calendar Girls" with Helen Miren. Like I said before, Anthrax is no stranger to opportunity.
I offer Bello a chance to talk about whatever he'd like.
"I don't want the kids out there, little kids getting into metal, they should check out bands, they should definitely check out originality. Don't just take what's given to you. There's a lot of great bands out there that have a lot of originality and they should give them a shot. And not only Anthrax, I think there's a lot of great bands that people don't know about," Bello says. "In the early days, before MTV and everything, I sought them out. Me and my friends in high school, we sought them out, 'This is a great band, we like their music.' Judas Priest, that's how it all started, Black Sabbath, all of them."
Bello pauses and then adds one last thought, "We just keep going. The whole thing is just survive and move on to the next, that's what it's all about."
See how Anthrax is surviving by visiting www.anthrax.com,
www.anthraxtheband.com and www.sanctuaryrecordsgroup.com
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