INTERVIEW WITH FRANK BELLO BY GEORGE PACHECO
I’m not kidding when I say that it feels like I know Frank Bello. Oh, of course, I know about Frank Bello the bassist from Anthrax and his history within one of American thrash metal’s Big Four. But in doing this interview with Frank about his memoir, Fathers, Brothers, and Sons: Surviving Anguish, Abandonment, and Anthrax, it seems like we had known each other for years. That’s how comfortable this conversation was, and how Bello’s storytelling in his new book reveals a man willing to connect with a heavy metal audience in a unique way. There’s a lot to take in with Frank’s book, and there are no spoilers here, because Anthrax fans, and non-metal fans alike, should pick up the book and feel the same personal connection with how the man told his story.
I absolutely love the book.
Thank you so much. To be honest, this is so different for me. Even yesterday, when we were playing the Welcome to Rockville Festival, so many people came up to me backstage talking about the book, how they connected with it. I’m humbled and I’m thankful that people are getting it and understanding it.
Beyond having a personal connection with the material as a recent father, bassist, and lifelong fan of metal, I felt like you were in the room with me, and the book is very conversational and almost confessional. Was it intentional to have that vibe?
Absolutely, and that was from the beginning when Joel McIver, my co-writer, and I sat down to do this. We’d been talking about doing it for eight years now, so when Joel was finally out of other things to do and he could sit down and do this with me, I thought it was important. He knows so much about my history, and he’s a great writer, so I thought it was important to work with him. He knows how to get the stuff out of me. The first thing I said to him was how I didn’t want to write the obvious “tell all” sort of thing. I’m not into that at all.
I wanted to help people, to pay it forward. I wanted this book to be like you and me sitting in a bar with a beer or coffee in our hands and just talking. So, I’m so proud to hear that from you. I’m so satisfied, because I don’t want to be preaching to anyone. This is just me talking to somebody. I wanted it very casual and conversational, and people are connecting with the stories, because a lot of people have lived these sorts of situations. There’s been a lot of drama in my life and therapy helping me through all of that. It’s a work in progress, so you absolutely hit the nail on the head. I’m very happy that you said that, so thank you.
“EVERYBODY’S A WORK IN PROGRESS, ESPECIALLY ME. I’M JUST TRYING TO MAKE IT TO THE NEXT DAY, WHETHER IT’S THROUGH THERAPY, YOGA, OR MEDITATION.”
The notion of masculinity runs through the book, and there’s a lot of discussion about aggression versus empathy and understanding, like you were trying to find your way and sharing that search with readers.
Wow, so well put. That’s exactly what it is. Everybody’s a work in progress, especially me. I’m just trying to make it to the next day, whether it’s through therapy, yoga, or meditation. I’m finding a lot of people are doing that, so talking about it makes me realize that I’m not cured or healed, but it has to continue through life. I look forward to a better tomorrow. What I don’t want to do, and you’ll understand this as a dad, I don’t want to pass this on to my child. That’s so important to me, not to bring the luggage in my life onto my son. I don’t want to do that, so I’m adamant about getting help, instead of letting the rage take over, which I did. It took me a long time to get to that point, and you can see in the book me trying to figure that out with you, the reader. I love the fact that I’m getting letters from people who identify with it, how it’s a day-to-day thing with them, as well. That’s awesome to hear. We’re working on it together.
As a writer myself, I’m familiar with Joel’s work. Given that he’s written or co-written so many books and biographies, was he always the go-to for collaboration? And at the same time, I never felt his voice in this, even though I knew he worked on it with you. Sometimes you get the feeling that you’re not getting the real person with other books, but I didn’t get it here.
That’s the greatness of Joel McIver. He let me talk and just wanted to get my story. And that’s what I told him in the beginning, and he was hands-off in the best possible way. What he’s great at is getting the stories out of me. He knows a lot of my history, which is awesome, but he’ll light the fuse of a topic, and there were things that came out that I didn’t even know I remembered! He knew the right lines to put in there to open up the dam, and the stories came out. Reliving this stuff, good and bad, it was a thrill. It was right in front of me again and to have it on paper now is very intimidating, because everyone knows my life. I’m raw. I left nothing out and was as honest as I could’ve been. Probably more than I should have, actually. But I thought it was worth it, because it felt cathartic. It’s out now, and I feel happy about that.
How important was it getting Gene Simmons to do the foreword for you?
I never thought it could happen. I’m a diehard KISS fan, and Gene Simmons is a huge hero of mine. Joel brought that to me and we talked about it, and I just couldn’t believe this could be a thing that happened on this earth—Frank Bello, the guy who met Gene Simmons of KISS as a kid in downtown Manhattan? Could that come full circle? Believe it or not, Joel called Gene, and he couldn’t have been happier to do it. You’ve read the foreword. I’ve never heard Gene speak like that about his dad and family. I’ve heard him speak about his mom, God rest her soul, but I thought his story was so poignant and beautifully written. It was touching and it totally connected with me. And on another level, as the Anthrax guy, to have Gene Simmons comment that he likes my bass playing, that sends me back to a 15-year-old Frank Bello, and I’m full of joy. It’s more than just a foreword to me. It’s the full package, and I couldn’t be prouder.
“THIS BOOK IS A TRIBUTE TO STRONG WOMEN, ALL OF THE STRONG WOMEN IN MY LIFE.”
He really said some nice things about you, and I also didn’t know about all of his family background until that recent KISS documentary that aired.
This book is a tribute to strong women, all of the strong women in my life. They took the ball when my family was abandoned, ran with it, and raised me. It’s a tribute to my brother. The women in my life who made me what I am deserve it, from my grandmother to my aunt and my mom—all of the beautiful women in my life. My mom was a single mom, and it’s a big deal. There are a lot of single moms out there, so I say, “Raise a glass. Cheers to you,” because there are a lot of people who go out there and run with that ball, after somebody else dropped it. I think that’s amazing.
You mentioned you and Joel had been talking about this for eight years. What was the process from beyond the idea stage to final product?
I called Joel one day and said, “When are we gonna write a book?” Just kidding around, you know? I’d read his other stuff, and it was incredible, so he just said, “Yup, let’s get it together.” My touring life is very busy, and I couldn’t possibly write a book in a hotel room, waiting for a sound check—your mind’s not there. The opportunity presented itself during Covid, to do this via the internet with a big box of tissues and a bottle of whiskey! The “truth serum,” I call it. There were a lot of laughs in this book too, though, such as the Metallica and Pantera stories. There were a lot of rock ‘n’ roll stories that I’d forgotten about that just kept coming in, and it was so cool to remember how great of a ride it’s been. Writing the book reminded me of that, and how grateful am I for it all.
I really liked how you approached the rock ‘n’ roll stories in the book, hearing these very specific situations, such as touring with Black Sabbath on the Seventh Star tour. Or the bass talk about working in the studio, as opposed to the usual, “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” stuff we get in other books. Hearing the more musician side of things was very refreshing.
The “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” thing? I’m in Anthrax, and I’ve always been a very committed guy with my wife, so you’re not gonna get that from me. There are a lot of great books out there with that stuff, and I had my fun when I was single, but I didn’t feel the need to go into that, because for me, that’s not what life is about. It’s about writing a great song and being a great dad. At the end of the day, I wanna show my 15 year-old son that you can get beat down, but you have to wipe yourself off and move on. It’s really about paying it forward, and if one person who’s feeling like shit can read my book and feels better about their situation, that would mean everything to me.
“I DIDN’T FEEL THE NEED TO GO INTO THAT, BECAUSE FOR ME, THAT’S NOT WHAT LIFE IS ABOUT. IT’S ABOUT WRITING A GREAT SONG AND BEING A GREAT DAD.”
You discuss playing the Big Four Concert in NYC. I was there, and it brought me right back to what was one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen.
It was so special to us. In fact, I was just talking to James Hetfield at the Welcome to Rockville Festival, and I hadn’t seen him in a while. We had a really nice conversation, and it came up again how awesome a time that was. I had to thank him again for having us out on that, because it was so special for all of us. He’s just a great dude, I love him. And it wasn’t only a great time for Anthrax, it was a great time for metal. If you told Frank Bello, the diehard Yankee fan as a teenage boy, that I’d be playing Yankee Stadium? That was hallowed ground for me. I thought the biggest thing Anthrax could ever do was headline Madison Square Garden, so when we did that with the “Clash of the Titans” tour, I thought that was it. You’d never even think Yankee Stadium was in play. How many bands play Yankee Stadium, never mind metal bands? For me, that was a godsend. I still pinch myself, and I’ll cherish that time forever.
I gotta tell you before we go, that I taped the Anthrax episode of “Married…with Children” and watched it over and over again, when I was younger.
(laughs) That was a ball and a dream come true. They flew us out there, gave us a script that we loved, gave us funny lines, and couldn’t have been nicer. There are times where you’re amazed at it all, and you hope it never ends. And believe it or not, that’s one of their most popular episodes! “My Dinner with Anthrax!”