Heavy metal bassists aren't supposed to be happy guys with smiles on their faces, but Frank Bello just can't help it.
Anthrax is going through some kind of incredible thrash metal renaissance. Just take a look at what the band has done in the last couple of years.
After an eight-year hiatus, Bello, guitarist Scott Ian, guitarist Rob Caggiano and drummer Charlie Benante finally reunited with iconic frontman Joey Belladonna to record the album "Worship Music." Subsequently, the record was met with outstanding critical acclaim and immediately adored by metal fans all over the globe.
As one of the Big Four, the original architects of speed and thrash-metal, Anthrax joined Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth during the summer of 2010 on a series of Big Four shows in 10 European cities, followed by the big "homecoming" event for the New York-born-and-bred band members at Yankee Stadium last September.
And, now, Anthrax is anchoring one of the biggest concert tours of 2012. The iconic five-piece will perform with Slipknot, Slayer, Motorhead and many other bands at the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival, which will start at 1:30 p.m. July 17 at Cricket Wireless Amphitheater (formerly known as Sandstone) in Bonner Springs, Kan.
St. Joe Live recently caught up with Bello to chat about "Worship Music," the band's unique Mayhem set, the Big Four shows and even Bello's budding side-career as an actor. Enjoy!
St. Joe Live: How's the Mayhem tour going so far?
Frank Bello: It's going great! As great as it can be. There's a great vibe on this thing and you can always hear the metal in the background. We're really psyched about it. The crowds have been big. It's been packed every night. It's like summer camp -- we're all friends on the tour, so we get to hang out with our friends every day. It doesn't get much better.
Live: Anthrax could have played the main stage at Mayhem this year, but you guys are headlining the Jagermeister stage instead, and you're playing this non-stop bare bones set. Why did you spring for the smaller stage?
Bello: We didn't want to open the main stage. We just thought it would be better because not everyone can get to the main stage right away. We didn't want people straggling in to see us. We thought it would be better to close the second stage and have a full crowd there. And it's such a better idea for us right now. You have to see the crowds, man. It's insane what goes on.
Live: Have you needed any ambulances yet?
Bello: I hope not! We don't want any of that (laughs). But yeah, it's insane. It's really great to see the vibe of this. We have a whole young, new fanbase coming in along with our old fans. You should see these kids. It's amazing. It's a really exciting time for us.
Live: Let's talk about the new album: "Worship Music." It's the first Anthrax album since 2003 and the first with Joey Belladonna since 1990. How was the recording process on this record? Did you guys kind of pick up where you left off or was there kind of a weird re-adjustment period?
Bello: The band had pretty much recorded everything. And then Joey came in and just kicked (expletive) on the vocals. He does what he does. It's like he never left. It sounded like Anthrax (laughs). For people to be talking about this as our best album at this stage in our careers, we couldn't be happier about our future.
Live: Yeah, a lot of people really liked this album. It's definitely one of Anthrax's best.
Bello: Well, thank you. Believe me -- there's a lot of pain in this one. And considering all the stuff we had to go through to get this record out, we're really excited right now.
Live: We touched on this already, but "Worship Music" got glowing reviews by Guitar World, Metal Hammer and just about every other metal publication around. But what I found surprising is that even Revolver and Spin magazines -- who aren't always the kindest to metal bands -- named it among their best albums of 2011. Were you at all surprised by the great critical reaction?
Bello: I was. I obviously thought it was a great record, but everyone feels like they're making a great record. We couldn't be more stoked about it. It's definitely surprising. I mean, we're on the Mayhem tour and things are definitely going well for Anthrax right now. Things are on the upswing. We battled and that's what we do. We wipe ourselves off, get back up and fight again.
Live: A lot of metal fans I know who listened to "Worship Music" said it reminded them of "Persistence of Time" (Anthrax's 1990 album), but with more swagger. Is that something you guys were striving for?
Bello: Yeah. It's a great thing. It's a very angry journey. It's like a mission, you know what I mean? We knew where we want to be and we have a goal in mind. We have a strong goal in the band and we're on a good wave back to it.
Live: You said there was a lot of pain on this album. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Bello: Yeah, I was talking about the litigation and the personnel changes. And that's just touching on it lightly. I'm not even allowed to talk about a lot of that stuff. I'm just glad that all of that is in the past. This is Anthrax, and it's fun to see people so hungry to see this band again. And we're ready to put it out there.
Live: I always heard in the '90s that there was some bad blood between the Big Four, but you've all played these huge concerts together over the last couple of years. Why do you think those shows finally came together recently?
Bello: In one word -- Metallica. They're the biggest band in the world. At the end of the day, I think you get older and you just know it works. This was a journey, man. Four bands starting the thrash movement back in the '80s, and -- you know what? I'll put it in a nutshell for ya. Four bands played Yankee Stadium and I haven't seen four other metal bands do that lately. I'm a Yankee fan and I grew up 10 minutes from Yankee Stadium, so it's one of the biggest moments of my career. But think about it. It's so cool. Metallica said 'Let's do this.' And you know what the funny thing about it is? We're all really good friends. That's the truth. People want to create that drama, but we're buddies. My birthday was last night. You know who I was out with drinking until 2 in the morning? Kerry King (Slayer's lead guitarist). I tweeted about it (laughs).
Live: You mentioned the show at Yankee Stadium being a highlight. Looking back over nearly 30 years being in this band, what single thing that Anthrax has done are you most proud of?
Bello: You know what? Yankee Stadium. Period. It's been a long journey. You just said it yourself. It's been a 30-year career and we've had our highs and lows. All the sudden, you get the opportunity to get back. Let's face it -- Metallica gave us a good kick in the (expletive) to get back together, to get the record out and all that good stuff with the Big Four. Just imagine after 30 years -- after all the big places we've played in our lives -- that was the culmination of it all. It was just WOW. I have some great pictures. I had my son there and my wife. It was a beautiful day and I'll never forget it.
Live: It just kind of sums it all up. You guys went from playing these little clubs in the '80s to Yankee Stadium. Yeah, I can see why you'd pick that.
Bello: Exactly. It's a culmination of it all and all four bands knew it.
Live: I wanted to ask you about this, too. I heard that you're playing Richard Hell -- who's a punk rock icon -- in an upcoming bio pic about Jeff Buckley starring Penn Badgley (the movie is called "Greetings From Tim Buckley" and it will come to theaters on Oct. 4). How did that come about?
Bello: Oh, man. Everyone has their little side things that they do. I'm a New York guy, so I studied theater. When I'm off tour, I love to perform. And I just find characters that I'm really interested in. I had a call one day. Literally, I got a call from a casting agent. I had read for her before and my agent got a hold of it. I read for it on a Thursday. I was cast on Friday. I was working on the set on Monday. The crazy thing about all of this is that it was the day after Yankee Stadium. I had a 7 a.m. call. We had the big Metallica party after that concert, and I was having a beer. My manager taps me on the shoulder and says, 'What's going on? It's 3:30. You have to be on set at 7. Get outta here!' Anyway, it was amazing. It was a great turn of events and I loved playing Richard Hell.
Live: Were you a big Richard Hell fan before the audition?
Bello: I'd heard of Richard Hell, but I didn't know that much about him. I dug in that weekend though. ALL I did was research. I listened to his stuff and they had very specific things they wanted about him. It really worked out nicely. I was on set for a week, and every day was 16 hours of shooting. It was a lot of fun. Just another way of expressing yourself.
Live: Do you have any other upcoming plans or projects in the works?
Bello: Right now, it's all about Anthrax. I'd love to start doing more films because it's fun for me, but Anthrax is my priority right now.
Live: What can the fans expect from your Mayhem set in Kansas City?
Bello: Dude, I'm telling you. It's 40 minutes of pure energy. I barely have time -- I'm not kidding about this -- to take a sip of water. What we're hearing is great reviews. At the end of the set, people are always chanting, 'One more song!' I mean, we're back. That's the great thing about all of this. We'll be with you as long as you're with us.
Shea Conner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @stjoelivedotcom.