Timezones are a thing. While I’m having my morning coffee at my work, Skin Fantasy Tattoo in sunny Bathurst NSW, on the other side of the world in New York City, sits one of the icons of Thrash Metal. Frank Bello is camped out in his basement on a particularly chilly NY afternoon surrounded by Wolfman action figures, KISS posters and vinyl copies of his latest EP Then I’m Gone. Lucky for this middle-aged fanboy, he’s up for a chat on the million things he’s got going on right now. Begin the fanboying.
Frank Bello has that frontman energy. While other bass players are often chained to the back of the stage, tapping their foot and occasionally reminding the drummer when to count in, Bello is known to throw himself around on stage and sing along to every word with his band, the thrash titans Anthrax. So it’s hardly surprising, given the energy he puts into his live performance, that Charvel decided that Frank would be the musician to release their first signature bass model, the CHARVEL FRANK BELLO SIGNATURE PRO-MOD SO-CAL BASS PJ IV. That energy and stage presence shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the list of bassists who have influenced him from day one.
“Well my early influences, Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), Geddy Lee (Rush), Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) those for the main part. Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Gene Simmons (KISS), there’s so many. A great list of people I still look up to quite honestly. Even Phil Lynott… I mean, I have to say this and I’ll go I’ll go the shameless plug version of this…”
Frank trails off as he reaches down and I already know what he’s going to show me. I was going to ask him later in the interview about this, but there’s no masking his excitement.
“Here’s the bass we’re talking about. It’s a beautiful bass I have to say because, look, I’m a fan of bass.”
Bass. He holds up his new sig bass and it is stunning. A big 4 string beast with a solid black finish, but it’s the mirrored pick guard he alludes to, a tribute to his hero.
“So the first thing when I started to think about this, is a complete tribute to Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Listen to a Thin Lizzy song and listen to the beauty that Phil Lynott plays in his bass, in his songwriting and in his voice and I promise you it will take you to a different place. Rest his soul. He’s been that guy forever for me. Now you can see the mirror pickguard. That’s a Phil Lynott special right there. It’s completely a tribute to Phil. I tip my hat with love. I wish he was alive so I could give him one.”
“I’ve had this bass in my head for about eight years. Charvel gave me everything I wanted. Everything I asked to have in this bass, they put in there man. We have the big Fender Precision headstock, the big open tuning pegs. I love that we have the maple neck because it has a bit of a high end vibe to it. Then we have the poplar wood, which is really important for the body. So there’s a nice little combination, a nice little blend. There’s a great sustain with this bass.”
“We have my Frank Bello signature EMG pickups, which I’m very proud of. EMG and myself; we went through a long process of experimenting, and we got it right. So this bass sounds like me. This is clarity. It’s punch. We have the high mass bridge and the great thing about this bridge, we don’t go out of tune. I’ve been testing this bass. I mean, honestly dude, I’ve been kicking the shit out of this bass. I’ve done two tours. I gave it a run. I really wanted to make sure it’s a good product, before I put my name on it. It’s a great durable bass that sounds incredible and stays in tune.”
Anyone that has seen Frank play live with Anthrax knows that he isn’t particularly kind to himself or the instruments he carries. But a career of 40-odd years starts somewhere. What was the first bass guitar growing up?
“My first bass guitar was a Fender 72 Jazz Bass, and funny enough, I still have this bass. My grandmother, rest her soul, when she was cleaning out a closet she calls me up and says “Frank, I found this guitar here”. I’m like, what kind of guitar? and she goes, “Oh, it’s beige. It says Fender…” and it’s like “Don’t throw it away. I’m coming down there, picking it up right now”. I got right down to the Bronx. I picked up. It was like seeing an old lost friend that I thought was gone forever. It was so beautiful and I still have it. Dude, I haven’t changed the strings on that thing. There’s a knob broken off. It’s part of my youth. The exploration of bass and how I started, it means so much to me. It plays great because it’s a Fender 72 Jazz. It’s awesome. But it means so much more to me. That’s why I kind of I don’t want to change the strings. Those are the strings I kind of grew up on and it means a lot to me.”
A lot of musicians I get to talk to, no longer have their first instrument and it guts them.
“You know, it’s funny because you when you think it’s gone, you kind of put it out of your head. Then to know I can actually pick it up whenever I want, just go right back to that place and learn my Iron Maiden, Rush songs, whatever I was learning at the time. It brings me right back. It’s like a little taste of home. It’s a beautiful thing.”
So when did he first get his hands on a Charvel?
“Charvel all through the years, they never really did the bass thing, right? My first touring bass with Anthrax, I got in the band at 17 years old, I had a black Jackson Explorer bass. So back then you didn’t see a lot of the Charvel guitars. But on 48th Street in Manhattan, there was the music store block. They had all these wonderful music stores, like a kid in a candy store. You look through the mirror their window is. So they had all these great guitars, Charvel, Fender, Jackson.”
So now Frank Bello has the dubious honour of being the first artist to ever have his own signature Charvel bass guitar.
“To be the first signature bass artist for Charvel, I’m so proud of it. Years back, I had a couple of Fender signature models that were great. But Charvel, It’s a great family to be back with. It’s great to go back to see so my old friends. They were very open to everything that I wanted to do. So my friend Mike Tempesta is in charge of Jackson. He brought me in with Charvel. I grew up with him in high school. So he’s my guy at Charvel. When we were putting this bass together, if I didn’t remember something that I wanted, he would insert it. He goes, what about this (pointing to the mirror pick guard) because he’s also a diehard Thin Lizzy fan. So to have Mikey Tempesta there having my back, it’s pretty great. We’ve worked hard on this bass, I’m a player first and player to player I say check this out. I guarantee you’re gonna dig it.”
The bass isn’t his only new release. Frank has gone and released a new 3 track EP Then I’m Gone. Was his new bass used in the making of his new solo material?
“On this on this? No, I didn’t have it yet. This thing has been on the new Anthrax demos, and I’m not even supposed to talk about that right now. But all the demos we’ve done, from my stuff at home, has incredible clarity.”
What seems to be the driving point for all musicians when it comes to these signature models, is that it has to be able to survive a life on the road, as well as great in the studio.
“This bass is my companion, I bring it everywhere. It’s a comfort level, especially when I’m doing demos. I just flew out to LA writing some Anthrax songs with the guys and it’s just right there, man. I don’t want to have to think. The whole thing is play. I just want to play. I know where I’m at with this bass. It’s a really good place to be in right now.”
Not to digress too far, but I was talking about the new EP…
“OH YOU MEAN THIS DUANE!!!” As he reaches around and picks up one of the many vinyl copies he has on display behind him. “You just happen to be talking about the new Frank Bello EP available on all streaming outlets and at rarebirdlit.com. I’m so used to doing this now because I’ve been promoting it.”
The guy is genuinely hilarious and not shy about spruiking whatever he has to promote at any given opportunity, but Frank starts to reflect on the process of developing the EP and becomes serious for a moment.
“I finished my book with my co-writer Joel (McIver) and the things I brought up in the book were very emotional. Aside from being a lot of great rock and roll stories, it caused a lot of angst and me, it left a lot of reaction. I couldn’t get rid of this gut feeling like something wasn’t finished and when I’m in a bad way like that, the best way to get out of it for me, and depression and anger and all that shit is to pick up a guitar. It’s always been my outlet. Music has always been my outlet. So when I’m in a bad way, I’ll just pick up a guitar and whatever comes out comes out. I’m telling you, man, that’s where the songs came from, because it just felt like I had something to say and I had to get this out. I thought I left it all with therapy man after my brother’s death, [and] abandonment issues when my dad took off when I was young. I thought I squashed it and I thought I had it compartmentalised in somewhere else and man, when I finished the book, that shit came full front and centre, man.”
“Then the guitar came into play. I just started playing and the songs came out so they’re very, for me, they’re all from the gut. Just this song, ‘See Me Now’ it’s about, I brush myself off, and I went on to another day. Pretty much all three songs are about feeling good about yourself, brushing yourself off if you get knocked down 1000 times. Everybody can relate to that. It’s like, Fuck this. I’m moving on with my life and I’m gonna be better for it. It’s a lot of angst. It’s a heavy Rock EP, that’s what’s going on. So I hope everybody gives it a chance.”
Well I’d been giving it a flogging over the last couple of days and thought if I hit the road with this music playing, I’m gunna drive accordingly and get done speeding.
“I’m getting a lot of great messages about that. People want to drive with the songs and I love that, because that’s what I do. I just drive man, I just crank it. I go out. So I love I could be included with that, man. So thank you. That’s a that’s the ultimate compliment for me.
“I know it’s different. The bass player from Anthrax is singing in front of a microphone with a guitar. But the thing that people don’t know is I started guitar before I was ever touching a bass. So that’s what I’ve always done. A few years back, David Ellefson from Megadeth and myself had this side project called Altitudes and Attitude and I did the frontman stuff there. The bottom line is, as a musician, as a writer, I have to get this stuff out.”
Going back though, Frank mentioned the book Father, Brothers and Sons that he wrote with celebrated music writer and author Joel McIver. Despite McIver’s long list of bestselling books, it’s the Foreword written by KISS icon Gene Simmons that has Frank truly excited.
“Yeah, that’s a big deal for me. We were coming up with names for the foreword. Joel comes up with the name, Gene Simmons, because obviously he’s a big influence. If you read my book, you know, he’s a big deal to me. Joel gave him a call and he was happy to do it. I actually couldn’t believe it.
“When Joel sent me the foreword that Gene wrote, it was so beautifully written and spoken. I’ve never heard Gene speak like [that]. I’ve known Gene a long time. I’ve never heard him speak about his dad. His mom I met, God rest her soul. But I never heard him talk about family that way, which is a really beautiful thing. He gave me some great compliments in the foreword, which I didn’t even know he knew about my bass playing. You have to understand from a die hard KISS fan, having your hero say he likes my bass playing, I get chills when I talk about it. It was a big deal to me.”
As well it should be, being honoured in such a fashion by one of the hugest rock stars of all time. Now the last time we saw Anthrax in Australia was back in 2019 for the Download Festival and I’m wondering when we’ll see the lads again?
“As you know, we love it there. There’s been a few conversations about when after COVID and all that stuff. We’re ready. We want to bring this show we have. It’s like a best of. It’s great big staging. It’s a really great big production thing going on with a lot of great songs from our past and current. So I want to bring it everywhere. It’s a crazy time right now in the world. That’s the problem with COVID. Promoters are afraid because if somebody goes down, and it’s another scare and all that stuff. So look, I’m ready today to go. We have a great fan base there. We’re ready, but believe we will, we will not forget about you.”
That’s all understandable, and I think we’re fortunate that so many artists are flooding our shores this summer, especially with the considerable recent rise in the cost of touring at the moment.
“It happens. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our European tour. Of course, we didn’t want to do that. But the budget became like triple the budget [of] what we originally planned. So this doesn’t work for anybody because you literally can’t afford to go over when the bus is triple the price, the gas and food, all that stuff, hotels, everything’s triple the price. There’s no money to do that. You know, it just doesn’t work that way. But we’ll make up for it. When things get better, you know we’ll be back.”
Well Anthrax is just about to embark on a tour with Black Label Society and Exodus, which is a huge line up in itself. But what are the chances of eventually bringing that lineup down under, getting Zakk Wylde and Charlie Benante to pull double duty and bringing Pantera with them?
“I’m excited to see that. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. They’re great. It’s gonna be fun. I’m friends with Phil and Rex too. So it’s gonna be a great tribute to Dime and Vinnie. I think it’s a wonderful thing.”
I think that’s important, that it’s the hugest tribute to The Abbott brothers, conducted by former bandmates and also their closest friends. I remember throughout Anthrax’s John Bush era that Dimebag would often pop up in the credits as having played on a few songs on each album.
“Dimebag was the sixth member with Anthrax. I mean, we were very, very close to him as you know. Some of the finest times I’ve had in my life was being on tour with Pantera and also some of the scarier, because my liver was not keeping up. But some of the best times of my life is laughing and having a great time with Dimebag and Vinnie and the Pantera guys. I’m really happy in my life that I got a chance to become close with them and be able to go on the road with him and watch those amazing shows every night. I was on the side of stage every night. So it was wonderful.”
There are still legions of fans that were too young to see Pantera, some of who weren’t even born when Pantera were around. Like the 19-year-old bloke I tattooed the cover of Pantera’s Great Southern Trendkill on a couple of weeks back.
“Wow. That’s why I think it’s great. People like him, will get a chance to see it now. There’s a new generation that has never seen Pantera, right. So why not see these songs live, being played by some great players? I mean, Charlie, I grew up with Charlie. So I know how great of a drummer he is. And Zakk is an incredible guitar player. They got the two right guys to play the songs with them. I think they’re going to nail it. I think that’s going to be awesome.”
But at the moment, Australia is just going to have to wait, and that’s fine. We’re more than used to it. It’s the price of living in this great nation, miles away from the rest of the world. But while we wait, we can suss out Franks’s new EP Then I’m Gone, his new book Father, Brothers and Sons and his incredible new signature bass guitar, the CHARVEL FRANK BELLO SIGNATURE PRO-MOD SO-CAL BASS PJ IV.
Interview by Duane James @duanejames666
Take a closer look at the FRANK BELLO SIGNATURE PRO-MOD SO-CAL BASS PJ IV right here
- Poplar Body
- Bolt-on Maple Neck with Graphite Reinforcement
- 12″-16″ Compound Radius Maple Fingerboard with Rolled Edges and 22 Jumbo Frets
- Black Block Inlays
- Graph Tech TUSQ XL Nut
- EMG Frank Bello Signature P/J Pickup Set
- Dual Volume Knobs
- Charvel HiMass Bridge
- Open Gear Tuners
- Mirror Pickguard
- Heel-Mount Truss Rod Adjustment Wheel
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