Still Spreading the Disease
01 May 2005
After several months of the internet rumour mill working at 110% over fragments of information floating around regarding a reunion of the classic pre-1993 Anthrax lineup which includes Joey Belladonna on vocals, Scott Ian on guitar, Dan Spitz on lead guitar, Frankie Bello on bass and Charlie Benante on drums, the rumours were confirmed on April Fool's Day.
Late on a Wednesday evening, a very chipper and up beat sounding Frankie Bello jokes “See what they're doing to me? These Bastards!,” with Simon Milburn as he picks up the phone for a late night interview to discuss the Anthrax reunion tour, set list possibilities and the upcoming shows down under.
Frankie Bello joined the band in 1984 after original bassist Dan Lilker is fired and goes on to eventually form Nuclear Assault. It was a huge surprise for fans and the metal world in general when Bello announced his departure from the band in March 2004 amongst some confusion as to why it happened. Bello is quick to clear it up.
“For both of us, it wasn't a healthy situation. We just had differences of opinions honestly and just needed to separate for a while. That's as honest as I can be with that. We just needed space to tell you truth and that's really what happened with it. Well we both needed to make a change. It was a mutual agreement. We just needed to separate for a while. It was smart to do that.”
The need for both parties to have some time apart was driven by what could almost be considered typical reasons for most line-up changes in bands - musical differences and personality issues.
“A little of both. Personality. Musical. Stuff like that. It was mostly business. I hate the business of music. I love music but I hate the business. It takes the life out of it too much business. You have to play the game but when it gets to be too much, it's not good,” says a somewhat frustrated Bello.
After parting ways, even with his frustration with the business side of the music business, Bello was once again playing music and a part of the biz but this time, it wasn't with a metal band.
“I went to go jam with Helmet for a while and that was great. I did that and then I got a call about this reunion thing and it felt right. It was as easy as that. I believe that when my gut tells me to do something, I go with it, and that's what it was telling me. So it's the right thing to do at the right time.”
There was a failed attempt at a reunion featuring both John Bush and original vocalist Joey Belladonna back in 1999 but Belladonna pulled out of it citing monetary issues. However, the idea of a proper reunion tour was never considered during Bello's time with Anthrax.
“No, never, no. Not until a few months back. It turns out that apparently Charlie [Benante, Anthrax's drummer] last year was thinking about it and he talked to Scott [Ian, Anthrax's rhythm guitarist]. I got a call about two months ago ... about a month and a half ago... about what I think about doing it, and it made sense. Actually, my manager contacted me. Anthrax's manager talked to my business manager, Michael Mitnik. He asked me about it and what I thought about it. I had a meeting with Anthrax's current management. I just wanted to know if it was for real and if it was sincere and what it meant. It made sense. It had to make sense. If it didn't make sense, I wouldn't do it - on all aspects of it. There's a reunion contract that everyone has gotta sign up for and be genuinely into it. I wanted to make sure everybody was into it.”
Had the differences of opinions that lead Bello's unexpected departure been resolved?
“Sure, yeah,” begins Bello. “All the differences tend to weed themselves out and they iron themselves out. Time heals all wounds and all that. It is a really true statement.”
With their differences resolved, it was then time to sort out the details of the reunion.
“It was a lot of conference calls because everybody lives in different states over here in the United States. It was mainly that and emails back and forth a lot. It just had to be agreed on. Lawyers... all that good fun stuff.”
The fan base was already divided between those who love the Belladonna years and those who love the Bush years. The decision for a pre-1993 reunion tour at the point where they'd released their strongest album in some time (2003's We've Come For You All), is even more dividing.
“Yeah, see I love that. I think it's great because there's still fans. They love what we do and I appreciate that. I love it. This is just something that we have to do right now because it's important and that we're all thinking that it's the right thing to do. I think that most of the fans will follow us. I think everybody is going to follow us. Just take this ride with us because it is a ride. This whole band thing, this whole life of the band Anthrax is a ride. Just see where we are going with this. It has to go this way. All five of us feel that it has to go this way. It's the right feeling and I can't wait. There's a lot of energy. There's a lot of energy going on in here. It's very positive and there's five very hungry people wanting to get out on the stage right now.”
With European and Australian dates being announced on various sites on the internet advertising the reunion line-up well before any official announcement was made, the one thing that the group hasn't secured as of right now is a tour of their own country.
“Yeah. Right now, we don't even have American dates. We're just doing a few American warm up shows. We don't even have a tour here yet. We're not even thinking about that yet. We go over for a few shows in England. We're doing Scotland, Ireland. We're doing [Holland's] Dynamo festival and we're coming straight over to Australia. Then, the next leg is all the European festivals. We have nothing planned beyond that because there's no American tour yet. It's just not ready yet.”
To me at least, it seems a little odd that a band such as Anthrax would mark such a special occasion overseas before doing so on their own turf.
Bello enthuses, “I think it's great. I love living on the edge. For me, I want to make sure it's right. I'm not going to just say yes to some nothing tour. I want to make sure it's set up the right way and everything. This first leg of the tour has been setup really well. So I want everything including the American tour to be setup like that. So I really want to take our time and make sure it's the right move. That's why I say day to day. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow which I like.”
The contracts are in place and numerous tour dates scheduled, but right now, it's an open ended deal as to where this could lead.
“It's kind of, well, we're playing together for this long and after that who knows? That's what it is. We're doing this thing. We're gonna give 110% and we're gonna see where it goes. We don't wanna think too much about it. Nothing else. We're gonna do a DVD showing how the band reunited, some live shows and all the fun and all that nonsense. Just see where it goes. This is a day to day thing because who knows about tomorrow really? Nobody knows about tomorrow. So we're just taking it day to day and it seems to work better like that.”
The biggest concern that many fans had upon the release of the official announcement is impact of this on vocalist John Bush and lead guitarist Rob Caggiano.
“Well Rob's producing a record out in L.A. right now, and John had a baby. He's gonna play Mr. Dad now. He's gonna be with his daughter for a while, his beautiful baby girl. He's the one that told us to go out and do this thing because it's important.”
That almost sounds like he gave you his blessing.
“Yeah, absolutely. He told Charlie and Scott 'You should do it'. It's all good,” confirms the bassist in his thick New York accent.
Just as the door was open for Bello, Belladonna and original lead guitarist Dan Spitz to rejoin, it has also been left open for Bush and Caggiano return as well.
“Yeah. Like I say, look at the way weird things work. I never say never. For me, I'm gonna take it day by day and see where this goes. I can only speak for me.”
Bello reiterates his 'look at the way weird things work' comment when asked if he though that he'd be back playing with his long time band mates so soon after parting company with them.
"Well, you know I was having a great time with Helmet. They're still my drinking buddies. I love them. They're great guys. I got really tight with them. I wasn't considering anything because most of the time, we were just playing. We did a huge tour over here. It was a long tour we did in America. We did the SnoCore tour and it was a two month straight tour and we did Europe a couple of times. So for me, I didn't know what I was going to be doing. When this came up, I talked to the guys in Helmet. They also agreed with me that I had to do this. They are going to get a bass player on an interim basis and do another tour which is great. Page asked me to play on the next record so we'll see what happens.”
Right now however, the focus is on the pending tour. It's time to start rehearsals and nail down the all important candidates for the set list.
“We start rehearsals Monday [which is almost a week after this interview]. It's going to be very strange to play together after all these years. It's definitely something I'm looking forward to. I'm psyched up. Everybody's psyched up.”
With the line-up being toted as the “classic pre-1993 line-up”, it's natural that the set list will draw from 1983's Fistful Of Metal, 1985's Spreading The Disease, 1987's Among The Living, 1989's State Of Euphoria and 1991's Persistence Of Time.
“Pretty much, yeah,” confirms Bello. “There's some weird things like songs that we've never played live before. Songs like One Man Stands. There's different songs ...Medusa, Armed And Dangerous... I mean we played those songs in the early days. My God, a loooong time ago but never on a consistent basis, so I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with what we're going to pull out of the hat. There'll be some of those songs in it but I want to surprise people. I want to go every night differently. I want to give different shows different vibes. Y'know, right now, there's so many songs we're going to put into the set, it'll be interesting to time it afterwards. I don't know the exact time. It'll be at least an hour fifteen because we have so many songs.”
With 1987's I'm The Man EP, Anthrax were one of the first bands to mix rap and metal. It was a crowd favourite that featured some of the band members swapping instruments. Vocalist Belladonna would trade places with drummer Benante, and both Bello and Ian would relinquish their instruments for half mic stands. It's a classic from that era, but Bello's not sure if it will be resurrected for this tour.
“I don't know about that. That's the one song I don't know what we're going to do with it. We're still talking about it. That's the one song that's up in the air. That'll have to be after we've rehearsed a couple of days and we'll say, 'What are we gonna do with this?' It'll one of those conversations, y'know?”
The other icon associated with Anthrax back in the day was the NOT man - an strangely demented, evil and funny looking face that also made an appearance on stage during the show as well as graced many a merchandise item and he's back again.
“I know that the Not Man is making an appearance on merchandise,” confirms Bello.
In a moment of fanboyness, I confess to Bello that I'm looking forward to seeing this line-up reunited because I missed their tour here supporting Persistence Of Time back in the day.
"Great! I love to hear it. We're hearing it from everybody now. There's this nice little buzz going around the world now actually because it started when we did the press conference. There was rumour, and then we did the press conference. I'm actually really astounded as to how big the buzz is. It's a big story in America and Europe and Australia and I'm really happy about that. You know what? There's a big positive vibe because it's the five original guys and all that. But you'll always have the people that will love the other. I respect that. I totally do, but this is just something that we're doing now. Like I say, just give it a chance. I think that you'll be pleasantly surprised. A lot of people haven't seen this. That's what I'm hearing more and more. They've always wanted to see this and they missed us or they were too young or they were away or... y'know, they really want to see it.”
Bello left the group only a matter of weeks prior to their tour of Australia with Soilwork and Killswitch Engage in April 2004. Even though Armored Saint bassist Joey Vera did an admirable job during those shows, Bello's stage presence was always a significant part of Anthrax's live show.
“You know what's strange for me?,” Bello asks. “It's more like, it's funny hearing that they [Anthrax] we're just there and that this other line-up is coming out. I really can't wait to see people's faces. It's a good vibe. I hope we spread that out.”
For us down here, we're getting two Anthrax tours in 13 months. Prior to that, we'd had two tours in the last 13 years.
“Wow. How strange is that? Believe me. I missed out on it not going last year. I wanted to go but things just didn't work out that way. We plan to make up for it this time.”
For more information on Anthrax, check out www.anthrax.com.
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