A direct quote from my notebook, written while observing Frank Bello playing the Hartke clinic inside Daddy’s Junky Music in Dedham, Massachusetts. “This guy F—ing loves music!!”
This was my first impression of Frank Bello. He’s a ball of metal bass energy that, when the music is turned on, goes from 0-60 in 2 seconds. His passion for playing and limitless boundary of expression are contagious. An added bonus for myself in interviewing him was to be exposed to his more thoughtful, contemplative side. Part musician, part family man (large part) and part philosopher, Frank Bello has a great message to offer players young and old.
I am not quite sure where the interview started it was so much fun, we were halfway through before I realized it had even begun. I will start notating then where Frank starts to speak of his early beginnings on the bass.
Frank - You know, I just know what I know. I’m ear taught, I learned by ear, I’m self taught. I can only tell you the way I learned how to play. I can’t tell you how you can, I don’t want to preach to anybody.
JS - I think that’s a great message.
Frank - That’s just the way I came up with it … all right, this is the song, let’s learn it and play it you know, take it apart. The whole funny thing about it is, I don’t think anybody sees the details of actually learning a song. Say I learned a RUSH song when I was younger, say 2112, all the intricacies of Geddy Lee, who we all know is one of the best bass players in rock and anywhere for that matter. He’s one of my favorites of all time but god, there’s so many little things that he does that I just love to catch. I love to listen deep and keep rewinding it back and forth nonstop until I know how to play it. That’s the fun of playing bass for me, it really is.
JS - Music is sound, note reading is good but when it comes down to it, music is sound so learning by ear is important.
Frank - Exactly. I was with Nate Watts the other night. Me, Nate and JD Deservio, another really good bass player. I love Nate Watts too, we did this video together for Hartke. God, I asked him a million questions, just about the Stevie stuff and how he came up with it…He’s a self taught guy too and it made me feel a lot better about just how some of the best bass players out there can do both. If Nate hears something, he plays it…..I’m all for reading too, I mean, I used to read….the truth of the matter is, it never came into play with the music I play so I kind of let it go. It’s not to say I won’t do it again someday…right now, it’s just not what I’m doing.
What Are You Learning Now?
Frank - My friend Reggie Hamilton, do you know him? He’s a great solo player, a great bass player. He’ll periodically send me scales, he knows I don’t know how to read those, he’ll just chart them out for me.
I like feeding off people, that’s what I do. Even just watching Nate the other day. I didn’t even wanna play, I just had my bass down. I just kept asking him things. And it’s funny enough, he asked me, me and JD we were talking about what we were growing up on pretty much, Iron Maiden, RUSH, Geezer you know, stuff like that. The kind of stuff we did, “Innocent Exile”, we talked about it. He said, “What’s that little riff?” So JD played it and then I played it. We both played it a different way and he found it funny that we both played it a different way. (Then Nate said) “But, that’s how the bass is, you heard it that way and you heard it another way.” It made a lot of sense.
JS - That’s cool.
Frank - Nate Watts rocks, JD’s cool, we had a really great time the other day.
JS - Have you ever been able to play with any of the bassists that influenced you?
Frank - I had the honor of sitting down with Geezer. I had never met Geezer until this year. I had said hello to him way back, in passing but I actually got to sit down and sign with him for Hartke this year. I mean, he couldn’t have been a nicer guy….Poor guy, I probably overwhelmed him with 1,000 questions…..I don’t want to be fan boy but this guy has so much knowledge that I need ’cuz it means a lot to me, that’s how you learn. I just want to keep learning as a bass player, I think it’s really important.
JS - Seeing you at the clinic, your passion really comes through so much when you’re playing. It’s awesome.
Frank - I hope it does. The truth of the matter is, I do. I can’t lie about that stuff. For me man, that’s all it’s about. I know how lucky I am to do this. To make a living on this stuff, whether good years or bad years, all that stuff. It’s been a long run with Anthrax…it’s been a good run. I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth man. If I can pass it on to people and if it inspires them to have a better life, it’s all good. I really mean that.
JS - One of my favorite quotes of yours from the clinic, I forget what it was in response to but you said, “Just take your own path, that’s what’s important.” I thought it was a good message, seems like you’re a bit of a philosopher too.
Frank – Yeah, I’ve been accused of that. The truth of the matter is, I just think people in life should choose their own path. It’s great though if we can do clinics and people come out and ask us how we got there. If that’s what people want, I’m going to tell you how we got there if it can help you to get on any kind of horse that you want, know what I mean? Any path that you choose to go whether it be music or whatever just go for it full force. That’s really important, just be happy with what you’re doing.
JS - Do you have any goals for yourself musically? What’s left for you to conquer?
Frank - Just writing great songs. I want to write more, I want to sing more, I wanna do that whole thing. I’m really into that kind of stuff.
JS – A solo CD?
Frank – Yeah, I’ve been writing solo stuff. I’m literally in the middle of it (recording) right now actually.
Switching to Hartke Amps
Frank - Since I went to the Hartke gear, I re-tracked 3 songs for Anthrax. While we were in the studio, I loved the sound we got so much, I literally played the tracks all over again. It just sounded that good and I got a great vibe on it so it made total sense, it felt fluid, my hands were going well, everything felt really good. The sound was just right there. When you get a flow like that man, the last thing you wanna do is stop it in any way.
JS – Will Anthrax be recording a new CD?
Frank - Yeah, yeah, we’ve got a whole record ahead of us. We re-did some parts, changed some lyrics. The greatest thing I can say right now that I’m really excited about is Joey Belladonna on the new Anthrax record, the guy sounds better than ever. That’s what I’m really psyched about. The band, thankfully we’ve all kept up to speed but with Joey man it’s amazing. I’m really happy and the chemistry is absolutely there. It’s a cross between “Spreading the Disease” and “Among the Living”. That’s what everyone who has heard it has said. I’m really psyched about that.
JS - Speaking of “Among the Living”, I like the mix of the bass on that CD.
Frank - Eddie Kramer and I were pulling our hair out and saying how are we going to cut through Charlie’s bass drum and Scott’s sick rhythms? You gotta be right in the middle, it was experimentation, it really was. I mean, I knew the stuff I was gonna play. When I play in the studio, I usually bounce off the producer. I try things, I just go for it and if it works, it works. If it’s too much, he’ll just give me a look and I’ll say, tell me, just be honest and then I’ll cut it in half or 3/4 whatever I’m doing. Or, I’ll just get it out of there if it doesn’t work at all for the song. It’s all about the song. I wanna add to the song, I don’t wanna do too much, even with the sound you have to really help the song. I don’t wanna be in the way and thankfully people really like the bass sound on that record, that’s what they go back to.
My favorite sound is what I’ve got going on right now. I couldn’t believe it, what was coming out of the amp. I was really psyched.
Touring With The The Big 4
JS - How is it touring with Big 4? Have these guys mellowed at all or is it as crazy as it would have been 20 years ago?
Frank - The whole thing with the Big 4 is, it’s a reunion for us, for all of us. From Metallica to Slayer to Megadeth to Anthrax. We grew up together in this field, in this genre of music. And the great thing about it is, regardless of what people say about it, we really get along. I think some press people want to create a thing but the truth of the matter is we get along. We talk about family ’cuz that’s what life’s about for all of us mostly, honestly, it’s family. You go back there and there’s no nonsense, everybody knows where they’re at. It’s all good, we’re all lucky to be here at this point in our lives really. I mean we’re playing to 50,000 people in 2 weeks, that’s crazy.
JS - I’m happy you guys will all be playing in the states, that you’re getting the chance to do this still. I mean, at the clinics there are people there ages 12 to 50.
Frank - That’s what I love.
JS - I think the scene is still there, it’s still very much there.
Frank - There’s a whole turnover of crowd right now, most of these clinics now, I’m seeing these 15, 14 year old kids coming up to me. They heard of me through their brother or they heard of my band. That’s a great pat on the back for me, that’s what I want, they’re passing the torch and that means everything to me, it really does. It’s happening, I love to see it. If these kids wanna go for it, I’m gonna help them in any way I can. Whatever I can say to get you there, let’s do it!
JS - Are there any new bands or players that are catching your ear right now?
Frank - Ya know, it’s funny enough, I’ve been really just listening to the older stuff, like I’ve been getting into John Paul Jones a lot more now. I’ve always been a John Paul Jones fan. I’ve just been listening to the classics… This is a John Paul Jones week. Do you ever get weeks like that? You just got to play songs from one band? One bass player you’ve just got to copy? Where were they, where are they coming from at that point in the song? Why did they go there instead of to the obvious? It’s so cool that they didn’t go to the obvious note, I love that stuff.
JS - I was working on Abbey Road a few months ago and I kept asking myself that same question. Paul McCartney is just all over the place and I was just thinking, “Oh, that’s neat.”
Frank - Nate Watts, the other day, he said how underrated Paul McCartney is. That guy, he plays melody and bass. He’s such a melodic guy.
JS – Oh yeah, definitely.
Frank - People are opening up to and identifying these great bass players out there, Paul McCartney, Nate Watts, Geddy Lee, Steve Harris, Jaco, I didn’t grow up with Jaco, I got into him late, Stanley Clarke, Victor Wooten…Victor Wooten, man that clinic though, man he’s amazing.
JS - Yeah, the clinic was amazing (NYC Hartke clinic with Nate Watts and Victor Wooten) Nate Watts kept praising Victor too. He was just saying things like “Man, this guy….”. But Victor’s great and to me his message is always to know that we’re all valid.
Frank - Exactly.
JS - We all matter and I would like to say at this point that you are a great bassist. I think it was on “Among the Living” that I could hear your bass lines so much more clear, I loved it.
The Role of the Bass
Frank - Tell a story within the story of a song. That’s what I wanna do, I’m always looking for that. Sometimes the lines are just straight… It’s all about the song though, when to push, when to pull back, all that stuff. just tell a story, that’s my biggest thing.
JS - Yeah, the balance, that’s not always easy to retain.
Frank - Definitely not, it depends on what band you’re working with. You have to have freedom to do that because it’s not always a free enterprise… Sometimes people want you to, you know, if you’re just playing on a gig, watch the beat, don’t overdue it, you know, all that stuff.
Thankfully with Anthrax I’m able to, to certain degree. I mean, we’ve had our arguments about me pulling back too and we went at it a little bit but then we came back to an agreement.
JS - I guess any relationship has that compromise.
Frank - Yeah, all for the good of the song. It has to be good for the song… Sometimes I reflected and said, maybe they’re right? Then sometimes I said no, I really wanna get this in there. This will help the song, to me, this is another part of the song.
Right Hand Technique
JS Your hands are so fast, at the clinic, I was trying to figure out if you were using 3 fingers in your right hand when you’re plucking?
Frank - Yeah, again, we were talking about this the other day (with Nate Watts and JD Deservio), the same thing. Yes, I actually play with my 3 fingers. Sometimes I’ll go to the 2 but for the most part I’m playing with my 3 fingers.
It’s funny because I’ll ask Steve about it, jeez, I’m name dropper guy, but it’s Steve, Steve Harris. We’ve talked about this because I’m a big fan of his playing. I said, “You definitely play with 3 fingers?” and he’s like, “No I don’t, I’m telling you. I play with my 2 fingers.” Then I was like, “You’re 3rd finger looks like it’s moving.” “Look”, he shows me on the bass. “Look, this is how I’m playing it.” And he literally showed me. I looked at it from an overview, then I finally got it. It’s looks like it’s moving but his 3rd finger is not playing.
JS - How is he getting all the notes, is it just more hammer-ons in the left hand?
Frank - I don’t know how it works, I mean, that’s just the way he plays, it comes out beautifully like that.
JS - What inspires you outside of music?
Frank - My son, my 5 year old, he’s going to be 5 in May. He inspires me to do everything now. I don’t mean that like the generic answer but the truth of the matter is, my son is my inspiration to do things. Like god, I live for him. My son and my family.
JS - Yeah, on all your CD inlays you always thank your grandmother.
Frank - My grandmother, she’s the matriarch of it all. So for me, she started it all. Charlie and I, you have to understand, my grandmother is my drummer Charlie’s mother, so we grew up together. I grew up in that house. My dad abandoned my family when I was really young, so I went to live with my grandmother, she took me in. Charlie and I kind of grew up playing together with guitar and bass. I started on guitar then bass. He was always the drummer. I was very musically influenced by Charlie. I kept seeing him play and that made me want to play. My grandmother, she pushed it, it was great. She’s like “Yeah, go for it.” She didn’t have any problem with it, she loved it so god bless her ya know.
JS - I completely understand what you say about family. My daughter is a huge inspiration for me. She’s been the biggest inspiration for everything I’ve done in the past few years. I put it all (clippings, CD’s) into this one little folder and box for her to look at one day.
Frank - It’s good, it’s important, because at the end of the day, that’s all we have. And not to sound I guess philosophical or anything but that’s the mystery of life, that is it. We’re lucky enough to play, I love music yeah, but my son is my inspiration. I wanna make a better life for him and that’s what I do.
JS - I think that’s wonderful.
Frank - Same thing, same here.
JS - What 5 bass lines from other players need to be heard 100 years from now?
Frank - Let me see, that’s a great one. I’ll go with Geddy, right, “Freewill”. One of my favorite bass lines of all time. I’m probably going to pick 2 Geddy’s, get that out of the way. “La Villa”, that’s one of my favorites. Ah, let me see, name a Geezer song.
JS - ”Iron Man” is one of my favorites but I don’t know if it’s too cliche.
Frank - How about “Symptom”. “The Crunge”, use that for Zeppelin. I don’t know why I like that one, it’s so good. And Nate Watts, “Sir Duke”, it’s a tough one for sure, it’s fun!
JS - Do you have any final thoughts you want to leave with?
Frank - I want to thank you for doing this and thank you for coming down to the clinic. I really appreciate that, I love it.
Thank you Mr. Frank Bello!
One of Frank’s signature riffs, “Caught in a Mosh”. I love where he accents the G’s on the upbeat of beat 3. To me it sounds almost like it’s the down beat again and one of those unexpected turns he had been talking about earlier.
ENJOY YOUR BASS!!!