Interview with Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory
Interview by Mike Bax
2010 will be a memorable year for Fear Factory fans. With Burton C. Bell and Dino Cazares patching things up and putting a killer new studio album together (their first together in eight years), fans of the band certainly have reason to celebrate.
I got to chat with Burton last week on the evening of his arrival back from Australia – where the band were on a tour / press junket for Mechanize, their new album which is released Feb 9th in North America.
With a pending tour and what promises to be a return to form for the band, I was genuinely excited to get the chance to talk a bit with Burton.
Mike: I know you are just back from Australia, like literally just back. Was that a good trip for you?
Burton: It was excellent and yeah I am just back. I’m feeling sort of jetlagged. (Laughs)
Mike: I’m sure a lot of the press you’re going to do around Mechanize in the next couple of months is going to have queries about the reformation of Fear Factory, do you have Coles notes version of this answer prepared? And did you want you to share it with me?
Burton: (Laughs) No nothing really prepared… so ask away.
Mike: When did you guys decide to get back together; when did you and Dino (Cazares) talk about re-forming Fear Factory?
Burton: It really was actually several months of reconnecting. As you know in 2008 I was touring in 2008 with Ministry. I was doing all the older songs on that tour. When I went through L.A., Dino was at the show and to me it was like timing had everything to do with it. Dino and I started Fear Factory together; we were friends before the band started and as they say familiarity breeds contempt, right? When we started the band we spent pretty much eleven years together, actually thirteen years together straight, so we pretty much grew up together. It was just so much time we spent together that it’s like we got on each other’s nerves as any relationship does, so that’s when we split ways basically. Seven years went by and it was time that brought us back together. It got to the point where I asked myself “why are you angry?” It seemed kind of pointless. So when I saw him at the show, I just walked up to him and said “hi” and it really just started there. We just started re-connecting and just talking; we talked on the phone a lot and after several months between early April and late November….. we talked and talked and when I finally felt comfortable with him and he felt comfortable with me, I just reached out my hand and said “ hey how would you like to be part of this again?”
Mike: You guys both were working on some solo material, you have both “Ascension of the Watchers” and “City of Fire” ready to go. Dino had some new stuff on the go with “Divine Heresy”. Was that logically a challenge for you?
Burton: Not really, in this day and age you can make anything happen and it doesn’t matter where you live. We make time for what is working. “Ascension of the Watchers is working”, it’s a labor of love for me. City of Fire is still getting started. There is still no distribution deal because the record’s not out.
Burton: We’re working on everything a bit at a time and only schedule things to make it work and that’s what we’re going to do.
Mike: So with you and Byron (Stroud), your both contributing to contribute to “City of Fire” together. Will City of Fire be parked while you guys work on promoting “Mechanize?”
Burton: No actually. We are actively searching for proper distribution because right now and the City of Fire material is currently only available through our website. We would like to find a proper distribution deal, so when we do find it, we are planning for a late summer or early fall release and then will do a proper tour around that.
Mike: How was recording the new material, did it feel like business as usual for you and Dino?
Burton: That’s a good question because it felt great, it felt right. It wasn’t business as usual for me, there as a real high excitement factor and the excitement really drove this high creativity. It reminded me how we use to work back in the “good old days” when we would just sit and jam…..It wasn’t just about jamming because we would have discussions about themes and concepts and lyrical ideas. We would just really talk out and just go over the whole thing and to me this album is really thought out from every angle.
Mike: Was this Dino’s first time recording with Byron and Gene (Hoglan) or had he been with them before?
Mike: It was?
Burton: Yes it was his very first time, so in the beginning we all sat down together and everyone had a large input into how everybody worked together. It took a few sessions, but once everyone understood how to communicate with each other in the studio there was no problem at all.
Mike: Are there songs on the new album that you were surprised by, just by the way they turned out while you were working with Dino, Byron and Gene?
Burton: I think “Final Exit” for me was a real shining moment because it’s just one of those moments….we always had a more soft ambient song and the track, but I think we finally got it right on this album. It just reached textures of keyboards and just to give it a boost, it came out incredible and I was really really happy with it.
Mike: As of tonight I only heard ‘Fear Campaign’ from the new album. I haven’t got an advance of the album yet…..
Burton: Ohhhhh (laughs)
Mike: Hey… it hasn’t leaked, right? (laughs) ‘Fear Campaign’ sounds like a killer track to me. Let me ask you this; is Fear Factory doing anything via the bands website by way of limited edition packaging or fan exclusive material for Mechanize?
Burton: Yes we are, I think through both our website and through Candlelight. There is a special box….a Fear Factory tool box of sorts that’s coming out and inside of it is a shirt and a limited edition digipak with extra tracks and there are actual tools that have the Fear Factory logo on each tool, so it’s a pretty cool little tool box.
Mike: I’m going to have to look into that man, it sounds pretty interesting. For me as a listener, there is pre Rhys Fulber and post Rhys Fulber Fear Factory. I was a big grindcore fan back in the 90’s and I can still remember the evening that a friend played me The Pig Fuck mix of 'Scapegoat' and…..
Burton: Ahh Ha
Mike: It changed my life back then. I hadn’t really heard any Grindcore mixed together with that, I want to call it “The industrial sound” even though everybody on the musician side seems to hate that term. Front Line Assembly were always industrial music to me and I really liked the mixture of your music together with Rhys’ production esthetic.
Burton: Yeah Industrial music has sure evolved. To me Industrial music was something else in the 80’s and 90’s and when Fear Factory came along we added something to the sound of Industrial because it’s about form, rhythm and precision…… and the sound with Fear Factory is based on precision and it’s the rhythm of that precision or the precision of that rhythm and to me that’s where the evolution to Industrial started and to me Meshuggah is an Industrial band.
Mike: Yeah to me too.
Burton: and a lot of people don’t see that and when they think of industrial they think of “Nine Inch Nails” and the fashion underneath the industrial which to me is not even industrial. To us that’s how we… with Rhys coming to the fold with Fear Factory, he really helped find our sound and if it wasn’t for him working on the remixes for “Soul of a New Machine” and making the Pigfuck mix and Liquid Sky mix, there would have been no “Demanufacture”.
Mike: Yup…Can you recall how your working relationship with Fulber came about?
Burton: Absolutely. As you know Fear Factory was on Roadrunner and at that time Front Line Assembly was on an off shoot of Roadrunner which was called Third Mind Records. After we had done our record, we talked to Monte Conner and said “Hey we’re interested in doing a remix, do you have anyone we can use?” so he hooked us up with Rhys Fulber. That was in 1993 when we started working on that.
Mike: Yeah, that’s going back a little bit. For me after “Mind Killer” after that EP came out, I always felt that your style of music was something that remained unclassifiable for a few years. You talked about precision; I felt there were elements of multiple genres of interesting music from that era being married together and it really allowed you guys to grow as a band.
Burton: I’m glad you see that. Everybody in the band had a different flavor that we added to the mix and for me I was not really the metal guy, I was more the industrial goth guy…you know Dino was into grind core & death metal and Raymond liked the Thrash…. That’s where it all came together. When we first came out they kept calling us Industrial, grind death band they couldn’t really make us out.
Mike: Yeah….. Do you ever wonder how your band might have turned out if you had done “Fear Is The Mind Killer” with another producer?
Burton: You know I never thought of that, it’s a good question cause I don’t know who else honestly could done it honestly.
Mike: You guys already had a valid career and a popularity trajectory happening in 1992, and then after Rhys it was different; it was a different sound. Somebody else could have been brought in - you could have worked with Flood or worked with Alan Moulder, something really different and really altered your career path, you know?
Burton: I’m glad it was Rhys and Bill Leeb that came into the mix and really killed it and they understood where it came from. I think that’s why it really worked cause Rhys really understood it, he was fan of that type of music already and just talking to him a little bit he understood what we wanted to do.
Mike: Your music has been used in the background of numerous films. Back in the 90’s, I can’t think of the “Mortal Combat movie without thinking of your band. ….. (Laugh)
Burton : (laughs) I Know...
Mike: I believe you had material in at least one of the Saw films if not more than one. Do you ever see yourself scoring an entire film like working in a soundtrack capacity?
Burton: Honestly, that’s one of my career goal… To score an entire film and there is still time. Hopefully with this album it will happen.
Mike: Yeah, true enough. How do you feel “Mechanize fits into the Fear Factory fits into the catalogue of albums?
Burton: I think it really fits in well; it’s a return to a classic sound without repeating itself. It’s not just going through the motions. To me it could of almost been release after Obsolete and that would have been a good progression for it. To me people are not comparing it to Obsolete because the sound is similar but they’re not saying it’s not as good as padded I think it stands on its own as an entity and as a classic album that people are going to recognize and like say wow there is “Demanufacture“ “Obsolete” and then there is “Mechanize” these albums are like the definitions of Fear Factory.
Mike: Cool. I assume you plan to tour “Mechanize” this year, is there anything you can tell me about your upcoming live show that will maybe up the ante from your previous live tours?
Burton: Well I think we finally have a decent lighting engineer and he’s finally getting it, he’s really creating a mood. What we are planning on doing is; in two weeks I’ll be in the UK starting a tour and then Europe after that and what we are planning on doing is playing pretty much most of the new album. Just because 1) we are trying to sell the new record and 2) because it’s a strong record, a strong line up and we want to up the ante by saying “hey bam” here we are. …so we are going to play most of “Mechanize” and we are going to play classic tracks from older albums like “Soul of A New Machine”, “Demanufacture”, “Obsolete”, “Digimortal” it’s going to be an hour and half of just Fear factory brutality.
Mike: I’m looking forward to seeing that.
Burton: We played shows already….we just came back from Australia and we had a great reception down there. We only played two new songs because the album isn’t out yet but we had great response with those two new songs. I’m looking forward to playing more from that album.
Mike: I really liked some of the cover versions that Fear Factory have recorded over the years. One of my favorites is that Wiseblood cut ‘0-0 Where Evil Dwells’
Burton: Oh man that’s a classic track.
Mike: I’m a big Jim Foetus fan, I was really kind of blown away when I saw it on the album and it’s such a great take on that song.
Burton: Yeah, like I said Dino and I were both fans of that type of industrial noise and sound - big Foetus fans and Wiseblood fans… Scraping Foetus off the Wheel and among other things. We wanted to really show some of our roots by doing an interesting cover and that was one of them. Not every cover we have done is great , you can’t always hit a home run but everything we do shows a side of Fear factory that surprises people.
Mike: Any chance you might have another studio cover coming in 2010?
Burton: We are talking about it, we’re definitely talking about it but we haven’t really decided on something. It’s going to be a song that I think is really going to surprise people.
Mike: Now when you look at that musical landscape in North America right now in 2010; how do you feel as a musician Burton, because It’s a different machine then it was 10 years ago. As an artist in this present you-can-download-anything-you-want-for-free economy, how does that make you feel?
Burton: I might piss people off here but this is my livelihood and my career, when I hear of people downloading music for free it’s like “Aright , can I come into your house and take something that belongs to you?” This is what I do for a living and I am trying to support myself and when you do that you’re really not supporting your favorite artist or the artist in general. It is a different time and I mean people say “Oh I’m going to the show and buy a ticket and a shirt” and that’s great but, when you’re downloading for free you’re really not helping anyone.
Mike: Yeah I agree.
Burton: To me it’s only done by white college males and they are the majority of people doing it. Honestly they can afford to buy the music if they are in college. That’s just an assumption, really. This day and age has really changed musically, when it comes to the internet I think music is over saturated every genre is over saturated and there is too much labeling for genres… it’s all sounding the same right now. It’s hard to find something that’s inspirational or exciting to listen too. But there is exciting music out there… you just have to search for it even harder now.
Mike: That’s a good answer. I have one last question for you and it’s unrelated to Fear Factory; you mentioned earlier you were on tour with “Ministry” and one of my highlights in 2008 was seeing you on stage with Ministry in Toronto on their farewell tour......
Burton: Wow that was a fun time.
Mike: That show was off the grid. Were you on every live date with them for that round of dates?
Burton: For the United States, Yes. As a huge “Ministry” fan, not only was that an honor and a privilege just being out there on stage next to one of my musical heroes singing and being his voice for those songs, it was another pinnacle for my career. I have been very fortunate in my career working with some really awesome artists and people who have really changed music in a lot of ways and made an impact, to me it was just something that I can describe it and all… but to me it goes further than that. It was a complete highlight I will never forget it man.
Mike: Cool. ….Well I appreciate your time and I hope your next interview goes well and thanks again for talking with me, I know you’re a tired man.
Burton: It’s all good Mike and I appreciate your time and when you have a chance listen to the rest of the record and check out the video for the Fear Campaign. Apparently you can watch it on line right now.
Mechanize should be on the racks by the time you are reading this interview. Do swing by their website to look at the deluxe edition we discussed in this dialog. You can view the stunning video for Fear Campaign right here: http://www.roxwel.com/player/fearfactoryfearcampaign.html