An Interview with Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory - August 2, 2012
By Trystan MacDonald
Photo by Kevin Estrada
Fear Factory’s influential ideas changed and in many ways defined the industrial metal sound; with a history spanning over two decades, the band’s sound has remained the same. I was able to catch up with lead singer Burton Bell, the only band member of Fear Factory to remain over the band’s long history.
Trystan: Could you give us your side of what happened in regards to the Shockwave Tour falling apart over the last month?
Burton: Fear Factory was approached several months ago by an agency called The Pantheon Agency, and they’re the ones who set up the Shockwave Tour. They asked us to be the headliner. I was told they had a bunch of bands and it sounded really good, you know? There were a lot of cool bands on it. Voivod, a lot of classic bands, a lot of young and talented bands as well, so we agreed to do it. So they started this whole campaign with Facebook, online involvement, setting up posters and just getting the word out there. From Fear Factory’s perspective, we like to work professionally and we like to make sure everything is done properly. There are contracts with every promoter out there in every city. Well, as things were progressing, bands were dropping off because there was word of warning in ticket sales. We were learning the agency wasn’t getting the contracts; they weren’t getting the guarantee. So really, it just started falling apart. Voivod couldn’t do it because the Pantheon Agency didn’t get any guarantees, so they couldn’t even start the tour. We, on our end, were ready to start the tour and literally at the 11th hour, Shockwave pulled the plug, leaving us high and dry on the day we were supposed to leave. So it just snowballed into this whole thing that they handled and set up very unprofessionally.
Trystan: That sounds pretty rough.
Burton: But luckily the Shockwave Tour was only so long. We decided to book our own shows in and around the Shockwave shows, because we have a new record out and we have to promote it. The shows we are about to do are what we booked at the same time. So luckily we have that going for us.
Trystan: Any shows in Toronto?
Burton: No. No shows in Toronto, not until October, possibly. We’re setting up more North American shows based in October with Shadows Fall, and we’re doing that to hit the places we were supposed to hit with Shockwave.
Trystan: Fear Factory has had some rough years with its line-up. With the new album, “The Industrialist”, what was it like creating an album with you and Dino being the only creative forces behind it? What were the positives and negatives being the only two people to create the album?
Burton: It was fantastic, actually. It was like how we used to work in the old days. Dino and I were really the steam behind the engine of Factory. This record was myself, Dino and Reeves; and the three of us really know what Fear Factory is supposed to be. We’re the ones who’ve been working with it since the very beginning. So, to me, it was a very focussed album. We did exactly what we had to do and we were all on the same page. It felt really good and the fact that there were less people made it easier to get ideas across and it was easier to get what we needed to be done.
Trystan: You guys came back from a steady hiatus with 2 solid albums. What are your thoughts with industrial pioneers Ministry reforming and releasing a new album and touring again?
Burton: I think it’s awesome. I’ve been a fan of Al and Ministry for a very long time. I knew Al couldn’t quit. Music is too much of a side of him to let it sit and collect dust. He’s a road dog. He’s a true musician and I’m glad to see that he’s doing it again.
Trystan: Fear Factory played at Heavy MTL three years ago in 2009. Any reason why you haven’t returned since then?
Burton: They haven’t invited us.
Burton: It’s the timing. When we played it last time, our record was just out, and I don’t know when they set this one up.
Trystan: Well, we need to get on their asses about that.
Burton: Yeah! I would love to do it again. I had a great time.
Trystan: There was quite an uproar when the Shockwave tour fell through. There were a lot of Fear Factory fans and a lot of Voivod fans who were pretty upset.
Burton: Yeah, I can only imagine. I was pretty upset myself. It sucks that we were planning this for so long just to have the ticket pulled out from under us. I was disappointed just as much as the fans were because I was ready to do it.
Trystan: So, in regards to the future of Fear Factory, with it really just being you and Dino, do you see yourselves writing more music, more albums?
Burton: Yeah, I do. Dino and I already talked about getting the next album moving. Let’s start writing riffs, let’s keep this ball rolling. So yeah, I can see us working more.
Trystan: Could you describe how you and Dino go into writing a song and writing an album?
Burton: It usually starts with a riff. Dino comes up with a riff and a beat comes with it. The beat is written afterwards to follow the riff and I’ll sit and listen to it. We just start with a riff and I come up with ideas: vocal rhythms or a melody, and from there he just starts to add stuff and it starts building into a song.
Trystan: With your newest album “The Industrialist”, did you find there were any challenges for you as the vocalist for writing lyrics that reflect the concept of the album?
Burton: It was a challenge, but it’s the challenge that fuels me. The concept didn’t really start sinking in until we came up with the title of the album. We had been writing songs and we had lots of words and titles, thoughts and quotes and whatever. Once the album title came into the picture though, that’s when it really started to congeal as a full thought, as a full concept. Once that happened, everything that I wrote just made sense. Every time I start writing or start singing, it’s a stream of consciousness, and I just went with it. It was quite exciting. Everything we were writing, everything we were recording was a fresh idea. You hear the excitement. You hear the intensity of something like: “Wow, this is killer! Let’s just keep it going.” You’re not beaten over the head with redundancy. You don’t hear that, you really hear a fresh excitement in it.
Trystan: What’s your favourite city to play?
Burton: In the world?
Trystan: We can narrow it down to North America for you.
Burton: I love playing New York City.
Trystan: How come?
Burton: Even though we are from L.A., New York City accepted us first - full blown. The East Coast has always been great for Fear Factory. It’s pretty strange.
Trystan: If you could play in one other band other than Fear Factory, what would it be?
Burton: Fucking Soundgarden!
Trystan: Soundgarden now, or Soundgarden back in the beginning?
Burton: All of it.
Trystan: What are your thoughts on Canada’s metal scene, and more specifically, Toronto?
Burton: A lot of good music comes out of there. Unfortunately, more pop music out of Toronto than you hear for metal, but there are lots of great musicians. The music scene is a thriving scene. You have NXNE, which I attended once and it was a really good time. I just have a feeling it will build up to get bigger over time.
Trystan: The reason why I asked you that is there is a bit of a rivalry between Montreal and Toronto as the most metal city in Canada. So if you could pick one, who would you pick? And I’m sorry for putting you in this position.
Burton: Oh man... I don’t even know. We’ve always had good shows in both cities. I’ll just be a diplomatic and not give an answer at all [laughs].
Trystan: One of the very distinct sounds that Fear Factory has is this really heavy, rustic drumbeat that can be found in the majority of the songs, from Replica to the opening tracks on The Industrialist. Any insight into where that particular sound comes from?
Burton: It’s a mechanical sound. It’s a part of the Industrial side of that genre we bring into Fear Factory. Dino’s riffs are very mechanical in nature. What I mean is; it has a very rhythmic and repetitive nature about it. The drums are following his riffs and it’s his style, so we’re really mechanical, almost machine-like rhythm. And for us, that’s Industrial music.
Trystan: Where do you see Fear Factory in the next 5 years?
Burton: On tour [laughs]
Trystan: I guess you enjoy touring then?
Burton: A working musician has to keep touring. In this day and age, it’s the only way to survive, unless you’re the Foo Fighters, who are apparently the ‘only’ band in the world catering to the Grammies. Every other band has to work by touring.
Trystan: Metal bands have to tour a lot. A lot of bands embrace the touring and many bands break up from the stress of it.
Burton: It’s totally up to the individual. Some people are just not cut out for that kind of lifestyle, and some are. It really comes down to the individual and the real drive that they have to pursue their dream of music. If you’re going to pursue music you’ve got to go all the way, you can’t do it half-assed. You have to give it your all, and touring is a big part of that - live shows in front of people all over the world. That’s what we do and if it’s not in you, you’re not going to last.
Trystan: What are your thoughts on Universal stating that they are going to cut the majority of their CD publishing?
Burton: I’m not surprised. In the next year and half CDs are going to be obsolete, so that’s why they’re doing it. They’re not going to create CDs anymore, just go straight to mp3s. There will still be vinyl. But CDs, they’re going to stop manufacturing those.
Trystan: How do you feel about that?
Burton: I’m not surprised. It’s just the way of the industry - things change. 8-track tapes aren’t around anymore, neither is handing out cassettes. But you know it’s the way of the world. Technology just moves forward.
Trystan: Well that’s pretty much all I have to ask you, Burton. It was a pleasure speaking with you and thanks for taking the time. I hope to see you in Canada before the year’s end.
Burton: I hope so too, Trystan, and we’ll meet up then!