Monday, March 21, 2016

Turning the Gears, Stoking the Machinery - A Conversation With Fear Factory

 Innumerable trials, tribulations and years in the game have proven unable to stop the industrial juggernaut of Fear Factory.  Still going strong after more than twenty-five years, the band has been forged and tempered several times over.  At the tip of the spear is vocalist Burton C. Bell, as iconic a voice in industrial as there has ever been.  He took some time out to answer some of our questions - 

D.M: Fear Factory is going out on the road, continuing the 20th anniversary “Demanufacture” tour.  That album stands as Fear Factory’s coming out party, what makes that album such a classic in your mind?

BURTON C. BELL: When that album came out in 1995, we were writing it in late ’93-’94, sonically it just stood out from all the bands that were popular at the time, especially on Roadrunner [Records].  It was a hybrid of different thoughts and genre elements, especially industrial and metal.  Some forms of hardcore, thrash, whatever.  It was mostly industrial metal.  Sonically, it stood out [because] it wasn’t muddy, it was crisp, it was clean, it was highly aggressive between the style to the beats to the vocals.  It was something that was different at the time, and it touched upon the energy that I believe most people were feeling at the time in Los Angeles, where we wrote the album, where we’re from, we captured that angst in that sound and in that record.

D.M: As that album came out, it was released in the power vacuum following the demise of grunge.  Fear Factory lived through this one scene, and then in the aftermath of all that, it turned out people wanted to listen to Limp Bizkit for a while.  Did you ever feel like ‘isn’t it our turn?’

BCB: Not to self-aggrandize or anything like that, it’s an album that influenced a lot of bands, but unfortunately the nature of the album was too aggressive, too in-your-face, too powerful for what people could take at that time.  That’s all I can think.  It was more than people could get a grasp of.  Limp Bizkit had their moment, they catered to a certain audience, and our audience was not that audience.  Sure, there were some gaps that were filled between the two genres, but on the whole, not many people crossed over.

D.M: Not that Fear Factory will ever be confused as an electronic band, but as electronic music rises in popularity worldwide, do you feel like that gives you a broader audience?  Are people more accepting of your sound now?

BCB: I don’t know.  It’s still not pure electronic, you know?  And people who love electronic music are almost purists.  There are some people that will cross over and appreciate that this is that and metal.  We really have a niche in the industrial area, hardcore industrial fans understand what we do, they appreciate it and come over and check it out.  It’s definitely full-on, and other people appreciate the industrial aspect of it.

D.M: You’re sort of promoting two albums at the same time right now, as you’re celebrating “Demanufacture” and at the same time still promoting “Genexus.”  How do you strike that balance?

BCB: For me, “Demanufacture” and “Genexus” can stand as albums together really well, they complement each other really well.  They have a similar feel, “Genexus” has a similar feel without repeating the things we did on “Demanufacture.”  It’s like an extension of that album, “Demanufacture” in our young, angst-ridden days, and here’s our album in our mature angst-ridden days [laughs].  I think the songs, they all fit well together.  When we play the full album and mix in the tracks from “Genexus,” there will be a sense of unity.  Makes perfect sense.

D.M: Totally putting you on the spot, which album do you prefer?

BCB: Right now, I prefer “Genexus.”  That’s the album I’m promoting.  Sure, “Demanufacture” is the record that put Fear Factory on the map and made people appreciate it, but been there, done that.  People love nostalgia.  “Genexus” is not nostalgia, it’s the new thing, it’s our new album and for me, I want to push “Genexus.”

D.M: Is “Genexus” your favorite of the album’s you’ve done so far?

BCB: No, it’s like…a strange analogy, but deciding who’s your favorite child.  Each album represents a different chapter in our lives, my life.  I appreciate and look fondly upon each album as its own entity.  So I love each one for different reasons.

D.M: Pivoting to “Genexus,” you mentioned that it’s new but not totally new, what’s changed for this album?

BCB: I think the approach, the way we went into producing it.  We definitely went in beforehand, and we researched our old albums, “Demanufacture,” “Obsolete,” “Digimortal,” and researching what were the best songs on those albums, how those songs were received live, how they performed live and physically used those ideas in how can we write and formulate those type of writing skills into this album.  We wanted to focus on groove, we wanted to focus on melody and for the first time we brought in an outsider, Drew Fulk, to come in and help produce vocal ideas.  I keep coming up with the same ideas, it’s my voice, and I have the same melodies.  But I had someone come in to give a little bit of flavor, and that’s what we did.

D.M: Speaking of your vocals, you’re largely credited as one of the first ‘mainstream’ vocalists who mixed your harsh vocals and clean vocals.  In your early days, what made you decide to take that role?

BCB: I’m a fan of all types of music, mostly.  Industrial, alternative, I was a big fan of grunge.  When I started singing, I was trying to emulate my favorite vocalists, from Justin Broadrick to Jaz Coleman to Andrew Eldritch, to [David] Bowie to Wayne Hussey to Tad [Doyle] to Kurt Cobain to Chris Cornell, the list goes on.  I just tried to emulate my favorite vocalists, like Michael Gira for instance, and by doing that I created my own voice by trying to emulate others.  And the clean vocal things, I started doing it just because in rehearsal one day I was playing around with this harmonic.  I use my voice as an instrument.  I put it through delay and chorus.  I was adjusting the delay and just doing this monotone Gregorian chant kind of thing through this one song, and Dino [Cazares] is like ‘what the fuck are you doing?’  I said I’ll stop, and he said ‘no, no, that’s great, keep doing it!  You’re on to something!’ [laughs]  We worked with it.  It happened by accident, like penicillin!

D.M: Rhys Fulber has been the man behind the curtain for Fear Factory for years – what’s he actually like, and what does he mean to Fear Factory?

BCB: Rhys is a really good guy.  He’s basically been working with us since “Fear is the Mindkiller,” we brought him in to help with the electronics sections.  He likes metal, so he really understands what we want to achieve with our music.  When he came in, he didn’t want to be in the band, just wanted to help produce that part of it in the production.  He’s got great ideas for music, he’s a highly talented musician and producer.  He’s been working with Dino and myself for so long that he understands the personalities, what we’re capable of and what we can do, so he really works well with us, helping us decide what sounds best and what Fear Factory needs without over-producing.

D.M: To that end, Fear Factory has outlasted a lot of its contemporaries in industrial music.  Plenty of bands have come and gone, yet you guys remain.  What makes Fear Factory so stable in that genre?

BCB: That’s a good question, I think about that often.  I think it’s the fact that we continue to strive forward in music and I think the fact that this is our life, how we chose to survive, our career path, which followed our passion.  And it’s still our passion.  We constantly move forward to do what we love to do, which is continue writing music, continue touring.

D.M: Speaking of touring, each time I’ve been privileged enough to see Fear Factory perform over the past dozen or so years, no matter what album it is, no matter what tour it is, the set always starts with “Shock.”  What is it about that song?

BCB: Man, it’s a good opener.  When you’ve been playing in a band for twenty years plus, you learn what works, you learn what’s the best live song.  And you have a set playlist that goes over well live, and “Shock” is just one of those great openers.  It’s the first hit off our biggest album, “Obsolete,” so pretty much everyone knows that.  It’s a good ‘bam!’  Nice explosion to start off with.

D.M: Much of Fear Factory’s material deals with the relationship between man and machine.  What turned you on to that?  Are you a big William Gibson or Neal Stephenson fan?  Were there authors or other media you encountered that took you down that road?

BCB: Once we came up with the concept of Fear Factory, it all started to develop.  The philosophy started to develop from there forward.  For me, I’ve always been a science-fiction fan.  I’ve also been fascinated with the idea of an apocalypse, the idea of technology taking over.  I’ve been fascinated with it since I was a kid, with “Robocop,” “Terminator,” “Blade Runner,” even cheesy movies from the seventies.  That philosophy of what’s going to happen.  Also, as a writer, my personal feelings are very anti-establishment.  To me, in the beginning, fighting the machine was fighting the established governing systems that try to control people.  To turn that metaphor into a physical machine really made for a story that was beyond punk rock, beyond hard core, put into a venue where I could explore my creative passions of what science fiction was and push my writing further.  That’s where it started.  We’d use samples from various movies, not just dialogue samples but various sounds, we’d lift them and take them.  We knew we’d never get caught because [laughs] we’re not a huge band like Soundgarden or Ministry or Rammstein.  We’re not gonna get caught.

D.M: So, as a writer, do you almost storyboard an album before you start to write the songs for it?

BCB: No, we don’t do that.  I storyboard the album after it’s written.  All the lyrics have a common theme, a common thread and once written, it’s like ‘give us the picture we’ve created.’  I create a story from that.

D.M: Fear Factory has been through a lot.  People have come and gone, the band itself has come and gone, record labels come and gone, litigations, all kinds of things.  To sum it all up, what the hell happened?  More importantly, is your band stronger for surviving it?

BCB: You know, once money comes into the equation it changes everything.  It’s a reality that all young bands will have to realize, that once you make your first dollar, it’s not for fun anymore, you can have fun, but the business takes over.  Also, people change, friendships come and go just like in real life – marriages come and go, it’s part of life.  A band is no different, it’s a relationship between three or four different people and you can get along [until] an extent that nothing is getting done, and that’s a problem.  Something has to change.  You have to continue moving forward.  There are some relationships, you can make a decision that this is what it is and we can keep working like this, or you can continue to move forward.  We struggled through it, we fight through it, and we put all that negative energy that’s happened; from litigation to people leaving to whatever, you put it into your passion and you make it fuel for your fire.  It’s cliché, but that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and nothing’s been able to stop us, we continue to go forward and continue writing music.  It’s survival.

D.M: How confident are you in the future of Fear Factory right now?  Are you comfortable with this lineup, does it feel like things are solid?

BCB: I feel like it’s a good lineup.  It’s a small lineup, we’re a tight band.  Mike [Heller] is an incredible drummer, really good friend, good kid.  Kid, he’s like thirty-three [laughs].  Tony [Campos] is a great bass player, great friend.  Dino and I have been together for twenty-five, coming up on twenty-six years now.  For me, I feel it’s a really strong lineup, and I feel good about it.

D.M: Tying up a few loose ends – who’s the musician that’s on your collaboration bucket list?

BCB: It’s gonna be weird, but Willie Nelson.

D.M: Perfect!  He’d do it, too.

BCB: I know he would!  That’s what makes it awesome.  I wrote a song that I think he’d be perfect for, to play it his way.  Somehow I need to get that to him.

D.M: What makes him the choice?

BCB: I’m from Texas, grew up with Willie Nelson.  I’m a huge fan.  The song I’m thinking of, it’s just perfect for him.

D.M: Your other band, Ascension of the Watchers – is that done, or will we see more from them?

BCB: Yes, you will!  Thanks for asking about that.  We’re currently writing new songs, we have new material we’re recording and writing at the same time and I’m getting it all together, trying to record it and make it sound decent.  You’ll definitely see some more of that, we’ve got like, ten new songs.

D.M: We see rock and metal stars retire all the time, and the unretired.  Years ago, you worked with Geezer Butler, you know the man, been in the same room with him, made music with him.  Based on your insight, is this tour really the end of Black Sabbath?

BCB: Well, I mean, for touring and albums, yeah.  Not trying to be the harbinger of ill will or bad news, but the reality of Tony Iommi’s sickness is a big factor, I believe.  And Tony Iommi, he’s as much Black Sabbath as Geezer Butler of Ozzy Osbourne or Bill Ward, if not more.  I would be sad, but the reality is that they’ve been around since the sixties.

D.M: Parting shots?

BCB: I still have a few copies of the graphic novel “The Industrialist” left, I will be selling them on the road, but if you can’t make it to the show, you can pick it up online!

For more on Fear Factory and their upcoming tour, check them out on their website.
For more on Burton C. Bell, check him out on his website.

No comments:

Post a Comment