Christian Olde Wolbers
Interview Conducted By Robert Williams
Randall Amplification Promo Photos ©2008 Jon O’Gara Photography
I recently was presented with the opportunity to chat over the phone with Christian Olde Wolbers, who rose to fame as the bassist turned axe slinger for Fear Factory. Christian, ever the multi-faceted musician was kind enough to talk shop well over a half hour with me, covering everything from Fear Factory’s current hiatus, to his new band Arkaea, the COW Archetype Randall Half Stack, his studio work and much more. In fact he even recalls his early days in the thrash metal scene in his native Antwerp, Belgium and the time he spent playing for both Asphyxia and touring with Cyclone. Special thanks to Andy Caffaro at Forty Three PR for coordinating this special interview.
Hey Christian, how are you doing today?
Hey Robert. How are you doing man.
Let’s talk about your Randall signature series half stack, with the V2 archetype head as well as the RS412XLT 100BC 4×12 cabinet, users can really dial in their tone by using a full tube preamp or utilizing the classic Randall Solid State preamp. You designed it and Randall developed it. How did you enjoy working with Randall on building a customized halfstack?
I mean it was very simple and they’re all great people. It was a very, very easy process. Jody Dankberg and Doug Reynolds at Washburn… I just told them really what I wanted and they were right on the money. I basically took a V2 head…the original V2 head that Randall had and I added a little more gain on the Solid State channel, and the bass response as far as distortion eq-wise, I had it made a little tighter than usual.
My bands Fear Factory and Arkaea, the style that we play is really staccato, really tight. When I chug I just want it to go "chu-" and not like ring out as much because I want the bass response really tight.
So we worked on that and we just changed the look a little bit…you know the black chrome, the blue lights cause I like blue lights for some reason…Cause when you put blue lights on something it sounds better…(laughs)
You were among the first to demo out Dimebag Darrell’s signature Krankenstein head from Krank amps and you were a big fan of that. Was that kind of tone something that you wanted to incorporate into your own half stack with Randall?
Well, originally I was a Marshall player. My favorite setup was the power amp with a JMP-1. I always liked that but I always felt that there was a little gain missing. Just a little bit.
I tried different pedals and it never really worked, so once I was introduced to the Krankenstein head; it had so much sizzle and so much top end that I was like "Wow!"
I’m a very simple player I like to play simple one note patterns and build it up until the chorus. That head (The Krankenstein) when you play a one note riff, it’s really, like… punchy.
One of my best friends that worked for Krank at the time moved on to Randall and he begged me to try some of these Randall’s. Ever since Dime came on the scene, everyone’s been wanting to try Randall’s again. It kept the Randall flagship alive a little bit.
He (Dime) had that signature Solid State sound which actually works for me way better than like…tubes are too warm for me. For open stuff and open chords when a song breaks open it works, but for all the really staccato, fast triple picking, quadruple…Solid State seems to work a little better.
I told Randall "I would love to try some of these heads" you know I tried a couple things, and out of each head there was something I liked. The V2 head had the option of having a tube channel and a Solid State channel. Which I really love because…actually like, during a lot of my songs where I play the verse really staccato, fast like triple picking kinda stuff…but when I go to the choruses sometimes that sounds a little too sterile and I like to have more warmth, so I switch to my Tube channel. Which is setup to play open choruses and big open chords and stuff.
It’s really cool, it’s a three channel head, and the Clean channel, which is just sparkling clean. The versatility of the head is really cool, it’s exactly what I was looking for…Cause I’m kinda like, I always came from the power amp, pre amp type of background and I use a lot of different sounds.
With the Archetype V2 I added a couple of good little things like a little more gain, a little tighter bass response and changed the look of the head a little bit and it’s a very solid and powerful amp. When you just pick it up you can feel "Oh this thing must be sounding good." It’s a serious piece of equipment.
I know you were among the first to use the innovative Guitar Rig software as part of your live setup and now with your Randall signature series half stack you have a lot of that same tone modeling technology at your disposal. You get the three MIDI programmable channels (classic solid state clean, classic solid state overdrive and modern tube overdrive; an assignable 6 band graphic EQ) Just 10 years ago guitar players didn’t have options like this when constructing a desired tone. What do you think of the whole tone modeling revolution of the past seven or eight years?
I mean, I love it because…I still use Guitar Rig today, I use my Randall basically to lay all of my main tracks down, what I still do is I still go through my Randall but the Clean channel and I go into ProTools and (use) Guitar Rig…because you get so many amp modeling sounds that would take you weeks and weeks to find out how to set up, like stereo sounds that have delays on one side, chorus and a different verb on the other.
Guitar Rig has a lot of sounds that would take you days and days to create something. If you don’t have the resources or the tools available it’s very hard because some of these sounds take quite a bunch of technical equipment to make that sound. With Guitar Rig it’s all right there and times have changed so much that I don’t think kids really…I can play you a composition on Guitar Rig and you would never know that it’s Guitar Rig. It’s that good.
The sounds are getting better and better. In the beginning when it first came on the market it was a little stale sounding and people were kind of a little scared of it, but I do my regular sounds and I do like a third Guitar Rig track sometimes in the middle with like a completely different tone or something that works really well with the song or what I was doing. It’s easy because you don’t have to sit there and plug in 500,000 pedals like I feel many bands do.
When I went to Korn’s studio to check out their recording they had about 600 pedals laying on the floor and they were just trying to find combinations. I mean now I can do that in Guitar Rig with the click of a button. It’s great to have really analog sounds and build everything from the ground up, like with pedals and plugging everything in and moving knobs, but we don’t have those resources and now I can do everything on a computer and save my settings and come back tomorrow and if I don’t like it I can change it. That’s the beauty of it.
You just basically record everything with a clean signal into ProTools. I go into Guitar Rig and add my delays and chorus and crazy modulation sounds that make it really interesting and that’s something I’m really doing…the last few Fear Factory albums I never really dug that far into effects.
What weapon of choice are you plugging into your Randall these days, do you still play a 7 string Jackson?
Yeah I play my seven string Jackson (Jackson – Christian Olde Wolbers signature series) I have my signatures which I play usually when I go on tour in Europe. You know I usually play my signatures on tour cause I can give those away or throw them into the crowd or break one and I don’t really get heartbroken. But I have my main signature, which is like my custom shop one…which is my Silverburst. That one has the Floyd (Floyd Rose tremolo) That’s pretty much my favorite one.
I was always a regular tailpiece player but I really got into the Floyd lately, over the last couple of years and it just stays much better in tune and all my new signatures that I’m gonna be getting are all gonna have Floyd’s…and blue LED’s in the fretboard, believe it or not. I should have those by NAMM. They’ll match my Randall’s very well.
They’re gonna be silver guitars, silver with chrome hardware and blue lights…and my Randall’s are all black chrome with blue lights. They’ll look pretty smoking together.
If I understand correctly Fear Factory is temporarily on hiatus so that Burton C. Bell can focus on his side project Ascension of the Watchers. Do you have any timeframe of when we can expect Fear Factory to fire on all cylinders again?
We’re talking here and there about what the possibilities are and when we will start the machine back up. He (Burton C. Bell) is still doing Ascension of the Watchers and he has family as well…he has two newborns and Raymond and I are doing Arkaea right now. We had all this music written that we kinda originally wrote for Fear Factory. I didn’t wanna have it sit there and …sometimes it’s like wine it gets better the longer it sits there, I just feel like I wanna get it out.
A very good friend of mine who is also in one of the first bands I ever produced called Threat Signal – Jon Howard… he’s a great singer from Canada. I asked him if would be interested to do the project and sing on this record and it seems like this has become a full time band.
Honestly, deep in my heart… and this is no bullshit, I feel like this Arkaea record is gonna blow away the last three Fear Factory albums. It is that good.
You’ve certainly stayed busy in Fear Factory’s downtime, you’ve produced and engineered Bleed the Sky’s latest album Murder The Dance, you’ve also helped out God Forbid in the studio and taught guitar lessons in addition to playing in two other bands, did I miss anything? Where do you find the time?
I also found time to talk to you today! (laughs) Luckily I don’t have an everyday job. I wake up and I breath and sleep and eat music everyday. I like to stay busy and I’m just lucky to be able to do music everyday.
Arkaea right now is my main priority. We just finished cutting all the drums. We already got bass tracks and vocals. I’m gonna get my gear out and start doing guitar tracks. With this Arkaea record we’re gonna stay busy until the end of the year.
It’s scheduled for release on March 10th (2009) through Koch Records. My drummer owns Fleetwood Mac’s old studio…that they did a couple of really big albums in through the 70’s and 80’s.
He owns that studio so basically we have this facility to our availability 24 hours a day. You know, our drums, everything…our amps…everything is set up in the drum room.
It’s kind of like when you see those Metallica clips on YouTube of them rehearsing in their own studio…everything is set up properly…that’s kind of what we have now.
It’s kind of cool, I can always come back everyday and listen…take my work home and listen to things in my studio at the house. A-B my guitar sounds.
I’m actually going to do things a lot simpler on this Arkaea record. Usually I stack four guitars left and right. Like two on each side. This time I’m gonna do one left and one right which is different for me but I found that it brings out a lot of the drums better and some of the other instruments so…
I’m actually gonna change my recording technique a little on this next album. I’m adding a lot more overdubs which is something I’m not very accustomed to. Which is really cool for me to do. Bands like MUSE that really inspired me and Deftones over the years and…I kinda wanna start adding a little more. This Arkaea record is a heavy record that has a lot of melody and a lot of groove and openness and stuff…it really experiments and definitely a lot more guitar sounds.
It’s a brand new band. I just want to make this the best record it can be.
Raymond, my drummer, he would never, ever say this unless it was the truth…but actually he finished his last drum track last week and he kinda looked at me and he shook his head and he goes "Man, I think this is one of the best records I’ve ever played on." Like he really raised the bar. I looked at him and I go "I kinda feel like this record is better than the last three Fear Factory albums." And he goes "I have never done anything in Fear Factory that I’ve done in this record. I’ve done some crazy shit in Fear Factory but on this record I’ve really pushed the bar."
It was really hard for him. You know every band always says "This new record’s gonna be better than our last" but I feel this is better than our last three (laughs)
The attitude and the vibe and how all of us are coming together and our singer’s hungry, he’s young. He’s not afraid to come back in and rewrite the song five times if he has to, you know? He’s really talented and he’s a great singer with a great range.
I haven’t heard too many singers that still have that really high range like Chris Cornell, all those guys sing on a pretty higher note than usual standard in the industry. They’re up there as far as lung power.
The singer that we’re working with in Arkaea, Jon, he has that as well and it’s refreshing to …you can hear the notes. I can’t even sing those notes.
Both God Forbid as well as Asylum have enlisted your services for producing vocals. What kind of recording techniques keep you in demand in the vocal dept?
Well a simple technique I use is I put the vocalist right next to me so he’s looking at the screen as well and there’s a mic right there. I turn the speakers in the room off so I can really hear him and I just have headphones on and I put the music very low.
I don’t like having a singer in a drum room behind glass. It’s hard to communicate. Especially if your trying to write, it’s easier if you have someone just sitting right next to you when you can just stop the music and talk to them like "Let’s try it like this and let’s try it like that" or "Lay back a little bit"
I get really hands on and honestly something that really helped me pick up a lot of things is in the last ten years, mostly the last four or five years is I worked with a lot of hip hop artists.
DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill is someone who really took me under his wing for a while and I recorded a lot of hip hop. It’s all about vocals in hip hop. The way they pronounce things or the way they drop a rhyme rhythmically. Especially rhythmically. A lot of metal singers don’t have a great rhythm. They’re always ahead of the track. You could put on twenty records and I can pick out every time somebody is not on time, you know what I mean? They don’t really have the sense of time that people in the hip hop industry have.
I can grab your words and really lay them out in time with the song even if it’s metal. I’m really good with timing because of recording Everlast and B Real from Cypress Hill. I worked with Chingy and Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube and West Side Connection. I worked with all of these people, been around all of these studios and all these artists and it really taught me a sense of timing.
If you look at Rage Against the Machine their timing is perfect. Also, you know…I look at the vocals like guitar riffs. It has to be catchy. If I walk out of the room to go make myself a coffee and I can’t even remember what the singer was singing it’s not going to be a good song.
I never thought it was going to be a good trait of mine. I realized that when I went to music school back in the day. I was the worst, I was the last in the class in music school. Out of one hundred kids I was one hundred.
But I had the best pitch in school. (Laughs) The teacher would sing me a composition of five notes and I would hit those five notes vocally dead on, and he was like "What is it with you? You can’t read or write, but you’ve got great pitch. You’ve got the best pitch in school by far." And that’s something I’ve always took with me.
I can hear a singer just sing a line and even if he’s not in tune yet, if he’s not hitting the note yet that he wants to hit, I can already hear where he’s going. I can see it happen before it happens.
Sometimes I’m like "Is this where your going?" or "How about this?" I kinda help sometimes get the singer where he’s trying to go. I really hear things ahead of time and that’s part of the process of if it’s catchy it’s like reading a book and you can already see the next page.
I have a really nice production studio with a really nice vocal mic and nice mic pres and stuff…so a lot of times I don’t make bands pay for my studio time…it could take one week, two weeks, three weeks…I don’t put a deadline on recording a great vocal.
Are you using an AKG C414 mic with the adjustable pickup pattern for vocals?
I use a Soundalex 251 which has a Neumann capsule in it. It’s actually a really nice mic. It’s a reissue of An old U-47.
What was the musical climate like growing up in Belgium… Before you came to the U.S. you were playing in a killer thrash band in Belgium called Asphyxia, was there much of a hard rock or metal scene at that time in Antwerp?
Belgium had a metal scene. Not huge, huge… it got more big around rock I think, but there was definitely a metal scene at that time in Belgium and it had a couple of really killer bands like Cyclone who were the forefathers of all Belgium metal and believe it or not they started around the same time or even before Metallica started…and they were doing that NWOBHM and they had the same Metallica riffs, and the singer for Cyclone was good friends with Lars (Ulrich) they used to trade music.
The singer for Cyclone was trading music with Lars. He introduced Lars to bands like Iron Fist, Jaguar, and Diamond Head…all of those guys. Even Gene Hoglan from Strapping You Lad and Dethklock would vouche for that because once he found out that I played in Cyclone a little bit…I replaced the guitar player for a tour…those guys are way older than me. They are Metallica’s age…he’ll vouche for that he was like "Oh my god I can’t believe you played in that band." Because they were the forefathers, just like Metallica was. He goes "When we listened to Cyclone’s first record…" which came out in like 85 or something "Or we listened to there demos like In The Grip Of Evil…" they had demos from like 81 or 83…it’s crazy.
There was this band called Asphyxia that I was in and also a band called Channel Zero and they actually did really well in Belgium. When I left (for the U.S.) a lot of newer bands came out…but the band Cyclone is really the band that I have to thank everything for because one of the guitar players named Stefan Daamen he was the one that really taught me how to hold a pick and triple pick on a guitar.
Once he showed me that technique and I took it home and studied it and I ran with it…that’s how I started getting into a lot of thrash metal bands.
Your triple picking technique was also what landed you a gig playing bass for Fear Factory right?
I was on vacation and I bumped into the guys from Biohazard and I knew those guys for a while and they were like "What are you doing here?" and I went "Oh I’m just hanging out." and they were like "Wanna play bass for this band?" and I was like "What band?" and they were like "Fear Factory you should be playing bass for them."
Then I met Burt and went to rehearsal and we had a good vibe and it seemed like I was exactly what they were looking for… so…it fit right in…that was it.
Who were some of your early influences that made you want to play heavy and aggressive metal music?
My early influences, the bands I really liked…I mean my favorite band is The Police…always will be…but as far as metal or heavy music, was I think the first two Suicidal Tendencies albums…because I grew up skateboarding. I got into music because of skateboarding so I got introduced to all the early punk bands like Dead Kennedy’s and The Misfits and the whole California punk scene. That was really my thing.
Another band that really meant a lot to me was Dirty Rotten Imbeciles…DRI. Once I heard their Crossover record which was the one with the symbol of the man running, it was sort of a blue chrome-ish cover?
Yeah, I thought for sure you would’ve said Dealing With It…
Yeah, I liked that record, but once I heard Crossover it all clicked in my head. All these hardcore bands were crossing over into the metal scene. Even Suicidal Tendencies and I really liked that and that’s when I realized all I wanna do with my right hand is chug, chug, chug…I didn’t care about any leads or nothing like that.
I never really trained my left hand. I only trained my right hand. (Laughs)
I’d certainly like to thank you for taking the time to talk metal with me today, I really appreciate it. Before we wrap this up do you have anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
We’ve been away but not gone…This Arkaea record is gonna drop March 10th, 2009 and I think we might start touring in February and I think with Arkaea we’re gonna do some really cool tours. We’re gonna try and do a tour with Papa Roach and Buckcherry and hopefully tour the States with Mudvayne like in February I think. So, nothing is final yet…we’re trying to get on those tours and the machine is about to kick in gear now.
Until we decide with Fear Factory to do another record or decide which label we’re gonna go with as far as being signed…it’s all about Arkaea. Even though it was just a side project, I don’t feel like it’s a side project anymore.