INSIDE THE MACHINE
An Insider’s Look at Life On The Road with Fear Factory
Omer R. Cordell
Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
All Photos By Omer R. Cordell
It was almost five years ago now, but one fateful night, while shooting Iced Earth at a local club, I ran into someone who would be quite an influence on my own journey into photography and behind-the-scenes musical ventures. At the time, Omer R. Cordell was just another face in the crowded photo pit—a fellow metalhead with a camera on assignment—but after the show, we struck up a conversation and the rest, as they say, is history. I was using an embarrassingly primitive two-megapixel Fuji point-and-shoot digital camera while Omer was draped in enough Canon SLRs and lenses to finance a small country, so to say we were technologically mismatched is an understatement. However, under the tutelage of Omer, I soon upgraded to a proper camera and assortment of lenses to bring the loyal readers of Metal-Rules.com all the glossy eye-candy that have graced my concert reviews since.
Soon afterwards, though, Omer left Vancouver for what we Canadians sarcastically refer to as “the centre of the universe” (AKA Toronto). But before leaving, Omer took the relationship he built with industrial metal legends, Fear Factory, from shooting their 2004 release, ARCHETYPE, and hit the road for a project he envisioned as an insider’s look at the band through his own lens.
Despite a lot of obstacles and roadblocks along the way to realizing his artistic vision, INSIDE THE MACHINE has finally taken shape. With an official release date of February 17, 2009, this photo journal will be something die-hard Fear Factory fans will enjoy but it is not limited to fans of the band, as an early look has shown. Spread over 64 pages and containing over 250 photographs, this is a true labor of love. INSIDE THE MACHINE is as much an art piece—a coffee table book, if you will—as it is a metalhead’s visual bible of life on the road.
As something of a sequel to our original interview conducted back in October 2004, I sat down with Omer the day prior to the release of INSIDE THE MACHINE for a discussion on the evolution of the book itself as well as his own personal experiences to gets us up to speed after such a long break.
Thanks for taking the time to do another interview with us after all this time!
Always nice talking to you…it’s been a very long time indeed! It’s great to all of a sudden get hit by someone from the past to kind of put things in a time frame perspective for you. A LOT has happened since we last spoke…it’s crazy how time flies!
When we last chatted back in October 2004, you were just about to embark on the Fear Factory tour that led to the creation of your new book, INSIDE THE MACHINE. With a 4 ½ year gap, can you get into any detail regarding the delays in getting INSIDE THE MACHINE to the finished stage?
Well, when I first got the OK from the guys to join them on tour, my book idea was in its preliminary stages of conception. I had a vision of what I wanted it to be, but no idea as to how I was going to make this theory into actuality. I set off on a few tours, including the first tours supporting ARCHETYPE and the first Gigantour. After that, I felt I had enough images to start compiling something. Once I had a rough draft and more of a proposal, I started looking for publishers but got turned down one after another. Shortly after, Fear Factory dropped their label and no one wanted to release the book. Hence, this took such a long time to produce.
Did you ever think that the book was going to be shelved indefinitely or were you determined not to give up until it finally saw the light of day?
Yes for both. Because of the negative feedback from all the publishers, I thought I was beating a dead horse and that this would never get published, yet something very deep inside me told me to not scrap that folder on my computer, a voice that said, “You never know…”
Where can people buy INSIDE THE MACHINE and how much will it cost?
www.blurb.com is the site where you can get it from. A friend of mine recently published a book that way and was happy with the results, so I figured that this was my chance to make it available.
What was involved in publishing the book yourself at Blurb.com? Do you just upload the material to their server and it creates the book using a template or did you get to customize things the way you wanted? It seems awfully easy!
It’s easier than you think! The software is preloaded with pages, so you just choose whatever layout you want.
So this is something that anyone interested in self-publishing could do? Does Blurb.com ask for a certain "advance" up front from the writer or do they collect any royalties along the way from sales of the book?
Anyone can do it. Not only in photo books but also written, poetry…anything you can think of. They make their money from the sales of the book.
Are you offering any autographed copies or anything special like that?
Are there any differences in the material contained in the hard-cover and soft-cover versions of the book or are they identical otherwise?
No difference at all, just the difference in cover.
How much material did you actually gather in total for this project? Was it difficult whittling that down to what we see in the final piece?
YES! It was very difficult to decide which pictures will make the final cut. I had an arsenal of photos from hundreds of rolls I shot. It wasn’t an easy task. I learned a LOT of do’s and don’ts, indeed…which film works best for what reasons and why. Some trial and error shots actually turned out pretty cool, too, but overall, there was a lot to choose from and being my own worst critic, it could have been better.
Was there anything that was stated as being “off-limits” by the band or were you allowed free reign when shooting?
I shot anything I needed and wanted to shoot, there weren’t any “off limit” moments that I can recall.
Did you come across any legal/political red-tape with the band’s label that you had to work through to actually get on tour with Fear Factory or was it as simple as just asking the band directly?
Not really, it was just a matter of coordinating it with the band.
Were there a lot of eye-opening moments on the road with a metal band or was it pretty much what you expected?
I’d say pretty much what you’d expect, nothing happened that made me open my eyes and go “wow, that’s nuts” they are all pretty normal guys.
A lot of people think that being in a band and going on tour is all fun with a couple hours worth of work per day. Since you lived the life for a period of time, is it a lifestyle that you would choose?
It can get pretty redundant on tour. Do the same thing every day. There is a LOT of downtime when there’s nothing to do. The crew has their day pretty much set up for them as soon as you hit the venue. For the band, it can get pretty boring in my opinion. That is if you let yourself get bored. You travel to a different town every day, sometimes a different country there’s a LOT you can chose to do. You just have to want to do something.
I know you have done a considerable amount of work with Strapping Young Lad and Meshuggah. Are you thinking of doing a similar thing with other bands or was INSIDE THE MACHINE a “one-off” project?
Definitely not a one off project. I’d love to do this again at some point with another band.
The band has been on a lengthy hiatus with no activity following 2005’s TRANSGRESSION album. Is there any word from the Fear Factory camp regarding anything happening in 2009?
Your guess is as good as mine.
As a fan of Fear Factory, are you hoping its members will settle their differences and get back together with Dino Cazares again?
People evolve in life. They do certain things for whatever reason and produce something that, in that point in time, seemed to be the best course of action. Some fans expect to have the same material from one band done over and over again. To me, it’s boring. I like diversity and if it happens to be something good, that’s a bonus. If not, then you learn and move on. You can’t take something so seriously. There are more important matters in life to consider.
Were you a fan of Fear Factory before working with them on the ARCHETYPE CD?
I definitely was.
What was it about the band that drew you to them, in particular?
Their sound. At that point in my life, I had heard nothing like that before I picked up DEMANUFACTURE.
Time to put you on the spot…what is your favorite Fear Factory album and why?
Maybe OBSOLETE and ARCHETYPE is second. I like the sound and concept of those albums. They make sense to me more than the others.
Likewise, what is your LEAST Fear Factory album and why?
Maybe TRANSGRESSION. No particular reason…I just didn’t feel it, I guess.
Have you followed the latest projects of the band members such as Burton C. Bell’s Ascension of The Watchers, the new band of Raymond Herrera’s and Christian Olde Wolbers’ or Dino Cazares’ Divine Heresy?
I have Burton’s band demo CD. I like it. I like that kind of music and it’s nice to see someone from a band like that branch out to something totally different. My buddy Jon [Howard of Threat Signal] sings for Chris and Ray’s band. I heard some stuff, sounds pretty good. Dino’s project…I heard some songs. Again, not bad.
Has the “Impson” nickname stuck over the years or have the FF guys returned to calling you by your real name?
(Laughs) Yeah, it still pops up every now and then.
Besides Fear Factory, the second musician commonly associated with your work has been Devin Townsend. Now that Devin has disbanded Strapping Young Lad and stepped away from recording to focus on his family and producing other bands, are you still involved with him in any professional capacity?
Yeah, Devin and I bump into each other every now and then. I know he has some projects on the go which sound pretty cool. He’s changed a lot since leaving the crazy life style of SYL and all that. He seems a lot more focused and with a better grasp on life. It’s crazy how much work that guy can do. It’s great that he decided to move out of all the craziness that surrounded that genre and take care of his personal life and family. After all, at the end of the day, that’s all you have. I am sure everyone will be hearing from him soon enough.
The music industry has changed significantly in the 4 ½ years since our last interview. With CDs reaching near obsolescence and MySpace, Facebook, etc. gaining prominence, do you still get a lot of musicians and record labels looking for you to photograph them since album art and packaging has taken a backseat to digital downloads and streaming media?
It’s pretty tough to get work these days. That can be said about any line of work almost. I think that my so-called “reputation” helps me a little bit with getting contacted by labels and bands but it’s few and far between. I’m not a big fan of all those websites…MySpace, Facebook. They seem to be an entrapment for people. Go outside! Do something useful and creative with your time. Yet some would argue that those are creative things themselves…I fail to see the purpose of these social websites. Write me a letter, come over to my place, talk to me. It’s sad to say that some of our basic skills of communication have become a thing of the past almost.
Speaking of significant changes, you were a staunch advocate of the use of film and shunned the digital format. Obviously, digital has taken an even greater market share away from film in the past 4 ½ years, so has your stance softened or are you still a flag-waving supporter of film?
Some friends tell me that I should be buried on Mt. Fuji (laughs)! Well, I think that in the last couple of years the whole digital-versus-film thing has settled. Now there are people who shoot digital and people who shoot film and some that maybe do both but there’s an obvious settled difference. Unfortunately, digital photography is so widely available that it makes anyone with a digital camera that they got for Christmas or their birthday an automatic pro. I’m not here to start a war and say that this is better than that or what not…it’s different. Some people prefer one format, others another. I prefer film because that’s what I know and that’s what I think brings me the best results.
Do you find it frustrating to see photography reduced to people snapping off dark, blurry cellphone pictures at concerts when you put so much time and effort into composing and framing a shot?
Yes, it’s a bit frustrating, but then again, this is another step in the evolution of photography. I’ve chosen to take it as more of an art form than anything. By than I mean being involved in the whole process of shooting and choosing to still shoot film and all. When I was in Southern Patagonia a couple of years ago, I took all my gear with me. I saw people literally shooting hundreds of photos a day where I only have 12 images for my 6×6 and only so many rolls, so each shot had to count! A lot of ex-film users approached me and talked to me about photography, film and all of that. They were surprised to see I am still shooting such a format but all agreed that it yielded the best results.
On that same note, where do see photography going in the next 5 years or 10 years?
Hard to say. I hope that film will still remain. I know that Fuji and Kodak recently introduced some new types of film, so you never know. There’s still a demand for it and there are still some purists out there. I am sure digital will progress more and more but that’s the thing with digital, you have to keep up with it all the time or your product is obsolete. I don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a new body every year. I can get far better results with a $100 camera.
For the gear-heads reading this, what composes your arsenal these days?
Some 35mm bodies—Canon EOS 1v, EOS 1n. I have another spare Elan II. Various lenses to go with that. My favorite 6×6 format is the great Hasselblad and I recently bough a 4×5 camera, which is incredible to shoot with and the results are spectacular.
At the time of our last interview, you named Fear Factory’s ARCHETYPE CD shoot as your memorable session. Has that changed at all or is that still number one?
Considering the reputation it gave me, I would still consider it my number one shoot.
Have you had any negative experiences shooting bands that have left a bad taste in your mouth?
Not really. Everyone that I’ve worked with has been great. It’s funny, though, often the small, unsigned bands give you the most attitude. Go figure.
You used to do a lot of live/concert photography but have since gotten out of that. Were you growing tired of the late nights, smoky venues and moshers?
Yeah, you can say that. Also, I think that it has become repetitive. Yes, the band and circumstances change but you get into a groove and start to get repetitive.
Do you have any other musical projects coming up that people might be interested in?
Not for the time being. I want to start a landscape photo book project soon.
As your resume grows and your name becomes more well-known, have you found any shred of celebrity? By that I mean, being recognized in person, fan sites, stalkers (laughs)…?
Nothing too crazy. Some people recognize my name when it comes up in a conversation but nothing really weird.
When you aren’t shooting, what does a typical day in the life Omer R. Cordell entail?
Well, I go to work! I work at a backpacker shop, totally up my alley and I love it. Setting people up with gear, talking to like-minded individuals. It’s great. I try to spend as much time in the outdoors as possible. I love hiking, backpacking…anything outdoors makes me happy.
You left Vancouver soon after the Fear Factory touring cycle ended and moved to Toronto. Did that city provide you with what Vancouver could not from an artistic perspective? What brought you back to Vancouver again?
Toronto was a pretty blurry experience, both artistically and personally. I did get to meet some great individuals, made great friends and such but for an outdoors freak, living in a concrete jungle is suicide. No matter how many shows I went to and no matter how many bands I shot, there were no mountains for me to snowboard on or hike on. I started to get depressed. Lucky for me, Jennie wanted to move to Vancouver, so there was no obvious rejection on my behalf! I love the scenery and environment here.
You went on a lengthy trip to South America a few years back. Did this yield a lot of material or was this more of a personal, soul-searching trip? What made you want to hit that continent in particular?
Well, I lived in Chile for three years as a kid between the ages of 7 and 10. Then, after my military service in Israel, I went back to Chile after a thirteen year absence where I spent three months backpacking in Southern Patagonia. That was an AMAZING experience. After that trip, I moved to Canada, settled in Vancouver and had SO many things happen to me in the course of seven years that I felt I needed to go back to Patagonia and reconnect with myself (or that part of me) again and see things with a different pair of eyes. That trip hailed a LOT of amazing experiences for me—some good, others bad. But overall, it was a spectacular experience to be able to go back there again, trek in the familiar surroundings and see some important people in my life once more. That’s a whole other story in itself here…
Rumor is you were once a medical student…?! Have you considered returning to that field or have you packed up your stethoscope and scalpel for good?
(Laughs) Well during my military service in Israel, I spent a total of six months in medical training and served as a combat medic for a while. The thought of pursuing it further crossed my mind but I lacked the enthusiasm to do it passionately, so I decided not to do it. Best to do something with passion and devote yourself to it entirely as opposed to not giving something one hundred percent.
Coming from Israel, are you familiar with any of the more noteworthy metal bands that have come out of the area such as Orphaned Land, Amaseffer or Melechesh?
I’ve heard of Orphaned Land and when I saw Megadeth for the first time back in 1994, there was an Israeli band called Salem that opened for them. But I never really got into any Israeli metal. I know that there a lot of great Metal bands there, though.
I recently read a book entitled HEAVY METAL ISLAM: ROCK, RESISTANCE AND THE STRUGGLE FOR THE SOUL OF ISLAM by Mark LeVine. In it, he writes of a surprisingly healthy metal scene in an area of the world that is more commonly known to the Western world for its religious wars and delicate political situation. He also brings it to our attention that heavy metal is an outlet for the anger, frustration and oppression for the youth of that region but is so frowned upon by the ruling classes and Muslims in general that people caught wearing t-shirts and attending concerts have faced imprisonment and even death. Since you have left the area, do you ever take it for granted that you are able to publish a book on heavy metal without facing the same censorship and persecution that you would have if you were still living in Israel?
Israel is very different from what you’re describing. To me it was another star on the flag of the U.S.. Everything is Americanized and taken even further. No one looked at me with deathly eyes if I was wearing my Iron Maiden T-shirt, nor would anyone condemn me for listening to Pantera. Seeing as Israel has a huge metal scene and, again, I would have to dare and say more “democratic” standpoint on things, then life for us metalheads was a lot easier, whereas other surrounding countries would have to face a much harsher course of action towards things like that. Yes, the metal scene in that part of the world is huge and is taken into a VERY different context there because of the violence and aggression that you are already born into. When I was growing up listening to Iron Maiden, Metallica and so forth, I think it would have had somewhat of a very different meaning to someone who grew up here in Vancouver, for example. The lyrics take a different undertone, the riffs trigger a different pulse, you know? It’s a shame that there are places in the world where one has to hide the fact that they are a fan of a certain type of music. In our day and age this shouldn’t be happening and I give all my respect for those kids in those countries that form bands and listen to their music in their own confines.
I don’t want to get into politics, that’s a whole other story here, but you know what I mean… This is 2009. We should be worrying about feeding, housing and educating ourselves and if we choose to listen to some type of music, then that’s our decision. Being a metalhead is all about that, though, rebelling against anything that stops you from doing what you want. And if you can get less of what you want, the more you want it. So do what you have to do.
I’m a big fan of the Venus Project…check it out. (non-music related, more so about society)
Thanks for taking the time to answer this latest round of questions, Omer. Any last words or parting thoughts for the readers of Metal-Rules.com?
Be excellent to each other!
Omer R. Cordell–Official Site
Preview & Order INSIDE THE MACHINE here