Interview with vocalist Burton C. Bell
Interviewed by Alan Gilkeson
Early on in the decade Fear Factory founders Dino Cazares and Burton C. Bell had a falling out and Dino unexpectedly left the band. The reasons are still fan mag fodder, but in the wake of his departure Fear Factory eventually strayed from it’s roots and both Burton and Dino found themselves working in various projects with some commercial and critical success. But for both fans and the old friends alike, questions still lingered about the future of Fear Factory, wondering of Dino would ever find his way back. Eventually a chance meeting sparked what would become a drama played out in the media between Dino and Burton and the bands other members, much of which remains unsettled. Still, the two friends recruited legendary drummer Gene Hoglan and retained Byron Stroud and forged ahead amid controversy, resulting in the new album MECHANIZE, a return to Fear Factory’s signature sound. Burton recently spoke to Metal Rules about the new album, new line-up, and new beginning.
So far the response to MECHANIZE has been very positive and you’re on the Heatseekers charts, some number ones on other charts, it must be nice to see the album about to have such an immediate impact?
It’s a good feeling indeed. It feels like it’s been a long time coming. I’m very proud of the work we did on this album, we really focused on it and I feel we did the best work that we could do. I’m very happy about the positivity.
Given all the drama that’s played out in the media over the past couple of years is there a sense of vindication?
Uhhhh, hahahaha…. a little bit. Dino and I started this band together. We were friends before we even started this band. We started the band and created the Fear Factory sound, so to me it’s a good return. Vindication? I don’t know… hahaha, I’ll keep that to myself.
With Dino and yourself working together, the return of the classic Fear Factory sound is very obvious on Mechanize. When you guys started to work on this album did you focus on going for more of the old school sound or is it just a matter of this is how you guys sound when you work together?
It’s more the way we sound when we work together. Like I said before, Dino’s guitar playing is the foundation of Fear Factory, then the drums follow. The drums and guitar together create the precision. We did sit down together when we first started writing and discuss some things. I wanted to bring back some of the Industrial feel to the band. I felt like that had gotten lost over time. I am a fan of Industrial music and I missed it. Not that I wanted to make it prevalent, but to just bring it back a bit. Dino understood exactly where I was coming from, he’s a fan of the music too. We found a balance and it worked.
Why do you think you got away from the Industrial aspect of Fear Factory?
To much experimentation. The DIGIMORTAL album was affected by a lot of outside sources. The record label had a taste of a Gold record with Fear Factory and a taste of a radio hit, so the outside influences of the label had a great affect on the sound of DIGIMORTAL. The demos for that album were a lot more heavier, so I think it had a lot to do with to much experimentation.
Was there initially any odd feelings working with Dino again? Any uneasiness?
No, it really felt right. It was like not time went by at all. It was really weird because I thought there might be, but it felt right.
It the past you guys took a lot more time to write and record albums, why did the process move so quickly this time around?
I think it was just the excitement. there was a high creative energy going on. Everyone was excited and the creativity was flowing.
The video for Fear Campaign is very wild. Lots of images of violence and oppression and control. Watching it kind of got me more in tune with what you’ve done lyrically on this record. You’ve kind of switched gears and gone away from the machines and man themes from your early days. What inspired the new direction?
Well it’s just reality really. I didn’t want to repeat myself by telling the story of an apocalyptic future. The machine was always metaphorical. It’s not only a physical machine but a governmental machine or a religious machine, an organization as such. This time I really wanted to make the machine what we always thought it was, and that’s society. Society has become mechanized. The past eight years living in America, you’ve lived here, it’s been very brutal. The Presidential campaign over the past two years was really getting on my nerves, from both sides. There was to much lying, to much mud slinging, misinformation, lies, deceit, corruption. CNN, MSNBC, FOX News are all misinforming the public, telling stories instead of facts. I wanted to emulate the world in which we’re living in.
Gene Hoglan is amazing on the record, what do you think he adds to the studio performance and to your live show?
Well he definitely has his own flare when he plays drums, he adds his own flavor to everything. He has tremendous hands and when you see him live he plays effortlessly. It looks so easy when he does it. It’s incredible to have him on stage with us.
How did it even come about that he joined the band?
It was through Byron. Byron knew him well and suggested that I call Gene. I was kind of like ‘what? do you think he’ll do it?’ and Byron said, ‘well you never know until you ask.’ I made the call and he said yes.
He doesn’t just take anything so there must be something about Fear Factory that inspires him?
Well, Strapping Young Lad is not too different from Fear Factory, so he gets it. We’ve known him for years and years and he has been a fan, so it turned out it wasn’t to difficult to get Gene in the band.
I don’t know if you have a favorite song off the record but I find the tune ‘Final Exit’ to be completely amazing. It’s rare that a song can both be hard and soft all at once, and the lyrics are very powerful. What are your feelings on this particular song?
It happens to be my favorite song off the album as well. It’s very adventurous. We’ve been trying to write a song like for years and I think we finally got it right. On every album we try to have an ending track that has a bit of ambiance to it. Not only is it a great song musically… Dino, Gene, and Byron did a tremendous job, but lyrically I am very satisfied with it. It touches upon a serious subject that a lot of people have to deal with it. Final Exit is an actual organization, and the song is not a negative or positive comment on the organization. The song is about something we are dealing with in the world today, your right to live and your right to die. The spoken word parts on the song come from the Final Exit web site and it is the voice of Derek Humphries, the man who wrote the Final Exit book.
I’m sure your proud of the two Fear Factory albums without Dino, but did it feel to you then that there was something missing without him there? Or maybe do you have that feeling in hindsight?
Well, on ARCHETYPE, the album was a copy or archetype of Fear Factory. There’s some good songs on it. It’s a good record, but it’s not an adventurous record. But when it came time for TRANSGRESSION that’s when I noticed that Christian really wanted to find his own identity instead of copying Dino. Again, the title says it all, it was a transgression of the Fear Factory sound. Christian had another idea of what Fear Factory should sound like. Christian and Raymond wrote all the music on those records and I did the best I could do with it. There are some good songs on them, but they were definitely a departure from the classic Fear Factory sound.
It’s funny how things work out, you and Dino began the decade with a falling out and you two guys start the new one with a triumphant return. Do you feel like it’s a new beginning for the band or is it more like finding your old Motley Crue T-shirt from 1989, and it still fits?
Hahaha… You know, I really see it as a new era for the band. We’ve re-organized the workings of it, and to me it’s working better than it has in a long time. It’s almost like finding yourself again.
Compared to your previous labels, Candlelight is relatively small. Is there any particular reason for the move to a smaller label?
Yes, because they gave me the contract I wanted to sign, not one I had to sign. I’ve been in this business for twenty years and I didn’t want another long term type deal for three or four albums. I wanted a short term contract for the right amount of money and Candlelight stepped up to the plate. I’m very happy with it. They’re a great label. They have great distribution and they have great resources, and ever since we started working with them they have shown that we made the right choice.
I guess there’s some legal stuff still going on between you and former members, but what’s the deal with the different web sites and myspace accounts, is this something that will get cleared up?
I hope so, it’s kind of misleading. The old myspace which has been around a long time has pretty much become the home of Arkaea, that’s something we’re dealing with. It’ll all be worked out.
This has been a tumultuous decade for the Fear Factory family, and given that you and Dino have reconciled, do you think there will ever be any chance of reconciliation with Chris and Raymond, or has there just been to much blood spilled?
Well some friendships are meant to last forever and others are not. Dino and I were really good friends before we started this band and we have this chemistry, and that chemistry still works. Not every friend you have is meant to stay in your life.
When you guys first started out, did you really have any idea that you were on to something that would end up being so influential? In some ways, half of the modern Metal scene is based on things that Fear Factory started in the early 90’s with combining growls with catchy vocal melodies and the blending of electronic samples with jackhammer riffs. It wouldn’t be far fetched to say that much of modern Metal is based on the Fear Factory formula.
Haha, I still don’t really see it, but people tell me this all the time. Back then we were just writing the music that we liked, and we were lucky that we stood out in the early days of that scene, and it felt right. We always strived for originality and to do something different. If people think we were influential than that’s killers, it shows me that I’ve done something right with my life. It’s like being a teacher. If something I did inspired another artist than to me that’s incredible.
Looking back again, what do you think a young Burton would think of all that has happened over your career? Did you imagine a scenario where you and Dino would be not only so influential, but would still be chugging along doing Fear Factory?
Oh, not at all. I remember thinking a long time ago that this band would last ten years. It’s amazing, if I knew that long ago what would happen I would definitely say there’s no way it’s possible. It’s a good feeling though that twenty years later Dino and I are working together again and writing the best music that we can.
I couldn’t help but notice the eclectic mix of influences you list on your web site everything from Blixa Bargeld to Barry Gibb to Nick Fiend, but who if anybody would you say is the greatest influence on your music?
Wow, that’s hard to say… musically It would probably be Justin Broadrick (Godflesh), but lyrically, I learned a lot from Nick Cave. I learned how to tell a story in a short little song, I learned a lot from studying his writings, but it’s hard to pin it down to just one person. I’ll be 41 this month and my whole life has just been music, there’s been a lot of influences along the way, it just doesn’t come from one place.
It’s interesting you mention Nick Cave because he’s also a personal hero of mine, have you been able to read his books, especially AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL?
Oh definitely, and I just got his latest but haven’t read it yet, THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO. I’m really looking forward to it.
I also got engaged about a year ago now, and before I asked my woman to marry me I sang ‘The Ship Song’ to her in front of all my friends.
That’s awesome, I am very envious and that is such a great song with powerful lyrics. That’s great man. It’s good to know there’s another Nick Cave junkie out there!