Fear Factory Interview – Burton C. Bell
Interview by Caitlin Smith @ the Koko, 18th December 2012
With a band that’s been going as long and is as well known as Fear Factory, it’s hard to know what to ask without dragging up questions that have been covered a million times before. Armed with my painstakingly put together list of questions, I catch up with a tired looking vocalist, Burton C. Bell, on the last date of their 7 week tour for a quick chat on all things mechanical.
You’re finishing up your UK tour, how have you been received?
Burton: Very well. There was a very positive response from all the fans and all the audiences across the UK and Europe. The co-headline tour with Devin seemed very perfect, a very good match. The two bands are very different but a lot of the fans share the same type of qualities. There are qualities that the fans like in both bands that they’ll stay and watch both bands and it’s been good you know. Every show has been pretty much sold out; one show was sold out. The rest were like 95 capacity, so it’s been really good.
What was it like touring with Devin, he’s known as a bit of a madman on stage?
Burton: Yeah he was rather mellow actually; this is the third time I’ve toured with Devin. Back in 2001 Fear Factory toured with strapping and then in 2004 we toured with Strapping again but this is the first time we’ve done it with just the Devin Townsend project. The guys are really good people and Devin, he seems like he’s in a good place. He seems really happy.
It’s been 3 years since you reformed, has it gone as you expected?
Burton: Yes. It has. I knew it would be a lot of work; the band had a lot of work to do to really climb that ladder back to that level that we were on before, before the whole break up. It’s been a long and arduous climb but it’s been worth it you know. Were slowly making step up there and were definitely not in the same place we were three and a half years ago, were definitely doing much better.
For those who haven’t heard The Industrialist, can you describe the album musically for us?
Burton: It is Fear Factory’s perfect hybrid of industrial metal, what we started trying to create back in the early days, Soul of the Machine and Demanufacture. People believe that Demanufacture is our seminal record, you know, the industrial metal album. I think we did it right on this record because we were truly focused, so its truly mechanical, it has beautiful soundscapes and industrial elements but it’s still a metal band doing this, it’s a perfect balance.
On the theme of Mechanics, this is a concept album isn’t it?
We’re back to the concept albums! Can you take us through the story behind the album?
Burton: If you’re a Fear Factory fan you know that we like to do concepts and I’ve done one real big one before, Obsolete. Digimortal was supposed to be a concept but I never got the story in it, so I felt that I really wanted to give something more to the fans. So I wrote this concept, and then the title really started generating the whole vibe of the story. I was writing lyrics and coming up with words, but once the title came out it started really gelling together. It still holds to the theme of man vs. machine, this time it’s from the machines point of view. The Industrialist is an automaton who, through experience and accumulating memory, is discovering a will to exist, a will to survive. Unfortunately the creator is searching it out because it is time to do away with that model, to make way for a new model, so basically the industrialist is obsolete. The industrialist is hiding from the creator and taking out its factories, its establishments, on the way meeting other sentient beings like itself and all finding comfort with each other. It is a futuristic story, a science fiction story but it’s also a metaphor of how I see people today. People living repetitive daily lives searching for comfort.
This is your first album with a drum machine, how has that affected the writing and recording process?
Burton: Fabulously, it was drum programming; it really expedited and simplified our writing process. My thinking about it now is that we should have been doing it from the beginning because it really made things easier and it really made the industrial element shine further, because it was a drum programming and the riffs were recorded in sequences. It was easy to rearrange, it was easy to manipulate, it was easy to augment, it was easy to really just change up the song and make it interesting and we didn’t have to sit there and teach a drummer a whole new beat, so it really made it so much easier. I’m going to work that way from now on.
We’ve been using Pro Tools since Digimortal. Before that there wasn’t Pro Tools, you know, it was trying to edit drums on tape but in Pro Tools we would record live drums, but at what point is it live? What point does it not become live? Because in Pro Tools you move every hit to make it precise you change all the sounds. Is that a live drummer? No. So why don’t you just use a drum program because that’s exactly what it’s going do. Cut to the chase, cut out the middleman.
You’ve also used an 8-string guitar in this, how has that affected your writing and playing style?
Burton: Well it just adds a whole different octave; it just makes things a bit heavier you know. Basically it’s a stronger chord, more full. I wouldn’t say it’s affected, you just get a little bit lower and a little bit heavier.
So with Dino’s return to the band and with the album being produced by Rhys Fulber, who also produced Digimortal, were there any concerns you might be just rehashing an old sound with this album?
Burton: No not at all. Rhys has been with us for a while, there’s no one that understands Fear Factory better than Rhys. He’s always done all the keyboard sounds and all the soundscapes, so with Dino, Rhys and myself, just the three of us really writing this record together, it was the most focused we’ve ever been. We knew exactly what we had to do. Less cooks in the kitchen. There was an open line of communication, just really quick, no hidden agenda. We spoke our mind and we knew what we had to do.
Back on your theme of machines, if you could be any machine, what would you be?
Burton: I hate robots. [laughs] What would I be… I would be one of those unmanned drones.
Just flying around.
Burton: Flying around, spying on people.
Are there any great tour stories you’d like to share with us?
Burton: On this tour? We just had a lot of fun on this tour. I knew I had a good time when I’d wake up in the morning and see puke all over my pants and I’d think “oh must have thrown up!” Just getting along with the guys was great. Past couple of weeks boredom set in and they started creating a tour diarrhea, which was everyone recording their farts and then we made a song, 3 minutes and 24 seconds long.
Is that going on the next album then?
Burton: It might be on Youtube already, it’s supposed to be on Youtube. That’s not going to be on any bodies record! That’s one of the funny things. That’s what you get when you have 16 guys together sharing a bus and your just surrounded by each other 24/7 and this started going on a month and a half into the tour. It was like, ok, fuck it!
What can we expect from Fear Factory in the next couple of years?
Burton: Well Fear Factory will continue to tour north America and Europe 2013. We’ve got some more tours scheduled, some summer festivals next year. During that time our plan is to start writing a new record and we would like to have a new record out by 2014, by spring 2014
Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Burton: You read? [laughs] People read?! Fear Factory will continue working and exploring the sound but we will not alienate our industrial metal vibe again, that’s what we like and what it seems the fans like too.