» Burton C. Bell - Fear Factory
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Interview conducted August 24 2016
Interview published August 29 2016

Metal Covenant met up with vocalist Burton C. Bell when the industrial metallers Fear Factory on their rather short European run recently visited Stockholm, Sweden. Burton has had some trouble with his clean vocals on stage for a few years by now, but he is also very aware of his capacity today and is very honest about this delicate matter when I approach him about it.

About the last album, Genexus:
"We took the live moments from Demanufacture and Obsolete and we tried to create, you know, that vibe."

Tobbe: So, just a few dates left on this tour leg and has this been like a common Fear Factory tour or has it been anything special? You know, like a regular or a usual one?

Burton: You know, It's actually not as many festivals as I had hoped, 'cause this is supposed to be a festival tour. So it's not as many as I'd hoped, but we've been to some places I've never been to before, so a couple of days were kind of like a vacation day. You know, our first show in Europe was in Spain and we had to fly to the Southern part of Spain, Alicante, for a festival called Leyendas del Rock [August 10th].

And, man, what a beautiful part of the world that is. And we had a full day off the day before. Just beautiful. So that was cool, you know. But for a festival tour I've done some things I haven't really had a chance to do in a while. I've been to a couple of art galleries, which I like doing. So actually for a tour it's been rather easy.

Tobbe: Genexus has been out for over a year now and you're obviously still on that touring cycle, but have you started to collecting some riffs or some vocal melodies or have a few ideas for a coming record?

Burton: Musically, I think Dino's working on some ideas. Conceptually, I haven't really come up with words yet, but I've come up with some ideas of where to take the next progression of the concept. So I just put that in my mind right now. I'm just, you know, preparing for it. So we're preparing, but nothing's written yet.

Tobbe: You know, Fear Factory has a specific sound of course, so what's the hardest part with not writing and recording the same stuff all over again?

Burton: Well, you know, the hardest part is just starting. Just getting the ball rolling. And once the ball gets rolling, you know, you build momentum and keeps going. Writing the same stuff over and over again; how do you do it? You know, there's a lot of bands that built their sound on their sound. But that's why fans like them, because that's their sound, and if you alienate your audience…Well, I don't know who that band is.

Tobbe: Metallica did it with St. Anger and look what happened.

Burton: Yeah, look what happened, and now apparently they've got a new album out and it sounds like classic Metallica. You know, people make, you know, decisions. The idea is just take elements of music and make 'em your own, no matter who or what style you're gonna take from. You know, everyone rips off everybody and you make it your own and that's how it sounds like you.

Tobbe: So there's really no way to develop Fear Factory much further without like doing you more harm than it actually would do you good?

Burton: And we did that before.

Tobbe: Yeah, I know.

Burton: Yeah, on the Transgression album. Even with Digimortal we took it a little bit too far. After Obsolete, with Digimortal, some people think we went too far, as the sound's too polished. Maybe, you know, a little too nu-metal, 'cause, you know, there's that nu-metal train that we jumped on for a minute, and that's… You know, fans didn't like that.

You know, everyone has heard the Transgression record and, you know, that was our "rock" record. And some people like it. It's a good record for what it is, but is it a Fear Factory record in the sense of classic Fear Factory records? No, it's not. You know, you just gotta be careful and take your time and get right.

Tobbe: Is it possible to kind of pick the best parts or the best moments from Genexus and put them into a new record? Not putting the same stuff there, but like capturing the greatest moments of that record and develop that further into a new record.

Burton: Yeah, that's what we did with Genexus. We took the live moments from Demanufacture and Obsolete and we tried to create, you know, that vibe. And it works, and that's what we have to do again, except we'd do it even better.

Tobbe: So you do listen to your past work to find some inspiration or find the attitude or the attributes that…

Burton: Attitude and attributes. Not necessarily inspiration. You have to recall what made the band and to find yourself again, really, and that's what's important for fans.

Tobbe: I think that Fear Factory's 3 strongest elements are: Your clean vocal singing, the fast drum parts and the massive riffing. If you left 1 of those 3 parts out, what would a Fear Factory album be like?

Burton: Well, if you had left any of those out… I don't know what… It'd sound like the new Metallica. [Laughs]

Tobbe: It's a different and hard question, I know. That's why I'm asking it.

Burton: That's a good question. I've never ever been proposed that question before. You know, there's never been a record without any of those. Every record's had that element. Dino [Cazares, guitar (and bass on most studio albums)] and myself will always be there, so you'll have Dino's riffs and you'll have my vocals, but if the drumming was different it wouldn't be Fear Factory. 'Cause the drums, you know, follow the riffs.

Tobbe: About using a drum machine or not using a drum machine. Is that a matter of authenticity vs money? Like you did on The Industrialist.

Burton: That was a necessity at the point. Using a drum machine to write is understandable. You know, just to get the ideas down. But for recording, having a live drummer come in and add nuances and make the part their own, and he might even come up with an even better part… For Fear Factory real drums are better, even though they are all sampled anyway. [Laughs]

Tobbe: You know, quite a few of your records end with a lighter song, like Expiration Date and Final Exit and…

Burton: …Timelessness.

Tobbe: …and those songs are in fact pretty damn awesome. So have you guys thought of like putting in more of those type of songs, or would that like hurt the original idea of Fear Factory?

Burton: I think maybe 1 or 2 more, you know, and don't make the whole record like that. If there were like maybe 2 songs like that, 1 per each side. Side?! That shows my age. [Laughs] You know, that would be cool too. And it adds a little bit of diversity and that wouldn't take away from the intensity.

Tobbe: About touring. You're gonna play Obsolete on a coming tour, just like you did with Demanufacture…

Burton: It's been discussed, yeah.

Tobbe: It's been discussed, yeah. So is it important to play full albums live?

Burton: Well, in this day and age people are really into nostalgia and the things that made a fan's musical history part of their life. For a lot of our fans, the Demanufacture album and the Obsolete album was a big part of their life, and to hear the album in its entirety is a big deal for them. It's not just a concert; it's an event. And that's why, if we're going to do it, it's gonna have to be real special and it has to be done right.

Tobbe: I realize that Demanufacture and also Obsolete are special records, but if I say that your new records, like Mechanize and even Genexus, are at least as good, if I look at the entire albums, what would be your response to that?

Burton: I mean, that's fantastic. You know, 'cause we're trying very hard to write the best music that we can. You know, Fear Factory set its own standard and we have our own standards for ourselves and to hear that Genexus is considered a new classic in the Fear Factory lineup of albums… You know, that is success for me.

Tobbe: You know, Fear Factory has been and is a fairly big band, but honestly, aren't you guys just a little bit disappointed that you couldn't take this ship like one step further up the ladder of popularity? You know, be one step bigger than you in fact are.

Burton: I don't think that has anything to do with us. I think that's time and place. You know, the way music industry is these days. You know, it's fast fashion these days. Music is a fast fashion. I was just told that, here in Sweden, the percentage of music streamed and the percentage of music purchased is 90 % streamed and 10 % purchased.

So most of those people streaming, they're not really music fans. I mean, they're music fans, but the connection with music is lost and the connection with an album is lost on the new generation. No kid, OK there might be some, but they don't take an album and listen to it all the way through. It used to be a ritual, to sit down and listen to the album you just bought, and as you're listening to it, you were, you know, falling through the artwork and reading through the lyrics and reading who played on what.

You know, you're becoming part of the album. You don't get that opportunity in streaming. It's all playlist now. And it's really sad.

Tobbe: Does every band kind of come to a conclusion where they realize that this is as big they will get, no matter what they do?

Burton: Yeah, I think so. OK, we're not like huge, but the way I see it I think we're a very successful band. We're here, you know, 26 years later, still working, still touring, still filling the houses, still filling the concert halls and still making records and to me that's a successful career.

Tobbe: Is there still any beauty in traveling across Europe and the U.S. year after year after year?

Burton: Oh, yeah. Hell yeah. You know, I think so. From my perspective, yeah. I like seeing new things and I like exploring new territory and, you know, there's beauty all over this world. Even in the United States there's things I see, like "Wow! I've never seen that before. That's cool!".

You know, born and raised in the United States; never been to Montana, never been to Hawaii, never been to Alaska, never been to North Dakota. No, South Dakota; I've been in North Dakota. Never been to Wyoming. And we've toured all over United States, but never those places. So there's still territory to go to. [Laughs]

Tobbe: Do you have some kind of long-term plan for Fear Factory? I mean, will you be like able to play this music, this intense music live, in like 20 years?

Burton: No, 20 years, no. You know, there comes a point in time where, for instance a vocalist, it just gives up, and right now I'm fortunate that it's still holding in there. But my voice is changing and I'm gonna be 48 in February and I'm coming into my old man-voice now and that's gonna change some things.

Tobbe: You've had some problems live in the last few years and what cure is there to make it not deteriorate further?

Burton: Well, I don't drink anymore on tour. You know, I just gotta be healthy, and, you know, I don't push as hard as I used to. I took vocal coaching; 3 different vocal coaches. So you have to learn to work with what you have, and you don't push it, and you let the microphone do all the hard work. So yeah, and every vocalist has problems, you know.

And that's another issue; you know, a lot of fans believe that it has to sound exactly like the record live, and I'm like "Well that's not live, is it.", you know. I think it's harder on the vocalist than any other, maybe the drummer too, but the older you get, it does get harder. And at some point, I will probably have to say "I'm done!". I don't know when that will be, but…

Tobbe: You know, Fear Factory is still doing good, but do you think that the fans have like forgotten about your troubled times 10-12 years ago, when Dino first quit the band, and you made 2 records without him, and then you and Dino started the band over again? Is that all forgotten now by the fans and I bring it up now?

Burton: Well, as it's called: water under the bridge, you know. You gotta keep moving forward and, some fans, you know, sure they miss the days of, you know, when it was like Raymond [Herrera, drums] and Christian [Olde Wolbers] in the band, but we had 5 bass players before Christian was there. So to me it's like: You know, Dino and I are the band and, you know, as long as we can getting it work together, Fear Factory will be a part of it.

It'll be there, but the fans… You can't control what the fans think and whatever disappointments they have with your past, I'm like "Sorry.". You know, it's like being sad over your divorced parents, when they got divorced 15 years ago. It's like…it happens.

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