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].
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
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
know, fans didn't like that.
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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