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Fear Factory: "Family Feud" - Exclusive Interview with Burton C. Bell

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 @ 1:31 PM

"This year's model of Fear Factory is a very strong one, we recorded the right album for the right time and I think people are definitely going to take notice."

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If all goes as planned, reconfigured industrial metal pioneers Fear Factory will release their seventh album, Mechanize, on Feb. 9. But that "if" could still be a big one, and if the last decade has proven anything about Fear Factory, it's that their plans have a way of changing in rather dramatic fashion.

Flash back to 2002. Coming off the disappointing response to 2001's nu-metally Digimortal - which was preceded by 1998's gold-selling Obsolete - and with internal strife building within the band, especially between frontman Burton Bell and guitarist Dino Cazares, Bell quit. Soon after, Fear Factory officially split - or so it seemed. Later in the year, as drummer Raymond Herrera and bassist Christian Olde Wolbers began to work together on new music, Bell returned to the fold and Fear Factory was reborn - without Cazares. With new bassist Byron Stroud in tow, and Olde Wolbers switching to guitar, version 2.0 of the band issued Archetype in 2004. A year later, Fear Factory released Transgression before label problems and more internal issues prompted a hiatus during with Bell formed a new band, Ascension of the Watchers, and recorded and toured with Ministry.

In the meantime, Cazares had formed his own band, Divine Heresy, who issued their debut, Bleed the Fifth, in 2007. Not long after, Cazares was dealing with more frontman drama, and fired Tommy Cummings after an onstage altercation. The band's second album, Bringer of Plagues, with new singer Travis Neal, came out last summer. At about that same, Arkaea, a band featuring Herrera, Olde Wolbers and two members of Canada's Threat Signal, released their debut album Years in the Darkness.

By then, Cazares and Bell were in the process of patching things up and reuniting as Fear Factory. The official Fear Factory version 3.0 announcement came last April, but with Herrera and Olde Wolbers being replaced by Stroud and Gene "The Atomic Clock" Hoglan in what Bell described as a "reorganization." Problem was, Herrera and Olde Wolbers maintained they were, in fact, legally still members of Fear Factory. And with that, it was up to the lawyers to hash things out as a media shitstorm began.

Though the Bell/Cazares-led band had to cancel their first set of scheduled gigs in Europe last summer, they forged ahead with the writing and recording of a new Fear Factory album, while the legal issues were worked on behind the scenes. With Mechanize - a rampaging mix of Souls Of A New Machine industrial strength heaviness and aggression and Obsolete-era anthemics - done, the band made their live debut in South America at the end of the year.

As they readied to head off for a run of shows in Australia and New Zealand to kick off 2010, Bell spoke on the phone from New York about how the new Fear Factory came to arrive at this point, where things stand with their "former members" and what's the future holds not only for Fear Factory, but the half-dozen or so other bands the members are involved with.

KNAC.COM: So you will be lucky enough to be heading to Australia soon where it will be summer and get away from this arctic chill for a while.

BELL: Absolutely. I will definitely be happy to be in Australia and take off some layers (laughs). We leave New York tonight to fly out to L.A. to rehearse for the tour, then we're off to Australia later in the month, which I'm definitely looking forward to.

KNAC.COM: Didn't you get the other extreme a little while ago with yours and Byron's other band, City of Fire, in Canada?

BELL: I did, and it was really cold then. We did a small tour of British Columbia, we did three shows on Vancouver island and then did four shows from Victoria all the way up to Prince George. I had never been that far north in North America ever. It's like 10 hours north of Vancouver. I had never been on the road to Alaska before. It was so cold, it was snowing, it was just a mess, but at the same time it was beautiful. It was "Lord of the Rings" type of scenery.

KNAC.COM: Is the City of Fire album available yet? The snippets on the band's Web site sounded great, really heavy.

BELL: Right now, it's not officially released. It's only available on our Web site, but we are searching for distribution and when we get distribution it will get a proper release and we'll do a proper tour and really do it right.

KNAC.COM: Once Fear Factory gets re-established and really rolling again, I'm sure labels will be willing to pay it some attention.

BELL: Absolutely. There's things that had to be set in motion first, but we're not in a rush. City of Fire is a band that we want to work on for the future and we've got a killer record. Once we get distribution, people will be able to hear it and we'll be able to tour, but Fear Factory is the main concern for myself and Byron right now. So we'll wait until the time is right for City of Fire.

KNAC.COM: Since you were just in South America with Fear Factory for this version of the band's first tour, how did it go?

BELL: It was amazing. It was a great tour, we had a great response, we had a great turnout and fans were super happy. They got to hear not only old classics but some new songs, and we got a great response to them. They were received very well. That was a great gauge for what we should expect from the rest of the world - at least I hope so.

KNAC.COM: How long did it take the band to really gel as a live unit, or had you rehearsed enough that you felt pretty "gelled" already?

BELL: We always feel that there's not enough rehearsing, but we were very confident and everyone was tight and we had a great time. And once we play live even more everything is going to coagulate even more.

KNAC.COM: Once you finish up in Australia, what comes after that? Have you got anything else mapped out or do you have to wait for the record to drop and see what happens then?

BELL: After Australia we go to the U.K. and Europe for a month and then come back to the states and we are having a North American tour set up. Nothing is definite, but that's going to be for April.

KNAC.COM: Is everything legal-wise taken care? Will you actually be able to get the album out in the states, or is there an injunction waiting to be filed as soon as the release is imminent?

BELL: That's not going to happen. Everything is not worked out, but we're legally using the name and we're working toward a resolution. We have not been stopped, because we can't, and we're getting close to a resolution, so the fans shouldn't really worry about that. The fact that Fear Factory is out and touring is a good sign and the album will be out on Feb. 9 when it's supposed to be.

KNAC.COM: Was part of the reason for signing with Candlelight, an English label, so you could have a way around something like an injunction to at least get the album out in the rest of the world and not have it tied up in the courts in the states?

BELL: No, it had nothing to do with that. Candlelight came along because before we signed these contracts Fear Factory was a free agent and I specifically had in mind the type of contract I wanted to sign. I've been in this business for 20 years, I have a great track record, I felt I should be able to sign a contract I wanted to sign, not sign a contact that I had to sign. And Candlelight and AFM stepped up to the plate. There was nothing more to it than that. We were confident the legal issues would work themselves out and we wouldn't be stuck in limbo, and so far that's how it's gone.

KNAC.COM: They have Obituary on their roster now, and they had Emperor, but they've never had a band that was as big as Fear Factory had been. Do they have the resources to support you, or are you going to try to be self sustaining and just need someone who can put the music out?

BELL: Yes, they have the resources. So far I have not been displeased. They have done everything a label should do all the way up 'til now. They are definitely trying to expand, but they're not trying to experiment with Fear Factory. They have proven their resources and their capabilities with bands like the ones you mentioned and some others, and now they want to prove it with a band of Fear Factory's status.

KNAC.COM: So the last 18 months have been quite a whirlwind in the world of Fear Factory, I'd imagine?

BELL: To say the least. It's a great turn of events. The end of the decade was definitely the high point of the decade for me (laughs). The last two years. So I want to continue that momentum and keep moving forward. This year's model of Fear Factory is a very strong one, we recorded the right album for the right time and I think people are definitely going to take notice.

KNAC.COM: After Transgression, was it your intent to do any more Fear Factory music or were you ready to let it go and move on and do the other projects you had in the works?

BELL: No, I definitely intended to do another Fear Factory record. It's a labor of love for me. It's a band that has supported me for a many years, but there were things inside the camp that had to be changed, especially our management situation [Bell refused to work with the band while Olde Wolbers' wife remained their manager]. And I was holding my ground not until things were changed and when I saw that things were never going to change, I had to take measures to survive, for my own survival and for the band's survival, and here we are.

KNAC.COM: If Dino hadn't have re-entered the picture, what would you have done? Or is that a moot point now?

BELL: Yeah, it'd be all speculation, because that really set things in motion. I don't know, honestly. City of Fire would probably be touring right now, or Ascension of the Watchers. I was willing to wait on Fear Factory until the situation changed, and once Dino and I were back on good terms the situation was able to change, although in a different way than I'd originally expected. But it worked out well in the end.

KNAC.COM: How long after you met back up with Dino did the idea to reunite as Fear Factory take root?

BELL: Working together didn't come into my mind until much, much later. We hadn't spoken in seven years, so at first, once I reconnected with Dino, it was strictly about friendship, there were things in my life I had to get past and, I don't want to call them regrets, but there were some things I had to make amends for. Dino's friendship was something I missed and that was something I had to do for myself.

When he came out to the show in L.A. in April 2008 when I was on the Ministry tour I just walked up to him and said "Hey," and we talked for a couple minutes and after the show he was backstage and that's when we started talking and we exchanged numbers and it was over several months that we reconnected, we talked a lot, we talked about music, we talked about life in general and becoming a friend again. And once I was comfortable and I knew I could call Dino at any time, we were friends again, it felt good. It wasn't until late November of 2008 that I reached out my hand and said, "Hey, how'd you like to be part of Fear Factory again?

KNAC.COM: Have you been able to put all the issues from the past aside, or did you just work things out enough to have a working relationship and will deal with any remaining issues later?

BELL: No, we had to work it all out. That's what the months before I reached out were all about. That all happened before we got into the studio and started working. Of course we still talk about things, but it's an open conversation, it's not contentious. I'm very honest with the guy and he's honest with me. Our relationship now is better than it ever was because we have this communication between us that was never there before. Plus, we've grown up a lot over the last seven years, and that helps a lot too.

KNAC.COM: Were Raymond and/or Christian ever in the picture for this version of Fear Factory, or was it always going to be you and Dino and whoever else?

BELL: When I asked Dino, I wrote to Raymond and said I'd like to get the band back together again with Dino, I'd like to get new management and I'd like to sign the right contract, and Raymond replied that he didn't want to be part of that at all, so that's when I had to find another drummer. And I never heard from Christian, so ...

KNAC.COM: Was Byron initially receptive to coming back to the band, or was he wary of putting himself in the middle of a potentially ugly situation?

BELL: No. Byron was definitely jazzed to be a part of it. Byron and Gene are protected and there's nothing wrong with what they're doing. Byron and Gene are both jazzed to be a part of this.

KNAC.COM: Was it Byron who steered you to Gene?

BELL: Yeah, it was Byron. I never thought that Gene would do it, so I never thought to ask him. But then Byron said, "Hey, why don't you call him?" I was like, "OK." And it was that easy. What was the worst he could say, "No?" But he said yes and we're thrilled to have him.

KNAC.COM: Once this all this fell together you guys busted out this album pretty quickly.

BELL: Yeah, very quickly. Everything happened really fast, we got this great momentum and wanted to keep working with it. This was the fastest we ever wrote a record, the fastest we ever recorded a record and Dino and I are like, "Wow, we all did that?" Because it's usually such a struggle.

KNAC.COM: You can definitely hear the immediacy on the album, it's real aggressive, raw and relentless ...

BELL: Yeah, everything Fear Factory should be (laughs).

KNAC.COM: Was it your intent going in to strip away some of the stuff that had been creeping into Fear Factory's music - the keyboards, the effects, the rap songs and whatnot - and keep it lean and mean?

BELL: No, we wanted it to sound like Fear Factory. The rap thing, that's a whole different story (laughs). Before we really got started, Dino and I got together and talked. Like old times, we sat down and discussed ideas not just about lyrics, but sound and concept and direction. And for me, one of the things I wanted to bring back into Fear Factory was the mechanical aspect.

I'm an industrial fan. Electronic, industrial, that was a side of music that I love and that I brought to the table with Fear Factory and that was something that kind of got glossed over or lost over the years. So I wanted to bring that back, make it the nice subtle aspect that it used to be. The industrial/mechanical aspect was always there when Dino played because that was Dino's style, that's a sound he created for Fear Factory. The nice soundscapes that Rhys Fulber created really helped flesh out our sound, and that was something that we wanted to have in the sound again. Having Dino play guitar, of course that sound is going to come back, and we had Rhys Fulber co-producing and doing the soundscapes. All three of us, as far as being the driving force, it just works.

KNAC.COM: Having Gene on drums also helps. He's got the rivet-gun style with those galloping kick drums; he really accentuates that mechanical sensation.

BELL: Absolutely. Gene is a great drummer, his style matches really well with Dino's style of riffing, but he adds a flavor to the drums that was never there before, it's really sweet and it is pretty punishing, that's for sure.

KNAC.COM: The concept or theme behind Mechanized, is that something you've had kicking around for a while or did that emerge once you started working again with Dino?

BELL: It was something that developed while we were rehearsing. One thing I knew I wanted to do, or not do, was repeat myself, write another futuristic concept about the apocalypse of man versus machine. The research I was doing, the books I was reading and just being an observant writer, I watched the world in front of me and realized the world of today is far more horrific than anything I could have ever made up (laughs). So I focused on the world today, looking around me and making a statement about what I saw and how it affected me. This record is a true testament and it's a soundtrack to today's world.

KNAC.COM: A decade that started with an election clusterfuck that gave us George W. Bush, had 9/11 and the quagmire in Iraq as its centerpieces and ended with a worldwide economic meltdown is something I'm sure a lot of people can't wait to put behind them.

BELL: It almost got too overwhelming. I couldn't even deal with it anymore. It's like you want to bury your head in the sand and hope that it will all be better when you pull it out, but it only keeps getting worse. I can't even watch the news anymore, it's too depressing. It's all bullshit.

KNAC.COM: "Final Exit" is a suitably grim note to end the album on, is that Jack Kevorkian's voice in the talking snippets?

BELL: That's actually Derek Humphry, the writer of the book Final Exit and a member of the Final Exit Network. It's some dialogue from his Web site. The statement for "Final Exit," it's not a negative comment on the organization, it's a statement about society and how it's gotten to the point in the world of medicine where instead of trying to find cures they're just not helping people at all. And this is a resort people have to take, assisted suicide to end their suffering.

Final exit is supposed to be an answer for people to relieve the pain. The organization is there to help people who are in extreme pain, debilitating pain, pain that they cannot bear to live with and that there is no cure for. To quote Chris Rock, "there's no money in the cure." The money's in letting people linger, not matter how bad their quality of life has gotten. The message of the Final Exit Network is "we will help you. You have a choice."

KNAC.COM: Since you are all involved with other projects, some of them fairly active, are they all being put on hold now to focus on Fear Factory, or will you all have to bounce back and forth?

BELL: We'll see how it goes day by day, but right now Fear Factory is the main project and for Fear Factory, right now, the focus is on touring and continuing the momentum we have. Everybody in this band does have lots of things going on. In this day and age I feel that just having one band is not enough, you have to keep working, keep yourself out there and keep busy. Just having one band is not the model for musicians at this time, you have to have more, one, as a creative outlet and, two, as as a support aspect of your life.

I have other plans in mind outside of Fear Factory. Ascension of the Watchers, I plan on doing another album. I was just hanging out with my guitar player last night. I feel I'll be alive for a while and be able to take care of that later on (laughs). I'm not dying any time soon, at least I hope not.

KNAC.COM: Could you see a situation where you do a tour with Fear Factory and some of these other bands as a package, maybe Divine Heresy or Dethklok?

BELL: For my part, I don't want to play more than one set (laughs). Perfect world, it would be awesome. But Ascension wouldn't be the right band to play with Fear Factory and City of Fire, it would be too intense. Two sets of singing like that, I'd be done. I'm sure Dino or Gene could probably do two sets. Dethklok would be cool, because they are so huge now, but no one's talked about that. Divine Heresy, we've thought about that, but we'll see, you never know.

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