August 6, 2015 Interview – Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory
Fear Factory is currently celebrating their twenty-fifth year of existence, and though the journey has not always been smooth, the band has held the banner for mechanized, Industrial Heavy Metal high since they first emerged from their roots in Los Angeles, California. Through lineup changes and tribulation, their musical mission statement has never wavered, and during this quarter century anniversary, Fear Factory will be releasing their ninth studio album, entitled Genexus, into the midst of the summer heat, for the first time with the bulwark of Nuclear Blast Records at their backs. Founding vocalist Burton C. Bell has once again delivered a scorching performance behind the microphone. His continued motivation? The absorption of human consciousness by the crushing advance of technologically imposed control, a gradual descent into dystopian madness that we can already see happening around us. The vitriol in his message is no less ardent today than it was way back on the mid-90’s releases that cemented Fear Factory into the hearts of millions of fans the world over. Recently, CrypticRock caught up with the tall, blonde vocalist for a chat about new albums, old motivations, and a little bit about what makes the man tick.
CrypticRock.com – Fear Factory has existed since 1990. Did you ever think that twenty-five years later, you would be still making albums, influencing the Metal scene, and still hungry for more? Has the journey been all that you would hoped it would be?
Burton C. Bell – I never expected this. I would never even hoped for such a journey. It has had its ups and downs, certainly, but no regrets. Through everything we have been through, it has been quite a ride, quite an experience, quite a life experience, actually, and no I would not take anything back.
CrypticRock.com – You have one of the more diverse voices in modern Heavy Metal music. Your ability to combine clean singing and growling has been showcased from the beginning of your career. Was this always something you wanted to do, perhaps to distinguish yourself from the more typical Death Metal vocal style popular at the time?
Burton C. Bell – I was never a Death Metal fan or much of a Metal fan at all. I was coming from an Industrial, Goth, Post-Punk type of background. Dino was into that too. The band we both liked simultaneously was Godflesh; that is where we connected. The band we were in prior to Fear Factory was called Ulceration, and it was a Godflesh rip-off band. We started a new band, started writing music. We had a few songs and then one day as a joke, Dino Cazares was playing this riff, so just for fun I started singing along with it. He stopped me and was like, what are you doing? That sounds great! Do it again (laughs). So I did it and that song turned out to be “Big God/Raped Souls” off of 1992’s Soul of a New Machine. For me, I was imitating Godflesh and where Justin Broadrick does a haunting moan, I was actually singing and that is how it all came about.
CrypticRock.com – Your vocal style continues to be a major strength in Fear Factory’s formidable repertoire. Melding industrial sounds and samples quickly became integral to your music, it shows you were unafraid to experiment with such releases as the Fear is the Mindkiller EP (1993) and Remanufacture (1997). Whose idea was that and did it always feel natural to do it?
Burton C. Bell – Well, Dino and I were heavily into that Electro-Industrial style, and we knew we wanted to experiment with that sound. We put it out into the universe with Roadrunner Records, and it just so happens they had an umbrella label called Third Mind, which had Frontline Assembly on it. We were introduced to Rhys Fulber (Frontline Assembly), and we were like, let’s test this out. It worked out fabulously.
CrypticRock.com – At the time of its release, few people had heard anything that sounded like Fear is The Mindkiller.
Burton C. Bell – Not many people had. Once again, Godflesh had done Slavestate (1991), and that was their version of remixes, and therefore it was like, we could do this. Godflesh is a huge influence; they are still one of my favorite bands of all time.
CrypticRock.com – Your willingness to experiment has continued to set Fear Factory apart from most other bands in the Metal scene. Genexus is set to be released August 7th, 2015. It is the band’s ninth studio album, first through Nuclear Blast Records. Can you tell us a little bit about what the recording process was like?
Burton C. Bell – The recording process was like it always was. You get three passionate people working together, you are going to have sparks. That is typical, and it is all for the good of the album. It was not very different from past albums, I just think we are pushing ourselves a little harder and we felt a little more challenged to do well. Now that we are on Nuclear Blast, we have this family, this support group, this fantastic machine working for us now, which we had not had. We wanted to give them the best album we could so they could do the best that they could. We spent a lot of time researching, thinking about bringing back certain elements into the band that we felt we had neglected for a while, like grooves, and certain heavier elements. We wanted to bring them back to enhance us, not to change us. You do not want to change identity, because if you do that your fans won’t recognize you. We wanted to keep it fresh, enhance our sound, so people would say, “Wow, that’s definitely Fear Factory but it sounds fresh.” I am very proud of the album; I think all the positive energy around the record is a reflection of the hard work and time we put into it.
CrypticRock.com – The hard work has paid off, as Genexus sounds like a ton of effort went into its making. Can you shed some light on the meaning behind the term Genexus, which appears to be a combination of the words ‘genesis’ and ‘nexus’ ?
Burton C. Bell – Exactly, creation and change. We had been thinking about the title for a long time, but I had been playing with the idea of the theory of the singularity, where man and machine become one and the same by 2045. When the term came about, we thought it would work. It could be the term for the next generation of humanity, the ‘genexus’ generation. What will it experience? Will it be stereotyped, will it be oppressed, will it be judged as a lower life form, or will it be considered human? These are the questions we raised when we were bringing the concept together.
CrypticRock.com – Fear Factory has always wonderfully articulated this coming displacement of human consciousness by machines and it appears you have a lot more to explore on this theme.
Burton C. Bell – The theme possibly involves itself, you know, the machine is not just an actual machine, it is a systematic machine. I come from this Punk Rock background, which involves fighting the system. In the future when man and machine combine, one wonders will man be fighting this machine, will man be fighting man, and it makes for a great story of what is possibly to come.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly seems to be where we as a civilization are headed. On the new album, you sound pissed off and fresh, yet the music breathes with intensity, and balance. What keeps you driving hard twenty-five years into your career, and allows you to hold onto that youthful edge?
Burton C. Bell – There is so much passion. I love what I do, and there is plenty in this world to be angry at. Shit happens daily, you think, “What the fuck.” I get disgusted with humanity daily. It is like, how can we do this to ourselves. I will always have that passion to translate into Fear Factory. It is a sad state of affairs, but it is true. I have been around long enough to see things come and go and come back around again.
CrypticRock.com – Anyone who pays attention can see that there is plenty to be disenchanted with. Getting back to the new album, was the writing a collaborative effort between you and Dino, or did any one of you do the lion’s share of the work?
Burton C. Bell – It is a collaboration, with the arrangements and the music. When something does not work, we come up with a solution together. With the lyrics, I am kind of like the wordsmith in the band. If there is a lyric or a word that Dino is not comfortable with, I will help come up with a different expression, so yeah, its always a collaboration.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting, does Fear Factory take influence from itself after twenty-five years writing music, or are you always looking forward for inspiration?
Burton C. Bell – You never want to lose your identity, and you want to go back and see what the best things were or still are about you, because you sometimes lose sight. You learn from new things as well, and you take new elements and you blend them in, not to change you but to enhance you.
CrypticRock.com – Can you share with fans some of your most valued musical influence apart from Godflesh, which have contributed directly to maintaining the hunger to make a life of music.
Burton C. Bell – There are so many, but the most important ones to me have to be Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, early U2, and Killing Joke.
CrypticRock.com – A varied and highly influential collection of artist, for sure. As far as touring, you are currently on tour with Coal Chamber across the United States. What, if any places are left on the globe that Fear Factory has not been to yet, are ones that you are very eager to visit?
Burton C. Bell – Malaysia, China, there are lots of places, Asheville, NC, (laughs) we have never been there before thist our, so here we go.
CrypticRock.com – Hopefully one day you will get to all the places you want to play to people who have not yet gotten a chance to experience Fear Factory live. Apart from music, what other things do you have going on.
Burton C. Bell – I wrote a graphic novel, which is available on my website, and I am a photographer on the side as well.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, great to hear you have so many creative outlets. Our last question is pertaining to films. CrypticRock.com covers music, but also has an interest in Horror cinema. Are you a fan of Horror films, and if so, which are some of your favorites?
Burton C. Bell – I like some Horror movies. There are so many, I would say Alien (1979) because of the Sci-Fi elements, Halloween (1978), The Exorcist (1973), Dawn of the Dead (1978), The Evil Dead (1981), I really like the Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977). Mostly just the classics.