A nice guy. That’s my impression of Burton C. Bell, lead singer in the industrial metal band Fear Factory, after talking to him for about an hour before their gig at the classic venue Nalen in Stockholm.
One other thing I noticed was that he has a good memory when it comes to details, talking about shows taking place 19 years ago etc.
And yeah, you can tell that he’s really passionate about Fear Factory.
The topics in our conversation included a lot of things. From when Burton got into his first band to the status of Fear Factory today. And also, a look at Burtons collaboration with Geezer Butler on G/Z/R’s Plastic Planet album in 1995.
First, you have to excuse me for the simple cell phone recorder I’m using for this interview, since I guess being in such a “modern” band as FF you’re used to state of the art stuff.
– Actually, I’m not a gadget guy. I have my iTouch and a computer, that’s all. I dont even have a cell phone. You could say I’m more like an antique gadget kind of guy. I mean; if you buy something and they put a new one out the next year, what’s the point? iTouch is perfect for me because I can email and skype with it, and that’s really all I need.
How is this leg of the tour promoting The Industrialist going so far?
– Well, the last show in Tampere, Finland was ok. But I have to say that these Scandinavian shows seems to have more of a Devin Townsend crowd. People over here must really like his style of prog metal. Both Devin and FF are playing thinking man’s music, but I don’t know, maybe FF is to industrial or something for some audiences over here. Anyway; it’s a good tour for us and we have 32 dates left after tonight. I’ll be home December 19th, just in time for my sons birthday. And it’s always been important for FF to be at home around christmas time.
Going back to what you said about there being a lot of Devin fans in the crowd here in Scandinavia. How does that make you feel when you’re on stage?
– Well, you have to know that you can’t please everybody. Which is something I don’t ever try to. I just go up on stage and do my best and have fun. In this case I have to work harder to win them over.
Maybe that’s a good thing at this point for FF?
– That’s a really good thing you said there. You know, that after all these years I can still find something to strive for. That makes it more edgy, so to speak, and I go on stage with more attitude. I just wanna go like aaaaarrrrrggggghhhhh… Yeah, so it’s a positive thing to have to work hard for it. Of course, I always do my best when it’s a FF crowd, but in that case I always feel a bit more relaxed.
When and how did you get into music?
– A bit late in life, you could say. I always loved music but it wasn’t until after living six months in Hollywood 1989 that I got into my first band Hate Face. A friend asked my to try out and since we had similar music taste, and always talked about music, I thought it was a good idea. Well, it worked out. After that I joined Ulceration, a band including Dino Cazares and Raymond Herrera.
Eventually we changed the name to Fear Factory and the rest is history.
Are you able to live of your music now and if so, has that been the case since the start of FF?
– Yeah, it’s working out. But not from the start, more like after the recording of Demanufacture when we went out touring. Before that I had a job at a movie theatre in Los Angeles. And after the FF split I had nothing going in musically, so I did some painting for a few months. But then FF started up again and I’ve been able to survive by doing this ever since.
Has it always been lead vocals for you, or have you played any instrument?
– It was lead vocals from the beginning. But I’ve been playing guitar and singing in a band called Ascension of the Watchers. We’ve released the independent ep Iconoclast and the lp Numinosum.
FF has a unique sound. What inspired you in the beginning to create this kind of music?
– When we recorded Soul of a New Machine it was bands like Ministry, Killing Joke, Godflesh, Napalm Death, Carcass, Swans and… Well, so many different bands, since Dino and I really love music. We kind of blended what we liked and put our own touch in the mix. But I think it was with Demanufacture that the FF sound really came together, and from then on we’ve had our own sound.
It can’t be easy to come up with something new and actually create sort of a new genre?
– No, actually it’s almost impossible in this day and age. It seems like everything’s already been done, so you really have to be creative. And we did it!
Personally, I think your two latest albums are as good, or even better than those who are considered your classics. What are your thoughts about these albums?
– Wow! Thank you. That’s awesome, I really appreciate it. I think Mechanize and The Industrialist are more mature, more mechanical, more thought out but still has that well known FF sound to it. And it was like magic recording The Industrialist; the ideas came quickly, everything we tried out worked and we had a really good time in the studio.
You used a drum machine on The Industrialist. Are you happy with the way it turned out?
– Totally. It worked out really good and it was about time for us to do it. Technically we kind of have been doing it before, because after recording the drums we’ve been editing them with pro tools. So it came to a point where we said “Why not use a drum machine?” So we did it and we’re happy with the result. You know, it really is a perfect fit for FF. Maybe one day FF will have a drum machine on stage, who knows… It would definitely work, that’s for sure.
On Mechanize and on the following tour you had Gene Hoglan on drums. What was it like having him in the band?
– He’s like a drum machine so it was really nice to have him in the band. But with that said; every drummer needs to be edited, even him, haha. And you know, Gene really is a journeyman so he moved on like he always do.
What’s it like working with Matt DeVries (ex-Chimaira) and Mike Heller (System Divide) on tour?
– Matt is a great guitarist that plays bass with us and that’s perfect, since the bass often works as a rhythm guitar in FF. And Mike is a really good drummer who does his best every night on stage.
Do you think you will work with them again, after this tour is finished?
– Absolutely. If they’re available…
When you write songs, do you have riffs/lyrics ready when you go in the studio or do you come up with everything while working there?
– Dino always has some riffs that he likes and I have ideas written down, but nothing concrete like totally finished songs. But next time I’ll try to have like verses of poetry and/or a complete new story ready when we go in the studio.
Which FF-album are you most proud of and why?
– It has to be Obsolete. We sold 500.000 of that one in USA and received a gold album for it. So it’s our biggest record and it really propelled us forward in our career. I think we really pushed the envelope of the band on that album. And we play three-four songs from it on on this tour
How did it feel to receive the Metal Hammer “Icon”-award earlier this year?
– It was really cool getting that kind of recognition from a notable magazine that’s one of the top metal magazines in the world. It’s something to be proud of. And it was good times on the “party boat” going to the awards show.
What do you think about touring?
– It’s hard with a family back home. As you know, I’m away from home a long period. But on the other hand I’m home for a long period. So all in all it’s fine. The kids know that this is what papa does for a living, to bring food on the table. My kids are three, four and six years old and I look forward to when they’re old enough to be able to come out with me on tour. Also, I must say that
I’m really lucky to have a great wife that’s totally backing me up.
– After being in a band for 22 years and touring professionally for 20 years I’m thankful to be able to survive by doing this. And as a bonus I get to explore different cities all over the world. Like yesterday here in Stockholm; I check things out and take pictures. Almost daily I post a new picture on Instagram. And by the way; I don’t do Twitter or Facebook,
How do you keep your voice in shape on tour?
– No whisky, beer or cigarettes on tour and just basically trying to stay healthy. And I practice a little bit before show time, something that I started doing just two-three years ago. Actually, being 43 years old I really have to.
How and when do you put together the set list for a gig?
– About an hour before the show. Usually Dino and I have the same thoughts about what songs to pick. Sometimes we substitue songs just to make it varied four us. But we have like a core set that we follow. The flow is the most important thing and that’s why we always play a couple of songs from the same album in a row.
Of all the FF songs, which one is you favorite to play live?
– Zero Signal, since it’s always good to play live and I’ve always liked it. When we get to it in the set I always get really excited.
What was it like to be a part of the “70.000 Tons of Metal” cruise?
– Fun! We were on the first one and it was more fun than I thought it was gonna be. The best part was that the fans was very respectful to every band, they were just cool and no one was all over you. It really was like everybody was backstage since there’s nowhere else to go. It was fun seeing all these metal heads dressed in black out in the sun. And everybody got wasted, including me – after the shows of course, haha. We played one set on the way out and one set on the way back.
Do you have any special memories from playing in Sweden?
– We’ve been coming to Sweden for 19 years and our first show here was in Malmo 1993. I also remember all sorts of crazy festivals, like Bergslagsrocken* on the Soul of a New Machine tour where we were part of an incredibly mixed line up including metal bands like us and Biohazard, Radiohead, Cypress Hill etc. We actually shared dressing room with Radiohead and they didn’t like us at all.
Pompous arrogant English fucks… When we saw them on the ferry afterwards they didn’t say hello and when they passed us they said something like “oh it’s that death metal band” (Burton imitating a typical English accent). We weren’t their cup of tea, that’s for sure, haha… But I have to say that I really liked their song Creep when it came out and started to blow up. And it was fun at Sween Rock this year, our first time playing there, even though we were exhausted taking the stage after a really long trip.
Talking about the Sweden Rock show; some reviews wasn’t very nice when it came to describing your voice. What do you have to say about that?
– I’m 43 years old, that’s the thing. My voice isn’t gonna be perfect live after giving everything I got for 22 years. To be honest I’m not perfect and I know it. What I do vocally is so hard, mixing aggression with melody, and I go all out everytime on stage. Of course I know I’m not perfect, but I try to be as perfect as possible, And everybody should know that I always do my best. If you want perfect just listen to the records, because it isn’t gonna be perfect live. I don’t whisper, like I said I go all out and I’m passionate and I really care about it, you know. Anyway, what’s the point of going to a live show if you want it to sound like on the record?
Since I’m representing a Swedish web zine I have to ask if you like any Swedish bands?
– I think Meshuggah with their technical and industrial flavored music is really cool. And of course The Hellacopters, I think their first two albums were sick. And Nicke likes to drink, haha. Massive Audio Nerve are really good. Actually, their singer Tony Jelencovich sang with us on Edgecrusher at Sweden Rock and we had a good time, he’s a really good friend of mine. Anyway, other than that, I’m drawing a blank right now…
For me, looking in from the outisde, it seems that the FF machine of today is feeling better than ever. Am I right?
– Well, to me it feels great where we’re at right now. FF is a machine and right now it’s running on perfect precision. We’ve been playing together for a while so we’re tight live and sounds killer. Everything’s good. The band has had some ups and downs, but now we’re slowly moving back up to where FF should be. And it feels great that our latest records has been well received by fans and press. So we’ll continue doing what we do best, you know with constant touring and recording albums. There’s a lot of positivity in the band.
How did Dino and you get back together again?
– It was by faith, really. I was on tour with Ministry as a guest vocalist singing all the old songs, and Dino was backstage at a show in Los Angeles and came up te me and said hello. It felt good talking for a long time with him that night. We both had the feeling that the old stuff was behind us, like water under the bridge. And we wanted to do something right with FF and rebuild it. I can honestly say that I was really happy the day we announced to the world that we were reunited.
What’s in the future for you and the band?
– We got new tours in USA and maybe Canada brewing up, but there’s nothing confirmed. There’ll also be festival shows in Europe, Scandinavia and England next summer, but I don’t have something concrete to say about it yet. And well, after that it’s time to do another record.
And finally; you were a part of Geezer Butler’s G/Z/R “Plastic Planet”. How did that happen?
– FF had just finished Demanufacture and we went on a promo tour for it in England. Our manager was friend with Geezers manager/wife and since Geezer was about to do something on his own and they both had heard and liked what I could do, they wanted me to try out. So I got a promo cassette with three songs and listened to it and came up with ideas for song melodies etc. So when FF were in London I took the train to Birmingham and went to their… Attic. We talked and it felt good. Since Geezer had already written all the lyrics he got me a bunch of them, and when I asked which songs they belonged to he just said “you figure it out”, haha. After singing and with some help from the producer giving the songs my own interpretation I went back to London, and when I got there I got the message that I got the gig. You know, Devin tried out to – but I got it, haha.
And looking back, what are your thoughts about your time in G/Z/R?
– I’m very proud of it. It’s a really good album with heavy music with an industrial feeling. And it’s probably heavier than any Black Sabbath record, because of my heavier vocals and Deen Castronovo who really pounds away on those drums. And of course the production has a lot to do with the heaviness. But FF was my number one priority so I had to step back when it was time for Geezer & co to do another album, because I didn’t have the time for it. So they choose a different path and that’s ok. You know, I’m really proud of being a part of the Black Sabbath record catalog.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, it was a pleasure.
– Thank you and have fun at the show.
*Burton pronounced this Swedish festival name surprisingly well.