Fear Factory frontman Burton C. Bell has yet to slow down since the band’s reformation in early 2009. After completing work on Mechanize, their eighth studio release, the band’s nonstop touring has already led them through Europe, Australia, and North and South America.
Following their performance at Germany’s With Full Force festival earlier this week, and after spending only 28 hours at home in Pennsylvania, Bell made the trek to Los Angeles for the second half of Fear Factory’s US tour, commencing Wednesday night at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. Prior to the band’s performance, I had the chance to speak with Bell regarding his fallout with former band mates, the reunion with Dino Cazares, and the return of the classic Fear Factory sound.
Mechanize takes a step back to the classic Fear Factory sound. Was there a conscious effort to recreate that feel with this release?
Not intentionally, I think it naturally happened. Having Dino back in the band obviously–Dino’s riffing style is a major sound, it’s a major hallmark or stamp of the Fear Factory sound. It’s the way he plays; he’s very inspired by repetition, rhythm, mechanical riffs and that nature, so having him back just kind of brought that back into the mix.
We did sit down and talk about how there were certain aspects of Fear Factory that I missed in the band, like the industrial [and] electronic edge of it. It wasn’t in the forefront, but it was a nice flavor, a nice ambient-type of thing that added to the feel of the music, and another reason why we wanted to do that.
Having Rhys [Fulber] come back into the mix–he also was a big creator of that sound, you know, from Demanufacture and Obsolete–and having him, that sound came back as well. So the chemistry of all three of us working together, yeah it’s gonna have a classic sound because that’s the original sound.
Doesn’t Rhys have a new studio? Did you guys record there?
Yeah, and he finished building it while we were working there (laughs).
Yeah, but it was cool, you know. It was cool. It suited us perfectly. It suited our needs, and it was a great place to work.
How did the songwriting process change between the time that Dino left and now?
I really wanted to be more involved with it this time. There was a chemistry between Dino and I that was missing when he was not in the band. It was apparent in the first recordings of Fear Factory with Dino and I working together. Having him back in the band, it was that inspiration, it was that creative force going again. So yeah, it was definitely different not having him, because I didn’t have my counterpart in the band, the one that really understood the vision we shared.
When Dino and I started this band, we had a vision. Christian wasn’t in the band, and Raymond wasn’t really a visionary at that time, so it was Dino and I who created the vision of Fear Factory. And having him back in–it was just there.
What was the status of Fear Factory before you and Dino reconciled? Were you planning on doing another album?
I was. I was planning on doing another album, and I was working it out. But, you know, reorganization had to happen. We were talking about getting record deals, and we were sitting around, but some things had to happen within the organization itself that had to change. And I was waiting for those things to change. The other two guys didn’t make things happen, so I made things happen.
And how did Gene come into the mix?
When Raymond didn’t want to do it, I looked to Byron and was like, “Hey, I’m trying to think of a drummer” because I didn’t want to audition drummers. He was like, “What about Gene?” I go, “Would Gene do it?” He said, “Yeah, you know, just ask him.” So he gave me his phone number, and I called him up.
We’d been friends for a long time, touring with Strapping [Young Lad], so I’ve known him for years. So when I called him up, it was pretty cool. I explained to him the situation, and he was like, “Yeah, sure man!”
Asking Gene Hoglan to join your band–that was probably a bit daunting.
It was cool though, it was really cool.
I’m not sure if you’re actually able to answer this one, but you had to cancel some shows late last year due to issues with the rights of the name. Obviously, you’re touring now–what’s changed?
I’ll answer it, and I’ll set the record straight. We didn’t cancel them. We postponed them because we wanted to finish the album.
So that was just something…
That was what they said. But we toured right after that, and they were still trying to put cease and desist letters out, and nothing stopped us. Finishing the album was more important, so we postponed it with the same promoters, and the promoters were ok. We actually just made up that tour in January or February.
No, that’s ok! I have to set the record straight!
So a lot of bands that have been doing this as long as you seem to be just going through the motions at this point. But I caught you guys down in San Diego about a month ago…
Yeah, that was the very first show of this tour.
Yeah, and you guys seemed to be so passionate on stage. You looked stoked to be up there. You were moving around, you didn’t look like you were just wondering how many more songs were left in the set…
So how do you guys stay inspired?
We’re having fun on stage! For me, personally, I’m having fun playing the music we’re playing. Dino and I are having a great time on stage with Byron. We’re all having fun, we’re laughing. And Gene’s like–he’s awesome. We’re having fun. And right now, I think we’re a hundred times better now than when you saw us in San Diego. We’re on fire. We’re having a good time. The crowd’s loving it, and we’re feeding off the crowd.
But you know, you can’t always have a great show. That’s just the nature of the life. Everyone’s got a bad day, either due to sickness or it’s just one of those days. And yeah, we’ve had them in the past, and we still have them, but the show must go on. The crowd doesn’t care if your day is bad or whatever, they want to see the show. So you have to go on stage and put your game face on. Once you go on stage and you see the excitement of the crowd, and everyone is just jazzed up, you’re like, “Ok, it’s not so bad.”
What is it like to now be playing with bands that have obviously been inspired by you?
You know what, it’s interesting (laughs). And there’s some obvious moments where it’s like, “Yeah, I wonder where they got that from.” Especially on this last European festival tour that we did, it was even more apparent.
But I’ve thought about that a lot, and I’m very proud–almost like a teacher in some respects. Because something that we did creatively and artistically inspired a young artist to accomplish something in their life that’s positive. Music is positive, whether it’s metal, black metal, whatever, it’s still positive. It’s doing something creative and artistic. And if something that I did influenced this young, artistic mind–it couldn’t be that bad, you know. I offered something to this world that taught somebody something. So I think about it that way.
That’s a good way to think about it. I remember Phil Anselmo did this interview last year, talking about how back when Pantera was starting out, bands used to grab influence from several different groups, as opposed to now, where they derive their sound from just one certain artist. So essentially, if a group of kids liked Fear Factory, then the music they’re making is just mimicking Fear Factory, they’re not really building upon that foundation…
I think that’s been going on for a long time. I think his perspective is well and good, but I think that’s been happening for many years. There are some bands that obviously, they are ripping one band off. But there are bands out there that are taking all of their influences and making something else out of it. And I think that’s been happening ever since music began, from classical music to heavy metal or whatever.
Since you and Dino have reconciled, do you think there’s any chance of getting back together with Christian and Raymond as well?
I don’t think about it.
All right, well what’s next for Fear Factory?
Well, this is the first show of another month and a half. We have three weeks in the States, and we head directly–with no day off–to Europe right after that for more festivals. We’re planning more tours til the end of the year, and we are already talking about another album.
It’s funny you brought up that San Diego show, because to me, that show really put a lot of things into perspective. It was a Sunday at the House of Blues, and as you know, every House of Blues has a Gospel Brunch on Sundays.
So bands that play on a Sunday at a House of Blues are always stoked because you get to go in early–you can’t load in, but you can go in–and partake in the brunch. It’s like “Woohoo, food everywhere!” Well this put into perspective how tough times are, the fact that Gospel Brunch was cancelled due to lack of ticket sales that day. I was like, “Wow, it’s not just us, it’s everybody.” So I just didn’t sweat it.
So what if the pre-sales are low? We’ve had great walk-ups, because people are saving that extra couple of bucks until the day of the show because they need to get by. I mean, I live that way. I’m sure many of us live that way. You’ve got to save your money. So buying tickets for every show–it’s just impossible these days.
Definitely, everything has changed. Nobody wants to pay a lot for a ticket unless you have a really great package, and you can’t afford a really great package if your pre-sales are notoriously low. No promoter is going to want to gamble on that.
Yeah, well I’m sure Mayhem is selling pretty well.
Mayhem had that $10 ticket deal.
That’s cheap! Really?
Yeah, but then there’s The Cool Tour coming up, and that’s a $30 ticket…
And there’s that Disturbed one…
Uproar. And Ozzfest. There’s all of them. And it’s hard for someone to justify spending $30 on your show when they could spend the same and see 8, 9, 10 bands. But you guys put out an incredible album, you have a great live show, so what else can you do?
With bands like that, that are part of Live Nation stuff, I think they’re hurting themselves in the long run. Because when you get to pay that much, you always expect to pay that much. And they expect it for all over the place.
But Fugazi, do you remember that band?
They used to play for $3. They had no advance ticket sales. They’d sell the day of the show, and every show was always sold out. $3.
Genius move on their part.
Yeah! And a very great band.
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