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Note: this has been edited from the original post––mostly spelling errors and extraneous words from the transcription.
Want the lowdown about the Fear Factory sound on the Jagermeister stage at Heavy MTL 2010? How about info on the new Vancouver-based band Burton is in with Byron Stroud, City of Fire? I’ll bet you’d never guess which group Burton first paid to see, plus you get to read about his favorite method of birth control. Well that’s only half accurate, but we do talk about the true nature of his soul and other fun stuff. Read on!
MetalMattLongo: The first thing I want to do––besides thank you for joining us here at ‘Mind Over Metal’––is to tell you that Fear Factory had a great performance at Heavy MTL on Saturday, except for the sound on the Jagermeister stage. What was going on with that?
Burton C. Bell: The sound on the Jagermeister stage was all the local crew…they were patching things wrong …‘Melissa Auf der Maur’ didn’t have vocals for the first couple songs…
MML: She did not… me and my girlfriend looked at each other and were like “break time!”
BCB: Yeah it was all the local productions were just they are fucking idiots and we had to cut our set short because they patched all the monitors incorrectly. So it took fifteen extra minutes to get on stage, and we only played, like, four songs.
MML: It was still good to see you regardless, even though it was kind of rough. I’ve got to tell you, Burton, this incarnation of Fear Factory has got to be your strongest to date.
BCB: I think so, too. Not only are we really good friends––you know, me, Byron, Gene and Dino––we’re having a great time on tour, we’re having fun for the first time in a while, and I think we’re really tight and the band is on fire right now.
MML: Yeah, and that’s a good transition into the your other band that’s going on right now: City of Fire, so I want to talk about this for a minute. It’s a lot more melodic, and less metallic…tell us about the bands origins and how you came to be involved.
BCB: The band started with Byron [Stroud] in Vancouver. He was in a band called Caustic Thought around the early 90’s with more of a hard rock Sub Pop vibe. They decided to have a reunion show for Vancouver and had such a great time. They realized this music is still relevant, so they decided to track songs they never recorded and rerecord some of their old material, only revamped. So they brought in a friend of theirs––Terry “Show” Murray––who’s a guitar player in bands out there in Vancouver, and also a producer who runs his own studio.
MML: And then how did you come to be involved personally?
BCB: They felt this music was different than Caustic Thought and wanted another singer. Byron thought I would be perfect. Since Byron was in Fear Factory for several years, we learned we had the same taste in music, the same influences, the same inspirations…so he called me up, told me about it, sent me the music and I loved it. A couple of months after that I was in Vancouver, working with the new tracks and demo.
MML: Having just played Montreal and spent time in Vancouver, how would you compare their different Metal climates? They’re both very strong in their own regard.
BCB: They are both really strong, and you know that’s the thing about metal fans: they’re very loyal. They’re very passionate about their music, they are passionate about their hard rock and metal and they always come out. Fear Factory has done a lot of grassroots touring…we’ve built up a following in both cities and, you know, the fans are avid, wherever we go, they’re into the music, they know the lyrics, and, if they don’t know the music, or they never heard Fear Factory, they get interested, because they like different types of music. But I think Vancouver really loves us because we work with so many of their artists and engineers: Frontline Assembly, Rhys Fulber, Skinny Puppy, Byron Stroud, etc.
MML: Nice, now one thing I want to touch on real quick was the way your new City of Fire album starts. “Carve Your Name” is one of the more aggressive tracks on the album, so was your aim to ease in tentative listeners, who were more used to the sound of Fear Factory?
BCB: My aim was to create an exciting introduction with elements that are familiar, but it doesn’t quite sound like Fear Factory.
MML: You have this one track called “Hanja” which i presume is about the Japanese tale of the jealous woman.
BCB: Totally correct.
MML: What is the most ridiculous display of jealousy that you ever witnessed, or had to endure?
BCB: As a male of 41 years, I’ve experienced that type of jealousy a few times in my life. I had a girlfriend a while ago, who just couldn’t stand me talking to another girl at a show. You know, a lead singer has to do PR work in more ways than one, relatively speaking. I talk to everybody, but she just noticed the girls I talked to. I guess that’s not extreme but it annoyed the fuck out of me.
MML: There’s also a track that follows called “Coitus Interruptus” … is this your favorite method of birth control?
BCB: (laughs) Unfortunately it doesn’t always work, so i have three children. (laughs)
MML: (laughs) I trust the song is not like dedicated to anyone of them is it?
BCB: Ha, no, it’s not ‘dedicated’ to anyone. It’s that feeling of like, you know, a woman really coming on to you and then just letting you down, just like, aaaargh…leading you on…you’re almost there, and ah man…why?! The topics of City of Fire are not tied or constrained to any type of concept, you know. What we are talking about is more poetic, more of a wisdom of age. We’re all forty/forty-one and a we wanna speak to a mature audience that understands what were talking about and we really consider this a mature album.
MML: You can’t read about wisdom; you have to experience wisdom in order to gain it.
BCB: Wisdom comes from experience that’s what it’s all about. And when it comes to writing lyrics, what;s right in your feelings? What’s right poetically? How we feel about love and women and life…
MML: This sounds similar to the stuff you wanted to do with Ascension of the Watchers, where you said you wanted to “explore the true nature of the soul”. Do you have a similar vision with City of Fire, or does it differ?
BCB: There is a difference. The Watchers is more of a spiritually creative labor of love, and City of Fire is more primal.
MML: So what have you discovered for yourself about the true nature of the soul? What do you think you are?
BCB: (pause to think) Wow, that’s deep. (laughs)
MML: (laughs) Hey, you brought it up… kinda indirectly.
BCB: Well… I am a man. I have my own beliefs and I have my own thoughts and I’m always wrestling with life, and that’s going to continue. I find that I’m always wrestling with a certain aspect or juncture in my life, and it feels like its a quest that’s never going to end.
MML: But the same time, you’re also a communicator––an emotional liaison, or whatever the hell a musician can be––how do you identify that with the nature of yourself?
BCB: Well, I always considered myself a writer even before I was in a band. I observe not only the world around me but the world within me, and I’m lucky enough to have the ability to describe it while I’m living it. If you analyzed the lyrics of Fear Factory from inception to today, you’d see it’s the story of my life, basically. My mind develops as the years go by, so does my reasoning, so do my beliefs and my opinions.
MML: Would you say the songs function as a narrative for yourself, are they that autobiographical?
BCB: A lot of them are, yes.
MML: I was listening to Jerry Cantrell’s Degradation Trip Vols. 1 & 2 , which is amazing by the way, one of the very best albums i have ever heard.
BCB: I keep hearing that.
MML: Oh it’s so good, and if you do listen, make sure to get Vols. 1 & 2, the way it was meant to be released. [The song “Locked On”] mentions that “every song I wrote, I meant what I said at the time”. I imagine there are people that needle you about things or focus on a certain aspect of one song that may have been the way you felt, but you’ve changed throughout the years. And i guess that’s the fascinating thing about song writing is that it can function as an exhortation of the soul.
BCB: Exactly. For him and for myself, we meant it then and there––like a time capsule––that’s where I was in my life, and that’s where he was in his.
MML: The Cult is one of my biggest guilty pleasures from the 80s, and I love your cover of “Rain”… can you talk about it?
BCB: Yeah, Love is my favorite record they ever did. It was Byron’s idea to do the song. My favorite song on the record is “The Phoenix”, the first song on side B if you have vinyl. But yeah, I love that record and “Rain”, and when he told me he wanted to do it he was like “Yeah that would be great, but I don’t want to do it exactly the same way; I want to make it our version” . We gave it some thought and this is how it came out, and it totally works.
MML: Do you have any other guilty pleasures from the 80s?
BCB: I’ve got a lot!
MML: Yeah, you grew up with it more. I mean, I’m thirty and grew up with it to a certain extent, but you have a decade on me so you can reflect on it more easily.
BCB: Well my first concert that I ever went to in the 80s was Air Supply.
MML: Air Supply?! Man, I’m so glad I have you on record saying that.
BCB: That was the first concert I ever went to. Well the first concert I paid to go see on my own.
MML: So as a child you were brought to concerts?
BCB: Yeah, growing up in Texas, I saw Willie Nelson a couple of times.
MML: That’s kind of cool.
BCB: Some country bands, hoe-downs and shit like that.
MML: I’ve gotten more and more into classic country. I would have never guessed that a decade ago, but I love me some Hank Williams.
BCB: One of my heroes is Willie Nelson.
MML: You know what my first concert was? Bruce Hornsby and the Range. I was like four years old.
BCB: I have a twin brother and that’s one of his favorite bands of all time.
MML: That’s funny, man. Two more questions splintering off of “Rain”: first, what did you think of Ian Astbury fronting The Doors?
BCB: I think it was logical.
MML: Was it because of the personality that he evokes? He always had that very hedonistic kind of life view.
BCB: The life view, the way he carried himself, I could tell he was a fan of Jim Morrison. Even in the early days, he had that kind of swagger and demeanor. To me, it was a logical addition.
MML: You know what else is interesting… have you heard about this new project he’s doing with Boris called BXI?
MML: Yeah, the Japanese band Boris, He’s collaborating with them, it’s called BXI, they’re releasing this four track EP, and I’m going to try to make it down to this performance in early September. Do you know the Boris collaboration with sunn 0))) they did a few years back called Altar?
BCB: Yes, I have it.
MML: Yes, they are going to be performing that in it’s entirety along with Boris and BXI, like a double shot. It looks really, really sweet. September 7th at some kind of Masonic Temple.
BCB: Yeah that’s in New york City, Brooklyn actually.
MML: We’re getting short on time, how about we do some plugging?
BCB: If you’ve got more questions, I’ve got nothing else to do.
MML: Cool, all right, let me see, jumping around a whole lot. Man, I am just…
BCB: I was really disappointed about how things went down in Montréal, I mean, we performed well, it was just kind of shitty and that sucks.
MML: Yeah, I mean, it was off-and-on all day, pretty much. The only person I was blown away by was Alice Cooper really. He was the best person on that stage, easy.
BCB: Well cool.
MML: And I never thought I’d be into Cooper. I don’t know, considering that he’s the first person to introduce really crazy theatrics into music and how you can extrapolate that from everyone to Marilyn Manson to GWAR.
BCB: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see him because we had to go.
MML: Shoot, really?
BCB: Yeah, it sucked.
MML: Who’d you get to catch that day? Did you see anybody you liked?
BCB: High on Fire and Mastodon.
MML: Mastodon suffered kind of bad from that stage too.
BCB: Yeah, everyone was hurting from [the Jagermeister stage].
MML: That was probably my sixth or seventh time seeing Mastodon. I’ve seen them perform better, and we were kind of tired… so I walked away from my favorite fucking band, couldn’t believe it.
BCB: Wow, brutal.
MML: High on Fire was amazing, though. They only got to play four songs, too, but for different reasons than you guys did. They just have long songs lately.
MML: And dude, Snakes for the Divine, you’ve heard it right?
BCB: I haven’t heard it yet.
MML: It’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.
BCB: I’ll have to check it out for sure then. I’ve heard good things.
MML: Yeah, they just keep getting better and better and there’s the whole Sleep reunion thing; that’s going to be amazing.
BCB: Luckily I got to see that album before when it was released.
BCB: In fact we toured with Sleep in ’93 in Europe.
BCB: Yeah, I became friends with those fellas then, and [Holy Mountain] still one of my favorite records of all time.
MML: Oh, fuck yeah. One of my perennial favorites, easily.
BCB: Yeah, a friend of mine gave me an album by a band called The Sword…I listened to it and was like, “This sucks! They ripped off Sleep’s ‘Holy Mountain’ completely.” Like almost riff by riff. I’m like, “Uh, not interested.” Sleep was the real deal.
MML: They got the real deal back now, man…Pike just gets more vicious each year, his voice is coming into form, I’m surprised he keeps on getting better.
BCB: Some people get better with age.
MML: That seems to be what happens with metal these days. There’s so many of these older bands that are still kicking out awesome relevant new material. There’s a new Exodus album that just came out a little while ago…
MML: Testament is my favorite thrash band. I would say… no offense… but I would say that they were the biggest disappointment [at Heavy MTL] because they are my favorite thrash band and it was also my first time seeing them, not unlike you guys.
BCB: Yeah going to a festival is not a good place to see a band like that for the first time.
MML: Nope (laughs)
BCB: No matter where you go, it always sucks. Sound at festivals sucks.
MML: Yep. You know what, actually, my first time that I could have caught Testament would have been much more appropriate: as the opener––the young band––on the Metal Masters Tour… you remember that a few years back?
MML: Oh my god, got there just in time to miss them, but at the same time, you’ve got Motorhead, Heaven and Hell, and Judas Priest. I couldn’t squawk or anything.
BCB: Was that like… four years ago?
MML: That was actually two years ago, because I remember seeing the first Heavy MTL that same summer, and I got to see Iron Maiden. So I got to see like all the important formative metal bands in one summer so, that was pretty… I’m just sitting here telling you about concerts. (laughs)
BCB: Nothing wrong with that. It’s all good.
MML: Let us do some plugging though… you got City of Fire, you’ve got Ascension, you got Fear Factory…
BCB: myspace.com/aotw, cityoffire.com, and fearfactorymusic.com.
MML: Do not go to Fearfactory.com; that’s the one run by Christian and Ray and that chick…
BCB: Yeah that’s the one that’s under hostage.
MML: I really wish you guys more success and less legal issues.
BCB: Well we’re coming to an end, and it is what it is, you know? What we’re going through is not the first time it’s happened to a band. Bands have been dealing with this shit for decades, you know? It happened to The Who, it happened to Led Zeppelin, it happened to Pink Floyd, it happened to Social Distortion, the list goes on and on. And unfortunately, I don’t know why, with the views of my band there seems to be daily drama on Blabbermouth, and…
MML: I was actually talking to Dino earlier this year and I told him this same thing: in time, the truth surfaces. And when it came time to release an album, there was Mechanize, and then there was Years in Darkness. It’s clear where the talent lies.
BCB: Absolutely. You know the proof is all there and that’s all that matters, I hadn’t even heard that album yet and they said it was supposed to be the next Fear Factory record.
MML: Yeah, exactly.
BCB: Apparently from what I hear, it wasn’t.
MML: Oh, dude, I was all kinds of excited and I ready to be into it and then was just like “Oh, shit… well that sucks then.” Then the news from Candlelight comes [about a new Fear Factory album] and I did a little happy dance and got my fucking head blown away. So yeah, thanks for doing that.
BCB: My pleasure, man, my pleasure.
MML: Alright well that’s it for now. Thanks again to my guest, Burton C. Bell. My name is MetalMattLongo. Be sure to look for this interview and more on MindOverMetal.org, where we document the Metalverse. Burton, thank you so much for talking with us today, I appreciate it. Hopefully I can see you guys in the future, under better circumstances.
BCB: Yeah, you’ve got to see us for real!
MML: Fuck yeah, and headlining! Take care, Burton.
BCB: You too, Matt.