Interview: Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory

Bell, left, and bandmate Dino Cazares. Photo by Kevin Estrada.


Fear Factory has been making complex, challenging, industrial-tinged metal for over two decades now. With the release of 2012’s The Industrialist, the band went high concept with an album born from vocalist Burton C. Bell’s short story of a world in which machines battle not only man, but their own rapid obsolescence. In this special split release between and Alternative Control, JW talks to Burton about the story behind The Industrialist, his love of science fiction and short story writing, and Fear Factory’s status in metal. On the audio side, listen to the full 9479 (radio) interview where we talk about literary heroes, the similarities between science fiction and reality, Burton’s cameo in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, and much more.

JW: Fear Factory has been around for over 20 years, not only as a touring band, but as a successful touring band. Do you ever look at things now that you 20 years out, do you look in terms of a legacy that you have contributed, or does that not interest you?

Burton C. Bell: My first thought is that I don’t look back at my history as a legacy, I just think “Wow, I’ve done a lot of stuff.” (laughs)

We’ve worked really hard, we’ve constantly toured we consistently tried to push the envelope with our music. And you know, sometimes we’ve hit the mark, sometimes we don’t really hit the mark but that’s what it’s all about, we just keep trying and you try to do your best no matter what you do and yeah, we’ve just always looked forward, to see how we can do better, to improve upon our sound, to improve upon our status and to improve upon our business.

JW: See I always looked at it as legacy because when I think of Fear Factory at least through some of the eras, there has been some electronic thing in there before electronics became popular in metal […] so it always seemed like (Fear Factory) was an early adapter to spread metal out into different genres.

Bell: Yeah we definitely pioneered some – well, I wouldn’t say pioneered but we definitely introduced some aspects of music that have become almost the norm in many respects. You know that’s something that we always liked; Dino (Cazares) and I started our band because of our love of music. The industrial element of some music that we like, we like the metal aspect, we like the goth aspect, some of the ambient aspects of music, some of the techno elements.

There’s many things that brought us together and that we wanted to implement into our music. Being young musicians learning about the tools of the trade, we started wanting to implement these things more as a tool and not as a crutch and see how far we can push these tools to our best advantage. Ever since the beginning, ever since we were doing demos we were using drum machines and we were trying to perfect the sound and trying to use the technology to create noises and sounds, clicks and wheezes and whatever to add to our music.

JW: On The Industrialist you used a drum machine only for the entire recording. How do you find the comparison between a perfect pitch/rhythm of a drum machine to live drums, and playing live instruments with it?  How do you adapt to that and what do you like about it?

Bell: It really simplified our process, and it made me wish we’d been using a drum program the whole time. It really freed us creatively; there were no restrictions involved and the fact that it was a drum program we were able to move parts on the grid, interchange parts of the song, re-arrange, easily add things to our advantage. It was really incredible, it really made me think back. Once we started using pro tools which was 2000; Digimortal was the first record we used Pro Tools on even then when we’d recorded live drums; the Pro Tool engineer would go in and really move every hit that the drummer did and remove the live sounds and interchange them for sample sounds to get sound we wanted and I think now, “Wow what an incredible waste of time when we could have just programmed them.” (laughs)

JW: So now this almost leads to The Industrialist’s concept to an extent because I have noticed that the angle is machine vs. man. Is that all tying together to something?

Bell: Absolutely that’s what this story is. The Industrialist is the machines fighting for survival. The Industrialist is the concept and the story is about a machine that has to fight for his right to survive because it has come into cognizance of its own being through experience and collecting memories and because the creator, “man” wants to capture all the models that The Industrialist is and make way for a new model so the machines are fighting for existence against the new models, to not become obsolete. It’s a look on the social change on humanity as well, but it’s also a futuristic, sci-fi tale of the machine’s point of view.

JW: The Industrialist was born out of a short story that you wrote. That begs the question, what are your literary influences for your writing, not only in song, but in writing short stories?

Bell: I’ve always been a reader, ever since I was young and I have always been into science fiction. I owe that to my parents, my father mainly who was into Star Trek and watched it all the time. Then Close Encounters came out, Star Wars came out, and I started reading about UFOS, technology. The first science fiction book I ever read was Robert Hyland’s story, which was quite incredible. I can’t remember the name, but it blew my mind when I was in fourth grade and after that I found a love to write.

I always read books that always challenged my imagination and was outside the normal reading of my age or my class; I would read books that I found interesting. When I got into high school I was introduced to authors like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley Philip K. Dick, that’s when I really changed my mode of thinking. Edger Allen Poe, master of a short story right there. With all the science fiction, or the macabre, or some super-natural, it really molded my personality.

JW: With Demanufacture you wrote the album basically in the midst of the L.A. riots, and the wildfires and earthquakes that were happening in early 1991/1992 and that always seemed like it reflected in the album, with the chaos and the attitude. For The Industrialist, where did you write/record it and did the outside have the same effect that it did before?

Bell: We wrote and recorded the album in Los Angeles, in Van Nuys and, nothing was really going on in LA at the time, but there was a lot going on in the world and at the time we were writing the Industrialist the 99% movement was happening in full throttle, the re-elections, just basic news around the world was constantly going on plus I always keep updated on science topics, whatever is going on in science, innovations really interests me, so as for personal strife, trying to survive in L.A. there wasn’t really that aspect.

The Demanufacture era was a whole different time period for Dino and myself. We were kids, trying to survive in Hollywood, being broke, trying to survive as musicians. Times were tougher then, our responsibilities were different, we were different people.

You can never really return to that type of moment, because those moments come and they go and you can never re-live it. What you have to do is keep moving forward and living life as it comes and taking it all in and really observing and being aware of your moment as it comes.

JW: Well thank you very much for sharing your time.

Bell: I really appreciate your time, thank you very much. It was a good conversation, thank you very much.

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