By "Metal" Tim Henderson
As BraveWords continues the interview barrage from the recent 70000 Tons Of Metal, "The World's Biggest Heavy Metal Cruise" - which sailed late January from Miami, Florida to Costa Maya, Mexico and back - let it be stated that my relationship with FEAR FACTORY's Burton C. Bell may be the longest running compared to any other artist on the ship. And we've pretty much grown up in the scene together, albeit from two very unique environments.
“You’re one of my first interviews when I went to New York City to do press for Soul Of A New Machine,” BCB begins as we stare out into the vast Caribbean Sea. But our friendship dates farther back prior to Fear Factory signing with Roadrunner, while I was buying for the HMV Superstore in downtown Toronto. Yes, the glory days of record retail, where we were selling a million dollars worth of hard rock/heavy metal each year to an overly eager, diehard fan-base. As HMV built up it's heavy reputation (nowhere else on the planet did ALICE COOPER play a store roof, or DREAM THEATER, ENTOMBED and even NAPALM DEATH perform inside!!!) we were beyond aggressive at obtaining the heaviest of metals from around the globe. And when we struck a deal with Relativity (now RED) in California, fans had a heyday with classic titles from CARCASS, Entombed, DEATH, MORBID ANGEL and numerous other imports that were hard to find. And I still have the long-boxes to prove it!
"Yeah, I was working in the warehouse at Relativity," BCB remembers. "I had a dream and I moved to Los Angeles to start my career and get it off the ground. I was young, the record (Soul Of A New Machine) came out when I was 24. I was boxing up our own record for various record stores across North America. I signed every box! Of course nobody knew who the fuck it was.”
Soul Of A New Machine was a saviour of sorts as it ushered in a fresh sound in the '90s that had been over-taken by the powerful Seattle scene (aka grunge). This new breed took off breathing fire!
"Yeah it was different. It stood out in the L.A. scene for sure and we tried to get tours. Our first tour of the States was with SICK OF IT ALL and BIOHAZARD, which was just a west coast thing and we were exposed to the hardcore scene. Our second tour of the States was with OBITUARY, so then we were exposed to the death metal scene. We’ve pretty much stuck with that scene though, it seemed more accepting.”
Were you comfortable in that scene? These days it really doesn’t matter, but back then there were distinct tours.
“I wanted to make sure that we weren’t labeled as just a death metal band, I felt that there was more to us. The industrial metal tag really came when Demanufacture came out. Soul Of A New Machine was an amalgamation of us getting together and it was a learning experience of creating music together for over a period of a year and a half. We were together for a year and a half before we got signed.”
Were they lean years of living off the streets?
"You have no idea. Dino (Cazares; guitar) and I were living together in a one-bedroom apartment with two other people. Sometimes he had the bedroom, sometimes I had a bedroom. Sometimes we’d have the living room or whatever. I remember going across the street to the 7/11 just to get some food and I would literally steal. We’d steal comic books like the first is issue of Spawn that came out. We would buy stuff, but at the same time we'd be stealing stuff like frozen burritos just to eat because we were hungry.”
From where we stood, your growth didn’t seem gradual, but you say it was a gradual rise?
“It was gradual, it took time. Nothing really started taking off until Obsolete. That record really set us up. And the cover song of (GARY NUMAN’s) ‘Cars’ didn’t hurt. That made us an Active Rock band.”
Why was Fear Factory able to get away with all these new ideals, new ideas which were very experimental for its time.
“We were young and we were working. We were touring all the time and we were a young band with a vision of a certain sound. We were taking all of our influences and putting them together to create something that was our own.”
Talk about your hiatus. The world missed Fear Factory.
“Well you know, it was an emotional time. I had to do some serious soul searching. I started another project (ASCENSION OF THE WATCHERS), but it was a personal sabbatical, something that I had to do. I needed to do it. At the time I just said fuck this. I had to move on. But starting something new was very difficult. It was hard to start something that didn’t sound like Fear Factory at all. That’s my tattoo. There was a lot of soul-searching in that respect too, because it was really difficult to come back. But I was like, ‘I gotta do this.’ But we came back, it was a different lineup, but I did it because I had to work. But I got a phone call from Raymond (Herrera) and Christian (Olde Wolbers). They had this idea to do it again, but Dino wasn’t going to be involved. We were going to do this on our own, get off Roadrunner. But we had to do a demo to get off Roadrunner. That was another aspect of my project, because I didn’t want to be on Roadrunner anymore. It was just time to move on. I wanted to start with a clean slate.”
But of course they still have your catalog.
“I still get royalties. It comes in, but it depends how much we work, how much we tour. If we tour a lot I see better royalties, if we don’t then I don’t. I have no idea when we’ll get the rights back, because that Roadrunner contract is bullshit. I literally signed a deal with a Dutch devil. But when you’re young, you don’t care. You’re 23 years-old and ‘we’re going to give you an advance to make your first record, we're gonna put you on tour, sell your shirts in all the stores. You are gonna to be famous!’’Alright, make it happen!’ My fucking lawyer too … he gets paid to be a fucking asshole, and I know his name. Fuck him. He's still around to, but I want to kick him in his nuts.”
This is a new beginning for Fear Factory, bringing forth more fresh ideas. What is your gut saying today about the present and future life of the band?
“My gut says that I have to work hard, especially more in this day and age. In this climate of the music industry, the only way a real working musician can survive is by constantly working. You have to put out records just to tour now. You don’t put out records just to sell records, you need to put out a record just to tour so you can sell that record. What’s the point of even releasing records? Just put out singles. Put out a few songs every few months and tour on that.”
Is that the plan?
“No I just thought of it!” (Laughs)
You’re not the first one to think of it like that.
"No, but something has to change though. If the music industry is not going to change, it’s the artists that have to change.”
This is a real beast today where even established artists are having to work their asses off.
“Man, I can’t even imagine being a brand-new band starting off these days. I’m very fortunate in that respect. We have a resume, and we started when there was a music industry. It was right before the decline of the industry, we were there. They were still putting money in records, they were still putting money into videos, tours. We were right there before the end. And we saw that decline. We asked Roadrunner ‘what’s going on?’‘You’re not selling any records.’ ‘That’s not my fault, that’s your fault.’ ‘How is that my fault?’ ‘You didn’t put out the right record.’ ‘Did everybody not put out the right record?’ It was so easy for the label to blame the artist, when it really was the label’s fault. It was every label. I just say Roadrunner because that was what label we were on.”
Musically what does the future hold for Fear Factory?
“We have started writing a new record. I’d like to have it out by August and start touring in September. You have to tour right when the record comes out so people know that it is out. So put out a new record and start touring again … let the cycle begin.”
And what's the status of your book?
"Yes I have a book called The Industrialist. It’s a graphic novel with a story based on the last Fear Factory record, The Industrialist (2012). I consigned an artist out of London, England to do up the artwork for it. His name is Noel Guard, he’s a fantastic up-and-coming artist and he followed the story exactly the way I imagined it in my head. Soon I’m going to launch BurtonCBell.com and The Industrialist will only be available on that website. It’s going to be printed per order. I’m not making up 100 or 1,000, I’m making it up per order. It’s going to be printed up, sent to me, I sign it and number it, then send it off to the buyer. I will also be selling some high-end prints of the artwork that was on the Watchers EP, the cemetery scene (11x14). I’m also doing a Giclée print (24 x 36) of the Numinosum album cover. It’s the tree that has the bright light behind it. And that will also be printed per order. You have to branch out. That’s how I see my future. I have to keep busy and do all the things that I’ve talked about. It’s all in-house. I have control of everything.”
Next year's 70000 Tons Of Metal - the World's Biggest Heavy Metal Cruise - will leave Ft. Lauderdale on January 22nd and head to Ocho Rios, Jamaica and venture back to Ft. Lauderdale on January 26th. For more metal cruising info fun visit 70000tons.com