When Burton C. Bell, lead singer of Fear Factory, walks into one of the local bars near where he lives, he knows everyone. He shakes hands with the district attorney (and it’s not because he knows him from numerous court appearances), waves hi to a few of the regulars, and greets the bartender by name. Coincidentally this is where I first met Burton, about eight years ago, when I was tending bar. He agreed to meet and talk over a couple of beers and a shot of bourbon about The Industrialist, set to release on June 5th, Fear Factory’s eighth studio album, his reunion with founding band member Dino Cazares, and his perspective on music and songwriting.
BP: First things first: How’s the new album?
BB: Man, it’s great. I just completed the drawings that tell the backstory. It’s a concept album.
BB: An automaton who becomes self aware. He starts experiencing memory and as a result develops emotions, like empathy and anger. He ends up being both industry’s greatest creation and its ultimate destruction.
BP: Does it have an industrial sound?
BB: We incorporate a lot of industrial elements into the music, a lot of texture and ambience. But Dino keeps it metal.
BP: I’ve gotta know, where did the inspiration for the concept come from?
BB: I read. A lot. And I target specific things to read about or watch, like The Venus Project or Zeitgeist. One thing I noticed about sci-fi writers is that they write about what they see and know, reimagined. Orwell took what he saw and lived and moved it forward and came up with 1984. So I looked at what was going on in the Occupy movement, and with Anonymous, and the religious right, and this is one way I pictured them all coming together. But you can find inspiration anywhere. I took the title for the song “God Eater” from the side of a box of an action figure I saw in Japan.
BP: Do you normally lean towards social issues when you write?
BB: When it comes to Fear Factory, social issues are the more prevalent topics. Though that doesn’t mean I won’t take personal issues and apply them more broadly.
BP: So you do the lyrics and then Dino takes over the music?
BB: Well, yeah, mostly. But Dino and I push each other. He’ll make a suggestion about some lyrics, I’ll recommend a different take on some music.
BP: It sounds like you’re glad to be working with him again.
BB: I’ve always considered him to be a brother. But now that we’re a little older, we’ve finally learned to communicate. When we were younger, him telling me what to put into the lyrics would probably have resulted in a “Fuck you!” and a fight, and the same would go for me approaching him about the music. Now we still tell each other to fuck off but there’s joking behind it, and we know enough to not take it to heart and listen to what we’re trying to say.
BP: So this album is a collaborative effort?
BB: Absolutely. Dino and I worked very closely with [producer] Rhys Fulber, who we’ve worked with for most of our projects since 1992. And since ours were the only hands at the controls, the album is more focused. What we wanted to make happen, what we needed to make happen, happened.
BP: You’ve had a pretty crazy couple of years. Was it important for you to feel more in control of your work?
BB: Yeah. Now that the lawsuit (involving former Fear Factory members Raymond Herrera and Christian Olde Wolbers) is over, we were able to put that stress behind us and just concentrate on the artistic side of what we’re doing. And it came together pretty quickly.
BP: Is that how you prefer to write?
BB: It depends on how you look at it. I spend a lot of time prepping, thinking about what I want to write, and walk in with a lot of ideas. For The Industrialist, we just had to get in there to meet our delivery date. It was exciting, a fast and furious work. A lot of times I feel that the more time you spend working on an album, the more it loses its luster. You get tired of singing the same things over and over again, listening to the same riffs, and that comes across in the music. With this album time was short, but there’s a spark of creative energy in everything. It’s cool.
BP: Keeping your voice in shape?
BB: I’ve been at the gym almost every day, working on my lung capacity. That’s what helps put the power into my voice.
BP: You’ve been noted for the way you use your voice, that you introduced a whole new style of singing to metal.
BB: Did you know we came upon that by accident? And structuring songs around that sort of vocal was Dino’s idea?
BB: It was totally not what we’d planned.
BP: Do tell.
BB: We were at practice and he was playing around with some riff he was working on. I started chasing the riff with my voice and Dino said, “Dude, what the fuck was that?” I said, “Oh, sorry, I’ll stop messing around,” and he said, “No…dude…what the fuck was that? Do it again!” And that’s where it started.
BP: You caught a lot of shit for your vocals early on.
BB: Yeah, we did. People kept telling us, “You’re not metal, this isn’t metal.” I didn’t care. I liked it, and that’s how I wanted to sing, and that’s how I kept doing it. Eventually people accepted it, and then they started copying it.
BP: What’s that like for you?
BB: I’ve got mixed feelings. On the one hand it’s flattering as hell, and on the other hand it worries me. I don’t know if the artist singing like that is being true to himself or if he’s trying to be formulaic. For me, the melody breaks through the melancholy of the rest of the song. The power vocals can be pretty dark, but when the melody rises, there’s the sense of hope. Singing like that for me is uninhibited; there’s no limit to what the melody can do so long as it’s in line with the emotional content of the song.
BP: Grammy nominee, credited with the evolution of a musical style. Do you ever think that what you’ve done is “enough”?
BB: No. It’s cool that people think I have a “place” in the musical hierarchy and that I’ve been recognized in various ways, but I don’t think about it. I can’t. Because that limits you. The only thing I think about on a regular basis, is how I can get better at what I do. That’s all. I just want to be better.
For fun, here’s the video for “Fear Campaign” from their last album, Mechanize, to hold us over until The Industrialist comes out.
Find Burton C. Bell and Fear Factory at: