“Hey – What is this? How many people does it take to do one interview? One to ask the questions, one to hold the microphone, and one to take pictures?”
Burton C Bell.
It’s been a very long time since mankind developed the concepts of ‘Yesterday’, and ‘Today’, and, like with most advances, I’m pretty sure that this created many an idealistic divide. Even today, there are a few who look back nostalgically at the ‘good old days’, there are, hopefully, more of us that look back on yesterday with a sigh of relief that says ‘At least it’s not like THAT anymore’.
We’ve also developed the concept of ‘Tomorrow’. A concept open to more debate than you can shake a poorly designed rocket ship at. Luckily for us, it’s a concept which, arguably, has the most scope for artistic exploration; one which can critique and reflect the times we live in. And the best thing about this foresight? The ability to prevent what may occur.
Or may not occur.
Science fiction has been around for a while now. Whilst some of it offers visions of a shiny future full of jetpacks and talking toasters, a lot of it is dark and portentous: from the full-on metallic assaults of James Cameron’s T-888 101 series Terminators, and Paul Verhoeven’s ED-209, to the cruel and faceless mega-corporations of Weyland-Yutani, OCP, Encom and so on….. Let’s face it – if we DO end up in a dead future, we will only have our selves to blame: we can’t really say no-one warned us. Fear Factory have often spoken of the inevitable conflict against ‘the machine’, But will it really be a fought against shiny automata wielding phased plasma rifles or will it be something far more insidious?
Burton C Bell – Yeah, that’s the thing you know – the machine is NOT just a physical machine – it’s also a metaphor for the government of society, and I think it’s still very relevant, and today more so than ever. Even as far back as ‘Demanufacture’, the machine was also part of the establishment.
Dino Cazares – Lyrically, he was WAY ahead of his time, it’s just now that other people are starting to catch up.
Now, if you’ve followed Fear Factory throughout their 20 year history, that last remark should make your heart skip a beat. Yup: Dino’s back. And there’s recorded proof. After a 6 year sabbatical of sorts, the man is back in the Factory fold. But it’s NOT the Fear Factory he left. With a new rhythm section, most bands would flounder. Factory sound better than ever. Like most things in life, it’s all about who you know….
Dino – Well, Gene definitely is a legendary drummer, and he’s brought more of a ‘Tom roll’ sound, and Byron’s been in the band for what – 6 years now?
Burton – Yeah, he’s GREAT with the… er … bottom end! Our rhythm section just totally kills.
Dino – Byron’s known Gene for quite some time now, like 10 years or so, through Strapping Young Lad, so they’ve really locked in tight. When we were discussing what drummer we were gonna get, Byron was like ‘Why don’t you just ask Gene?’, and, well, we ‘just’ did!
So, a rejuvenated song-writing partnership, a rekindled friendship, and a retooled musical core. The resultant recorded output could go VERY well or VERY badly. That’s gotta weigh heavily over you, when you’re in the recording studio?
Burton – I didn’t feel pressure – it all came naturally. Having Dino back on guitar, meant that the ‘true’ sound of Fear Factory was automatically there. It’s his guitar riffing that put Fear Factory on the map: the precision and the mechanical, repetitious riffs gave Fear Factory its heart. You can go into the studio, thinking about the future, and what you’re gonna do, but you’ve just gotta go in there and be creative.
Dino – There MIGHT be pressure on the NEXT one, because we came up with such a good one this time around – you just gotta stay at that peak, but it’s not gonna affect me in a bad way – this sort of thing affects me in a good way- always pushing forward.
It’s an interesting point, ‘always pushing forward’. From the near grindcore of ‘Soul of a New Machine’, to the pounding, heavily grooved ‘Mechanize’, there is a logical progression. While the band have ALWAYS stayed on message, the sound has been refined and tightened. At times stripped bare, at others given thick, haunting atmospherics. Would it be fair to look at Fear Factory’s back-catalogue as a journey, of sorts? And how do they themselves view the progression?
Burton – We’ve been doing this for 20 years, and over the years, the more you look at something, the better an eye you have for it, so I’d say we’ve become better craftsmen. When it comes to production, or creating the ‘sound’, or lighting: we’re getting better at it every time we do it. So this last album was probably the culmination of 20 years all coming together, and it was like ‘Hey, we know what we’re doing, we don’t NEED a producer, we can do this ourselves, because WE are producers’
There is a thematic link running throughout both ‘Mechanize’ and ‘Demanufacture’: one of the machine’s inevitable betrayal and the death of the human spirit, and as bleak a view as that is, it has NOTHING on the tale of failed rebellion told in ‘Obsolete’. It is, for the uninitiated, a window into a dystopian future; one where a fascist state rules with an iron fist and vicious machines. Through both the music itself, and a storyline detailed in the album inlay booklet, we are taken on a journey from a prison break, to the rise and fall of popular rebellion, through to the eventual capture and execution of the chief protagonist. Cheery subject matter it isn’t, and one that echoes one of the twentieth century’s angriest critics.
Burton – George Orwell: he was the one really who brought the man and machine thing together – the machine IS society, the machine is the establishment, and when you read ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984’, it’s that machine that really keeps the man down, and keeps US down, and that was my biggest influence as a kid. That, and reading Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, William Gibson, yeah, they bring a Science Fiction element into it: technology became involved, but the storyline always involved some type of chaos, within man himself, within society, and just trying to deal with everything, and that’s where it all comes together,
This attention to detail is a part of the precise nature of Fear Factory itself. It is NOT a quick process.
Burton – I’m constantly writing and constantly trying to put the ideas together – it’s like a puzzle in some ways, and even after the record’s done, I’m still trying to work out the best song sequence. During the writing I’ll take time to write the lyrics,….. Sometimes I’ll have words here and there,
Dino – It’s normally song titles that come first.
Burton – Usually we’ll come up with a song title, we put a title to what we’re writing – it generates an idea, it generates a concept or it generates discussion, and we start talking about it. Then I’ll come up with rhythms, but not necessarily words. And sometimes something will come out. It’s kinda hard to explain!
Dino – Sometimes he’ll write titles on the wall, just string out some words that work well together, like ‘CHRIST-PLOITATION’, and it seems to go well with THIS music we’re working on. Burton will sit there and think about it, watch movies, or the news…..
Burton – Or my own thoughts, or observations, and just put it all together. But just like the music is heavily thought out, the lyrics have to be thought out too you know – you have this moment, you might as well be intelligent about it, and have something to say.
Dino –After ‘Demanufacture’ we felt we needed to take it further. And it was kinda funny, because ‘Demanufacture’ got such excellent reviews, so when ‘Obsolete’ came out, a lot of journalists didn’t get the whole thing, and it kinda went over their heads, so ‘here’ (UK) it got a few mediocre reviews. Which means that ‘here’ it’s a great, under-rated record, but in America, it was bigger; for some reason they got it over there, but here, a lot of journalists slated it – it might have been because it was too intelligent, might have been just too much to think about at the time, but it’s a great record.
We wanted to make sure that record was special – we’d always talked about it during the recording of ‘Demanufacture’ – ‘That shit should be a movie, we should write the script’, and that’s what we did – we wrote a script, to ‘Obsolete’ – ‘the Fear Factory’ movie.
Plus, being big fans of all these Scifi movies, y’know ‘Terminator’, ‘Bladerunner’, really helped us put a picture to the sound we wanted to create. I remember when we were doing ‘Demanufacture’, we were mixing it down in an actual place where they put music to the movies, a scoring stage. So there’s a big screen, in front of the mixing board- and it’s a MOVIE screen, like you’d have AT THE MOVIES! And we were playing the movie ‘Dune’ listening to the record. We finished the mix, I was like ‘Put ‘Dune’ on’, and the over the beginning intro to Dune, we were listening to ‘Zero Signal’
Another aspect of Fear Factory is their willingness to take risks and experiment. Nowadays there is a grudging acceptance that a metal track can be remixed. If you rewind the clock to ‘Fear is the Mindkiller’, the companion piece to ‘Soul of a New Machine’, the idea of remixing and retooling, while not exactly unheard of, was not all that common.
Dino – At the time, it just felt like a fun, cool thing to do, but we realised it was also an important thing for our career for us to make those records, as sometimes when you’re in a band, you got a certain idea, but you push it too far, the fans don’t like it, so we created other avenues where we’d have a little more freedom to push the idea further – and everyone’s fine with ‘It’s not a real album, it’s a remix album’. People took it seriously, but also, not seriously at all, not like ‘Fuck those guys!’
Burton – Those records were very necessary to us evolving, especially ‘Fear is the Mindkiller’, which came between ‘Soul of a New Machine’ and ‘Demanufacture’ – that record really, really helped us create our sound, helped us define our sound – “This is who we wanna be, this is who we are: This. Is. It.’