“Ha-ha, sucks to be you man,” Burton C. Bell taunts down the line when I tell him it’s seven a.m at that very moment.
“It’s 5.15 in the afternoon on the East Coast of the United States here in Columbia, South Carolina. It’s 98 degrees, which is about 38 for you……”
So begins my day being laughed at by the vocalist from metal Gods Fear Factory.
With their latest release, Genexus, only days away from being released at the time, Burton is in a great mood and seems happy to talk openly about the good times and bad of the band he has been in as the only constant member for 23 years now.
“First of all, to be the only member of the band that’s been here since its inception, it’s been quite a ride!” he enthused.
“It’s a ride that I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of. We’ve been through a lot – but then again so have a lot of bands – but for some reason the internet/tabloid part of this band seems to be followed more than most but the band has evolved. We’ve experimented and we’ve blended in a host of other styles to make our own sound. We’ve found our identity and I believe that the fans know when they hear a new Fear Factory song that it’s a Fear Factory song. To me that’s quite a feat of success in itself.”
When Fear Factory first exploded onto the scene in the 90’s Burton’s vocal style of screaming and singing was fresh and innovative and over the years has often been copied to varying degrees of success. Many bands either didn’t do it or had two different vocalists handling the duties but it was Burton’s pioneering style of merging the two together that has left a lasting impression on the whole Metal scene.
“It’s something that I did as kind of a joke,” he laughed.
“I was just playing around at first. We were writing a song and just for fun I started singing that way and the boys were like ‘Whoa!! What are you doing?’ and I was like, ‘um, I don’t know’ and they went ‘do it again it sounds great’ and just that changed the whole vibe of the band and for me as a fledgling vocalist I was imitating and trying to emulate my favorite singers and it just came out my own way and I just went with it. We created a style that people are influenced by and that’s great. I should have trademarked it!! Ha-ha”
Fear Factory is a band that isn’t afraid to experiment with their sound and music, and as such they have covered many sub genres of Metal over their nine album career, but Burton says this was more a case of the band experimenting within themselves rather than trying to please the masses.
“We were just trying to find our sound,” he explained.
“For instance, the first record was all over the place. We experimented with it to the point we didn’t even know what to do with it! By the second one we really came into our own, it was where we found our sound and I really believe we stuck with that from there.”
Another thing Fear Factory are renowned for is their love of making their releases conceptually based, which is no different on Genexus.
The process of writing to a concept is something which many bands try or at least think of at some stage of their careers, but is not as prolific as is the case with Fear Factory.
“It’s quite a challenge the whole concept thing,” Burton said.
“It’s definitely a process of writing, then when it’s done I tie it together conceptually and that’s the challenge. I enjoy doing that. I enjoy creating stories and I love creating worlds, it’s fun.”
“Lyrically putting it together and describing what each song is about and tying it in is a lot of work. I really sit down in front of my typewriter and come up with a story. I think about things like ‘okay, what is this world that we’re talking about?’ And I create this world in my head. I start creating a script – I don’t know how better to describe it.”
The common thread through the concepts over the albums is man versus machine and the complications that can arise from it, and is in no small way based on a belief of science and associated ideas.
“I love Science Fiction,” Burton exclaimed.
“For me it’s every aspect of my life. I collect it. I collect movies. I read books. I watch T.V shows. I read about technology. I read about space. It’s what i love. I like the fiction of it and I like the non – fiction of it. It’s a passion that I have and through music is how I share it.”
That technology that he writes about with his music is one thing that has seen the music world and the world he lives in evolve and change over the lifespan of Fear Factory, and although there are many things he doesn’t like about the way it has changed the industry, Burton sees it as a now necessary evil.
“I think it’s just the way of the world,” he offered, “because of the sheer scope and size of what’s available makes music more accessible now. Whereas before the average person had to go to a record store and buy an album and listen to see what it sounded like, now they can go to things like Spotify and hear it for free and then decide if you like it. That’s one of the benefits of the world-wide web is that it introduces people to more sounds and ideas.”
“What’s difficult in this age is trying to survive as a band because bands now have to put out a record just so they can tour because no one is buying the records any more and every day on stage we say if you like this music then you’re going to have to support the artist because if you don’t there is no way they can go out and tour and be on the road. I try to make that clear every night. It’s part of an endemic situation and it’s a part of the problem too. Don’t just buy or download the record but actually get out and go to the concert and show your support. That’s what’s keeping us alive.”
Last time Fear Factory were in Australia they played a show in Townsville, and when I ask him if there’s any chance of making it a bit further North on the next round Burton was enthusiastic.
“I would love to!” he said.
“Just get a promoter to get us there, that’s all there is to it.”
The word is out there. Now we just need to make that happen.
Genexus is out now from all good record outlets.
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