29 August 2006
Words by Simon Milburn
Transgression was an album that instantly became a point of contention for Fear Factory fans. Some loved it. Some hated it. Others were undecided. It certainly caused some healthy discussion in the metal world. But either way, Fear Factory have had no problems touring on the back of the album for the best part of the last twelve months.
Fear Factory's last headlining tour of Australia was way back in 2001. Of course, things took a serious downward turn for the band not long after that with vocalist Burton C. Bell announcing his resignation from the band due to issues with then guitarist Dino Cazares. Cazares, bassist Christian Olde-Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera dissolved the band.
But Fear Factory wasn't dead. Olde-Wolbers and Herrera started working on new material and then showed it to Bell. Strapping Young Lad bassist Byron Stroud entered the picture to replace Olde-Wolbers who was now the band's guitarist. The result was 2004's Archetype. The band made it to Australia as a part of Korn's touring package but they have yet to do a proper headlining tour of Australia since that ill fated 2001 tour.
Finally, for the first time in almost five years, the band are due to head back to Australia to do just that. “We just left rehearsals. We just started Fear Factory rehearsals today because we're gonna be leaving on Tuesday to go to Hungary. We're gonna start our European tour in Hungary,” begins Herrera. At home in Los Angeles, California (U.S.A.) after about a month and a half at home and just days before leaving for Europe before heading to Australia, I caught up with Herrera to discuss the band's pending shows down under, his perspective on the power related incidents in Luxembourg earlier this year, the changes to the band's writing process he would like to see happen, and his opinions on the band's latest album, Transgression.
It's always interesting to get a band members perspective on the reaction their most recent effort has received from both press and fans alike. I had asked vocalist Burton C. Bell that question only a couple of months after the album's release and now, almost twelve months since the release of Transgression, it was time to revisit that question to see how the album's reception has been as far as Herrera sees it.
“I think it's been good. It's been kind of interesting. We've had some reaction from Europe that was mediocre and then we've had other reactions that were that this was the best record that we've ever done. It's kind of weird this time. This time, it's almost like it's varied depending on who you ask. Usually, every record you pretty much get the same kind of feel - everybody's really excited about it, they think it's great. But on this one, it was almost either you loved it or your hated it. It was weird. So go figure. It was pretty interesting.”
The band has had some interesting responses to their last two albums. When they released Archetype, their first album without long time guitarist Dino Cazares, the band were criticised for it being just another Fear Factory album. A year and a bit later, they unleashed Trangression, an album that clearly threw the cat amongst the pigeons as far as Fear Factory releases go, and the response is very divided.
“What happened on this record is that it is a little different than what we've done and it's kind of funny because when we did Archetype, the whole point of Archetype was to prove that this is still Fear Factory and the new Fear Factory can sound just as good or better than the old Fear Factory. So the new record was kind of more of a different approach and before, on Archetype it was like 'Oh well, it just sounds like the same Fear Factory' and it was like, 'Well that was the point!' But then we go and do something a little different on Transgression and some people are saying 'It doesn't sound like Fear Factory any more'”, laughs Herrera heartily. “You can't make everybody happy; not that we were trying, but it just goes to show, y'know?”
But whilst the critics and fans responses to an album is one thing, it is important to consider the level of the artists own satisfaction with their product. Herrera acknowledges that it isn't quite as heavy as he would have liked.
“I would've personally liked something more heavier throughout. But I'm just one person in the band. I'm probably more the metal head in the band. So for me, I'm more into the heavier, more fearsome, fast stuff. So I would've maybe liked it to be a little harder and heavier. There are a few tracks that are very heavy, very Fear Factory-esque. But of course, there are some other tracks that are very different, which is something that we also do a lot as well. We kind of change things up a little bit sometimes. I kinda like that. I like the fact that we can do a wide array of metal and still make it sound like Fear Factory y'know?”
Fear Factory have never been afraid to try new things such as remixes, cover songs and some of the more atmospheric and gentler material (such as Timelessness on 1998's Obsolete). Transgression could almost be considered to be just another experiment for Fear Factory in that regard.
“Yeah, pretty much. I mean, if anything every album except for Archetype was an experiment of you want to try something different, something a little new. You want to try to break out of the shell just a little bit and we've been pretty much been known for doing that from the get go anyways. So, it's kind of interesting when people are like 'that's a little different', or 'it doesn't sound like us' or whatever. Everybody's entitled obviously to their opinion.”
When it came to writing Transgression, it comes as no surprise that most of it was written on tour given the compressed time frame between its release and that of its predecessor, Archetype.
“We pretty much wrote most of it on tour actually. Christian and I wrote pretty much 70% of the record, musically, on the road. So by the time we got home to start writing the record, we were pretty much almost done.”
With Herrera being well aware of the music that would become the album, when the time came for Bell to lay down his vocals, the drummer admits that he not expecting to hear clean vocals.
“I actually was a little surprised by that. But I think it sounds good. I think the vocals sounded really good on this record. I think Toby (Wright, producer) did a really good job with Burt. I think it sounded really good. Definitely more on the cleaner side, but I definitely enjoyed it anyway.”
Some musicians and song writers may have a preconceived idea as to what the final result will sound like, but this was not the case for Herrera.
“Well, I kind of didn't, because Christian and I actually put eighteen songs together. So we didn't know which songs where gonna make it on the record because we had a few other songs that were actually really fast. If we had've put those songs in place of the slower songs, it might have drastically changed the record. So I didn't really know what it was gonna sound like. On top of all of that, Burt actually didn't even start doing any vocals for the tracks til maybe four months before the record came out. Christian and I had spent the year before that off and on writing the record, so I really had no idea of what the vocals were really gonna sound like in the end.”
As with all experiments, a part of the process should be learning from the experience. True to that theory, Herrera, although initially a little unsure, is definitely aware of what he will be keeping in mind when it comes time to write the next album.
“If anything, I would've probably liked Burt to interact more with us as we were writing the record. That's probably the only thing I would change that we're probably gonna change for this next time around. I think I'm so used to writing around guitars and writing with guitars, that it would be nice for me for a change to actually write around what Burt was singing. A lot of times, Burt does his lyrics and vocals so late in the game that I've already kind of committed to my parts, because I try to... during pre-production, I really concentrate on what I'm doing and try to make things more interesting and add other little nuances that I do on the songs that really kind of add to each song's character. A lot of times when I'm doing that, I'm not doing that with vocals either. If I had the vocals, I think I could actually write my parts a lot better. So that would probably be the one thing I'd like to change ... maybe have a little bit more networking between the drums and the vocals as much as there is between the drums and guitars, which is what we're known for, y'know?”
Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise to find out that things are already underway for the next Fear Factory record.
“I've done four songs so far. Two of the songs, Christian hasn't even heard yet and Burt hasn't even heard yet either. It's still really early in the game and we're not really concentrating on the next record because we've got so much touring coming up. Slowly but surely, we will be writing more stuff on the road and hopefully get stuff to Burt sooner and maybe he can start interacting with us sooner in the writing process.”
When it comes to understanding why it has been difficult to get Bell involved in the writing process whilst the band are on tour, Herrera concedes that he isn't entirely sure.
“I don't really know what the definite answer is. I guess it could just be that Burt's state of mind is on touring and not so much on writing at that time. If I had to take a guess, maybe that would be it. I know part of the problem last time is that he didn't ask for music and we just assumed that he really didn't want to start yet. So part of the problem has really been us as well, y'know? It's kind of like the don't ask, don't tell thing but at the same time, I definitely want to make it more of a focal point that Burt starts writing a little bit earlier. It's just one of the things. It's like, I'll be doing records for the next ten years and I'll probably still learn something new every time. It's always different. Even if you're working with the same people, there's always different situations in life that you gotta work around and that's what makes it different.”
With the amount of touring that Fear Factory have completed to this point since the release of Transgression, it probably shouldn't be any surprise that new material has started to surface. In the last almost twelve months, they took part in last year's inaugural Gigantour, then toured with Strapping Young Lad, Darkane and Soilwork before hitting the European trails more recently with Misery Index and every tour has been important to the band for different reasons.
“Well Gigantour was really good for us because it was a great setup for the record. We were on the road like four weeks before the record hit, so that was great. It was a really good pre-push so to speak. The Fall tour we did with Strapping and with Soilwork and Darkane, that was just a really good metal tour. It was kind of good to put a tour like that together which was actually why we put the tour together here in the States during the Fall this year that's real heavy. It just feels really good to tour with a bunch of really heavy bands. The tour we did in Europe with Misery Index, that was the first tour for the Transgression record, so that was really special for us.”
With touring always comes plenty of stories. Some are hilarious, drunken antics, whilst others can be of a more serious nature. In Luxembourg on May 6 this year whilst on tour with Misery Index, Fear Factory can chalk up another in the serious category of tour stories. The band endured several power interruptions during their set before Bell was reportedly electrocuted towards the end of the band's set.
“Well, essentially what happened is, we were told before we went on stage that there was a power problem in the venue. So we were like, 'Ok, well, we'll see what happens.' So, we start playing and I think halfway through the second song, the power went out. Then, I think after the fourth or fifth song, Burt got shocked from the mic, and then I think a song later, Christian got shocked because he's doing back vocals. Then nothing really happened for two songs and then I think it was during Archetype, Burt got shocked again. It shocked him so hard that he fell to the floor. After that, he was like 'That's it. I can't take any more.' But at that point, we had already pretty much done the entire set. We had done about an hour and twenty minutes at that point. So it's not like it was gonna be a huge issue for us to not continue to play anymore. But I didn't blame Burt. I was like 'Well, how can I argue with that?' So essentially, that's what happened. Luckily, he didn't get shocked enough the first time, because the first time, we would've only been like two or three songs into the set. Fans would have been really disappointed, and we probably had some legal issues with the venue. I'm not glad that it happened to Burt, but I'm glad it happened when it happened and we were able to just say 'We can't do this anymore', and I'm sure the fans could understand as well.”
After being around for some fourteen or fifteen years, those sorts of power outages are nothing new to the band in one form or another.
“Well we've had issues with the power going out before. We've done a few festivals where it's rained so hard that everything started getting wet on stage and all the power went out. That's happened a couple of times. But as far as things like that, natural stuff I guess, it's happened a few times and I'm sure it's not gonna be the last time.”
Two thousand and six is continuing to be a frantic touring year for Fear Factory. Later in the year, they team up with Suffocation and Decapitated to storm the U.S.A. but in the mean time, they are returning to our fine shores once again.
“Yeah, yeah, the tour we've got going here in the Fall is gonna be really good. But the tour we got going in Australia is pretty good too! We're bringing Devil Driver and Dry Kill Logic. That's gonna be pretty interesting.”
Dry Kill Logic? This is the first I've heard of this. (Note that this interview was conducted around six weeks before the tour and there was no word announced at this stage of any other bands on the bill other than Fear Factory and Devil Driver.)
“Yep. Dry Kill Logic, Devil Driver and Fear Factory. It's gonna be a really good tour. This is gonna be the first time we actually take a package to Australia. We've never done that before. The last time we came out with the Korn package, and we did the Big Day Out there with Metallica and all the other big bands out there. That was a lot of fun too!”
It's surprising how easily the whole package came together.
“We're friends with Devil Driver, and our booking agent actually does a lot of business with them, and said 'Hey, y'know these guys aren't doing anything at that time and they are actually interested in going to Australia.' So we were like, 'What the hell! Let's take 'em with us!' So we worked it out financially and they were down to do it. Then I got an email from Cliff (Rigano), the singer from Dry Kill, and he emailed me saying 'Hey, I heard you guys are going to Australia. We'd really like to go with you guys.' We essentially made it work. So yeah... all three bands are gonna be out there. It should be really good.”
Fear Factory could almost have made Australia their second home with the number of times that they have toured down here. Not that this is a complaint, merely an observation.
“Well, we've done really in Australia. We've got two gold records there. We've always done really well out there. Since the band was selling a lot of records there, we got a lot of offers to go out there. Essentially, it just came to the point where we got an offer and we decided to do it pretty much every time we got asked to go out there. For us it was great. It's a really long flight for us, but as far as when you're there, it's a really great country... the fans are great...we just do really well out there.”
It has been a while since we've seen Fear Factory do a full on headlining set down here. Prior to 2004's Korn tour package, Fear Factory's last Australian tour ended with their third last show with Dino Cazares in 2001. Herrera made a recent statement about their upcoming U.S. tour that will showcase some Fear Factory songs that haven't been played in sometime. The question must be asked as to whether Australian fans will be that fortunate.
“Ahh, well that's what the plan is. We're planning to do a lot of the older stuff, like the faster, heavier stuff ... so we'll see what happens. It's a headlining tour so we'll be able to play a lot of songs. That's the good thing about it!”
Fear Factory's latest album, Transgression, is out now on Roadrunner Records through Universal Music Australia. Fear Factory are touring Australia with Devil Driver and Dry Kill Logic playing the following shows: September 15, The Tivoli, Brisbane; September 16, Luna Park, Sydney; September 17, The Palace, Melbourne; September 19, Metro, Perth. For more information on Fear Factory, check out www.fearfactory.com.
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