With the release of their new album ‘Obsolete’, Andrián Pertout speaks to Fear Factory’s guitarist Dino Cazares from Los Angeles about heavy metal in the 90s.
Fear Factory was formed in LA in 1990, and after five albums has only but transcended the expectations of its phenomenal global fan base, by their lyrical hoverings of indignant social comment, and a musicality that bequeaths the pure alternative, dance, industrial and metal sound. The line-up features vocalist Burton C. Bell, guitarist Dino Cazares, bassist Christian Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera, and some of their side projects include several albums under the names of ‘Brujeria’ and their Spanish denomination of ‘Factoria De Miedo’. The latest Fear Factory ‘away-from-home’ adventure is the notable guest appearances by Burton, Dino and Christian on the ‘Soulfly’ project, being the new banner of Sepultura’s co-founder Max Cavalera. ‘Obsolete’ was produced by former ‘Front Line Assembly’ member Rhys Fulber, who incidentally was also responsible for directing their 1992 remix EP ‘Fear is the Mindkiller’. The theme of ‘Obsolete’ is a continuum of the ‘man versus machine’ and ‘organic versus digital’ saga, and represents the third chapter dedicated to the exploration of Fear Factory’s unique sound.
Do you feel somewhat lucky today after the weekend’s incident in San Francisco, where your plane blew an engine after its departure?
DC: “It’s true, it really happened, and I’m feeling very lucky (chuckles). You see, what happened was I was leaving on… (Dino takes a short pause) What day is it today? Today is Tuesday. Saturday night I left, from New York to San Francisco, and I was supposed to get on the plane that night and be here Monday morning, right. So as the plane was taking off in San Francisco, we were like getting close to the clouds, and one of the engines started to shoot sparks off. People were freaking out, it was really loud, the plane was shaking, and the plane was kind of like tilted to the side, flying like that, going up. And it was pretty scary, you know what I mean, it was pretty scary. The guy said for everybody to calm down. We had to make an emergency landing, and the guy actually had to drop fuel out of the plane, because you can’t make an emergency landing with a full tank of gas. ‘Cause that’s high-octane fuel, it’s aeroplane fuel and extremely combustible, and could have blown up. It was a bit of a hard landing (Dino smacks the table to demonstrate), poooorsh! Plus, with the sparks, it’s crazy. So anyway, we land, and the fire trucks are there, they put it out, shhhh! Everybody had to make an emergency exit, and then we were gonna hook up to another flight, right. And I was thinking to myself, ‘Fuck it, I ain’t going! I’m not gonna go. I’m scared to get back on a plane. I’m not gonna go.’ But Australia was pulling me, ‘Come, come,’ so you know, I’m here, and I’m really happy to be here. (Exhaustion getting the better of him, Dino takes another short pause.) And I’m gonna have a sleep (chuckles).”
How did the musical genesis of Fear Factory come about?
DC: “Shoo! It’s a really long evolution. We started off as a really heavy band, right. But we wanted a name that just stood out, a name that had a reason behind it, a concept, and Fear Factory was the name that we came up with. So we had the name, now we just had to come up with the music. Me and Raymond were playing really heavy stuff, you know what I mean, really heavy stuff. And me and Burton had another band, we were doing like some kind of side project, industrial, gothic stuff. So when Fear Factory actually got together, it was me, Burton and Raymond, and we were kind of like doing really heavy industrial gothic music, and it just kind of evolved from there. Each demo recording that we did got heavier and heavier, and heavier, to where we came up with ‘Soul of a New Machine’, which was a very heavy album, inspired by a lot of death metal music. And it came out in the early nineties, when that kind of music was really popular. You know, everybody was like, ‘Wowrr!’ Everybody was screaming, death metal growls and everything. But we wanted to stand apart and do something melodic, and Burton’s singing on some of the tracks made us stand out, he was pushing the envelope of our genre of music. So then we realized, ‘Wow, this melodic vocal really works with the band, let’s keep it, let’s incorporate it.’ That’s what we did.
”We put out ‘Fear is the Mindkiller’ in 1993, which is industrial, techno re-mixes, with death metal, industrial techno death metal, right. We combined all three styles, and we thought, ‘Why don’t we push the envelope even more, and try to create something new.’ So we got Rhys Fulber, back in 1992, and he did the re-mixes for us. I was there, and it’s the first time I’ve ever experienced anything like that. The two genres of music just fucking really, really worked. The aggressive guitars, and all the electronic sampling just worked! It was like, ‘Wow!’ We felt like we created something new here, and that EP inspired a lot of people, and it inspired us to do ‘Demanufacture’, which was a very mechanical sounding album. It was very tight, and we sampled all the guitars. And we recorded all the drums, put them in Pro Tools, and added electronic kicks with the live kicks. Then we’re like, ‘It’s too organic, let’s take the live kicks out and just use the electronic kicks.’ So that’s why it sounds almost like a typewriter effect on the album, very mechanical sounding drums. Kind of like no feeling, we took all organic feeling out, so it made it sound even more colder. And our drummer recorded with a click track on his headphones, and let’s say one of the songs is like a hundred and twenty beats per minute, we left it at that all the way through the song. Where actually as humans, we’d be playing like different tempos, you know what I mean, ‘cause these humans aren’t perfect. So we set one tempo, every song had a different tempo, but it didn’t fluctuate, it just stayed the same, so it was very much kind of stale sounding, very mechanical. And I recorded riffs, we sampled riffs, and made them even more together with the drums, the tightest you can get mechanically, beyond human. I mean, if you got that tight as a human, you got lucky (chuckles). We did it all with Pro Tools, and it took a long time.“
What do you consider as the primary essence of the band’s concept, and the major reason for its worldwide appeal? What do you think people like about the band?
DC: “That we’re an open minded band, that we’re a band that can show more than one face, and we’ve proven that over the years. I think we really broke the mould with ‘Fear is the Mindkiller’ back in 1993. A lot of people knew that Fear Factory wasn’t a typical death metal band, but it could have been. ‘Fear is the Mindkiller’ is what opened more doors for us, and allowed a band like Fear Factory to experiment a little more. And ‘Remanufacture’ was something that confused a lot of people, a lot of people thought we were going to be the next techno band. But we decided on ‘Obsolete’ to do what we felt was what the band was about.”
Tell me about your set-up. How do you get your most unique heavy-duty distortion sound?
DC: “Mine, it’s pretty simple. I created and developed the sound over the years, just years of experimenting with different amplifiers, different pedals and different modifications, till finally I found this modification that worked really well with what I wanted to do. I had a pre-amp built inside a Marshall JC-800 head, and I really liked the JC-800 head because it had this traditional Marshall sound that I liked. Like if you turn up to ten, you get this really full crunch. But you see, I didn’t wanna have to turn up to ten to get the sound, I wanted to turn up to two and still have the same sound, so I can practice in my house (chuckles). So I had this guy build my head for me, and it sounded amazing. So now I needed the right guitar, I went through all these guitars, all these pickups and so on, and so on. And now it’s evolved to a seven-string guitar, and the whole guitar is tuned down to A (Dino then questions my musical understanding). Every string is not A!”
Yeah I know, I’m a keyboard-player, but I’m not that stupid.
DC: “(Laughs) And then I had this pickup specially built for me, because it had certain frequencies that I wanted. EMG is the name of the company, and they made a pickup called the ‘81’, which is an active pickup. But because it was a seven-string it had an extra coil, so you had to put extra wire on it, and in doing that it started to sound thin, so when they made the pickup for me, I got an ‘81’ and an ‘85’, and we put them both together. We made one pickup out of it, and that’s kind of what created my sound. It had the warmth and the thickness of the ‘85’, and it had the top-end frequencies that I wanted, the top end crunch basically, from the ‘81’. So the combination of the two worked really well for me, and that’s what kind of like developed my sound to now.”
What other interesting gear does the band utilize?
DC: “We try to simplify everything live, ‘cause I don’t wanna go out there and be a slave to a bunch of machines. I don’t wanna go out there with a computer, I don’t wanna go out there with tapes, I don’t wanna go out there with many keyboards, or many samplers. So we kind of condense everything down to a K2500 keyboard, it’s a Kurzweil, the new one. And we fully racked it with memory, we’ve got about an hour’s worth of memory on there, yeah. So we put the whole live set on that, you know, that’s like a simple set-up, one keyboard, and we have a backup one ready in case it goes down. We also have an Akai S3000 sampler that we use for drums, and Raymond’s able to trigger different sounds and change drum sets. Those are the things that bring us closer to sounding like the record. It’s the drums and the keyboards, my guitar’s my guitar, it’s always gonna be the same. You know, Burton’s vocals are the same, and Christian’s bass is the same. I mean, we’re only human, we’re gonna mess it live.”
Tell me about your new album ‘Obsolete’, and its theme based on the ideological notion that ‘man is obsolete’.
DC: “What we wanted to do on ‘Obsolete’ was kind of like bring back the human feeling that we lost, we wanted to use some real drums on the record, and not trigger everything. We wanted a more organic feeling on this record, and because ‘Demanufacture’ had such a mechanical feel to it, tempo wise and everything, what we did with the drums was we decided to move the click track around. And give it more like a hundred and twenty beats per minute, to a hundred and eighteen, going back to a hundred and twenty-five, so kind of like shifting with Raymond. So it’s Raymond working with the machine, making the machine more human, you know what I mean. And with my guitars, I played to Raymond’s drums, and they sampled parts, to then actually time-stretch it, and make it fit perfectly into what Raymond was playing. Like a song like ’Hi-tech Hate’ that’s on there, ‘Securitron’ or ‘Smasher Devourer’ (Dino proceeds to do a vocal and table-tapping demonstration) Chh, chh chh… It’s like the guitar and drums are basically one, every hit, every snare, every bass drum hit is like a riff, pam, pa pam. And we put it back into Pro Tools and put it really, really tight. ‘Cause you see, if you don’t put it tight, there’s gonna be a flam (Dino hits out a flam). So it became one, and that kind of like still gives it a mechanical feel, but at the same time the tempo’s shifting, so it gives it I guess, the man-machine sound.
”Conceptually we wanted to say that man has become obsolete, because of the machine. Because of the system machine, it could be the government machine, it could be just technology, how it’s ending up in the wrong hands, and how it’s possibly changing our future. ‘Cause we are becoming lazier because of all this technology that’s making our lives easier. Right now scientists are actually coming up with machines that are thinking more like humans, right. And pretty soon they’re gonna perfect that and make it think even more intellectual, and more stronger than human. On this record, we’re saying that man has already created this machine, that is like that, and it’s made man obsolete because the machine can do everything on it’s own already. It could build other machines, it could teach other machines, it could create other machines, and it could be human. So now that these machines are doing everything, they don’t need you anymore, you’re obsolete. You job is obsolete, your purpose is obsolete, you have no purpose, that’s what we’re saying. It’s not like preaching to somebody, it’s just like a possible future that could happen.”
‘Obsolete’ displays some amazing production techniques. How did Rhys Fulber create the sub sonic thrust of ‘Shock’ and other tracks in the studio? Especially on the first track, you can really feel it when the vocals come in.
DC: “Yeah, it’s just an 808 (Dino attempts an 808 simulation) puhrrrr, it’s just an 808 sample, that’s all it is, it’s just like taken from hip-hop bands. We just wanted it to like really have a strong impact, you know what I mean. And it was Rhys’s idea to put an 808 there, just to give more of a stronger impact, when the song first came on. The very, very beginning of the song is actually a sample that he took from our rehearsal studio. It’s when Raymond was playing the beat, and he took that, kind of filtered it, took a lot of the low end out of it, and gave it like a phaser effect. So the intro you hear is actually Raymond playing drums, but Rhys sampled him playing and just like created something really cool out of it. So when the first riff comes in, the kick goes da la la… (Dino demonstrates on the table) I can’t even do it live, it’s a weird beat! (he re-attempts the simulation) So I’m actually playing the riff with the tune, and then we put it all into Pro Tools. I think that’s what took us the longest, the Pro Tools. We actually hired three people to do all the Pro Tools for us, as we went along with the project.”
In a previous interview, Burton recalls an event where you end up in jail for simply fitting the description of a ‘long-haired Mexican’.
Is this just one isolated incident where society has let you down, or is this practically the real face of the American way of life? Where does the anger in the lyrics come from?
DC: “Well, on a world scale, something that really pisses me off is that everybody right now wants to own the nuclear bomb. That’s technology that can destroy man with one button, one push of the finger. That pisses me off, that’s what ‘Hi-tech Hate’ is about. It’s about those cowards who hide behind other people, like with Sadam Hussein and the Gulf war, when he basically disappeared and went underground, or wherever he went to. He was a coward, he just let everybody else fucking die and fight for him. So that’s more like a worldly anger, and I guess those are the things that kind of like fuel our fire. Even issues like in Chiapa, in Mexico, where the government is trying to take away land from the Indians, that pisses me off. And I get inspired by certain people that are fighting for those people, like Commander Marcos. That’s the guy who’s like leading the revolutionary army in Mexico, who’s fighting for those people. And those people are the kind of people that inspire me to do what I do, and talk about what I talk about, just to give people an awareness of what’s going on out there. I mean, let’s say it did happen, people going, ‘Fuck, I heard Fear Factory talking about that years ago!’
“It’s just like scientists can create this stuff, but it always takes someone else to come up with the idea. Like ‘The Boys from Brazil’, whoever thought we can really clone people, whoever thought we’d ever get to that in 1984. 1984 is happening now. Brave new world, that’s what ‘Securitron’ is about, it’s about actually not having any place to hide whatsoever. You’ve been monitored twenty-four hours a day, wherever you are, you’re monitored. Securitron’s an actual organization that’s been created by the government for that purpose, to be monitored, so they know every move that you make. And Securitron controls the ‘Police 2000’, which is the police in the future. Securitron also controls ‘Smasher Devourer’, a character made by man, who is there to destroy man, to destroy humanity. And this guy’s able to basically destroy anything in it’s path, any lifeform, anything standing, he’s basically like a clean-up man, almost like a terminator. That’s what he’s there for. And ‘Edgecrusher’ is the character on the actual concept of the album that’s trying to fight back for humanity. He’s like the revolutionary leader for humans, and he’s the only human in the whole concept of the album.”
What is the heavy metal scene like in Los Angeles?
DC: “Everywhere it goes, they’ve got their own scene happening, you know what I mean. Like I was in New York, and they have like a hard core scene on there. They’ve had that for years. In LA it’s really weird, because LA’s very trendy. Whatever’s hot, that’s what people are into. Glam was hot! Everybody did that. Grunge was hot! Everybody switched to grunge. You know, ‘Korn’ is very popular nowadays, and now everybody is sounding like ‘Korn’! Who knows what the next phase is gonna be! I’ve always been proud of Fear Factory, that we came out of California, but we always managed to stay away from the typical California trend. The typical California trend is to follow the trend, and we’ve always managed to stay away from that.”
How would you compare it to the general vibe of other cities around the world?
DC: “In Europe it seems like everything’s pop there. People like everything there, people seem to be more open-minded than Americans are, although it is marketing. In Europe kids hold on to music more, they like it, they love it. Whereas in America everything is marketable, and whatever is the sound on TV, that’s what people buy, that’s about it.”
Do you have a vision for the future of Fear Factory?
DC: “Touring (laughs), touring. A vision for the future, that’s a good question. No, I don’t. I don’t have a vision for the future. I know that we’ll still be together, I know that we’ll still be making music, I just don’t know what yet. It’s gonna take a few years to think that one over. Maybe it’ll take longer, it may take five years before we actually decide what we’re gonna do next. That’s just how we are, I like to take everything that we do to the next level.”
“Obsolete” out on Roadrunner Records. For more information take a cyber tour on the Fear Factory Official Australian Web Site, or the Roadrunner Records Home Page.
'Mixdown' Monthly ~ Issue #52, August 5, 1998
BEAT MAGAZINE PTY LTD
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