Part-time metal-head and long-time Fear Factory fan Michael Bowser recently had the honour of speaking to none other than FF vocalist Burton C. Bell about his new band project and album, both sharing the name City Of Fire, and was suitably humbled by this contemporary metal legend’s easy-going and friendly nature.
Michael Bowser, Melbourne, Music Vice – So, City Of Fire is of course a new band formed by yourself and Fear Factory bassist Byron Stroud…tell us a little about the “philosophy” behind the new band, and what inspired the band’s name?
Well, technically I was brought into the band…this is a band started by Byron Stroud. His old band called Caustic Thought, which was a band that he had before Strapping Young Lad, in the early nineties…they were a three-piece, and a couple of years ago they did a some reunion shows in Vancouver and they had a good time, and they were like, “Hey, let’s get back to recording this music!” So they brought in another guy from Vancouver, Terry “Sho” Murray, to help with the writing and add a bit of a different flavour to the music…and when they recorded a demo, they were like, “Wow, this sounds pretty good!” So Byron gave me a call and…y’know, Byron and I talked about it a lot, we became friends during the Fear Factory days and we have a lot of similar taste in music, same kind of background, a lot of the same interests in music, and we know a lot of the same people, so…he sent me a demo and I loved it, and so I was like, “Yeah, I wanna be a part of this!” So they flew me out to Vancouver and we started rehearsing as a band, and tracking demos, and it really started feeling good and I became really close to the guys. I like all of them a lot, we have a really great working relationship, and it was a lot of fun! And soon it was “Wow, this is like a band! We’re gonna have to start thinking of a NAME!”
We knew Caustic Thought wasn’t gonna be the band name, it was a whole different beast, so we just starting thinking, and thought of different words, trying to brainstorm and draw things together…City Of Fire came up, and it kind of stuck with us. And Byron and I started thinking about it a lot, y’know, “What is City Of Fire?” And to me, it really represents the city of Vancouver a lot: Even though it’s a very rainy city, y’know, it rains at least 60% of the year, but…it’s a highly creative city, and there’s so much going on, that it’s like the city’s on fire with life and creativity and there’s an energy to it, it’s on FIRE! To me, (the name) really represented the town that the band is from, and how we feel about it. Really, for us, there is no constraint on lyrics or sound; it’s whatever we wanna write, whatever we’re feeling…unlike Fear Factory or Strapping Young Lad, it’s just…whatever inspires us in this town, that’s what we’re gonna write about.
Do you, kind of, “cop any flack” for being the new guy?
Ah, y’know, no flack at all! I got twenty years under my belt, twenty years experience as a vocalist, and they respect me and I respect them. We’re all musicians in our own right. Everybody in this band is a part of a DIFFERENT band, has been in the business for at least twenty years. I’m the only American in the band…everyone else is from Canadian bands, except for Byron, he’s in Fear Factory, and also (Canadian band) Zimmers Hole. Terry “Sho” Murray’s in a Canadian band called ShoCore. Bob Wagner, the drummer, was in Econoline Crush for a while; he was in ShoCore as well. Ian White’s been in a lot of local, post-punk kinda bands in Vancouver for the past twenty years. So we’re all bringing our own thing to the table.
I was gonna ask, and you vaguely touched on this already: An area is which I think you’ve been “freed up” a bit is in the LYRICS department. With Fear Factory, of course, the emphasis tends to be on technology and tyranny and dehumanisation and so forth, but with this project there seems to be songs which are just about…sex and love and, y’know, just about “life” on a more general scale…
Life…exactly! And there was a lot of freedom with that, and it’s very comfortable and…Terry actually helps me write some of the lyrics. We get together and we just come up with ideas, he throws a couple of things in and it’s like, “Wow, that works!” So it’s very free, it’s very EASY for me, and it’s a lot of fun.
I’ve only had the chance to listen to the album a couple of times so far, but one of the first things that strikes me as being different to Fear Factory is a willingness to explore more, dare I say, “mellow” soundscapes, including the fairly expansive use of acoustic guitar. You also get the chance to “sing” a little more, though we do of course get at least a liberal dose of the patented Burton C. Bell “roar”! Any comments?
Yeah, well, y’know…it’s not a “metal” band. It’s a HARD ROCK band. It’s influenced by a lot of 70’s rock, a lot of post-punk, a lot of “psychedelic”…we wanna bring sexiness back to rock ‘n’ roll! Remember the good old days when male singers in bands would just scream out “WOMAN!”…you don’t hear that any more, it’s just a bunch of kids, a bunch of screamo kids, just screaming for no reason, you know..(laughter)…
This is music for ADULTS, I feel. We’re all forty years-old, we’re seasoned veterans in music, in the industry, and in LIFE. We’ve been around, and we know what we’re talking about. This is a mature album, and I think you can hear it. And since this is our first album, we’re able to explore whatever avenue of music we’re interested in, ’cause we’re all interested in different types of music. It’s not just about one “sound”, it’s about…”music” in general, and feelings and emotion, and all the different sounds are conveying that idea.
Absolutely, I certainly thought that it was more, ah…with Fear Factory I assume there’s a certain amount of expectation, there’s a certain amount of “aggro” to it…but with this one, there seemed to be that willingness to…bring other emotions in…
Yeah, it’s weird, because…I mean, it’s gonna happen, but it’s unfortunate that this band is going to be compared to Fear Factory, when there is no comparison. The only similarity is that I’m the vocalist and Byron is the bass player, but this is a COMPLETELY different band. It’s different ideas, it’s different sounds, it comes from a whole different place. If you’re a fan of Fear Factory, don’t go into this album expecting to hear Fear Factory, ’cause you will be disappointed. This is a hard rock album, influenced by years of music, a different genre, y’know, 70’s hard rock, psychedelic…that “hard groove”, that’s what this is about.
Just getting back to Fear Factory slightly (sorry!): You put out albums for both of your bands very recently, so how do you juggle time between the two groups, and are there any other projects lurking in the shadows that you might want to ‘fess up to, or is just these two bands for now?
(laughter) There’s nothing that nobody knows about, y’know, but…it’s all about scheduling, and right now Fear Factory is taking up a big (part of that) schedule, but…Byron and I are already scheduling tours for City Of Fire, for when Fear Factory will be done with its cycle, and I’m also working on Ascension of the Watchers at the same time, y’know, I’m just keeping busy. Byron and I talked about how, in this era of the industry, it’s important to have more than just one thing; you have to have more than one band to keep busy. We’ve chosen this avenue as our career, and for this to remain as a career we have to survive, so we have to have more than one band.
I was actually going to ask, with the way that the industry is indeed going at the moment, with digital downloads and so forth…as someone who has expressed, let’s say, “suspicion” towards technology in a lot of his lyrics, how do you feel about the push to move things from cd – which is now considered a very “old-fashioned” format – to the more current “downloading” kind of technology?
Well, y’know, there IS that push, and…it’s sad because it doesn’t SOUND better, y’know! And I think for a lot of people into the hard rock and metal genres, they know what’s up, y’know? The music download industry is really directed towards “pop” music, and pop music is short-lived, and so are their careers. When it comes to this genre, hard rock, I think the fans of this style of music will continue to buy cds, and still continue to buy vinyl. People are still buying vinyl, and making vinyl! And as much as there’s a push, I’m not worried about it, it’s just the way the world is moving towards.
Well, it’s good to hear that there’s a professional musician out there who’s dubious about it, ’cause I know I am! A final question, which we always ask here at Music Vice: Apart from music, what other vices do you wish to share with us?
(laughter) Those are kinda personal, think I’ll leave ’em to myself…
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice
City Of Fire’s self-titled debut album is out now and the band have UK dates slated for October.
City Of Fire – Myspace