For Those with Metal in Their Veins...

FEATURED ARTIST - BURTON C. BELL of FEAR FACTORY

Burton discusses Fear Factory, Ascension of the Watchers, and his involvement with Ministry.

Interview by Deb Rao

 

 
After nearly 28 years, Ministry is embarking on their final tour. Last year, Ministry released their last studio album,” The Last Sucker", and most recently released a covers album entitled,” Cover Up".
 
Ministry is making special memories for fans that will last a lifetime everyday on their final tour. The band recently performed to a packed house at the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival on Sunday, April 27th. It was a great opportunity for the young audience to be part of history in the making as Ministry makes their "Last Hurrah" in working class metal city. 
 
Ministry, who is no stranger to lovely downtown Worcester. In the past the band has performed here on numerous occasions. Tonight's concert seemed so surreal. Ministry performed songs from "The Last Sucker", "Rio Grande Blood", Houses of the Mole". Opening with "Let's Go", Al and company kicked the show into full gear. Because of the time allotted to the many bands appearing at the New England metal and Hardcore Festival, Ministry had to shorten their set and was not able to do any songs off of "Cover Up".    
 
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Burton C. Bell, as he made his way to Philadelphia for a Ministry performance at TLA in the city of brotherly love. Burton, who originally hails from Texas, discussed the making of "The Last Sucker" in El Paso, being a part of the legacy of Ministry, "Cover Up", and what it is like to work with Icon Al Jourgensen.     
 
Burton, Thank you for checking in with Metal Monthly. Ministry is currently on their final tour. How is it going so far? It must be phenomenal for you to be singing with this band.  
 
BURTON:  Absolutely. It is phenomenal. I am having the time of my life. Everything is just special. Ministry is one of my favorite bands, long before Fear Factory was around. The first time I saw Ministry, was way before Fear Factory. The Ministry show was just amazing. I told myself, one day I want to be on that stage. It took 19 years. It is an honor and a privilege. The band is awesome. They sound great. They look great. It is a great tour. It sounds very awesome.
 
How did Ministry influence your band Fear Factory? You are both industrial. I can hear so many comparisons.
 
BURTON: Ministry was an influence on Fear Factory for sure. I was always a fan of industrial music. When Ministry's "Land of Rape and Honey" came out it really a whole new corrosion of sound. It was just amazing. When Dino and I and Raymond started working on Fear Factory, we wanted that sound but Raymond and Dino took it a little bit further with sounds that are mechanical. They are industrial. All of that was a huge influence. We wanted to utilize it in our own music. For me a lyricist, I saw that the lyrics for Ministry were very, very simple yet poetic in a way. To me that was an influence lyrically. 
 
Would you consider Fear Factory is kind of a political band too? 
 
BURTON: No, it is a little bit more of a social type touching upon more aspects of life, more than just political aspects. The transgression of the government. The suffering of people and humanity. It is more social than political. There is more to it than politics.  
 
Ministry just had a phenomenal show over at the Palladium in Worcester at the New England Metal Fest.  
 
BURTON: Yes, they did, I was there. 
 
What was it like seeing the band perform to a whole new generation of fans seeing the band for the first and last time? There was a very young audience there.   
 
BURTON: It has been really cool. A lot of the younger crowd, they are disappointed. They got into Ministry just recently, and it is not their fault because they are young. At least they had the opportunity to come and check it out. Its feels cool, just to be a part of it. To send off Ministry in such a grand way, I have my opportunity to go onstage and sing old tracks, and sing the cover songs. We didn't get to do any cover songs because our set was cut short. The crowd is loving it. The fact that these new Ministry fans are checking out the other bands onstage. There is Tommy from Prong, there is Sin from Revolting Cocks, there is John and myself, and we have a new band called Ascension of the Watchers. They have an opportunity to check out the whole 13th Planet family. We are getting new fans. These fans, I keep trying to tell them, yes it is the end of Ministry. Al is over it. He is over it, but it is a new beginning for Al. Ministry is over, but Al can continue working with new bands. 
 
How did you get involved with "The Last Sucker", and the "Cover Up" album?
 
BURTON: I called up and begged. (Laughter) That is not entirely true but it is sort of true. John Bechdel has been working with Ministry for the past two or three years. Paul Raven was involved in Ministry. These guys were friends of mine. I toured with Raven and John in the past. John is part of Fear Factory. So I had an in. When I found out that Ministry was doing their last record, I said to myself,” Man I got to be a part of that. I got to contribute to Ministry in some sort of way. I called up John, and I got Al's phone number, and I called up Al, and said,"Hey Man, I know you are doing your last record, I want to contribute and participate in any form or fashion on this record and I work cheap." (Laughter)  So a month later I was down in El Paso recording tracks for "The Last Sucker" and the "Cover Up" album. It has been a family ever since. 
 
What a great story and "Under My Thumb", you did an amazing job. The Stones are one of my favorite bands.  How did you pick this song for the "Cover Up" album?
 
BURTON: Al told me, "I want you to do a Rolling Stones song. I was like,” Really"? He didn't tell me which one he wanted me to do. We were going through the whole catalog of Rolling Stones, and there was like thousands pretty much. We ended up with "Under My Thumb". Al said this is a great song; it is one of my favorites. Have you every read the lyrics?" I am like,” No."  Al goes,” Check them out Mick Jagger is in his narcissistic days. I go,"Oh my God, he is right." It was a total male empowerment type of song. (Laughter) So he had the music, basically we started drinking some wine and just had a good time. 
 
That is awesome. You mentioned earlier, that you had a new band Ascension of the Watchers. Tell me a little bit about this band, and how it differs from Fear Factory.
 
BURTON: This is the dark side, atmospheric side of me. Before Fear Factory, I never really listened to metal at all. I was more industrial, a dark noise type of person. I was into soundtracks, I was into movies and electronic, a whole different array of stuff. This is my true side of music. This is the side that I would bring into Fear Factory. It is all the music, I have written, it is all hypnotic, rhymic, textured, melodic and atmospheric. It is dark but it as that sense of hope. To me it is rock. 
 
Ascension of The Watchers released a new album called "Numinson". Did Al produce it?  
 
BURTON: Al co-produced it. He mixed some of the songs. He played some instruments on it along with Paul Raven, who had a chance to play. Al played steel guitar, and mandolin. We had a good time. It was great working at the control board with Al. He is a genius, and he knows what he is doing, and he has been doing it for years. So I had a crash course in engineering. 
 
As a producer, what did Al teach you in the studio? What did you learn from him that you will forever treasure?  
 
BURTON: He helped me realize the balance of sound and the right techniques to get it big. Just the engineering and how things should fit and sit in a recording. Where the highs go, where the lows go. How to separate the vocals. I have been doing records for years and it was a great experience. I felt like I was apprentice to a master
 
I have noticed this line-up has a lot of the same influences. You all seem to mesh together pretty well onstage.  
 
BURTON: Yes, Al has always been and has a knack for collecting musicians. He finds talent that he really appreciates. Talent that is really true and sincere. That is one thing. But the other thing is that he has to get a long with people. So he collect people that is not only talented but we all get along. A lot of the music that he picks to do on the covers, we all love those songs. It is songs that we all grew up with. It is classic rock. You can't deny it.  
 
Are you playing tonight, or do you have a night off?
 
BURTON: No, last night was night off, and tonight is Philadelphia. 
 
That sounds great. Philly is an awesome city. 
 
BURTON: Yes it is. It is a lot of fun. It should be a good show at TLA. We haven't played in Philadelphia in two or three years. It is sold out and it is going to be a great show.  
 
Ministry goes to Europe at the end of May. I know you are playing four nights in Chicago 8-May 11.  
 
BURTON: After the Chicago shows we have two weeks off and then we go to Europe for two months. I believe the last show is in London.
 
Burton, do you have any special memories from this tour that stand out in your mind?
 
BURTON:  The first one I thought of is, I am originally from Houston, Texas. When we played Houston, here I am in my hometown-fronting Ministry. Singing "Just Got Paid" with Billy Gibbons" on the side of the stage. I grew up with ZZ Top way before I even knew about anything else. That is one of the first bands a Texas is introduced to is ZZ Top. I grew up with that song. It was so surreal and an honor at the same time. Seeing that it is Al's last tour, a lot of his old friends are coming out. I got to meet Jello Biafra, I got to meet Ogre, Glen Danzig just classic people. People that I always looked up too as musicians. Possibly, one of the greatest moments on this tour was just meeting these people and befriending them. Then there is just the normal insanity of just touring with Al.  There is almost too much to tell, I don't know where to start. 
 
Well, that was perfect. What is the status on Fear Factory?
 
BURTON: We are just taking some time off. 
 
Is there anything else that you want to say about Ascension of the Watchers?  
 
BURTON: After this tour, I am going to be setting up a Watchers tour later this year in the fall and winter for The States, and Europe and Australia. We are going to do it right. We are trying to set up a good tour, or get a good tour to open up for. 
 
Burton, it has been an honor talking with you. Hopefully, I will get to check out Ascension of the Watchers.
 
BURTON: That will be great, you should come check us out. It is a whole new experience. Thank you Debby for calling me back and sorry for the delay.              

 

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