A Chat With City of Fire/Fear Factory Vocalist Burton C. Bell
Band Photo: Fear Factory (?)
Burton C. Bell is a busy man. When he’s not on the road screaming/singing his lungs out for Fear Factory, he is working on various side-projects that show a limitless abundance of creative juices flowing through Bell’s mind. His latest project, City of Fire, is releasing their self-titled debut album in physical form at the end of August. The band aims for a hard rock vibe, one that may surprise fans of Bell’s aggressive side. While on the road to a Fear Factory gig, Bell spoke to me about City of Fire's debut album, the balancing act of having many distinct projects going on at once, and hinted at a potentially-major project he may be engaging in sometime in the near future.
Heavytothebone2: Can you go into a brief history about City of Fire?
The band used to be called Caustic Thought. The original members were Byron (Stroud), Bob Wagner, Ian White, and Jed Simon. This was years and years ago and they disbanded, went their own ways, just gave it up. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that Ian and Byron and Bob were talking and they were like, ‘Hey, let’s go a reunion show for shits and giggles.’ They got together, rehearsed the old songs, and they had a couple of shows and they were like, ‘Wow, this is kind of fun.’
So they decided to bring another guy named Terry "Sho" Murray into the mix to help write some new songs and help work on the old songs and just try to be a session guitar player. They started writing songs, started demoing some stuff, and when they started hearing it, they went, ‘Wow, we need a new singer. This is beyond the level of what Caustic Thought was.’ So Byron gave me a call and said, ‘Would you like to be involved?’ I’m like, ‘Well, let me hear it.’ So Byron sent me a demo and when I heard it, I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to be involved with this.’ A few months later, when I had time, I went to Vancouver and started jamming with these guys. The vibe was killer, jamming the old songs, and coming up with lyrics. I started demoing vocals then and there and everything came out great.
Heavytothebone2: What makes this band unique from your other projects?
Well, it’s sounds nothing like any of the other projects. For me, the only comparison or similarity is that I’m the vocalist. On this record, I am utilizing my voice more so than I’ve ever had. I’m doing a whole range of things and it’s not pigeon-holed; it’s not tied to any specific kind of idea. It can go anywhere. It’s more mature and thoughtful. Ascension of the Watchers is more of my labor of love, my true artistic side. I write all the music in that and the lyrics; it’s more like my true artistic endeavor. Fear Factory is the aggressive side, the conceptual anti-establishment kind of thing. With City of Fire, the music is different from both of those bands and lyrically, it’s about life and love and loss and what people deal with on a daily basis.
Heavytothebone2: How much involvement did you have in the creation of the debut album, since you said you came in after they already had some songs done?
I had a lot of involvement. I came in and they had a lot of songs written, but when I came in and started coming up with vocal ideas, I was able to help with some arrangements and working with Terry, we came up with a lot of ideas for guitar parts and vocals parts. I helped write a couple of songs on the album. “Emerald” is a song that Terry and I wrote together. Creatively, I’m definitely a big part of the process and creation.
Heavytothebone2: You said this album really pushed you on a vocal level. Can you explain if there were any struggles in trying to get the vocals style down for this album?
No, it wasn’t a struggle at all; it was a lot of fun. I would be sitting with Terry, who is also the engineer and producer of the band, and we would just come up with ideas. We would try everything and I was able to try anything. I had that type of freedom with this band where this band can do anything…this is a brand-new band, let’s try everything we can. No, there were no struggles at all. I was able to achieve everything we had wanted to do.
Heavytothebone2: Looking back at the album, did you enjoy the songs that were more straight-forward, like “Rising” and “A Memory,” or the experimental songs, like “Dark Tides” and “Rain”?
I liked it all because everything was different. Every song had a different vibe to it. Every song had a different thought-process behind it, a different feeling. Every song we approached differently and I like all the songs. Everything was equally fun, it was a blast. I even played guitar on one of the songs, a couple pieces here and there. Every song had a different process to it and so it was a blast.
Heavytothebone2: How do you think people who haven’t heard the band, but know about Fear Factory, are going to react to the more rock-ish, melodic side?
I don’t know how people are going to think, but I can tell you what people reacted to. Fear Factory fans and Strapping (Young Lad) fans alike are into this sound. It’s a good, hard-rock groove vibe. If you’re into hard rock groove type of music, you’ll be into it. If you’re just a straight metal head, no, you’re not going to like it, but that’s just assuming. The songs are killer in general and they got good grooves and good hooks. We’ll see how they react, but so far, it’s been very positive from Fear Factory fans and non-Fear Factory fans alike.
Heavytothebone2: What’s your favorite track off the album, personally?
It depends on my mood. It’s all different; I like “Hollow Land” a lot, if I had to name one. I like our version of “Rain.” I think we made that song our own. I like “A Memory” and I like “Hanya.” “Gravity” is a great song.
Heavytothebone2: Has the band discussed material for the next album or have you not even looked that far yet?
No, we haven’t gotten that far yet. Terry and I and Byron, we are going in and start writing and whatever comes to us. Every idea is a good idea and can be worked into the creative process. Everyone in this band is very experienced…and is mature enough to move forward with anything. I’m excited though; we’ll see how it goes, but it could go anywhere.
Heavytothebone2: When you sit down and start formulating ideas for songs, as you are going through, does any song seem more Fear Factory or City of Fire? How does your mind process all the different ideas that come out?
You know, this is not a Fear Factory band. I had a different process of thinking for Fear Factory. I went into this with an open slate and an open mind. When it came to writing, whatever came to my mind…whatever I was feeling, I would try to incorporate into it. Like I said before, this is not tied to any concept. This is an open field. I wasn’t going in there trying to be a Fear Factory band. This is not Fear Factory; I got Fear Factory. If I want to do Fear Factory songs, I would deal with Fear Factory.
Heavytothebone2: Is it a challenge for you to juggle all these projects you have? Are you able to focus just on one or do they all integrate sometimes?
So far, I’ve been able to integrate everything together. It’s all about scheduling and planning. In this era of music industry, I think it’s important to have more than just one outlet going. Because record sales are so low for everybody, you got to keep working and the more you work, the more you can survive. Having three bands that people are interested in is a good way to start.
Heavytothebone2: If you could spend all your time with one of those three bands, which one would it be and why?
(Pauses) Well, I can’t really pick just one. Each band holds a special place in my heart and a special creative outlet. I don’t think I have to pick one.
Heavytothebone2: Are there any touring plans in the future for City of Fire?
Absolutely. In September, we’re opening up for Soulfly in Australia and Indonesia. We’re also doing headlining shows in New Zealand and Australia and Tasmania. In October, we’re doing some UK dates. Right now, we’re trying to plan some U.S. dates for later on.
Heavytothebone2: If you could make an ultimate tour package involving City of Fire, what bands would be involved?
I think the ultimate tour package would be to open up for Soundgarden. City of Fire opening up for Soundgarden, that’s the ultimate tour package.
Heavytothebone2: I’m not going to lie, that sounds pretty epic.
Fuck yeah. I would love just to see Soundgarden again. It would be awesome. That’s one of my favorite bands; they are sick. City of Fire is influenced by Soundgarden…not just Soundgarden, but that era of music, that style of music. Everyone in the band loves rock. We like good hard rock that’s passionate and real. Bands from the 70’s, from Alice Cooper to Black Sabbath to Deep Purple, psychedelic bands, even Jane’s Addiction has that type of vibe.
Heavytothebone2: Do you see City of Fire being a long-term project for you or just something that you do on the side?
Byron and I consider City of Fire a future for us.
Heavytothebone2: Short and sweet, I like it. So is there any update on Ascension of the Watchers?
Yeah, we’re writing new music and planning some shows. I had to cancel a tour a couple of years ago because of lack of promotion and lack of support, but I’m still planning some shows. When Ascension of the Watchers plays, I want it to be more of an event and a special outing than just a regular concert. So I’m planning these shows in Europe with a friend of mine for next year. We’re writing new songs and we’ve got new ideas and we intend to record more, absolutely. It’s my labor of love and it’s the artistic side that’s more special to me.
Heavytothebone2: What’s the new material sounding like? Is it like previous albums or are you heading in a new direction?
It’s definitely evolving. The more I play with my friend Edu, the guitar player, and the drummer, it’s becoming more of a live act. The songs that we’ve been writing are a little bit more raw and slightly more intense, but still dark and brooding.
Heavytothebone2: Is there room for another side-project for you in the future? Have you thought about doing another band?
Well actually, funny thing you mentioned that. A couple of days ago (Ed. note: the interview was conducted on July 9th), Al Jourgensen gave me a call and seems interested in doing this new band that he would produce. He’s getting various big names and he wants me to do vocals and write for it. So that’s not until next year, but there’s some ideas floating around there.
Heavytothebone2: That’s quite a tease there. I like that.
Well, Al told me, ‘He wants the heaviest band ever made.’ (Laughs)
Heavytothebone2: Any final thoughts?
City of Fire is definitely a band that’s up and coming. It’s not just a side-project for Byron and I and the people in it. It’s something that we’re planning on doing more of in the future. Just like Dave Grohl, with Foo Fighters and his other projects as well, he spends time with each band. For instance, Corey Taylor’s got Stone Sour and Slipknot, and he spends equal time with both bands. That’s who I would like to get up to. BP must pay and go to jail!
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