FEATURE INTERVIEW – BURTON C BELL “I’ve had some ups and some downs, but overall, I’ve been very lucky.”

Posted on by Oran

Featuring former Fear Factory vocalist, Burton C. Bell, ‘Ascension of the Watchers’ new album has been a project that has been in the making for the last decade and can finally spread its wings. Find more below…

With multiple roadblocks over the last decade facing the former Fear Factory’s once, side project ‘Ascension of the Watchers, 2020’s global Pandemic was not going to stop Burton C. Bell from releasing his post-punk, ambient soundscape LP, ‘Apocryphal’. 

Talking from his home, Burton is a mixed cocktail of excitement and apprehension and I’m not surprised. The frontman has been at the centre of a very public break-up from his former band Fear Factory, all the while pushing himself forward into the unknown with ‘Ascension of the Watchers‘…

OD – Okay, let’s get under the hood with Ascension of the Watchers, when I saw the words ‘Gothic Rock’ and ‘Industrial’, I was intrigued as there are not many bands’ that can pull off either genre. I would go as far as to say that the album is very ‘Post-Punk‘ also. With reference to this project, did you find it very refreshing to be applying your talents to something fresh and new?

BURTON – I really like the fact that you referenced ‘Post-Punk‘! I’m a huge fan of both, Industrial and Goth, but I would have to say ‘Post-Punk‘ is very much the main component in creating those genres.

When Punk was going further into Post-Punk, that’s the music that I really enjoy, especially the experimental side of things and when it comes to this album, for me to be able to write the music in my mind, the type of music that I’m influenced by, that was a huge moment for me. I just really love that era of music and to be able to come forward and be able to create these sounds, not emulating the genre, but to take a big influence form it and bring it into the 21st century, that was a huge thing for me personally.

OD -Would you say the impact of Jayce [Lewis] on this project was paramount to the resurrection of ‘Ascension…’ and the overall sound/aesthetic?

BURTON – Working with Jayce was just such a great experience for me. The whole process was very open and a great journey in writing and recording. It was great to be able to do something new and refreshing and make a solid mark on something that I’m not known for.

It was really liberating working with Jayce. He was a paramount part of the whole experience. With regards to the ‘resurrection‘ of the project, I would have to say that it’s always been there. I’ve been demoing ideas and pushing along with it. In fact, it was really hard to get labels interested in the project because the last album, ‘Numinosum‘ [2008] didn’t sell well at all. It wasn’t really promoted too well and labels tend to just look at the numbers, rather than the music.

OD – How did you come to work with Jayce?

BURTON – I actually became aware of Jayce through MySpace back in 2005/06 because he put out some statement saying he was managed by Darth Vader [Laughing]. I kept in contact with him and we didn’t actually meet in person until 2011/12 and it was at that point that he was telling me that he was building a studio and he would love to have me there when it was finished.

So, fast forward to 2016 when I was on tour with Fear Factory in Europe and he had completed his studio and I had a few days off. So, he [Jayce] invited me down to Wales and I stayed with him and it was then that I laid down ‘Ghost Heart‘ and ‘The End is Always the Beginning‘ and I stayed for 2-weeks and just fell in love with his studio and with Southern Wales. It was then I realised that we had to record this album there in that studio.

The whole process really grew organically, nothing was forced. From our friendship, his talent and attitude. Jayce is one of the most talented people that I know and he really listened and captured every aspect of what I imagined.

OD – Of course, ‘Ghost Heart’ was the first single from the album, were you in any way apprehensive about how people would react to it?

BURTON – Well, of course, there is going to be apprehension and I felt it, but I also knew that there was nothing out there that sounds like this. I knew it was fresh even though I wrote it back in 2016 and to this day, there is nothing out there that is close to what this album sounds like.

OD – Overall the album seems to be very ambient [as described in the press release] but I couldn’t help thinking that it was very soundscape [ish] also, almost like you had a visual movie in your mind’s eye while writing, is this a good assumption?

BURTON – I’m glad you said that because I love soundtracks. It’s modern classical music! I really like to imagine how something is in its entirety, so I had this overall landscape, image and sound in my head and that’s basically what you’re hearing on the album. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine a different world when you hear the album.

OD – The albums title ‘Apocryphal’ for those who are not familiar with its meaning is a doubtful authenticity from a story or statement, but regarded as being widely circulated, or being fact. Are you speaking from experience or can you elaborate on the reasoning behind this title?

BURTON – Well, the initial inspiration was from the ‘Book of Enoch‘ [an ancient Hebrew apocalyptic religious text explaining the origins of demons and giants and why some angels fell from heaven] and I was particularly drawn to the part about the ‘Watchers‘ and I was thinking; “What are ‘The Watchers‘” and so I read the book and all of these different types of terms started coming to me with ideas of how religion has suppressed certain books and ancient books, and for me, that was quite interesting.

OD – Of course, this was not the original title for the album…

BURTON – Yes, you’re correct. The original title was going to be ‘Stormcrow‘ which is the 5th track on the album. That’s what I was going with when we were doing the PledgeMusic Campaign.

Stormcrow‘ was a messenger who brought these songs to me over time. So, when the whole PledgeMusic campaign fell apart, it was then that I decided to change the name because I felt that these songs were in some way, ancient texts that I had written over the period of 12-years and each song is based on actually poignant moments in my life.

When I sat down at the piano to write each song on the album, I would write down what I was feeling at the time and write around that feeling. So, when I was thinking of a new title for the album, ‘Apocryphal’ seemed appropriate because each song is a statement of real events that have happened in my life. These experiences have been suppressed in my journals and it was time to get them out.

OD – The history of  ‘Ascension…’ is a very interesting one which began back in 2002 in the rural surroundings of Pennsylvania. The journey that has been associated with the band has since quietly crept along over the last 18 years with the debut album being released in 2008, to a crowdfunding campaign in 2018 which was futile due to PledgeMusic going bust and not realising the funds.

Leading to the album finally being released this year, during a pandemic! With all the roadblocks and unfortunate events that have happened along the way [not forgetting the tragic passing of Paul Raven], do you feel that this is somewhat of a long and complicated dark and an intimate project that can finally once again blossom?

BURTON – To me, this has been years in the making. We’ve had issues, setbacks and finally, I can sit back and see this project finally surface. The sound itself has blossomed as well as the concept. It was actually back when we opened for the Killing Joke reunion [2008] shows, that’s when I really knew what the overall sound of Ascension of the Watchers should sound like. I just knew that we had to move towards a more sonically, energised sound.

OD – It’s clear from the contents of this album that this is more than your average approach to an artists project. I’ve heard the word ‘conceptualized touring plans’ mentioned, can you elaborate on that a little?

BURTON – It’s not really a big secret. But my goal is to reflect the mood that the music creates. So, a lot of specific visuals with choreographed lighting, we hope to have video playing during the performance and really try to give a platform to the escapism of the overall feel of ‘Ascension of the Watchers‘, rather than just a normal band on stage playing.

OD – Would it be correct in saying that you’re thinking along the lines of what Tool are doing during their live shows?

BURTON – I’m gonna say more Nick Cave. The last time I saw him live, he had these really cool images in the background, creating an atmosphere but not taking away from the music.

OD – You’ve been in this business now for over 30 years, from the early days of Hateface to Fear Factory and beyond, if you could have given yourself one piece of advice at any point, what would it have been?

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BURTON – Hmm… Well, I’d have to say, get yourself a good lawyer. My career has been very successful and I can’t complain. I’ve had some ups and some downs but overall, I’ve been very lucky. Other than that, I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do in my career, which is to follow my heart.

OD – Of all the achievements you’ve repacked up over the years, what are you most proud of to date?

BURTON – Well, I believe this album, ‘Apocryphal’ is the most personal and representational work from a personal level, that I’ve ever put my name to. This album is basically my heart on a sleeve. I’m very apprehensive at this moment in time, but I’m also very excited. This album is not for everybody but there will also be a lot of people out there that totally get it and understand the creative inspiration.

OD – The Terance Trent Derby cover ‘Sign Your Name Across My Heart’ was a welcome surprise for me. What was the thought process behind that track and did you consider any others?

BURTON – [Laughing] Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that for a very long time. I wasn’t considering any other covers for the album but I’ve got a few others for the live show. I really want to intermingle songs I really love into existing songs, for example, where my musical tastes come from, ‘Sign Your Name…‘ was something I really wanted to do but I wanted to put my own mark on it.

As a musician, if you’re gonna cover something, you’ve got to reinterpret and make it your own. I can be accused of it with stuff I’ve done in the past, but I’ve learned to create your own personality and emotion into doing covers and make it different, all the while honouring the original.

OD – With reference to your creative history, people will obviously know you from Fear Factory and don’t worry, I’m not gonna go down a road that has been scrutinised over and over again, my interest is more on your opinion on why people can’t seem to let go of something that is [A] none of their business and [B], ancient history?

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BURTON – It can be hard to move forward with new projects. But I understand that in order for me to move forward, I have to be bold and somewhat fearless. Creative people in general, are dependent on the reaction of the public towards their work in order for them to be able to survive and continue to explore the capabilities of their imaginations.

I knew I have to move on and not be concerned with the reaction of some people. I have to stand behind everything I put my name to and yes there are people that can’t seem to let things go, it’s like they grow up with a certain influence/image or whatever and as soon as that is changed they don’t know how to react to it.

Music is not like food, it doesn’t taste the same all the time. Repeating something over and over again is just boring and ultimately, redundant. I would say to those people: “What are you really holding on too?” At the end of the day, it’s just an idea.

OD – Finally, are there any other projects that you’re currently working on that you’d like to tell us about?

BURTON – Nothing musical, I’m just writing and working on the text of a new project I’m calling it ‘Apocryphal Stormcrow’ and it will take the lyrics and everything else I wrote around the time of the lyrics and try to translate into how The Book of Enoch would have written it or written in that style.

I also have a piece written for the follow-up to ‘The Industrialist‘, but I’m mostly working on writing and the artistic side of things.

Ascension of the Watchers is out NOW via this link.

Oran O’Beirne

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