FEAR FACTORY: Past, Present and Future
Interview by Christopher J. Kelter - August 1999
The very humble and very personable Christian
Olde Wolbers and I chatted while he finished his preparations and technical improvements
on his rig for the night's concert (which by the way did have a noticeable improvement in
his sound). I even had a chance to chat with Dino Cazares and Tony Campos (of Static X) -
both of them were very friendly. Christian and I escaped the summer heat to talk about
Fear Factory's past, present, and future.
Rough Edge: Fate is an interesting thing - you joined Fear Factory a little bit by chance. Tell us about how you joined Fear Factory.
Olde Wolbers: Back in '93 I was working really hard, had a bunch of money in the bank, and I was in bands. But with all the money I wanted to buy some guitars, but I decided to take a trip to the States. My girlfriend was from California and I had some contacts in the States so I knew plenty of people. So I went to the States. I was staying with a guy in the famous hardcore band Beowulf. But I wanted to skate and hang at the beach so I watched skateboarding movies, got pumped up, and went out skateboarding. But money was running out and it looked like I was going to go back to Europe. Anyway, one day I went to the supermarket. I knew the guys in Biohazard from way back when the toured Europe a couple of times. So I saw this dude standing on the corner with groceries just waiting. It kind of looked like Bobby from Biohazard. I looked closer, but the guy had a beard - I'd never seen Bobby with a beard so I wasn't sure if it was him. But I kept looking closer and I thought "That sure looks like Bobby" and kept looking at him. And the dude kept staring back at me like "What is he looking at me for?" Finally, the dude said "What the hell?" and I said "Bobby?" Finally, Bobby recognized me and said "What the hell are you doing here?" I said, "Bobby, what are you doing here? You're not from L.A.!" He finally told me that Biohazard were doing a record in L.A. We talked for a while and then everyone else from Biohazard walked out of the supermarket. I hung out with Biohazard for a while in the studio and checking out their new record. It was very cool. It ended up that they were staying in the same place I was living in. One evening Evan, who had seen me playing upright bass in a rockabilly band on the street in Belgium back in '90 or '91 - he always thought I was a bass player. I had always played guitar in metal bands and hardcore bands. And he said, "Oh, you're a bass player - I have a band for you!" I kept telling him "I'm not a bass player; I'm a guitar player now." But he said "Fear Factory needs a bass player - you're a bass player and you'd be perfect." And I'd actually heard of Fear Factory because someone told me about them while I was still in Europe. However, I really wasn't into the death metal scene too much, but I knew they were different. When I went to the audition and I was blown away when I saw Raymond playing - I said, "All right, I'll play bass." So I borrowed a bass from Evan and auditioned for a couple of days right before a tour with Sepultura and then I knew I was going to do the tour. After the Sepultura tour, the rest of the guys said "Do you want to be in the band?" I said "Hell yeah!"
Rough Edge: It seems so coincidental that you joined because the band really took off after that.
Olde Wolbers: The funny thing is, Fear Factory never really had a consistent bass player before I joined. Dino played all the bass on the first album. Andrew Shives only did two tours. Success has not come quickly. Since I've joined we've been working non-stop and no vacations.
Rough Edge: It was interesting to see Fear Factory take a chance with a concept album. How did the story line come about? Who championed it? Who decided to take it in that direction?
Olde Wolbers: Everybody in the band is really into movies, video games, and futuristic stories. Everything like that has a full-blown story: a beginning, a present, a past, and a future. A lot of the times with the music it's hard to figure out what to sing about. We wanted to be different so we came up with a story that was like a movie and then tell that story through the lyrics, make it into an entire concept, and try to fit the band's name into the story. That's how we were able to continue the story of man versus machine, but now man was obsolete because machines and technology have taken over. The cool thing about it is even though it is a story but it deals with issues that really happen. You can present the idea of man versus technology, but then again we use technology to make the music - the big thing is that we control the technology that helps make the music. When you control the computer, you're the oppressor.
Rough Edge: The oppressor doesn't have to be a computer; couldn't the oppressor be an idea?
Olde Wolbers: Exactly! What's a fear factory? It could be a police station, the government - those are all fear factories. For me school is a fear factory. I didn't like the way they were teaching us in school - I didn't like going to school. They'd try to press it into you; if you didn't get it you failed. The schools don't make learning enjoyable. That's why kids don't like going to school; that's why I didn't like going to school. I was in a boarding school with nuns! That was a real fear factory. We're even thinking about doing a video game; a futuristic story or a whole bunch of stories from our lyrics combined. There would be things you'd have to accomplish missions - it would be an adventure game where the future is coming too fast. We'd do it for the new PlayStation.
Rough Edge: Well, it only makes sense because times are changing fast; we have to deal with new things more quickly than before. As a consequence, we are concerned more and more about the future.
Olde Wolbers: Fear Factory's music really fits with all that. We're trying to cover a lot of different areas.
Rough Edge: The bass is much more prominent in the mix for "Obsolete" - was that something that you had to push for or was it part of being more involved in the writing and production?
Olde Wolbers: It was kind of a little bit of everything. Especially with the making of "Demanufacture" after the Sepultura tour we didn't have any money, no endorsements, or anything. So I had to go with something a little cheaper. Basically, in the studio I didn't have it so good with "Demanufacture/" I wasn't happy with my situation at all. But with "Obsolete" I knew I wasn't going to make that mistake again so I did everything I could to make it better. That was the beginning of what I have now - if I could record with the stuff I have on the rig for the stage the next record is going to have even more bass. I won't be more dominant, but you'll be able to hear better with the right mix of frequencies. The next record will be more punchy with the distortion - more in your face. It's hard to find the right balance because Dino is dominant in the mix with his tone, the keyboards have so much low end, too, with the samples and Raymond's triggers.
Rough Edge: There's a lot sonic ground that is covered.
Olde Wolbers: Exactly. It's really hard to find the gaps to put the bass in. I want to have a sound like Tim from Rage Against The Machine.
Rough Edge: Working with Rhys Fulber must be helpful - how does he help the band channel its energy?
Olde Wolbers: Well, it all started back in '92 when Rhys started doing the first re-mixes for Fear Factory. He helped make the band stand apart from other acts. I think that's one of the reasons the band has survived the scene. In fact, the influence was big enough that the record influenced a lot of other people. Everybody started using samples and keyboards - and that was practically unheard of. Rhys was instrumental to the development of the band. For "Demanufacture" we wanted him for the producer because we needed somebody to capture the Fear Factory sound on tape. Producers help bands get their sound - like Korn and Ross Robinson or Terry Date and Pantera. For us, we just needed somebody who understood the Fear Factory sound. Having Rhys was like adding a soundtrack to our music - adding atmosphere. He knew exactly what we wanted. It's funny, because we came from the metal scene and he came from the electronic scene. We crossed paths and then he kept doing the metal stuff. He knew where we were coming from. Having Jon in the band, he used to be in Prong and Killing Joke, was good because he was the perfect person who could play all that stuff live because it is all complicated. We don't use any tapes - everything you hear is being manually played by people.
Rough Edge: Fear Factory really stand out as having a unique sound; how does the band keep things fresh yet still sounding like Fear Factory?
Olde Wolbers: Keeping current is one way to do it - Dino is really good at that. Everybody in the band has different influences. Over the last three years I've been listening to hip-hop - I'm doing a hip-hop record on the side and working with a lot of different people. That influence came out a little bit on "Edgecrusher." It might come out a little bit more on the next record. The cool thing about hip-hop is the simple beats, yet you still feel the power. Fear Factory has always been a band with complicated riffs; we now realize that it doesn't always have to be so complicated. Sometimes something simple will stick in your head a little longer. Years ago metal was about how many riffs you could fit into one song. That's what I like about hip-hop; you can't hear that one good hook over and over again. Simpler is sometimes better. Fear Factory has gone from complicated death metal riffing to simpler riffs - you can hear something like "Edgecrusher" once and you'll remember it.
Rough Edge: How did the band recover from the theft of the equipment truck back in February 1999? That must have been catastrophic.
Olde Wolbers: It was tough. Just picture that you're in business one day and then it burns down. They literally stole our equipment and burned the truck. We had insurance, but it didn't cover much. It cost us a lot of money and it's taken all this time just to build it back up.
Rough Edge: When people see Fear Factory perform they are seeing a band that is having a lot of fun as a group and as individuals. You especially are having a lot of fun. Usually, when you see a bass player they just stand there. But you're always jumping around and running from one side of the stage to the other.
Olde Wolbers: Who could stand still? When we go on stage, when the intro starts, something goes on in your mind and everything kicks in. It just happens in your body and you can't explain it. I get nervous, but the adrenaline kicks in, it goes through your body, and then washes out. Once you're in the routine of touring, it's almost like you perfect it. It's confidence. But you have to keep it fresh, that's what keeps it exciting.
Rough Edge: I was surprised and a little disappointed when Judas Priest dropped off the OzzFest '99. Then I was happy to hear Fear Factory had taken the Second Stage headlining slot. When the chance to play OzzFest '99 came up, how did the band decide to take it?
Olde Wolbers: It looked like we were going to do the Iron Maiden tour and that was our only option for the Summer. And then we heard about the opening at OzzFest and we said "Hell, yeah." When we talked to Sharon Osbourne later she said that Ozzy wouldn't let us tour with Iron Maiden. Ozzy and the people that do OzzFest know us so well and we'd toured with them before with Ozzy and Black Sabbath in the past - it must have been easy for them because they knew we would say "yes."
Rough Edge: There wasn't any discussion about it?
Olde Wolbers: Oh yeah, I got the call at 3 a.m. "Do you want to do OzzFest?" and I said "Yeah, of course" right away. We didn't know if we were going to be side stage or main stage, we just wanted to do it.
Rough Edge: I thought it was interesting that Fear Factory, which had already played the Main Stage, would move to the Second Stage - some people might take that as a step down. But I do think many people saw that headlining the second stage was thirty-five minutes of everyone's undivided attention.
Olde Wolbers: Well, the way it worked out headlining the second stage did give us the best slot. If we had played the main stage we probably would have go on before Primus which was a lot earlier than the headline slot of the second stage. Besides, we'd done the main stage during the day and even though there are a lot of people there, there's nobody up front. It's much better when people are rushing the stage.
Rough Edge: Obviously, the dedication to touring is paying off and each disc and tour is more successful - does the band feel any pressure about the next disc?
Olde Wolbers: We're going to take our time when we do the next album and make it a good album. We really don't feel any pressure.
Rough Edge: Do you expect the next Fear Factory disc to continue the on-going saga of man versus machine? Or will Fear Factory do something different?
Olde Wolbers: I think we might do something a little different. Take it somewhere else. Burt and I were talking that maybe we shouldn't make the next record a concept record. We don't know what's going to happen between now and then. Burt's a good writer, and he'll come up with some good ideas.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:10 -0400.