If you grew up in the 90’s metal scene you know the name Burton C. Bell, a towering presence at the lip of the stage fronting metal juggernauts Fear Factory. A unique voice that could growl one moment and then produce clean vocals the next. Having recently finally left the band amid legal turmoil and back and forth Burton has now laser focussed his gaze on another project that’s been gestating quietly for the last 18 years, Ascension Of The Watchers. With new record Apocrypha out now we sat down with Burton through the power of Skype to chat all things Watchers.
How are things in the Ascension Of The Watchers camp at the moment?
Everyone is very pleased, we are all focused of moving this band forward. The response to the album is very positive across the board and we are excited about the album we are releasing. We are very hopeful for the future.
Yeah it’s very hard at the moment to stay positive in 2020, you turn on the TV and its all negative. I’m glad that you are focusing on being positive.
Yeah everything is gloomy and negative especially with the news. The news isn’t really the news anymore, it’s more to due with the story and the drama. They over excentuate everything and don’t stick to the facts. If they just stuck to the facts I think everybody wouldn’t be so tense.
Do you ever get nervous ahead of a release?
Absolutely! As artists we are putting ourselves out there, and if you are honest with your art you are putting your emotions out there and that can be super daunting. As artists we are already lacking in security and that comes across in our art. But just to the fact that this record we have created truly represents me, that I can stand behind 100% and I am proud of helps me get past the nerves.
There’s quite a gap between albums. You’ve gotten into Guns N’ Roses territory for length between albums! How was the recording of the album this time around compared to the last one?
Yeah almost! Yeah it took nearly 10 years but the whole time we were demoing material and I would go to John’s house or in the early day Edu’s house and look at ideas and arrangements so we could build upon them. It wasn’t through lack of trying though. We reached out to labels and producers but the way that the record industry is at the moment there simply wasn’t any interest.
Mostly because it was a band that hadn’t been tried and tested. The last record didn’t sell well and it wasn’t pushed by the label, it essentially bonded! So that left a black mark on the band. So that focused my mind knowing that on the next one we had to make sure that we recorded what we felt to our very core so we could get interest from labels. There’s no such thing as A&R anymore, labels want something presented to them packaged and ready to sell straight away. That’s how they work.
Due to the recording length, do your lyrical and musical inspirations change over the time?
All the songs are very much written over a number of years. For this record. Storm Crow was the first one I wrote right after ‘Numinosa’ came out. ‘Key To The Cosmos’ was written maybe 8 or 9 years ago after big events in my life. Like my best friend died from brain cancer and that’s where Cosmos came from. The nature of the songs didn’t change, the production quality did though. The production really elevated it for me. We went out out and did some shows with Killing Joke and we really got to play them live and the live intensity was what I wanted these songs to be. You know, live drums, not playing to a click track.
Jayce Lewis is part of the band and produced the record at Northstone Studios in Bridgend, I live in Bridgend myself and live 2 miles from the studios, how was your time in Bridgend?
I was just talking to Jayce an hour ago and he’s in Bridgend right now (laughs). We had all the songs demoed already but when it came to recording I wanted to record the album at North Stone. I had been since 2016 going to North Stone at least once a year, staying with Jayce for a number of weeks at a time. Living in Bridgend, enjoying the area and staying at the manor there.
Recording there changed my life, when I first went there and saw the studio that Jayce built, it was exactly what I wanted. It was all analogue, which is what this recording needed. The studio is in the middle of nowhere, 250 year old manor that is surrounded but green rolling hills with lot of character and energy. It’s built on an old monastery which parts of it can still be seen. It was the best place for us to record, they don’t even have mobile phone coverage out there. It’s important as an artist to get away to record and not be bothered by phone calls and stuff like that, it made a huge difference.
Yeah its like when a boxer goes to a training camp and secludes themselves away from outside forces.
Yeah like Rocky 4 in Russia!
The title track captured some ghostly sounds in the recording studio by all accounts, talk to me about that?
Yeah that’s what we believe. Jas and I thin k we captured an EVP event and its something we can’t explain. During the title track and we were doing vocals, we had been doing it for a couple of hours and had done numerous takes. Jas was like “take a break” and he went off to clean up the files, Iwas sitting quietly in the vocal booth and he talked to me over the mic and asked me what I was saying at the end of the song. I didn’t have a clue what he was on about and he showed me the extra .wav files here. We listened to it and it was an old door creaking open up and the gain on the microphone went way up and there was a creepy whisper underneath it. We didn’t know what language it was in, it could have been Latin, Gaelic, who knows! But it was good material for the song and we added it in.
Also on that tracks as well when I relistened to it, I’m sure I heard the vocal line from ‘Close Encounters of The Third Kind’, am I going mad or was that in it?
Craig, you are the first person to recognise that (laugh) I love it! It’s a great part and I had always wanted to use it in a song and it never presented itself until now. It just goes to a nod of my love of movies and soundtracks. Through the whole record there’s actual sounds and dialogue laced into it.
Have you ever thought of tipping your hand to doing something like a film score?
Absoltely, I think about it all the time. It’s a very difficult genre to get into, the only way to get in really is to know an up and coming director who can put you in there. It’s very much a who you know basis.
You’ve talked about ‘conceptualised’ touring in the past for this record cycle, what does that look like?
My plan is to create the mood and atmosphere of the record for everyone. Visually I would love dramatic lighting and screens showing stills that capture a moment.
Are you going to be doing any streaming events?
We are planning on doing a streaming event, but when it comes to touring we plan to have some type of video images to enhance the mood and help create it.
You’ve released a music video for the track ‘Ghost Heart’, how do you match the musical side of the band to the visual?
Well for us we reconnected with Victor Hugo Borgia who did videos for us in the past and we had built up a friendship and he did three videos for us. All we did was give him the music and that’s it. We wanted him to go away and create his own art from that, we were very hands off with that. What he did was repurposed material that he already had and fit into the narrative of the song. I didn’t want to impose my own thoughts on another artist as they produce things so perfectly already. In some respects I did that with the album on certain parts as well.
How do you classify your success as a band and/or an artist?
Everybody has their own interpretation but for me I feel I am successful if I am able to have outlets for my art and make sure that we are focused and achieve what we believe the album deserves. Success for me is to continue being an artist, it can be a struggle but life is a struggle and art comes from that.
A politician over here in the UK recently said that with artists not being able to gig etc that they should ‘retrain’ in more viable job areas which is frankly an outrage!
We all realise now without live music how much it means to us and how much it’s part of our lives, it’s incredibly therapeutic. Its an essential industry, millions of people are employed in this industry the world over, not just musicians but the road techs, venue staff etc, it goes on and on. Whoever said that statement quite frankly, he should get a new job and retrain or even better fired. See how he likes that! (laughs)