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Dino Cazares: “I think Burton C Bell left Fear Factory many, many years ago”

Dino Cazares
(Image credit: Stephanie Cabral)

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, goes the old adage, and Dino Cazares wouldn’t disagree. “If I fought all the way to get here and the record sucked, that would bother the shit out of me,” says Fear Factory’s guitarist and sole remaining original member of his band’s new album, Aggression Continuum. “But it is a great record.”

Still, if Cazares had thrown up his hands in defeat at any point over the last 10 years, no one would have blamed him. The guitarist has had a decade from hell, professionally and personally, spending much of the 2010s embroiled in a series of lawsuits with ex-FF drummer Raymond Herrera and bassist Christian Olde Wolbers that at one point prompted Cazares to declare bankruptcy. Aggression Continuum itself has been stuck in limbo since 2017, a casualty of the tortuous legal battles.

The latest twist in this ongoing drama came at the end of 2020, when singer Burton C Bell announced that he was no longer part of the band he co-founded with Dino in 1990 – though not before “shitting on” (Cazares’ words) the crowd-funding campaign the guitarist had set-up to allow him to finish the new album. “Well, he left the band about three years ago, technically, but that’s when he decided to make it official,” says Dino of the singer’s announcement.

The sneak preview Hammer has heard of Aggression Continuum suggests his perseverance has paid off. It’s prime 21st century Fear Factory: a furious 10-track dystopian-metal assault that pauses occasionally to let a chink of light in. Bell’s vocals remain on the record, which lends it an air of weird displacement, though Cazares is currently searching for a replacment for the eventual tour (the guitarist says the new Fear Factory singer could be a woman).

Bell’s departure is one of the reasons Dino wants to talk. He’s read the provocative interview Burton gave to Metal Hammer recently, in which the singer labelled his ex-colleague as “not being a nice person”, and he wants to give his side of the story. 

Speaking via Zoom, he’s calm, clear and often funny about the travails of the last decade. And while he’s open about the problems and frustrations he’s had with his bandmate-turned-antagonist, it’s clear there’s still some residual respect there.

“Sometimes the friction helps greatness,” says Cazares. “Listen to the records, that’s all I gotta say. We could sit here and bash out all this drama, but at the end of the day, listen to the music.”

 

Metal Hammer line break

Given everything you’ve gone through over the last few years, how are you feeling now the album is finally ready for release? Relieved? Exhausted? Proud that it’s finally coming out?

Definitely not exhausted, because I'm excited for people to hear this. We actually completed a version of the record in late 2017, but due to legalities the record got shelved. Obviously, you guys know the outcome.

I had to go to the hospital a couple of times. I thought I was having a heart attack.

Dino Cazares

Fast-forward to 2019, we were able to move on forwards as Fear Factory. I was, like, “OK, I need to improve this record, it's been sitting on the shelves for a few years, and there needs to be some improvement to it.” Don't get me wrong, the record we turned in was good but it still wasn't great. It needed a certain element to take it to the next level, and that element was putting in live drums and getting Andy Sneap to mix the album. I also had the opportunity to bring in some other guys who added some keyboard elements. [Longtime FF cvollaborator/keyboard player] Rhys Fulber was able to come back into the fold and add his touches to the record.

Mike Heller, our drummer who went in and recorded it, was, like, “Damn, this is angry.” Cos the record is very, very pissed off. You can hear it in the riffs, you can hear it in the vocals.

What is it pissed off about? Real-world events or things you've gone through personally in the last decade?

It‘s pissed off about a lot of things. You've got to realise that when we wrote the record in 2016, 2017, we were in a different climate. I really don't want to bring up any political names, but there were a lot of things to be mad about, and a lot of that comes across in the passion that you hear in Burt's vocals on that record.

Was there ever any point over the last four years where you thought, “This thing is never going to come out”?

Yes. I thought that I wasn't even going to have a career.

Why?

You think the worst. You've got to understand that we went through so much legal stuff and bankruptcies and divorces. I was in the hole for a million dollars, personally.

That must have been so stressful.

It was definitely a lot of stress. I had to go to the hospital a couple of times. I thought I was having a heart attack, but it was all stress-driven.

When was that situation all resolved?

July 2020.

That recently?

That recently, yes. But don’t get me wrong. I did not let that deter me from fighting what I needed to fight for, making the sacrifices that I needed to make for this record to come out. 

I said that I thought I wasn”t going to have a career, but in reality I would still be doing what I'm doing.

Music is my passion. It's what I love to do all the time.

What kept you going?

What kept me going was that I knew I wasn't wrong.  What I really enjoy is putting a smile on somebody's face, because you've released a riff or a track or a song that they enjoy. I get that as being a fan of music as well, and that to me is what success is. I'm not going to let that feeling go, no matter what sacrifices I have to make. I always say, “I can live in a van down by the river, but I can't live with a bad record.”

How much did the album cost to make in total?

It was definitely an expensive record. We had already depleted the advances we got from the record company, so I ended up having to do a GoFundMe campaign - a very successful GoFundMe campaign that Burton didn’t agree with.

I’m not sure why, because it would only benefit him if the record comes out. I think he was misinformed or misunderstood what it was about, but I thought I was being very clear in the statements that I made in the explanation for the campaign. You can’t just start a GoFundMe campaign without a reason - you have to show proof of what it’s for. And thank god to the fans who really helped out and made it successful.

How much did the campaign raise?

It raised $25,000. That was to pay for Andy Sneap to mix it, to do live drums, and to hire our engineer, who worked on Genexus as well.

Did you have to dip into your own pocket at any point to help pay for the record?

Of course.

How much of your own money did you put into it?

[Laughs] I'm not going to give you a number amount, but it was a lot of money. So I'm pretty much broke. But that doesn't mean anything to me. If I had to go dig a ditch to make some extra money to pay for this record, I'd do it. Like I said, I can't live with a bad record. If I fought all the way to get here and the record sucked, that would bother the shit out of me.

Fear Factory 2021 press shot

(Image credit: Stephanie Cabral)

The crowdfunding campaign seemed like the point where Burton announced he was done with Fear Factory. How did he tell you?

He didn't. He did what he usually does, where he kind of disappears. That’s the guy I know - when the going gets tough, he likes to run. He quit in 2002, he quit the other guys in 2007, and now he’s quit again. Even though he’s been on every record, he’s also been the one that quits.

I like to address problems head on. If there's a problem, let’s get in a room, let's duke it out, let's solve it. Some people may feel like they're being put in a corner and can't handle that. That to me is how he was.

You said he left three years ago. What do you mean?

Honestly, I think he left many, many years ago. Probably 20 years ago. In your interview, he made some statement where he said when he was writing lyrics for Fear Factory, it was a disservice, because he wasn't coming from the heart - he had to think of it in the third person. I kind of think that was a low-blow to some of the fans who really worship these lyrics.

He said [in the same interview] that he came back for the money. I already knew that, I had to deal with that.

Honestly, I think Burton left many, many years ago.

Dino Cazares

When it came to make records, I was the one who was very driven and very motivated to do these things. Burt was always the guy you had to push: “Come on, dude, let's get it done.”  Or there were times when you tried to get hold of the guy and he was gone - he'd just disappear for months and months and months, and you just don't know where he's at. You just need to wait until he comes back.

Those records were very challenging at times. During The Industrialist, I had written all the music, it was ready to go, then Burt disappeared for eight months, not telling anybody where he was at. We found out he was in Canada doing his City Of Fire project. Now I understand that people need to work on their project bands and do their own thing. I get it. Just let us know.

That was one of the aspects of it. I always felt that Burt was looking for a way out for a long time. I always felt that he was hoping one of his other projects would take off, so he could say, "Hey, City Of Fire are gonna be the next Soundgarden, see ya!”

I just want people to see what I had to deal with. It's very frustrating, because I live, breathe, die Fear Factory. When I came back in 2009, I got rid of my other band, Divine Heresy, who were actually very successful, I put my full commitment into Fear Factory. That's where I stood back then, and that's where I stand now.

If you could see that, why did you stick together?

It was the love of the music. It was the love of Fear Factory. I knew that if things didn't work out, he was always going to come back and we were able to make records.

Was there a specific point this time where you realised, “This is it, he's leaving”?

At first, I thought it was just, “OK, he's doing his disappearing act again.” But when years went by, it was, like, “OK, he's left.” And then he shit all over the crowdfunding campaign, and then I was, like, “OK, he’s really left. And now he's got issues.”

I don’t know what he’s so bitter about towards me, but it always seems like since day one and I say this laughingly – I’ve always gotten blamed for every ex-band member that left. I get it: people need a scapegoat, people need to pass the buck onto somebody else. But I'm a strong individual, and I can handle it. I always feel if you put out some great music, people forget about all the drama. Sure, people might bring it up on social media, but when the music comes out, it's, like, “Maybe Dino’s a dick, but fuck, listen to this song.”

Burton said the last conversation the two of you had was three or four years ago. What was that conversation about?

I want to say it was 2018. It was about the record, that's all it was.

Have you tried to get in contact with him since?

Yeah. He says I reached out to him - emails, birthdays, text messaging, things like that. I left the door open for Burton after he announced that he was leaving. I still have love for the guy. I was, like, “I’ll leave the door open, maybe he’ll change his mind.” But it’s six months now. I’ve reached out to other singers, other singers have made submissions... it’s getting close to that time, I need to move forward.

Fear Factory 2012

Dino and Burton in happier times (Image credit: Press)

If Burton called you tomorrow and said, “Let’s talk this through”, what would you say?

I would be, like, “What took you so long? Are you done with this, can we move on.” But at the same time, the door can’t stay open forever. I mean, I get a new singer, we move on, everything’s good, then two years down the line, he wants to come back? If I move on, then that’s it.

You own the rights to the Fear Factory name. Is that correct?

That is correct. I’m the sole owner of the Fear Factory trademark.

What was the decision behind that?

I wasn’t a decision, it was a must. If I wanted this record to come out, if I wanted Fear Factory to live on, there was an urgency that I had to fight to get it. I don't mean fight Burt, I mean fight the courts to get it - fight Raymond and Christian to get it.

When you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you have to list all your assets - your computer is an asset, your car, your house, your businesses, your trademarks. If you fail to list anything there, they’ll take it from you.

That’s what happened to Burton. They took the trademark from him because Raymond and Christian’s attorneys discovered that he never listed the Fear Factory trademark as an asset.

So boom, the court put it up for auction. People think I took it from Burt or sued Burt. But the court put the trademark up for auction, meaning anybody could bid for it - it’s like eBay. People bid on it, but I wasn’t gonna let it go.

Because Burt failed to list it in his bankruptcy, he was not able to own it again. And if I bought it, I couldn”t gift it to him, because the courts would think I was defrauding them and we were in collusion to give it right back to him.

So it was up for auction and I was trying to oubid the highest bidder - and those people were Raymond and Christian as well. It was intense. I was sweaty.

Do you think that you owning the Fear Factory trademark drove a wedge between you and Burton?

I don't really know, other than what he said, why he left. Because he never spoke to me about it. Again, he ran away. If you have an issue with me, just tell me. Why take it out there in the media? That's just old school.

I’m fully aware that we’re talking about the drama here, but do you think everything that has gone on overshadows the music?

No. I don't think it overshadows the music,. not at all,. There's been a lot of bands that have had a lot of drama, and all of sudden they came out with a  record, and people were, like, “Holy shit, this is amazing.” Like I said, sometimes friction makes for something great. And I believe that’s the case on this new record. You can hear the anger and insecurity on some of those beautiful melodic vocals that Burt lays out. And if you listen to those lyrics, what he wrote and what he sings, it’s fucking amazing.

With Burton out of the picture, have you thought of inviting Raymond and Christian back?

Hahaha… of course, a lot of thoughts have gone through my head. We all like to blame each other, but all of us are to blame. We were all involved in this situation. We’ve sued each other multiple times - well, I never sued Burt, but we sued Raymond and Christian multiple times. I don’t necessarily hold a hatred towards those guys, I just don’t think we would last long enough to go too far.

When was the last time you spoke to Raymond and Christian?

I would say the last time I spoke to them directly was probably 2002. People change in that time.

You and Raymond and Burton started this thing 31 years ago. Do you miss the old days? Do you miss the camaraderie you had?

Of course. I can’t say I necessarily miss it with those guys, I just miss it in a band in general. The days of bands getting in rooms and writing music and getting together - that's in the past.

It sounds like you've still got respect for Burton despite everything. Is that true?

Of course. I mean, I’ve known him forever, 30-plus years, we’ve worked side by side for a long time. I just wish he wouldn’t run away all the time.

You and Burton have split up and reunited before. Do you see the two of you getting back together in the future?

That’s a good question. Possibly. I’m open to it.

Would you like get back together? Would you like to be in a band with Burton C Bell again?

Sure. But it has happen soon, because I have to move forward. And I think it’s unfair to the fans for them to have to wait. If that’s going to happen, why can’t it happen now? Why do fans have to wait for this guy to realise this is where he belongs?

I don’t know, maybe he’s making new life choices and he’s moved on, and that’s it. But you can’t ignore the fact that there were a lot of times he didn’t want to be there. There were times when he looked for a way out. But at the same time, you can’t deny what we created.

Would I get back with Burton in the future? Possibly. I’m open to it.

Dino Cazares

I’ve got to bring this up. Burton said that he thought Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory was Demanufacture “for kids”. Do you agree?

[Laughs] I don’t know where that came from, but I did get a laugh out of that, because people took it seriously. I can’t take it seriously.

Does Fear Factory have a future beyond this new album? Can you imagine going though all this again?

I’ve been going through it for years. So yes, if people want to hear it, I’m here.

It’s more than 30 years since Fear Factory formed. Has it been worth it?

Yes, 100 per cent. I’m one of those people who thinks that things happen for a reason. Maybe Burt not being in the band could be a blessing in disguise. But yes, everything has been worth it to me. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.

Fear Factory’s Aggression Continuum is released on June 18