Demanufacturing the Obsolete Mindkiller in 1998: An interview with founder and guitarist Dino Cazares
David Lee Beowülf
Since arriving in the heyday of Death Metal in 1992, Fear Factory has stood out as one of the “indicators” of what the future of the sound would be. Many times I’ve heard them referred to as “the new gods,” and spoken highly of in the same sentence as bands like Ministry, Soundgarden, and others who changed the direction of “loud” music one time or another. Well, they’re back with their third full-length album in six years, Obsolete, which was produced by electronics wizard and Front Line Assembly founder Rhys Fulber. I spoke with guitarist Dino Cazares, who had arrived from London two days previous, fresh from playing the European Ozzfest, which hosted another Black Sabbath reunion show.
First of all, your music is listed as “Aggressive Rock Music.”
[Chuckles] That’s the label putting that shit out…
I’m asking this because Roadrunner is or was a “metal” label and when I first heard Fear Factory, and did an interview with Burton in 1992, Death Metal was king of the underground metal scene. You’ve toured with Ozzy and Iron Maiden, among numerous other acts. So, Dino, is it metal?
I think that we’re part of everything and being part of everything is what makes Fear Factory. I think that we are a band that always has to take chances with music. Soul of a New Machine came out in 1992, in the era when death metal was huge. Bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Boltthrower, Cannibal Corpse, and we were this extreme death metal band with different outlets, we had to stand apart. Burton had the voice and that was kind of taking a chance: I was wondering how these death metal and hardcore kids were going to like a guy singing melody to death metal! And it worked and we stood out. We took a risk, so we decided, why don’t we go even further? And we got Fear is the Mind Killer, and that was taking another chance. Why? Because we pushed it on the metal crowd. And the metal crowd was like, “techno”?! It was too metal for the techno crowd, and too techno for the metal crowd. But it was successful, and kind of took us away from the typical death metal band we could have been, right? Fear is the Mind Killer is what set us apart. When Demanufacture came out, with the signature sound of Fear Factory, in 1995, death metal was dying or gone. We were successful with it, because a lot of kids who were getting into music for the first time got into Fear Factory.
Not counting the remix EPs, Obsolete is your third album in six years. According to your press, this is the third installment: Soul of a New Machine, Demanufacture and now Obsolete.
I kind of like to do two or three years between each album because it lets us develop and we can see how music is going. And Fear Factory are very aware of their musical surroundings, what’s going on around them, and I want to appeal to as many people as we can. Fear Factory is definitely going be one of the first bands to change, to take risks. A lot of kids thought that the 1997 remix album, Remanufacture, was what fear Factory was going to be. And it was very successful; we’ve sold, to-date, 200,000 copies of Demanufaucture then we put out Remanufacture and a lot of kids went, “oh my God, Fear Factory’s going techno!” A lot of kids didn’t know that, and were a little confused and didn’t understand it, so we did what we normally would do and that’s put out a heavier album, which is this new this record, Obsolete. It was the first record where we were more fully aware of what we wanted to do, conceptually, lyrically, artwork; everything that we’ve done in the past is in the forefront, like the melodic parts: we made them more melodic. And the heavy parts got more heavy!
This is the first time we’ve had a real bass player on the record, too. Previously, I did all the bass lines so they came out like guitar! We’re in the era when this music isn’t anywhere near commercial radio and we don’t really need it. We didn’t need it in 1992, and we don’t need it now. Word of mouth has always been very powerful, and Fear Factory fans, who know Fear Factory, are guaranteed that they’re going to get something fresh and new. Conceptually, the name Fear Factory is a concept: the world is a Factory that causes Fear. There was always something that’s based on our surroundings, for instance, riots, gays, floods, religions. All cause fear, all produce fear. In 1992, I was accused by the police of something I never did! So, conceptually, we decided that on Obsolete we were going to consolidate all the previous work into something new and make a full concept album; each record was a chapter in our “book,” but this chapter is more detailed.
Your songs are built around the idea is that man has made himself obsolete with all the machines he’s built. What thoughts do you have concerning Fear Factory’s motif of technology versus mankind? Do you think man is obsolete?
We’re all very much aware of what’s going on as far as the evolution of technology. Burton happens to be a very good writer, and we all discuss everything; our drummer is very much into technology. We feel that man has created machines to make his life easier; we’re breeding machines that are almost human-like. Millions and millions of objects are thrown at a computer, and they want the computer to judge the objects. For instance, the greatest chess player in the world, lost. And he said, “I could’ve sworn that fucking machine was thinking.” I think it’s very real, machines that think, and very possible. There is hope as long as man is still controlling the machines, but I saw a documentary on Discovery where these scientists are taking ideas from movies and make them work. That could be very dangerous. Like, The Boys From Brazil, whoever thought we could clone people? And now in 1998 we’re almost doing it! Should we do it?
I wouldn’t mind having Sophia Loren in my bedroom…
See what I mean? What happens if some crazy mad world leader wants to build his perfect army, a perfect race?
It’ll never happen again! Everybody’s too happy!
[Dino laughs.] Everyone wants to own a nuclear bomb right now, and this is the technology man has created to destroy himself.
Well, the last one left wins…
No he doesn’t, where are the women?
Well, you clone one!
Yeah, create the perfect woman, it’s like Weird Science! We’re making jokes about it, but it’s all very possible. We have Big Brother watching us on the Internet. There’s cameras at every intersection. Why?
Control, efficiency in people. The most dangerous people in the world want efficiency. When times are really good economically, the government can get away with anything. You forget what the bad times were like, because you’re not being beaten up by the cops — the other guy is.
Yeah! You’ve given me something to think about…
Hey! Write a song about it! Are you challenged by vocalist Burton C. Bell’s lyrics to make music that sounds like a technological — not a “techno” — onslaught?
We all had a vision of what we wanted to do. We just didn’t have the lyrics. So we’d rehearse with ideas; Burton would say a few lines and we’d build a song around everything. Later on, when Burton does write the lyrics, he makes some adjustments. For example, on Obsolete, the song “Securiton [Police State 2000],” Burt felt what the song was while we were rehearsing and he said “that’s Securotron. That’s it, right there!” And he wrote it.
How does Burton make his voice sound like a cathedral organ?
Good question on the organ, Burt’s got a very powerful voice! What I like about the band in general is that we really take certain parts of music and make them very aggressive, and it creates a sort of balance; the melodic parts even sound more melodic and makes it stand out more, same with the heavy parts, and people really notice that and can feel it. This record we wanted to make more organic, Demanufacture was very cold, very mechanical and very fast. This one is thicker, warmer, more human.
A kinder, gentler Fear Factory?
It just had more thickness!
NO! I wouldn’t say less mean, it’s just heavier. I’m saying that the aggressive parts and melodic parts stand out even more, Burt’s voice got even stronger. The whole band has gotten better as the time has gone on.
While I understand that Obsolete isn’t a techno album at all, Fear Factory, in my opinion, really opened the door for mixing brutal music with techno beats when you released Remanufacture. You play with some wobbly organs on “Descent” and “High Tech Hate” on the new album, too. How interested are you in techno music? Are the techno producers out there interested in Fear Factory?
I personally don’t really like that much techno, I did before, when it was a new thing, but it’s burned itself out now. It’s all gotten really popular and played out, remixes are played out. Too many bands are doing it, like the Spawn soundtrack. We get techno producers who want to do remixes all the time, but that’s in the past now, it’s time to move on. Some of the DJs Junky Excell mixed it, I played guitar on the album, DJ Dano-O did the T-100, Kingsize, and Rhys Fulber.
What it was like teaming up with Rhys Fulber?
We’ve known him since 1992. Rhys co-produced the album and he knows what Fear Factory is about. When I first approached him he saw the vision in 1992, when he did the mixes for Fear is the Mind Killer, and he produced Remanufacture. Rhys knows exactly what the band is about. He’s almost a “quiet” member.
What about the twelve-piece string orchestra?
The 12-string orchestra. It was 13 pieces! You have to include the conductor! We wanted to really do something organic, I mean you could get those sounds from a keyboard easily, but we wanted to actually hire the Vancouver Chamber Ensemble and have them play. At first the conductor came out and he was an older guy and he actually liked the tracks [“Resurrection” and “Timelessness”] a lot, so he worked with us on violin and keyboards, put it all on a chart and brought the orchestra in the next day. We gave them all headphones, and I remember their reaction when the track came on: they jumped! It was pretty funny, they were kind of startled, and after a while they sort of understood it and grew to like it. It took all day, one full day, from ten in the morning to ten at night.
Did you feed them?
We fed them. They had a good time, it was a lot of hard work and it came out beautiful.
What about Gary Numan’s appearance on the album?
That was really cool. I love Gary Numan [who appears in spoken word on the Obsolete title track], he’s someone I’ve liked since I was eight or nine years old, so it was a great big honor just to meet him. Listening to him and his stories about flying around the world or getting arrested is like listening to your father teaching you how to be wise, someone you really respect. We called his management company up and in 1996 and he’s like, “I don’t know,” but we sent him some CDs and he liked them, so in 1998, we asked again and he said, “yes!” and he came down. He is the kind of guy with so many loyal fans, he could tour forever and everyone would come back, he was a pioneer in electronic effects. As much an influence as Black Sabbath!
What’s up for touring this summer? Any particular bands you’d like to tour with? Any controversial road stories?
We’re touring with Slayer starting Aug 5, all across America. Like to tour with? Faith No More, yeah. Controversial? I don’t reveal any of that information.
Faith No More, eh? Interesting. I’ve heard you’re involved with [outlaw Mexican drug lord, Satan metal band] Brujeria. Care to comment?
Don’t know anything about it. I’ve heard of them, but I don’t know anything about them.
What are some good Mexican metal bands?
Brujeria are a good Mexican band, they’re from Matamoros, but I don’t know anything about them.
Matamoros, eh? You pronounce it right.
Well, I am a Mexican-American! I was born and raised here, and I celebrate Columbus Day — I take the day off! It’s a holiday for Americans, I’m an American. If I was a full-on Mexican crying about Christopher Columbus, go back to Mexico! America has a lot of opportunity, people come from poor countries and they start slagging our country and…
What’s your best recipe for young Texas college students who sneak over the border?
[Laughs] Um… I don’t understand that question.
Where do you buy machetes?
You can get them across the border…
I guess you speak Spanish, then?
The publisher of Ink Nineteen speaks Spanish.
Is he a fan of Brujeria?
Yeah, he loves them.
That record still sells, you know.
Um, no, no. [Laughs]. You look like a lumberjack… How old are you? I’m 31.
35. What’s it like being 31?
I don’t look at it like it’s kids music. Music has no age limit. Kids who are 18 look like they’re 30, girls, though, you can tell their age. You should shave you head completely bald and your beard, just leaving the sideburns.
I’d lose my job. ANYWAY, got any cool Black Sabbath touring stories?
We played with the real Black Sabbath on December 19 and 20 of 1997. Ozzy’s a big Fear Factory fan, and we played the two shows in Birmingham with Bill Ward drumming, we were hand-picked by Ozzy. They played so much shit, man, they played “Dirty Women,” they played “Who Are You”…
Wow! Did they play “Tomorrow’s Dream”?
They played that, they did a two-hour set; it wasn’t like at the last Ozzfest, where it was only 45 minutes. Master of Reality is the first Sabbath album I heard, and there’s something on the at record where I hear that connection, right from the beginning of “Sweetleaf.” Well, Tony Iommi is a health freak, really good shape, Geezer loves to pull pranks. One day he had someone deliver an American Express brochure, he’s a nutter. You talk with him and you won’t believe everything he says, he’ll tell you anything because he knows you won’t question him. He’s a toy and comic book collector. Bill Ward is a very cool, mellow guy, who likes Fear Factory a lot. Ozzy is mad. He’s the kind of guy who’s taken so many drugs, he’s a nut, likes playing ridiculous guy. We played the shows with Ozzy and it was cool, great. But those were all with [former Faith No More drummer] Mike Bordon on drums, but when I saw them in Birmingham, when I heard all those songs, I got goosebumps, it touched me that much. The original oh-gee Sabbath, and here I am, having that privilege. But Bill Ward had a heart attack, did you know that?
No! He isn’t dead is he?
No, he’s OK. But he couldn’t play the last show in June, but Vinnie Appice played. Bill came out and apologized, but he’s almost 60. But anyway, the shows were pretty crazy, there was a part where Ozzy forgot one of the lines to a song, and Tony Iommi tells the crowd, “you see what happens when you do twenty years of drugs… ” Burton even got to sing during a sound check because Ozzy didn’t want to screw up his voice!
Wow! That is so incredibly cool!
Frankly, I’m one jealous Viking!