Interview: Burton C. Bell (Ascension of the Watchers)

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview and chat to Burton C. Bell several times, mainly in relation to his now-ex band, Fear Factory. He’s always been great to talk to – honest, funny, knowledgeable and forthright. With Ascension of the Watcher’s new album Apocrypha now out (and reviewed recently), it made an odd change to be talking to him about a different project… but every bit as pleasant.

You’re obviously best-known for Fear Factory, but you’re no stranger to other projects – City of Fire and G/Z/R being the most notable. What does Ascension of the Watchers bring to your musical CV in terms of style?

I am very proud of all my artistic achievements. They all have shown different facets of my creativity. I believe that the artistic drive of AoTW purely personifies inspirations. It allows me to fully experiment with the sounds in my mind, and the words that mix with them.

Is there a theme to the lyrics? Are they fantastic, cathartic, introspective…?

I was inspired by the story of “The Watchers” from the Book Of Enoch; the host of 200 angels that abandoned heaven to take human wives, teaching them the way of the stars, the heavens, fire and knowledge. The themes are all taken from personal experiences, and memorable moments in my life, extracted from my journals. The creative process is cathartic, as my music is my therapy. The concept of AoTW is loosely based around a “Watcher”, who pleads for forgiveness from God so that he may return to heaven.

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It’s been 12 years since AotW’s debut album. Has the hiatus of Fear Factory over the last few years been the impetus behind a return to this project?

The legal issues with FF were a driving force to move forward. As an artist, I seek a release for my creativity. I had demo’ed 10 songs between 2008 and 2018. I must say that Jayce Lewis was a driving proponent for the completion and release of Apocrypha.

With the news that you have now left FF, does this put AotW as your main musical focus?

Yes, and all my future endeavors.

The recent video for “Ghost Heart” is very Tim Burton-esque! Did you or the band have any input into it, or was it purely the result of Victor Hugo-Borge’s imagination?

I love the video for “Ghost Heart”, which was fully conceived by Victor. Victor listened to the song and lyrics. Victor interpreted the imagery to fit the narrative of the song’s lyrics and vibe.

Why the change in title from Stormcrow to Apocrypha (both being songs on the album)?

As the album recording progressed, and lyrics were being finalized for the vocal performances, it started to become clear to me that the initial title “Stormcrow” did not really define the album. I felt that “Apocrypha” did, and so I made that artistic decision to change the title.

The album has had a shaky history in terms of finance as a result of PledgeMusic screwing thousands of musicians over (let’s not mix words). How hard was it for you to deal with this situation?

The complete failure of PledgeMusic was a debacle, to say the least. It was a disheartening turn of events that made us evaluate our situation. We decided to complete the recording as planned. Without any funds coming in, we had to borrow from family members to complete the mix, master and finalize the artwork for the album. It took time, but with patience, we made it happen.

And has it affected your opinion of crowdfunding in future? Is it something you would return to?

I believe crowdfunding for artists is becoming a necessity in this day and age. It is unfortunate that PledgeMusic set a bad example for crowdfunding, but there are other outlets that do work for artists. If I were to do another crowdfunding, I will be even more cautious.

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Live shows for the band in the past have been fairly small in number. Is this likely to change once restrictions are lifted?

Yes. We are planning a tour for next year, at the time that most agents believe it will be “safe” to attend concerts. I am looking forward to performing live again, especially with AoTW.

Twelve years is a long time between albums! Though we’re only just at the launch of this one, do you have any ideas or material for what is to follow?

I do have a couple of new ideas in the works. We would like to release another album within 2-3 years.

Many thanks, and best of luck with the release and any future plans. Hope to see you back in the UK again soon!

Thank you! I am looking forward to performing live in the UK in the near future! I hope our paths cross again!

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