Interview: Ascension Of The Watchers
It‘s a voice I really enjoyed using because it's part of my personality as part of the type of music I like. Vocally, we reverted to a voice that I have but I haven't used in a long time.
Ascension Of The Watchers have just released their new album Aprocphya and it is a vast and emotional listen, and is a worthy follow up and definitely worth the long wait after their debut album Numinosom was released back in 2008. Gavin Brown had a chat with vocalist Burton C. Bell to talk about Aprocphya and the creative process that went into making the album and the struggles the band faced before making the album a reality. We also discussed his time with Fear Factory, working with Ministry, being in a band with a Geezer Butler, touring with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath and his enduring admiration for Nick Cave.
E&D: The new Ascension Of Watchers album Aprocphya is out now. How did the creation and recording process of the album go?
Burton: It went well, considering it took ten years to create. I started writing this record after the last Ascension Of The Watchers albums Numinosum was released in 2008 and I started writing the music shortly thereafter. I was coming up with ideas and I would demo them when I could, either with John or in the early days with Edu. I would come to them with an idea of either guitar or piano and record the idea and we would just start building up over years. After certain events in my life, poignant events in my life or describing how I was feeling, I was writing these down in my journals, I would always sit down and come up with these ideas musically I had. Over the years, I did try to get us signed to other labels, and to try to garner attention but there wasn’t any interest probably because the last album didn’t sell that well, it wasn’t pushed at all with the label. I just continued writing music and everything really started rolling when Jayce came into the picture. I’ve been friends with Jayce online since like 2005/6. I actually met him through MySpace of all places. I reached out to him from something he posted about Darth Vader. I found that very curious so I messaged him directly and we just started talking since then. We had been talking frequently but I had the opportunity in 2016 to meet when I was in Europe for a short amount of time with my family. I had a couple of weeks to spare so I flew from France to Wales for two weeks. I had my guitar with me and he said, “Hey, come over. You can stay with me. My studio is finished. Let’s do some music together”, and I’m like, great. I’ve got a couple ideas for the Watchers that I want to demo. In two weeks, we demoed ‘Ghost Heart’, we demoed ‘The End Is Always The Beginning’ and in those two weeks, Jayce and I grew very close and we became great friends. I fell in love with the studio. I fell in love with the area and I realized that this was the place that I had to record the album because after two weeks and just hearing what we did in those two weeks sounded better than anything that I’d been demoing previous. It was then my goal to record at North Stone studios so we we tried to figure out how to do that and we started going on with the pledge music campaign. I had friends that had used it and they were successful, but they did have issues trying to get their money, which is no different to me than trying to get money from a label. It’s all the same thing.
The Pledge `Music campaign was a success. We reached 124% of our goal. The fact that our goal wasn’t a huge amount of money, It was actually low for, for the rest of the artists that were up on Pledge Music. We were asking for a very reasonable amount and we reached it with only like 400 something people, which was amazing. That was very positive and with that in mind, and money in the pipeline, we can we can start making plans to start recording. In early 2019, we started recording and halfway during the recording session that the Pledge Music platform failed everyone miserably so we had to regroup and make new plans and realizing that we weren’t going to have any money coming. We had to figure out something else so we did finish recording the album. We still had to mix and master it. We still had to get the artwork and in the interim, with everything changing, I did make the artistic decision to change the album title as almost like a rebirth to try and make this thing, something new for us. The album had evolved from the original title that we had given it called ‘Storm Crow’. I felt it had evolved to a much deeper level. We borrowed money from friends and family to complete this album, knowing that part of our goal was to sign to a label that could help us pay off the people that we borrowed money from and that would honor the pledgers that ordered a CD or vinyl, because we felt that if it weren’t for the pledgers, we wouldn’t have gone this far anyway. In a nutshell, that’s the whole process, and after the mixing was done, we took our time on it because there was no time schedule. We were able to really be meticulous and take our time and get it right and the same with the mastering. Once the mastering was done, Jayce said don’t worry, I’ve got a contact with a label that already expressed interest. Once they heard the record, they said they wanted it hands down, so in the long run, we got exactly what we needed. We’re very happy about that and I’m very proud of this record, it was 10 years in the making. There’s a lot of thought process, a lot of thought went into it musically, and artistically, everything was well thought out. I think we’ve released something that all of us can be proud of.
E&D: How is the new lineup working out and did you work together with John as well, in the studio?
Burton: Yeah, it was all done in the studio. John, he’s been with me since the beginning. With Jayce coming into the picture, it has made a huge difference. It’s been going very well. This album wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Jayce’s input and co I got into the project, he is the drummer, but he also took the reins of recording and engineering and mixing it. My trust in Jayce is because we grew so close and I learned to trust him and he understood exactly what I was trying to achieve with his record. He listened and we discussed music in depth, production in depth, we discussed everything in depth and he understood it and he accomplished it. The three of us worked fantastically together.
E&D: What lyrical themes do you explore on the record?
Burton: Well, lyrically, this is the most personal album that I’ve ever written. I believe it’s the most one album in my entire career that most represents my personality and my style. All the lyrics are very personal moments that occurred in my life over the past 10 years, key moments that inspired me and inspired me to actually sit down with the guitar, with a piano and compose a piece. While I was composing the piece, I would write down thoughts in my journal about what I was feeling or words and phrases, just a line of a lyric. All the thoughts that came to my mind as I was writing it so it’s a very personal album. It looks much like the Watchers from the Book Of Enoch, it explores the idea and the concepts of love, love found, love lost, newborn love, the death of a loved one. It explores all of that and all the songs are written about a particular person and this record more than ever, it’s all about the love in my life.
E&D: Do you feel that you’ve got to explore even more aspects of your vocals with this album?
Burton: I got to explore an aspect that had been kind of looked over and even suppressed in a way over the years. I’d been pushed to deliver vocals in a different way that almost started reaching beyond my range. They wanted me to sound like somebody else versus the person that put the band on the map. The voice that I originally did, that low Gothic tenor, they said you’ve reached a point where you’re not being relevant anymore, you need to sound more like this. We explored a voice that I really haven’t used in a long time since maybe Obsolete, Demanufacture and the G/Z/R albums that really put my name on the map as a vocalist. It‘s a voice I really enjoyed using because it’s part of my personality as part of the type of music I like. Vocally, we reverted to a voice that I have but I haven’t used in a long time.
E&D: It felt more comfortable obviously doing it that way?
Burton: Absolutely, comfortable and it fitted in with what was going on. It was just the right thing to do.
E&D: The epic ‘Ghost Heart’ is the opening track in the album. Did you always want to introduce the album with that song?
Burton: No, I didn’t actually I originally wanted to start the album off with ‘Storm Crow’, the instrumental and after listening to all the tracks together and we did multiple sequences of song order, It turned out that ‘Ghost Heart’ was just the best one to lead off with it. It was a strong lead and it surprised everyone including myself, but probably after a little while I realized that ‘Ghost Heart’ was the best course of action and I’m glad I made that choice.
E&D: You’ve just released a video for the song ‘The End Is Always The Beginning’. Can you tell us a bit about the video and its creation?
Burton: Well, the video is created by a Brazilian filmmaker named Victor Hugo Borgia. We’ve been friends since 2007. He did the first video for us from Numinosum called ‘Residual Presence’ so when it came to this record, I reached out to Victor again after so many years to see if he’d be interested and luckily he was still quite interested. Once we decided on the first song and the second song, he had film that he never used so for both songs, he repurposed a film to fit the narrative of each song. I didn’t have any artistic input at all. The only input I had was getting Victor to do the video, because I knew he was going to do something amazing. I love his artwork. I love his style. When it comes to the creation, that’s all Victor, it’s him interpretating the lyrics to the narrative that he was thinking of. I really liked that, letting other people have a vision of their own with your music and your ideas. I think it’s become something that I really have embraced to actually let people do something for you to enhance your art, your artistic passion, and artistic pace.
E&D: What’s the feedback been like for the new material so far?
Burton: Oh, I believe it has been very positive. People are really taking to the music. They love the mood and they love the vibe so it’s been very positive, obviously, you know, it’s not for everyone. I realise that and the most ardent metal fan is probably not gonna like it. A few people have said, well this is not Fear Factory and that’s your first fucking clue, it’s a different name! This is not Fear Factory but there is a lot of aspects of my music that are Fear Factory because for thirty years, I was a big part of Fear Factory. These are the sounds that I have in my head that both inspired and created the melodies for Fear Factory so this is the same mind that was a part of that but all this music is directly from my mind, it’s all me and I’m very proud of it. It’s been a very positive response.
E&D: Ascension Of The Watchers started on Al Jourgensen’s label. How was the experience of hooking up with him and Ministry, who you toured and recorded with, how was that experience?
Burton: Oh, it was a great experience, it was a dream come true to actually work with one of my heroes. Al is a highly talented and a well renowned musician and to have the the opportunity to work with Al and Ministry, it was one of my proudest moments in my career to tour with them and to sing somebody else’s songs that I loved. That was a dream come true just to stand on stage and do that and be a part of it. I’ll never forget it. I will always be grateful for that moment in time.
E&D: Paul Raven played bass in his last recording with Ascension Of The Watchers. What are your memories of him and how was it working with someone who’s legendary as him as well?
Burton: We miss Paul Raven. The anniversary of his death is actually coming close this month. We remember him well, Paul wants us to remember him in a joyful and partying way, so that’s how we always remember Paul. It was through Paul and John that I got hooked up with Al. I had been talking to Paul for years before that and had the opportunity to get Paul to play two tracks on the Numinosum album. We did ‘Mars Becoming’, and he did ‘Sounds Of Silence‘. It was great. Paul was a quintessential musician and he was just ready to rock whenever he was ready and it was a great experience working with Paul, we miss him.
E&D: And how was it touring with Killing Joke after that?
Burton: It was a great honour to be a part of that. Of course Paul was missed, but the whole show was in honour of Mr Raven so it was a great experience. It was also an experience that influenced the outcome of this new album. I love Numinosom and during the live shows we did on that tour, I realized that that’s the sound I wanted, more like a sonic intensity through organic sounds without losing the sense of the song itself. Describing that to Jayce before the recording, he totally understood that. So it was actually that Killing Joke tour that influenced and inspired the sound of this album.
E&D: Going back to Fear Factory, you were in the band for, like you said, 30 years, what were some of your favourite memories from your time with the band?
Burton: Oh, you know, I had some great moments. Standing onstage for the first time at the Dynamo Festival, standing in front of almost 100,000 people. That was on the Soul Of A New Machine tour. The Demanufacture should know two years after that, when we introduced Demanufacture, at the Dynamo Festival, there was 120,000 people, so that was a moment I will never forget. There was a lot of highlights, some really great shows, one in New York city in particular, the sold out show at the Roseland. That’s a particular show I have fond memory of. All the bands and all those legends I had had the opportunity to tour with and meet and come to know and actually call friends, there’s a lot of great aspects of Fear Factory that I remember fondly.
E&D: How was the experience working with Geezer Butler on the G/Z/R Plastic Planet album, that must’ve been a highlight for you?
Burton: That was an experience all in itself. I had auditioned for it and I happened to be in England at the time doing promo for Demanufacture because back then you did promo three months in advance, so I was in the UK already doing promo and that’s when I got the invitation to audition. I had a tape with me already and I had ideas and I had a day off, on the day off Geezer got me on a train from London to Birmingham. I was picked up by his wife and went to his house and I met Geezer at his nice house with his big ass dog. We just sat for a while and he goes, okay, you ready? I’m like, okay. So he took me up to his attic studio and there was the Black Sabbath museum for Geezer Butler, it was amazing. I saw the bass guitar, I saw a platinum records for Sabotage and I go, Oh, that’s the record? Thats the record I love. The record that got me into Black Sabbath was Sabotage, he said you love that record, really? like he was disgusted or something! For the G/Z/R record I auditioned and put forward my my ideas and left it there and it was okay, you know, went to dinner and I left and went back to London and later that night, I got a call saying I got the gig. It was quite surreal and it was a great time period. We had just gotten off doing the recording and mixing Demanufacture, so I was still on that mindset and to work with Geezer Butler and Pedro Howse and Deen Castronovo, all together in a in a barn studio in the middle of Massachusetts, that was an incredible experience.
E&D: After you toured with, with Ozzy, who Geezer was playing bass with at the time. I saw the gig in Sheffield 25 years ago! How was playing with Ozzy on that tour?
Burton: Wow, it was fucking incredible. It was Ozzy’s Retirement Sucks tour so he was playing venues that were smaller than he had been accustomed to, we were playing like that venue you saw in Sheffield. It was maybe a couple of thousand people maybe. It was venues like that all around and It was a great experience. Getting to know Ozzy and his kids and becoming friends with Sharon. At that time on that tour, It was Randy Castillo on drums, obviously Geezer on bass and then it was Joe Holmes on guitar and it was just great. There’s this band Fear Factory opening up for Ozzy and a lot of Ozzy fans did not care about us, a lot of the times, mostly in Europe and the UK that the hardcore Ozzy fans were just standing up front, either throwing coins at us or just spitting on us the whole time, so it was it was a learning experience and it was a lot of fun.
E&D: I’ve just got one final question for you, Are you still as big a Nick Cave fan as you were?
Burton: Yes, I am still a big Nick Cave fan. I still buy his records and I still watch the videos and I pay attention to what’s going on and what he’s doing. I saw his last tour through the States. I think the last record I actually bought was Skeleton Tree which I love and Ghosteen too, they are both brilliant records and Nick, his artistic talent still impresses me and inspires me.
E&D: What would you say your favourite album is by him?
Burton: Of all time, Tender Prey. That record was the one that put Nick Cave on the map for me.