Bill Leeb and his band Front Line Assembly have been around since 1986, showing an impressive longevity and innovation in a somewhat stale genre. Last year we got the soundtrack “Airmech”, where their sound was infused with the sound of today, and this burst of creativity continued into “Echogenetic”, the latest album. I called up Bill himself in his Vancouver home to talk about the making of it.
We have interviewed Bill several times before, but the positive buzz around the new album made us want to chat to him again. Talking to Bill is an enjoyable experience. He gladly spins off on stories and anecdotes, and seem very open and also interested in getting to know you. Hell, we even talked about salmon fishing in Skellefteå – a town in the northern part of Sweden, where I was going the day after the interview. But anyway, that’s not why you are here, I presume. I’ll save that for another article.
We rule with technology
The new album “Echogenetic” is a return to an all electronic Front Line Assembly, which we haven’t seen in a long while. Not that there’s anything wrong with using guitars, but it’s refreshing with change. The sound isn’t really “back to basics”as such, it’s more a blend of the FLA sound and modern dance influences like dubstep, and if you’ve read my review you know I think it’s a great album.
So, how did you decide it was time for an all electronic album again?
- Well, we just thought “why don’t we make an electronic album now?” It’s been quite a while you know. We were using a lot of guitars and mixing it up that way. I don’t really like going back in time, but that was what drew me into this kind of music, the electronic element of it. So I thought why not bring Front Line back to what motivated me and what started it. And that in itself would make this record different.
- The genre has seen a lot of evolvement for such a long time, from the early days, the Wax Trax era, electronic music and metal crossover – Ministry, NIN… I think music has come full circle, as most things do like fashion. And our scene too. And I think it’s actually harder to make an electronic album that’s hard sounding without guitars. I mean once you put them in it’s so much easier to sound tough. So, we tried going back to what it was all about, and that’s what makes this album different than the last 3.
FLA has always been a sort of fluid entity, with members moving in and out of the project. For this album, the crew was bigger than ever before. Bill explains the workflow.
- There’s Jeremy Inkel and he works with Sasha Keevill in one corner, and then we have Jared Slingerland and Craig Johnsen in the other corner, and there was me in the middle working with both camps. Going “let’s do this, let’s do that”. And then we would get together every 2 or 3 weeks, and there would be a lot of anxiety and idea exchange and “yeah I like this or this”. It moved the whole album along faster, and it was a new feeling having all these people working towards the same goal.
- Having new influences mixed with the old is a big part of the way this album sounds. Jared likes a lot of electronic and indie rock, and Jeremy also likes a lot of electronic, like the Deadmau5 kind of thing, Sasha likes these old synthesizers… To me it’s one of my favourite records, that I actually like to listen to. Maybe because a lot of the ideas are from other people. The record needed all these people.
Note: Sasha and Craig aren’t featured on the promo pictures.
The dark side
At the end of the process, Bill sits down and writes lyrics, which is his usual method. The only track that was handled different was “Ghost”, where Bill had written it before they even had any music done.
- I was feeling all dark and depressed one day, so I just wrote down all the words I had in my mind, you know. It actually worked out, but usually I do it at the very end.
This introspective mood is something we return to when I ask him about the theme of “Echogenetic”.
- I think a lot of this album has to do with mortality, feeling mortal. Some days I wake up and try to make sense of everything I’ve done, and… I don’t want to sound old or disenchanted with life, but… you know when we started Puppy we were these young people having a good time. We partied. We were idealistic. We thought we could change the world. I think you need that naivety when you’re starting out, because you have to make a lot of noise and not worry about anything. You have to think that you will make a difference. And I think that as time goes on, you start seeing more, knowing more, seeing how the real world operates, and seeing how you might fit in with the scheme of things. It kinda changes your whole outlook on life and how you approach things. And unfortunately sometimes you start seeing your mortality, your limitations, and that puts you in a weird spot.
- I think being an artist is kind of a tough place to be, no matter if you paint, draw, compose, write, or whatever. A lot of famous artists end up on the darker path of life, being disenchanted. But I think these feelings are essential to being a creative icon of sorts. I think it can be a lonely path, and a lot of artists end up being poor or broke. And I don’t think that you, as an artist, have a choice. It picks you. And people say, in order to do good music “that’s how you gotta be”. We can be miserable people and isolationists. I don’t really put myself in that spot, but some days I just feel very disenchanted. And I’m sure it’s not unique, I guess we all feel that.
Bill seem a reflective sort of person, but he doesn’t sound bitter when we talk about these things. It’s merely stating some facts, and it’s done with a slight glint in the eye.
- So the theme on the album, is mostly about mortality. Some songs go into more political, evil upheaval stuff, but mostly me thinking about life and death. You know, I’m always struggling with people, lives and every responsibilities as everyone does. It’s really hard sometimes to keep up.
- You know I hear some other people’s music, and think “wow, these guys sound so happy”, haha! And then I think “am I really that dark of a person”? You know, everything I do must sound pretty heavy. I guess there’s no rhyme or reason to why some bands blow up, and other bands that are also really good never get the acclaim you know? But you can’t start comparing yourself, because you will become disillusioned. I guess it’s just the way things are.
Being a tech-nerd myself I couldn’t help myself, so I had to ask about what equipment they’re using.
- Basically we use Logic for writing, and Greg Reely is using Pro-tools for mixing. And as far as gear goes, we use everything now, whether it’s virtual or an old Mini Moog, Micro Moog, Expander or whatever. In both studios, in both camps, there’s a lot of gear. Everybody was just using everything, and because of the technology, you can mesh everything together. And I think Greg’s still one of the best mixers around. I think there’s a lot of artistry and creativity on this record, and a lot of experience. There’s a lot of human power behind it. That’s just as important.
There was some talk online when people started to get glimpses of “Echogenetic” about the dubstep influence. I think it’s an overreaction, since the album is merely influenced by it, it’s not based on it. Bill gives his views on the “debacle”.
- I don’t know about this dubstep thing, all of a sudden there’s this whole controversy about it! “I’m fucking done with Bill Leeb”, “sounds like Skrillex” bla bla, and I’m thinking “Cool. We’re linked with Skrillex!” The guy has had a lot of success, right? I think it (Echogenetic) has a sort of different feeling to it, having different people working on it. As a band, you have to evolve artistically. You constantly have to challenge yourselves and remain creative.
- And it’s kind of interesting, the new Puppy album got a lot of love. I’m sort of hoping that with our album and theirs, we’re breathing some life into the whole scene again. It’s sort of on a downward spiral, no pun intended, hehe. The last new thing was the thing called futurepop right, but I don’t think much has happened since then… anyway, so I don’t even own a dubstep record, haha.
In other news…
Any material that didn’t end up on the album?
- Well, a couple of songs. They’re kind of finished but not completely. And believe it or not, we have 15 or so songs that we thought “these are more Noise Unit”, so we might do something with those.
There’s also a remix album on its way.
- And we’re also doing something kinda cool, a remix album. Every song on “Echogenetic” will be remixed in an artistic way by an artist. Haujobb is doing one, Necro Facility doing one, Rhys Fulber is doing one, etc, so we’re gonna have 11 songs and each one will have a different remixer. We’ll probably gonna call it “Echogenetic Reinterpreted” or something.
Is it coming out in the fall?
- Well we don’t wanna rush it. And we want some other artists on it. I think it could be an interesting release. So it’s that, and probably a new Noise Unit. But it has to be on the level, we can’t release anything substandard.
What about the proposed joined Skinny Puppy and FLA tour…?
- A while back I started throwing that idea around. I thought it would be a good idea, because of our connection, the fans and the history. For North America it would be a great “Monsters of Industrial” sort of thing. I wouldn’t mind going on first and doing a shorter set. It’s just being part of it, bringing back the whole thing…from before Wax Trax, before everything, right?
- I know Dave from Metropolis really liked the idea, but it’s obviously a little complicated. We’re all for it. It’s more up to the Puppy camp if they can, and promoters too. I just really like the idea of after 25 years just coming together, you know? A great way to close an era, and start a new one. I have my fingers crossed, I think it would be fun. It’s guys I used to be really great friends with, and hung out together with for a long time, so it would be like a “Familientreffen”. I think the fans would like it too. Sometimes you have to dream big. If you dream small, you stay small.
You could bring out everyone and do some Cyberaktif songs!
- Haha, yeah. You know it’s funny when we were doing Cyberaktif me and Cevin Key used to hang out every day, and we were big fans of Blixa and Neubauten, and he happened to be in town. And we said “let’s invite Blixa to do some vocals”. We had this song called “Paradiessets”, and we were so nervous… have you ever met Blixa?
- He’s kind of an intimidating guy. We were still pretty young, and he was a bit of an icon to us. So we brought him to the studio, and he was just being Blixa to the fullest (here Bill slides into a German accent) going “I don’t like this sound”, “turn this up”. And we were in this studio like “whoa”, totally stressing out, but we were determined to get this recording with Blixa. Cevin would just look at me and say “Bill, this is total pressure, man” with Blixa glaring at us from the recording room, with his big hair. And we were like “scheisse, shit man this is so stressful, I hope he doesn’t think we suck”. He had major attitude back then. So it was fun. People talk about this project a lot. But sometimes projects… well, you do them once and then leave them alone.
So, there you have it. A reinvigorated Front Line Assembly, back again with an album that seems to get praises from almost everyone, with more creative forces than ever, and a pensive Bill Leeb that actually seem pretty happy doing what he’s doing.