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Bill Leeb (Front Line Assembly)

Updated : 08:28:14am, 2nd Jan 2016

Bill Leeb (Front Line Assembly)

Following on from my review of 'Echogenetic', I have finally published my interview with Bill Leeb.

BL : Hello?

MH : Hey, is that Bill?

BL : Yeah

MH : Hey Bill, it’s Matt from Rock Sins, how’s it going?

BL : Hey how’s it going?

MH : Yeah, not bad. It’s good. Can I actually say it’s a privilege to have the honour to speak to you mate

BL : Aww, well, cheers!

Laughs

MH : It’s a rare opportunity that I actually get to interview or even chat to any of the guys who’s music I’ve actually followed and enjoyed for years, so on a personal note, I’m quite honoured!

BL : Well thank you. Erm, well I guess I…

Laughs…

MH : OK, cool, so first off, I suppose the important question and important thing is that obviously you’ve guys have got a new album out, ‘Echogenetic’… what can you tell us about the writing process or sound on the release for those that haven’t yet heard it?

BL : Well, erm, I guess this sound of this record maybe it started pretty much with the record we did prior called ‘AirMech’, a soundtrack for a game company called Carbon Games and the games called ‘AirMech’; it’s all instrumental so we thought we wanted to sort of really shift gears and just start, you know like, getting a bit more into like, you know not er, well there’s definitely dub-step elements involved in that, but we just incorporated new sounds and old ideas and so forth and it was kind of a really cool warm-up and we got a lot of, you know, there was always going to be haters, but you know for the most part we got a really great response from that and we just thought we should just continue on and evolve and keep that going for the new Front Line record. As for Jared and Jeremy, they’ve sort of been working with me now for the last 7/8 years, and we have like two writing camps, Jared and Craig and then Jeremy and Sasha, so everybody would write songs and then once every two weeks we’d all get together and critique everything and always jump in between both camps and you know, we set a deadline for this record because a lot of times you can spend a year or two, you know, just wandering and changing your mind and sometimes not ending with better results so we set a deadline and stuck to it but because we’d done ‘Airmech’ in a certain way that we’d wanted so we kinda knew where we wanted to go; also we dropped all the guitars and we thought let’s really go back to the early days as far as what influenced us and really got us into electronic music and then again, I think we had a few haters on us for the dub-step, you know but I’d say like 97% of the people really loved it and to me it was better to have a love / hate to the record rather than a mediocre approach to the whole thing, so it seems like now it’s definitely paid off for us to take that step and I think this whole scene from the early days to now, from the ‘Last Trax’ days of Ministry and Revolting Cocks, Nine Inch Nails, the cross between electronic and metal and stuff, but our scene and even the euro-synthpop with VNV, I think now the whole scene needs to move ahead and make some new sounds and new ideas otherwise it gets stagnant; I figured this time, we had nothing to lose you know…

Laughs

MH : There is that as well, yeah, I myself am a big fan of electronic music, I mean you mentioned Ministry and Kraftwerk, some of the stuff I grew up listening to, the metal and stuff, have these elements and these days there are a lot of crossover bands and a lot of people that try and do things differently but I feel that a lot of the time some people do it because it’s just something fucking different, they go “oh, we’ll be a metal band but we’ll whack in a load of this” because nobody else is doing it rather than that being something that actually works for them, which is another reason I’m so much into yourself, Puppy and you know, you mention Revolting Cocks, if I talk about that around here people would probably get the wrong end of the stick; people wouldn’t understand what I was talking about because people don’t know about these great bands and these great artists that have been and gone… Erm, you mentioned a couple of things through talking there that I was going to ask, for example who worked on this album with you but it sounds like you’ve actually got a nice little setup with that, you know you’ve got the groups of people you’ve worked with before that you all bring something to the table and you all, you know mix and match and see what’s the best path forward for you…

BL : Yeah, ‘cos in the really early days it was just me and Rhys and then me and Chris, and then, you know like, because things and music are way more like, you know, ‘tweaky’ and a lot of the sounds and some of the songs, a lot of effort went into editing and cutting them, so it makes it a lot more fun and well, not easy, but it is actually a lot less pressure when you have more material and more people working from as long as you know what you then just having two guys focus on the whole thing, so that’s really refreshing in the fact we’ve all been working together a while and that definitely works to our advantage and you know, just what you said before, I was listening to the new Gary Numan single yesterday, ‘I am Dust’, you heard that?

MH : I haven’t no…

BL : I’m a huge Gary Numan fan, and he has a new album coming out called ‘Splinter’ and that single sounds a lot like the new NIN single with our song ‘Blood’; same feel, same type of sort of electronic, I don’t want to use the word dubstep, but it just has that sound… and of course it’s got Gary singing on top of it and I really liked it, I just felt like “wow, he’s kinda doing what we’re doing now” and with Trent’s new single, I think everybody’s evolving and changing in their own way but still really electronic, so I thought that was great. He was such a major part of our scene, you know, so a huge influence on me back in the day, so to hear him doing something that sounds more like what we’re doing was kinda cool…

Laughs

MH : Yeah, it comes full circle really…

BL : Yeah, yeah…

MH : I suppose, with guys as important as yourself and as influential as yourself, each to different levels, you know, whilst more people worldwide may have heard of Gary Numan because of one or two large singles that he had, everybody plays an important part. I think that’s good that you can identify with things that other people in a similar vein do; people rub off on each other, I think it’s impossible to not be influenced by what’s going around you, by your peers and contemporaries and I think that in essence it helps, rather than be, you know, one of those generic metal or generic dance /electronic bands that come out and just have the same, hmm, shit, to be honest and I’ve heard it a million times and just because I like metal doesn’t mean I like ALL metal bands, or I like electronic music; that doesn’t mean I like ALL electronic bands… it’s finding that middle ground and something that works. So, again, tying on with that, I was going to ask you before, in your opinion what’s been the biggest technological improvement that’s allowed you and helped you, perhaps even hindered you, with writing music now compared to how it would have been when you started?

BL : Well, it’s pretty much just the whole sort of computer generation you know with ProTools, which every 6 months has a new version and if you have that, you don’t need to go to a big recording studio, you can get the same, if not better, results from your bedroom…

MH : And at your own pace, as well…

BL : Oh, you know it’s just so different. In the old days we would write a record and then we’d load into a huge studio for two weeks and be up 24 hours a day with knowing that we’re gonna have to pay $30,000 to be in this place and we have to get the results. Now, with this new record, you know when we have songs we’d send them to Greg, he would mix and send them back and we’d spend a week listening and be “well, we like this” and “we want to change that” and for a fraction of the cost and that’s technology for you. And I guess the other thing too is that a lot of the virtual synths now are becoming so good, sound quality wise, that it’s so hard to tell the difference between them and the original old ones and because when they’re virtual they don’t go out of tune, you can save all the programs, they don’t crash. You know, we used to have synths, even the first Moog’s that had MIDI, they’d crash every week and you’d loose all your sounds and software, so in that aspect technology and computers completely changed that part of it, and that’s the biggest part; when I listen to our old records they all like real drum-machines and stuff and so I guess technology’s evolved so far that those are definitely part of the key aspects, you know all the stuff that’s virtual and all the new mixing software and so forth, I mean, who knows what they’re going to come up with next. And also the vocal processing, good or bad, autotune has become a standard for a lot of singers and people are down on that because they’re like “anybody can do that” so there are some drawbacks I guess…

MH : Yeah, absolutely. And a question I was going to ask which in many ways ties in with what we’re talking about now, is that what do you find or have you found are the biggest challenges when you try and re-create your music live because in many ways, you get, for example a metal band, with two guitarists, singer, bassist and drummer and they’ll stand there and bash out the same tunes, they just need a PA basically, but do you guys need to involve sound engineers prior to your set or do you use your own guys?

BL : Well, I mean we used to have one or two guys but up ’til now, plus up ’til this year, our set has had a lot of guitar songs from the ‘Millennium’ era on Roadrunner, so we’ve always had a guy playing guitar on like 70% of the songs and we always use a real drummer, that was Adrian or Jason, and when you rehearse without a drummer you just sound electronic, but when you throw a drummer in the mix, you know the energy it creates… This time around we’ll still have a real drummer and a lot of the keyboard stuff is live, but we’re definitely trying to avoid standing on stage with a laptop looking like you’re checking your emails…

Both laugh

MH : You could probably get away with that though!

BL : Yeah, we don’t go down that road. You know, even now, I think a lot of bands that DO do that kinda of stuff nowadays, it’s really more about economics and everything’s so expensive, budgets are so small… people just want their music to be heard and that’s how they have to do it, they can’t afford these 5/6 piece bands to try and re-create what they’ve created and financially it can’t support itself, so i think that has a lot to do with it…

MH : Absolutely, this weekend I was discussing technology and the internet and how it allows people to collaborate across the world, it doesn’t matter if someone’s travelling or with another band or even if somebody’s on bloody holiday, they’re still able to work with each other and bounce ideas off each other. And you know, Mike Patton of all people did an album a couple of years back purely by email; it was a case of somebody would do the backing track and send it to him and we’d layer on some vocals and it’d go back and forth and somebody would mix some drums on it and when you listen to it, you’d never know it was written ‘cross-Atlantic’ shall we say, and I think it’s quite amazing that there are some bands still true to what they mean to do and what they live to do but at the same time, ultimately, as you say, finance and what have you limits that to a point… But OK, another question I had; you mentioned Greg before and in terms of not necessarily just this album, but in general, having a long time producer and mixer or the same guy who works with you, I don’t want to say behind the scenes because I’m sure it’s not JUST behind the scenes, but what does that bring to the table? How much involvement does Greg or somebody like that have in shaping the sound of Front Line?

BL : Well, you know I think Greg’s still one of those guys who I think is better than a lot; I think he’s Vancouver’s best kept secret in that he himself has never been the guy who wanted to go out and market himself as one the best mixers in the world but he’s just happy being in his pocket and you know he did mix almost every Fear Factory record and that band had a pretty iconic status so he’s pretty diverse in doing that kind of stuff and I guess for us it’s like when you work with him for over 25 years it just like with every good relationship, it just evolves and I think we all just like the way this new record went and we’re still getting to that new place and everybody pushes everybody, and it’s challenging, but you know Greg’s part of the family so we never have to worry or stress because I know lots of bands get new producers and mixers and then they don’t like what they hear and they fire them and they go for somebody else, so at least we don’t have to go through that… So, who knew. I know he even did some of the Skinny Puppy records in the past so he’s got a huge resume of great things he’s done and he just doesn’t mind being at the back of the limelight and enjoys working with people so it’s a big bonus for us.

MH : Excellent… Well, I guess it does make it easy when it’s somebody you know and can trust and not that I wish to diverse and labour talking about Skinny Puppy, but I would like to briefly touch on that because for me at least, they’re one of my favourite bands, and I saw them a couple of years ago, and being in England as well, it’s a lot harder to see decent, I want to say ‘industrial’ acts, purely because that’s how I viewed them and saw them when I grew up… I mean, I saw Ministry a couple of years ago and I’ve been to hundreds of gigs over the years, but seeing Ministry, well, I nearly cried it was so incredible for me and it was the same with Puppy, but I understand recently you guys proposed, or yourself proposed a potential tour with them; is that true or is anything happening with that?

BL : Well, you know, I just sorta threw it out there to the president, Dave Heckman from Metropolis, who’s a good personal friend of mine, and Kevin’s, and I just threw it by him because I wanted to get two of the biggest innovators that were part of the scene from early on together to play bigger places to get everybody, young and old, who was every into this scene and get them to show up and make it an experience because we’ve both been out there for years playing and touring and I think both me and Kevin feel the same way as far as you don’t want to tour just for the sake of touring so we look for reasons to tour now and I thought you know, I’ve known both those guys long before Puppy and we were all best of friends and that this would be like the ultimate reunion tour and could just be like an epic thing and I know it feels like at times fans can turn things into rivalries, but at this point, it’d be great to come full circle and do that one tour and just have everybody, and I think you’d get all the new people who like this stuff would come out with the people from back in the day… And I still run into people all the time who are like “oh, weren’t you in Skinny Puppy? Are they still going?”, ‘cos you know for the average person music isn’t a way of life, so I’m all in… So I said let’s make it a Skinny Puppy plus special guests Front Line Assembly, and obviously the finances would have to work out and so forth, so I just put it out there, and I think Ogre tweeted that it was a good idea so who knows; it’s still out there and hopefully maybe it’ll still happen…

MH : Well, absolutely. I for one would, well, KILL, to see something like that regardless of who else was on the bill and in what order it played out and obviously again, being in England it’s optimistic that whilst it’d be great it happened in the first place whether or not it’d be international, but hell, I’ve always wanted to go to Canada and the US so it’d be a great opportunity and excuse to pack in work and just head over there to catch something as important, I suppose, as that… And I can imagine on a personal level as you know the guys and you’ve worked with them, you’ve both carved your own piece into the scene; you are both innovators and important artists of a generation in many ways and for somebody of my age who grew up having it shape not only who I am now but the music tastes and the things that I enjoy now purely because of growing up and listening to bands like that…

BL : Well, my friend it’s been a long, crazy, wild trip from back in the day of DAF (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) and Kraftwerk and to The Prodigy and Future Sounds of London, it’s been a big ride and a lot of bands come and go and come back and like I said, I think when just yesterday I’m listening to Gary Numan’s new single and I’m going “you know what, this is really cool, he using new music and it’s still Numan’s voice singing” and I just remember being a young kid listening to ‘Are My Friends Electric?’ and Numan was on the cover of NME and he’d just brought a plane and was the biggest thing in the UK and I guess, you know, we’re all just warriors trudging through life and I guess once you do it, once you’ve committed to it and music is your art, whatever it is you do it sort of picks you, you don’t pick it, and good or bad and how successful or how unsuccessful you are at, I guess you have no choice with it, it just takes your life down that road and as you said, it is truly coming full-circle when I see an artist like Gary having a new album; he’s actually going to play Vancouver at the end of August. He’s obviously not as big now as he was back in that era but who knows, I keep thinking with the new Puppy album and our new album we’ve had the most success with this record so far in the last 15 years, and the same with them, that maybe parts of the scene will get a little bigger and again more young artists will get into it again, because I know indie-rock has completely swallowed up the world…

MH : Yeah, yeah, and that’s a shame. As I say, myself, well, I wouldn’t be able to live without music; I wouldn’t be able to live without my hearing and I wouldn’t be able to function without thoughts of some of the things I’ve experienced but this talk of Gary Numan is making me think of a question that I was going to ask earlier, in that over the years, you’ve worked with a variety of musicians, both session and live, but are are there any currently that you haven’t done but whom you’d like to work with? I mean, I guess, Numan would be quite incredible…

BL : Um, I haven’t really thought about it too much at this point… Actually, we had an artist here from the UK… her name is Phildel and me and Jared recorded a few songs with her and so I don’t know whether we’re going to do a new thing with her or whether it’s part of the Delirium moniker, but she’s back in the UK now and she’s got a lot of interest; I think she’s doing something with the BBC…

MH : Yeah, the name definitely rings a bell…

BL : Yeah, you can YouTube her if you want, it’s just Phildel… you know, as it sounds. I think Apple used her composition for the iPhone or whatever. Quite interesting you know, so I don’t know, so we’re just gonna focus on a little tour here and go forth and see what else we can do.

–##–

We tailed off for the last minute or so of the conversation, discussing their London show and my having a beer with Bill… unfortunately do to work commitments I was unable to do either of these, so here’s hoping the chance comes around again!

http://www.rocksins.com/2013/09/interview-bill-leeb-front-line-assembly-18283/

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