City of Fire is the Vancouver-based atmospheric, psychedelic heavy rock/metal band featuring members of Fear Factory, Strapping Young Lad and Zimmer’s Hole. Due to the relative popularity of the member’s day gigs, there’s a good chance the band’s name may be familiar to some of you. However, as vocalist Burton C. Bell explains, there’s a lesser chance, and a very good reason, the quintet’s music and self-titled debut album would be less-than-familiar to a far greater number of you. We caught up with Bell for a quick studio update, interrupting his last bit of backing vocal recording and dreams of denouncing his American citizenship in the process, as the band were in the home stretch of recording of their second album. So, where are you guys at the moment? Right now, we’re in Vancouver, BC at The Factory. It’s a classic studio; it used to be Little Mountain Studios and we’re in studio B right now recording bass. This is where we recorded the last record and this is where we recorded most of the new record. We did some of it in Toronto at Iguana and are doing the rest of it here and everything’s going really well.
Why have you split up the recording locations? It has to do with the FACTOR [Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings] grant we’re applying for. Part of it has something to do with the studio in Toronto and that’s where we filmed the video. So, since we were there and the video was part of the FACTOR process and the director was out there, we figured that since we were out there, we might as well use the studio and we spent almost two weeks out there.
So, are you a Canadian citizen, or at least an honorary Canadian, now? [Laughter] Well, I like to think I’m an honorary Canadian. I’ve spent a lot of my time up here. I live in Pennsylvania, but with City of Fire, I’ve pretty much spent the last two years up here and I’ve been either living at [guitarist/producer] Terry [Murray]’s house or [bassist] Byron [Stroud]’s house just getting work done and writing music. I hope to be able to afford to live in this town one day…
In Vancouver? [Laughter] Yeah, good luck! Yeah, exactly! I did buy a lotto ticket for that $50 million draw last week, but I didn’t win.
Compared to the first record, how much material did you have prepared before going into the studio? There is a big difference; we’re not getting to know each other anymore. We’ve been working together and touring together, so now we have a real idea of our sound. So, we were definitely prepared going into the writing and studio process. I believe we have found our sound on this record and when you hear the music, it is City of Fire and all the elements are there, but everything is more cohesive. The last record was some older songs that were part of the [members’ previous band] Caustic Thought days, some new stuff Terry brought in, whereas this one is everyone working together as a unit.
Was there anything you were trying to differently? We didn’t really try to do anything different, we just went with the flow of what our sound was. It all just really came naturally.
How long had you worked on the new album? It’s been like the whole year. I came here in February or March and started working and have been going home back and forth for a while. Today is the last day of backing vocals, Byron’s finishing up bass and Terry’s adding a few rhythm guitars. We’re pretty much done, aside from the mixing.
How was the album written? Was it a matter of you guys getting together to write in a room or was it a solitary, bits-and-pieces process? We all had ideas and demoed stuff which we brought to the table. From there, we figured out what would work with what after going through everything. It was kind of like trial-and-error in some ways. The stuff we didn’t think would work, we moved on from; the stuff we latched on to, we just kept working on.
What has recording been like this time around? It’s been a real interesting year and there have been a lot of hang-ups. We have a title for the record and it really resonates with what we’ve been going through, not just personally and in our own lives, but as a band in general. The working title now is Trial Through Fire and the biggest problem was on the business side where our initial funding was cut off. We were going through the person who put out the last record and started the process of doing this album and while we were recording and doing demos, he decided we were done. And we weren’t done. There were things happening and he wanted us to sign this ridiculous contract and our stance was that all of this should have been worked out before we started. So, what happened was that he stopped funding us; there was no more money, no more studio, nothing, that was it. We had to take almost three months to regroup and come up with another idea or plan and somebody who could help us. We have someone who has come in thankfully and really saved this band by finding funding for through FACTOR grants and whatnot and is managing this band properly. Finally, we have a manager and she is making this record happen. And here we are. What I’ve described is just the tip of the iceberg of the trials and tribulations we’ve all being going through, business-wise and personally; we’ve all been dealing with some harsh realities this whole year. So, yeah we feel Trial Through Fire speaks volumes.
When do you think this will be coming out? We hope to have it out in March and I think, now that we have a manger in place, we can schedule properly. We definitely want to tour, but we want to tour properly. We want to do the right tours, play with the right bands, get good opening slots and play the right festivals. We have to do it correctly this time. We made a lot of mistakes on the last record. The only good thing about that last record is that we got together and made that record. The best thing about that record is that we realised that we get along well, we’re a great band together, we have fun playing together and that it brought us together. But the person who put it out, fucked it up royally and it damaged the band in a lot of ways. So, this is our true first release and the proper debut of this band.