Interview: Front Line Assembly

By Joe Radio
Recorded: April 24, 1988
Air date: unknown

Recorded by phone from Bill's house in Vancouver.

JR: I've really been enjoying your new album Corrosion. Besides that, the only other Front Line Assembly work I'm aware of is "Aggression", from the Third Mind compilation For Your Ears Only. What else can you tell us about FLA's history and other recordings?
BL: The band goes back about two years. Shortly after I quit Skinny Puppy, we released two limited-edition cassettes, one called Total Terror and one called Nerve War. These were both limited to 100, so mostly just our friends got those. Then we released an album on Dossier Records called State Of Mind. Dossier is sort of a small label, so I don't know how well that got distributed, but we just did it because I liked a lot of the other artists on the label. Then we did Corrosion with Third Mind and Wax Trax, which worked out much better as far as distribution and promotion.

JR: So prior to the release of Corrosion, your work was only available on European labels. Does that mean that most of the people hearing your music were in Europe instead of here in North America?
BL: I know that State Of Mind did make it over here to some odd places, but I guess we could say that Corrosion is our first "official" release. Third Mind is getting very good distribution in Europe by Play It Again Sam. Third Mind used to be distributed by Rough Trade and The Cartel, but they don't really put a lot of effort into you unless you're the Smiths or the Woodentops or something.

JR: How did you end up working with Third Mind Records? Wouldn't it have been easier to work with Nettwerk?
BL: When I quit Puppy, there were a lot of politics with the whole Nettwerk situation. They were also talking about five-year contracts and touring 60 dates of the year, and we weren't ready for that kind of a commitment.

JR: One might expect that since your band and Nettwerk are both based in Vancouver, it would be a good arrangement.
BL: Yeah, I always get asked about that. You'd be surprised at how many bands are trying to get signed by Nettwerk, but I think Wax Trax is doing a much better job in the States. Although Nettwerk has an arrangement with Capitol, only two of their bands are really being distributed worldwide. I much prefer to be working with Wax Trax.

JR: Is Wax Trax licensing all of Third Mind's roster, or just your stuff?
BL: No, just ours.

JR: I didn't realize you were in Skinny Puppy, since your name doesn't seem to appear on their records.
BL: I used the pseudonym "Wilhelm Schroder". I was on most of Bites as well as the "Stairs And Flowers" single. I was with them from the very beginning; we were all best of friends back then.

JR: I notice that you're using the past tense there. What happened to the relationship?
BL: Well, when you get three people together who all have a lot of ideas, and if there's not a lot of give-and-take, one person is going to end up on the outside. I was doing the live shows with them, but I wasn't getting the chance to be creative in the studio. I was also beginning to get a lot of ideas in my head, in case I decided to start another band.

JR: I notice that you are still working with producer Dave Ogilvie, who has done a lot of work with Skinny Puppy.
BL: Yeah, he lives here and has always been "one of the boys", and is still a good friend.

JR: On Corrosion I also see the names of Tom Ferris and Cal Stephenson from Moev.
BL: Vancouver's not really that big of a place, so we all get together at the clubs and so forth. Moev has a 16-track studio here called Limited Vision, which we used quite a lot. We are always swapping gear with them. We credited them on the album because they helped us out in many ways other than the music itself.

JR: Where did you do the recording of Corrosion?
BL: We just set up things wherever we need to. We try to do pre-production at home and then go into the studio afterwards. Four of the songs on Corrosion were written in a flat above an underground clothing store, where we shared the place with 200,000 pairs of sunglasses. There was no ventilation, it was late August, and it would get up to 110 degrees, so the whole scene was very weird. We just did things wherever we could find the time and the place.

JR: The finished product certainly sounds very well-produced.
BL: Some of it was done in a 24-track studio, but parts were done with 16 or 8 and eventually pieced together. I think we created a pretty good mood with the whole thing.

JR: When I try to describe your music, words like "electronic" and "dance" certainly come to mind. How would you describe it?
BL: I really don't mind the term "electronic", although there is some guitar on one song. At this point, we really are willing to try anything. For the new album that we're doing, we're still not sure which direction we want to go.

JR: Who are some other artists and groups that have inspired or influenced you?
BL: Mark Stewart, Throbbing Gristle, lots of others. It's a pretty long list.

JR: Have you been to clubs where your own music is being played?
BL: [Laughs] Yeah, on a pretty regular basis. I always feel weird when I hear my own stuff; I just sort of go off in a corner and drink my beer. Oh, back to your earlier question about describing our music; we're really not trying to tell anybody what to do or what to listen to. We do have a more ambient side too, like the song "On The Cross", and I think we kind of walk a fine line between that and the more dancier stuff. When I'm just sitting at home, I'd much rather listen to something that isn't just constantly upbeat.

JR: Who's your partner in Front Line, and how do you split up the work?
BL: That's Michael Balch. It works out really well because I do most of the songwriting, and he's better at more of the technical stuff. I also come from more of the crunchy side of electronic music, like Neubauten or Test Dept., and Michael comes from the other side, so we kind of meet in the middle. I don't think we sound like Neubauten or Depeche Mode, but sort of a happy medium there.

JR: What else are you working on?
BL: We have a six-song EP coming out called Disorder, which should be out in the middle of May [1988].

JR: What about videos?
BL: We do have a video for "Body Count", which will be on the Disorder EP. Wax Trax has a video sampler with that as well as Laibach, Front 242, Revolting Cocks, Borghesia, etc. I heard they were trying to get it on [MTV's] "120 Minutes", but I think they are fairly suspicious about what they put on the air.

JR: Are your videos particularly graphic or shocking or anything?
BL: Not really, it's just different than the usual Top 40 stuff. We show riots and lots of other stuff that's going on in the world. But it's not all gloom and doom, because we think there is hope.

JR: Are you planning any live shows?
BL: I hope so. Wax Trax is releasing Disorder and then maybe another single in September. Hopefully after that they will put on a tour for us. We've been asked to come to Europe already. Maybe between Play It Again Sam and Wax Trax we can set up a world-wide thing. I heard there's a cool club there [in San Francisco] called the I-Beam, right?

JR: Yeah, they have the Swans this week and Revolting Cocks were also there recently.
BL: Really? They never come up here [to Vancouver]. We get stuck with groups like OMD.

JR: Is Front Line Assembly the main thing you're doing, or do you work in a hardware store by day or something like that?
BL: Actually it's become a full-time thing for me. There's definitely a lot to do right now, so it's much more than just a passing fancy. We definitely want to take it many steps further. I mean, we actually have a budget for our next record, which we've never had before. But we're not going to start bringing in producers or anything, we're going to keep doing things ourselves.