Interview: Front Line Assembly

By Joe Radio
Live on-air, November 23, 1990

In the studio was Zone Six DJ Vince (VB), with Bill Leeb (BL) phoning from his home in Vancouver. Since we had already done several interviews with Bill before, this one focused mostly on things that happened since the first tour (in late 1989).

JR: Front Line Assembly was in the Bay Area in September 1989, about 14 months ago. In that time, you've managed to release four new records [Front Line Assembly's Caustic Grip LP, Delerium's Syrophenikan LP, Noise Unit's Response Frequency LP, and the Cyberaktif "Temper" 12" single]. How did you manage that?
BL: Well, we didn't tour for a whole year, and that gave me ample time to create things. And Vancouver's an amazing place to write music, because there isn't much going on.

JR: Sort of like Brussels, right?
BL: Yeah, Antwerp is even worse. I think you get bored if you do just one particular thing. It's great that you can do numerous things and survive doing it, as opposed to working on just one band. It used to be that if you did that, people would say, "oh, he's going solo." That's not the case anymore with anybody. I think everybody likes to do different things because you just can't do the same thing all year.

JR: With all these projects going on, do you write specifically for one or the other, or you decide which tracks belong to which projects after you've recorded them?
BL: When we did the Front Line record, we took three months and dedicated ourselves to writing the new album and the singles. After that, I went to Europe, specifically to do Noise Unit in Belgium, so it was easy to concentrate on that. When I came back I did the Delerium record. With Cyberaktif, that was when we came back from the last Front Line tour. I needed a place to stay, and Kevin Crompton [Cevin Key from Skinny Puppy] put me up. When I was there, we just started kidding about the old days [Bill was an original member of Skinny Puppy, as "Wilhelm Schroder"], and we thought it might be fun to do a real hard-driving electro album again, so we put in a couple of quick calls to Jim [Nash] at Wax Trax. Of course there was a lot of weirdness from other people about that, and Kevin was told things like "if you work with Bill, we'll never work with you again". But eventually that all got smoothed out.

JR: It's interesting to note that the Cyberaktif record was made at a time when Ogre had left Skinny Puppy to go hang out with Al Jourgensen in Chicago. That seems to suggest that Ogre was the real reason that you left to form your own band in the first place.
BL: I think when I came back [from the first F.L.A. tour] there was a lot of turmoil in the Skinny Puppy camp because Ogre had left, and nobody really knew where anybody stood with that whole situation. Kevin must have thought, "well, nobody's doing anything right now, and if Ogre can work with the Ministry/ RevCo crew, then I can work with Bill." It seemed silly that one person could go off and do that but the others couldn't. And when word got out that Kevin and I were working together again, more political garbage flew around. But I think controversy is great. There's probably more that I don't even know about.

JR: Well, it sure makes for great gossip. How much Cyberaktif material will be released?
BL: There's the "Temper" single which is out already. There's another single coming called "Nothing Stays" in February, and then there's a full album coming out. We were going to put that out earlier, but Wax Trax had too many other releases in their schedule, so we had to push it back.

JR: How did Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten come to be involved with Cyberaktif?
BL: We got to know Blixa when Neubauten played here at Expo '86, and we did some heavy partying with those guys, and we kept in touch after that. There's this woman who's really in on the art scene, and when we were doing Cyberaktif, she called us at the studio just to see how things were going, and she also said "Oh by the way, Blixa's here." Of course, right away we said, "hey, wouldn't it great to have Blixa do some singing on our songs?" So we went to the liquor store and bought him his favorite German beer and invited him down. It was a bit tense at first, because the song we were doing was quite funky, and we didn't think he'd want anything to do with it. Eventually he said [fake German accent] "Well, why don't I tell you what I don't like, and we can go from there?" At first, he added some piano parts to it, and before long he went in and started singing and screaming, and history was made. He's someone we've always wanted to work with, but we couldn't just do a Neubauten record; that would be silly.

JR: I'm sure it was a great release for him.
BL: I think he had a lot of fun. I think he's a lot more open minded now than he was, say, five years ago. He works with lots of different people now, and that's a good example of someone who doesn't just stick to one thing all the time. We were really happy that he did work with us. It was just one phone call one night, and there he was, two hours later. It's the kind of thing you just can't plan for. But it's those unplanned things that often seem to work out the best.

JR: Will you do any more Cyberaktif stuff in the future?
BL: Well, I guess that depends on whether Ogre decides to go back to Ministry again. [laughs]

JR: Let's move on to Noise Unit. You and Marc Verhaeghen [the instrumental half of The Klinik] conceived Noise Unit during your first European tour, right?
BL: That's right.

JR: And you actually did some live shows with the Klinik?
BL: Yeah, we did a gig in Amsterdam with them, at the Milky Way.

JR: For this second Noise Unit album [Response Frequency], you went over to Belgium just to do the record?
BL: That's right.

JR: The lineup on this record, besides yourself, Rhys Fulber, and Marc, also includes Luc Van Acker and Marc Ickx from A Split Second. Did you get everybody together and have a party while you were making the record?
BL: No, they don't really party very hard over in Belgium. They just sit at home and count their money. It was just going to be Me, Marc, and Rhys, but Belgium's such a small country and everybody knows everybody else. At one point we had a track that needed some guitar on it, so we said "Let's give Luc a call." So there he was the next day, with all his gear, ready to go. There's just not much else going on in Belgium. We were even going to have Daniel Bressanutti, from Front 242, mix one of our songs, but after he heard it he decided that he'd better not do it. Conflict of interest, I guess.

JR: Do you have plans to keep Noise Unit going in the future?
BL: I haven't really thought about that. We're dedicating the next five or six months exclusively to Front Line Assembly, with the tour and everything. For the last Noise Unit project, we just happened to have some time, and the record company was willing to pay for our plane tickets to Belgium.

JR: Delerium and Front Line Assembly are the two main projects that are under your control. How do you separate the work that you do into one or the other?
BL: It's not difficult, really. When we're doing Front Line, we dedicate ourselves to just that, for weeks or months at a time. When we have enough material for a strong album, we say we're "finished". Delerium is just something that we do when we have time and we're not pressed to do anything else. I don't just like one type of music; there are a lot of different things that influence me, and that's really why Delerium exists. When I'm at home, I like listening to more ambient music, stuff that's less beat-oriented than what you hear in dance clubs. In a club it's good to hear real hard-driving music, but I doubt that you want to be constantly listening to heavy drum machines in your living room.

JR: But I have to say that one of my favorite danceable pieces that you've done is "Gaza", from the second Delerium LP, Morpheus. And on some of the Front Line records, there are great tracks that follow a more mellow style.
BL: Yeah, we do get confused sometimes.

JR: What's the meaning of "Syrophenikan", the title of the third Delerium LP?
BL: It's basically colors and ideas that are separated. It's a word out of the Bible, and you can't find it in any dictionary.

JR: When did you record the newest Front Line Assembly album, Caustic Grip?
BL: It was mostly spring and early summer of 1990.

JR: Rhys [Fulber] is now the number two man in Front Line Assembly, after Michael [Balch] left. Has Rhys worked out well, now that he has more responsibility in the band than before?
BL: I think it's worked out great, because he and I always liked more of the same kind of music. He's a lot more fun to work with.

JR: By the way, has he turned 21 yet?
BL: No, he just turned 20.

[At this point, we opened the interview up to listeners phoning in. The "caller" mentioned here is someone named Chris, from Sunnyvale.]

Caller: How has Front Line Assembly changed since Mike left? Are things better or worse?
BL: I think our latest stuff is a lot better. The working situation in the band is a lot different because Rhys is working with me on everything, and his taste runs more into electronic music, just like me. We don't really fight over anything.

Caller: What was Mike's role in the band?
BL: He did some of the keyboards and programming. I would write the songs, and he was really good with the software.

VB: When are you going to be on tour?
BL: We're starting around the middle of January, probably in San Francisco at the I-Beam. We might be doing a show in Sacramento before that, but I'm not sure where. This will be about a two month tour of the US, and then we'll go and do some dates in Europe.

JR: Who will we see on stage when you come to town?
BL: It'll be me and Rhys, and a third guy, Chris. It's an all new, much heavier and harder show, with lots of new things going on. I'd tell you now, but then that wouldn't leave anything to the imagination.

JR: What are the odds that you'll ever play a live show in your home town of Vancouver?
BL: Actually, we're boycotting Vancouver. It's really sort of a human wasteland up here. We'll probably play up here some day, but not unless they pay us $20,000 or something. I just don't think we have anything to prove in Vancouver.

Caller: Bill, could you try to play shows at clubs where the age limit is under 21?
BL: Yeah, that is a problem. The I-Beam is 21 and over, right? I guess most of the time, they want you to play at over-21 venues, so everbody will buy beer. I'd rather have all-ages gigs, because I know that a lot of our fans are under 21. [Later on, during a musical break, Bill looked at his notes and found that Front Line Assembly had already booked a date at the Edge in Palo Alto, which does admit people under 21 for live shows.]

VB: In the future, do you plan to concentrate on one particular band, of the current four?
BL: Well, the Cyberaktif thing was just something we did because we had some spare time. Delerium will probably always be there, because I really enjoy working on more soundtrack-oriented music. The other projects all fall into the category of "things to do when it's raining outside." For me, Front Line Assembly is the most important thing right now.