Byron Stroud of Fear Factory

I find a lot bass players – especially [bassists who] played with Devin before me – they're like guitar players that play bass, or just come along and start playing bass. I think I brought a different thought process to it. I came in as a bass player, and musically that's about it. But I bring in a lot of [the] business side of things too. A lot of bands, especially with Strapping, didn't have any kind of business direction, and I came on board and definitely helped with that.

Interview conducted and edited by Bryan Beller
Interview original transcription by Jon Carroll

Photo by Scott Boelson

How long have you been playing bass?

I'd say probably 24 years now.

And you're from where originally?

From Vancouver, BC.

How old are you now?

I'm 40.

Did you ever go to school for music?

I did not.

So are you totally self-taught or did you do stuff in high-school also?

No, totally self-taught man. I think I took one bass lesson when I was 17, and just learned the notes on the guitar and had friends show me things, and [I] just went from there.

What is the mission of the bass in Fear Factory versus the mission of the bass in Strapping Young Lad? Is there any difference for you?

Total difference man. Strapping was more...there was so much chaos that I was always trying to find a place in the music. I'd play a lot more minimal type stuff,; play on Gene's snare, play things just so I could be heard. With the two guitars of Devin [Townsend] and Jed [Simon], and all the samples going on, and just the overall chaos, it was just always trying to find the spot for the bass.

And then when I joined Fear Factory it was like I had to learn to a whole new style, because Fear Factory's bass basically is a second guitar. Even with my tone, it's a total distorted tone which is kind of like a guitar, and then I've got another sound which is all low end, which is for the bass. So basically I had to learn a whole new style and basically become a second guitar player when I joined Fear Factory.

You play mostly with a pick in Fear Factory?

Yes. Completely with a pick for that reason, trying to match the guitar. I find it's a lot easier for my style anyway.

But you do finger style stuff depending on what the project is?

Exactly. I've got another band called City of Fire which just came out, with Burton [C. Bell] from Fear Factory as well. It's a lot more of a rock kind of project, heavy rock thing, and I play probably 80% of that with my fingers. I started playing with my fingers before I played with a pick, when I first started playing bass.

When did you first start playing with a pick?

Pretty much when I joined Strapping. So that was, like, '95, I guess.

What is the something that you bring to every project that work on?

I find a lot bass players – especially [bassists who] played with Devin before me – they're like guitar players that play bass, or just come along and start playing bass. I think I brought a different thought process to it. I came in as a bass player, and musically that's about it. But I bring in a lot of [the] business side of things too. A lot of bands, especially with Strapping, didn't have any kind of business direction, and I came on board and definitely helped with that.

You just read my mind on the next question: Some of the managerial aspects that you do for the bands you're in – how and why did you get involved in that?

Well, I realized at a very young part of my career that the business side of it was lot of it, you know? Sure, you had you to have good tunes and be a good band, but if you didn't have anyone in the band that could control the business side, you weren't gonna go anywhere. So, I just figured that somebody's got to do it [laughs]. It was just for lack of having somebody there to do it, and with my family's background – both my father and my brother are successful businessmen and I was around that my whole life, with family businesses and whatnot – I took from what I'd learned in my childhood and just applied it to music.

About you and drummer Gene Hoglan as a rhythm section – obviously, you guys did Strapping and you did this, and there's differences. What makes you guys work as a rhythm section? Just you and him, what's your thing?

I'm just used to playing with him so long in Strapping and whatnot, and he's the easiest drummer in the world to play with. He's so amazing, he's always on. Even when he's off, he's on. It’s just kind of crazy, right? It just made my job a lot easier. I've played with other drummers and I'm like, “God, why is this just not locking up? Is it me or is it more from the drummer?” With Gene, you're always on with him, and it makes it so easy. Plus, we're such good friends.

I read his mind now because I've been playing with him so long. I know exactly what he's gonna do here and there. Even if we've never played the song together before, I know exactly what he's going to do. It's from a lot of playing together, and with Strapping I developed a style of bass playing around his drumming. It just works. I feel very comfortable with him. When we brought him into do the Zimmer's Hole record [When You Were Shouting At The Devil…We Were In League With Satan, 2008, Century Media], it was such an easy transition for everybody that's completely used to playing with him. Like I said, he's always on, never off, right? He's just amazing, he makes my job really, really easy.

So, about tracking Mechanize – what gear did you use to track that, and what do you have on the road? And then also the process of tracking it, was the bass the last thing in? The first thing?

Usually I like to do bass with metal records once the drums are edited, and then it's guitars. I like to track bass with finished guitar. Because there's nothing worse than tracking bass first and then having the guitars have to work around with the bass. It's easier for the guitarists [to] figure what they're going to do and let them have all their little changes first, so that they're not fooling around trying to fix things later.

And then I just come in after that, and that's when I like to lay the bass down. For the record, I did [the song] “Mechanize” with a 6-string ESP bass with a really cool low tuning on that, [an] F# sharp tuning on that. And then as far as the rest of the record, I did [it] on my custom Fender Jazz basses that I have. For amp setup, for my distortion sound I used a Marshall Mosfet head for my distortion through a 4x12 cabinet, and for my clean tone I used a SVT-4Pro through an 8x10 cabinet.

And again, what's the tuning for Fear Factory?

For “Mechanize” it was an A tuning, standard A and then for a couple of songs it was dealing with an 8-string tuning, which is an F# tuning.

So when you say standard A you mean...


The whole [usual 5-string tuning] down a whole step?

Yeah, exactly.

And in “Mechanize,” when you say the 6-string, is that an F# below a B?


Jesus. So, F#, B, and then E-A-D-G?


Yikes! What's the gauge of the F# string?

[Laughs] For me it was a 145. [Laughs] It was kind of nuts. It's a crazy tuning but it sounds good. It's fun and I like playing that tuning actually. It's super-freaking heavy.

What do you consider Fear Factory's metal sub-genre to be?

Wow. So they always get this cyber-metal thing because they were the first band to use the industrial side of music in the metal. Fear Factory was the first band to [have] a heavy death metal voice with the clean melodic voice too, right? Which every band in the world does now, but Fear Factory was the band that started that.

They were also the band – besides bands like Godflesh and stuff – doing the heavy thing with industrial. Fear Factory took it to the next level, in my opinion. So I don't know what to call them. I guess an industrial heavy metal band. Cyber-metal. Or whatever. [laughs]

Is there elements of death metal in there, because of the vocals and the extreme nature of it?

Yes, there is. Especially the early stuff. The first Fear Factory was all Death Metal, as heavy as can be and then have a little break in the chorus that's melodic singing over open chords, and even this new record is the heaviest thing they've done since Demanufacture [1995, Roadrunner], so it's a little more back to those early death metal-style roots, but definitely done with this feeling of 2010.

What's your take on the community of metal bassists? You've been around for a while and you've met a lot of these guys.

Yeah. You know what? I think it's funny. I mean, I'm friends with a few of those guys [in this metal cover story] and we rarely talk about bass. It's funny. We're all friends, we all hang out. I get together with John Campbell [of Lamb Of God] and it's like, “I'm not a bass player!” [laughs] And I say the same thing, we just laugh about it. We talk a little bit about gear but it's like, we're all friends, we all get along. We all know that bass in a metal band is fun but it's like, you're rarely heard. You know what I mean. So it's kind of funny. We're all buddies and we all get along, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of shop talk – do you know what I'm saying? Which is fine.

You know what's funny? About half the people [in this article] have the vibe that you have, and there's the other half which are really into the technical stuff.

It's funny that you say that now, because whenever I hang out with Sharlee [D’angelo of Arch Enemy], we talk a lot of bass.

There seems to be a sudden increase in some of the technical stuff [employed by] metal bass players. What do you make of that?

I think it's necessary. The genre is growing. The metal genre is growing and people are trying to take their shit to the next level, and you have to grow in some way. For some guys, the technical side is more what they're looking into. For me, I've always wanted to serve the song. I've wanted to play my parts as the best thing for the song. I never wanted to be that guy that everybody knows is a killer bass player. It's more interesting to be that solid backbone that the guys I'm playing with are like, “Hell yeah, that's perfect for the song.”

I never wanted to be the flashy guy. When I was learning as a kid, I'd have guys around me learning Iron Maiden songs and everybody wanted to be like Steve Harris and I was like, “Fuck that, I want to be like Cliff Williams.” I want to play on AC/DC songs. [laughs] Just lay it down, right? It's funny, listening to old Deep Purple – I got so much influence from Roger Glover and I didn't even realize it. Cliff Williams was just laying it down solid and not caring about being that guy in front.

Why do you think metal is so big right now?

I don't know. Maybe it's different. You know what I mean? It's just like the extremes of it, man. People are always looking for something different and little more extreme... and all the problems that are going on in the world, that helps. People are pissed off, and metal's definitely an outlet for people that are pissed off. There's a lot of things that people are pissed off about right now, and that's pretty much it. That's what got me into metal, just being an angry kid. There must be a lot of anger out there, I guess.

MORE from The New Golden Age of Metal...


John Campbell of Lamb Of God

 Honestly, I never saw the bass and was like, “I’m going to play bass.” I had friends [and] the opportunity to play music came up…they had a house with stuff set up, and I was playing my friend’s drums with his roommates and the bass playin’ roommate took off for the summer. My friends whose drums they were was like, “Hey, why don’t you just let me play my drums and you can play Mike’s bass rig.” And that was when I was 18, and that’s how I ended up playing bass.

Sharlee D’angelo of Arch Enemy

I think it’s great actually that people are getting interested in musicianship as such again – especially the guitar players, you’d be amazed by how fast they are, and their technique and everything. And some of them, you give them a few more years and I think someone will probably come up with stuff even better. So I think it’s a good thing. People start out playing a lot of technical stuff and then after a while they’ll probably slow down a little bit and just use whatever musical abilities they have to go to the next level.

Nate Newton of Converge

When I joined the band, we were actually a five-piece, and we had two guitarists, and so when we became a four-piece, I then had try to compensate at least for the sound of a guitar being there, so I started playing with a lot more distortion than I had before. And then using two amps certainly added to that. Also, I didn't start out as a bass player, I started out as a guitarist, and I basically started playing bass because Converge needed a bassist to go on tour with them one summer.

Steve DiGiorgio, Extreme Metal Session Ace

 I just gradually became this “session player.” I love it. I don't care what it's called, I'm just so happy to just plug in and jam with somebody else. ‘Cause everyone has killer ideas, no matter what level of musician or what age of band they are, there's always something new and killer about playing with someone different, and as long as they keep giving me the chance to keep doing it, I'll keep doing it.

Liam Wilson of The Dillinger Escape Plan

 I’ve always loved to cop the Jaco punk-jazz stuff or like, you know, fusion-metal or something like that. I really abhor the whole sub-categorizing thing, but I definitely feel like my band is a mix of like really fusion-y stuff, really metal stuff, thrashier metal stuff, and a little bit of melodic pop, poppier sensibility, [with a] kind of punk attitude? I don’t know.

Chris Beattie of Hatebreed

I don’t want to be overly aggressive, but I like to have a clean tone so you can hear every note, like defined individually, but I like to dirty it up so it’s in the mix where it’s almost like a guitar but it has a lot of bottom to it. I like balls, and the definition. Those are my key things.

William Murderface Of Dethklok

You can’t put into words what I do. It’s like asking Robert DeNiro how to act, or why George Burns was a comedy genius. I mean, we’ve just got the goods. There’s no secret formula. And I’m sure all the sad struggling bassists out there will read this hoping for the secret to being an amazing bass player like me, and there isn’t one and then they’ll kill themselves.

The New Golden Age Of Metal, The Complete Interviews

Yes, there really is a cartoon character on the cover of the April 2010 issue of Bass Player. But that’s no ordinary animated dude; it’s William Murderface of the quantruple- platinum, über-brutal metal band Dethklok, an act so big that their record sales can affect the economies of major Western countries for good or ill.