Front Line Assembly interview focusing on TACTICAL NEURAL IMPLANT and side projects

It’s fairly common for electronic musicians to be involved with several projects at the same time, but few have been as prolific as Front Line Assembly’s Bill Leeb and Rhys Fulber. In addition to working under the FLA banner, the duo has recorded as Intermix and Delerium and been part of Cyberaktif (with Skinny Puppy’s cEVIN KEY and Dwayne Goettel) and Noise Unit (with the Klinik’s Marc Varhaegen). Recently, the duo branched out even more and did a remix EP with death-metal outfit Fear Factory.

Front Line Assembly was originally started up in 1987 by Leeb, who had previously been part of Skinny Puppy. Leeb says that everyone in the group had their own different ideas, and he also wanted to try vocals, so the time was right for him to leave and try something else. The connections made with that band helped considerably in the launching for Front Line Assembly, as the first two labels Leeb sent cassettes to offered him contracts.

Fulber appeared on a few tracks on the first LP, “The Initial Command” (KK), and then Leeb teamed up with Michael Balch. Balch left and Fulber returned as a full time member for 1990’s “Caustic Grip” LP (Third Mind/Wax Trax!).

So many different projects has allowed Leeb and Fulber to explore a wide variety of electronic styles. Front Line Assembly is geared toward fast, aggressive music, with Noise Unit pushing this format even further to the pain threshold. On the other hand, Intermix is slightly ambient techno-rave music and Delerium is instrumental, atmospheric sound track music.

The latter is something that Leeb would like the explore even further in the future. “That’s a part of the music business that really interests me, and sooner or later I’d like to just spend all my time doing it,” explains Leeb. “I just think it’s a pretty neat process.”

With Cyberaktif’s “Tenebrae Vision” LP (Wax Trax!), Leeb was able to answer the question of what Skinny Puppy would sound like if he had stayed with the band. Leeb found working with his former bandmates to be “kind of fun.” He says it “was just sort of like rehashing old things, but it was different this time because we were a bit more established.”

Leeb says that he never had any interest in making music until he started hearing electronics being used. He had played violin while growing up in Austria, but never liked the music he was hearing back then. “I was never a big fan of the 70’s music scene at all,” he explains. “I never bought stuff like that, never got into it. But the first time I heard a couple of these weird sort of electronic things, I thought ‘wow, this is different’.”

Sampling has always played a part in Front Line Assembly and its’ off-shots. It’s not uncommon to hear lines from horror and science fiction films like “From Beyond” or “Freejack” pop up in the songs. But beyond this and the use of samplers to manipulate sounds into new instruments, Leeb is actually opposed to a great deal of what is going on with sampling in the music scene today.

“I have the biggest problem with it,” he explains. “To me, a lot of rap is just a poor excuse for people who can’t write songs. They’re so obvious about it, they don’t even try to hide it. Most of the songs I recognize by what they steal, rather than what they do on top of it … I don’t mind taking little things from movies, but I think when people loop a really recognizable song, it’s wrong.

“I think all the drum beats that you hear in rap are all stolen, they do them is basements in New York, and then they just have one keyboard and the guy raps to it in the hopes that it sells a million records. I think that’s kind of a drag. They should have better copyright laws and stuff like that.”

When it come to creating sounds, Leeb says that the group uses “every imaginable source of sound.” The band has been known to go to great lengths in order to come up with unique sounds for their music. One favorite source of sounds is old analogue synthesizers.

With the first few Front Line Assembly LPs, Leeb moved from label to label, signing one-album deals to avoid being tied down. He says that it is fun having product out on a variety of different labels, and doesn’t mind that some of them are in Europe. “I used to just buy imports here myself,” Leeb explains. “I used to think that they sounded better and were more prestigious because they came from overseas.”

Leeb ended up sticking with Third Mind for Front Line Assembly, and Wax Trax! released the music domestically. But that ended in mid 1991 due to legal problems with the bands’ European label, Play It Again Sam. An EP, “Toxic,” was shelved because of the court hassle, and then Third Mind started up a US branch in time to release the “Tactical Neural Implant” LP. Many of the tracks from Toxic ended up as bonus cuts of singles from that album. Now, most of the music Leeb and Fulber do comes out on Third Mind, though there is a clause in the contract that allows the group to take their material elsewhere is that label doesn’t want to and can’t release it. Usually, the group then takes it to Germany’s Dossier Records, who have released the five Delerium albums.

“Caustic Grip” was the album that brought Front Line Assembly up from the underground, and when it came time to do a follow up Leeb and Fulber decided to take a different approach to prevent it from sounding the same. As a result, Tactical Neural Implant had a less dense, slightly less aggressive sound. Leeb predicts that the next LP will present another change in the sound, though it is too early to say what it is.

With Intermix, their most recent side project, Leeb and Fulber are experimenting with techno-rave music. Leeb says that the group likes to follow trends because it keeps things fresh and presents them with a challenge. “With Front Line, we can’t really change with every record,” explains Leeb. “But I always like trends – they’re great, they come and they go – so we figured with Intermix it would be a great tool to always do what’s current and never lose our identity.”

Leeb is not concerned at all by the fact that the rave music Intermix is emulating is probably going to be outdated in six months time. Rather, he feels that it is important for music to be constantly changing because it creates new ideas and keeps things moving. “Scenes like that aren’t meant to be taken seriously, they’re just fun things,” he says. “People go out on the weekends and dance whether it’s rave or disco or funk or whatever it is. It’s just something to motivate people to get out there and have fun.”

Although Leeb and Fulber are involved is so many different projects, they tend to keep them all separate.”We put a certain amount of time aside for one particular project, because we work with certain sounds and things like that so to organize things in our computers and on our disks and stuff it’s a lot easier to sort of go into one mold and do one particular style of music and we keep everything pretty separate,” explains Leeb.

Leeb and Fulbur recently released a new Noise Unit LP (minus Verhaeghan) called “Strategy of Violence” (Dossier). The duo is now at work on the next Front Line Assembly album, which should be completed by the end of the summer. A Front Line tour will follow the release, and Leeb thinks that a new Delerium LP may also be completed by years end.