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Christian Olde Wolbers Speaks About Launching Arkaea During Fear Factory Hiatus

By Lisa Sharken, New York Contributor
Monday, December 22, 2008 @ 10:14 PM


There are rumors going around, but there’s no (Fear Factory) breakup. We’re just taking a break.

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Best known for their work with Fear Factory, guitarist Christian Olde Wolbers and drummer Raymond Herrera are an unstoppable team as musicians, writers and producers. While on hiatus from Fear Factory, the duo has put together a new band called Arkaea. Although it was started as a side project, it has quickly flourished into a kick ass band where both can expand their musical horizons by taking things in a slightly different direction. Arkaea's music is just as crushing as Fear Factory, but is focused more on heavy guitar, melodic vocals, and driving rhythms, with no keyboards or industrial elements. The new group is completed by singer Jon Howard and bassist Pat Kavanagh from Threat Signal. Olde Wolbers was introduced to the members of Threat Signal when he produced their debut album, so he was already familiar with the skills and playing styles of both musicians, and their styles and personalities proved to be a perfect fit for Arkaea.

After finishing all the main tracking for Arkaea's first offering, Olde Wolbers talked about how the group and the music came together. He relates the primary differences between his roles in Fear Factory and Arkaea, describing what it's like to finally have the chance to focus his attention on being a guitar player. While he does still handle many other responsibilities of production that are involved in the recording process, this time the album was done with a full band, and a bass player to record the bass tracks. In Fear Factory, he played guitar and bass on the last few albums, along with writing and producing the music. It's certainly a lot of work for one person, so it was a big change to have the time to concentrate on guitar performances and developing good parts, rather than just getting things done quickly in order to move on to another element of the production.

With more time to experiment on guitar sounds and tonal textures, Olde Wolbers has been busier than ever tweaking tracks on the album and sculpting sonic auras with his signature gear—a new Randall amplifier, Jackson guitar, and Pro Tone preamp pedal—and the assortment of tools in his setup. He was happy to talk shop about the gear he's using to record and will be using in his live setup.

Arkaea's debut disc is scheduled for release on March 10th, 2009 through Koch Records. Check out samples on the band's MySpace page: www.myspace.com/Arkaeamusic.

KNAC.COM: You and Raymond have started a new band, and many people think that means Fear Factory has broken up. Let's set the record straight. What's happening with Fear Factory at this time? Are the rumors of a breakup completely untrue?

OLDE WOLBERS: We're just waiting until everyone comes together and then we're going to figure out where we're going to take Fear Factory as a whole. There are rumors going around, but there's no breakup. We're just taking a break.

KNAC.COM: Tell us about forming Arkaea. Why did you select Jon and Pat for Arkaea?

OLDE WOLBERS: I had produced the first album for their band, Threat Signal. Jon was living in my house when we were making the album and we became good buddies. I think Jon is very talented and I really like his range. After Fear Factory's last tour in 2006, we all went our separate ways to chill and relax for a while. Burt [Bell, Fear Factory vocalist] had a child on the way and he's got a second baby now, so he's a father of two kids. He also has a new project that he's been working on called Ascension of the Watchers, as well as touring with Ministry, so he's been busy with that while we wait to see what happens in the near future. Next year we might do something with Fear Factory. But I had written all this music and I wasn't going to let it go to waste and just sit around for a couple of years while we figure out what we're doing with Fear Factory. So I told Ray we should use the music that we've been writing and I think I have the perfect singer for it. That's when we called Jon. He was in right away, and that's when we started working. He came out here and did some demos with us. That's what you can hear online right now on our MySpace page. Raymond and I wrote it, then we sent it to Jon. Jon put a microphone in his laptop computer and sang on the tracks, then he sent it back to us by email. Once I heard it, I said to Ray that I think this is going to work. Then we finished writing the entire record.

KNAC.COM: So when you and Ray initially wrote these songs, they were intended for Fear Factory?

OLDE WOLBERS: Yes, actually they were intended for Fear Factory, and there are still some songs sitting around that I didn't record because they were very Fear Factory. Fear Factory's music has very mechanical rhythms, and some of those songs just didn't work for this band. In this band I actually have the freedom to do different things on guitar. I can do something different sonically or dynamically that I normally wouldn't try for Fear Factory. When Jon came into the picture, I was able to play more rather than to stick between two lines, which is how I work when I'm in Fear Factory mode. I realized that if I'm going to take these songs and make them work for a different project, I should be more open to the structures and the riffs. I might play something really simple that I normally would be bored with, but if it sounds really good with the vocals, then I'll let the vocals take the main part rather than try to write a guitar riff that's going to be really intricate and conflict with the vocals. Intricate riffs are not really the perfect platform for a vocalist to stand on. So I took a different approach on the riffs that we wrote and some of the stuff is very simple. The songs were created from good hooks and melodies that kept ringing in my head, and it kind of made me push to playing guitar with a different approach than I normally do. I'm actually playing less guitar tracks, but I'm doing more overdubs that work sonically, which I never really did in Fear Factory. I never really did a lot of overdubs with Fear Factory. This time around, I'm experimenting a lot with different sounds and more effects, and I'm trying to step out of the metal thing and be open creatively to using a lot of different sounds.

Usually, I'm very involved in the entire process of making the record. I start recording bass first and then work on recording the guitars. I'm also very involved in the songwriting, so sometimes I just don't spend enough time on adding guitar lines with these extra elements I'm adding now because that's all I would be concentrating on. I usually have a lot of other things on my plate, so I feel like on this record, with Jon and Pat being very involved musically, I am able to be more creative with the guitar parts. Pat is a great bass player. He comes in and he knows the parts, then he starts writing around them. Since I don't have to worry about the bass as much, I can really concentrate on playing guitar and doing what I should do for the band, and what's best to support the vocals for Arkaea. I'm trying to push my boundaries a bit guitar-wise because I feel that naturally, that's the next step I need to take. With Jon, I felt that I had that opportunity because it's a new group and nobody can categorize me or point fingers saying “You went out of the box!” Well, that's what I'm trying to do. This is a new band and I should be stepping out of the box. People expect something that's a little different from Fear Factory. But with part of the rhythm section from Fear Factory, they're also expecting to hear some of those elements. I think we manage to do both. The music is different, but there are still some elements that are similar to Fear Factory.

KNAC.COM: The vocals really change things dramatically, and in the way it's put together, it sounds much different from Fear Factory.

OLDE WOLBERS: The vocals add that color on top, which makes it different. You can listen to a lot of metal bands out now, and a lot of them sound the same. I think it's the way that you approach it with the vocals that makes it stand apart. That's the icing on the cake.

KNAC.COM: Describe the songwriting process. Were the song structures all fairly solid or was anything changed to fit better with Jon's style when he came in?

OLDE WOLBERS: Musically, they were completely written, but not vocally. We originally had like 12, and we used five or six of them to send to Jon. He got started on those, and when he came out to work with us, we finished the others. Then we wrote two more once he returned to finish the record with us. So we have about 15 songs in all.

There were some changes made on a couple of songs. There are one or two songs where he wrote guitar riffs for the verses. I was wondering what we were going to play and he came up with riffs that fit. It worked out really well. With this band, if I have an idea, I can ask Jon and Pat what they think. I trust their opinion musically, and that's a really good feeling to have when you can talk to the other guys in the band about a part and they're involved. I haven't really had that for a while. It's just been me and Raymond. We were usually the two guys writing in Fear Factory. So we would trade all these riffs and patterns, and put them together in songs. I sometimes can hear the vocals ringing in the background already and I kind of know where the song is going. That tells us how many bars to go, how many parts, and which parts are the verse, bridge, and chorus. We kind of lay out the platform and then when Jon comes in, we may add a section to it or cut a section out. He'll help shape the songs a little bit, and then we take them in the studio and start practicing it and see how things flow when we're playing as a full band. That was really new for us too, because usually Raymond and I write all the songs in a small studio and we only rehearse them for a couple of weeks before we record them.

Now we're functioning more like a band. Jon and Pat came out here and we rehearsed the songs for a couple of weeks as a band, and in a real recording studio, which is another luxury that we never really had in the past. We just had a rehearsal room. But now we are rehearsing and writing in a professional recording studio that used to be owned by Fleetwood Mac, which Raymond owns now. Everything is pretty much set up 24/7 and we can just go in there when we want and do whatever we need to do. It's pretty amazing.

KNAC.COM: When you and Raymond write songs, will you typically collaborate from start to finish, or does one of you often come in with the main idea or a near-complete song?

OLDE WOLBERS: We collaborate. Sometimes we start from scratch and I'll start playing a couple some riffs and see if something clicks with Ray, or Ray will start playing some drums on his MPC [drum machine] and we'll see if there's something there. If the idea clicks for both of us, then we'll start building on it. Sometimes I'll come up with something and record it with my digital camera so I can look at it to see what I did. Then I'll show it to Ray and see if he can put some drums on it. Or Ray might come up with a killer beat or pattern, and then he'll play it for me. He translates the riffs to me by using his kick drums like Morse code. It's pretty funny when we talk to each other about how a riff goes and we're talking in our Morse code. People will look at us like we're strange. But that's how we communicate and it works.

KNAC.COM: Jon came onboard shortly after you and Ray started on this project, but it took some time before you chose Pat as your bassist. How difficult was it to find a bass player?

OLDE WOLBERS: It wasn't easy. First, we were talking to Sam Rivers from Limp Bizkit and he was really interested. He really liked the project and wanted to be involved, but he lives in Florida and has his hands full with a million other things. We were in touch for a whole month, and then we kind of lost contact. That's when I realized he was just very busy. Everything is cool though. He would have definitely been a cool bass player to work with. He comes from a major band and it's usually it's tougher to keep things going with someone like that because everybody else has got a lot going on. Then Ryan Martinie from Mudvayne started calling me and said he would like to try out and be involved, but he didn't know if he could tour. I told him that if he's going to be playing on the record, there's no one who's going to be able to play his bass lines. It's going to be hard. So we figured that wasn't going to work.

I had already been considering Pat because Jon kept telling me about him and he lives down the street. He could come over to work with Jon and he had nothing else going on. His band with Jon, Threat Signal, is just waiting for us to be done with this project. So I started looking at a Threat Signal video for one of the songs from the first album they recorded, which I produced. The way Pat looked in the video just stood out. I thought he looked really good and he had a lot in common with the way I play live. His stance looked a lot like the way I play, and I could just see it all gel for Arkaea. I like the fact that he is young and was not from a big name band because I figured out that was not the way to go. Pat is a good player and Jon kept telling me that he would fit. I trusted Jon's opinion, and when Pat came out here, he picked the songs up in no time and he was adding his own flavor. I really liked that, and you can just tell that he's a really talented musician. When he came out here, I could tell right away that we made the right choice. Even though it would be really nice to have a big-name guy, we just need someone who can really play well and who can be here. I want to be able to go on tour with the same lineup. It's always disappointing when a new band comes out and they sound great, and then they go on tour and it's all different members in the live band from who played on the album.

KNAC.COM: Did Pat play on all the album's tracks?

OLDE WOLBERS: Yes.

KNAC.COM: Is it you or Pat playing bass on the demo material that's posted on your MySpace page?

OLDE WOLBERS: That's me. I played on all of the original demos. But on the album, Pat is playing the majority of the bass tracks, which is great. On all the last few Fear Factory albums, I was playing bass because Byron [Stroud] was either touring or busy. So I played guitar and bass on those albums. It's a lot of work. I'm glad I have that work taken off my hands in this band.

KNAC.COM: That allows you to focus on developing creative guitar parts rather than having to think about all of the bass parts too.

OLDE WOLBERS: Yes! Playing guitar is a different mindset. I was definitely had not been able to do as much as I should have with Fear Factory, and especially on Transgression. I would have liked to do so much more experimentation, but I just couldn't because the label wanted to have that record completed quickly. There was no time to even revisit songs and work on them again. I didn't want to make that mistake this time. We made sure everything was prepared and rehearsed before we started recording. A big thing for me is post-production. I love taking time after recording the tracks and living with the album, listening to it daily, and then adding things and changing things. I like to work on it, shape it, and keep molding it until it's done. Don't let the label tell you when it's done because they need it now. It will be done when it's done.

KNAC.COM: Do you plan on touring with Arkaea after the album is released?

OLDE WOLBERS: Hopefully, before then. The album will be released March 10th. We're going to see if we can play some shows in February. There's been some talk about a few bands who are working with the same booking agent all going out together, which would be really good for early next year. I know we're definitely going to do some festivals in Europe. We're definitely going to spend some time with Arkaea and do some good tours next year, especially the spring and early summer festivals, and hopefully, we'll have something scheduled in the US in February. It will probably be a support slot with a larger act.

KNAC.COM: Let's talk about the guitar gear you used to record the album. Were you using your signature guitar and amp?

OLDE WOLBERS: Yes, I've been using my signature gear and I did use it on the tracks. I set up a couple of Randall amps and cabinets for different sounds. I have Randall cabinets with Celestion 30-watt, 75-watt, and 100-watt speakers. I've also got a Marshall cabinet that I use for another sound. I used V2 and V2 Archetype heads. The V2 Archetype is my signature amp. I like to plug all those different cabinets in my heads because every cabinet has a distinctive sound. I mic them all with Shure 57s and blend those four microphone feeds into one sound, then shape that sound because you get different frequencies from each cabinet and each speaker. So that's basically my signal.

For guitars, I've been using my Jackson signature models and a King V. I've definitely got a much bigger sound than what I've recorded with in the past. I'm very happy with my guitar tone.

KNAC.COM: Tell us about your signature Randall amp and the features this model includes.

OLDE WOLBERS: The head is called the V2 Archetype. It's a three-channel head with solid-state and tube circuitry. It has a solid-state clean channel, a solid-state overdrive channel, and a tube overdrive channel. The power section is solid-state. It's a lot more reliable for playing live and I like the mixture of both solid-state and tubes. I like the crunch and the harsh sound of solid-state, especially for metal guitar sounds like for Fear Factory. But I also like the warmth of tubes. So now I have a little of both. Just having all tubes and a tube power section, it's too sweet and too creamy for me. I really like that harsh sound. Dimebag was really the first metal guitar player who made solid-state amps popular. I thought that if he could get that big sound with the Randall amps he used, you could sound cool with solid-state.

KNAC.COM: Dime definitely made solid-state amplifiers respectable for the metal market. Before Pantera became popular and guitarists discovered what type of gear Dime used, most players favored tube amps like Marshalls and Mesa/Boogies, and fewer players even considered using solid-state amps.

OLDE WOLBERS: Everybody was using tubes. The tube tone is too warm for me. It always was. But in Arkaea, I do play some parts where I strum big open chords and it's very simple. For that, the tube sound works well.

KNAC.COM: Do you tune down below standard pitch?

OLDE WOLBERS: I use 7-string guitars with a low B string that are in standard tuning.

KNAC.COM: The 4x12 speaker cabinets that are matched with the V2 Archetype are loaded with 100-watt Celestions. Was that chosen to deliver a more powerful sound and better articulation for the low notes on the 7-string?

OLDE WOLBERS: With higher-wattage speakers, you can push more from the heads without the speakers breaking up so easily. I like it so that you can turn up and not have the speakers break up or have the tone change. That's what 100-watt speakers are really good for.

KNAC.COM: Your Randall cabinets also have a mic eliminator so you can run the output from the cabinet direct into the board if you're recording or plug straight to the front of house console for a live mix.

OLDE WOLBERS: It's a standard feature on the Randall cabinets. I was talking with the sound person for Linkin Park who also had worked for Fear Factory for a little while too, and he loves that feature. He uses it all the time because it's really consistent to use a speaker simulator. He said it sits in the mix like 50 to 60 percent. Everything about this design is really solid.

KNAC.COM: Describe the features of your Jackson signature model guitar.

OLDE WOLBERS: It's a 7-string with a reverse headstock and one pickup, which is an EMG-707, and one volume control. That's all I need. I have two new colors on the market—silverburst and red blue pearl. I already have a desert camo and a black one on the market. I'm currently working on a new design and I should have my two new prototypes soon. They're silver and they're going to have Floyd Rose 7-string bridges with all chrome hardware and blue LEDs at the bottom of the neck, which will be like little inlays that light up when you plug the cable into the guitar's input jack.

KNAC.COM: The Jackson ad shows a non-tremolo version of your signature guitar with a tune-o-matic bridge and the strings go through the body. Is the Floyd Rose tremolo a new addition?

OLDE WOLBERS: That's mainly the setup that I've been using for years. Jackson made me a guitar a couple of years ago which has a silverburst finish and a Floyd Rose tremolo, and it pretty much became my main guitar because I really like the way it stays in tune. It's easy to use, and when I plugged in to record for Arkaea, the tone was just a little more on the dark side than what I was looking for. So for Arkaea, I've been using my Jackson 7-string reverse-headstock King V a lot. It also has one pickup and it's amazing. My signature guitars that are in the store all have bolt-on necks with 24 frets and they have no fingerboard inlays. Very simple. The neck is maple, the fingerboard is rosewood, and the body is mahogany. Some bodies have figured maple tops. I've got a couple of different ones that were custom-built. I have one that has an ash body and another one with an alder body. They each have a distinctive sound. For Arkaea, the King V was working the best and I think that has an ash body. That one is neck-through-body construction.

KNAC.COM: What other gear are you using in your setup?

OLDE WOLBERS: I have a new pedal that's coming out through Pro Tone Pedals. It's called the Olde Wolbers Small Tone preamp. It's basically a gain reduction preamp. What it does is keep your amp's gain structure the same,while you can reduce or boost the volume. I use it for reduction. It's basically the same as if you were to turn your guitar's volume control down where the pickup just opens up and you can have a smaller sound. For example, in the beginning of the Deftones song “Change,” you can still hear distortion while the guitar is being strummed, but you know the volume is low on the guitar. You can do that with this pedal so you never have to touch the volume on your guitar. You just set the pedal at whatever level you want for how much gain you want to open up. It's really cool. You don't have to touch the volume control on your guitar to get it in the right position for the riff and then jump from one setting to another for a different riff. You just step on the pedal.

Besides that, I use my Digitech Whammy XP-100 pedal a lot. It's an older version—the burgundy one. I also use a Boss Metal Zone too, in conjunction with the Whammy. I picked that up from playing with Korn when I was filling in as the second guitar player. That's combination is pretty much the secret weapon of Munky. You can do some amazing things with those two pedals together. Then I use a Boss Digital Delay and a Digitech Chorus.

One thing I ended up using a lot on the album is Native Instruments Guitar Rig 3 software plug in. So I can do a lot virtually with creating sounds. It's got some really cool color shapes that sit very upfront in the speaker because it's digital. I put it on top of the tracks recorded with my amps. I can put a third track in the middle with a guitar riff and do really cool sounds. One of the things I do is to record with a DI [direct input] so I can take one of the guitar tracks I record and reamp it later on through something like Guitar Rig. It has a lot of crazy sounds and a lot of cool delays. That program really allows me to step out of my box and get sounds that you could never achieve with pedals. It's all in the software program. I've been a spokesperson for that company for the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] shows and I've talked about how the program works. I've been using the software since it came out. I was one of the beta testers. Now they've got version 3 on the market and it's just amazing. I would never use it for just the main rhythm tone, but I use it to add to a certain tone or add a sound image. There are certain patches I use on that make people think they hear keyboards in back of the riff. But it's filters and oscillators that are making those cool sounds. It's amazing. I would have to figure out a way to stick it in my live rig if I wanted to recreate the same sounds live. I can go the route of recording my effects onto a digital track, put them on tape or something like what we used to do with Fear Factory. We used to have keyboards and Ray would play the keyboards off a multiplayer that was next to the drums. But we don't want to do that with this band. We don't even have any keyboards on this record. I was thinking of adding some guitars that would give us more of that vibe sonically, where it sounds like it could be a keyboard. But I think it's ok to have differences between the record and the live band. Seeing the band live, the main elements are there, but there may be a couple of overdubbed parts that are on the record that you don't do live. With vocals, there are parts on the record that you don't hear live. But when you do a live show, you don't really miss it because it's the energy that's most important.

KNAC.COM: Can you offer a bit of advice to other musicians who are trying to improve their skills and develop their own musical identity?

OLDE WOLBERS: You just have to keep pounding away at it like it's the only thing you want to accomplish. You have to stick with it and work on it every day. Live and breathe it. I think that goes for anything you want to accomplish in life, if you truly want to be good at something.

KNAC.COM: Do you feel it's important for musicians to be able to write songs?

OLDE WOLBERS: I didn't really learn songwriting. It is a skill, but I think that either you have it or you don't. I know many great musicians who don't really write songs. They can play every song and solo you can think of, but they can't write original music. I'm the opposite. I can't play any leads to anybody's songs, but I can write you a song in 10 minutes. So everybody's different. But like anything else, the more you work at it, the better you'll become.

For more information on Christian Olde Wolbers and Arkaea, visit www.myspace.com/christianoldewolbers and www.myspace.com/Arkaeamusic


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