Byron Stroud is a legend in the metal bass world. He was the man responsible for holding down the thunderous low end of Strapping Young Lad, as well as SYL offshoot Zimmer’s Hole. When Dino Cazares left Fear Factory and Christian Olde Wolbers switched over to guitar, Byron stepped into the bass slot. Then Christian and drummer Raymond Herrera were out of Fear Factory, Dino was back in, and SYL drummer Gene Hoglan joined, reuniting one of the most iconic rhythm sections in metal. You still keeping up? Well now Byron and Fear Factory singer Burton C Bell have another band on the side, called City of Fire. CoF is more melodic and traditional than FF and far less extreme than SYL, but that’s not to say they aren’t heavy. Their self-titled debut mixes metal and melody to great effect and allows Bryon to explore darker, moodier metal textures than he can in his other jobs.
When one hears of a band fronted by the singer from another popular band, the first thought is ‘I guess that’s something the singer put together.’ Not so with City of Fire – it all started with legendary underground thrash band Caustic Thought. “That was a band I started right out of high school with Ian White and Bob Wagner,” Byron says. “That was a band that Devin Townsend and Jed Simon both played in before we did Strapping Young Lad. I’ve always stayed in touch with the guys and we’d do the odd reunion show here and there. The last one we did a couple of years ago went really well, so we got together and started writing songs and we really liked the direction it was going. We brought in another player, Terry Murray, and once we did some demoing I thought Burton would be into it. Burton and I have a similar taste in music, and when I sent him the demos he freaked out. The only vision we really had was that we didn’t want any song to sound like any other song on the record. We’re happy with the way it turned out.”
The arrangements in City of Fire leave a lot more sonic space for Stroud to move around in. “It definitely gives me an opportunity to try different styles of bass. I do more fingerstyle playing. I started out as a finger player, and it was only when I joined bands like Strapping where I started playing with a pick to keep up with everybody. And when you’re playing finger style it’s one less thing you have to worry about: trying to find a pick!”
I suggest that I can hear a few psychedelic influences creeping into some of the riffs and melodies of City of Fire. “We hear that too in the songs, but it was just natural for us. And the songs we’ve written since we recorded the record are more of the same. We’ve definitely tapped into something we’re really into and feel we can pull off and make sound killer. That’s the great thing about Terry Murray – he’s a producer in Vancouver as well and he reminds me of a lot of things that Devin Townsend does. He has a similar production style that Devin has, so he’s really good at the layering and getting great performances out of people.”
Byron’s bass arsenal includes Fender and ESP instruments. “I have a couple of custom Fenders that I got made a few years ago when I joined Fear Factory. I’ve always been with ESP, then when I joined Fear Factory I started using Christian’s basses and I just loved them. They were a more rounded bass, whereas the ESPs were more cutting. I’m back with ESP now, so I use both. I have some ESP 6-strings and 5-strings, and I still have my trusty Fenders. For amps I was with Ashdown for a while but now I’m back to Ampeg again. I’ll use two separate tones: I’ll have one amp that’s strictly a sub tone – no mids or highs – and I’ll have another amp which is an extreme distortion tone. I can switch that from a distortion to a clean sound but I always keep the sub. But for City of Fire I just went with a basic old 1968 Ampeg SVT through an old 8X10 cabinet, cranked it up and got the classic tone.”