Interview with Machine Head
By: Mike SOS
While speaking to Machine Head main man Robb Flynn via phone, he gave us the inside scoop behind the Bay Area metal troupes triumphant new album THE BLACKENING in addition to shedding some light on the happenings on the Black Tyranny tour, the band’s co-h
Let’s talk about THE BLACKENING...first and foremost, how’d you come up with the title?
Basically, we have a lot of dark kind of social, political lyrics, and we didn’t want to have anything that was too overtly political sounding. So we settled on the fact that the lyrics were gonna be darker and THE BLACKENING seemed to fit.
Was there a conscious effort to write longer songs and overall approach THE BLACKENING with a discernibly old-school thrashier '80s metal vibe?
We’ve always had thrash stuff on all the records. We've always been pretty heavily steeped in Bay Area thrash and Bay Area metal. So it was just basically an extension of the things that we had done before and just expanding what we had started.
Who would you say were some of the influences when you were making this album? Were you looking towards someone? Was there something you felt was lacking in the metal scene you wanted to bring back? Was there something that you said, hey, maybe we could do this differently?
We were all pretty sick of the Swedish thrash thing, which is kind of Iron Maiden with less beats. We really wanted to have a kind of Bay Area defining record. We’re really proud of where we grew up, and are pretty fortunate to have been kids basically growing up in the Golden Era of thrash, 14-year olds going to see Metallica on the MASTER OF PUPPETS tour and stuff. We really wanted to just carry that spirit along, and I think also because the band grew up heavily influenced by both the metal and the punk scene and in particular, the Bay Area punk scene, bands like Attitude Adjustment and Dead Kennedys and stuff that we really wanted to include. I think just by nature that very kind of social commentary came out really wanted to come out and say something different than what other metal bands are saying. A lot of the lyrics on the record, especially the more social lyrics…they’re pretty blunt. They’re very pointed in their stance on being anti-war and anti administration. It was the type of thing where we knew that they were so strong that it was possible that we would face repercussions. We actually all sat down and had a discussion about if we could all agree, is this what we really believe in. Are the four of us gonna be able to stand behind this? Eventually everybody came back, and I gave everybody the lyrics that I had written up until that point, and everyone came back one by one and was like "this is what I believe in. This is killer, and I totally 100 percent stand behind this. So let’s go ahead". Part of it was a reaction to the times and what was going on, and this is a very timely record. It’s very much a reflection of the times. But at the same time it was also a reflection of just what was going on in the metal community. We weren’t really seeing any bands take a kind of stand. Most of the stands that a lot of the metal bands had taken was kind of the opposite, the flag waving and hooking flags on shirts and love it or leave it kind of things. It’s very trendy to be love it or leave it in Cali right now and we were just weren’t into it. We kind of as much want to make a statement against that as the other stuff.
Have you got any backlash touring the States from your political standpoint?
Well, I mean, we don’t really have a political standpoint. That’s the, the thing...we’re not saying Democrats are cool or Republicans are not cool, we’re think they’re both fucking dickheads. But, we have had some backlash from a lot of conservative groups. We just went through the whole Disney situation. Disney reviewed our record and deemed our lyrics inflammatory and had our concerts ejected from the property and stuff. And now it’s kind of triggered a fall out. Now they’re canceling many other shows. They’re allowing certain shows to play some shows are still okay, some metal bands that now fall under that, it’s okay to play at Disney, and I don’t know, exactly know what their criteria is, but Machine Head definitely wasn’t okay.
I was gonna ask you guys about that. Now I see that they cancelled Shadows Fall and Static-X…
But they haven’t cancelled Avenged Sevenfold and Megadeth.
When you see stuff that happening around you, how does that make you feel? Does it fuel you to maybe write more seething lyrics and continue more towards that route?
I don’t know if it makes we want to go more towards that route, but it makes us still a whole lot more justified in the things that we’re singing about.
Well, besides the cancellations, how has the tour gone so far?
It’s a fucking killer. It’s the best American tour this band has ever done in our life, hands down. It’s the biggest package we’ve ever put together. It’s the highest attendances in the history of the band. We just sold out the Nokia Theater in New York, and that was the biggest headline show Machine Head has done to date in America. It was a fucking killer. The fucking road just extended. It was an awesome show. And our tour is going really fucking good and we’re just stoked that everything is going as well as this. All the bands are super cool on the tour.
What are your plans now, basically is this gonna take you to the end of the year, this tour? And then what’s, what’s going on from here on in for you guys?
After this wraps up we go with Arch Enemy to Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Australia. When we’re in Australia we start the BLACK CRUSADE tour, which is Machine Head, Trivium, Arch Enemy, and Shadows Fall. And then that little package goes over to Europe and over in Europe the Black Crusade continues, and it’s Machine Head and Trivium co-headlining, though Machine Head closes every night, Dragonforce, Arch Enemy, Shadows Fall for a month across the U.K. and Europe. And that’s gonna be massive. We’re playing 10,000 seaters. It’s fucking crazy, the biggest tour we’ve ever done, and some of them, the first fricking show’s already sold out, and that’s two months away.
What sets Machine Head apart from the rest of the metal bands? What makes you guys able to reach those plateaus and now do all these things?
I don’t know. I mean...we’ve been really consistent. We’ve taken a lot of chances with our music and tried to expand what the scope of the band could be. And we never rested on our laurels, even if it meant failing at something to try something new. We dare to fail to try something different. I think just that consistency of the band. A full three out of six records some people would argue four, are considered classics of the metal genre, viable classics of the genre. And I think that says a lot. I mean, there’s not a lot of bands that can say that...maybe a few bands can say that. And, I think just kind of sticking around and persevering through as much as we have earns people’s respect and it earns other band’s respect. It earns fans’ respect. And, you weather quite a few storms when you’re in the music business 13 years. We’re 13 years into it here. And we’ve weathered a lot of storms. We’ve watched three musical styles come and go and fucking thousands of bands. I don’t honestly know why we’re here. I don’t know how we’ve managed to outlast some other bands. There’s been so many fucking amazing bands that we love and they never caught on. And I don’t know where and what the difference was but we just really enjoy what we do, man, and we’re really fortunate to be able to have the fucking passionate and dedicated fans that we do have. And I mean, and we’ve got seriously diehard fucking fans that will fucking do anything for this band They’ve carried it on their shoulders a lot of times, man. I pretty much attribute it to that. We’ve never been cool with the magazines here. We’ve never been cool with MTV. It’s the reason we’re here is because every time we put out a record our fans go out there and fucking buy a shit load of them. People have to take notice. Even the radio plays it eventually ‘cause they have to. It’s not that they want to. They don’t want to play a nine-minute song. The reason they do is ‘cause they have to.
How do you guys write out a set list with so much to ground to cover and so many longer new songs?
This tour has been tougher than most because we’re co-headlining with Arch Enemy so both us and Arch Enemy get an hour each. It’s kind of tough, but you just do it. We’ve been having a fucking blast, playing some new stuff, some old stuff, and we’re just trying to encourage everybody to fucking, get drunk and get high and have a fucking blast. And just enjoy fucking music for the hour that we’re on, and try and feel free or something. some of these shows have seriously been a fucking religious experience. I mean, fucking people freaking out, man. It’s been incredible. It’s been incredible, fucking kids coming up and hugging me and crying onstage and shit. It has been intense to have that, so gratifying.
Are you shaking snakes on the side or something? What’s going on over there? Are you selling serum on the side out of a wagon or something? What’s up?
No, we don’t have a witch doctor or a voodoo guy on the side. We’re just telling everybody to drink vodka.
Besides doing everything you guys are doing, what else has contributed to the re-ignited fire for Machine Head? Is it satellite radio? Is it internet play? Is it just word of mouth? What do you think it’s all about?
I mean, I think it’s all that. I think it’s that, and I think that we’ve always maintained a really honest relationship with our fans, when times were good we let them know times were good, and when times were bad we let them know times were bad. They've lived all the, all the ups and downs of the band with us and they’re still here. And that just spreads, just trying to be as honest as we can with our music. When we’re up there, there is a little bit of trying to be larger than life. You want to come across as larger than life at the show... it’s a fucking metal show. We’re not staring at our shoe guys, shoe gazers. We’re fucking shit up there, but off stage, we’re fans, dude. The four of us were literally the kids that went up front to fucking Slayer shows and Metallica shows. And we’re head banging, we were in the pit. I broke my fucking ribs to Slayer, at CLASH OF THE TITANS, and continued to stay in the pit...the entire fucking 45 minutes they were on. And I fucking died after, but we were super fucking passionate fans who said, fuck it, we should probably start making music. And here we are.
Have you ever relayed those stories to any of the bands that you idolized or that you admired from back in the day?
Yeah, totally. I told the Slayer guys the whole trip, you know that I fucking broke my rib in the fucking very beginning of "Hell Awaits", which was their first song that they were playing that night. I was wasted which was probably half the reason that I was able to pull it off.
Is there someone you haven’t toured with that you want to?
Ah, I mean every band on the planet wants to play with Metallica, so I’ll spin along into there. Yeah, it would be great to work with Metallica. Will it happen? I don’t know...they take a lot of rock bands lately, but I think it’d be cool for them to start taking credible metal bands. We just did the Wembley Stadium gig with them, and that was phenomenal. And I know some of the Metallica guys watched us and were really digging what we were doing so... I don’t really think in terms of that. We’re just trying to keep on doing what we’re doing. And if we get these opportunities, it’s great. And we’ve been getting a lot of opportunities, and we’re just doing what we’re doing, . And it seems the world’s kind of finally catching up to what we’re doing. We’re not caught up in the rat race of it all. It’s just we’re not competing with the Joneses.. It’s that we’re just doing our own trip, and it works.
What are you currently listening to? Is there anything that you’re digging on that you’d like to tell people about?
Trevor from Black Dahlia Murder turned me on to this band called Skeleton Witch. They’re thrash, I guess, but kind of different than the other stuff I’ve heard. Really fucking cool. Killer fucking breakdowns and heavy, and the stuff is just really cool, very kind of orchestral in some ways. So I’m totally digging the vibe. I love this band called Scarlet who has unfortunately broken up, and no one fucking cared about them. But they put out a record called THIS WAS ALWAYS MEANT TO FALL APART that I think was just incredible. I also like this underground rapper called Immortal Technique...political, really fucking underground. Sick fucking lyricist with a cool beat background to him. He’s got a good vibe going. Smart, too, man. He’s totally anti-bling…he’s the anti-bling.
What stuff you into besides music? What would be your dream car? What would you be driving around in?
Right now the car that I’m totally obsessed with is the Ford Shelby Cobra GT500.That thing’s the sickest car ever. If you go to the Ford website, then go to the Mustang site, then the Shelby Cobra section...that car is fucking hard.
Do you do a lot of driving, I guess, when you’re home?
Oh, yeah, but not in that. I’d probably kill for that.
But do you do a lot of race driving and stuff?
No. I’m really into wake boarding. That’s what I do. I’ve got a 4Runner at home so I need something to tow my boat. I need kind of a bigger truck, kind of car, too. I got a wake boarding boat. Me and my wife go wake boarding all the time. My wife is actually a really sick wake boarder. She kicks my ass...she can do backslide rolls, 360 back rolls...she’s really killer. For me, I love the vibe of it ‘cause you can go camping for five days, you got your boat, got all your friends, you’re piling into the boat, drinking beer, and the sun...it’s killer, dude. It’s just a rad vibe, and it’s a nice kind of break away. Machine Head consumes so much of my life, to have that ability to go just where I have no internet, no phone reception, no nothing, and just camp for five days in the woods and get away on a lake kicks ass.
Robb, you got any final words for the readers.
I’m good if you’re good.
I never know what to say to that.
No, that’s cool. Robb, thanks for the interview, man. I had a blast. Much continued success.