Interview: Robb Flynn of Machine Head
Tue, 29 Jan 2008 09:13:44
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Machine Head has persevered through every adversity that a metal band can possibly face. They've switched members, dealt with addictions, been misunderstood by fans and the media, and looked the fickle trends of the music industry right in the eye. However, in the face of uncertainty, they've kept their collective heads up and raised a pronounced middle finger toward all obstacles. They have always made records on their own terms and been true to themselves, first and foremost. In 2007, they would release their masterpiece to date, The Blackening (Grammy-Nominated for Best Metal Performance-"Aesthetics of Hate").
A violent, cacophonous metal record of epic proportions, the album showed Machine Head at their finest. Guitarist Phil Demmel's leads cut through the roar of Dave McClain and Adam Duce's rhythmic warfare. At the eye of the storm, remains vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn. With his vocal melodies, he tells stories of war, love and addiction in a fashion worthy of the great 21st century storytellers. Flynn has more to say than most 21st century artists, but he's not preaching. He's just offering catharsis, like any true artist would. In the midst of a successful tour supporting HELLYEAH, Flynn sat down with ARTISTdirect to shine some light on The Blackening and why Machine Head is not going anywhere.
I haven't seen a metal record as epic as The Blackening in years. What was it like making it? Where did it start?
When we started writing, we didn't know how the songs were going to be. We knew that we wanted to write a really epic record. We knew that it would probably have some longer material on it, but we never expected that we'd have nine and 10-minute songs. We just felt like we really needed to make a huge statement on this record. Going into it, we set our bar to write a classic record. To us, the classic records that we had in our minds were Black Sabbath's Paranoid, Metallica's Master of Puppets, or even Slayer's Seasons in the Abyss—just a record from start to finish that was just fucking awesome. I think over the first couple of months the real one became Master of Puppets. We kept saying to ourselves we want to write this generation's Master of Puppets. What that would be and what it would sound like, we weren't really initially sure. It was going to be through our filter. But in a nutshell, that's what we were going for.
Does the insane guitar evolution on the album have to do with Phil Demmel's inclusion in the writing of this album?
Yeah, just us spending the extra hours after practice jamming back and forth had a big impact. He'd get there early, or we'd stay there late. Then we'd just refine and work on parts. Just having someone to bounce ideas off of was huge. There's just chemistry between Phil and me. We learned how to play guitar together, when we were teenagers. Now I think, you still hear a lot of that. Our goal was to be a guitar team. It was never to have one guy be "the solo guy" and the other guy be "the rhythm guy." It was always about being a guitar team, trying to model ourselves after Glen Tipton and KK Downing of Judas Priest and that vibe.
You can never replicate that chemistry of playing with someone since you're a kid. I felt some Iron Maiden in the solos too.
Probably more Priest than anything [laughs]. There's a lot of Judas Priest jackin' [laughs]. Whenever we find a riff or we're inspired by a riff, we call it "jackin.'" We even had one song that we called "Victim of Changes 2," because we felt like we had borrowed pretty liberally from it [laughs]. I met those guys in Priest when we did the UK. KK came out to the show, we told him that, and he was super-flattered. He was like, "Oh my God, that's amazing. That's my favorite song!" It was killer.
You've evolved even more as a storyteller on this album. Where are you drawing from lyrically on this album?
I really wanted to just make ideas clear. That was kind of my main thing in doing it. When you start writing, you're writing for how it reads. You're looking at it from a literary point of view, because you want it to read well. You think if it reads well, of course it's going to sing well. It doesn't necessarily do that. So with this record, I would write lyrics, then I would go sing them, and I would constantly revise them. Basically, I started dropping out words that were just excessive and not important. While sometimes words read well and sounded eloquent in a sentence, they were cluttering up the verses or the chorus so much that they just needed to be stripped down. It's like purposefully dropping words out so that it worked better in the framework of the song. I started doing that on Through the Ashes of Empires, and I feel like I got a lot better at it on this album. I'm like a fucking OCD-lunatic, when I'm writing lyrics. I just constantly revise words. I'll throw a whole batch of lyrics out and start fresh. You've got to go with what fits the vibe of the song. Obviously the war was a big topic on the record. I tried to sing about the war on a couple of songs. A song like "Beautiful Mourning" is a good example. It started off as this anti-war song, but the lyrics just didn't fit the vibe of the music, so I ended up scrapping entire sets of lyrics, and I didn't use them again on any other song. I would just put something out and then throw it away. I'd continue that process, until finally something would stick. It was an interesting way to do it. I think it makes the lyrics come across as a lot more powerful in the song.
Do you read a lot when you write lyrics?
I do. I read a lot in general. I definitely try and draw information from reading sometimes. It might flick a switch in my brain just to get everything going. During the recording of the record I read Johnny Got His Gun— that famous book that many stories were based off of. I read that, and I read a lot of fiction. I'm a big Dan Brown fan. He did The Da Vinci Code, but I was reading his book Angels & Demons. It's just stuff like that. I might've read the Motley Crue biography during that time period too [laughs].
The songs evoke a lot of images and keep listeners interested. That's one reason why the fans have responded so favorably to this record.
Yeah, I'm not really sure why it's had such an incredible reaction. It has. I think a lot of times, when people write songs that are so angry like these songs are, they're railing against the war, they're railing against conservative America or they're railing against organized religion. I think oftentimes, bands make the mistake of saying they’ve got the answer. That always turns me off. I just don't think that they're my new religion. The one thing I really try to do with the lyrics is be like, "I don't know what to do. I don't have the answers, but I'm fucking pissed about it, and you're pissed about it." Obviously there are a whole of people out there that are pissed as well. I'm just here singing about it as an artist to get this anger, frustration and rage over these things out.
It seems like you established a template with Through the Ashes of Empire that paved the way for this.
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