Robb Flynn of Machine Head Talks "Machine F**king Head Live" and More
Mon, 26 Nov 2012 06:20:09
"I love when a record tells a story," admits Machine Head singer and guitarist Robb Flynn. "In some ways, it's like a dying art. Most people focus on a song here or there. There are still people out there who do love records. We try to do that."
Each one of Machine Head's songs functions as a tapestry of raw emotion woven together by Flynn's eloquent lyrics, intense vocal delivery, the inimitable interplay between he and guitarist Phil Demmel, and the rhythmic destruction articulated by drummer Dave McClain and bassist Adam Duce. Their stories manage to come to life blisteringly on stage. Their double-disc live epic, Machine F**king Head Live, preserves every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears encapsulated in those tales. It's a true beast of a live record and one of the year's best.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Machine Head mainman Robb Flynn talks Machine F**king Head Live, "Darkness Within", what he's read lately, and more.
Did you know you were going to put out a live record before these shows? What's the mindset behind Machine F**king Head Live?
We recorded many different stops in America, the UK, and Europe. From there, my engineer and I went through and culled the best performances together. We used the shows I thought had the best energy from the crowd and definitely the best energy and performance from us. Then, we just organized it. You can tell sonically when it sounds different. It's still rocking though. We began doing these dates, and we realized pretty early on that the crowds were fucking insane [Laughs]. We were like, "We've got to document this and capture it in some way man!" A DVD is a pretty big undertaking. We did one in the UK last time, and we wanted to do one for the U.S. However, it didn't come together. We decided to do a live record instead, and it was so rad to document this period of time. The last live album came out in 2003, and it was only up until Supercharger. It's got the first four records. We put out Elegies after that, and it documented Through the Ashes of Empires. Nothing has documented The Blackening and Unto the Locust, so this was the perfect time to put out something. It's been a year since the last album came out.
What's the art of sequencing a Machine Head set list?
We always make a point to include at least one song from every record. Especially if it's a record the critics didn't like, we absolutely make sure to stick a big "fuck you" finger right in the middle of the set to all of those dudes [Laughs]. There's a popular myth in the media that all of our fans hate The Burning Red, "Bulldozer", and Supercharger. I'll tell you what though. We play songs off that record and people go fucking bananas [Laughs]. Our fans love what we've done, and they still stand behind us. It's cool to do those songs. It takes a while. We've got such long songs. This is a two-disc set, and we ended up cutting a song or two. With Through the Ashes of Empires, The Blackening, and Unto the Locust, we've got some long songs. "Imperium" is seven-and-a-half minutes long. Some of the songs on The Blackening are ten minutes long. The tricky part of the set is fitting these ten-minute tracks into the damn set list so we're not playing for two-and-a-half hours. We're not up there staring at our shoes like some of these bands. It's a very physical show. We're giving it our all for an hour and 50 minutes. It's a long set.
You guys always go hard.
Yeah! In my particular case, I'm singing. When you go see a lot of the heavy singers out there now, they don't sing all of the words. They don't sing heavy. They sing halfway clean. I don't like that. I like when a band sounds how they sound on the record. We take a lot of effort to go out there and play it. I personally want to sing heavy. If I don't, I feel like I'm letting our fans down, myself down, and the band down. To pull that off for an hour and 50 minutes becomes the challenge. That's the exciting part of it. It's a big undertaking, and we did it. We have a really big show with all of this projection and 1500 light cues that the light guy and I went over. It was so powerful and awesome. People walked away blown away. That's what we wanted.
In many ways, Unto the Locust represents Machine Head better than any other record. It's got the epic grandiosity of The Blackening and the emotional elements of The Burning Red.
Thank you. It's hard for me to agree or disagree. If you think that and other people think it, that's the highest acclaim you can give for an artist who's been playing music for 20 years. That's something we strive for. We challenge ourselves to get better. We strive for that. It's fucking awesome to hear that.
What's your take on Unto the Locust as a whole?
We wanted to make a record that could stand alongside The Blackening. We didn't want to make The Blackening II. We knew that from day one. We just wanted to make a great record that was different in its own right but could stand alongside it. Take Black Sabbath's Paranoid. It's a freaking awesome record. The next record they did, Master of Reality, is amazing in a totally different way. We wanted to do something like that. Ride the Lightning is awesome. In the same manner, Master of Puppets is amazing in a different way. Permanent Waves is great, and Moving Pictures is totally great in a different way. We got into that kind of mindset. We tried to not copy what we did in the past. Obviously, we've got our sound and we keep true to it, but we're bringing in something new and fresh and challenging ourselves as musicians and seeing where we can go. You never really know that. You can say, "Yeah, I want to do this" before it happens. Once you get into it, you let the music take you where it takes you.
You've got to listen to this from start-to-finish.
For us, that's how records should be. We're all big movie buffs, and we wanted to have this cinematic feel or flare to it. It's got its ups and downs. There's a gripping, opening scene that keeps you captivated. There are other moments that make the story real. The best movies always end with something amazing. Or in the case of The Empire Strikes Back, it leaves you wanting more. I'm showing my inner Star Wars nerd there [Laughs]. But, The Empire Strikes Back has the ultimate cliffhanger. You're like, "Oh my God, I've got to see the next one".
What's the story behind "Darkness Within"?
It was coming from a pretty dark place. I was fighting with my wife a lot. Coming off three years of touring behind The Blackening, it was looking really dark. We were pretty much going to get a divorce. It was hard on my kids. I had my second kid Wyatt, and I went on tour for three years a month later. I came home here and there. Like any band guy who has a family and kids, I know how hard it is. I was trying to deal with that and keep it together. That particular winter was 2011. In Northern California, it literally rained every day for four months. You didn't see the sun. It was a super bum out. My house was robbed. I lost a bunch of priceless guitar and a guitar Dimebag Darrell had given me. There were a lot of things going on in our lives. The band wasn't necessarily getting along that well. "Darkness Within" came one day. I'd been jamming on the riff that starts the song. It's a riff Dave McClain had written. It has a Pink Floyd vibe. I'd just watched Crazy Heart. There's a song called "Brand New Angel". Towards the end of the movie, Jeff Bridges is down-and-out, and he's singing it. He's got this low, croaky cigarette whisky voice. I was like, "I want to write a song in that vibe". I was playing that riff for a while and mumbling this cadence in this dark voice. The next day, I parked on this dirt road by my house. I live in the hills, and it was foggy. There was this virus going around the area we live killing all of the oak trees so there were all of these dead oak trees everywhere. I just started writing. What came out were the things I was going through in my life basically. My sons get really upset when I go away for long period of time. They tell me they hate what I do, and they wish I would quit. I was trying to grapple with that in my own head. Then, the song goes into this idea of music and how much music has ultimately been a part of my life. It's been this force in my life from my earliest memories. The song became about music and how much it means. I wasn't raised with religion in my life. My parents weren't very religious. The thing I turned to when times got tough for me was music. That's what carried me through a lot of hard times and good times. Music is a soundtrack to my whole life, and that's what the song became about.
What's the first thing you think of now when you think of The Burning Red?
I'm proud of it. There's some great music on there. It's a pretty dark record. It was a very cathartic record in a lot of ways. I think it stood the test of time well. Musically, it has. I don't know if our fashion sense stood the test of time from that record. When I look back on it, it's cool.
"Silver" is one of those songs that just hits.
We did it live for a long time actually. Matt Heafy from Trivium saw us on that tour. Machine Head was his first metal concert in Orlando at the House of Blues. That was the song that grabbed him. He tells me that story all the time. He was like, "Dude, holy shit! That fucking song is amazing!" He bought a Machine Head Year of the Dragon shirt, and it was so awesome to see that.
What are your memories of the early thrash days?
When I first started going to thrash shows in the Bay Area, it was lawless. It was total anarchy. There was no security. Security was the one dude at the front making sure kids weren't sneaking in. There was stage diving. There were fights. If you came out of a thrash show with a busted nose or broken rib, that was your badge of honor. You were like, 'I survived!' Exodus's singer Paul Baloff was fucking terrifying. He'd take a fork and stab people in the arm and shit. They had a crew that would fight all the time. If you saw Suicidal Tendencies back then, they had 30 dudes around them who would beat the crap out of people. It was nuts, man! That's the shit which really made an impression on me. That may never happen again, and that's fine. However, I want to get something like that from a band when I see them.
What was the last thing you read?
I'm still reading Stephen King's Duma Key. This book is awesome. It's really amazing. I read that book from the 1950's I Am Legend. When we were on tour with Metallica, a couple of my crew guys and I ended up sharing a cab to a bar down the street with these dudes. We started talking about books, and I have no idea why! That's not normally the first thing you talk about when you're a metal head [Laughs]. We somehow got on the subject, and this guy told me about I Am Legend. I'd heard the name, but I haven't read many of the classics. We drank for about three or four hours at the bar, and he had a copy of the book in his backpack. He wasn't done reading it, but he was like, "I had such a good time hanging with you. Here is the book!" He signed it to me. I never saw him again. The book was awesome man! It was so good. I'd never read a book from the '50s. It totally inspired me to read a bunch of classics. I read Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and a bunch of rad older books. I finished a bunch of Hemmingway books. I'm reading Duma Key now, and it's badass.
What's your favorite Machine Head song?
See our review of the album here!
See a list of Robb Flynn's favorite live records here!
Watch our exclusive premiere of "Imperium" here!