“It isn’t the sound that’s coming out of the speakers; it’s the sound that is coming out of that person’s soul!”
The Bay Area has produced so many amazing acts it’s hard to be objective anymore. Machine Head continues to supply us with the sweetest ear candy known to man especially with the band’s latest triumph, The Blackening. Obviously much of the lyrical and musical content is a reflection of the bands trials and tribulations experienced prior to recording the album on top of tackling subjects like the Iraq War, Dimebag’s Murder, and the classic subjects of love and hate. With the music being as “bleak and dark” as this, they mastered it all underneath one roof! Not to say Mr. Flynn has not attacked similar events in the past but it’s like Robb truly found his voice! Not to mention the CD is an evolutionary “technical” breakthrough for the band; they have all stepped their game up, if that were at all possible. Guess this is enough smoke blowing for one sitting!
The gods from above shined down upon us during The Sacrament Tour as we were fortunate enough to catch up with the band’s eminent frontman, Robb Flynn. In this candid and most informative talk, he shares his views on the new album being leaked in cyberspace before its due time, the band’s experience in Dubai, his passion for music and a plethora of other topics. Grab a cup of java or whatever else and settle in for one hell of a ride.
Karma: Welcome back from the “Ashes [of the Empire]” that is.
Robb: [Chuckles] Thank you.
Karma: Not to mention the new album is phenomenal! It’s like, technical supreme!!
Robb: [Laughs] It’s like a taco supreme! [Smiles]
Karma: We caught your dynamic set last year during SOTU. Your performance on “Aesthetics of Hate” was extraordinary. I witnessed many people getting choked up when you pointed to the sky right before your solo…which was remarkable by the way.
Robb: [Humbled] Wow, awesome; thank you! Yeah, the show here in Milwaukee was one of the highlights of that tour; it was UNBELIEVABLE! [Beams]
Erika: …I’m sorry… [Apologetically Interjects] And why do you think that is the Milwaukee stands out like that?
Robb: I dunno but the crowd was insane! I mean it was just like such a rowdy, fun show, you know. The crowd was just losing their minds! It was a fun show. I don’t know if it was because we were upstairs or what.
Karma: It was HOT that’s for sure but it was sooo worth every bead of sweat. [Laughter ensues]
Robb: It was great; I love it when it’s a hot show like that. To me when we play these nice air-conditioned venues, it’s like ‘that’s not a sweaty, heavy metal show’! You know, that’s the shows I started going to when I was kid, you know not a nice air-conditioned venue. But a grimy, you know sweaty venue.
Karma: Judging from the crowd tonight, you’ll get your wish.
Robb: You bet! [Smiles]
Karma: Just wanted to interject a comment about “Aesthetics of Hate” that there are some killer/memorable riffs in that song as well as the album but we’ll get into that more in depth later.
Robb: Cool, thanks!! [Nods]
Karma: How’s the tour going for you; I am sure the new material is well received…of course that would be an understatement.
Robb: [Exuberance fills his countenance] The It’s unbelievable, I mean every night’s been sold-out you go on stage [beams] and we‘ve got the “Machine Fucking Heads” every night. It’s pretty surprising going on second, we didn’t expect this kind of…and I think the other bands are pretty surprised by the reaction we’re getting. You know we’re going on second, so uh… It’s been awesome! They’ve been treating us great, Lamb of God guys are super, super cool, you know very down to earth. We hang out everyday, if we have a day off we’re drinking beers and vodka, brown eyes, and butt burners… [as the litany of drinks continued, we all shared a hearty laugh] We’ve got all of these drinks and we’re turning them on to all of our drinks. We’ve got this one called the Brown Eye and we have a shot called the Butt Burner.
Karma: Dare I ask what’s in both of these deadly sounding concoctions?
Robb: Okay, so they’re both vodka based, since we’re really into vodka; we don’t really dig the whiskey but the vodka…Brown Eye is just vodka and coke, you know so we drink Grey Goose, so it’s really good vodka. And then the Butt Burner is a shot and that’s vodka and Tabasco and that’s it! [Laughs] So it’s like pure pain but it’s like you’re getting drunk but you’re getting this endorphin rush from like you know…We did a bunch of those the other night…[eyebrow raises] it was a pretty rowdy night. [Laughs again] Yeah!
Karma: Speaking of tours, please tell me a little about your experience when you guys played the Middle East at the Dubai Desert Rock Festival.
Robb: Yeah! [Smiles]
Karma: How was the climate of the people: were you well received? What was your impression of it?
Robb: It was actually completely shocking to be honest, you know. It was just one show and it was in Dubai; it was in the United Emirates and it was us, Sepultura was opening…a couple of other band, Within Temptation, Machine Head and the Darkness. It was like totally out of nowhere and randomly the Darkness was headlining, but this was when the Darkness was worth something! [Chortles ensue] You know it was kind of scary when we were going over there, you know we were just like…you see all of this stuff on the media. We had never been there so we didn’t know what to expect. Then my wife was literally pleading with me the night before, “This has got to be some kind of terrorist plot…” and I was like, “I don’t think so…” They were paying us a lot of money and I don’t think they would do that, you know. But I’ve got to say that it was in the back of my head and just landing there.
We got there, we were expecting to see nothing but mosques and turbans and camels… We drive out of there and we the first thing we see is Starbucks and Roundtable Pizza! We were like, “What the f…” and the next day it was McDonalds and Burger King and Arby's and Nordstrom's and Cactus Jacks… [Shakes head in disbelief, reliving the moment] They put us up in the Fairmont Hotel, they took us to the Rock Hard, I mean the Hard Rock Hotel for a press conference. It was like Las Vegas on crack but it was on the beach. So, it was like Las Vegas on the beach, which was the coolest thing about it. In the outskirts, it was a little weird but the show, I mean 5,000 people, kids from Iran, Grenada and just like all these crazy places like Beirut, and obviously Dubai and Saudi Arabia…and they were all just metal heads, you know. [Beams] Long hair, Metallica shirts, Machine Head shirts, Slayer shirts, Slipknot shirts…they were jumping and headbanging.
They knew the “Machine Fucking Head”, [eyes widen] we were like, “What the fu…” I mean we ended talking to a bunch of…[coughs]. They had kind of a big after party and a bunch of the kids that were at the show actually got to come in and hang out. They were all just SUPER COOL man! We were just talking…[Robb's phone rings unexpectedly] and we were just so freaked out what it was going to be like to be [there] You know how the media, especially here in America how the media really manipulates everything. We expected bombed out cities and it was one of the nicest cities you could ever be in, you know. But they hammer that perception into America and totally build that fear. It‘s total fear mongering and in the same they expected us to be a certain way. Americans, just a bunch of “la, la, la la’s” And you know it was this cool cultural experience that we got to trip off of.
Karma: Talk about an amazing experience.
Robb: Yeah, it ended up being one of the most coolest things we’ve ever done [smiles] and we’d totally do it again! Every single band should do it just to experience what a cool trip it is.
Karma: It would also help to change their perspective and be more accepting of other cultures too.
Robb: Absolutely! Totally man, because there’s a lot of media relation going on with that!
Karma: Perhaps now that you’ve done it, it will open the door to other bands wanting to do the same.
Robb: They just had another one too and guess that a lot of band since we’ve done it and we definitely gave it the thumbs up, everybody’s like, “Oh let’s check it out”…bands like In Flames and Iron Maiden just did it. Now everybody's like, “Wow, Dubai is really awesome!!”
Karma: That is awesome indeed! Going a little further on the touring tip, congrats landing the Heaven & Hell gig!
Robb: [Smiles] Thank you, yeah, we’re very stoked about that.
Karma: Will you change up the setlist for that stint with more new songs in the short time you have?
Robb: Yeah, we’re still trying to figure that all out how much set time we have so yeah we’re kinda debating on what we’re going to do. We’re super stoked to be doing it for us, Heaven & Hell and Megadeth it’s like paying homage to the masters. You know those two bands are like why Machine Head are even around so you know, this is going to be like, “WOW!” [Eyes dance with excitement] Playing arenas you know, we’re playing the HP Pavilion in San José, the Shark Tank. It’s the biggest show we’ve ever done in the Bay Area. It’s going to be pretty incredible!
Karma: 50 words or less, the climate of metal and its sub-genres in today’s music industry. Go!
Robb: [Rares back in seat and inhales while thinking] Easy! [We all laugh] Healthy, glad to see that metal is cool again. I love walking down the street in my neighborhood and seeing fourteen year old kids with their brand new Testament shirts and their like pegged pants [laughs] because you know that was me, like back in the day, totally great! Done to death with thrash singing about how their girlfriend left them! Don’t want to hear it anymore, with as much fucked up shit is going on in the world. There’s more important things to write about!
Karma: Very well said!
Robb: I think that was 50 words or less. [Laughs]
Karma: I think so! Going a little further with metal and its subgenre, say for instance, Thrash never got big or caught on…
Robb: Did thrash ever get big?
Karma: Yes, Slayer, Exodus…
Robb: …Megadeth, Metallica…okay…
Karma: …how do you think that would have impacted the metal community?
Robb: You wouldn’t have this tour! You wouldn’t have a lot of the bands on Ozzfest, you know. It’s hard to imagine a world without because as a kid I grew up in that scene, like fourteen years old going to my first thrash show. [Sense of nostalgia fills the room]
Karma: [Nodding head].
Robb: Yeah, I mean I was already into Black Sabbath and stuff so I definitely would have gotten into other metal. I probably just would have gotten into Stoner Metal because there was nothing… well punk, I really got into punk, and I really got into hardcore punk like Poison Idea, Attitude Adjustment, really grimy woggie cover punk rock. I really got into that so I probably would have gravitated towards one of the other of those.
Karma: First off I want to say The Blackening is a phenomenal release. And I know Phil ‘s stance on the album being leaked before the due date is that he sees it an awesome approach being a “pre-buzz” and he’s, right no matter what there will always be people of there that will not buy records. But what are your feelings on the matter?
Robb: Well I mean it was leaked by an American journalist unfortunately who got an advance of the CD and who wanted to be a jerk and put it up there [in cyberland]! You know, it’s unfortunate that had to happen but the same time, it’s really creating an unbelievable buzz on the record and on the band. And nothing like we ever had before, you know. It’s pretty amazing! I guess in the one sense, you know, it’s pretty much inevitable that’s it’s going to happen with every record. And I guess it’s kinda a great equalizer, you know, it’s leveled the playing field. You know so there’s internet street buzz vs. record company hype and if they hype matches up to the street buzz, then you’re seeing a lot of bands selling a lot of records in the first week. If the street buzz does not match up to the record company hype, you’re not seeing that big first week and that success. In some ways, it’s definitely leveled out the playing field and especially for a band that’s like maybe doesn’t have a very big record company behind them that doesn’t have a lot of push or whatever, they're getting like a huge buzz on it.
I think of other bands that definitely have something to worry about but with us, our fans are very loyal and very dedicated and you know they will go out there and buy that record. You know they’ll test drive it, but they’ll go out and buy the record because they know, a band like Machine Head and a band that plays the type of music that we do, a very extreme form of music that for the most part isn’t going to get played on most mainstream radio and won’t get played on most mainstream video stations. You know, this is the way that we have to survive, we’re given this platform, not because or record company or magazine that writing ten-minute songs are a good idea, you know. [Laughs] We’re given this platform because the beast is fed and so they go out and support us and you know, it’s cool. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is and there’s other things to worry.
Karma: I love the way it starts out with “Clenching The Fists of Dissent” with the classic “fight song” sample…
Robb: [Smiles] Yeah, the fight!
Karma: … to mastery of riffs in “Aesthetics” to “Halo” which is simply angelic; it’s perfect: the riffs, scaling, lyrics…It’s my absolute favorite.
Robb: [Beams] Right on, right on!
Karma: The break with your vocals…wow!
Robb: Yeah, the soft break is my Coldplay! [Room fills with laughter]
Karma: It’s a powerfully haunting, the melody…Ahh!
Robb: Right on! Killer!
Karma: Having said that mouthful I think it’s killer that the album does address a plethora of subjects which we are faced with in this day and age, the war in Iraq…
Robb: …yea, the way we look at it, it’s definitely like the social commentary that was on our first album [Burn My Eyes] that addressed the first Gulf War, you know songs like “1,000 Lies” and stuff like that. You know, I don’t really see this as any different from that, it’s just that it’s a new way of saying almost the same problems, you know in a sad, ironic way. It really bothered and angered us in a lot of ways, you know we’ve been against The War from the beginning and especially since we’ve done a lot of research on stuff and there’s just a lot of stuff that ain’t adding up. We’re not saying, “Hey, we’re politicians and we know what to do…” “Let’s do this, or let’s do that!” We don’t know what to do, but we’re not politicians. But we’re pissed off about it, we think it’s fucked up, and we’re singing about it!
Karma: You may not be politicians, but you are using your platform in a positive manner and educating those on the things that are not “adding up”, presenting it to the masses, most of which may not have cared before you brought it to their attention in a musical format.
Robb: Yeah, but it’s not to say that it’s a political record, there are other facets.
Karma: Oh definitely. I spoke a little earlier about the riffs, etc. I know your songs have known to be long before but was it a conscious effort to make the album more technical or did it just kinda come about?
Robb: It just kinda came about. [Snickers] We were just as surprised as anybody when we found out we had two ten-minute songs. [Laughter fills the room]
Karma: And two nine-minute ones…
Robb: [Nods head] And two nine-minute ones…[Laughs hysterically] We felt like they were long, [winces] “Yeah, they’re like six-seven minutes long”…then we timed them and we just got to the point where we just didn’t care about timing the songs or whatever. If it felt right, it felt right! When we finally did we were like, “Jesus Christ”, you know. We actually had to step back and say, “All right, are we going crazy here? Are we nuts?” [Laughs] But you know, it felt right. There was a period early on where we stripped some of the songs back just to see how it felt. Like, “Okay, let’s try to trim the fat here” to see if we were going crazy and it just didn’t have that roller coaster ride. It just wasn’t as fun to play and as selfish as that sounds, it’s like that’s one of the main motivators for what we do. It’s like it has be fun for us to do; we’ve got to be enjoying it as musicians.
Having multiple riffs and having lots of stuff going on in our songs, the four of us and our short attention spans, are a little bit more entertained. [Laughs] So it was the toughest thing but we said, “Fuck it! It feels right, it’s from the heart…” I think people are going to dig it! It’s not Tool hippie space jam for ten-minutes and it’s not thirty riffs that are going nowhere, just riff soup. It’s still a song in the class pop sense of what a song is; it’s got a bridge and a chorus and a verse. It’s got these threads of consistency that weave throughout the song, that repeat that part, it’s like, “oh yeah, that part”. And in between those parts, we’ve taken you on a roller coaster ride, but we’ll bring you back and that’s what cool. [Says in a very proud and accomplished manner] “Halo”’s probably got eleven different riffs, but it still got hooks that, “Oh yeah, there’s that again”!
Karma: It’s really nice to hear Adam’s bass be as prominent as it is. It’s like the bass had been forgotten, like a dying breed in years past until recently it’s making a comeback.
Robb: Yeah, we really brought him out on this one. I was pushing him hard to the point that we were getting into arguments. Like, “I’m not gonna play that part, it’s too hard” [Snickers] So we messed around with it until we got it right. And bringing out his vocals, you know he’s got an amazing clean voice with higher range than I do. You know, trying to bring out more of the harmonies and stuff like he does the low one and I do the high falsetto or vice-versa.
Karma: Which song was the most difficult for you to construct?
Robb: [Pauses] Probably “Wolves” or “Clenching”.
Robb: Well “Clenching” because everything about it had to be epic, you know. It’s got all of these incredibly layered parts where it’s like a three-part harmony with two guitars and the bass and harmony with two vocals, doing a harmony on that and then a third hard vocal and just all of that has to be in tune and if one guitar is out of tune and everything was out of tune…and you know things like that. [Mind you all of that was said in one breath] The intro itself, you know…[smiles] no one will ever take this into consideration that just that intro itself was NINETY tracks!
Karma: Oh my god!
Robb: It was a nightmare!
Karma: Yeah, I can’t even imagine!
Robb: It was twenty tracks of snare drum and four tracks of kick drum and military marching cymbals, you know. Three acoustic guitars and then five electric guitars and vocals and two basses… [looks overwhelmed all over again] it was like, insanity. Insanity trying to get all the shit right, I mean it’s got to go into the song. We actually had to make it its own song because it just took up so many tracks that we ran out of tracks on the original “Clenching” take of it. So “Clenching” was definitely a challenge and then making it all good.
“Wolves” was hard because it was so much, you know, technical thrash; its all got to be super tight; there were so many riffs that had to be just locked on down picking [imitating the action], you know. But I definitely say “Clenching” after thinking about it.
Karma: What’s your favorite song off the album if you can pick one?
Robb: You know, I mean it’s like eight children. [Laughs sheepishly] I mean I’m loving playing “Clenching” live; it’s awesome, it goes over huge!
Karma: Okay, so tell me how was it working with Colin [Richardson] again?
Robb: Same as it ever was from the first album.
Karma: Guess I should have added if it’s changed any for as long as you have been working with him?
Robb: [Laughs] He refers to himself as an anarax, he retains this unbelievable amounts of useless information, you know. He can remember the guitar tech that fixed the guitar on the ABBA third album… [We all laugh hysterically] He knows like the most unbelievable… It’s like, “Why do you remember that”, you know! [Shakes head and laughs] It’s like what is the purpose in storing that information? So he’s exactly the same; he’s funny! And that’s great because we have a great working relationship. I can start to say something and he can finish my sentence so it cool to have that kind of relationship.
Karma: And it must be comforting to be able to have that kind of relationship with someone being that intimate with your inner workings and to have someone bring to life on a grander scale what your trying to do.
Robb: Yeah, definitely!
Karma: How do you feel you’ve evolved as musicians especially in the past fourteen years?
Robb: [Silence] There’s a lot less fear based decision making, you know. For instance, we refuse to play the song, “I’m Your God” now off of Burn My Eyes. For the first five years that we were a band because we thought, [changes voice to a gruff intonation] “Everyone will think we’re pussies”… [laughs] so we never played it until like ’99 or 2000 or something like that. Everyone just went bananas for the song…it’s like, “What the fuck were we thinking”, you know! We wrote the song. It’s a great song, you know but it’s just a lot of that. Like songs like “The Burning Red”, were other melodic passages and bringing out influences like the Cure and Cure guitar tunes even though they are a band I’ve loved forever, we just never would have brought them out because of things like that, you know, people thinking we were pussies or doing too much melodic stuff. And now there’s just a lot less of that, you know. We’re just going to go for it and if it feels right then it feels right.
Karma: When music is good, it’s good, you know, it shouldn’t matter.
Robb: Totally! I think with how we currently write, it’s almost like when you’re writing a ten minute song, for me the hardest challenge for me is to not make it all sound the same. You’ve got to add so many things in there just to break up all the parts, if not, it all starts to blur into one thing. I think if I have any songs like that, it’s forced us down that road even more, like we have to challenge ourselves to mix things up. We wrote twenty-six songs for the album, some of them were half songs but we narrowed it down to the eight because these were the eight that seemed like they had the best ups and downs; they ended the strongest, they seemed like they all went together. And so as a musician, it was cool to have so much variety on a record. Like I listened to it and we’re like, “Jesus”. We never would have done some of this stuff like six, seven years ago. We never would have done it, and it’s cool we’re still evolving! We never really tried to make the same record twice and we’ve always tried to bring in new things just to keep ourselves excited about doing this and continuing to do this.
Karma: So what are you going to do with the remaining tracks? Will you discard them or try to work them into future works…like B-Sides or something on that order?
Robb: …oh the remaining tracks that we didn’t record…nah, they didn’t see the light of day for a reason, because they just weren’t good enough! They didn’t go anywhere…it’s kinda like when nine-minute long songs go wrong, you know! [Laughter ensues]
Karma: Understood! Tell me what have you learned about yourself and your band mates as musicians throughout the years?
Robb: Pfffttt… EVERYTHING! [Laughs] Every idiosyncrasy and every, you know you’ll live with somebody in a room that’s basically a bus that’s about as big [as the room we were in] on wheels. It’s a studio apartment but on wheels but you and ten people, four of which are band members. You also everybody’s got their own coping mechanisms like how they deal with the road and how they deal with success or attention or whatever. We all just kind of keep each other in check and try to remember where we came from. We’re pretty good at going, “Dude, that was fucking lame!” or whatever [laughs], you know. I mean, it’s a good feeling. [Smiles ever so humbly] Basically I always joke about this but the way we look at it, it’s a sexless marriage! [We all laugh] That’s how the four of us are, we’re in a sexless marriage and music is our sex, that’s the one thing we get to share.
Karma: Well that was very well put!
Robb: Why thank you!
Karma: What has been the biggest mistake/lesson learned that you would not ever repeat?
Robb: That radio and MTV and magazines it’s all fickle and it’s all fleeting. As long as you stay true to your heart in making music, that will transfer over to the listener. It isn’t the sound that’s coming out of the speakers; it’s the sound that is coming out of that person’s soul, because that’s what’s gonna connect. That’s why people listen to music, you know! Hype, [shrugs shoulders] sure, people buy shit and read a magazine but whatever... But good songs and music that’s straight from the heart is something that will live forever no matter if magazines say it sucks or no matter if magazines say it’s good, as long as you’re doing that, then you’ll be able to fucking last!
Karma: [Momentarily rendered speechless] Wow! If not music, then what?
Robb: You know, the loony bin! [Laughs] I mean because I HAVE to do this. I’ve never had a back up, you know. I never had a “Plan B” was going to be a, “Oh yeah, I’ll do this”! There’s never been a “Plan B”. I've been wanting to do this since I heard Black Sabbath We Sold Our Soul for Rock N' Roll and my drummer said, “All right, you’ve got to singer because we don’t have anybody else!” [Snickers] And I was like, “Okay!” You know this is what I was meant to do and it’s really all I’m really good at, you know, so it’s better I stick to this anyway. [Laughs] No one wants to see Robb Flynn as a sportscaster! [Hysterical laughter fills the room]
Karma: [Raises eyebrow] Now that would be interesting, though.
Robb: That would be HORRIBLE! [Laughter kicks back up]
Karma: In your music collection, what would you say is your most prized possession?
Robb: Hmmm…my most prized possession. [Thinks a little longer] Ahhmmm, Live Intervention, the Slayer DVD where I got to go up for their encore and sing “Venom’s Witching Hour” with them while NFL’s films documented the entire thing and then they released it. It was definitely a high point in my career!
Karma: That is sweet! Karma: What's one common misconception that people may have about you and/or the band that you would like to debunk?
Robb: I don’t care to debunk anything you know, the detractors will detract and the supporters will support and let them say their stupid stuff because the people who know the right answer, know it.
Karma: If you could commission a band to do a Machine Head cover, who would do it and which song would they do?
Robb: Hmmmm…a question I’ve never been asked! [Laughs] Who would I like to do it? [Eyes dance with excitement, then begins to think intently]
Karma: He’s really thinking! [Laughter ensues]
Robb: [Still laughing] I know, there’s so many options! It’s like what song would I like for them to do, then I’m weighing out who would do it good…and would they sound good doing that… [Smiles] Uhhmmm, I’d like to hear Slayer doing “Imperium”.
Karma: [Inhales] Ohhhh…awesome choice! Thank you for being the “Wolves” you are, for taking no prisoners, and delivering the kind of music you do. I wish you much success on your travels and may you continue to be a mighty force for another couple of decades!! It was a pleasure meeting you.
Robb: This was a good interview!
Karma: No, thank you!
I'd like to thank Rob for his candor and giving us a snapshot in the day in the life of Machine Head and to his camp for setting this interview up.
* Review / Pix of the band from tonight's show
* Review / Pix of Machine Head on Sounds Of The Underground 2006 Tour
* Review of The Blackening