Last week on the Metal Hammer Radio Show we sat down with the Machine Head mastermind Robb Flynn to get the lowdown on the new album, the departure of Adam Duce, his online ranting and discovery of marijuana.
Robb Flynn on the new album, Adam Duce and smoking weed
We chat to the Machine Head frontman
There's big news on the horizon, Bloodstone & Diamonds, the next Machine Head record is due for release. How do you feel on the cusp of an event like that?
“I feel proud man, I just feel like we killed it on this thing and we really delivered a milestone and I’m just really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”
It feels like the world kind of had a bit of a teaser obviously, earlier this year Killers & Kings was released for Record Store Day. It was a demo version, but was that a way of kind of dipping your toe back in the water, seeing what people thought?
“It was the one song that was done ha ha. They wanted to put out a song and we were like, ‘Hey, this song’s done, it sounds cool,’ it turned out killer, it had this cool energy to it. It was really uptempo and we were like, it’s probably going to be a killer live song. So we put it out there, we put the Ignite song, which was a cover song, on the B-side of it and I think it was cool. We had this tarot theme for four albums, we had the Death card, and the Strength card, and the Devil card, and the High Priestess card. People got a great reaction from it.”
Much was made of the progressive tendencies of Unto The Locust, did you take a step back from that and think about where you wanted to go next, or was it a more organic thing?
“You know for me, I think there’s this myth when you sit down to write a record and you’re just like, ‘Okay, we’re going to write like this and the lyrics are going to be like this,’ you know, and we fall into that. I mean, we’ll go, ‘We should do this,’ and it’s never like that. It never works at all. I think for us the best music always comes when you let it drag you along. It’s scary because you don’t know where it’s going to go and I think you've just got to know it’s just always going to sound like Machine Head, and to just let it go and see where it happens. Keith Richards once said, ‘You’re just a vessel,’ and I totally relate to that. You've just got to let the music go through you and so that’s what we did. In some ways it’s more kind of symphonic and in other ways it’s more stripped down and I dig it, man.”
Obviously much has been made of the departure of Adam Duce, you know, under slightly acrimonious circumstances certainly. Has the chemistry of the band changed?
“You know its cool having somebody who really wants to be there and Jared brought in a killer vibe and I think that he was really the type of musician that we were looking for. He had actually filled in for Machine Head about seven years ago, we had a whole tour where his band was opening, and up till that point he had done like nine or ten shitty van tours, two of them in Europe. After that tour they broke up, they never really did anything. So he got to see how hard it is to do a band and he appreciates it man and he’s grateful and it’s cool to have that, to feel that gratitude, because we all feel the same way. We’re lucky to do this, we’re so grateful to be able to play music for a living and to have a career that’s gone on for 22 years, playing that type of music that’s really pretty off the radar. We’re not a mainstream band, we’re not a pop band and that we’ve just managed to build this foundation over twenty years is, it’s amazing."
It's twenty years since the release of Burn My Eyes, did you celebrate? Did you acknowledge it or did you just kind of, you know, like turning 40, you just wanted it to go by?
“Like turning 40, that’s a perfect analogy, right? You know what, I’m not that sentimental of a guy. I’m not a type of dude that looks back and, ‘Ah, the good old days,’ like, I love to live in the moment and I think that being a musician it’s important to live in the moment. You never know what’s happening in a few years and I’m proud of everything we did on that record. That record was the launch pad that allowed us to continue this on and we’ve had a lot of luck, we’ve worked our asses off and yeah, twenty years, huge accomplishment. I don’t want to be a juke box and play that record, I’m more excited about this right now.”
You suggested we played AC/DC on the show, why For Those About To Rock?
“That was my first rock concert ever. I remember my friend Lisa and her mom took us to the show there, as a chaperone. My mom said ‘Whatever you do, don’t smoke marijuana.’ At the time I had no idea what marijuana was, so, of course that was the thing that I was looking for and, I remember like now, the most vivid memory from that show was the smell. Just so much weed in the room and now, to me, when I smell weed on stage and somebody smokes weed, I love it. It takes me back to that moment and I try and get people to smoke weed during the show sometimes, just so I can kind of go back there.”
Did you walk away from that gig knowing that you someday wanted to be on stage to be those people?
“I knew before that. That’s weird, because when I was younger I was really introverted, I think in a lot of ways the reason I became a frontman was because I wanted to force myself out of my shell. When I was really young I was this kind of introverted, extrovert. I always wanted to be on stage, I always did talent shows... I had to be Peter Rabbit in the play, you know, like I wanted to be the main dude in a play, but then off stage I was socially awkward and I just wanted to do it. My earliest memory is learning a Jim Croce song. I had my parents buy me a 45, because that’s the way he used to listen to music, because of the 45s. I had them buy me, Jim Croce's Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, so that I could listen to it. I listened to it 17 times and memorised all the lyrics, so that when it came on the radio I could just sing along and know every word. Music has been this pretty powerful force in my life for as long as I can remember.”
It’s quite interesting though, from a psychological stand point, for an introvert to decide to want to get in front of people, it’s a special kind of masochism?
“It sure is ha ha. You’re just subjecting yourself to the abuse that you, I guess, don’t want anyway, because you’re introverted.”
Absolutely. Well, you know, it’s not just that you’ve managed to command on stage, you’ve also become incredibly outspoken online as well. Your blog entries are always a source of entertainment, a window into your world, and occasionally something that is a rarer and rarer phenomenon in this world – people speaking their minds. You’ve certainly not shown a lot of hesitance at, perhaps at ruffling a few feathers or you might say, name-checking bands that perhaps you don’t like so much.
“You know, when I sit down to write those things, I have no idea what I’m going to write, most of the time. With the Through The Ashes, when I did the Through The Ashes thing, obviously I knew I was going to write, because I was telling a story. Most of the time I just sit down in front of my computer and I start typing, and sometimes it starts completely different and ends someplace else and I just chop the top off. I try not to put a whole lot of thought into it, you know, sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re depressing. Sometimes they’re just me going on about how much I love Apple TV or something ridiculous.”
Sometimes Avenged Sevenfold?
"Ha ha yeah, sometimes Avenged Sevenfold, sometimes Pearl Jam Twenty, you know, like the Pearl Jam Twenty video blew me away. I think, I started writing around ’99 or 2000, and I remember I started keeping a diary right when Machine Head started. I kept a show diary, I had every show. I wrote my own review of the show, you know, ‘Crowd sucked,’ or ‘Crowd was awesome,’ whatever. That was probably the first time that I really started writing things down, I never did it as a kid or anything. It’s just another way to connect. I think that’s what I want to do with those and I know that it does ruffle a few feathers from time to time, but, I don’t know, I think as an artist sometimes you’ve got to say things, even if it does ruffle feathers. I came of age in the thrash, punk era and what I considered to be the golden era of hip-hop, the Public Enemies and the N.W.As, where it was just you know, fuck you, fuck white people, fuck black people, fuck the police, fuck the government and I love that man, I miss that.
I love that people were so fearless. Part of it was trying to disrupt, part of it was trying to shake things up, and I don’t know if I’m trying to do anything because half the time I think they’re pretty benign. I think they’re boring and I’m just like 'who the fuck wants to read this shit?' but I just put it out. I don’t really read the reactions and if I ask people a question then I’ll read the reactions, but most of the time I don’t read the reactions.”
Absolutely, well, that makes a lot of sense really, but do you ever worry, just like when you’re calling people out and things like that, there’s a certain point you’re backstage at a festival, this or that, and people are going to go, ‘Hey, that’s Robb Flynn, that guy who said something about me.’ Have people lost their edge or are people just too scared to offend?
“I think that it’s a joke, and most of the people that I’ve said stuff about, if I did say something, they took the joke well. I think that’s part of the mettle of metal, you know what I mean? You’ve got to have a thick skin.”
You certainly do, now I mean, obviously Machine Head is no stranger to adversity, both on stage and off, changing trends, changing times. Obviously it’s a lot of work to tour these days and all that, but I think perhaps one of the biggest obstacles where the most public ones. Obviously was the departure of Adam Duce. Have you spoken to him since then?
Nothing’s happened? A big departure certainly, I mean, how do you feel about Machine Head now, is it a different band? Are you in a different place?
“We’re in a much better place. We’re not talking about it too much, we just got out of a two million dollar law suit and there’s still some stuff hanging in the air. It almost came to an end and we made a choice to change and we’re here and that’s all that matters.”
Is Bloodstone and Diamonds autobiographical? Is it the story of that? Is it the story of everything that happened since Unto The Locust?
“Not really. I mean when you’re making music and you’re coming from an honest place, yeah, you’re going to have your raw emotion in there. You’re going to have things that have affected you and I think the best music probably comes from that. I think that it’s all over the place. On the one hand you’ve got a song like Night Of The Long Knives, which is about the Manson murders, on the other hand you’ve got a song like In Comes The Flood, which is about financial crisis and the worship of money, and how I feel like we’ve turned money into a god. There’s no overall theme, it’s just a collection of songs."
Did you find marijuana in the end after that AC/DC show?
“Ha ha I did, yeah, I did, for sure. I totally did. My first weed experience was actually pretty awesome. I had a friend named Elvis, and he was like the local stoner. Me and this other guy named Jim we cut school and he’s like, ‘Yeah, my dad smokes weed, we’ll go steal a bunch of weed from his little box or whatever at my house,’ and he went. So, we cut school and then he puts on Black Sabbath – We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll and I’m just sitting there looking at the gatefold, and it had the chick laying in the coffin with the chrome cross and she’s all dead looking and he’s playing the shit off that record and I just freaked out. I was like, ‘Turn it off dude, we’re gonna go to hell, I don’t wanna listen to this shit!’ So we changed it to something else and a couple of days later we cut school again and I was like, ‘Put that Black Sabbath on dude,’ and he put it on and from that point it was my favourite band. I wanted to play music, I wanted to smoke weed, I wanted to fuck girls, I wanted to go Snowblind, everything. That band was the band that. I went down the rabbit hole.”
Interview originally broadcast on the Metal Hammer Radio Show.