Interview: Robb Flynn of Machine Head
Interview by Bernard O’Rourke
California metal gods Machine Head have been on the go for 20 years, making the music they love for a dedicated fan base. However it was the albums Through the Ashes of Empires in 2003 and The Blackening in 2007 that put them on track to becoming one of the biggest metal bands in the world. Their 2011 album Unto the Locust further cemented that position, with tracks like “Locust” and “Darkness Within” winning acclaim from both die hard metal fans and critics in general.
Machine Head visit Dublin to play the intimate surroundings of Olympia theatre on May 30. Goldeplec spoke to frontman and founding member Robb Flynn ahead of the gig about his musical influences, dealing with fame, and making the music he loves.
Who were your favourite bands growing up, and how much of an influence have they had on Machine Head’s distinctive sound?
I think there was a subtle influence across the board with all the bands I listened to, but the band that did it for me was Black Sabbath. That was the band that pretty much changed the direction of my life. They made me want to play guitar. They made me want to smoke weed.
Metallica too – I was a kid growing up in the bay area, so I just happened to be in the golden era of thrash. The California thrash bands – Exodus, Metallica, Slayer – were also a huge, huge influence on me. There was a great, thriving punk rock scene here too: bands like the Dead Kennedys, D.R.I. and Suicidal Tendencies. Then California gangster rap started coming out, so you know it all kind of blended into one big mish-mash, and we just took it from there.
Following the massive successes of Through the Ashes of Empires and The Blackening did you feel any pressure about having to produce another massive album? Were you ever afraid that you would end end up with something you as a band loved but the fans hated, akin to Metallica’s St. Anger?
I never worry about that. You never know what anybody is going to like. We didn’t know what the fans were going to think of The Blackening. I mean that was the first time we had ever written ten minute long songs. And then we ended up having two ten minute songs and two nine minute songs, so we just put it out to the world and hoped that they would get it. The gauge we use is: When the four of us are sitting in a room, and if we get goosebumps, that’s good enough. You can’t guess what people are going to like, you can’t go “Oh, I think the fans are gonna like this,” because fans might not like it, or the record company or radio or MTV might not like it. You just gotta go with your gut, and do what you feels right and challenge yourself. So with each release we just try and do that, and so far that’s worked out for us.
“Locust” got an early release on YouTube. Was it a big relief to see the fantastic response it got from the fans?
It’s not like I’m worried about it, so it’s not really a relief. Of course we hope that people enjoy it and we hope to gain new fans with each release, but we do it for very selfish reasons. We were stuck with it, and we were proud of it. Whether the world agreed is something else. If you can be proud of the songs, that means more to yourself.
Likewise the whole album “Unto the Locust” received rave reviews, and has seemingly cemented you as one of the greatest metal bands of all time. Did you ever suspect you would get this big?
No. When we put out Burn My Eyes [Machine Head’s 1994 debut album] our goal was to sell 20,000 records, and open for Slayer at one show in the Henry J. Kaiser auditorium in Oakland. And if we did that then we were the kings of the world. But those were pretty lofty goals for back down. That’s an 8,000 seater we’re talking about, we weren’t just trying to get into some club. We always had big goals, and when we achieved them we just set our sights on new ones.
We have made every effort to make quality music, and we’ve grown ourselves. Fortunately for us we had a super intense and incredibly passionate fanbase who just live and breathe this band. We’re very lucky for that.
Has the level of fame you’ve achieved had changed you or your bandmates’ day to day lives?
Yeah, for sure it’s had an effect. I mean my house got robbed just because I’m famous. You become a target for some fans. And other times it’s like fans want to hang out and give you free stuff and free drinks and free guitars. It’s funny, now that I can afford all the guitars that I want, now they want to give ‘em to me for free, and I’m like, “Where were you ten years ago?” But I mean you’ve just gotta take it all with a grain of salt. I don’t think that you can believe your own hype too much. I think that there is a tendency to get caught up in that. It’s easy to get caught up in the fame game, and in chasing that, but it’s a fleeting game. I think it’s more important to just be concerned with writing your music and keeping a good head on your shoulders. And if that fame or success comes, we welcome it – if someone offers you a drink you’re gonna fucking take it. But at the same time I meet all kinds of people who only want to do those things because of what I am, and not who I am, and I know that.
What’s the response like in Dublin? What is it like to play here?
It’s fucking awesome. We’ve had amazing times in Dublin. We had a Halloween gig there before that was amazing, and afterwards we hit a bunch of bars, got super hammered. My name – Flynn – I’m Irish so there’s that too. Yeah, fuck it, Dublin kicks ass man.
Have you gone to see the Phil Lynott statue?
Yeah, the statue, that’s great. That’s really cool to be able to pay homage to a band we love.
See anything else?
Oh yeah! We did the Jameson tour, we did the Guinness tour – we’re like tourist geeks every time we go to Dublin.
What’s coming up next for Machine Head?
We’re doing some more touring. We’ve also recorded a bunch of live shows in the past few months so I want to compile them and put out a live record. It’s been almost ten years since we put out a live record so I’d like to put out another one. I’d also like to get some new songs going, not necessarily a full album, just get some more content out there. Even if it’s just in three-song clusters, you know, three new songs here and three new songs there, just to give the fans something. I’d love to release some B-sides and some demos that we’ve been gathering up for a while. We have alternate versions of songs – there’s about three different versions of “Locust” before it became “Locust” – and I just think it would be cool to put stuff like that out there. It could show the evolution of songs, and songs that never made really made the cut and ended up on the editing room floor. I’d love to do some stuff like that.
So are there any thoughts of a new album right now?
We haven’t started writing anything yet but there have been some riffs floating around. We haven’t sat down as a group to do anything, but I’ve probably got about fifty riffs floating around in my head right now.
Machine Head play the Ulster hall in Belfast on 28 of May, and the Olympia on 30 May.