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Machine Head

It happens more and more that the promo days for a new album are taking place several months before the new gem hits the streets. That’s why we took a train to Brussels late October to catch up with Robb Flynn of Machine Head in a hotel room in order to have a nice chat about the ninth Machine Head studio album, entitled ‘Catharsis’, that will see the light of day late January 2018. It is up to Flynn to guide us through his sources of inspiration and catharsis…

By: Vera | Archive under speed / thrash metal

The previous album ‘Bloodstone & Diamonds’ came out in November 2014 and we met here in Brussels as well. What happened with Machine Head during the last three years?
We toured for twenty months for ‘Bloodstone & Diamonds’, 283 shows of which 250 were ‘An evening with Machine Head’ without support acts. We got our merchandising back in our hands. We started our own merchandising company, called ‘Ten Ton Trading Company’. Yes, there has been a lot of cool stuff.

I know that you took a kind of break to write the new material. When was that?
The tour cycle ended in March 2016 and then we started writing in September.

Did you have some things you wanted to focus on in the lyrics this time? I mean ‘Catharsis’ is a very intense and straight title…
For me music has always been cathartic. Even before I was in a band, I was a guy who was slamming in the pit and headbanging. For me it was a way to get a lot of aggression out in a positive way. When we were putting this record together, there was so much different kind of stuff: songs about social commentary, songs about partying, songs about depressions, songs about sex… really all kinds of stuff. In so many ways, all was just cathartic; it wasn’t just anger or social commentary. It seemed like the perfect title to kind of summarize it. Simply because it was so cathartic.

In these three years, the world has become harsher and surely not a better place to live in… how do you feel at the moment, being an American citizen and living over there? Did things change?
It is totally crazy out there. It has definitely changed. It is different now, you know… Until now I think it was all a bit in the background, now I think it is all over the top. But well, what can we do? We just live there. We just write music, that’s what we do. I am not a politician, I am not running for fucking president, or major or metal guru. We are just writing music and I think, as an artist, these are mostly more emotional people and that’s why they can move you through art. Whether it is through music or paintings or books. I think artists are just a little bit more affected by things going on around us.

I hope you are not suffering from weather conditions over there at the moment?
We are near the fire area in California, that’s frightening. However the song ‘California Bleeding’ is not about a tragedy, but just a party song. About good times, getting drunk and stoned. It also reflects my mixed feelings for California, a kind of love/hate relationship.

Rage and frustration are more than ever noticeable on the record, but also the sensitive things have found a place in your life, so it seems…
I like to use my voice in different ways and it is very important to have contrasts on an album. Light and shade. That’s why sensitive songs like ‘Behind A Mask’ and the beginning of ‘Heavy Lies The Crown’ are dear to my heart.

Which song is your favorite at the moment?
They are all my babies, but ‘Eulogy’ is the last one we finished and I am really proud of it. It is the last song on the record. It is also a kind of moment of tranquility after the previous songs.

Since I don’t have any information about the recordings, please tell me a bit more about it?
We recorded at the Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, which is right down where we live. I did the production and Jack Ohren did co-production, recording and mix. We definitely changed the way we recorded this time around. We decided to break up the recording in parts. So we write three songs, immediately get into the studio and record them and get out of the studio. Write another three songs and record them… Whenever we recorded them, they were always very fresh. There was a sense of urgency about them. There was something captured by doing it this way. I really feel there was a kind of magic by doing it this way. There was excitement, because a lot of the songs were so new. When you do it in the traditional way, the first song you record might be one year old. It was definitely cool to do it that way and I think you really hear that. You feel the energy. With some of the songs it was really the first day we played them together and the first day that I ever sang this song. This is spontaneous and intense! I like this way of working. The mastering was done in New York, at Sterling Sound by Ted Jensen.

I know that you are the main writer of Machine Head, but for this record, where do the others come in sight? Was there a kind of input from them?
Since the first album, everybody is writing a lot. Yes, I am the main writer and the front man, but we all contribute and we all add things to the songs and to the band.

The cover artwork, with the figure covered with blood, is quite confronting…
It was a tricky concept to make it come alive, this catharsis. We had a few different ideas and worked with a few different artists to find out which one would be best. It just turned out kind of weird. I was kind of browsing on the internet, looking for inspiration and I stumbled across this photographer called Seanen Middleton. He was this twenty years old kid, but an awesome, amazing photographer and I found that work. It was really powerful. I loved the composition with all the black space above him. It is pretty provocative and it is a naked guy. I kind of like that provocative tinge. I asked him to recreate it, but he just gave it to us. I also hired him to create the rest of the package. Nuclear Blast will come with a twenty-four pages booklet with all the lyrics and thank lists. It is a kind of world at itself you enter. He did it all. Amazing! The special edition will have the full fifteen songs and the live DVD from the San Francisco show which we shot two years ago (2015 – Vera). Then we have the mail order only box-set which includes the vinyl, the CD, the DVD and bonus live songs, different from the DVD with a lot of songs we’d never had played live before. And even a vinyl with live tracks.

band image

Wow a lot of information and choices to make… don’t you think that there are so many different options that it is hard to chose for fans?
When we made our first record, twenty-three years ago, the challenge then was getting the record in the record store, to get in venues to play… Now there are no record stores anymore and everything goes via mail order or internet. People go to their Facebook to listen to a song. Times have changed, but we take the best of both worlds: respect for the roots and traditional things, but an open mind for new challenges to reach people.

You just announced a huge tour in the UK and Europe. How did it come into being and can you tell a little bit more about your plans for that tour?
It will be ‘An evening with Machine Head’ tour, just like we did for the previous album. We did two tours like that in the past and it really pleases us. One in the US and the second here in Europe. We will play three hours, only Machine Head, no other bands. We will not do festivals. So if you want to see Machine Head, this is the only place to see us. It happens from March till May, a pretty extensive tour. And in January we already start touring in the US, until early March.

Another impression I had: the songs are a bit more compact this time…
That’s true. It was not really a conscious decision at the beginning, but as the record evolved, we said: ‘let’s try to simplify things’. Especially lyrically. Let us focus on the hook of the songs and work with different ideas, but straight. What we are trying to do is, we are trying to find a new way to say the same thing. We have our core sound, we have our core idea about what we are, but I mean… how many times are you going to say ‘blood’ or ‘dead’ or ‘burn’ (laughs)… We have been singing about the same shit for thirty years, I really wanted to mix up what we are saying and I think from my view – I grew up with a lot of punkrock and hiphop in addition to metal – it has always been relevant. Even now I listen to a lot of rap. The language of rap is so much more extreme and exaggerating than metal. Metal was extreme back in the eighties, but rap has since then taken that crown. It is more truthful. It is a more honest way of talking about things, even if it is more violent and whatever you want to call it, but it is more honest. A lot of that came into the record. Less metaphorical, more direct and brutal.

Do you see striking differences between the US and Europe when you travel and meet people?
(thinks) No, everybody is more or less the same everywhere. When I look at my travels and the things that I associate with my life, I don’t see it that black or white. Yes, I am an American, I was born in America, but I am a man of the world. I have been touring for half my life now, twenty-five years. On every continent out there, I have been exposed to a lot of cultures. Especially since I am adopted too, I never had this sense of religion. I never had this deep sense of race. I have no fucking sense of what I am. I have no idea what I am and I don’t really care. It is not much of a thing, I think it is far more important to other people, but it isn’t to me. In some way I used to feel very strange about that, but now I am really glad that I don’t care about it. It shapes people too much. They give so much importance to their nationality or their race or the color of their skin or gender or sexual orientation. I don’t fucking care, you know.

Do you still like to travel when you are not on tour? For pleasure?
Sure. We travel all the time. Touring is not going on holidays, touring is work. I only see the inside of the venue (laughs). When we have the opportunity, Phil and I have a walk in the city we play, but then again, that’s only one day. But I like to travel with my wife and kids. We go to Mexico, to Fuji, to Hawaii… then you really meet with another culture and that’s great.

In 2016 there was a single ‘Is There Anybody Out There’. How do you look back on that?
It was a song that I wrote in August, five months before that incident (with Phil Anselmo – Vera) happened. We started working on it… it was just a great song. A great chorus and interesting arrangements. We were working on it for a while… It was taking me quite a long time to figure out what it was about. If you listen to the first verse, that’s just about me being adopted. There’s nothing else that it is about. But at some point it turned into something else and in a larger sense – we are now one and a half year later - it is just a question that goes out to what is going on in the world. Maybe I was inspired by a certain incident or something else, but I think this song needed to come out, because it was something that needed to be said for a long time. It is a powerful song and people really reacted to that song when it came out. About a year ago it was our number two song on Spotify. It was a standalone song, not attached to a CD and that was kind of cool to do. It was a kind of experiment to see if it worked and it did work. Maybe I’ll do more stuff like that in the future…

What are your wishes for the upcoming time?
I get quite a bit more work to do, introducing and promoting the record. From January on, I will be on tour. So before I hit the road, I want to spend time with my family, as much as I can.

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