Machine Head wipes the black away

We’ve already seen Robb Flynn more talkative than in the following interview. But it’s maybe that Unto The Locust, Machine Head’s new album to be issued on the 27th of September, is simply beyond any comment.

One should say that it is a proper success and that the music speaks for itself. With this album, Machine Head essentially made the right choice: Unto The Locust is not a second The Blackening. The 2007 album was indeed a huge success for the band, even leading some to compare it to Hetfield and co.’s Master of Puppets.

How to outdo a work that has been considered a masterwork by the majority? How to fulfil the expectations, when these are in fact unattainable? The answer is partly given by Machine Head themselves: try not to copy the concept, to prevent people from comparing. Obviously, some elements can be compared, the band’s hand is still there. But, even if the frontman seems to exclude any supposed intention, Unto The Locust gains richness of atmosphere where it loses the structure complexity of his older brother. Similarly, this new album reveals a Robb Flynn more adventurous than ever with his voice, as he develops contrasts rarely equalled in his discography.

It’s now time to discuss it with Robb.

« If you go back to Burn My Eyes and listen to the song « Old », it’s very heavy verses and a melodic chorus, so that was well before the other bands […] we defined modern metal. »

Radio Metal : The Blackening came out four years ago, so is four years what the band truly needed in order to promote The Blackening and make this new record? Because four years is starting to be a long time, and the fans were eagerly waiting for the follow up album.

Robb Flynn (vocals/guitar) : We toured for three of those years, but it’s just what happened. It wasn’t some grand strategy, it just ended up happening. We were ready to wrap up after about a year and a half and then, the Mayhem tour happened, and then the Slipknot tour happened, and then the Metallica tour happened, and that kind of kicked the whole thing off again, and we just rode it. Amazing opportunities, that were once in a lifetime dream come true things, so we came to Paris and came to France many times, we got to turn many people on to our band.

Your new album Unto the Locust was recorded at Green Day’s Jingletown studios. What drove you towards this particular studio? Because Green Day’s music seems so far away from what Machine Head does.

They just have a really cool studio, it’s really a world-class studio. And it had a cool vibe, you know, not very corporate, but still very good equipment, very good analog equipment, and it was in East Oakland. It just had a cool vibe.

For the third time in the row, you produced the album by yourself. Do you think that you’re the only one to be able to say how the music has to sound like?

You know, we’ve used big name producers in the past, you know, Ross Robinson, Johnny K, and I’ve learned a ton from those guys and they were great to work with. But for a lot of times those guys have their own sound and they put that sound onto whatever band they record with, and we didn’t really like that, that we suddenly had this different sound because of the producer we worked with. So more out of necessity than anything, I did Through The Ashes Of Empires (2004), and everybody was happy with the result. And then I did The Blackening (2007), and everybody was happy with the result. So the guys asked me to do it again, so I did it. You know, I think that they trust my vision, and it’s great to see that from where you go it can pretty much stay true to the vision, all the way to the end.

With the huge success of The Blackening, we would have expected Unto The Locust to be in the same vein, but it actually isn’t. You’ve taken your music into new directions. Is it important for you not to repeat yourselves and explore new things?

Very much so. We definitely did not want to write The Blackening 2. I mean, the whole last six months of the touring cycle for that record, all that we’ve heard, every day, every interview, was “How are you going to top The Blackening?” you know, it was a great, huge moment, and we’re bigger than ever. One of the biggest metal bands in the world. For us it was about challenging ourselves, and write the record that would allow The Blackening to be what it was, and allow our new music to not get swallowed in the shadow of The Blackening. So we started challenging ourselves and we really pushed ourselves as musicians and artists and we feel like we came up with a great record that isn’t like The Blackening but is like Machine Head.

« We definitely did not want to write The Blackening 2 […] For us it was about challenging ourselves, and write the record that would allow The Blackening to be what it was. »

Nevertheless, has the success of The Blackening and your experience in making this album had any impact in one way or another in how you made Unto The Locust?

Not really, you know, it was something that we lived, and enjoyed, and when it came time to write it was… I think by the time we came to write, we had been touring for three years and doing 385 shows, it was kind of a relief to be done with The Blackening. In the long time that we were in that moment with The Blackening, and it was amazing, but when we were finally writing it was like “All right! We’re moving on from The Blackening, fucking killer! This is great! I’m ready, bring on the future!”

This album features deeper contrasts in your singing than ever before. The harsh vocals are sometimes even meaner, and your melodic vocals haven’t been that melodic in the past. Can we say that you were looking for more challenge in your singing this time?

Yeah, for sure. We were looking for more challenge with everything, you know, everybody in the band wanted to really push themselves. Especially with the last record being the incredible success that it was, we really felt like we just wanted to step up our game, and take our music to the next level.

You have recently stated that you have taken singing lessons with the guy who worked with Mick Jagger and Lady Gaga, why did you choose this guy in particular?

(Laughs) Mick Jagger, not Lady Gaga! I recently started going with Melissa Cross, I went with her a bunch actually. But I have a vocal warm up that I’ve been doing for about 14 years, and it’s with Don Lawrence. It was from a friend who gave me a warm up CD that he did with Don. So I’ve been hearing this guy’s voice for 14 years now, but I never knew what he looked like, never met him, never went to him. So it just seemed appropriate to finally go to him.

You have also stated that you took classical guitar lessons. You said that you did that because you wanted to feel like a beginner again and be uncomfortable. Do you feel like comfort tends to erase creativity?

Yeah… maybe, probably. I’m not sure, you know what I mean? I think you can always find inspiration, you just have to go look for it. I did it more so that I didn’t get into any bad habits. I knew that I had started writing some classical bits, and I really wasn’t happy with them, but I pretty much knew that I was using some bad technique and some bad form, so before I developed bad habits, I decided to go take some lessons, and get out of those bad habits early on!

« By the time we came to write, we had been touring for three years and doing 385 shows, it was kind of a relief to be done with The Blackening […] it was like “All right! We’re moving on from The Blackening, fucking killer! This is great! I’m ready, bring on the future!”

While The Blackening’s complexity was clearly to be found in the songs structures, Unto the Locust features more richness and atmospheres. Is this an aspect you wanted to explore, the musical atmospheres and textures?

(Hesitates) I don’t know… You know, when we write, it’s in a very “Beavis and Butt-Head” way. “Hey, try this, what do you think of that? – No – What do you think of this? – Cool (imitates Beavis’ creepy laugh)” You know, we’re not trying to do anything, we’re just creating and seeing what happens, and kind of letting the music take us where it takes us. You can try and plan what you’d like to sound like, but in the end you just got to let the music take you where it takes you.

The song “Who We Are” is clearly one of the stand-out tracks, and it features a choir of children. What it easy to discipline the children to make them record their vocals properly?

(Laughs) it wasn’t too hard, they got it down. It took them a while, it was like herding cats for a while. That’s my two sons, and Phil (Demmel, guitar)’s son, and our engineer Juan Urteaga’s two daughters, and it was cool. We wanted it to sound kind of messy, not like a choir but more like kids singing at school. It’s a very sad melody but the song is about kind of a defiant “fuck you!” Very unapologetic, saying this is who we are and this is what I am.

As I said previously, the album is characterized by its vocal contrasts, and this is one of the characteristics of many modern metal bands. Is this a scene that you are interested in?

We pioneered that. We were the first band to do that, and many bands have copied that. We’re just doing our thing. If you go back to Burn My Eyes and listen to the song « Old », it’s very heavy verses and a melodic chorus, so that was well before the other bands. You know, we saw long ago that many bands were starting to copy what we were doing, starting to use the same amps that we were using, started to drop tune like we do, started to follow that formula, and we had already made steps to stay ahead of what other bands were doing. And we still do: we defined modern metal.

Phone interview conducted the 23th of August 2011
Transcription: Stan

Machine Head website : www.machinehead1.com

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