ONE ON ONE WITH ROBB FLYNN (THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW)
Photo: Michael Singman-Aste, www.PostdiluvianPhoto.com
2009 is an awesome year to be Robb Flynn or anyone in Machine Head. Your band’s been touring non-stop for two and a half years on the well-deserved critical and commercial success of The Blackening, all without doing a single U.S. headline run. You’ve opened arenas for Metallica, huge theaters for Megadeth and Slayer, played on one of the biggest U.S. touring festivals, and quite literally traversed the world several times over. Not bad… not bad at all.
At the start of their U.S. tour with Megadeth, Machine Head’s publicist contacted us about interviewing Robb. The guy’s a character, The Blackening was fantastic, and it’d been almost a year and a half since we last spoke with anyone in the band (guitarist Phil Demmel on the 2008 Rockstar Mayhem Tour), so we figured we may as well. Crazy as it is that the Machine Head machine is still heading on an album released in 2007… it’s true, and they’re not even slowing down.
After the jump, read my full chat with Robb. We spent a whole lot of time talking about things other than Machine Head; the business-like nature of touring with Megadeth (as of interview time, he hadn’t once seen Mustaine in person on the entire tour!), the down-to-earth nature of hanging out with his heroes in Metallica, mentoring the young lads of Suicide Silence, and the always entertaining subject of the constant feuding between Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. We also chatted about Machine Head’s constant touring — a dream come true for Robb — and about what the future might hold for the band, including their next album (writing has begun). And wouldn’t you know it, Robb reads MetalSucks!
How’s the Megadeth tour going?
It’s going good, man. We’re about a week into it. Most of the shows have been sold out. It’s pretty awesome, man. Tours and metal have been getting crushed lately, so it’s been cool. It’s trippy. We haven’t seen Mustaine at all, it’s like he’s a ghost. It’s kind of trippy to be on tour with the band and you never see them.
Does he have all his own personal handlers and never really shows his face at all? He comes out, does his show, and that’s it?
Yeah, kind of, I guess. He’s a smart dude. This is a business arrangement. We aren’t friends or anything. Machine Head is worth a lot and he knows it. It’s good to have us on, and it’s good to be touring with Megadeth. It’s a business arrangement, so it’s cool. It makes it easier in some ways.
It’s good that you’re seeing good audiences because all the bands that I’ve talked to recently are getting decimated out there. Do you think any of that has to do with some of the bigger tours like the Rockstar Mayhem Fest?
Yeah. It’s been brutal, man. I think things like that [Rockstar Mayhem] are what people . . . are you saying that people are saving their money for those kinds of things?
Yeah, basically. If you could go and see a big chunk of the bands in one day for a relatively cheap ticket, why would you go see all these other shows the rest of the year?
I’m not going to blame that. I think it’s great that those things are going on. I just think it’s tough everywhere, man. The thing that’s cool is the pre-sale for all these dates are just dismal. If you were going to base how a show is doing on the presales, it would look like a massive failure without the walkups and the day show tickets. I think people are just scrimping together their money going “man, can I do this? I want to do this, but I don’t know if I can do this.” Then on the day of the show, they’re like “fuck it, I’m going to do it.” That’s cool, I think, that’s a very metal kind of thing. When I was going to shows as a kid, I never bought tickets in advance. If I did it, I did it the day of. I was trying to sell enough weed . . .
To get my ticket money or whatever.
That’s awesome, man. You mentioned before that you get a business vibe from the Dave Mustaine/Megadeth camp. Have you actually heard their new record? What do you think of it?
It’s rocking, man. It’s really good. It’s one of the most… for our band, it’s probably the one we play the most in rotation. We toured with them on the last record too. There are only a couple of songs off that [previous record, United Abominations] that I like. This one is solid. The production is amazing. It’s probably the best sounding, heaviest Megadeth record in a long time. Chris Broderick is ripping it, good songs, nice thrash beats, and Mustaine’s riffing out again. It’s cool.
So seeing as you know those guys, and you’ve toured with Metallica and Slayer, what do you make with all of the feuding that’s going on between those bands at the moment?
It makes for good reading.
[Laughter] Good answer.
[Laughter] I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to hear that? It’s been going on for years. The funny thing is when we were doing the The Canadian Carnage Tour which was 4 months ago, we’re friends with some of the Megadeth dudes and we’re friends with the Slayer dudes, and that was the first kind of squashing of the peace, if you will. I was hanging out with Kerry on the last night of the tour. We did 5 dates or whatever, so on the last night we’re hanging out and getting hammered. I walked over to Shawn Drover, the drummer of Megadeth, and said, “Hey come on and hang with us.” He’s like “I don’t know. I don’t want a weird rival.” I’m like “it’s fucking [Inaudible] just come on with us.” So I walk him into the Slayer dressing room, and I introduced him and they were like “oh hey, how’s it going,” and he was like “oh hey, how’s it going?” They were just meeting for the first time. They’ve been on tour for a week and a half and were just meeting for the first time. It was an interesting sight. It’s been a great feud. It’s lasted for so long. You still see Lombardo making comments like he wants to give Lars lessons or something. I was like “maybe Lars can teach you not to blow smoke up your own ass in the process.”
To what extent do you think that’s real and to what extent do you think that they’re trying to make a Blabbermouth headline or whatever?
I don’t know. To me, I don’t see Metallica needing to make those comments. It’s not like Lars is out there taking shots at Lombardo for slopping up the Angel of Death roll. I don’t think he has to care.
Was it different when you toured with Metallica a year ago? Or when was that?
I guess we wrapped up about 6 months ago in May with those guys.
Was it similar to the Megadeth experience now?
It’s totally different. We were playing 1,500 – 2,000 [capacity] theaters on this, we were playing 10,000 – 20,000 theaters on that. Nothing against Megadeth and all them, if you see them, they’re very friendly. There’s not a hostile vibe on this tour, but the Metallica dudes are really down to earth dudes, man. They’re really surprisingly down to earth. Going into that tour, we didn’t really know what to expect. I had hung out with those dudes a couple of times, but even though we’re from the Bay area, that’s a different generation. We didn’t know them back then. Just recently, we didn’t even have mutual friends. We didn’t hang out at the same places. I think with The Blackening, Machine Head just came onto those dudes’ radars.
My experience with them is only based on this last year or whatever, but they were super cool. They’re freaking awesome dudes that want to hang out. Those dudes will hang out and jump on Dave, our drummer, who has this little electronic practice kit. He’ll jump on the drums and him and I will jam old Maiden songs and Sabbath or Slayer. It was a hanging vibe with Lars and Kirk. When those dudes go out and drink, it is stupid. [Laughter] You are not even thinking of leaving the party until 8 a.m. They fucking reek, it’s awesome. I figured that because they were older dudes that they’re going to be chill; fucking no way man. Those guys are down for an all night rage of pounding booze. That’s the kind of shit we do. I guess I had this preconception that it wouldn’t be like that. It was fun, man. We had a lot of fun nights. They took us on their private jet and treated us really well, man. Not to say that I expect that from everybody, but it was just an amazing experience. It was awesome to know that even at that level that they’re at . . . they’re fucking huge, man. Every show on that tour was sold out. It was fucking crazy how much people love them and how humungous they are and the fact that they’re still cool, they still hang out. They’re Metallica. They’re not your average dudes that you run into, but they make the effort to hang, especially the stuff that they do with their fans. They’re very active in keeping that relationship with their fans doing meet and greets every day. It was inspiring, really inspiring.
That’s cool, man. You’re also out with Suicide Silence right now, is that right? Do you think they look up to you in that same way?
Mmm hmmm. I mean, I don’t want to toot my own here, but those guys have said that. It means a lot. We toured with them last year on Mayhem, and we became friends with them. I know for us when we take bands out with us, we’ve had some great teachers – the Slayer dudes were always super cool to us when we were on tour with them, obviously Metallica, we toured with Dimebag who was incredibly gracious and stuff, and we’ve been on the total flipside of that where we’ve been out with bands who just fucking treated us like dog shit and there was never any throw down that happened. We try and just walk away from that. If Metallica can hang with us and throw down with us, that’s the way to be. If you can do it at that level and still create that cool vibe, then it can be done. Honestly, I didn’t think it could be done at that level. I thought that when you got to that level, if they wanted to be assholes and wanted to treat us like shit, we would have eaten that shit sandwich for the whole 6 months that we were out. They are our idols. They’ve been a massive influence on this band on a lot of different levels. To see that they were just that cool and could be that cool was like fuck, man, that’s awesome. You hear so many horror stories when you go out. I’m sure that they’re in a different place than probably they were in the past, like the Load era where they might have been in “rockstar fucking asshole” mode possibly, but they’re definitely in the right place now. It was cool to be a part of that, and an honor to be a part of that.
How do you view that as it relates to the possible future of Machine Head? Do you see yourself growing in that way or growing in a different way? What do you see as the next step for you guys?
Touring with Metallica really, and I’ve probably said this 3 times during the course of this interview, but it was inspiring, man. To me, the way they’ve done music on their own terms with writing heavy, progressive, trippy or whatever you want to call Metallica and achieving that arena level — because they were playing arenas well before the Black Album and Load — and to see the reaction that a song like “The Thing That Should Not Be” or “Master of Puppets” that still gets you to this day, to me, I think Machine Head could go to that arena level. To be a part of that, learning from that, and having that opportunity that they gave us to play at those arenas, we really got that taste for it now. We can do it. We did it. We did it. We played arenas and transformed it into 15,000 people who had no fucking clue who we were. They didn’t have a clue man. They were able to ignite that, and by the end of the show, everybody was standing in their seats, rocking hard and going crazy. It fired us up, man. I look to Metallica, I look to Rush as bands that are so oblivious to what everybody was doing and were able to capture people’s minds. You see so many bands that reach an arena level and you’re like hating that band and everything about them rubs you the wrong way. There are certain bands that do it another way, and those are the bands that we take inspiration from. That was what, on a personal level, I walk away with.
How do you take that musically for the next step of Machine Head? Obviously the music that you write will be a big part of whether you can take things to that level. What does the next album hold for you guys?
I don’t know, and that’s the exciting part about it. Through the Ashes was a big record for us, man. People are like “fuck, how are you going to top Through the Ashes?” Then we did The Blackening, and people said that we more than topped Through the Ashes and that it was one of the greatest metal albums of the decade. We just tried to go in a different direction than Through the Ashes. We had never written 10 minute songs before – we wrote 4 of them, not because we were trying to write 10 minute songs but just because that felt right. I think keeping that mindset of not giving a fuck what everyone else is doing, working on what we’re jamming on and working to get my blood boiling is what we care about. That was our mindset, and as long as we keep that mindset and keep on doing what we’re doing and what we’ve been doing – fuck what everyone else is doing. Try and make the best that the 4 of us can create with this chemistry that we have; that’s the right way to do it.
Do you guys continue going after this tour or are you taking a little break and write something?
We go from Megadeth, one more week of West Coast dates with Metallica with the last show for us in San Jose. It’s a dream come true to be main support for Metallica in our hometown. This is a huge moment for us, and we’re so fucking stoked about it, man. We’re the first Bay Area band that they’ve taken out since 1986.
Like 23 years ago or something. It’s crazy. Here we are playing those last week of dates. Then we’re going to go and do one last headline tour in Europe real quick, and then we start writing. We actually started writing right before this tour started. We had 3 months off, our first 3 month break in 2 1/2 years (our first real break, at least). I bought a little $150 guitar the other day that I can plug into my MacBook Pro and do some recording in GarageBand. We got some riffs that we’ll start banging out at the beginning of the new year.
That’s awesome. You guys have definitely been on tour for a long, long time. This record has gone a long way for you guys. It’s really cool.
Thank you, man.
We spoke with Phil when you guys did Mayhem in ’08, and he was telling us . . . he didn’t say Metallica, but it was obvious that it was Metallica that it was going to be. He was telling us that you’re going to be out on the road through the end of 2009, and we’re just thinking “wow, that’s insane.” That was a year and a half ago already.
[Laughter] We’ll be on tour until 2010.
Wow. Doesn’t seem to bother you. You seem to be real psyched about it.
Yeah. This is our life, man. It’s had it’s moments where it’s been one tour after the other, and it’s been grueling and you’re like “wow”. Your kids are like “when are you coming home, dad?” That’s hard. This is what you dream about — to have a moment like this. We’re lucky that we’ve had several moments like this where people care this much about the band to want to come and see us when we’re on tour. The touring has always been good, but obviously record sales and whatever [are also good now]. It’s amazing. We’re lucky, man. There are so many bands that I watch where I’m like “fuck, that band is so fucking killer, man. Why aren’t people connecting to it?” Then I turn around and I’m like “Jesus Christ, why is anybody giving a fuck about this band?”
We’re on this crazy rollercoaster, man. For 2 1/2 years it’s been amazing. I think the future is even brighter. The future just feels so much brighter right now.
Congrats on all of that. One last question for you: how’s Phil’s health?
He’s doing a lot better, man. It has only happened once this year. It’s still scary, and it’s still a hard thing because on the one hand we want him to stay home and get it sorted out, but on the other hand if he stays home it kind of makes it worse so it’s almost better for him to be on the road. It’s complicated, man. It’s a very complicated situation, but he’s been doing really good. It hasn’t happened in a long time and, fingers crossed, it isn’t going to happen ever again. He’s been taking steps to deal with it, but yeah, he’s been doing good.
Cool, man. Thank you so much for taking the time out this afternoon, man. I hope the rest of the tour goes well for you. I know you guys just did a special headline show in Long Island. We couldn’t make it out to that one. We’re city cats and don’t really ever leave. Next time you’re around New York City, we’ll see you then.
Yeah, it was awesome. It’s funny, I was actually on your site and you guys put up some things where it was me singing with some kid.
It was me hammered in the crowd going “ahhh” during, I think, “Master of Puppets” or something. That was fucking awesome, man. I laughed my ass off during that tour. Very cool site you guys have.
Oh thanks a lot, dude. I really appreciate it, man. It definitely makes me feel good when the bands we speak with say that. Thank you so much.
Right on, man. Take it easy. Late.