"Bloodstone and Diamonds are the two hardest natural elements on earth. That symbolises what we are" – hmv.com talks to Machine Head’s Robb Flynn
Machine Head are survivors. The Oakland foursome, who formed back in 1991, have been through it all. They’ve released seven albums, seen two guitarists, three drummers and their founding bass player all leave the band, been dropped and re-signed by the same label, watched metal bands around them sell millions of records and then disappear away to nothing, and they’ve remained stoic throughout it all.
That’s largely down to Robb Flynn. The frontman has been the band’s rock and stalwart. He’s the only original member left, the key songwriter and one of the most universally respected men in music.
We spoke to Flynn in the weeks leading up to the release of new album Bloodstone And Diamonds, he told us about the album’s creation, 5.30am starts and why he’s over playing festivals…
Bloodstone and Diamonds is out next week, are you feeling nervous at all?
“There’s nothing to be nervous about. It’s putting out a record, I’m just proud of it, it’s always an epic journey, it’s the end of a tremendous period of mental focus.”
So when did you start work on it?
“Last year, we had a couple of tours and we’d leave it, so we’d write, tour, take a break and then go back.”
Did you prefer that way of doing things?
“Normally it’s better to set aside a block of time and do it all in a blast, but we get a lot more tour offers these days. It was good though, we’d hammer it for a while, tour for six weeks, get inspired by new things and you’d be able to look at what you’d done and go ‘That sucks, that sucks, but that rules’.”
Were you trying new songs on the tour?
“No, I hate doing that. It never works.”
This is your fourth album in a row acting as producer. Do you not need anyone else to work with you these days?
“I got a really strong vision for the sound of this band. I know what I want the end result to be. When you work with a producer, they often have their sound and they want to put that sound onto your sound, and sometimes that’s great, especially for new bands.”
“But when you’ve been doing it for eight albums, you’ve got a grip on it. I’ve got a great team around me and two awesome engineers, it’s not just me, but I’m the one steering the ship. That’s how the band is too, everybody contributes, but I’m the one steering.”
Do you not need any discipline or any motivation in the studio?
“I’m always producing, when I’m doing guitars, or we’re tracking bass or drums, I’m always analysing, always working. The only time I’m not producing is when I go into the vocal booth, to me the vocals are so important, so much of what’s great about music is channelling those feelings. That’s when I rely on the other guys, the engineers, to push me.”
How's your new bass player Jared MacEachern?
“He’s awesome. He’s a killer bass player, a real bass player’s bass player, he never just plays what the guitars are doing, I’m not used to that. I had to adjust, I had to bite my tongue and let him do his thing. His parts are great, lots of little Cliff Burton-ey kind of runs and he’s got a great voice. He’s a youngster too, it’s great to have that energy.”
He used to be the frontman in his previous band…
“He was. He’d done nine or ten shitty van tours, toured Europe and then his band broke up, but he’s seen first hand how hard it is and how much you have to focus. He’s grateful, he’s happy to be here. His first big tour with us was the first time he’d been on a tour bus.”
Why did you want to recruit a permanent member? Lots of bands at this stage in your career just use session players..
“I think so much of a band is chemistry. We wanted him to relocate, we wanted him to move to the Bay Area, we wanted to see him every day at practise, I told him when he joined ‘I’m the main songwriter and the three of us have been the core of this band for a long time. You’re welcome to contribute, but don’t get hurt when I shoot you down’. He’s been cool and he keeps on trying and he’s added some cool lines, he’s written lyrics and some killer basslines.”
Do you get faster at making records as you get older?
“(Laughs) Nope. Not at all. I don’t know if we get any slower, but it never seems to get any faster. We’ve gotten a little more symphonic and we add way more layers now, we work with string quartets and we work with keys. It takes a little longer, but the end result is all that matters. I mean who cares what went into a record? I couldn't care less how long or short it was to make a record. I don’t care how long it took to make Sgt. Pepper. It could have taken six months, it could have taken a month, it’s an awesome record.”
How did you want this album to move on from Unto The Locust?
“It sounds odd to say, but there’s no goal. Band guys are very non-goal motivated. That’s why we’re in bands, we weren’t good at making goals in school. For us, we start writing and if it feels good we go with it. I’ve been in a band now for damn near 30 years, this is all I know how to do, I’m qualified for nothing else.”
What sort of album is this lyrically?
“It’s a metal record. I’m drawn to dark subject matter, there’s moments of hope, moments of ‘Let’s take on the world’, moments of frailty and moments of love.”
Do you sit down and write? Or do write as you go?
“With this record I decided to discipline myself, I’d get up at 5.30am and write until 6.30. No breakfast, no coffee, just wake up and write before my kids woke up. I liked that. I wouldn’t judge myself, sometimes I’d come up with the dumbest s**t ever, but I’d keep going, keep on writing rhymes and stories and picking through topics.”
When did you decide on the title?
“Bloodstones and Diamonds are the two hardest natural elements on earth. That symbolises what we are. The diamond has been our long-time symbol and it’s a show of strength. Not to get too philosophical, but it’s pretty cool.”
How much touring do you already have lined up?
“We just wrapped a big old tour and we’re about to head into another long run. You never know what the future holds, but we usually go for about 16 months. We toured for three years on The Blackening, three years and three months, which was crazy. It’s where we live, life is better onstage.”
How do you go about picking your setlist now?
“When this record comes out, I’ve no idea what we’re going to do. We play songs off every record, even the ones the critics hate, the songs go down well with the fans. They’re getting pretty long now, almost two hours.”
You don’t fancy doing Bruce Springsteen style four-hour long shows?
“Maybe. I don’t know if I’m good enough shape! If we could keep the audience with us, I’d be totally down to do it. To me, that’s a long time, I don’t know if I’d want to watch anyone for that long! I admire all those guys, Springsteen, Jagger, Mick Jagger’s amazing, running around still, that guy’s incredible.”
Will you be back here for the festivals?
“I’m burning out on festivals. There are so many. I’d rather play indoors, I’d rather play where it’s not raining and freezing cold.”
Machine Head’s new album Bloodstone And Diamonds will be released on Monday (November 10th).