Machine Head’s Robb Flynn: “I’m Blown Away By The Fact I’m Still Here, 25 Years Later”
Just when you think you know what’s happening with Machine Head, they hit you with another curveball. Less than three months since their November 24 end-of-an-era show in Santa Cruz, CA – marking the departure of long-time guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain – few would’ve expected to receive an update from frontman Robb Flynn teasing that they were working on some “new heaviness” before having even announced new members of the band.
Little more than a month later, another twist in the tale: starting on October 5 in Freiburg, Germany and wrapping up on November 8 in Dublin, the Bay Area bruisers will be hitting the road for a 25th-birthday celebration of their peerless debut LP Burn My Eyes. Even better, they’ve confirmed that original guitarist Logan Mader (“I won the guitar player lottery!” he gushes) and drummer Chris Kontos will be joining Robb and established bassist Jared MacEachern for nightly run-throughs of that classic album.
Promising that two more musicians will also be recruited to share the load of what will be a now-trademark three-hour show, Robb teases that we can continue to expect the unexpected from a band currently playing with the shackles off. Any setback is a future opportunity, and they’re relishing every obstacle – and every possibility – of the long road ahead…
What’s the appeal of doing this tour, Robb?
“It’s a special moment. It’s a special milestone. I’m completely humbled and blown away by the fact that I’m still here 25 years later able to make music – let alone pay tribute to a record that I recorded all that time ago. That anybody still gives two shits about Machine Head is just incredible. That I get to do it with Chris and Logan – those guys who made the record originally – is fucking huge. We’ve been talking about it for a few years now. Obviously, in light of recent developments, the whole thing has come together a little more easily. The whole point of it is really just a huge celebration of the music that we got to make together! And we have been talking about this for years.”
How has the process of revisiting those songs been so far?
“Playing Burn My Eyes with these guys has just been fucking amazing! A lot of these songs haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. There are a handful that haven’t really been played in two decades. If memory serves me correctly, I’m pretty sure there are a couple that weren’t even played during the original tour cycle for that album. I’m Your God Now was never played live with the original line-up. Getting to be able to get ready for this tour, dusting off some songs that haven’t been dusted off for two decades has been a blast!”
In 2012, Machine Head supported Metallica celebrating the 20th anniversary of their legendary Black Album. Have you been inspired by other artists revisiting classic records?
“Honestly, I haven’t really gotten to see many artists do this! I saw Queens Of The Stone Age play through [2000’s] Rated R album. I don’t know if that inspired me, but it was certainly cool! Then we played the Black Album shows with Metallica, and that was cool, too. I just enjoyed it as a fan! I wouldn’t say we’re trying to [emulate] that. We’re just flying by the seat of our pants, enjoying the excitement. I’m sure the pieces are gonna fall into place as we get closer to the time!”
What are your memories of the original Burn My Eyes cycle? And how have you changed – as a person and as a performer?
“Well, we were a club band back then. With Burn My Eyes, it felt like we exploded – over there [in Europe] in particular. We went from playing 500-cap venues to having to headline Brixton Academy. It happened fast. We had to rise to the occasion. Granted, I had been playing onstage for a long time already at that point, in thrash bands and the like, but as a performer I had to take it to the next level. I look back and remember that we were just so fucking angry. We were out of our minds, drinking and drugging, getting into fights and getting arrested. It was a crazy time, a really crazy time. We had this real youthfulness about us. We brought a sort of street vibe to metal that I’m not so sure had really [been present] up to that point. I would never really consider us a hardcore band – or a even thrash band – but we were playing with a lot of hardcore bands at the time and it [brought that attitude] out!”
How has your approach to those songs changed over the two and a half decades living with them since?
“For the songs we’ve played a lot, it’s changed. When it comes to Davidian, I’ve probably played that song around 3,000 times at this point. It’s not like I see that come into the set and think, ‘Oh, we’re playing Davidian! Rad!’ For me, it’s a song that I’ve played for 25 years now and I just give it my best. It’s not really about whether I enjoy it or connect with it. I don’t necessarily get that same kind of thrill or excitement, but I understand that that shit is what the Head Cases are waiting for! For me, it’s just about killing it, playing it as heavy as possible and delivering about 110 per cent. Beyond that, though, what’s so great about this thing is that we get to [see all those often-played tracks up alongside] those songs we’ve not played in two decades. With those songs, it’s going to be like playing new material for the first time.”
What else about these shows excites you?
“I think what’s really cool is that this is still going to be in the ‘An evening with Machine Head…’ format. It’s still going to be that extended presentation. The reception to that format has just been incredible. It’s been wildly popular, wildly successful, people fucking love it. And we love it. It’s going to be two and a half to three hours. Some nights might even be three and a half. No opening band. It’s like a Paul McCartney show or a Bruce Springsteen show. The first hour and a half of this will be ‘modern Machine Head classics’ performed with Jared, myself and two yet-to-be-determined musicians. Then the next hour will be the line-up with Logan and Chris playing Burn My Eyes front to back, without interruption. Then we’ll probably play a couple of cover songs and close out with something big like Halo. That full play-through is so exciting. It’s the first time in history that’ll have happened. Even on the original ’94-’95 tour cycle we didn’t play all the songs live. We didn’t have the technology to [do them all justice] back then!”
What is it that you love so much about the ‘An evening with…’ shows?
“It’s just such a challenge. We try to mix up the set. We try to throw in at least a couple of new songs every night. It feels like we’re gonna need to do that even more going forward. It’s really about mixing things up and keeping your brain in motion. I feel like we’re really able to create this atmosphere, this Machine Head world. We’re not under the time constraints of most bands. We can pace the set better. We can dip into the songs that we wouldn’t be able to were we playing a 45-minute festival slot. Also, the fan reaction is awesome. Just hearing how this bunch of people love it is such a great feeling. There’s a little bit of pride there, for sure. Beyond that, it’s about knowing that if the show fails, it’s all on you. If it succeeds, that’s all on you, too. There’s that risk, and that [reward]. Metal bands don’t normally do this kind of shit. We didn’t really know what was gonna work when we started. When it did, it was a great feeling.”
What informed your decision to effectively split the set with new musicians playing the non-Burn My Eyes songs?
“As I was figuring it out with Logan, Chris and Jared, I explained that I can’t even imagine playing a Machine Head show and not playing Halo; Imperium; Aesthetics Of Hate; From This Day; The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears…, Now We Die – or even Catharsis. Darkness Within is a show-stopping moment, every time. We had to think about how we were going to pull this off. I wanted to honour Chris and Logan and not have them needing to learn 40 other fucking songs to be able to pull it off. It’s kind of weird. We’re gonna have a lot of motherfuckers on tour. But it’s gonna be fucking awesome. I think it’s gonna be a bit of a goddamn circus. I really want to pay tribute to the guys that were there and built it with me. I think it’s gonna break the fucking internet!”
You were recently in the studio. Can we expect new music, too?
“This Burn My Eyes tour is happening, but it’s still six months away. As Kerrang! have speculated, we are recording new music. We are getting to release new music. In fact, the line-up that’ll be going out on tour have actually gone and re-recorded Burn My Eyes live in the studio. We plan on dripping that out song by song. It’ll probably be digital-only – just something cool to help celebrate. We filmed ourselves doing it so there’ll probably be some play-through videos, too. It’s so cool seeing us playing those songs again for the first time, like, ‘How does that riff go?’ or, ‘What was that lyric again?’ There are mistakes, but we just left them in. It was just part of this really special, fun, positive moment.”
What was the process of getting Logan and Chris back on board like? Had you stayed in touch with those guys?
“Logan and I have stayed in touch. We kinda squashed everything and became friends again as far back as 2004. He comes out to all the shows. We played Davidian together at the Roadrunner United concert in New York. Chris and I haven’t spoken in a long time for no reason other than that when I’m off the road I’m just this boring suburban dad. He kinda quit music for a little while to do some BMX racing. He was in a whole other world. As it happened, Logan reached out to me about [the anniversary tour] and I thought it was a killer idea. Then I think my manager reached out to Chris and he was game, too. We just went out for dinner for two hours and just laughed and caught up. [Chris] just has such a huge personality: he’s this loud, funny dude. It was a really good vibe, so we decided to just go for it!”
And have you stayed up to date with Logan’s other band, Once Human?
“Yeah! I think they came through supporting DragonForce and I went to the show to hang out with them. He asked if I was cool with them covering Davidian and I just told them to go for it. I think they do a great job of it!”
Is there any prospect that you could go on to record new original music together with those guys?
“Yeah! Nothing’s certain right now. I’m not sure what that is at the moment. We’re really just focused on relearning how to play the BME songs. But we’ll be out on the road for a while together. I think that I could see Machine Head forward with just a constant flow of new music.”
Could you see yourself perhaps even move away from that traditional album structure?
“Absolutely. But, again, I just don’t know what the future holds. I’m not gonna say things will go that way; I’m not gonna say they won’t.”
Finally, then, what message would you send to Machine Head fans right now?
“What I do know is that Burn My Eyes is only gonna be 25 years old for a limited amount of time. That’s gonna be the length of this tour cycle. When this news drops, I would say that fans should not sleep on it. Tell everybody you know. Buy up some tickets. This shit is not gonna last forever. It will disappear. While it lasts, though, it’s gonna be a blast!”
Machine Head celebrate the 25th anniversary of Burn My Eyes across the UK and Europe this November. Get your tickets now.
Machine Head 2019 tour
5 Germany – Freiburg Arena Musikclub
7 Holland – Tilburg 013
9 Denmark – Copenhagen Amager Bio
11 Germany – Wuerzburg Posthalle
12 Germany – Leipzig Haus Auensee
14 Germany – Bochum Ruhr Congress
15 Germany – Munich Zenith
16 Austria – Vienna Gasometer
18 Poland – Gdansk B90
19 Poland – Warsaw Progressja
20 Hungary – Budapest Baba Negra
22 Switzerland – Zurich Komplex
23 France – Lyon Le Radiant
25 Italy – Milan Live Club
26 Italy – Padova Hall
27 Luxembourg – Lux Expo
29 France – Paris Le Trianon
31 Belgium – Brussels Forest National
2 UK – London O2 Academy Brixton
4 UK – Manchester O2 Victoria Warehouse
5 UK – Glasgow O2 Academy
7 UK – Belfast Telegraph Building
8 Ireland – Dublin Olympia Theatre