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Robb Flynn Looks Back On Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes At 25

A quarter of a century since its release, Robb Flynn talks through Machine Head’s seminal Burn My Eyes

It’s been 25 years since Oakland giants Machine Head released their devastating debut album Burn My Eyes, an astonishing collection of songs that sold over half a million copies worldwide, becoming Roadrunner Record’s biggest selling debut until Slipknot’s self-titled masterpiece eclipsed it in 1999. And it still sounds just as great today, so in celebration of this milestone, frontman Robb Flynn takes us through each track.

Davidian

I wanna say Davidian came pretty late in the writing process. It was probably one of the last songs that we wrote for the record. We weren’t signed when we wrote it, and I remember the first time that we played it, we had a punk rock friend who was going straight and getting a real job, all that kinda stuff, so she wanted to have a big blowout party. It was at a warehouse in Oakland and it was summer time so it was really warm, and we played a parking lot that was the entry way to this warehouse, in the meat packing district of Oakland. There was us and couple of punk bands, and I remember I only had three lyrics at the time, and the chorus wasn’t Let freedom ring with a shotgun blast’, it was something really horrifically embarrassing. It was really bad! 

I remember playing this new song and we get to this chorus that was Get the fuck up to a bone breaking groove’. I remember saying it out loud and going, Oh my God, this fucking sucks! I have to change this!’ When we changed it, it came about pretty quick, and I didn’t want it to be about anything in particular, but it was inspired by the whole Branch Davidian thing, where there was 74 people murdered by DEA and there was a stand off for weeks. After the Vegas shooting, I said I didn’t want to play it again,and there’s thousands of people who think we never played Davidian again, but we played it every night of the Catharsis tour, except Vegas. After the Vegas thing happened, I woke up to this horrible news, and I was doing this YouTube live thing every Tuesday, so people were asking about it. But then it got turned into this gigantic news story, and all I was saying was it was fucking horrible and it made me never want to play that song again. Granted, the dude wasn’t using a shotgun, but it was just a crazy time, and I said that and I don’t regret saying it. But it was the most horrific mass shooting in the history of America, and it was a lot to take in.” 

Old

Logan Mader actually came with that main riff. We were practicing on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, and it was a pretty gnarly part of town; it was nothing but crackheads, homeless people and hookers, and it was somebody’s tattoo studio that we were rehearsing at, right on the main street. We’d start playing and there was this window right behind Chris that had bars all over it, and all these homeless people and crackheads would stand behind the window rocking out. We were really listening to hip-hop, and obviously we’re in Oakland where we’re constantly exposed to that, so in between our songs we’d jam the popular hip-hop songs of the day, like Wu Tang Clan, Cypress Hill, and stuff like that. And all these homeless people would be like, Oh shit, these white boys can fucking rock.’ In a weird way, just playing for the neighbourhood crackheads kinda shaped the music, and we started bringing in some of that, just because of the reaction we were getting from them. That groove on Old is probably one of the more hip-hop based grooves, even though the riff is heavy as fuck and the lyrics are evil and blasphemous, about Jesus coming down and being shot, like if he came down today, nothing he said would have the effect it did back then. But we put it to this grooving beat and it made the song really cool. There’s a lot of songs about religion on Burn My Eyes. I was never a religious person, but my mom had recently gone born again, and my dad’s twin brother had joined a cult. When I was a kid, we actually went up there and tried to get him out of the cult, and we couldn’t, we failed. We just left, and my dad didn’t speak to him for decades, it was crazy. So the lens that I look at religion through, is through that; my dad’s twin brother joining a cult and not being able to get him out, and seeing the damage it caused. That’s really what Old was about.” 

A Thousand Lies

We’d just gotten into the first Iraq war, so Bush senior was president, and that song was a really strong anti war, anti racism statement. We were listening to a lot of punk rock at the time, and we were practicing in a shared space with five punk bands, so it was very political and that was really seeping into what we were doing, for sure.” 

None But My Own

That might have been the last song that we wrote for the record, and that was just me dealing with some very personal shit. It’s a very angry song, a lot of shit from my childhood, just fucking anger and rage at one person in particular. It’s not a ballad, but it’s one of the first songs that I kinda sang soft on, which was trippy for me, and I was kind of intimidated about what people thought about that, but they loved it.” 

The Rage To Overcome

We had a different drummer for a while, this guy called Tony Costanza, and he wrote and refined about half the record. This is one of the songs we wrote with him, and he came up with the drum intro idea. This song was really just about empowerment, fighting for what you believe in, and standing up for yourself. I basically got the inspiration and one of the lyrics in the song came from this opinion piece that I read in the Oakland Tribune. This guy was really pissed off about the war and he was venting like a motherfucker. He ended it with an open mind with a closed fist’, and I was like, Holy shit, that’s powerful as fuck!’ It totally inspired me, so I took that and I basically arranged the whole song around the idea of that. Logan wrote the intro riff to that.” 

Death Church

Death Church was the first song we wrote for the record. I was still in Vio-lence when I wrote that song, and I was really freaking out on Godflesh’s Streetcleaner record. I’d just seen them open for Napalm Death, and I was like, What the fuck is this?’ It was amazing! Heavy and weird, and dark and depressing, and just so claustrophobic. I drew a lot of inspiration from the Like Rats, the opening track on that record, and I took inspiration from that on Death Church. This was the days when you’d see the evangelist preachers on TV talking about how they needed money for a private jet, and I used to watch this shit, and, again, it was anti religious. I went through kind of a heroin phase, and I actually wrote the second verse on heroin. When I looked back at it, I was like, Oh, that’s alright,’ which was probably the only time I looked back and thought it was good. Every other time was shit.” 

A Nation On Fire

Again, this was a big Logan Mader song. Logan wrote this really cool intro that was just weird and off time. It had a really clean guitar, but it was full of nothing but evil notes. Logan was a trippy cat, because both Adam and Logan, it was the first band they were ever in. They had never performed before, never jammed, and Logan had never written intros or played lead, so I just kinda threw shit at him and it warped into this really unique, strange style, I think because he was learning everything on the fly. So, he wrote this really cool intro, and that song, like Davidian, was a reflection of the American condition, and a reflection of a pretty gnarly neighbourhood that we were living in. We were at war and it was about racism. There’s a lyric in there, You tell me peace while I hear gunshots all night’, and I’d get woken up by people a block away firing guns in the air. It was a fucking crazy time. 

The LA riots had just happened, after the Rodney King trial, and those riots happened everywhere; they happened all over Oakland and all over Berkeley, and I remember when I wrote the lyrics to that song I was living in Berkeley and I heard all this shit was going off. I had a mountain bike, I didn’t have a car at the time, and I remember riding my mountain bike up to Telegraph Avenue, because the news said people were rioting on Telegraph Avenue. Rather than do the smart thing like everybody else, which was to stay in the fucking house, I jumped on my mountain bike, like, I wanna go to the riot!’ I literally rode my mountain bike into this riot that was happening on Telegraph Avenue, because I wanted to feel alive and absorb this crazy moment it time. It was insane! There was people lighting cop cars on fire, and tear gas between protesters and police. I got chased by a gang of protesters and then went right into a gang of police, and they were chasing me. I’m literally pedaling for my life and people are taking swings at me. It was crazy. After that, all of those lyrics for A Nation On Fire just came pouring out.” 

Blood For Blood

That’s an all-out thrash workout! Probably the only real, true thrash song on the record. It was, as Jamey Jasta likes to call us, ignorant ass Oakland metal’. And this song proves why. Everything about it is so ignorant. It’s basically about fucking, and fucking people up if you fuck with us! I was hanging out with a friend called Mark, at the time, and he ended up going to jail forever, but he was out of his mind and he was the best street fighter I’ve ever been exposed to in my life. This dude’s brain was wired to fight. It didn’t matter how big the dude was, he’d just find a way. And he wasn’t even that big, he was a little shorter than me but a lot stockier, and I watched him take down skinheads that were probably a foot taller than him. This dude was insane, and being around him you inevitably got into that. Not that I was a great fighter, but he was always wanting to fight somebody, so inevitably you were dragged into a fight, whether you wanted to be or not. In some way, being around that dude’s energy inspired that kind of song, just an ignorant, violent time.” 

I'm Your God Now

That’s probably the ballad of the record. Well, it’s not really a ballad. Maybe a really depressing power ballad. Whenever we write something that’s kind of soft and pretty, I have to put some kind of twist on it that makes it dark and ugly. To me, that’s what makes it tolerable and cool. That song is about when I was doing heroin. The night that I signed my record deal with Roadrunner I OD-ed on heroin and I almost died. I survived it, but then a month later, a good friend of mine OD’ed on the same batch of heroin and he died. If it didn’t hit home enough that I could have died on the night I signed my record deal, and nothing with Machine Head would have ever been, a week later having my friend actually die, was one of the most sobering nights of my life. The song was already about drugs, but that really changed the tempo. It became about my life, the road I was going down, what was happening, and how I had to stop. I’m Your God Now is about how the drug becomes your god, but again another reference to religion.” 

Real Eyes, Realize, Real Lies

We were listening to a lot of industrial stuff, really freaking out on Ministry and Laibach and all these crazy bands. And the whole idea of telling a story with samples or making a song with samples was very appealing. We had all those samples at the beginning of Death Church, so we were going into that realm, and I really wanted to tell a story with samples. It was taking really extreme views from white supremacists and then taking really extreme views from black nationalists, and then trying to find the middle, where we could all come together at the end of it. So I took all these really controversial statements for the first two sections of it, and then I tried to find the middle ground and be creative with it. It was more like talking and soundbites, it wasn’t really a song. But the song title… Oakland is a very graffiti heavy city, there’s a lot of graffiti artists everywhere. I used to live by the subway and if you drove down towards this punk club where we used to see Rancid and all these bands, it said those words on three cement pillars; it said Real eyes, realize, real lies, and I just thought it was really cool, so when that song came together, there was our song title.” 

Block

The last song on the record is Block, which was originally called Fuck It All, but the record company made us change it. That was one of the earlier songs, like the third song that we wrote. We jammed that with Chris while he was still playing in Attitude Adjustment, and he added all the drum fills, like the drum rolls for the verses, which was pretty unique shit even by today’s standards. Again that was dealing with racism and a lot of it was based around the riots, but it was really how I felt about everything. I was just like, fuck you, fuck them, and fuck everything. Fuck it all! I wrote that chorus and I was like, Oh yeah, that’s how I feel!” 

Alan's On Fire (Bonus Track – Poison Idea Cover)

I had been worshiping that record. I could not stop listening to Feel The Darkness. There were just so many layers to it, and it was so well written. I played it all day every day, so when it came to do covers we were doing Hard Times by the Cro Mags, but that was so short, and I really wanted to tackle this song because I relate to it on a lot of levels. We tried it, and it was just so in our lane. It had that groove, and it was punk but it was really metal. You can hear the ache and the pain in the vocals and I really wanted to keep that because it was so special, and I really felt like we owned it.” 

Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes anniversary tour hits Europe this autumn. Get your tickets now.

October

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 

November

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

Posted on August 9th 2019, 11:26a.m.
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