Machine Head’s Robb Flynn Talks New Single, Recovering Stolen Dimebag Guitar + Writing Process
Machine Head's Robb Flynn was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. The singer / guitarist talked about the band's new single, "Is There Anybody Out There," the backlash he's received from the lyrics, the band's writing process, recovering his stolen Dimebag Darrell guitar and his thoughts on the possibility of the Oakland Raiders football team relocating to either Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Check out the chat below:
How are you, Mr. Flynn?
Good, Jackie. Thanks for having me.
It's been a long time. Lots has been going on with you guys, between recovering a stolen guitar that was a gift from Dimebag Darrell, you guys recently released a song ["Is There Anybody Out There?"] that sort of references the controversy of this year's Dimebash. How torn are your feelings about Pantera?
Yeah, a lot of conflicted thoughts there. I mean, it was amazing getting the guitar back, you know? Hell, Dimebag gave me that guitar on stage at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Ill. back in 1997. And, when it was stolen from me back in 2010, you know, my house got robbed and they ended up getting four guitars and that was one them.
So, you know, to get it back six years later was seriously — you know, I always felt like I'd get it back but you just, I think at some point it just, you know, it's not like I'd given up hope, but you just let go. You’ve to move on and you gotta stop. I mean, I’ve probably gotten hundreds of leads about finding it and they would just kind of end up nowhere and you know, when you finally see those pictures, my buddy Craig sent them to me in an email. He was like 'Hey man, I think Bryan Kehoe over at Dunlap might’ve found your guitar.' And, I’m like hmm, you know, I’ve done this a hundred times now. You scroll through the email and I'm like 'Holy crap, these are the guitars,' and yes, it was amazing so that was Dimebag looking out for me.
You know, the other part of it? You know, it was crazy because we were writing the song. We’d had it for a while and you know, I felt it was this really great song and I kind of wasn’t sure where the lyrics were going, especially my second verse. I felt I had a killer first verse then I wasn’t really sure what the second verse was — I sent it off to Dave, my drummer. And, Dave was like 'You know, that second verse just kind of sounds like you’re annoyed. I’m not hearing that pissed off-ness that I’m used to hearing.'
And he was right and I just promised him that I’d do it and re-sing the songs a couple days later and then the day after that, the incident at Dimebash happened. And, I went in and sang and a few days later I just rewrote everything on the spot. Then I sent it out to him and he was like 'Well, it’s pissed off now.' You know, there was quite a bit of debate as to whether to keep it or whether these things really needed to be said.
But, I mean, I think ultimately maybe the inspiration for it is what made those lyrics come out of it but then after I put out the Racism in Metal video and it got a million views in four days and I got a thousand death threats -- Neo-Nazis threatening to protest and disrupt our shows in Madrid and Germany. If anything, that's why those lyrics stayed. Because it was so much bigger than that at that point. It went so far beyond where the original idea came from.
Talking about the "Is There Anybody Out There" single, tell us, why did you release the song as a standalone single rather than waiting to include it in the next album?
Well, we had this, I wrote this great song. I was super stoked on it and I was like 'There's no reason that we can't just put this song out now.' You know, we've just wrapped up or we’re getting ready to wrap up a 20-month tour cycle behind Bloodstone and Diamonds, which was amazing and we got to go to all kinds of places we’ve never been before. And, it was amazing and it's going to take us a while to write a record. We’ve got this killer song, you know, let's put it out.
That’s the most amazing thing to me, a lot of the older guys, they tend to miss the Golden Age or whatever you want to call it, of the music business. I love the way things are now. I love the new music business. I love that you can just put a song up on Spotify and YouTube and iTunes and Apple Music. Everybody can hear it, everybody can talk crap on the Internet and say it’s the best thing we’ve ever done or the worst thing we’ve ever done. To me, that's amazing.
And, you know, I was just very excited about the song. I feel like there is something special. I felt like we had something that, you know, was just a great song. And why wait? Like we don't have to wait. We don't have to put it all on a record and wait until it’s a collection of 10 songs. I talked to the label. The label heard the song and they loved it. They flipped out and they were like 'We should try and take this to radio. Let’s just put it out as a song.' So, we did.
What's changed most about being conscious of your responsibility that comes with having a voice as a songwriter?
You know, I mean, look, this is the way that I view music. Like the band, the first band that I flipped out over was Black Sabbath. They were the band, more than any other, that inspired me to play music and smoke weed and have sex with girls and go crazy. I think a lot is made of the more Satanic aspect of the band, but for me, one of the things that I always love and I always respected about them was that they — they put their necks on the line and said some crazy stuff.
You look at a song like "War Pigs," which was an anti-war song at the height of the Vietnam War at a time that was truly not a safe time to say the things that they were saying. There could be severe repercussions for saying that. And they pushed the envelope. And even later pushing the envelope with songs like "Sweet Leaf" and "Snowblind" and drug culture and bringing in that kind of an element into the music lexicon and then take that and then I got into the thrash metal scene, which was about being as extreme as possible and then stuff like NWA and hip-hop / Public Enemy where it was even more about standing up and saying something.
Whether you agreed or disagreed, you couldn't ignore it. Those are the bands that inspired me. Even the punk rock bands that I got into, bands like Discharge — they stood for something and while I don’t think that everything has to be like that in music, I think ultimately the job of an artist is to hold a mirror up to society. It's our job to hold that mirror up, and sometimes what we reflect is beautiful and sometimes what we reflect is love. Sometimes what we reflect is joy or sex, or whatever. I think at other times what we reflect back is ugly and ultimately we reflect back something that needs to be said that often times people are afraid to say.
That even applies to me. The things that I'm afraid to say. Some of the lyrics in this song I was afraid to say — I knew there'd be backlash. There has been a backlash. Does it make me regret it? No, if anything I feel like those things need to be said maybe now more than ever.
Like any band, Machine Head has experienced its fair share of turmoil. How has all of it made you a better musician?
I don’t know if it made me a better musician, [laughs] maybe a better human. Our first record came out in 1994. We started in 1992. 25 years coming up, I think that anything — any relationship — anything that you do in your life is going to have ups and downs. In a 25 year period it changes, it's gonna grow. You're gonna evolve. I think that all of those experiences, it's like, you need to lose every once in awhile so you can appreciate winning.
There's a saying about Cesare Borgia — it's from a long time ago. Machiavelli said it. He's talking about Cesare Borgia, he's the son of the pope and every battle he has fought he won for years and years and then at some point bad luck came onto him. Eventually he got killed in this battle and he was like, Cesare Borgia had the bad luck to have only good luck and when bad luck fell on him he had no way of processing it or dealing with it in any way.
Everybody's life is like that. Everybody has ups and downs, every band has ups and downs. They should have ups and downs. That's what life is, life shouldn't just be an endless stream of good. There has to be good and bad to make things be in perspective. I'll tell you what, man, we've had it way better than a lot of other bands. We're still here. We're still making music, we're doing better than we ever had in the 25 years we've been doing it. It's all good. We're grateful for that. We're grateful and very appreciative and lucky for the fans we have, for the music that we're able to make for the people around us that have partnered with us and support us and our often times crazy musical endeavors. It's good.
Robb, lyrically and musically, how indicative is the single of what you would like to do with the next Machine Head album?
I never know where the new music Machine Head record is going to go, Jackie. Every time we go to start a record, we can sit there — often times we'll have these little pow wows, 'oh yeah, we want to do this or that' and it never happens. Whatever we talked about — all the time, you start writing and at least when the four of us step into a room, we just try and create. Sometimes we're getting off on one vibe and other times we're getting off on another vibe.
I think a lot of times, most of the time, there's just no way to direct it. I don't feel that you can direct music. You're just a vessel and music is coming to you and going through you and it's your job to just let it happen. That's the hardest thing, I think, for anyone to do as a human being you want to control it. You want to control life, you want to control how it's going and with music, especially, it controls you. It tells you where it's gonna go.
I use this example a lot: with The Blackening, which is a record that came out about 7 years ago, many people loved it. Actually, nine years ago — it's almost 10 years old! It ended up having four nine-minute songs. Two 10-minute songs and two nine-minute songs. Those are long songs and we hadn't up until that point written songs that long and when we first started writing that record, the first four songs that we wrote were the four shortest songs on that record. "Now I Lay Thee Down," "Aesthetics of Hate," "Beautiful Morning" and "Slanderous." All four to five-minute long songs.
There was no indication at all that we would suddenly pivot and start writing 10 minute songs, but at some point "Halo" came along and suddenly — in one day after having "Halo" for I don’t know even how long, a few months, we timed it. We were like 'Holy crap, this song is nine minutes long!' Then, I was like — we're freaking out. We've got two nine minute long songs, we've got to trim the fat. We're crawling up our asses and becoming self-absorbed / jerk musicians. Let's turn it down and we did.
So we trimmed all the songs down, the long songs, and it was like taking all of the loops out of a roller coaster. It just didn't have that excitement anymore. It didn't have that thrill anymore and we didn't know what our fans were going to think. We didn't know people were going to dig the direction we were going. It felt right, we went with our gut and low and behold, it got nominated for a Grammy. We ended up touring with Metallica for six months and it ended up being one of those moments that changed the direction of the band for a while.
Let's talk about LA. How has Los Angeles made a lasting impression on the career of a Bay Area kid?
When we first started we hated Los Angeles, [laughs]. We came down here and you guys hated Machine Head. Every time we played there, it was such a rough battle. Then, I remember around 1999 / 2000 it really, around The Burning Red / Super Charger it really took a turn. It went into this, we really felt the love. Then, it never changed. Through The Ashes of Empires, we came out of being label-less for a while and we went out and weren't even sure what to expect and the L.A. shows were serious. I'll remember them until the day I die. They were just so freakin' crazy and insane and literally from that point on, every time we go down there it's just — nuts. It's cool and there's a different vibe down there and I like it, man.
You're a Raiders fan. There's been speculation about the team relocating to either Las Vegas or back to Los Angeles. What makes L.A. a better fit for your team?
I don’t know if that's possible. [laughs] I don't know if L.A. is a better fit; I think Oakland is a better fit for the team. We'll have to wait and see. You know, they talk about this every freakin' year. Since they moved back, I think the year after they moved back, they were like, 'We're gonna move to Los Angeles.' I think it's to get more money out of the city.
You think it's just bluffing?
I don’t know, it's been a long time since they've been saying it. I get why they want it to happen. Dude, call up the old — they gotta share the field with the [Oakland] A's. It's probably the only major city that's got two teams sharing the same stadium. I can understand their frustration with it. It's a bit surprising to me that — you've got the Giants got AT&T Park. The Niners got their thing down in Santa Clara now. I'm sure they're looking at that, which is literally 15 miles away going, 'Hey this would be good for us.' I think it should stay here. The Las Vegas Raiders? That would just be weird.
Any timeline for a new album or any kind of touring plans? What's coming up for the rest of 2016?
We just wrapped up 20 months of touring. 283 shows, all of which were "An Evening With Machine Head." So, Machine Head playing three hours and it was awesome. We're putting up this song because we weren't quite ready to jump right into the record writing process. If the song does what we all think it's gonna do, we'll likely do some more touring in September. At the moment there are no touring plans. We're like, 'Alright, let's take a break here. Let's get our heads back together and recharge.' We're in recharge mode. This is my first summer home in I can't even tell you how long and I'm gonna sit at the lake and go wakeboarding and drink my body weight in beer every day up there and just have a blast. Hang out with my family, hang out with my kids, and just enjoy it.
Sounds like a good summer.
We just went camping for three days, I hope to camp every few weeks. That's the plan, Jackie.
Machine Head, "Is There Anybody Out There?"
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