Machine Head’s Robb Flynn Names His Most Special Band Keepsake
Jackie got the info on why the band has gone back to a package tour after years of doing their epic "An Evening With" sets, and Robb teases one possible onstage collaboration that might happen during the run.
Flynn also takes some time to reflect on the 20th anniversary reissue of Through the Ashes of Empires, offers an update after a recent studio flood and gives us his thoughts on writing from a conceptual view as he did on their Of Kingdom of Crown album. The singer also offers an update on the band's new music and how he'd like to approach releasing music moving forward. Check out more of the chat below:
It's Full Metal Jackie. I'm very excited to say I've got rejoining the show once again, the one and only Robb Flynn from Machine Head. Happy to have you back on the show and so excited about the “Slaughter the Martour" that we've got with Machine Head, Fear Factory, Orbit Culture and Gates to Hell joining you on this run. It's a pretty great lineup. Robb, when putting together tours, what are you looking for in support acts and in what particular stood out to you with the bands that are gonna be on this run?
Well, for the last 10 years, we've been doing nothing but "An Evening With Machine Head," so, it's actually the first time we put together a package tour in almost a decade now. So, for the last 10 years, we've done a three hour show, no opening bands, just Machine Head for three hours, songs off every single record mixing up the sets, different cover songs and with this one, I just think especially like coming back from the pandemic, we were like we need to just mix it up.
We've been having some great hangs with Dino [Cazares] from Fear Factory and in fact, we had Dino and Milo [Silvestro] up from Fear Factory and we had them jam on our "Electric Happy Hour" livestream which we've been doing pretty much weekly throughout the whole pandemic and then now into this era and it was awesome. We jammed Fear Factory songs, we jammed Hatebreed songs, we jammed Machine Head songs, we jam just a bunch of cool stuff and it was just such a fun hang. We're like, "Man, we should really think about doing this for the tour. That'd be sick."
Does that mean that you guys are gonna come up together and play songs or is that going to happen at all?
We've talked about it. I mean, we're still coming up here on the dates but we've talked about that and I think that would be awesome.
Oh, my gosh. Your fans would totally dig it.
I'm up for it and then I met the Orbit Culture guys. I saw those guys when they rolled through with Avatar. They played the Fillmore and they were awesome. I met them I guess right before and then we played Bloodstock together and they were on a different day than us but I was just hanging out, caught them and they were a fantastic band and then Gates To Hell, I saw them when we played the Milwaukee Metal Fest. They played on a different stage and just they blew me away. They were awesome. So, it was like you know what, let's just make a monster metal package and just go out there and crush it.
Machine Head, "Slaughter the Martour" Teaser
By the way, if we just go back to the "Evening With Machine Head" shows, I have to tell you one of those shows was probably one of the last times I was like in the pit at a show and I was severely injured for many days and I decided I can't, I'm not doing it anymore ....
You actually retired because of the Machine Head.
It's all your fault Robb.
Well, I'm sorry. Or congratulations.
One of the great things with Machine Head right now and recently is the 20th anniversary set of Through The Ashes of Empires that you got and that seems to be that seems to be such a transitional period in the band's career after the early 2000s nu-metal boom. What are your recollections from that time period about creating that album and what stood out as highlights from that album and tour cycle?
A lot of that record was written as a three piece. We had gotten rid of our guitar player and pretty much the whole album was written as a three piece, just me and Dave [McClain] sitting in a jam room. I think we just really had a fire in our belly. I just felt like we had so much piss and vinegar. A lot of people were doubting us. I felt like our back was really up against the wall and we just put it all into the music and we made this vast epic.
it was kind of like a rebirth. I don't want to say a rebirth because it had a lot of classic Machine Head elements but we brought in some. I kind of dove back into my early kind of New Wave of British Heavy Metal vibe, the Iron Maiden kind of stuff and Mercyful Fate, a lot of that kind of element in the music came out. Their guitar parts were a lot more melodic. There was a lot more harmonies and stuff and I just really felt like what we came with just was something really special.
To me, when we got to "Imperium," and "Imperium" was pretty much the last song that we finished for the record lyrically, it wasn't even done when we went into it lyrically, it was almost completely unfinished when we went into the studio. I just remember taking all of that venom that I felt inside of me and all the people talking shit and people just doubting that we could do something great again, and I was just like, "No, I'm going to show you, I'm gonna show you." I just really poured it into that song "Imperium," the opening track and to this day, it's still the song that we most consistently open a set with, because it just sets the freaking tone for everything that's going to come.
Machine Head, "Imperium"
Robb, it's been interesting to see how fans have embraced the anniversary packages over the last decade or so and you've taken the time to salute Burn My Eyes in the past. Obviously, as an active band, you're always wanting to promote the new stuff. But how enjoyable has it been to see such interest generated for your past efforts? I gotta think it makes the live show more fun for you to dig into some stuff you maybe haven't played in a while when the focus turns to a full album.
Well, yeah, we did the 25th anniversary of our debut album Burn My Eyes and that was right before the pandemic so, it just feels like it was a decade ago. But it was really only just four years ago. We had pretty consistently played a lot of those songs live because we'd been doing the evening with some, but like I said, we often mixed up the setlist quite a bit. But some of those songs were really dusting off a song like "Death Church," or "I’m Your God Now." It'd probably been 25 years since we played those songs live.
People always ask, do you still enjoy it? And I was like, I don't know if I enjoy it. To me, it's about playing it well, and performing it well and trying to channel 1993 into that song and where I was at that point and just delivering it with the same ferocity but it's not really like enjoying it or not enjoying it. It's more like I'm trying to deliver it because I know that people love it and the fans love it and I feel like they did that. I owe it to them to deliver a freaking devastating version of that song.
Do you feel like you go back into your mind to where you were at that time when you're performing a song [like 'Davidian']?
I don't think so. You know what I mean? I don't think I could ever. I don't even want to go back when I wrote that song, it was a pretty dark place. I was in a pretty bad place. And, for me, I think when people try and do that, and I don't want to speak for people or other musicians that I know when I've tried it myself, but it felt very phony to try and go back to a place like that. I'm content with who I am now and where I am now and I'm just trying to deliver the best thing that I can deliver now.
Robb, I was sorry to see about your recent studio flooding. I'm hoping that you were able to salvage some of the keepsakes and key items from the band's history you showed in your video. That said, it seems as though you've been wise enough to hold on to a lot of items that meant something to you throughout the band's run. Looking back at what you've held on to over the years, what are some of your most treasured items from the band's history?
Well, to answer your first thing, good news is all of the gear is fine - all the guitars, all the amps, all that drums, all that stuff, bass equipment, totally intact and live streaming equipment is totally fine. It was a lot of my recording gear because it happened where the flood happened is in the recording section for the studio.
I think the big, most heartbreaking part of it was for me was that I had brought a bunch of Machine Head, and archival keepsakes down to my studio thinking that it would be safer there that in a storage somewhere less exposed to the elements and it literally ... all the water came right where all that stuff happened to be. I was kind of going through it a couple of days ago, and a lot of my Burn My Eyes lyrics got screwed up, soaked, like completely drenched underwater. I let them all dry out and so some of its okay, but you know, like my original "Nation on Fire" lyrics, they're pretty much destroyed. You can't read them anymore. It's just all blurry and stuck together pages.
That one had my original demo, the master demo tape of the Machine Head demo that we literally got signed with, like the master one that I used to put in my tape recorder. And we used to take that to shows. I'd spend like six hours at Kinkos and make the J-cards and put a sticker in there and print lyric sheets, and then I'd go to like the Omni in Oakland and like sell these things out of my backpack, put stickers everywhere and when I saw that, I was like, "Dammit!" Luckily, I've digitized it recently so that was okay that that's been at least in that sense preserved, but just to look at the original cassette have been drenched in water, and it's all stuck together.
I think of the things that we'd saved, and I used to be a pretty hardcore collector, you know, collecting Vinyl, collecting demos, collecting bootlegs and me and my friend were tape traders back in the thrash days. That's the era I'm from. So, I grew up on tape trading, and vinyl and bootlegs and demos. And I've got pretty much all of the demos that Machine Head actually have done. We did demos a lot. We've done probably three to four sets of demos on every record. So, I got my original lyric binders, I've got it cassette demos, I've got all the flyers from all of the early shows that we did. We'd make flyers cause that was like what you did back then. Put up flyers at other shows and so I got all the original flyers. The original flyer, it's glued together with different pieces of paper and there's stuff like that.
I think maybe the probably the thing that probably holds the most special place in my heart would be all my stuff from the Slayer tours. Slayer took Machine Head out to Europe for the very first time and up until that point, I can honestly say Slayer was my single favorite band. Me and my friends would drive all over California to see Slayer we'd go down to Sacramento, we'd go down to Fresno, we'd go up to Chico we'd sometimes go down to L.A. and obviously every time they played the Bay Area, I was gonna see it. Just me and my friends lived and breathed Slayer so when they asked us to go on tour with them in Europe and then took us out on tour again in America, it was a dream come true. It was just a dream come true and Kerry King in particular went above and beyond promoting the band and just given us chances and giving us an opportunity to play in front of their freakin awesome crowd and so I really like al of that stuff that I have. That's probably the stuff that I hold closest to my heart.
Robb, your 2022 album Of Kingdom and Crown was a little more conceptual in nature, examining characters that believed they were doing the right thing while committing atrocious acts. Having done that character study, do you feel there's more to mine there? And would you be open to further conceptual works down the road maybe with some other stories as a through line or expanding upon this one?
I don't know. It was awesome doing the character and the concept album because I've written nine albums from my point of view and how I view society, every lyric starting with I and there's nothing wrong with that. I think that's what people connect with the most for sure. That's what I connected with the most for sure. But there was something about being able to step outside of myself and write. It doesn't have to be about my life. It doesn't have to be about what I think about anything and tell a story.
Even to go back to Slayer, a song like "Angel of Death" is not told in the I state of mind. It's about describing a place, it's about describing events, describing a person and there was something just really enjoyable about that. For me, it really inspired me and it's what I needed at the time, I don't know if I'll need it.
Again, I don't know if, when I go to write the next record, we've already already started writing some, I've got, like three songs and a ton of riffs and I don't know where it's gonna go. I don't ever know where it's gonna go. To me, music is like you just gotta channel what what you're going through and where you're at, because music is so much about a snapshot. It's basically like a photograph of where your life is at any given moment and I can't tell you where I'm going to be when we're writing this record, or when we're finishing this record.
I do feel that even in a concept record, you do have your life bleeds into it, whether you want it to or not, during the writing of that record, I lost my Mom. She had been for decades pretty much a pharmaceutical drug addict and it was a long, slow, horrible descent and dealing with that for the 20 or so years. It was really hard and there's no way that that doesn't spill into it in some way. Even if it's just in an abstract way, the pandemic, my wife's mom had a stroke and we had to take her into the house and now we're taking care of her. I mean just a lot of stuff goes on in your life and you don't want to necessarily sing about it but somehow those things in my opinion are the best art and the best music and how it helps you process that and deal with all of that at the time.
Robb, you talked about having a couple of new songs written. Can we expect new music in 2024?
Not gonna say no. I'm not committed to that. But we do. We got some new jams, killer, brutal and heavy and definitely feels like a new vibe. I kind of write songs and sometimes, a lot of the first few songs you write for a record, I found just in general, like, kind of suck. They're just like, whatever, you don't hate them. You don't love them. They're just like, Yeah, whatever and then at some point, there comes a song where you're like, "Oh, we're onto something here."
This is different, like, this is okay. I can kind of see where we might go from here and we hit that song the other day. I think I know what we're gonna go from here and it felt good. It felt good after writing like three or four songs that I was just gonna be like whatever and then we kind of got threw those away. Now we got like two or three that were like, "Oh, okay, I think I know where the record is going."
It's good that you don't have a timeline where you're rushed or pressured to put it out at a certain point, because it'll be ready when it's ready.
At this point, that's the good place that Machine Head is in. We have our own record company, we own all of our publishing, we own our masters. We own our merchandise. So, we can kind of do our thing. It's all kind of self-contained and I definitely want to keep putting music out.
I think especially since the Burn My Eyes tour, we've released 19 songs now, released a full album, and then an additional nine singles slash EP, slash whatever and I liked that. We've really put out a lot of content and just trying to keep that going. I want to keep just a constant stream of even if it's not an album, singles or standalone EPs that never get incorporated into the album and then just keep on. To me, that's what fans want more than anything in this day and age.
I think that it really is just about feeding your fans and it's kind of almost back to where I feel it was in the 70s. Bands in the 60s and 70s, they were dropping albums like two albums a year, two full albums a year. They definitely weren't touring as much, but there was a huge amount of content coming out and that to me is where it's all going. I feel like everybody's so overwhelmed with social media that we really don't need anyone talking anymore.
I don't feel like feeding content to fans on social media in the way that it was that for a minute, but I don't feel like it's that way anymore. I feel like now it's just about music.
Thank you so much, Robb. It's always great to catch up with you and see you out on the road soon.
Thanks to Machine Head's Robb Flynn for the interview. You can catch the band on the "Slaughter the Martour" tour beginning Jan. 19 in San Francisco. Get ticketing details here. And stay up to date with the band through their Facebook, X, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify accounts. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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Gallery Credit: Lauryn Schaffner