Peter Hodgson of the I Heart Guitar Blog recently conducted an interview with guitarist/vocalist Robb Flynn of San Francisco Bay Area metallers MACHINE HEAD. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
I Heart Guitar Blog: I really dig the classical guitar influence on the new album. I understand you actually took classical lessons?
Flynn: I did. I actually took classical guitar in high school. It was an elective I had to take and I mainly just smoked a lot of weed and played BLACK SABBATH songs. [Laughs] I got a C minus, which isn't a very good grade. It's below average. I guess I showed that teacher, huh? [Laughs] But it really got my mind into that mindset of playing it, and once I really started playing I always leaned towards classical players. Like, I always liked Ritchie Blackmore, and Randy Rhoads in particular was a massive influence. Randy Rhoads on the first two Ozzy albums brought a lot of classical vibes and that was a huge influence. So between that and Jimi Hendrix, BLACK SABBATH, those were pretty much my main masters.
I Heart Guitar Blog: And it's a cool thing that classical-style pedal tones work so well with metal lead guitar.
Flynn: Yeah. It really works well in metal. When we went in to do the record it wasn't like "Oh, let's write some classical stuff." But the first things that I wrote were these classical bits and I was digging it and I started writing riffs around it and I was like, "Hey, this is pretty cool." And I knew, I could tell that I was just doing it wrong. So I thought that before I started getting into some bad habits I should really try to break them early.
I Heart Guitar Blog: I really dig "I Am Hell". It's such a huge opener and there's so much going on.
Flynn: Ah, let's see. We actually attempted writing in November of 2009 and nothing much came out of it. The actual beginning of "I Am Hell" came out of it, but it was more just a symbolic moment for us, like, "Wow, we're really moving on from 'The Blackening'." I wrote the end outro riff while I was in Norway, the tremolo picking (sings riff), again geeking out on classical. And then for a while that song just kinda hung around with those two parts connected with nothing in the middle. That intro had been on a few different versions and I had written that guitar melody probably around the same time as I'd written the very beginning, and I had always heard it as this a capella thing with all these layers and all these different vocals, and I thought, "Man, if I can ever get a goddamn song around this it's gonna be really cool!" But for about a year, a good year, it didn't materialize. I just kept those riffs because I liked them and they were really cool, but I didn't have anything else to go around it. We rarely played it at practice. At one point it was actually the beginning to "Who We Are". Then about three weeks before we went in to record the album I was demoing a bunch of songs because I was going to play stuff for the label back in New York, and the Pro Tools rig went down and I was like, "Fuck!' I was super-pissed. So I sat there and I was like, 'Y'know what? I'm just going to play guitar and see if I can write." So I started messing around with ideas, and I stumbled on that trash riff, and then I thought, "Maybe if I take that end part and use it as a chorus" And just the whole thing, in 45 minutes I wrote the rest of the song. I brought it to the dudes and they were like, "Holy shit!"
I Heart Guitar Blog: Another song I really want to talk about is "This Is The End". Good lord, what's going on there!?!
Flynn: [Laughs] Well that was the first song that was written for the record, actually. I wrote the riff, the main chorus riff, in Auckland, New Zealand on the SLIPKNOT tour. That's the first riff I remember writing for the record, and I wasn't sure if I was going to bring it to MACHINE HEAD at that point. And then the classical bits happened and then the other stuff happened. The thing that was really cool about it was that especially because that was the first song written for the record, it just set the bar so high, right off the bat. It was like, "Wow, man, this is a hard fuckin' song to play." I mean, we could have sat there and been like, "We're the fuckin' dudes who wrote 'The Blackening'. Everyone can suck it." But we went in and we came up with that song right off the bat. It was a pretty humbling experience, like, "Jesus Christ, man, we've got to fuckin' step up our game here. This is really some fuckin' tough shit to play!" It was a really positive mind frame to write from, this very vulnerable place to write from, to try to better ourselves and constantly push ourselves to be better and tighten up our playing and improve ourselves. That was a big motivator for this record, to push ourselves and challenge ourselves as we were writing the riffs and the arrangements.
I Heart Guitar Blog: And whatever the hell Dave McClain is doing in the chorus, you don't hear drums like that in metal.
Flynn: Yeah, McClain's definitely channeling his inner Keith Moon, for sure. It's just that chaotic anything-goes thing that I love, y'know? He adds this chaotic vibe. Granted, we're not playing rock music like THE WHO, but if you apply that same theory to metal it really just makes it more random, and that's what I like about it. We're really bummed out by a lot of metal bands right now. Every band plays to a click track, every tempo is the same, they snap all the drums to a Pro Tools gig, they record the guitar parts and fly them all in. And it just all sounds perfect, and everything is perfect. Every roll is perfect, every hit is perfect, everything is just perfect. And that sounds like shit to us. Because to us, part of the charm, and maybe this comes from our punk rock roots or our hardcore roots, but there's something about when it isn't perfect and it's feeling like it's about to run off the tracks and the drums are speeding up and the vocals are starting to crack and you're just getting that fucking chaotic energy that is what sounds perfect to us.
Read the entire interview from the I Heart Guitar Blog.