MACHINE HEAD's PHIL DEMMEL: 'We're Just Metal'

Ultimate-Guitar.com recently conducted an interview with MACHINE HEAD guitarist Phil Demmel. A few excerpts from the chat follow:

Ultimate Guitar: After everything the band has been through over the years, did you approach songwriting differently on "The Blackening"?

Phil: I think we kind of carried over a lot of the same process that we did on the last album, as far as the writing for ourselves. We write for ourselves and that's what our fans like. So we stayed with that formula with this. This will be the first time that I was with band from the beginning as far as the writing process is concerned. I joined on the last album and only helped write three songs. They had pretty much 95 percent of the album already written. So with this one, I was involved in the beginning. Robb (Flynn, vocals/guitar) and I really had a chance to kind of go back to a little bit of our history in the early '80s thrash stage. There's a lot of fast riffing, kind of intricate, technical stuff. We kind of wanted to push ourselves. Everybody in the band, we just kind of wanted to push ourselves musically. So what can you expect from "The Blackening"? Long songs! A couple 10-minute songs, a couple eight-minute songs. Just really the most intricate and most technical MACHINE HEAD record to date.

Ultimate Guitar: Talk a little about those 10-minute songs. What are they called and what was the process behind those in comparison with the other tracks?

Phil: The opener is called "Clenching The Fists of Dissent". It's basically 10 minutes because there's kind of an intro at the beginning. What basically started with the song is Dave (McClain, drums) coming up with something. We had like a middle section and it was really rocking kind of double-bass, a cool breakdown. Robb is really good at melodic little breakdowns. As we add the intro to it and the stomping, moshing metal part to it, the songs just tend to grow. We end up adding riffs to it that we don't want to lose. It's just like, "Why? Why do we have to take it out?" We're not a radio-driven band. It's just like, "Man, we like it. That's all that matters. Let's keep it in."

Ultimate Guitar: Were there certain bands that had an influence on the way the band constructs its songs?

Phil: Definitely. There are certain elements to these songs that made us think like that. One comes to mind in the song called "Wolves", METALLICA does come up because it's a staple of metal. But there's a band called MERCYFUL FATE, and they've got timing changes in their stuff. We are really influenced guitar-wise, Robb and I, from some of the stuff that Hank (Shermann) and Michael Denner do. We totally have a couple parts where people are gonna go, "Oh, man, that's totally MERCYFUL FATE right there!"

Ultimate Guitar: Are there any particular solos on "The Blackening" that you spent more time going over and perfecting?

Phil: There's a solo in the song "Halo" that has like a 16-count hold, where it's just me playing. I had originally written a hold for this riff that I had, and then Robb changed it. So it became something else and I was really struggling with it. I came in and actually recorded something for it, and all three guys from the band just kind of went, "Oh, dude, you're so much better than that." So I think the solo in "Halo" I'm pretty proud of.

Ultimate Guitar: Have the other members of the band told you if the songwriting process was much different before you joined the band?

Phil: I'm not too sure. I've heard them say that it's kind of familiar with the way when the first guitar player was in the band. Robb and I, we were both in a band previously, in a thrash band called VIO-LENCE. So we spent a considerable amount of time playing together. When I first joined the band, it was just like crazy how things were just flying out, ad-libbing it. So I think as far as a writing partner, Robb and I might be the closest. That's what makes it different.

Ultimate Guitar: When you joined in 2002, MACHINE HEAD had gone through some tough times in terms of lower sales and issues with the Roadrunner record label. What was the mood of the band when you first arrived on the scene?

Phil: The momentum definitely wasn't there. They were on the outs with the label. The album sold well, but it was their lowest-selling to date. The fans have always really been there. It's not really reflective in the album sales, but the way they tour they, we, draw some of the most dedicated fans. It definitely was very transitional. They didn't know — label-wise, guitar player-wise — because I didn't join immediately. I only did it temporarily for about two weeks, so they were definitely undecided as to what they were gonna do.

Ultimate Guitar: Was there any moment that marked a change in the attitude of the band?

Phil: I think as far as temperament in the band, I think that before I joined they had a meeting. Everybody was pretty upset with each other. I think it was Dave who just said, "You know what? We're a metal band. Let's be in a metal band and write songs for us. Even what we're doing now, we're writing for our label. Let's do it for us." That kind of turned everybody into like, "Yeah, that's what we need to do."

Ultimate Guitar: Did the record label really tell the band do play a specific type of song?

Phil: Even after Roadrunner had parted ways — it was amicable — every label they were speaking to wanted that. They wanted the radio single. That's just not what this band is about. They just got to thinking, "Well, maybe if we write the one single and then just have the rest of the album this way, maybe that's the lesser of two evils. Or we can just not be signed."

Read the entire interview at Ultimate-Guitar.com.

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