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Machine Head - No one is looking over our shoulder, so why not just copy a Rush riff!?
After a long time of waiting, the Netherlands finally got to see Machine Head live again. That was at the Black Crusade tour, which is a great success judging by the amount of sold out venues. Machine Head is back on track again, which is the red line throughout this interview with lots of funny facts like a little tattoo star, a stolen riff from Rush and… goat milk. Now that's metal! In the afternoon before the show, Metalrage had a nice chitchat with drummer Dave McClain. He was immediately confronted with a happening that pissed off a lot of Dutch metalheads in the summer…
So you've got something to make up for with the Dutch people right?
“Something to make up for? We do?”
“Oh shit, yeah. Our bus broke down on the way to the show and we were pretty pissed off about it. When the truck came to fix the bus, they did it in like 5 minutes! It was something stupid, but we had to wait for a long time before that truck came. So we got on Fields of Rock the next day and the organization was still gonna try to put us on the show. There were rumours that Velvet Revolver might not play and that we might take their spot. We did everything we could to play but it didn't work out.”
In the summer, during the American tour, Adam broke his leg, how did that work out?
“Well, fortunately we did all the shows. We got another bass player to fill in and the singer of Sanctity did all the background vocals. So it was weird to have two extra guys on stage and not being on tour with the whole band.”
It was the first time that Adam had to miss a show right? How was that for him?
“He came to one of the warm-up shows that we did and he watched it from the crowd so I guess that was a little weird for him.”
Did the replacements do a good job? How long did it take them to learn all the songs?
“Yeah, they did great! We only had a couple of practices. We didn't have a whole lot of guys to try out. I called Shavo from System of a Down and he was like: Man! I'm going to play with the Wu Tang Clan, I would love to go out with you guys because we haven't done anything for a year and I'm ready to go. So Shavo had to pass but he gave us a couple of phone numbers, like we tried out Pat from Damageplan, but it just worked out better with Brandon from the Bay Area.”
About The Blackening then; according to many it's your masterpiece, some say it's even better than Burn My Eyes, so that pretty much means that you can quit, eh?!
“Hahaha! I guess we could, but I think we're not going to. Burn My Eyes was always that record that people talked about and it got to the point that we got really tired of hearing that all the time. But things are changing now, the people who were saying that before are now saying that they like The Blackening and that's their favourite album. That's awesome, because many bands don't get back to that again. When you think of a band you often think of that one single record, so for people saying that The Blackening is our masterpiece is killer. There's a whole new generation of fans now, we noticed that when we did the tenth anniversary show for Burn My Eyes and we did it in Manchester, one in Philadelphia and then we did it again in Manchester. All these younger fans all knew ‘Imperium' and they would know when we played ‘Davidian', but when we played some of the other songs from Burn My Eyes, like ‘Death Church', they were just standing there, watching. That was kinda a good feeling because that showed that we could move out of the whole mode of thinking that Burn My Eyes was always the best. We have a new group of fans that don't even know some of that stuff, a really good feeling.”
So you're feeling confident with The Blackening, is that also because it resembles your musical preferences better?
“We got to a point that hopefully a lot of bands will get to, because there is really nobody looking over our shoulder. When we were doing The More Things Change there was a lot of pressure on what to do. We had to outdo Burn My Eyes and improve something. When we were doing Through the Ashes we just wanted to make a great record for ourselves. There was really no pressure after Supercharger, because we were almost not even a band anymore. We were just playing music for the love of playing music and being kids again; Iron Maiden and Judas Priest fans. That's what we're doing with The Blackening too. We were able to spend a lot of time on the album, we took a whole year just to write it. Roadrunner was like: We want the record now, in six months we want to put it out and we were just like: No, we're not gonna do it. A lot of times bands get to the thing that they need the money from the album and we were in a really good position. You get it when you get it and it's gonna be ready when it's ready.”
The Blackening isn't just going back to that old feeling of Burn My Eyes. It has got these long epic songs. For instance, Rob once said that Rush was partly responsible for that, so is this just gonna be a temporary thing?
“We don't even know, it could be that there are 20 minutes long songs on the next album, hahaha! At the time it was just something that felt good for us to do. Some of the songs just didn't feel finished until they were as long as they are now. We kept adding stuff. The song ‘Wolves' was originally gonna be an instrumental, just for the sake of adding parts! It was almost like a joke, we even didn't think that we were gonna record it and then one day Rob said: "I think that I have some vocals for this song". For a long time the song didn't really go anywhere and then one day I just loved it. The Rush thing was more about the attitude of what they had back in the day when they used to say we're never gonna go to the radio, the radio must come to us. Any commercial success that we get is because somebody else came to us, not because we manufactured it that way. I always tried to get Rob into Rush and one day he called me: "what is that one song?" I said ‘The Spirit of Radio' and gave him every Rush CD and he started checking them. We actually ripped off some parts, when you listen to the riff of ‘Days Turn Blue to Gray', that is from ‘Natural Science'
Hahaha, what the fuck, so you actually ripped them off?!
“Yeah yeah, we ripped them off, hahaha! We actually stole that riff.”
Haha! Do they know?
“I don't think so.”
Do you think that they would see it as a compliment?
“I think so. I Think the guitar player Alex Lifeson is more into the heavy bands, he listens to them a lot. I don't know whether he has heard it, but if he did he would probably laugh. It's not exactly the same riff, but it's definitely inspired by it. If he would hear the song he would recognize it for sure.”
Could you say that those long epic songs are a sign of you guys changing your attitude; you're shaking off every possible boundary that was there before.
“Yeah, it's almost like we're digging ourselves into a hole and accept that it never gets played on the radio. Roadrunner UK wanted to do ‘Halo' as a single, so we went to the studio with an engineer where we tried to make an edit of it, but you just can't do that. No matter what we do, you can't put a ten minute song into four minutes, that's not gonna work. So we knew from the start that nothing was gonna be played on the radio.”
What was the reason that you got cancelled at the Disney venues?
“We heard that lyrically they didn't like some of the subjects. ‘Clenching' is basically an anti-war song and we're not making any secret of it that we are against the war, against Bush. Somebody associated with Disney, they cancelled the show and not the House of Blues, who read the lyrics didn't like them. Imagine some high strung republican person at Disney reading these lyrics and must have been like: We can't have this on our property. We played there before, it was great and there were no problems. We made a public statement about the affair and that's when another show got cancelled, basically as a retaliation. They never publicly said that it was because of the lyrics, but we were told that. It's not like Disney is officially gonna come out and go back and forth with us, it's not that important to them, but it is pretty obvious.”
The red line through our conversation is that Machine Head is totally back on track again, can you say that's because you have had a good and steady line-up now for some years?
“I don't know whether it's just a steady line-up, I think it's that the four of us have a really good chemistry. It's the best chemistry the band ever had and obviously it's a hard thing to find. The last time we had a chemistry like this was with Logan Mader, during The More Things Change. Having someone like Phil filling up that void kind of inspired Rob in a way of lead guitar wise to created an awesome guitar duo. It's not like show-off shredding guitar playing, but more like complementary guitar playing where they challenge each other and they're both a different type of guitar player. Live it really clicks between the all of us and that's the most important thing.”
What's everybody's role in Machine Head, socially?
Rob is the guy that is living 24/7 for Machine Head. Whether it's fucking yelling at someone for some reason or thinking of something, it always got to do with Machine Head. I'm the guy that he is bouncing his ideas off, or I will call him with an idea and we start brainstorming and stuff. Me and Rob are the guys that get into discussions a lot. But I'm also the mediator. I love doing all this and I don't really like to take it for granted, so if there's a problem that problem is never bigger than what we have. We're lucky to do what we do and problems always can be resolved. Adam is more on the background, that's pretty much it. Just asking basic questions like: how much money are we spending. Phil is not as back seated as Adam, but is mainly concerned about writing songs.”
Some last questions then, what are the ideas behind your tattoos? Matt's from Trivium for instance are all Japanese.
Matt knew exactly what he wanted when he got his first tattoo, I'm the opposite haha! I was just like: I want a tattoo! But what shall I do, I just got something which I don't even know what it is like some Japanese tribal stuff or something. I just did something, like a Kiss tattoo, I never had something like a masterplan, haha! This stupid little star is Kiss associated, it's Paul Stanley, the star. We were in Chicago and we were shit faced, drinking a bottle of tequila and there was this girl, a friend of Phil and she showed us that star. She kept make us drink more and more and finally said, lets get the tattoo! We were fucking drunk and me and Phil just got the tattoo done, haha! It looks horrible, but it's a good memory.”
What's the gayest record in your music collection?
“Oh, that's easy, Crash Test Dummies.”
What keeps you in shape on tour?
“The drummer of Throwdown is a personal trainer and he gave me a workout thing.”
What's the weirdest thing on your rider?
“That would probably be a Rob thing, and it's goat milk. The other day I was asking someone what the weirdest thing was he had ever seen and he told me that Mariah Carey lets kittens being brought in so she can play with them, haha! Or when Prince played at the The O2 arena in London for 18 days straight he wanted to build an entire house next to the venue just for the occasion. But it was in a bad part of town, so they just gave him a whole flour of this superexpensive hotel. But we will just stick to goat milk, haha!”
“You're welcome, now get the hell out of here!”
Thanks to Lukie and Gilles for contributing to this interview.