Interview conducted October 28 2017
Interview published January 7 2018
"The goal when you go into the studio is always
to capture lightning in a bottle."
Machine Head guitarist/vocalist
Robb Flynn found his way to Stockholm, Sweden
on the promo run for the band's ninth album Catharsis [Out January 26th].
"I'm 50 years old and don't give a fuck. I'm gonna
be dead pretty soon and I'm just gonna fucking call it how I see it."
Tobbe: What does the word Catharsis mean
to you personally?
Robb: You know, when we started looking at the
record, you know, there were so many different emotions on the record.
There was social, political stuff on Volatile and Bastards, there was
straight up, like, party song like California Bleeding; it is about
getting fucked up, songs about depression like Eulogy, songs about drugs
like Triple Beam, and there were so many different emotions being expressed.
the song, came about halfway through the writing process and it was
that middle section, which repeats; you know "The only thing keeping
me sane, the music in my veins, and if these words are my fists, this
is my catharsis.". So it really seemed to just crystallize everything
that we were feeling about the record.
Tobbe: You mentioned a lot of subjects here
right away, so is it kind of easy for you nowadays to pick subjects to
sing about on the records?
Or on the Catharsis record?
Robb: Um. [Pause] No. I mean, you know, I think
'cause you get 9 albums deep, like, it's harder and harder because,
for me, I always wanna try and say something new, you know what I mean?
Bob Dylan once said "When you're writing music you're trying to
find new ways to say the same thing.", you know. And he's right;
it's totally true, because, you know, how many times are you gonna say
"Burn" or "Fucking death" or "Blood"?
You know, like, you wanna try and have a different subject matter, with
Some songs came about really fast. Some of the
songs on the record; you know, Triple Beam, Bastards, Volatile; I wrote
those songs in, like, 20 minutes. You know, like, the lyrics for them.
Other songs: I had to write 7 different versions of them before I felt
like I was saying something new and offering something different to
Tobbe: Musically, in what way does the Catharsis
record follow the path of Machine Head?
Robb: You know what I've been saying? I do these
YouTube live things and this Facebook live thing for the fans and I've
been telling everybody: To me, this is the record that could have followed
The Burning Red . It's a very grooving record, it's a very melodic
record. You know, it's probably the least thrashy we've been in well
over a decade. You know, there was no plan, there was no reasoning,
there was no "Hey! Let's do this or let's do that.". We just
wrote and the things that we wrote were just simple and short and we
were like "Fuck! This is cool. This is great.".
You know, there's a couple of epics on the record,
but it felt like we were kind of saving those for a special thing. You
know, a song like Heavy Lies The Crown was, like, the one really big
epic of the record. And, you know, the rest of it really became about
trying to have great storytelling. If we had a really busy riff we were
like "Why don't we make the beat simple?" and if we had a
really busy beat; "Make the riff simple". You know, stuff
like that. Just trying to really simplify things and simplify ideas.
You know, my hooks: I really wanted to be really clear with the vocals,
like I wanted every song to be a story and I wanted it to have absolutely
feel like in the past, sometimes for the better or for worse, and I
kind of like tend to write, like, violent poetry, you know what I mean?
It's very metaphorical, cool words, but it doesn't really make sense,
but it sounds cool, and I really just wanted to get rid of that, like
I really wanted to have, you know, coarse, almost vulgar language at
times because I feel like that's where music has gone and metal in particular
hasn't gone there. You know, we're still singing about the same shit
we were singing about 35 fucking years ago and I feel like we need to
go some place else.
I grew up on a lot of punk rock, a lot of hardcore,
a lot of hip hop and it's all very confrontational and it's all very,
you know, not crude, but straight language. It's not "thou, doth".
You know, it's not, like, biblical shit, it's not metaphorical and I
really try to bring that storytelling aspect into it.
Tobbe: The harmony or solo guitar sound,
which you kind of started with on The Blackening album , is still
present, so what made that become an important ingredient in Machine Head's
music in the last decade?
Robb: You know, Phil [Demmel] and I used to be
in Vio-lence together and we really prided ourselves on being a guitar
team. You know, in the classic kind of K.K. Downing / Glenn Tipton -
Dave Murray / Adrian Smith vibe. So we do that and it comes really easily
to us. You know, we can do those kind of things. You know, Machine Head
never was, like, a full-on solos kind of band and if you go back to
Burn My Eyes  like half the record doesn't even have a solo section,
so that when we do do it, it means something.
To me, a solo is a great place for a key change,
it's a great place to bring in something new, it's a great place to
change the pace of something, it's a great place to have this new thing
that people can sing. To me, the thing I always loved about Kirk Hammett
was, like, you know, you can sing those solos. It's just not shred,
but it becomes like a musical part of the song. So we really try to
focus on that and, you know, it came about in a really good way this
Tobbe: Melody and intensity have often been
two important elements in your music and what goes through your mind when
you try to combine melody and intensity into one thing in the songwriting
Robb: Um, I mean, nothing's going through my
mind. [Laughs] I would love to sit here and be like "I have this
great plan and
", you know. Everybody wants to know about
it, but there's no fucking plan. Like, we don't know what the fuck we're
doing. I mean, nobody does, and even if they tell you they do, nobody
does. Like, we get in a jam room.
know, I think that's the one thing that separates us from a lot of the
other bands, because we actually all rehearse together. During the entire
writing process we're there together. During the entire recording process
we're there together. You know, for a year. Most bands nowadays: The
guitar player makes a click track, plays the guitar, emails it to the
drummer, drummer programs the drums, then he mails it to the singer
and they never get together and play as a fucking band and I'm like
"That is so fucking weird to me.". Like, that's why I wanted
to be in a band, so you could collaborate and get together in a hot,
sweaty fucking room and just sweat and play and, you know, figure it
I mean, a lot of people complain, like "Music
isn't as good as it used to be.". Well, you know, guess what! Like,
nobody plays together like a band. Think about The Beatles. Back in
the '60s they were running Hamburg. They were doing 30 days in a row,
7-10 hour shows, playing covers or their own songs. 30 days in a row;
that's fucking great. They did a stint in Hamburg one time; 100 days
in a row of 7-10 hour shows. I mean, think about how much work and effort
and chemistry is being created in that time. Lynyrd Skynyrd: 6-7 hours
a day in a hot ass fucking unair-conditioned swamp in Florida. And Bruce
Springsteen recording Born To Run 75 times before he got it right with
his band. That's the type of shit that you need to make good music.
It takes that much, like, creative chemistry.
You know, there was a time when, for a month,
we were killing it, like everything we wrote was gold, and then the
next month every fucking riff we wrote sucked. It was horrible and it
was like "What the fuck!". And it's like you gotta go on that
journey together and that's what makes songs and that's what makes a
band and that's what makes a style and, you know, you gotta put in the
Tobbe: Your voice must surely take some
damage during those rehearsals or when you're recording songs
Robb: No. [Said to me without hesitation and
in a most natural way.]
Tobbe: Okay. So how much can you lay down
on a record in one take?
Robb: Um, it
depends, you know what I mean?
[Looks tricky, yet smiling.] Like, it depends on the song, it depends
on my inspiration, really. I think the one thing that we did differently
that we'd never done before
You know, the traditional way that
you write and record a record is you write for, whatever, 6-10 months,
and then you go into the studio all at once and you record everything
at once. Especially the last couple of records just got kind of long
and I can be in the studio for about two weeks before I'm starting to
lose my mind. You know, like, I just can't concentrate. I'm a big picture
dude. Like, micro focusing on what compressor is
You know, I can't
what we would do is: we started to do it, like, kind of like how we
used to do demos. So we'd write 3 songs, and then roll over to the studio,
we got a studio really close to our jam room, and we'd record those
3 songs really fast, and then get out. Like, just record any bits, it
wouldn't even be finished, just record as much as we could and then
leave. And then we'd go and write about a month or two more, record
3 more songs, any other bits that came up, and then get out really fast,
and not overthink it and not even try to complete it. And it just added
this crazy urgency to the record; it added this crazy energy, because
every song was super fresh to us.
I mean, some of the songs were brand new and
we could barely even play them all the way through because we were still
learning them. But we recorded it like that and you just have this fucking
You know, some of the songs even on the record,
Kaleidoscope, you're literally hearing the first day we ever played
that song. The vocals you hear are my first take, no lyrics, freestyling,
just making shit up. The goal when you go into the studio is always
to capture lightning in a bottle.
And it's hard, you know. It's hard because it's
clinical and it's easy to make everything perfect and I think it's really
about capturing an attitude. You know, it's about capturing human flaws
and all of their glory and that's what makes it alive and that's what
makes it sound intense and I'm really proud that we were able to capture
that. And I don't know, if we would have done it another way I don't
think it would have been captured. I don't even think some of the songs
would have really come about, like, if we would have just worked on
them in the jam room.
Tobbe: So, what makes Robb Flynn so angry
still, so he can shout those lyrics out as aggressively as you in fact
comes a little too easy, really. You know, there is a lot of stuff that
was written in a moment, you know what I mean? The opening track, Volatile,
was written and recorded, or at least the vocals were written and recorded
the day of the Charlottesville murder, and for anybody who doesn't now:
a huge group of white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia,
and they murdered a counter-protestor. You know, it was fucked up. Like,
it was really fucking shocking and it'd been happening for two days.
So I was in the studio and we were watching the
whole thing unfold and, you know, I was just frustrated and pissed and
I just sat down and I wrote lyrics for about 20 minutes and 20 minutes
later I went and sang them. And that's what you hear. You know, you
hear this pure burst of fury and frustration, and confusion, and if
music is a snapshot of somebody's headspace and a moment
you got that moment.
You have quite often chosen to come out in public over politics and stuff,
so when most people stay silent, why do you choose side officially, if
you know what I mean?
Robb: I think a lot of metal musicians stay silent.
Yeah, for sure. I don't know why, you know. I mean, I know why, because
they don't wanna offend their fanbase and they don't wanna lose fans.
I'm 50 years old and don't give a fuck. I'm gonna be dead pretty soon
and I'm just gonna fucking call it how I see it. You know, I loved that
about Lemmy. I loved that Lemmy would just be like "You know what?
He's a fucking
". I remember when George Bush was president
and Lemmy's like "He's a fucking cunt.". (Laughs] I think
that's fucking awesome, you know.
Tobbe: So, on the contrary, what does make
Robb Flynn happy today? At this point in life.
Robb: Thinking about Lemmy calling George Bush
a cunt. That makes me happy. [Laughs] You know what? Lots of things
make me happy, man. Like, I'm a pretty positive dude. I got two awesome
kids, I got an awesome wife. You know, going wakeboarding and camping
with my family for a week up in 6 hours north in the fucking woods where
there's no cell phone reception and no internet and no way to contact
me and no computer. Fuck, that makes me really happy. Love that.
Tobbe: Machine Head does no longer play
festivals, really. You've talked about it before and therefore my question
would rather be: What do other musicians tell you about Machine Head not
playing festivals anymore?
Robb: "What are you doing that for? What?
How stupid! Don't do that!". Yeah, we had a lot of people trying
to talk us out of that and I have a lot of festival promoters trying
to persuade me to do it. You know, we've been doing festivals for 23
years. I mean, I started playing festivals in 1994 and back then Donington
- Monsters Of Rock was 8 bands, one stage, one day, and back then a
festival slot could be like a game changer. If you killed it at a festival
you could sell more records, draw more people, sell merchandise, make
new fans and I don't know if that's the case anymore. I mean, maybe
it's the case for some bands, but it's not the case for us; 9 albums
deep and, you know, where we are in our career.
A bunch of petty things annoy me about festivals,
like having to play in the fucking freezing cold rain and fucking everybody's
there in a parkas, shivering, and fucking they're standing in two feet
of mud, and I'm like "When did metal become like this? This is
good?". You're miserable, I'm miserable. But the biggest thing
for me is that I just stopped feeling a connection, you know. I stopped
feeling a connection with people. Anybody could be up on stage and,
you know, nobody is really gonna be unhappy. You know, everybody can
make the circle pit around the fucking sound booth now, everybody can
jump, and that's what festivals became about. I didn't feel a connection
to the crowd. They didn't really care who was on stage.
in a bigger sense, we were drawing less people, we weren't selling any
more records; in fact we were selling less records. And it was like
"Let's take a step back.". I know that this is what we've
done forever, but just because this is what we've done forever doesn't
mean it's the best thing for us to do, for our band, where we are right
now. And, you know, package tours: Everybody hated all the fucking bands
that we brought. You know, we brought Bring Me The Horizon; we'd thought
everybody would love them; fucking people were throwing garbage cans
at them on stage and I was like "My God!". Like "Why
did you bring them?".
We made a decision to not do festivals and to
only do "An evening with Machine Head" and a lot of people
tried to talk us out of it. You know, "It's not what metal bands
do. It's something that jam bands do. Or Bruce Springsteen do and stuff,
and metal bands just don't do this." and we were like "We
gotta try something. We gotta try something different." and it
was quite an adjustment for us; it was a little bit of an adjustment
for our fans, but in the end it was the best thing we ever did. It totally
You know, I hated being on stage at a festival.
Like, I hated it. Every minute of it. And it made me being passionate
about playing live again. We dusted off songs that we hadn't played
in 10-15 years.
You know, we started playing mellow songs that
our fans have loved for a long time, but we would just never play because
in a support slot or in a festival slot you just wanna fucking murder
everything. And it was awesome. They loved it; it was a huge success
for us and in a weird way it's kind of like "Why is this weird?".
You know, when Bruce Springsteen comes to town, when AC/DC comes to
town, when Foo Fighters come to town, it's not like "Oh, who are
the 7 bands they're bring out with them?". No, it's like: when
the fucking Grateful Dead come to town it's not like "What package
is it?", you know. It's all about them.
And I feel like metal has gone into this whole
kind of like buffet mentality and we just decided to do what we thought
was best for us. It may not be what's best for everybody. You know,
there's some great festivals out there, but we had to change what we
do for us.
Tobbe: Just like regular people, even musicians
are starting to get burned out nowadays and having depressions and stuff
and probably have for decades, but in the most recent years it's starting
to be a subject where people actually talk about it. So is this anything
you've experienced personally or have you seen or heard anything in the
music business where people actually do get burned out?
Robb: Oh, yeah. I mean, we all get burned at
some point, you know what I mean? Like, we get burnt out; we get into
a depression. You know, shit goes on back home, and your family life,
and you're still out on the road, 7000 miles away from home, and you
have to go up there, and smile, and act like everything's awesome, and,
you know, put on this mask because those people don't fucking care.
And nor should they. You know, they have no idea what's going on in
your life, and they don't need to know.
yeah, it's hard sometimes. I mean, definitely being away from your family
and, you know, a stable thing. You get tired. You know, you're staying
up fucking late every night and you're riding down the fucking road
on a bus, bumping along the fucking road and you never really get a
good sleep until you park. It's a life less ordinary. And is it an amazing
life? - It's an amazing life. Look at me. I'm in fucking Stockholm,
Sweden, talking about my record, in a really nice hotel. Like, it could
be way fucking worse. We did 283 shows on the last album cycle. 20 months,
283 shows. You know, there's times, show 170, where it's like you're
just fucking wiped out. And it's not, like, construction all day wiped
out, but mentally wiped out.
My wife and I almost divorced 10 months into
that touring cycle and for a good 4 months we were "divorcing",
like "It was over!" and we were talking about moving out,
where I was gonna live. We talked it all the way through to the end.
And I was on tour. I was still on tour that whole time. It was fucking
hard, man. You know, we made it through, we got through it, but when
those moments are happening you just push through. Just like anybody.
Not to say that it's that much harder, like if you were just sitting
here at home and you were going through a divorce, it would be no easier.
But those things affect you.
Tobbe: And what you're doing you're doing
24/7 so you kind of never get away from it.
Robb: But, you know, I'm not gonna complain
about it either. This is what I wanna do. I've been in bands since I
was 16 years old, man. I was on tour when I was 19. I don't know anything
else. This is literally all I've done. You know, true, I've had some
jobs when I was young. I worked construction for my uncle Donny, or
I had to dig ditches that were 3 foot wide by 3 foot deep. I stripped
furniture for a while, breathing in acid and stripping furniture.
You know, I sold drugs for a while, and you know
what? I'm very grateful to have the life that I have, because especially
the drug dealing phase was a very violent, very paranoid, very scary
time of my life. It was a huge, huge motivator to make Machine Head
successful, because I wanted to get out of that life.
I'm not gonna sit here and complain how hard my life is, because my
life isn't that hard. People have it way harder and I'm lucky to have
what I have and be able to play music for a living. Is it hard in a
way that most people couldn't understand? - Yes. And until you live
this life, you'd never understand what I mean when I say it's hard.
Tobbe: Yeah. Being away from your family
for a month seems hard enough for me.
Robb: Let alone 20, right? Let alone 3 years,
like on The Blackening. You know, I had my son, my second son; 3 weeks
later I went on tour for The Blackening. And I was gone for 3 years;
3 years and 3 months. I pretty much saw him for one or two weeks every
two months. You know, you think about that. That's a different kind
Tobbe: Then what do you do to try to get
some variation in your life as a musician? I mean, recording, touring,
doing promo is kind of pretty much doing the same thing every day.
Robb: When we wrapped up touring for Bloodstone
It was, like, March of 2016, and we started going
camping. I love going camping, I love being outdoors, I love wakeboarding
and wakesurfing. That kind of shit is awesome. We didn't really go on
any vacations, but we did a lot of camping trips. 4 or 5 days, a bunch
of our friends, fucking drink beer all day. And it's fun, man; it's
Tobbe: No small hobbies? Like a dog or
Robb: Yeah, now I got two dogs, I got two cats,
I got two guinea pigs, I got a bearded dragon. It's like Noah's Ark
at my house. [Laughs] Yes, I walk every day with the dogs and take the
dogs on hikes, you know.
Tobbe: Catharsis will be out in January
and according to Robb Flynn himself, what will make this one become "Metal
album of the year" in 2018?
Robb: That's for everybody else to decide. But
I'll tell you what: This is a real special record. There is something
going on that I've never felt on a record and I think this record has
the potential to be a lot bigger than the band.
also: review of the