GRENADIERS

ROBB FLYNN SAYS MA­CHINE HEAD’S NEW AL­BUM LOOKS TO TH EBAND’S EARLY DAYS IN OR­DER TO CHARGE INTO THE FU­TURE.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - BY PETER HODG­SON

Ade­laide’s finest beer-swill­ing punk’n’roll trio re­turn with a fu­ri­ous third al­bum – one that threat­ened to im­plode both their brains and their wal­lets.

Now is the per­fect time for Ma­chine Head. Their po­lit­i­cally and so­cially aware lyri­cism, their never-say-die at­ti­tude, their crush­ing heav­i­ness – it’s all there on new al­bum Cathar­sis (out Jan­uary 26th via Nu­clear Blast), and it’s all in­formed by the up­heaval in Wash­ing­ton and across the USA since the elec­tion of a cer­tain or­ange-haired pres­i­dent. Front­man Robb Flynn has said that this al­bum could “re­ally in­fil­trate the main­stream” with its more di­rect song struc­tures and sim­pler hooks. It’s true that this is one of the more ac­ces­si­ble Ma­chine Head al­bums, even though it stays very true to their trade­mark ag­gres­sion. And if this al­bum does break through in the way Flynn hopes, it’ll be an im­por­tant land­mark in the his­tory of metal.

To tap into the spon­ta­neous and heart­felt power that this al­bum needed to ex­press, Flynn and co. shook up their writ­ing and record­ing process. “You write for six-to-ten months and then you record in one big chunk, and that’s what we’ve done for­ever,” he says. “The last cou­ple of records were a re­ally long time in the stu­dio and, I just start to freak out when we do that. I can’t con­cen­trate, I can’t fo­cus, I get re­ally ag­i­tated and I’m gen­er­ally not very good to be around.”

So, they adopted a new approach by adopt­ing an old one. “Y’know, when we first started, we de­moed all the time. You’d demo a few songs and put them out, and in our case, we’d sell them. We’d spend six hours at Kinko’s [a de­part­ment store] mak­ing up the J-cards and stick­ers for the cas­settes. You al­ways had that im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion, too, be­cause you were play­ing it live. Some­times we’d write a song, and a week later we’d be play­ing it live – it wouldn’t even be fin­ished, but you’re just try­ing to fill up your setlist. So with this al­bum, we were like, ‘Why don’t we record this like a demo? Write a few songs, record those few songs, get in, get out.’ We recorded in su­per short lit­tle blasts of about two weeks, and we did that three times. It made such a huge dif­fer­ence in the way that the record came about, be­cause a lot of the time, the songs were so fresh that we had lit­er­ally fin­ished it the day be­fore we went in, or maybe didn’t even fin­ish it be­fore we went into the stu­dio. When you lis­ten to the al­bum, you’re hear­ing the sec­ond or third time we had ever played those songs. We’d re-record it, sure, but we al­ways went back to those first takes – some­thing about those orig­i­nal ver­sions is f***ing in­tense! Dave [McClain] is hit­ting the drums harder, I’m scream­ing more, my voice is crack­ing... There’s some­thing in those amaz­ing hu­man im­per­fec­tions that makes it sound amaz­ing.”™

“Cal­i­for­nia Bleed­ing” is a stand­out track on the record: a vir­tual nar­rated tour of the highs and lows of liv­ing in per­haps the most bizarrely in­tense and ex­treme state in the Union. “Peo­ple have this idea of Cal­i­for­nia that it’s all gold-lined streets and lib­er­als run­ning around with gay peo­ple and the coastal elite,” Flynn laughs. “It’s a re­ally strange state. It does have that com­plete op­u­lence on one hand: the peo­ple that are f***ing rich are rich be­yond any­thing you could imag­ine. And then at the same time, it’s poorer than you can pos­si­bly com­pre­hend. It’s such a weird di­chotomy. We’re in Oak­land, so we’re the bas­tard stepchild to San Fran­cisco, which in its own way is even more ex­treme than that. And all of that soaks in. I grew up three blocks away from the trailer park that my dad grew up in. We ate Top Ra­men ev­ery day for months on end. And there’s so much cul­ture here, end-to-end. It’s over­flow­ing with peo­ple and build­ings, and in there is this fric­tion that hap­pens be­cause there are so many cul­tures, and peo­ple just don’t get along in gen­eral. But there’s also a tol­er­ance and an ac­cep­tance that comes out of that, be­cause you kind of have to. You learn to just let shit roll off your back. Es­pe­cially with crime as high as it is here, life is short – you want to live as hard as you can. All of those dif­fer­ent things shape where we come from.”™

The song “Bas­tards” is an­other key track on the al­bum. It’s a message from Flynn to his kids about stay­ing strong in a world that can be very dark and un­just. “I wrote that af­ter a dis­cus­sion with my kids a day af­ter the elec­tion,” he says. “I wrote those lyrics in one shot. I picked up a gui­tar and I started strum­ming four chords; it was four chords I had heard a mil­lion times, and I knew that. To me, it was a folk song. In a weird way it be­came the cen­tre­piece of the al­bum.”

Flynn’s main gui­tar for the record was a cus­tom Flying V made by a Ger­man luthier. “It’s a 28-inch scale, so it’s a bari­tone-plus,” Flynn laughs. “And it’s f***ing bru­tally heavy. It has a pick­guard on it but it’s just for looks, so there’s no wood drilled out of it, and it just has this bru­tal, su­per de­fined and su­per tight sound. I don’t even take it on tour any­more be­cause I don’t want to risk in­jur­ing it. I’ve got an EMG 81 pickup in that, and 98 per­cent of the gui­tars you hear in the mix are from me, left and right. It’s quad gui­tars – two on each side – and then the main amp is a 5150 with a Boo­gie cab­i­net, and the other is a 5150 with a Mar­shall vin­tage. Y’know, no­body was do­ing the quad-track­ing be­fore Ma­chine Head; we were pi­o­neers in that. It just makes ev­ery­thing sound so f***ing heavy.

“We’ve been tun­ing to drop B since 1992, and I think it wouldn’t work if we had a dif­fer­ent. No­body was even drop-tun­ing when we started, so for us, it was all new ter­ri­tory. We tried all sorts of dif­fer­ent amps, but we couldn’t get that low note to cut through. Then we got to the 5150 and we were like, ‘Shit!’ It’s got this growl in the midrange that’s dif­fer­ent to a Mar­shall or Boo­gie.”™

So can we ex­pect to see Ma­chine Head in Aus­tralia any time soon? “Oh yeah,” he laughs con­spir­a­to­ri­ally. “I can’t tell you, but we’ve got plans in mo­tion…”™

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