Machine Head Interview

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Saturday, October 20, 2007

Machine Head has been a metal icon for many years since their formation in 1992. Currently in the middle of The Black Tyranny Tour along with Sanctity, Throwdown, and Arch Enemy, and amidst several changes in venue due to Disney shutting down their shows, I had the chance to speak with drummer Dave McClain.
Note: All questions asked by me are denoted by CG, while our photographer’s questions (Mandie) are denoted by her name.

CG: The first thing I wanted to ask was how’s the tour been going so far and how have you been getting along with the other bands?

Dave: The tour’s going great. We’ve had a couple little weird things happen with Disney and everything like cancelling a couple shows but all of the shows have been killer so far. We’re all getting along really good with all of the bands. A couple of years ago we were supposed to go out with Arch Enemy on another tour and they cancelled on us. There was this big beef going on or whatever, they never really gave us a reason. It all got squashed, so everything is going good with them. Throwdown’s awesome, killer dudes, so is Sancity. It’s a killer tour man, everyone is getting along really good.

CG: So how did you guys feel about the Disney cancellations?

Dave: We’re pissed about it. They’re not going to come out and make the whole thing official (their reasons) but their reasons are that they checked out our lyrics, they checked out everything about the band and that the band stands for and they don’t want that on their property. I guess everybody has a right to what they want to have in their clubs but the way they went about it, they basically kept tickets on sale until a few days before the show and then they just decided we’re not going to have this band here. So you know, we’re pretty pissed off about it and you’d think that in this day and age something like that wouldn’t happen, but it’s just a sign of the times right now with our wonderful president (editor’s note: said with a sarcastic tone) and everything else.

CG: Yeah because you’ve played there before haven’t you?

Dave: We’ve played there before. It wasn’t the House of Blues thing, it was Disney. We’ve played there numerous times in Anaheim and Orlando and they just decided this time to pull some kind of power trip and throw us out of there.

CG: You guys recently auditioned Brandon Sigmund from Hostility to play on tour in place of Adam since he’s injured. How’s that been going?

Dave: He’s been doing a great job. He’s a great bass player. We also had to get Jared from Sanctity to sing Adam’s parts so we actually have two guys coming out on stage. Brandon’s killing it man, he’s a great bass player and it’s cool to have him out because it’s like the first real tour he’s ever done so he’s super excited to be out on the road.

CG: How’s Adam doing right now?

Dave: He’s probably sitting on his ass right now, healing his leg hopefully.

CG: Is he pissed about not being able to come?

Dave: I don’t know, you’d probably have to ask him that.

CG: The Blackening has been out for a little while and it did really well both sales wise and review wise. How have you guys felt about that?

Dave: We’re really happy with the album that we made. As far as how it gets received by the press, reviews and everything else, everything’s been really, really good, and that’s amazing. That’s all you can ever hope for when you release an album and we’ve been on both sides of the coin. We’ve been on the side where the press hates us and right now they love us so you kind of take that with a grain of salt. For our fans who are buying the album, they’re coming up and telling us about it and even Scott Ian from Anthrax did a review of the album. He called it the best thrash or the best metal album so far of this century or so. When somebody like that gives you a good review it’s cool because he’s our peer and we really respect his opinions. Everything else is kind of like icing on the cake.

CG: Yeah that’s really impressive if he’s saying that about your album because he was probably one of the frontrunners back in the 80’s.

Dave: Yeah and he’s on like every VH1 metal show you see and he knows his stuff about metal. He was there in the beginning and he’s really knowledgeable about it so for him go out on a limb and write that review for our album and when we see him he goes “Dude your album’s fucking amazing”, it’s cool. It’s good having people like that who actually respect what you do.

CG: One thing I noticed was that the songs were a lot longer. Did you guys have that in mind or did it just fall into place?

Dave: For the last two records we’ve known that our stuff isn’t going to be played on any kind of major radio. If we get airplay it’s going to be from college stations which is cool because they actually support metal. So we weren’t really interested anymore in writing songs that fit into a certain format and we really wanted to make an album that we wanted to hear. An album that when we were kids, like when Iron Maiden was just coming around; like listening to that kind of stuff, that kind of freedom that they have; they just did what they wanted to do and people hated that. We just wanted to make the songs feel natural. We tried chopping songs up and everything and there was one day where we were just like, you know if these songs need to be 10 minutes long they’re going to be 10 minutes long. If it needs to be four minutes, then cool. It’s going to be done when it’s done basically.

CG: That makes sense.

Mandie: Are you a Cowboys fan?

Dave: Yes I am.

Mandie: Good.

Dave: I know I shouldn’t be wearing that shirt around here.

Mandie: Oh I’m a Cowboys fan too, I’m right there with you.

CG: We go with that and Steelers.

Dave: Steelers?

Mandie: Yeah, got to love both.

Dave: You can’t love both!

CG: Maryland teams don’t ever do that well.

Dave: You guys are doing alright this year, Ravens.

CG: We’re starting to; it has taken a little while.

Dave: You’ve got to stick with your team though.

CG: So what genres/bands have influenced your writing this time around? Is there anything that’s different from the past that you guys have listened to that have influenced you since then?

Dave: There is a lot of stuff that influences us, probably stuff that people shoot themselves in the head over. One influence that we’ve had on this record is, believe it or not, My Chemical Romance. We listen to all kinds of stuff. We like that band; I, Rob, and Phil totally like those guys. It’s kind of like getting influenced by people and being able to turn that into your own sound. When we’re writing stuff, when I’m writing my drum parts there are people that are influencing me like Vinnie Paul is one guy that influences me all of the time. There’s a lot of bands; we even went back to like Iron Maiden’s stuff and Judas Priest, so there’s tons of stuff we get influenced by.

CG: You guys have been around for a pretty long time now. What advice can you give newer bands that are trying to break into the industry?

Dave: I don’t know, just keep doing it. It’s a hard business to get into and you have to get a band of dudes that are completely dedicated to doing it; of getting to that point. Well actually, you never really get to that point. You never get completely satisfied, and that kind of keeps you going. Have four or five dudes who are on the same page, or chicks who are on the same page and have that common goal. Don’t worry about getting signed right off the bat. Getting signed isn’t like finding the gold at the end of the rainbow, that’s the beginning of your troubles.

CG: Yeah, that sure brings more work doesn’t it?

Dave: Well it does, and it’s hard. It’s hard dealing with record companies. You love playing music and then you get into a business side of it, and when those two clash it gets rough at times. I would just say love what you do and stay that way. Everything else will kind of fall into place.

CG: How do you feel about Roadrunner? You guys have pretty much been with them almost the whole way.

Dave: Yeah, we have a great relationship with them. We had severed ties with them two albums ago; both sides were unhappy with the way things were going. Now that we’re back with them both sides are happy. We know now that this is like a business; Machine Head is our business that we run. Roadrunner is basically who gets our stuff out to other people. I think a lot of young bands have this fantasy like, oh you get on a record company and they pay for everything and your life is great. We’re in a good position right now; we can write the music that we want and Roadrunner trusts us enough that we just give them a finished product even down to the covers, photos, everything. We have complete creative control of everything, and for us it’s a great situation. Probably for a young band coming in, something like that wouldn’t be the case. They’d want their hands on pretty much everything.

CG: Yeah, because I’d heard mixed reactions. Like Chimaira used to be with them and they’re not now and they weren’t that happy with them when I asked the same thing.

Dave: Most bands seem to have this really weird view of their record company, like most of them hate their record company and that’s not a good approach to have.

CG: Yeah, because they’re who gets your product out there.

Dave: Yeah, a lot of times it’s butting heads. You want something, they don’t want to give you everything. You want $100, they want to give you $50. You’ve got to meet somewhere in the middle, and that’s just the way things are. A lot of bands tend to hate their record company; we don’t.

CG: That’s good.

Dave: We like Roadrunner.

CG: How did you guys come up with the artwork for The Blackening, which you had done by Paul Brown once again?

Dave: Paul didn’t actually do the artwork; we actually found that picture on Robb’s computer. I was just looking through stuff he had on his computer one day and he had all of these images he had gotten online. I came across the image that we used for the album cover, and right when I saw it I was like this is it, this is the cover. Basically that’s all it is. The only thing that the artist did was put Machine Head and the album title on there. All the other images were found online; I think they’re from the 1600’s, or are like metal carvings from the 1600’s. That’s where it came from.

CG: Your main single was “Now I Lay Thee Down”. Are you going to have another single?

Dave: We have the video coming out pretty soon for “Now I Lay Thee Down” and we’re thinking about “Halo” as another one that was kind of like a surprise song. When we got over to Europe we played it. We were never even going to play it live, but the UK office at Roadrunner was just freaking out over the song so we decided to play it and the crowd reaction was amazing. The crowd was singing louder than the band was playing, it was insane. It’s one of those songs that has taken on a life of its own and people dig it so we’re going to try to do something. I mean, it’s a 10 minute song so you can only edit so much of it out.

CG: Who’s directing the video for “Now I Lay Thee Down”?

Dave: The same guy we’ve had for the last three videos, Mike Sloat. I wanted to do like an old silent picture, kind of Nosferatu-ish video and so we did it at this theater in San Francisco and we had some actors come in. The song’s kind of a take off of Romeo and Juliet so we had these actors come in and act. There’s some acting in our video.

CG: Sounds interesting.

Dave: It is. It’s actually a really cool video.

CG: Do you know when it’s going to premiere?

Dave: I don’t actually. I don’t even know if it’s done yet. It might be done, so maybe in the next month or so.

CG: My website’s called Cosmos Gaming, we do games and music. Do you play games?

Dave: I do, I play Madden. That’s the only game I play. Well, Halo, I’ve played Halo too.

CG: Anything you’re looking forward to?

Dave: I’m playing the new Madden now.

Mandie: Are you excited for Halo 3?

Dave: Yeah but I need to get a 360, I don’t even have one yet, and I need to finish Halo 2. I was in the middle of Halo 2 and my Xbox took a dump.

CG: The 360’s are even more likely to break.

Dave: Are they?

CG: Yeah, there have been a lot of consoles they had to fix/take back to fix.

Dave: Yeah, see my PS2 I’ve had like since it came out.

CG: And it’s still going?

Dave: Yeah, it’s still going. So I think maybe I’ll stick with that.

CG: Do you know if you guys had any songs in any video games?

Dave: Actually we just redid “Halo” for The Sims version. I don’t know much about The Sims but I guess it’s called Simlish or something.

CG: Yeah, it’s like gibberish.

Dave: Yeah, so Robb had to go in and redo all the vocals, it sounds retarded. *laughs*

CG: Do you think there are any games your music would fit in with?

Dave: I think we’d fit in well with Madden. I would love to hear our stuff on Madden. I don’t know, maybe like a motocross game or something. Maybe it’s good music to kill people too as well, so maybe Halo.

CG: I guess that’s usually something the record company initiates.

Dave: Well we’ve been trying to do that on our own. We’ve been talking with the people that do Guitar Hero, so we’ll see.

CG: That could work out pretty well, they always find ways to get songs on there.

Dave: Yeah, we’ll see what happens although I think Robb was about to beat the guy who does Guitar Hero at the Family Values tour so I don’t know how keen they are to get Machine Head on there.

I’d like to thank Dave for taking the time to speak with us before the show, as well as the band’s tour manager and the folks over at Adrenaline PR for making this possible.

For more information on Machine Head, visit http://www.machinehead1.com/.

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