In celebration of the 10 year anniversary of through The Ashes of Empires (yes, it's been 10 years!), I have been telling a multi-part General Journals of the story of the record. If you’re on our Facebook page, just scroll down, or go to MachineHead1.com and check out the first 4 parts. I know I said that Part 5 would be the last part, but dammit, there's gonna have be one more early next week where I'll share some more rarities from the vault!
In early August of 2003 I boarded a plane for London Heathrow to start the mixing our fifth album with Colin Richardson. Colin was already set up at The Chapel recording studios in the remote village of Lincolnshire (population 60!!) The plan was for me to land at typically-rainy-London Heathrow Airport and take a cab (that Roadrunner UK had arranged) the remaining 4 hour drive out to the studio. When I landed, to my absolute shock the typically-rainy-London wasn't typically-rainy or overcast at all. Instead, it was un-typically-sunny and 95 degrees! Shit, it was hotter than California! All of Europe was going thru some nutty heat wave and man I was fuckin' STOKED!!
It was a good sign.
So sunny and hot or not, I still had a 4 hour drive ahead of me. I arrived at The Chapel where I'd be living for the next few weeks. Now, The Chapel is literally in the middle of nowhere and as much as Colin had prepared me for this, it was still a bit of a (in Keanu Reeves voice) “hwhoa!”. But what he didn’t prep me for was…it was beautiful. The English countryside, open fields, slow-running brooks, rabbits; it was like being in a goddamn Led Zeppelin song! Thankfully, per English-tradition, even a little po-dunk village like Lincolnshire with a population of 60 needs to have a pub every half mile. We headed down to get some beers and watched some local cover bands jam the English hits of the 60's and 70's.
For the first few days the engineers had a lot of setting up to do. Now, because the crazy heat wave, the weather was getting up in the 100's so Colin and I went on long walks. He and I talked about life and work and everything under the sun. We’d kick around a soccer ball and then go and pick up fresh eggs from the local farms. Colin is awesome. I fuckin love that dude. It was a much needed change of pace and shook off some of the depression I was sinking into. The nearest grocery store was a 10 mile drive, so about once a week we’d go into town and stock up food and vodka.
There was mind-numbingly slow dial-up internet, but the head groundskeeper was cool enough to let me jump on his laptop when I needed. There was also cable TV and Kerrang! TV was playing the shit out of a new band called Muse whose latest record, "Absolution" had just come out and was starting to hit. I fell in love with the song "Time Is Running Out," and would soon come to worship this album and this band.
Amazingly, several of the songs were still un-titled at this point, including "Vim" (called "Devil Beat") and "Imperium" (still called "Buh-Duh-Duh-Duh") even as we began mixing. The label was freaking out for titles, final lyrics, the thanks list, etc... Fuck, I needed to get a title for the song and fast; I mean it’s only the lead track off the album, right? So I took to the internet for inspiration and 2 days later, after stumbling upon an online thesaurus I looked up alternate words for "power" I fell upon the word "Imperium.” Hmmm..., Imperium = command; supreme power". I knew that was it so I ran it past Dave and BOOM!
The first song finished for mixing was "Bite The Bullet" and it sounded crushing! For "Left Unfinished," in my head I heard an intro that sounded like a music box you might hear in a baby crib or carriage. During the recording I had Mark Keaton transcribe the chorus melody (since I can't read or write music, shit, I can barely read tabs!) for the guitar and vocal. He and I found a company in China that if you supply the music they turn it into a real-deal music box. It was exactly what I was hearing in my head so we ordered. It arrived so close to the deadline I actually had the Asian fellow meet me at the airport and do the transaction! It was so drug-deal-like it was awesome! I still have a few, they were cool. For all the collectors out there Roadrunner made an additional 100 music boxes for promo. We set up mics and recorded while I spun the music box handle, and soon "Left Unfinished" was mixed.
Colin had just finished mixing the first Bullet For My Valentine album, and after-hours we'd drink vodka and play the first 3 songs a lot, but I didn't like the rest of the album, too poppy. Apparently they A/B’d their mixes to "The More Things Change" constantly. They should probably start doing that again!
Nevertheless things were running smoothly and Kerrang! asked for a new song we could put out on a CD sampler. It was decided that "Imperium" should be the track and the only reason this is of note (collectors) is that it wasn't the final mix. It also didn't have the clincher last line "and we won't lose!" In its place was one of my Tom G. Warrior death-grunts, "UGH!" In fact that line wouldn't be added until I went to Andy Sneap's old studio to do a test mastering with him and I decided try out the phrase "and I won't lose." Ultimately settling on the final version, the one you’ve been listening to for 10 years, "and we won't lose."
**Collectors, if you find the Kerrang! version, please send it me in hi rez!!! It's one of the few MH items I do not have!!**
Kerrang! Magazine had begun an Awards show in London and Roadrunner thought it would be good if I went. I was ambivalent. They had been shredding us pretty brutally lately and the last face to face interview they did with me was quite hostile. I was so ready to tell them to "fuck off" but my ever-awesome press girl and voice of reason, Michele Kerr calmed me down. She said it be fun, "we'll get hammered!" I said "OK." Such a pushover!
Maybe it was in my head but when I arrived at the awards show it felt like walking into the lion’s den. Something about just seemed all hoity toity and fancy schmancy, that I felt not welcome. It totally felt like I was not a part of this world. These didn’t feel like “my people.” The RR US thing had sapped me of some of my confidence. So as I got ready to go, in my hotel I had to give myself a stern talking-to in the mirror. I looked at myself and said "dude, go out there and fucking rule this shit!" "LION HEART MOTHERFUCKER!" Stop being such a pussy!! You're Robb Fuckin' Flynn, go out there and walk the god damn walk!!!"
I threw on my cut off camo shorts, metal shirt, and a backwards trucker hat and said "fuck these hoity toity motherfuckers!"
I got there, and the first music-bizness-cock-face I saw, walked up to me and said:
"Hey Robb, it's nice to meet you, shame your band never made it..."
Me: "FUCK YOU!"
I walked right up to the journalist who had shredded me, got 6 inches from his face and said "oh hey, what's up dude?" He practically stumbled over himself backing away. I took a shit in the bathroom, didn't flush it, didn't wash my hands, walked up to another journalist who had recently ripped us and shook his hand just to be an asshole.
Despite all this, I had a lot of friends there. Christian and Laz from Ill Nino hung with me all night. Nick Barker from Cradle/Dimmu got hammered with the singer for The Used (who I'd just met) and also a bunch of the Funeral for a Friend guys. I rapped with Lars for a few minutes too, which I'd never really done before, and was very cool.
I'd brought along a CD of the latest mixes and a CD Walkman and headphones. I basically cornered as many people as I could with one request, "motherfucker, check this new shit out!!" I got about 20 people to listen, all-in-all including one of the coolest Kerrang! journos and future-Kerrang-editor, Paul Brannigan. Most people I played it for were pretty into it, either that or just telling this drunken madman they approved so he'd leave them alone. When the evening was over I felt good. Sure even after a great night I still didn’t feel like I “belonged,” but I knew the next time I went to one of these things I’d fucking own the place! The next night we had a playback session in London at the Intrepid Fox and fans seemed really into it.
I went back to Lincolnshire to finish mixing and after a week I started getting cabin-fever. Being out in the middle of nowhere, away from home, I started to second guess the mixes. In fact, truth is I lost it a little. I had a meltdown, then realized I was trippin out and that I had to trust Colin. I’d find myself saying “He knows what he's doing” in my head. It would actually be the last time I ever attended a mix. I can't be there. I need to hear things as a whole. I learned I'm a big-picture-guy. The hyper-focused-attention-to-detail that’s needed for mixing? Nope, I can't do it. My brain just doesn't work like that. Colin is the king when it comes to mixing.
With mixing complete I went straight into a press tour and the excitement on both ends was high. They wanted to hear it and I wanted to play it for them. People were saying it's the best thing we'd done and as soon as the European press got their advance copies, the album leaked. DOH! Now, I ain't saying that a journalist leaked it, but a journalist leaked it!! Yep, 2 months before the album hit, it was on every torrent site on the face of the earth. But unlike what we'd been told by the record company it didn't hurt a damn thing, in fact it got our fanbase really fucking stoked! And because our American fans knew there was no imminent release date, they were even more stoked!
As soon as I got back from the press tour we started rehearsing for our upcoming tour which was set to start in Dublin, Ireland on Halloween night. Dave and Phil had practiced a few times while I'd been gone but honestly we were sounding rough. The record came out on Oct 28th and 3 days later we were playing the tunes to a bunch of crazed Dublinites with all of us dressed up for Halloween and hammered. It was magical! It was our first night of the ‘Through The Ashes of Europe’ tour and it sure didn’t feel like we were “done.” The sing-a-longs were insane, something was happening.
The album reviews had started to come in and were across the board stunning. Metal Hammer Germany gave the highest combined rating that had ever been awarded to a record!!! Rock Hard praised it, Metal Hammer UK praised it as a masterpiece. Even Kerrang! Australia scribe Dom Lawson gave it a staggering 5K review. But some of the UK press still wanted to "have a go at us," and in particular Kerrang! UK journalist Daniel Lukes, (the same douche who had reviewed the Ten Ton Hammer show), decided that this would be the album review to crush Machine Head into the dust. That this would be his big chance to make his mark in music history, he was going for it.
With a frankly admirable amount of belligerence and gusto, Lukes took the biggest shots he could swing at us and out and out attacked the band. Giving it a lowly 2K review and calling 'Through The Ashes Of Empires' (and I quote), "a directionless mess of an album,” “chock full of widdlesome solos and moments of musical 'complexity' that actually get in the way." He ended his pissy tirade declaring it, "the sonic equivalent of eating last night’s delivery pizza, reheated today."
When I read this, to say I "hit the fuckin’ roof" would be the understatement of the year.
My aforementioned press girl Michelle begged me not to do anything stupid. She told me amongst other things, "Kerrang! is sponsoring your UK dates!" But there was no going back. It was the final straw. After all we'd been through there was no taking this kind of fuckin bullshit from anyone, anymore. Not Kerrang!, not Revolver, no one. This motherfucker thinks he's gonna bury us, from behind a fucking computer?! NOT A CHANCE IN HELL!! We drafted up a press release and once-again took to the internet. Dave McClain said his review was "gutter journalism" and I simply added that Daniel Lukes could "SUCK OUR FUCKIN DICKS!"
It was "fuck everyone" from here on out.
Lukes "made history" all right...
The tour on the other hand went fucking ridiculous. People came out in droves, the shows sold out left and right and merch sales were almost shockingly great. As we knocked out gig after gig Machine Head, as a unit, hit a rare state of musicianship that we may not have ever had. All four of us were really clicking on stage, even Adam with his lengthy absence during the writing/recording process was totally locked in with the three of us. People were still not sure of Phil though and in Madrid, Spain a small group of jerks spit on him all night. All-fucking-night, so at the end of the show he jumped in and pummeled them! We followed suit, jumped in, pummeled more, and after that, the word spread. Yep, same ol' Machine Head and there were no more incidents. In Hamburg at the MarketHalle, Phil started jamming a riff at soundcheck that was pretty awesome. It would soon morph into a new song called "Seasons Wither."
And now that the record was a bonafide European success, all those labels that had passed on us in the U.S. suddenly came back around. These labels wanted to talk and they wanted to sign us. Of all the labels now calling us I’d say the most surprising was Roadrunner U.S. They approached us and said they'd like to release the record now...?
“You mean the record you just passed on?”
Truthfully, there was A LOT of genuine resentment towards Roadrunner at this point. That's the reason we wanted off the label in the first place. Then after the last round of demos and the back and forth bullshit...how could there not be? We debated and argued about it fiercely. Some folks felt it was a no-brainer to re-sign, some were dead set against it.
Since the time of my press release saying RR US had passed, we actually had more than a few other options. Both Nuclear Blast and Century Media were extremely hot to get the record and made it a priority to tell us so. As the tour winded down we set about narrowing our best choice.
Regardless of who released it though, the best case scenario for a U.S. release would not happen until at least April of 2004. That meant the record was going to be available on any torrent site for 8 months in between release dates. Anyone who wasn't into illegal downloading could buy it via import, and fuck, at that point how many people in the states would even want to buy something they’ve listened to for over half a year?
At the end of December of 2003 we returned home from Europe for the Holidays and to ponder our future…
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In July of 2003 Machine Head entered Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, CA to record our fifth album. We had just signed a deal with Roadrunner Records International that excluded a North American release, and we decided it best not to announce that until we had an American deal in place. In doing so, we had surely peaked the interest of Roadrunner America. Proof of this was their request that we make a demo of some new music for them. Since we were already in the studio recording we put something together quickly with the existing drum tracks and sent it off in hopes that they would re-sign us, and we could have a simultaneous album release (sounds so sexual!). We were confident in the new material and continued recording the album, our first with new / old guitarist Phil Demmel.
Things happened very fast with the new Roadrunner deal, I mean literally we were signing the deal as Mark Keaton was giving us a studio tour! One of the side effects of the quickness of the deal was a few songs were still getting written lyrically / vocally in the studio. Roadrunner needed the record out in their "third quarter" (October) and it was already July. Because things happened so fast the producers we would normally have chosen were all busy or soon to be busy and we then started looking at other “strange” guys to produce. After much discussion no one felt that paying some of these guys $20,000 plus "points" made a whole lot of sense.
We knew our long time producer Colin Richardson would be mixing the album, so in June I decided to throw-my-hat-in-the-ring as producer. I figured anything I fucked up, Colin could fix. This was to come as a surprise to some, even though I'd been producing our demos since 1996, first on 4-track cassette, then an 8-track cassette recorders, then digital, and I had learned a lot from Colin about tones and Ross Robinson about capturing "vibe." The band usually loved my demos so it wasn't that big of a stretch. But this wasn’t just a demo and I was well aware of what was at stake. Because of this it seemed dangerous.
The band was a little apprehensive at first, but eventually got on board. My old buddy Andy Sneap who had engineered / saved the 3rd and final remix of ‘The More Things Change’ (and had since launched a successful production career) was in town recording Exodus's "Tempo Of The Damned," and would come down on the first day to help set up tones. Our gear was pretty shot, Dave didn't have new drum heads and my old Marshall 1960 BV cabinet didn't even have handles on the sides and barely had any low end coming out of it. There was also the input jack on Adam's bass that had been broken for the last year and worked maybe 50% of the time. Five albums in and we were total pros!
Somehow we made it all work. We began recording drum tracks as a 4 piece and this process was fairly uneventful other than Adam who was constantly an hour or two late, barely knew the songs, and goofed off the whole time. Dave was annoyed and often furious with him, and he and I got into it more than a few times because of it. Historically speaking, and because of this, ‘Through The Ashes of Empires’ would be the last time we ever recorded as a full band. This honestly wasn’t all that unusual as it was Dave and I doing the demoing and half our practices were just him and I, until Phil joined.
As I briefly touched upon in an earlier, despite the band being nearly broke, Adam had recently bought a house (which he got for a good deal; he always was a good negotiator), completely gutted the insides down to the framework, and borrowed a large amount of money to expand it. But his plans stalled and for 14 months he would be totally consumed with re-building it. We barely saw him. He had started contributing lyrics on ‘Supercharger’ ("White Knuckle Blackout", "Nausea", "Supercharger") and now that I was producing the album, my already full plate, was very fuckin' full and I needed help with lyrics. I needed ideas or at the least another point of view. I drafted everyone, McClain even chipped in a few lyrics. From time to time Adam would fax me a paragraph or two, and I worked them in (most notably the entire middle section of "Vim" and "Wipe The Tears"), but usually the lyrics would show up a week after I had already recorded the song. After a slew of arguments with him, I finally just gave up.
It was all on me.
Even with all that surrounding us we were optimistic. Mark Keaton was a great engineer, and recording was going smooth. We had a batch of really strong songs, Phil was writing some awesome leads ("In The Presence Of My Enemies" is still one of my favorite leads by him, and one of the best leads, well, EVER!) and even though some songs were still in their final stages, we knew we had something special.
Some songs were extremely cathartic for me. As I mentioned in Part 2, "Days…" was about Genevra's heroin addict / alcoholic father who had recently passed away. Despite the urging of his doctor to quit drinking, he wouldn't. The doctor told him in no uncertain terms that if he "didn't stop drinking alcohol, his esophagus would separate from his stomach lining and he would die." His family urged him, his daughter urged him, but he wouldn't. Eventually, his esophagus separated from his stomach and he died. He was barely in her life and even when he was it was useless. I’ve told this before but it’s worth repeating, he called her the day after her birthday one time, not to wish her happy birthday, but to ask if "any of her friends were diabetics, so he could get 'some needles'." Somehow, somewhere, he was supposed to stop, he was supposed to make amends, he was supposed to change, there was supposed to be a happy ending.
It was a tough time.
The song "Left Unfinished" tackled my feeling about being adopted and never feeling like I fit in, never "knowing" anything about my history, and was basically was a "fuck you" to my birth parents. Don't come looking for me, don't try to reach out to me, just fucking die. In that song I admitted for the first time publicly my birth name "Lawrence Mathew Cardine," which my adopted mom had informed me of a few years before. It was a bit of head-fuck. I needed to get it out.
But the constant theme that came up lyrically was death, rebirth, and overcoming struggle. From that came the idea for the title of the album. I wanted something epic, something truly timeless. I was fascinated with the word "Empires", even though I hadn't used it in lyrics. We had survived a lot, and in many ways we had "died," and from it a new Machine Head was being born. We had watched two musical movements come and go and we were still here, and I firmly believed, about to be stronger than ever. I typed "Machine Head - Through The Ashes Of Empires" in an email and sent it to the guys.
Everyone liked it except Adam. He was still mad at me because I had shot down his idea to name our 2003 live album "Let's Roll." (Titled after the Flight 93 passengers who supposedly, right before they attacked their 9-11 hijackers, all said, "LET'S ROLL!" and still-makes-no-sense-to-me-what-so-fucking-ever-for-a-live-album-title!!). Instead, we named it the equally idiotic "HellaLive,"which means I-have-no-fucking-idea-what?-other-than I guess "A lot of live." "Hella," for our Northern California slang, and "live" for well, live! In Nor-Cal you might say, "dude, that band is hella sick!", or, "dude, that band is hella brutal!", or maybe, "dude, that chicks ass is hella bootylicious!" but you WOULDN'T say, "dude, that band is hella live"!?! **smacks hand to forehead** It's like one of those bizarre t-shirts you see Japanese tourists wearing with giant, random American words, "SUPER MARSHMALLOW HURRAY!!" But that's what happens when you have a contest to name your live album, and let your drummer and manager pick the winning title!!!!!
We enlisted "Supercharger" and "HELLALIVE" artist P. R. Brown at Bau-Da Design to come up with the album package. We wanted an angel in a graveyard, and Dave had a photograph of an angel statue he and his then-wife Shelli had taken at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France (where Jim Morrison is buried) that we used as a reference point.
Paul delivered in spades. The cover was breathtaking. Most of the gravestone photographs he used, he had taken at the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. The last piece came from our web-master Mike Parkers' wife Ariel. She had some photos displayed in an art show at an "herbal-cafe" in Oakland that I attended, she had one picture that stopped me dead in my tracks. A lonely battered gravestone with the words "They That Sow In Tears Shall Reap In Joy" carved into it. I later begged her to let me use it (thru Mike), she agreed, and the package was complete. Our "blue" album.
Upon this important piece now complete the excitement was high. Vibes were good, we had enacted a "Hawaiian shirt Saturdays rule" during the recording. Saturday night was also "Brown Eye Saturday", with usually Mark, our video guy Shawn Sparks (aka: Sparkles!) our manager Joseph and myself libating ourselves with vodka and cokes a few hours before the session was over, and then well into the night playing music loud on the giant studio speakers.
We had begun a series of internet video web-isodes documenting the making of the album. The internet had come along nicely and since no magazines were covering us, in early 2002 I began writing a series of "internet diaries" to keep our fans up-to-date with where things were in Machine Head world. During recording I stepped it up to almost daily updates, these updates were far more regular and in-depth than any magazine could get and were un-filtered from the band. There was a buzz happening.
Around that same time, a new type of metal news website cropped up that were extremely supportive of Machine Head. Websites like Blabbermouth and the The Pimp Rock Palace (later-The PRP) would often would re-post my internet diaries, and soon go on to pioneer a new model of web-magazine that would revolutionize the music and magazine industry. It sounds a bit absurd to say nowadays, but this was uncharted territory, no one was doing it and it wasn't done to be on the vanguard of some new tech bullshit, this was done purely out of necessity. It worked. We embraced it.
I was set to fly to Lincolnshire, England (population 60) to mix the album with Colin Richardson at The Chapel. The Chapel recording studios is located inside a beautiful 900 year old chapel in the middle of the English countryside, four hours drive outside London. Things were looking up as we wrapped up recording, and on the last day of recording, the night of July 29th, I received an email from my long-time A&R guru, Monte Conner. The contents of the email were basically informing me / us that Cees Wessels, the owner of Roadrunner Records, would not be re-signing Machine Head in the U.S. Monte loved the songs, the other A&R guy Mike Gitter was nuts about them, but they didn't see a future in the band and didn't feel they could give us the support we needed. The label had changed and they were signing a lot of radio-rock bands and they wanted hits. With regret, Monte ended the email by wishing us the best.
I was crushed.
I felt like a failure.
The songs were good. Really good. What the fuck?
I got wasted.
The next day, hung-over as all hell, I drove down to Sharkbite to grab the back-up hard drives, and broke the news to Mark. I cried some more.
Now we had to do what we had hoped to avoid and that was to let the world know that we would not be releasing the record in the U.S.A. Our fans would now find out that we'd been unsigned. Let me tell you, it’s tough admitting your failures, but then to have to do it in public? It feels 100 times tougher. It validates your enemies; it causes confusion with your fans. But it had to be done, so I took to the internet, and with as much class and confidence as I could muster, in no uncertain terms, I spelled it all out. That we had been unsigned for the last 16 months, that the record would only be coming out in Europe, Japan and Australia, that we did not know when it would be released in our home country, but were confident it would. I thanked Roadrunner U.S. for their years of support.
You can read it here: http://www.blabbermouth.net/news/machine-head-seek-new-american-label-remain-with-roadrunner-in-europe/
I made it sound like we had other options, but the reality was we didn't.
The next day I jumped on a plane bound for England, to mix a record I was now completely in doubt about. Hung-over, depressed, and angry, I now had to go face the notoriously brutal U.K. press, already in tear-down-mode, and who now had quite a bit of ammo to throw in my face to back up what they had gleefully been jeering.
"That Machine Head was over"...
And maybe they were right...
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For those of you just tuning in today, in celebration of the 10 year anniversary of our 5th album "Through The AshesOf Empires", I've written a multi-part story in my General Journals, today is Part 3 of the story. I've decided to do a Part 4 and 5 to "Through The Ashes Turns 10", because I realize there is more of the story that needs to be told, so most likely on Tues and Thursday of next week I'll throw them up.
Part 3 goes into the feud that happened between Kerry King and I back in 2002. For the record: I'm not re-telling this to start and/or dig up old shit. I love Kerry, he fuckin' rules! We hung out two nights ago when Slayer played in San Jose, we had a blast, got HAMMERED! But 10/11 years ago? Things were different, and in order to paint an accurate picture of where our heads were at for the writing of TTAOE, this part of the story has to be told. It played a role. Consciously or unconsciously it definitely played a role.
In 2002 Kerry King of Slayer and I got into a public war words over disrespectful comments he'd made about Machine Head. For over a year I had bit my tongue in hopes that he would lay off, and just give it a rest, but he didn't, and after a particularly brutal stab at us and me in particular, I went for the jugular. I fucking roasted him. Things got ugly in a hurry in public and behind the scenes it was even worse. The feud would last for 5 years until 2007, when at the Metal Hammer Awards in London it was squashed.
I hated every minute of it.
To have someone who had shaped your musical life so much, who took Machine Head on their 2nd and 3rd tours ever, who was a former friend and mentor to me, just ripping on you… it was tough. But after a while, you have to say "fuck this." It doesn't matter who it is, you have to stick up for yourself. I couldn't let the things being said go unanswered. It might've gotten truly ugly, but I think we both earned each other’s respect a little more in the long run. I respected him for calling us out publicly, when so many people in the music business just talk shit and plot behind people’s backs, he gave his opinion and what can I say? It stung. However once squashed I like to think he respected me for standing my ground and protecting what was mine. Maybe it was tough-love from Kerry King? Maybe, but one thing’s for sure, in some ways it fueled a lot of anger in me. Maybe it worked.
In and around this same timeframe Kerrang! Magazine had shredded us in a slew of articles and show reviews. The U.K. magazine was famous for building bands up just to tear them down. At this stage in Machine Head’s career, believe me they were in full-on tear down mode.
I had mentioned in an earlier journal about the U.S. press and how they essentially had blacklisted us. Coverage in any magazine was just about nil, nada, zilch. To this day we've only had 1 major cover story and that was back in '99 for the now defunct Metal Maniacs. American journalist we're asking me during interviews to "apologize to our fans for Supercharger."
Tours still did well and despite what the press has repeated over and over again, our fans stood by us. Sure, there was complaints from Head Cases, often times they said them respectfully to my face, or on the internet, but they stood by Machine Head, and the ticket sales for those tours (thankfully) proved it.
But regardless of all that, we had hit a wall in the music business. Sure we had just re-signed with Roadrunner in Europe but our future in the U.S. was terribly uncertain. Silently getting turned down by 35 U.S. labels... man... it was a lot of rejection. It weighed on me. I began to doubt myself.
Other bands were talking shit; ex-band members were talking shit (and still do).
We'd gotten a little merchandise advance, but we were living month to month and about to be broke again at any day.
It felt like the world wanted us to stop.
The vultures were circling.
I was 35 years old, and a very public failure. Machine Head had never gotten "over the hump" as they say in the “biz.” In many people’s eyes, we were over. We were simply just another band eaten alive and spit out dead by the music business. As the band leader, main songwriter / lyricist, that failure rested squarely on my shoulders. I felt every jab, insult and barb thrown our way and each had the tendency to draw blood.
These thoughts were swirling around in my head as I sat down to write the lyrics to "Imperium" (then-called "Buh-duh-duh-duh" after the snare drum pattern in the intro). "Fuckin' Kerry King. Fuckin' music business. Fuckin' Roadrunner. Fuckin' cocksucker journalists.
Apologize? Fuckin' APOLOGIZE!? Motherfucker, I ain't apologizing for SHIT!! Fuck you! Fuck everyone! Fuck the whole human race!"
As I sat in my car outside of Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, with the recently smashed-out window and the missing stereo, with the air conditioner blasting the suffocatingly hot summer heat away, I glared at the blank pages of my notebook. With pen in hand, I wrote down the words "HEAR ME NOW, WORDS I VOW, NO FUCKING REGRETS!" The words poured out of me! Just pure fucking venom, spit and rage. "Challenge the whole human race, MY SPIRIT YOU CANNOT BREAK!" “I'LL STAND HERE DEFIANTLY, MY MIDDLE FINGER RAISED, FUCK YOUR PREJUDICE!!!" - "Don't succumb to the doubts inside," "every rage, every tear.” It all came pouring out, “All my life, always I've felt alone!" “I will fight for those I love, and I will fight for those I care, I will fight at any time, I will fight ANYWHERE!"
Inside my head I was consumed with the thought, we may never get to make music again after this. This might be our last fucking chance. And if it is? We're going down fucking swinging! We're going down screaming "FUCK YOU" to the entire world at the top of our lungs.
I went in and sang them, and when I was done doing the last screech in the last line "my spirit you cannot breeeeeeeak," my engineer Mark Keaton just looked at me and said
Some of the words I originally wrote for "Imperium" ended in a song our drummer Dave had written, the song "Wipe The Tears." And with that, I’d like to take this chance to give props to Dave right now. Much has been made of Phil Demmel's contribution to Machine Head, and there's no doubt that Phil has brought nothing but good to Machine Head. I would never want anything to take that away. BUT, Dave McClain deserves A LOT of mention! Go ahead, check the writing credits. Dave borrowed my guitar (for like 8 fuckin' years!) and taught himself how to play. It worked out for the better. It’s one of the best things he’s ever done for the band.
Dave and I wrote the music for "Imperium." No one else. Dave wrote the chorus for "Descend," Dave wrote the main riffs in "Wipe," the opening riff and chorus to "Elegy," and the intro riff / chorus for "Vim." It was Dave who dug up the old ‘The More Things Change’ riff-tapes and unearthed my old "All Falls Down" riff and the "Days Turn Blue To Grey" main riff and showed em (back) to me. Both of these riffs were written in 1996 and since forgotten about. It was Dave who said let’s "borrow" the "Natural Science" bit in the middle of "Days."
And it was Dave who wrote the chorus riff in "Pins and Needles," and in a larger sense it was Dave who, after getting rejected by 35 labels said, “Fuck this song, fuck trying to write radio-shit for these stupid record labels.” He then added, "I just want to be a metal band!"
Those last words really resonated.
Most of "Ashes" was written in some form or another before Phil joined, Phil gave us the glue to believe we could pull it off again.
I know I've complained wildly about how shitty this song "Pins and Needles" is, and really, after just listening to it for the first time in 10 years, it's still just fucking awful!! One of the worst songs I've ever written when it comes to my vocals and vocal ideas, WHEW!!! I always thought the music was cool though and eventually used this as part of the 2005 "Roadrunner United" sessions. I had originally enlisted Brock from 36 Crazyfists to sing it and he didn't do too much better than me, so I fired him. I got Tim Williams from Vision Of Disorder to sing on it, and after rejecting his first couple attempts, he nailed one of the best vocals I've ever heard, he totally KILLED it! He crushed my version into the dust and allowed me to be able to listen to this song again. His version is called "Army Of The Sun".
I’d like to say Thank You to Dave McClain for saying "fuck this song" Why I'm putting this out I have no idea, I cringe listening to this, AGH! **barfs**. So here goes!
Without further adieu, here is the song that never made it on to "Through The Ashes…" ladies and gentlemen, I give you "Pins and Needles.". Happy Birthday TTAOE.
P.S. - The art on the YouTube clip is the original picture that was on the CD cover of the demo sent out to labels.
"Pins And Needles"
"Army Of The Sun"
In May of 2002 not long after we finished the 'Supercharging America' tour our-then-guitarist Ahrue Luster quit the band. It seems weird even talking about the Ahrue-era of the band as feels like a lifetime ago, probably because it WAS a lifetime ago! Literally thousands of bands have come and gone from that era he was with us (98-02). We get on fine now, so I don't have anything negative to say about him other than he was just really a bizarre choice to get in the band. However to his credit he did bring in a some cool songs ("Blood, Sweat and Tears," parts of "The Burning Red," parts of "Silver" and "Blank Generation"), but yeah, when he quit no one in the band was surprised, and most Head Cases just went "meh."
Once he was gone we decided to continue as a 3 piece and to write and record the next album that way. It was a good decision as we weren't interested in bringing in another person and truthfully we couldn't think of anyone off hand if we wanted to. We figured we'd cross that bridge when touring came up and guess what? We had some pending European festival dates coming up in June. Someone (possibly Adam or our manager Joseph) brought up getting my old Vio-Lence guitarist, drinking buddy and partner-in-crime Phil Demmel to fill in for the dates. Phil was recently back on our radar as Adam had filled in playing bass for Vio-Lence in the Summer of 2001. But Phil playing with us? At first I wasn't into the idea. After I'd quit Vio-Lence there was a long period where Phil and I didn't talk, things didn't end on a good note, and I blamed him for a lot of it.
On top of that, I had also taken a personal vow to never to mention Vio-Lence in interviews, advertisements, album covers, ANYTHING related to Machine Head. I wanted Machine Head to stand or fall on its own merits and I wouldn't use my previous band in any way to help sell or sink it. When Vio-Lence broke up, his next band Torque opened for Machine Head a few times, and later his next band Technocracy would open some shows too, but we didn't really hang out anymore. It wasn't until almost 8 years later than him and I had a real heart to heart (leaving an Oakland Raiders game) that we cleared the air, and after that we hung out a lot. Usually at football games or shows.
Once I was on board we decided to see what he'd say, so Adam reached out to him (via AOL AIM... anyone remember that? ) and Phil came back and said "yes." In fact he told us that it would be perfect as he had decided he was retiring from the music business. He'd been doing it for 10 years since Vio-Lence ended and he was frustrated. He had been married for a while, had a long-standing steady job and the band thing hadn't been working so what better way to end his music career than by jamming with one of his favorite bands? His choice was a good one, he'd be jamming with his old friends, touring the world for 2 weeks where he'd be playing over Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson, headlining festivals to 20,000 people and then go and settle down.
It was perfect situation. We didn't want a band member and he didn't want to join a band and it was a simple agreement. Phil wheeled his stuff over from the Vio-Lence rehearsal room, (they'd recently re-united and had done a string of weekend shows, but were also getting ready to retire) and when we jammed together, it was just awesome! There was a chemistry. Something was different about the energy in the room. We all felt it.
And while I felt something, I didn't voice it, I didn't want to.
We went on tour and the first show was in Dublin, Ireland with Evile and Gama Bomb opening. The show was nutzo!!! About halfway thru the show I looked to my right and thought, "hey, I remember that guy!" There he was, stage right muggin' it up and smiling like a Cheshire cat every chance he got. The next show was a "secret” Ten Ton Hammer show in London at The Garage (or as the Brits say "the gair-ige") and hanging out on that small stage, jamming cover songs, annihilated on vodka, having onstage chug-a-lugs with hammered fans, and playing to a frankly insane group of Head Cases, there was something happening, something real, a connection.
And it wasn't ok to talk about it...
Because he was retiring...
And we didn't want someone in the band...
While we were at the London show, Mark Palmer and his team from Roadrunner UK came out. They supported the show, they arranged press, helped spread the word. Before the gig even began Mark pulled me aside and said "we'd still like to work with Machine Head, would you consider signing another deal with us?” The RR UK office had always kicked ass for us, but I said, "what about the American office, they'll be pissed", he said, "fuck them, they're idiots, they don't know what they're losing, we've always had a great relationship, think about it".
And think we did.
On a side note; A dickhead journalist for Kerrang! magazine would review the show, he did a quick chat with us before the show, and I knew he was gonna slam us, and we'd soon cross paths again later on.
We played Germany's With Full Force festival and the Roadrunner Germany office came out, arranged press, pulled me aside and said the same things as Mark, "the Americans don't know what they're losing, would you consider re-signing with us?" We debated it a lot. Some people were against it. But as we traveled back from Northern Finland on a dangerously rickety bus with plywood bunks, while Phil slept, the 3 of us talked in the back, and agreed. Maybe the best thing to do is continue a great relationship with Roadrunner in these territories and we could just look for an American-only deal once home. So that became the plan, get signed in America, release the record simultaneous overseas on Roadrunner Europe.
When the tour ended, we said our goodbyes to Phil. We were in the back lounge of the bus trying to make eye contact with the guy who brought in the magic chemistry we needed. It was the strangest goodbye we'd ever been a part of, "all right, well, thanks, and er, uh, happy retirement, it was uh... great...." He wished us well and we went our separate ways for what seemed like the last time.
We made a 4 song demo, we wrote a song that we thought could "get us signed in America." A horribly cheesy radio track called "Pins and Needles." We then made a cringe-worthy video (EPK) to sell our band to labels as our lawyer solicited us to every major label in existence. David Draiman courted us to sign to Disturbed's new label imprint thru Warner Bros., and McClain and I brought the CD demo to Draiman when they played in San Jose, CA. on the Music As A Weapon Tour.
I specifically remember this show not for this, but because my friend Mike Parker had burned me a copy of a new band called Lamb Of God, the CD was "As The Palaces Burn." As I picked up Dave to drive down to the show, I threw it in and when it got the song "11th Hour," Dave and my perspective jaws just hit the fucking floor. We both looked at each other and went "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!!!", "PLAY THAT AGAIN!!!". That album floored us, it signaled a change in the guard. As we got to the show and watched all these also-ran radio acts opening for Disturbed, I knew right then and there I didn't want any part of that world.
It may not have happened immediately, but about 4 months later Lamb Of God's "11th Hour" would give some inspiration to the fast end section of "Imperium."
And so we waited to hear back from the labels. We waited and waited, and waited. Months went by with no word, nothing. Finally David Draiman did what was, I'm sure a difficult thing to do, and called me back and said, "they (Warner Bros.) are gonna pass on the record." I was pissed, but looking back, he was the only guy who manned-up and called me back. I'm sure it wasn't easy, and he deserves respect for doing it the right way.
In the music biz when people don't want to sign you, they just ignore you, it's like you don't exist. It silently says, "the door is closed," "you don't belong anymore." At the end of the day, Machine Head, with 4 albums, a consistent sales record, a large die-hard fan base would be passed on by 35 different American record labels.
No one wanted to sign Machine Head.
Sure there were smaller independent labels as well as bigger independent labels, but at the time labels like Century Media and Earache, while damn respectable labels, would have been a step down, and to us if it wasn't a step up, or even sideways...
Roadrunner UK told us we needed put the record out in October. We needed to hit the studio in July.
Which was great news, but we were still three piece. From time to time I'd run into Phil at shows or parties, he stumble up all hammered, put on that big ol' “aw-schucks” smile of his and be like, "so when are gonna jam again?" I'd be like, "Uh, I don't know Mr. “I-retired-from-the-music-business-and-aren't-making-music-anymore." We'd laugh, and then it'd happen again, and we'd laugh. Then one day he said "hey, I really want to do this, that tour was one of the best moments of my life, and well... look... my wife and I... we're getting divorced... it's not working out... I want to make music for a living... what do you think?"
It seemed inevitable. Sure, the previous 9 months had been some long drawn out tease, a bizarre courtship playing out. Of course I wanted him in the band. I had reservations about him re-adjusting to band life after being out of the game for so long, quite a few reservations about him now joining MY band where I'm the boss, as opposed me joining HIS band (ala Vio-Lence) but in the end, it was the right choice. We made a goddamned formidable guitar team, and had gotten along in the most grueling conditions on van tours in Vio-Lence, so we said "let's do it!"
We made Phil a full band member and announced him joining publicly in April 2003 on Nikki Black's Metal Zone show on (local station) 107.7 The Bone. Around the same time we signed with Roadrunner Europe and focused on writing the rest of the album. During those sessions several US labels threatened to sign us but for various reasons didn't work out When Phil joined a lot of the record was written already but he brought the main verse riff and intro for "In The Presence Of My Enemies" (aka- "Davidian Jr"), "Days Turn Blue To Grey" (aka-"Natural Science II", since we stole the middle section from the Rush song) and I think parts of "Vim." At this point "Imperium" and "Descend" were largely unfinished, only the verses and chorus of “Imperium” were written musically, with no intro and no second half explosion, it was largely forgettable. "Descend" in particular was a horrible 4 minute Deftones rip-off, but it had "that" chorus and "that" middle section and I knew it was something special.
But dammit, I was an island, shit I was a fucking sandbar in the middle of the ocean! As we got two weeks away from the recording date we were at practice that Phil wasn't at, Dave and Adam said they wanted to drop "Descend" from the album. I was like, "WHAT??!! guys this song is amazing, c'mon!?" They were united, "Nope it sucks." we argued for a bit and I said, "gimme 24 hours, I'll bring in a version of this that blows it away!" They said "uh, ooooo-k, pffft!" I had been listening to the first two Coldplay records a lot and had since written a bunch of acoustic stuff that I'd demoed but never showed the band cause I thought it was "too gay." But I dug into it, and the next day I brought in, essentially the version you hear on the album Everyone went "fuck, that's way better."
A few days later I got the flu, and not just any flu, but I'm talking some goddamn S.A.R.S Bird flu shit or something, I mean this thing took me down and I ended up being the sickest I've been in years! Alone while my wife was at work, feeling like dog shit, I picked up my acoustic guitar and started playing. I soon hit on the intro chords to "Imperium", I just wanted something simple before I added the next bit. Then I thought “maybe I can make a heavy version of that quiet part?” Hmmm... it works, what if this goes into that song that Dave wrote (the verses/ chorus of Imperium)? I sat there jamming it thinking, "fuck, this is pretty cool, hopefully it's not because I feel so shitty." I have no idea where the fast section at the end came from, I was inspired by "11th Hour" for sure, all I know is that somewhere at 418 42nd St. in Richmond, CA. some dude, who was sick as a fuckin' dog, finished what he thought, "might be a pretty cool song."
I walked into practice a couple days later and said, "I think I got the album opener." As soon as we were done playing it we all looked at each and went "FUCK YEAH!! Let's play that again!!"
In a bizarre twist, not soon after, Roadrunner US came back into the picture and our longtime A&R man Monte Conner reached out and said they “might want to resign the band.” "Huh?" I asked, "Ok what's the deal?" he said "We want to hear some new stuff, can you whip out a demo?" I explained we were going into record the record NEXT WEEK, so not really. Monte said "Well, see what you can do." So, I'll admit the idea having a simultaneous release with Europe on our old label in the States the excitement levels ran high.
We entered Sharkbite Studios in July 2003 with mark Keaton engineering, me producing for the first time and the first thing we did was track drums and I decided to do a quick pass of guitars and bass on tape for the Monte demo. Now even though “Imperium,” “Days Turn Blue To Grey” and to some degree “Descend...” had been "finished", musically only a week prior to this, I had never really even sang these songs. I busted ass and wrote as many lyrics as possible, sang some lyrics I had about Genevra's heroin addict father over the verses to "Days," wrote the quiet middle section of "Days" after hearing the Gregorian chant at the beginning to Justin Timberlake's "Cry Me A River," and somehow, barely pulled off some acceptable, but corny lyrics in “Imperium” but the end of the demo is pretty much just me jumbling sounds together to sound like words.
We sent it to Roadrunner US, and hoped for the best.
I'll stop here and leave you with that 3 song demo. For the record, this has never been released publicly, it is the first time anyone outside of Roadrunner US has heard these versions.
Enjoy Head Cases.
P.S. I will be putting up the incredibly horrible version on "Pins and Needles" in Part 3 of the story of "Through The Ashes Of Empires" on Friday.
"Imperium" (DEMO aka: "Buh-Duh-Duh-Duh")
"Days Turn Blue To Grey" (DEMO aka: "Natural Science II")
Descend The Shades Of Night (DEMO 2003)
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Yesterday the guys and I were having a beer down the street from our jam room at a place called Beer Revolution. While I was sitting there sippin' on an Altamont Beer Works "Dirty D" brown ale, Phil turned to me and said, "Through The Ashes is 10 today." I knew it was coming up, but forgot to look up the date. Fuck me, it's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since this era of the band has happened, I mean really hard to believe.
Back in the day there was an old Virginia Slims cigarette ad aimed at empowering women to smoke and it said, "You've come a long way baby."
A lot of you know the story by now, as it was well documented in 2005's "Elegies" DVD and re-told (and often twisted around) ad infinitum by the press regarding the struggles we went through as a band just to even get the album out.
But on this momentous occasion, it's definitely worth re-telling and maybe even filling in a few blanks for you guys. And make no mistake, it IS a momentous occasion! It’s a milestone for Machine Head and something that deserves to be celebrated by both us and our fans, and an album we should be, and are, very proud of.
I going to tell this in 3 parts, because I think it's important to frame "the times." Where we were at as a band, where we were at as people, and where the music business was at. Honestly so much of what went in, and came out of that record is what we were up against.
So without further adieu in honor of the 10 year anniversary of “Through The Ashes Of Empires,” here is part 1 of the story:
It all started back in Sept. 2001; we were getting ready to release our “much-less-than-spectacular-but way-better-than-most-people-complain-about” 4th album, “Supercharger.” Then 9-11 happened some two weeks after we had shot a video for our song "Crashing Around You" that had images of buildings on fire, and an original treatment that had us playing on top of buildings that were "crashing around us", needless to say, this and "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" were the worst song titles of the time and were instantly banned off of every radio playlist in America.
We got into a huge fight with our-then label Roadrunner Records, our stance was that we needed to push the record back, that no one was going care, that it was too much of a national tragedy to get people to care about music. They, and in particular their dickhead radio guy Dave Lancao insisted it would be fine, that in 2 weeks 9-11 wasn't going to affect people buying records, and the release would go on as planned. We went on tour "6 days" after 9-11 in the U.S. with Fear Factory, Ill Nino and Chimaira on the ‘Road Rage’ tour and played to a depressed / stunned / confused nation, and in many ways, these dates shaped what was to come.
It was a confusing, shocking, at times overwhelming tour. Every night walking out onstage and looking at a crowd of Machine Head fans whose faces said "why am I here?", "is it going to be all right?", "what's happening?". And unfortunately our faces said the same thing; we didn't know the answers either. We were just as confused and fucked up and wanted to be home with our wives/girlfriends because if it “wasn’t going to be all right, who the hell wanted to be alone?”
But we had music. And in that moment, we had each other. And we needed each other. We got thru it together. As crazy as the World around us was, for a short time, somewhere in a half-filled club, somewhere in the United States, the world made fucking sense. I will never forget that U.S. tour as long as I live, in the end it was one of the best tours I've ever done. Machine Head changed on that tour, it wasn't about headbanging and getting drunk and having a good time, it was about connecting, surviving, believing, being alive in the moment.
We headlined Europe in November, when every other band cancelled cause “they were too afraid to fly.” We said "fuck that!" That’s exactly what the terrorists wanted, for people to be scared and not live their lives anymore. If we die flying over to play for our fans, well... there's a lot worse ways to go. The tour went amazing, we sold out Brixton Academy, recorded it for "HellaLive". Somewhere in there we fired our then-manager (Slayer's manager) Rick Sales, hired our old manager Joseph Huston back, and then went and headlined America in January 2002. Roadrunner had told us they would re-launch the record since as we had predicted; the world was in too much shock to care about buying anyone’s album.
They reneged on the deal, and in combination with many things; the fact that we had originally signed an incredibly shitty deal, signed over our merchandise and publishing, had gotten atrocious rates, owed them 1.2 million dollars, and had our publishing rights sold out from under us in the middle of a renegotiation, we demanded to be let go from our recording contract 3 albums early. I wrote the "letter" myself on a day off in a hotel room on a cold January morning somewhere in the mid-west on the ‘Supercharging America’ tour. The tour went well selling out most major cities, but things were changing.
Roadrunner soon complied, wrote us off as a tax write off, and we were released from our contract as per our request. Just like that, amidst all the other things swirling around in our lives, Machine Head was unsigned.
"Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true"
Up until that point, Major labels had been gobbling up every heavy-ish band out there, throwing 'em at radio, and often having success. Now, radio wouldn't touch a heavy band with a 10 foot pole. On previous tours we had been courted by many labels, all insisting they loved what we do and how we did it and if we were to go with them it would be a seamless move. Now they all wanted "singles" and "hits". A band with 4 albums and a solid track record was worthless to them when a new upstart band could go "DIAMOND" (a new award that certified 10 times platinum) in the era of mega hits like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, et al.
We didn't know how to operate in this new world. We wrote heavy, that's what we did. The American metal media blacklisted us, magazines like Revolver told us, "we can't cover you, but if you get to 50,000 copies we'll give you an article." When we got to 50,000 they said, "Well, when you get to 70,000 we'll give you an article." When we got to 70,000 they said, "well, the record is too old now." The metal media of the time continued that blacklist well into ‘The Blackening’ album cycle, when after that, they just didn't matter anymore.
We solicited label after label, but everyone said “we want to hear new songs”, “we want to hear hits.” Ahrue quit the band, and we soldiered on as a 3 piece. Adam got a job and became consumed with rebuilding a house he'd just bought and for the next 12 months we rarely saw him. In a stroke of luck, Genevra and I got a settlement from our landlord to move out of the house we were renting, who wanted to move back in, we took the money and bought a house in Richmond, but the happiness would be short-lived, the month that we moved in, Machine Head ran out of money. We wouldn't see money for another 5 months. Genevra would (much to my embarrassment); pay the mortgage on our new house for the next 4 months. I got a job doing some guitar tech work at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. We fought endlessly about me quitting the band and getting a job.
In the middle of all this, Dave Williams, Drowning Pool's singer passed away and their manager offered me both a chance to sing for them as well as a pretty hefty paycheck. So for about 2 weeks Genevra and I debated about why I should or shouldn't do this. We desperately needed the money. So finally, I stood in front of a full length mirror, looked myself right in the eye and said to myself, "go ahead sing “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" with conviction AND, believe it.” It's a decent song, I'd seen them a few time live, they and Dave were good, but as I began singing it, something in my body just stopped. I couldn’t sing it, I couldn’t feel it and there wasn’t an ounce of conviction in the delivery. My body, my entire being rebelled on me!
It felt so wrong in every way possibly imaginable, I just could not do it. I called the manager and said "you don't want me in your band, I have to lead bands, I'll take over Drowning Pool, you don't want that, good luck, and thanks for considering me."
Genevra and I got in a huge fight when she found out I passed. "The dream is over Robb, get a job." We argued, we cried, we screamed, we sat in silence, but in the end, she took my side when I asked, "dude, do you see me as the Fed Ex guy?" Through tears she answered "no, you're a fucking star, you're meant be onstage." Her answer hit me like a ton of bricks, she'd never said anything to me like that before, and in that moment I said, "Then believe in me for just a little while longer." We cried, we hugged, and in typical Genevra fashion she replied, "then fucking hurry up!!!"
I went back to practice with a newfound determination. Within days we’d recorded a 4 song demo that had “Bite The Bullet,” “Left Unfinished,” “Elegy,” and our attempt at a radio song "Pins And Needles" that we would begin to shop to labels. We had some festival dates coming up in Europe that were a big deal, we needed a guitar player to fill in, and we decided to keep the fact that we were unsigned a secret, at least for a while, but what lie ahead would be even harder than we knew.
To be continued tomorrow...
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It's a question I often ask myself; what DO I want? And if I get what I want, will I be happy? Is it really what I "want"? There's the old saying "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." Sometimes you just gotta look deep inside and figure out what you truly want first, and that's where I'm at right now. What do I want?
Do I want a #1 album? Or am I wanting a legacy like Bob Marley (who also never got to #1), which flourished long after he died, (and who was no doubt "jealous" that he never got to #1).
What do I want to hear? It's a question I ask myself every time we begin to write music. What is the band that I'm NOT hearing sound like? Can we be that band?
I been hitting the gym regularly, I never bring headphones or listen to music or watch TV while working out. One of the main reasons I chose the gym I go to is BECAUSE they don't play stupid dance music all day like seemingly every other gym out there. My gym has no music, and for a guy that has music in his head nearly every moment of every day it's awesome to just work out in silence. So when I get to the gym, I jump on the elliptical machine to warm up and often the TV has been left on the CMT (Country Music Channel) and sometimes I'll change it to the news and other times I'll just stare at the CMT channel and watch in silence. Well, virtual silence because I stare in disbelief and seethe at the soundless images coming off the screen at me.
So what do I see? I stare at the blinding of America. I stare at an endless stream of country music videos all showing the same thing - programming, subverting, and manipulating the viewer with religion and the well-oiled military machine. Visually the current theme is "heroes coming home from war, and their damsel-in-distress-lonely-women waiting for them as they stare at Jesus and touch their cross necklaces, praying." I watched this same video play out over and over and over again. The not so subtle message playing out: “War's over guys, pray to Jesus!”
And all those video images are cut with carefully manicured guys and gals in jeans and cowboy hats, playing songs written by a high paid group of other writers who produce simple pop songs that have slide guitar and acoustic and sound all shit-kickin' and country-fried.
Every once in a while you'll get a video like Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup" which is just about partying and acting a fool, and I dig that, it's not mindless propaganda other than well I guess... selling Solo cups and booze for his alcohol sponsor. But fuck it, I love that song!
But again, I ask myself while watching these fucking mind-meltingly bad videos, what do I want?
I was talking to my buddy Johnzo from Devildriver, and I was telling him about the new Machine Head songs and how I felt like we didn't have a "Halo" or a "Locust" type track, yet. I specifically name checked those tracks as our history has shown these two songs are what I’d refer to as our “universal songs.” Songs that we can play at any show on any bill with any band and they resonate. And he was like "dude, I love “Halo” but “Locust”, dude, that is the song that I play for my non-metal friends when they're trashing metal bands as noise, and I say, HEY, want to hear some good metal? Check this out!”
It was a rad statement and all around amazing compliment.
And songs like that are important. The world needs songs like that. Not just from Machine Head, but in general.
Before ‘The Blackening’ was written, I went and asked the fans on our message board what they would like to hear out of the new Machine Head album. I got some great feedback. Some of which we took to heart, but ultimately we had to follow our own hearts and go where it led us, but I still enjoyed hearing it
So I'm here asking you;
What do YOU want out of the new Machine Head record?
How do you want it to sound?
And while I'm at it, what kind of Special Edition items would you like to see?
Digipaks have been pretty standard by now, and our new record label Nuclear Blast offers an array of AMAZING limited special edition items for their bands.
Have you seen / collected any really cool ones lately?
What haven't you seen that you'd maybe like to?
Angels and Airwaves recently offered a "hardcore fan bundle" for $750 that came with a guitar, vinyl, CD, digipak, t-shirt, poster. They offered 100 of them and that all sold out first week. The guitar was really cool!
As some of you know, I'm also an obsessive Star Wars collector who has spent WAY too much money on that goddamn movie, but are there other movies that you've seen that offered cool collectible items that you'd like to see?
Machine Head beer?
Machine Head dark chocolate with sea salt?
Head Cases, Undesirables, tell me, what do YOU want?
Subscribe to The General Journals: Diary of a Frontman... and Other Ramblings
Well it wasn't quite the "ah-ha!" moment we were looking for, but it was slow and steady progress on a new song that our resident riff-miester Phil brought in, and that's what wins the war.
It rarely is ever that "ah-ha!" moment, writing music is often just a slow and steady progress, chipping away at songs, little improvements, and then one day you sit back and go "wow, cool song". And sometimes you never even get that "ah-ha!" moment, but end up writing a great song anyway.
There's a long running joke in the band "well, we'll never play that one live anyway", as famously coined by Phil Demmel as we we're putting the finishing touches on "Halo". It went thru so many changes and re-arrangements, re-writes, different endings, it took 6 months to get to the version you hear on The Blackening, and when we were done, we were just thrilled to NOT be working on it.
Once we had the chorus hook, and the end chorus, I knew we had something special, but even Monte Conner and Mark Palmer our UK A&R people didn't really see it as a song that was a big deal. In fact the first person who actually "called it", was ex-Metal Hammer magazine editor Jamie Hibbard, I was in London doing press at the mix studio while Colin was still mixing tracks, and we had a playback session for the London media, before the song was even done playing Hibbard said "that's the song!". I was like "hmmm, uh, ok...". We didn't even know what we had, shit, we only played it 3 times in the first 6 months of the tour cycle, but when we did, WOW.
Funny how things work out.
We'll never not play it now.
Yep, slow and steady progress, it was a good day yesterday.
Thank you Dave McClain happy face.
Halo demo (aka-I Want Your Soul) **MAN, this sucks!**