Seventeen years ago, American groove metal band MACHINE HEAD was founded by Robb Flynn and bassist Adam Duce in Oakland, California. The band delivered a solid debut in 1994 with Burn My Eyes (featuring Chris Kontos on drums) and followed that up with The More Things Change (’97), which introduced drummer Dave McClain, The Burning Red (’99), and Supercharger (’01).
Entering into the picture officially in 2003, lead guitarist Phil Demmel (who had played with Flynn in the earlier Bay Area thrash act VIO-LENCE) soon became regarded as one of modern heavy metal’s elite, having played brilliantly on Through The Ashes Of Empires (’03) and 2007’s
undisputed masterpiece The Blackening.
The Metal Den’s Randy “Rocket” Cody recently conducted an interview with
Phil Demmel Of MACHINE HEAD for his loyal army of Den Headz worldwide.
Rocket: First off, how’s life been treating you during time off from touring?
Phil: We’re enjoying our biggest break (3 months) since we started The Blackening touring cycle. It’s been very relaxing at home and great to take a step back from the relentless stretch of traveling. Good to see my family and to just chill.
Rocket: Is it hard for you to come off the road and keep yourself busy?
Phil: No. It’s very easy. There’s always so much to do when I get home and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The trick is to try and not to do it all at once and realize how much time you have to take care of it all. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of taking the time off.
Rocket: When did you first start playing the guitar, Phil?
Phil: I started playing when I was 12 years old. I was really into Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, AC/DC and older KISS. KISS was my 1st love but at that time they were putting out a disco record and I was getting into heavier stuff.
Rocket: Who are your biggest guitar playing influences?
Phil: It started with Angus Young, Ace Frehley, Nugent and Joe Perry, but after a few years first Ozzy record came out and Randy Rhoads was THE MAN. Michael Schenker, George Lynch and Akira Takasaki later on.
Rocket: Did you ever take any formal guitar lessons?
Phil: I took lessons early on and learned the basics, but eventually all I wanted to learn was Maiden or Priest covers. I pretty mush taught myself from that point.
Rocket: To say that MACHINE HEAD has had a busy past couple of years would be a serious understatement. Since The Blackening came out in 2007, you guys have barely come up for air. What drives this band so hard to achieve its greatness?
Phil: Before this record, if we wanted tour, we had to put a package together and headline. Since this record came out it’s been the opposite. All the biggest bands in metal have asked to take us out, how could we say no? Lamb of God, Heaven and Hell, Slipknot, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer all came calling and there was no way we could pass. the end result is a 3 year touring cycle and NO US headliner. This band needs to tour to survive and we’ve been blessed with endless opportunities.
Rocket: The song, “Aesthetics of Hate” is in retaliation to an article written by William Grim of the conservative site Iconoclast, entitled “Aesthetics Of Hate: R.I.P. Dimebag Abbott, & Good Riddance”, wherein the article shockingly praised the murder of Dimebag Darrell. How exactly was that song written?
Phil: Robb was pretty incensed after he read that article and decided to put those to lyrics to a song he wrote tentatively called “Thrashterpiece”. It’s the only song on the record soley written by Robb.
Rocket: So Robb sat down and said “Okay, we’re gonna write this song to make a statement..”
Phil: Robb definitely did. He took offense to the article and felt like the Metal Community needed to rally against this blow hard.
Rocket: The song went on to be nominated for a Grammy. That had to make the whole
band feel pretty proud, right?
Phil: Absolutely. It was a life achievement defending one of our own. It’s a special song and to have be recognized like that was unbelieveable.
Rocket: How much did Dime’s death affect you personally, Phil?
Phil: I had met him for the 1st time that summer (’04). He walked up to me and praised my playing on “Ashes”. I’ll never forget it. It was more of a shock that someone was shot ONSTAGE that freaked me out. We had played that same club a few months before so the thought of that happening really hit home.
Rocket: I battle it all the time in my head and in arguments with friends, the subject of who is the most influential heavy metal guitarist ever. I personally feel it is Dimebag. Do you agree?
Phil: Yes. I agree.
Rocket: MACHINE HEAD is currently said to be recording a cover of PANTERA’s “Fucking Hostile”. How is that coming along and will it be included on the next album?
Phil: It’s recorded and mixed and will be featured in a future issue of Metal Hammer.
Rocket: MACHINE HEAD was joined on the stage by James Hetfield of METALLICA
at the KoPi-Arena in Oberhausen, Germany back on May 16th. What are some
of the thoughts going through your mind during such an intense moment like that?
Phil: Surreal. Still can’t believe it happened. He loved the song (“Aesthetics Of Hate”) and actually jammed it on Dave’s backstage drum kit… then said he’d come up and jam it with us. The dude floored us. So cool.
Rocket: It’s been announced that MACHINE HEAD will tour Europe and UK in early 2010 with Hatebreed, Bleeding Through, and All Shall Perish for “The Black Procession Tour”. Is it true this will be the last time the band tours in support of The Blackening album before writing the next record?
Phil: It will be the last tour before we sit down and write. It’s time. We wanted to do a proper headliner and play a full set.
Rocket: How many songs have you guys written for the next album, if any?
Phil: We have a few riffs, but we’re not a road-writing band. We’ll lock ourselves up in our jam room and see what comes out.
Rocket: Have you guys decided who will produce it yet?
Phil: Robb will probably produce again. We’re all really comfortable with him and he knows the MH sound better than anyone. We’ll find someone to engineer and mix.
Rocket: It’s no secret. Album sales across the board in music are down considerably. What is your opinion of how ‘free downloading’ has drastically affected record sales in the 21st century?
Phil: It’s what it is. There’s always been changes in the free market as to how things work. this is just an alteration. Things will always be changing. We’ve never done huge #s in the states but do really well touring. That hasn’t changed.
Rocket: I wanted to ask you about how your health has been doing as of late, Phil. You suffer
from a rare condition called cardiogenic syncope, which is the reason behind your collapsing on stage at times. When did you first learn you had this going on and how do you live your life differently now to try and keep yourself in good shape?
Phil: It started happening to me about 20 years ago. I’d have 2-3 episodes then it would go away for a few years. It hadn’t happened for 5 years or so when it struck me in Milan the day my father died in dec ’07. In the wake of that, combining the depression and stress, mixing in alcohol abuse, the episodes increased. I’ve since gotten things somewhat in control. Day to day.
Rocket: On a lighter note, there’s been a ton of great metal albums released
so far in 2009. What are some of your personal favorites to this point?
Phil: Alice in Chains. It’s not metal, but it’s my favorite record of 2009. The Lamb of God is killer too. Gallows put out an amazing one as well.
Rocket: What do you think you would’ve ended up doing for a living had
you not become a professional musician?
Phil: I’m a card holding Union Carpenter as of now and still strap on the bags from time to time. We’ll see what happens with the music, but I can always go back to that and make a killing.
Rocket: Let me ask you, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to a kid starting
out on his or her first guitar and looking to embark on the rock n roll dream?
Phil: Be true and genuine with what you create. Be honest with what you write. Playing with other agendas will lead you nowhere.
Rocket: Thanks very much for rocking this out with me. Best of luck with
your music. Go ahead and give special thanks to any of your supporters.
Phil: Thanks to all MH fans worldwide. We can’t do what we do without you.