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)
Subscribe to The General Journals: Diary of a Frontman... and Other Ramblings
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?
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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!**
That's how yesterday felt, a frustrating day, where we bashed out new tunes, talked about things that weren't pleasant to talk about, and hammered at new tunes trying to find that special something, that killer hook, that amazing vocal melody, that brutal riff, that great lyric to shout, that magical thing that makes all 4 of us go, "fuck yeah, that's killer, or, "now we got a song here!!"
But all to no avail.
Songs, songs, songs!! That's all my brain is thinking about, I've had to meditate before I go to bed every night or all I do is stare at the ceiling thinking... and thinking... and thinking. About life, about things, moments, about lyrics, about songs, "maybe it can go this way, or maybe it can go that way..." AGH!!
Last night I didn't meditate, instead I went to see my friends Orange Goblin crush The Metro in Oakland. Jared and I demoed new tunes til 8:30 or so, then met up with the OG guys at Beer Revolution (cool punk rock beer-only-bar that has 400 beers available), drank some of my favorite Belgian beer "Foret", then went and rocked out. I caught the support band Holy Grail, who were rockin', great frontman, both guitarists were SH-RED-DERS! The Goblin killed it, great drunken vibe, touring the US now, don't miss 'em!
Got home late, thought about meditating, but was buzzed enough to crash out and not think.
And today is a new day.
Before we left the jam room last night, Dave drew a happy face w/ buckteeth on the dry/erase board and said "this is how tomorrow is gonna be".
Heading to practice in a few minutes, I'll let you know how it goes.
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Because being #1 often means playing to the lowest common denominator. It means dumbing your music down to such a level that every soccer mom and mini-van driving dad can enjoy it as it plays in the background. That said, there have been some exceptional, authentic records that came in at #1, but it's very rare, to me 95% of the time it means watered down music.
So I started researching it, fucking-around-on-the-internet, and man, there are a lot of records, surprising records, that never got to #1 here in the US. I was gobsmacked considering the importance of the music.
Here's a list of my favorite albums that DIDN'T chart at #1 and never got to #1 on the US charts: ("peaked at" refers to the highest position it got to, not what it "debuted at" which many times was much lower)
Back In Black (peaked at #4, over 22 million sold in the US)
Master Of Puppets (charted #128, peaked at #29, certified gold a year later, 6 million sold in the US to date)
Ride The Lightning
Vulgar Display Of Power (peaked at #44, 2.7 million in the US to date)
...And Justice For All
Reign In Blood (peaked at #94, six years later certified gold)
Seasons In The Abyss (peaked at #57, four years later certified gold)
Peace Sells...But Who's Buying
Revolutionary Vol. 2
The End Of Heartache
Never Mind The Bullocks...Here's The Sex Pistols
Among The Living
Dirt (peaked at #9)
Feel The Darkness
Straight Outta Compton
A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Songs For The Deaf
Paranoid (peaked at #23)
Masters Of Reality
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Appetite For Destruction (debuted at #182, and took over a year to eventually get to #1)
The Real Thing (didn't even enter the charts until 8 months after release, peaked at #11)
As The Palaces Burn
Led Zeppelin IV (peaked at #2, yep, the album with "Stairway To Heaven" never went to #1, over 23 million sold in the US)
That's right, read that again. The album with "Stairway To Heaven", one of the biggest rock songs of all time, from one of the biggest rock records of all time, by one of the biggest rock bands of all time, never got to the top of the charts in the US with Led Zeppelin - IV. That is fuckin' crazy to me!?
And #1 doesn't mean great album, or long term success. Let's not forget that back in 2001 rap-rockers Crazy Town had the #1 single in-the-world (!?) with "Butterfly" and sold 1.5 million records in the US, did 2 Ozzfest's, and was managed by Q-Prime (Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers management) for a minute. Huh!?
There have been a few records that have gone to #1 that were great, heavy, authentic metal albums. Probably the finest example is Pantera's - Far Beyond Driven, a record so brutal and uncompromising it's shocking it did what it did. As far as rap records go, Eminem's - The Marshall Mathers LP is by far the most extreme record lyrically to ever go #1, songs about killing his wife, (and well, everyone) drinking, drugs, sodomizing journalists, LOL! (1.7 million sold in it's first WEEK alone, 10 million to date). Metallica's - The Black album also a fine record, though there was an obvious conscious decision to slow down, and be more accessible. It worked on every level imaginable.
We're finishing up writing our new record, we have 6 songs done, and 2 half-songs that feel like they're going somewhere. From time to time you wonder where things will end up or chart, but it never really comes on our radar, it can't, it dilutes the priority: authenticity. We've never tried to write a #1 album in our lives, the world is too fickle, tastes change, lives change, you just write for yourselves, maybe think ahead to what might work live, but ultimately, come up with "what feels right".
It's an arcane process, like walking thru a pitch-black room feeling the walls, looking for a door knob, and soon you find it, and that opens up to another pitch-black room, but eventually you see light under the door crack, you can feel when you're getting close, and soon find your way out. It's an incredible feeling when you do. I feel like we can see the light under the door crack, but haven't found our way out yet. It's daunting, a little nerve-wracking, and exciting all at the same time.
We've booked Green Day's "JingleTown" studio in East Oakland again, and we'll be starting on Oct 30th. Behing the board stuff will be the same team that did "Locust", Juan Urteaga and Brad K. engineering, myself producing for the 4th time.
So like I said, we're 6 songs deep, not quite finished, I feel like we still need a "Locust" type song. Still need an epic opener. We posted a picture of the song titles a week ago: "Killers & Kings" definitely feels like a "track 2". Uptempo, will be great live, big shout-along chorus, not sure where the rest are as of this Journal. There are some fast ragers ("Ojos De La Muerte"), one with an old school hardcore / "More Things Change" flavor (the Manson-murder-themed "Night Of The Long Knives"), "Beneath The Silt" has a "Elegy"-type vibe to me, but with way better execution, "Sail Into The Black" has a "Descend The Shades Of Night" sorta-feel but darker, and is the only long song of the bunch at 8 minutes, the others (for-no-reason-in-particular) all clock in at 4 or 5 minutes.
Do any of them sound like radio tracks? Do any scream #1 album, fuck no. That isn't the goal. It can't be. You know why? Because we're metal musicians, we're supposed to be the pioneers, the ones railing against the system, the ones challenging the norm, the ones pissing people off, the ones who 20 years from now will be held in the same reverence that we now-hold the Classic Rock artists or the Classic Thrash artists for testing the limits, for pushing the boundaries of music as we know it. For going where the other bands of that era wouldn't, who were on a Highway To Hell, who went faster and heavier and longer, and more intricate, more provocative, more confrontational, more "FUCK YOU!", that's what made that music so damn exciting, so god damn exhilarating!!
If we're not doing that, as artist, as metal musicians, as songwriters, then were just stagnating, were loitering. What’s the point? Have you ever seen a cop get rid of a group of people loitering? They just calmly break up an aimless crowd and go about their business.
This is Machine Head and if we’re doing something we stand behind, the authorities better break out the riot gear because there’s nothing aimless about this.
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