What does ‘The Blackening’ mean to you? How would you sum it up?
I think what it means to me is the artwork. The crudeness of it all. On the cover you’ve got the king on his throne, his throne is on a bed of skulls with one foot on the world and near the other foot is an hourglass. He’s holding up a mirror that reflects on society and we’re not liking what we see, ‘The Blackening’.
What was the first song written for the album?
The first song written for the album was a song that didn’t end up going anywhere; it was called “Godfather 4”. We called it that because a riff in there had this godfather feel to it…this riff is also in the tentative B-side we’ve spoken about. The first song we wrote that made the album was ‘Slanderous’. Actually ‘Slanderous’ was the first album cut started and finished.
Where were you at writing wise when you went in to do “Battery”? I thought the production job you did with Mark Keaton on that song was kind of a “pre-vibe” to what you had forthcoming with ‘The Blackening’, any thoughts on that?
We did “Battery” in February 2005 but as far as that production and what was accomplished I feel I learned a lot more when we did the Roadrunner United thing. So the RR United thing applied itself to “Battery”, but definitely the RR experience opened up a lot of things in terms of my producing skills. I learned a lot during that time. Where were we as far as song writing at that time? I’d have to say we were pretty far at that time, we for sure had “Slanderous” and “Beautiful Mourning”. We probably at that time had a rough version of “Aesthetics of Hate” too. From mid-November 05 to the beginning of January we took a break as Adam [Duce-B] was going to go rehearse for the Roadrunner United show and then we had the holidays. I remember we had a November demo that had about 13 songs on it, yeah we did have a version of “Aesthetics” on there because it had this totally fucking lame “Angel of Death” rip off (laughing)! I hated it every time we played it so I was glad to see that part go! We also had a version of “Halo”, I know we had the main riffs and verses that Dave [McClain-D] wrote. The chorus we had at the time was horrendous, just awful as it said something like “I want your soul” and it was in a different key, it was so horrible I’d listen to it and obsess on how much I hated it. But man, thinking of that time it was a weird period, we’d be writing things and we didn’t exactly feel that good about things. I mean we had a few songs, a few riffs a couple of half done songs but none of it was really rocking us you know? The last thing we did right before that mid November break was finish “Beautiful Morning”. So when we did finish it we all sat down to listen back to it and that was the first time we all sort of looked at one another and said “wow, this is really something different, we’ve never done a song like this before.” So that was definitely the first “yeah” moment, definitely.
Looking back it seems like that would’ve been a tough time to take a month and a half off?
Yeah, but I continued to work on stuff all through that whole time, by myself. The chorus of “Halo” was changed at that time, Dave and I wrote the slow end part of “Aesthetics” right before we went in to do “Battery”.
Machine Head has always had it’s share of longer songs. However on ‘Through the Ashes of Empires’ you seemed to take it a bit further. Now on ‘The Blackening’ there’s some of the longest songs you’ve ever done. I know you don’t start off with a 9 or 10 minute idea, when do you say when or when do you just finish a song? How does it build?
Yeah, there’s no grand vision, that’s for sure (laughing)! Wouldn’t be awesome to just sit here and say “yes, I have this grand vision of a ten minute song and here it is.” But it doesn’t work like that. Basically it just builds and we’ll be in the rehearsal room and be totally Beavis and Butthead…”yes! that part rules, no, that part sucks.” It is as simple as that, kinda. After doing this for so long we’ve also learned that initial impressions are not always going to be initial impressions. There’s some stuff on the album that I did not like at all when it was first written, but that can change maybe as you get more familiar with it or put something in front of or behind it. With these long songs, if you listen to them yeah, they’re long but in a lot of ways there’s still a conventional song structure. It’s still very much like a pop song in the classic sense of what a pop song is where there’s verse, bridge, chorus etc. With us it’s just there’s a lot of other parts and transitions, so instead of going back to what we did earlier in the song we try to interject something new into the song. But while, I guess building the song we’ll be in the practice name dropping bands left and right, like ”we need a Judas Priest part here or an Alice In Chains part there” and it usually doesn’t work but it get us trying different things and seeing what works. If you look at a song like “Clenching…” there’s a good five minutes in the middle of the song where it goes in a bunch of different directions. We bring it back to the second verse and that goes to the build up and ultimately goes into the chorus as that’s the part where I finally say “Clenching the Fists of Dissent”…so it takes a while to get there. So getting there, as arcane as it sounds, it’s just what feels right. We started writing that song in May of 06 and I was still working on things up until November, I mean there was a day of drum tracks done and I was still trying different things, having Adam play six different bass lines, getting rid of things that didn’t fit, extending things that needed extending.
The intro is cool as it’s not the typical “Metal intro”, it definitely sets a mood and that mood pretty much keeps it’s presence throughout the album.
Ah, the intro (laughing)! The intro was so massive, it had to become its own song…and when I say that I mean it took up like 86 tracks so we had to focus on it like a separate track as the song didn’t have the room for it. The intro was originally going to be a bunch of samples kind of like a “Real Eyes, Realize..” kind of vibe but with anti-war samples and pro-war samples, stuff like that. We did all the legwork as far as getting all the samples but the task of arranging everything just became so overwhelming and daunting, I mean we were supposed to be in the middle of editing all this and I told Vinny [Wojno] I had this idea. Before I get too far, we had a mix of the intro done in England by Colin (Richardson) but it just really didn’t work, Mark Keaton had a family situation so he wasn’t available so Vinny and I mixed it. So anyway I told Vinny I’m going to set up a microphone, go into the booth and just scream a bunch of crazy shit and hopefully some of it would work (laughing). We’d been working on it for days at that point, fifteen tracks of snare, six tracks of kick drums, four acoustic, five tracks of electric guitar, but above it all I wanted this narrative. So I went in and screamed, some of it is lyrics but most of it was shit from the top of my head and we did a few takes like that. After the fifth Vinny said the last one gave him chills so that was all I needed to hear and this was January 07.
So you’re writing songs, writing lyrics, producing songs, playing guitar and basically never leaving the studio. How were you able to separate yourself from all of these things, I mean say at night and it’s time to leave weren’t you just neck deep in it all?
Well the producing thing is not that hard to separate; it’s just kind of like I go at it with a certain vibe in mind and I’ll sit there and wait until I hear it. Drum wise, we did so much pre-production and I threw so many fucking crazy ideas at Dave that we had all things drums narrowed down. Dave nailed I’d say 98% of all the drums in a day and a half…which for me was just incredible…I mean he was doing ten minute songs and nailing them on the second take, things like that make producing pretty easy!
What songs were the toughest for you, be it guitar playing or singing?
Well the three toughest were “Farewell to Arms”, “Clenching..” and “Wolves” just because there’s a zillion fucking riffs. “Wolves” I have to say was incredibly tough, we double track all the guitars on both sides so that shit has got to be tight as hell, and those thrash riffs caused a lot of tracking and re-tracking and tuning and re-tuning. Another thing about that song was when we went in the studio; I had no idea where I was going with the song. I had a few random lyric ideas but thought all of them sucked, even the vocal patterns weren’t going anywhere. At one point it was going to be an instrumental, we loved the music but it just wasn’t coming together. A lot of things right around this time started to, uh, well time wise we were running a little slower than we wanted to, so that was building, right? So again at that time we realized just how much more had to be done, how much more layering of things and really we had a lot more to do than we thought…
Did you maybe underestimate the enormity of it all?
I wouldn’t say underestimate because when we jammed it at practice it was fine, we played everything day in and day out. It was getting things, getting the wall of Machine Head guitars that we love, it’s got to be perfect, period. So we had these ten minute songs and it took things that we hadn’t really thought about to make it “perfect”. So at this point there’s these new things coming up daily and like I was saying I was having to try and stay focused on the lyrics I needed too. There were a lot of late nights and that’s where “Wolves” came in.
You already know that is one of my favorite songs on the album, to me it’s just a brutal, brutal attack of a song.
It’s a song a lot of people have been talking about, but lyrically I had gotten to bed around 1:00 am and for some reason was totally awake at around 4:00 and was pretty pissed off about a bunch of shit and decided to go and write the most venomous shit I can think about right now. So out of that came “unleashing wolves and carnage” and when it really started to come together I looked at the lyrics and said to myself, “this isn’t about us, the band it’s about our fans.” This is about the carnage we see nightly as Machine Head and in that one hour and a half I pretty much wrote the rest of the song in this huge burst and it really felt like the weight of the world coming off my shoulders.
Seems like every time a band has a new release people like to try and insert into the catalog, like this is the natural follow-up to “so and so” even if it’s years later, you know what I mean? So do bands themselves do that stuff? Do you look at ‘The Blackening’ and think it’s the follow up to…?
Yeah, I know what you’re saying, I’ve heard that kind of thing over the years and whatever, really. But ‘The Blackening’ could only be the follow up to ‘Through The Ashes of Empires’. I hear all of the evolutions musically we’ve incorporated on that record. I listen to the chorus of “Crashing Around You” which is, almost like a pop chorus and then listen to the almost stoner vibe in the chorus of “Farewell To Arms”. We never would’ve been comfortable doing either of those choruses at any other point in our careers. Certainly these kinds of things couldn’t have come after ‘The More Things Change’ and they never in a million years would’ve happened on ‘Burn My Eyes’…back then it was a very fear based mentality…fuck, it took us five years to play “I’m Your God Now” because we thought people would think we’re pussies (laughing)! Everything happens for a reason and everything that’s happened transitions into what we’re doing now. I mean it’s nice to think things like that, like this is the record that should have come after ‘The More Things Change’, well it couldn’t! We weren’t doing anything like we’re doing on ‘The Blackening’ back then, not the musicianship, not the melodies, not even the Thrash elements. ‘TMTC’ was definitely rooted more in Hardcore, those ‘TMTC’ riffs were there just there to bludgeon people riffs.
Lyrically, I’ve got to say you don’t really pull any punches here (laughs), I mean you don’t use any word play, it’s all out there, very blunt. How much thought goes into “crossing the line” on a few things on the album? How hesitant are you during the writing process?
Very hesitant…a lot of thinking about “do I really want to go down this path?”, “is something going to alienate people, what are people going to think” that ‘s what I do at least, not sure if it’s the same for everyone. Oftentimes I write lyrics that are from the heart. Maybe it’s something about my personal life, maybe something I’m pissed at. So yeah, I do think do I want to put this out there, do I want to say this? So with ‘Clenching…’ basically all four of us are just fucking angry about what we’re seeing and we never bought into what was being told to us. So I brought it up to the guys, showed them the lyrics I had, let them read em and tell me what you think. Good, bad or whatever because if we go ahead and use them (the lyrics) we all have to be able to stand behind them.
If you have the year you should have, it’s got to be mind blowing to you the longevity of the band. We’re talking 15 years here, there’s not many bands that last 15 years anymore.
Well it’s not anything we thought we’d be doing. If someone would’ve told me 13 years after ‘Burn My Eyes’ on your sixth album you’ll be doing … you know, what we’re doing now all I could’ve done is laugh.
What about the connection between you and your fans? Why does it seem like you guys go out of your way to make that sort of connection? Some bands start to do it early in their career and just slow it down. You guys haven’t.
I see bands doing it all the time, in fact I see record companies make that the angle for their bands.
It’s like companies set things up and their angle is “it’s for the fans”, promotional stuff. I’m not going to sit here and say we’re the only band with a deep connection with their fans…
Right, of course…
Many bands do, we’ve just chosen a different path, it’s a path we’ve been on since day 1. It’s not just something we’ve started to do now. I remember having talks, around the time after Logan left it was about our goals as a band and where do we see ourselves? What kind of band do we want to be? And the two bands that we all agreed on was Metallica and The Grateful Dead. And even though none of us like the Grateful Dead, obviously we liked Metallica…it was about a state of mind about how to go about doing your band. Some people may criticize Metallica now for certain things they’ve done but there’s no question they’ve got one of the greatest fan clubs. I mean they go so above and beyond what I’ve ever seen most bands do for their fans. Special shows and letting them come to rehearsals and with no iron both those bands are from the Bay Area, so it’s a state of mind we’ve been steeped in. So the Grateful Dead with the people following them around and the involvement with everything and the trading. With us it was never about the rock star of it, granted when we’re up there, it’s about being larger than life, but the vibe as a whole is how you conduct yourself is definitely the most important thing.
You’ve been in a different situation on this current tour [Feb/April 2007 Sacrament Tour] where you’re playing a support role. It’s all about getting in front of new people, how’s it been going? Are you meeting a lot of converts?
It’s been, I mean the amount of people seeing us for the first time, it’s easily 70/80% of the crowd is doing just that. To be touring as long as we have over our career, to go out on a tour like this to a whole new audience is insane. That and I think we’re killing it!!! I mean we’re playing to some fucking intense audiences who are totally going off and they’ve never seen us before you know? They’re digging it!! We couldn’t ask to be on a better tour right now.
How are you approaching a show seeing that it’s a short set. Obviously the pacing is way different than what you’re used to. Is there a different mentality?
I always go on stage with , like no expectations if it’s going to bad or good, sometimes. There’s a city we played recently where, to be honest the last two times we played there it was horrible. So it’s been a bit since we want back there and Jesus Fucking Christ…it was one of the best shows the whole tour, people were just going apeshit from the second we started. So each day is totally different I just go out and have a good time and try to get the people to have a good time.
Who do you see ‘the Blackening’ appealing to? Older fans, younger fans?
That can be tough, I think there’s so much going on with these new songs I suppose it’s whoever has the best attention span! As long as it’s someone who is into checking out new bands or CD’s, someone who’s into music. There’s some dudes I went to high school with, people who were like seniors when I was a freshman and I just couldn’t see them getting into this. Every once in a while when I see them they’re still listening to the same stuff they did back in high school! I mean nothing is wrong with that but I like getting my ass kicked by a new band. Some band you’ve never heard of on a label you’ve never heard of just blowing me away! I constantly crave that, I’m just such a music geek, I just want to find that killer new band that does it for me, whatever that is. The band that you want to tell a ton of people about but there’s a lot of people out there young and old don’t feel that same way. Music is something I have to hear, I mean I have no ambitions of finding some band, managing a band..fuck that shit! I just want to rock out to a killer new band.
I know for me I’m not enjoying as much new music as I used to, but the thrill of hearing something new, it never stops. Would you still be as into Music if you weren’t in a band?
I can’t even imagine not being in a band. I get that question, the ol “what would you be doing if…” and I have the same answer each and every time…I’ve never had a plan B. There has never been a “back up plan” for me…this is all I was ever going to do. I’ve sacrificed everything in my life to do this. As cold as this sounds, but I used to tell my girlfriend, who is now my wife when I went on tour… and even when I say this now it’s like jesus, you know. But basically I was like Machine Head is number one and you’re number two. I know when I say that I sound like such a dick, but music is such an obsession with me. It’s something that I have to create, something I have to listen to I fucking love music, it’s just such a huge part of my life. It got me through tough times as a five year old, a fifteen year old, a twenty year old it’s never ending.