After a seven year split, Brisbane punk-rockers Speedlab made their triumphant return to music with …
Robb Flynn is the last person you’d ever think to be a little coy. As he sets himself up in front of his camera to talk, he is looking bearded and beautiful, though he’s shy to be told so.
“I’ve got all these greys in here for ya,” he chuckles as he strokes his lengthy mane. Life has been tough for the Machine Head vocalist and founding member, we joke, but how hard can it be being Robb Flynn of Machine Head? The greys have got to be worth it.
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Flynn is, as he puts it, is very, very stoked for the band’s upcoming Australian tour later this month, their first visit since their sold out run of shows three years ago. Machine Head are vigorous with their touring thanks to a huge catalogue of albums, playing with an energy not wanting since their formation in 1991. Indeed, way back when, December 8, 2001, at London’s Brixton Academy to be precise, Machine Head recorded their seminal live album Hellalive, and it was this humble writer’s first experience of the metal colossi, a fact that makes Flynn feel the years. “Crazy!” he says, smiling.
It all had to start somewhere for Flynn, too, a band he saw perform that made him say, ‘I want to do this, too.’ He ponders, a long life of music and mayhem to sift through. “I’ll narrow it down to this,” he begins. “I saw Metallica open for Raven at the Berkeley Keystone [November 25, 1983] to about 250 people–it was Exodus opening, Metallica supporting and then Raven headlining on the Kill ‘Em All For One tour.
“My friend Jim and I, we didn’t even have a car, my dad dropped us off–I made him drop me off two blocks from the venue! I was like, ‘I can’t let these thrashers see me with my dad!’
“It was awesome, it was killer. You know how you always hear older people talk about The Beatles on Ed Sullivan? Like, The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show is why people were like, ‘I wanna pick up a guitar, I wanna play music!’ That show was my Beatles/Ed Sullivan moment.”
Since that point, Machine Head have performed the world over, playing hundreds of shows, establishing themselves as a permanent and essential fixture in thrash metal. Not only has Machine Head’s catalogue grown and the band branched out into different areas of metal, their audience has grown with them according to the times, and their music. “I feel like there’s definitely been an evolution,” says Flynn, “and I think that’s the way it should be.
“When you get into a band, it’s almost like you’re going on a journey together–especially when you’re a younger band–we were young when we first started out, we still had life to live, we hadn’t figured anything out. We were figuring things out in real time with our audience.”
From country to country, Machine Head have certainly had their fair share of varied experiences with their fans, but the music has always served as a common language. “You’ve got some crazy countries and everybody’s singing all the words in English,” Flynn laughs. “It always blows me away.
“A lot of it is emotion, a lot of it is feeling, I think that’s what people relate to, that’s how they connect. Even if that emotion is anger, sadness, happiness, whatever, that’s what they’re connecting with, and that’s what I love about this.”
In a lot of ways, metal is in this tiny little box. I think it’s more fractured than its ever been.
The music. The music is what drives Flynn, come what may. He’s talked until his tongue bleeds about Machine Head’s latest release, Catharsis, seemingly trying to justify its direction as others have had their say. There’s been a lot of noise about it, but why not look at the discography as a whole? It’s an evolution, a growth in sound, and maybe it’s wrong for people to expect the band to be as they were when they released Supercharger in 2001 and not give the band room to be themselves, to advance, to experiment. In coming over to Australia with Catharsis in tow, it’s not going to be a like it or leave it scenario for Flynn—the criticisms he’s faced for the album are, as he carefully puts it, something that’s experienced by all bands.
“When you’re in a touring band it needs to be that selfish–‘this is what I’m gonna play, take it or leave it’–you have to go out there and stand behind your music.
“It’s funny, everybody’s talking about it, there’s all this controversy–1/10, 0/10 reviews,” Flynn chuckles. “Shit was just ignorant, [some] were fucking spewing, just immature beyond fucking belief in some of the bigger magazines …
“The thing is,” Flynn begins pensively, a raw honesty about to erupt, “In a lot of ways, metal is in this tiny little box. I think it’s more fractured than its ever been.
“We talk about a metal community; I don’t believe there is a metal community. I don’t believe that just because you like Iron Maiden and Metallica means that you like all other metal bands, that we’re all equal. Those are like the biggest of the big, the AC/DC’s, the Led Zeppelins, the Shakira’s or whatever the fuck you want to call them. It’s something bigger than that.
“I think with a band like us, we just do what we do. I don’t know where the inspiration comes from, I don’t know where the music we write comes from, but I know we take a stand. We’re not blurry about where that stand is, and people don’t like that. And that’s okay.
“If people are talking about it, well cool man, I respect it. If they weren’t passionate about the band, they wouldn’t be talking about it if they didn’t care. For us, we just have to do what is right for us and for what we believe because at the end of the day, we’re the only ones who are gonna stand behind it.”
Then you go out and tour and with this record it’s like, all those songs, that people were talking so much shit about–Catharsis, Beyond The Pale, Triple Beam—those are the songs everybody loses their fucking minds to live. I mean, loses their minds! It just goes to show you that everything you read on the internet is wrong!
It would be easy to say that Flynn is choosing his words carefully as he strokes his beard and glances away in thought, but really, this is a man with conviction and, given the opportunity, wants to say things right. “It’s funny, because … We put out the record and then we go on tour. You never know what anybody really thinks about a record until you go on tour! Even The Blackening  people were like ‘I don’t get it, the songs are really long,’” Flynn says, chuckling. “Now when people look back at The Blackening it’s like, this is a landmark album. But back then, I don’t even think we knew that! You go back and you’re like, ‘I hope you guys get what we’re doing.’
“Then you go out and tour and with this record it’s like, all those songs, that people were talking so much shit about–Catharsis, Beyond The Pale, Triple Beam—those are the songs everybody loses their fucking minds to live. I mean, loses their minds! It just goes to show you that everything you read on the internet is wrong!” Flynn finishes, laughing.
Flynn has had a lot of people telling him how they didn’t like Catharsis when they heard the album but seeing Machine Head perform it live, they quickly change their minds. “I don’t know why, but maybe the chatter …
I think music is the least important it’s been in a long time. I can see how long people are watching the videos we put up online–most people don’t get through the first 15 seconds. That’s what we have now, a skip society.
“I think music is the least important it’s been in a long time. I can see how long people are watching the videos we put up online–most people don’t get through the first 15 seconds. That’s what we have now, a skip society. We don’t give something time, we listen to 15 seconds, make a fucking shitty pissy comment, try and make our friends laugh, and then we move on. And that’s where we are. Unfortunately the shittier, the pissier the comment, the more attention that person gets so it’s a race to get the pissiest comment we can get. That’s where we are.
“I think there’s a time that needs to really go on, maybe a longer amount of time that there’s ever been, for a record to truly soak into society and for society to genuinely look back at what a record was– and I think that’s what we’re going through with this.
“It was a stylistic change, I was honest about it. I was honest about it for like 10 months before, like, ‘this is not the heaviest thing we’ve done,’ like, ‘Motherfucker if you were surprised with the way it was, I told you for 10 months, I was honest about it!’ and that’s all you can ever be, man.
“Every band goes, ‘Lies! This is the heaviest shit ever, urgh, fucking brutal, urgh!’ but it’s not! I was like, ‘I can’t say this, I’m not gonna say this.’” It might seem like a nerve has been touched but really, Flynn takes a lot of pride in his work, and rightly so. At the end of the day, surely that’s all we can ask from a band of such long standing and all we should care about?
I don’t think that just because you like Machine Head means you like Parkway Drive. I think we’re all very tribal, we’re all in our little niches.
But Flynn’s statement about there being no metal community is interesting—is it that he thinks the “metal community” has evolved to expect a certain degree of conformity in music? “I don’t know what the metal community is anymore,” he says, visibly contemplating the question and obviously set to deliver another passionate response. “I don’t think that just because you like Machine Head means you like Parkway Drive. I think we’re all very tribal, we’re all in our little niches. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing but it definitely doesn’t mean that just because you like Metallica means you like every other fucking metal band out there—probably the opposite, really!”
It all comes down to this–does Flynn know what Machine Head still is? “I absolutely know what Machine Head still is,” he says. “I think for a long time, especially in the beginning, we didn’t fit in with anything that was going on. Nobody knew where to put us. We were taking metal, and hip hop, and goth, and hardcore and it shouldn’t have worked on paper but it somehow did.
“Everybody wants to be accepted, everybody wants to fit in, but we didn’t, nobody really got it. It was weird for a long time because we wanted to fit in and after a while we got so comfortable, like, you know what, we don’t fit in. And that’s a good thing. It just made us more comfortable in our skin and now at this point, we’re just doing our own thing.”
“We don’t sound like anybody else, we’re the best at what we do, and that’s a lot to be proud of.”
MACHINE HEAD CATHARSIS AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES:
Tuesday 17th July – HQ – Adelaide
Wednesday 18th July – Eatons Hill Hotel – Brisbane
Friday 20th July – Enmore Theatre – Sydney
Saturday 21st July – Forum Theatre – Melbourne
Tuesday 24th July – Astor Theatre – Perth