MACHINE HEAD’s Robb Flynn chatted with UltimateGuitar.com recently about the pressure of writing an album that could live up to the band’s previous release, The Blackening, as well as chatting about his playing technique and upcoming signature guitar. You can read extracts from that interview below:
UG: The Blackening was such a huge critical success for Machine Head. Did you feel a certain amount of pressure to live up to that album?
Robb: The last six months in touring with The Blackening, that’s the only question we got. “How are you going to top The Blackening?” I was like, “Psht, I don’t know.” We started writing in November of 2009. I don’t know if it was a reaction against The Blackening and 10-minute songs and complex structure or that we had been watching Metallica every night with people losing their minds, but we brought in a bunch of riffs and wrote for about two weeks. To be honest with you, it was a total bum-out. We went back on tour for another six months and then took a break. It was great to be off tour and it was great to be with my family, but after awhile my brain was just going. I had really been getting back into classical guitar. I took lessons when I was in high school. I had gotten away from it, but I got back into it and was writing some pieces. The more I wrote, the more I really got into it. I finally got a song going, and I called up Phil and Adam. They were like, “I’m not ready to practice. I need more time off.” Dave was already there and said, “I’ve got to get jamming with you!” The first song on the record that came out of it was a song called “This Is The End.” It’s probably hands-down the hardest guitar, drumming, and musicality. It’s a great song. It’s got good strong structures, good hooks, and great key changes – but it was like a million miles an hour. The chorus is every single string all the way up to what is my 19th fret. It’s like the last part of the chorus and it goes up to the 19th fret of the highest string. When Dave and I were done it was like, “This is so fucking hard! But it’s so awesome!” It was great that we had made this song that was basically above our playing ability. It was like a goal. We literally couldn’t play how it was supposed to be played. It was so freaking complicated. To have that as a goal it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got to achieve this. We now have to match this.” It’s such a high bar to set for ourselves right off the bat. We had covered – now this is vocally – we had covered “Hallowed Be Thy Name” for a Metal Hammer Iron Maiden tribute. Up until that point, those were the highest vocals I had sung. I honestly didn’t know if I could even do it. I never had done it, and then I did it. I didn’t really know how to control it, and I was kind of hit and miss with it. I was like, “I want to get this. I can do this. I can fucking own this.” So I started taking some pretty intensive vocal training back in New York. I would fly back to New York every two or three months and take three-hour blocks, three days in a row with Melissa Cross. Then I did some stuff with the guy who trains Mick Jagger. Also I started taking classical guitar lessons from this place called the New York Guitar School. I got into this learning mode. In learning was unlearning. I was taking vocal lessons for the first time of my life, and I had been singing for 17 years. I was unlearning all these bad habits. It was cool to get back to a place – especially on the guitar – where you say, “I’m a retard. This is so hard!” It was a cool, vulnerable place to write from. We just tried to write from that place. The Blackening was nominated for a Grammy, which is cool, but as an artist and musician the challenge is to push yourself. We didn’t want, “Okay, this is all you can write. You’ve got to write 10-minute songs.” We just wanted to fucking write. So that was our mindset.
UG: At what point did you start developing the prototype for the baritone Epiphone?
That’s been underway for awhile. I’ve been with Gibson since 2007, and they were making me guitars. Gibson made me the first baritone Flying V they’ve ever made for any artist. We tune down to B, so I like the baritones. It makes it tighter on the low end and the low strings in particular. For them, it was a first. I was super honored. Then we decided we’d want one to come out through Epiphone. We had talked initially and said, “We can make this guitar and it will appeal to everybody if you’re a rock player, blues player.” We pioneered drop tuning. We were the first band to do drop tuning in metal, tuning down to B. It was Burn My Eyes in ’94. Other people were tuning down, but the drop tuning – that was us. Other people caught on because it’s a really cool tuning. The more I thought about it, this was a fucking metal guitar. This isn’t for jazz players. This is not for blues players. If you are a young metal player who wants to down tune, this is your guitar. If you’re not, then you should look into another guitar. I wanted to narrow that niche down. This is our lane. When I was first starting, that’s what I wanted to play. I tried to look at it like when I was a kid. I went after the metal guitar. I wanted to play like Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoades. I went for that guitar. My first guitar was a candy apple red Ibanez Flying V. It was like, “Look at me!”.
You can read the full article AT THIS LOCATION. Robb was also interviewed by Bloody-Disgusting.com about the band’s plans for 2012, what it was like to write from the perspective of a female arsonist and what horror films he particularly enjoys. You can see that interview, filmed at the 2011 Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival, below: