MACHINE HEAD‘s mighty axemen, Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel, took part in a fan Q&A for Guitar World recently and they spoke about everything from the latest album to guitar techniques and much more! See below for an extract from the article:
Q: Who is the weirdest musician you have ever met? — Jenna Swift
ROBB FLYNN: Dimebag Darrell was a weirdo, in the best way possible! When you were around him, you’d get sucked up into this tornado of lunacy that would take you down these ridiculous paths where you would usually have the best night of your life. He would be like, “We’re all gonna paint our beards pink!” And I’d be like, “What?” We toured with Pantera twice, and he was by far one of the greatest characters that I’ve ever met in my life.
Q: How did you get that super-high-gain guitar sound on Unto the Locust and keep the notes so clear? — Kevin Williams
FLYNN: I have a [Peavey] 5150 amp that I’ve used forever. I’ve had him for 14 years and call him “Bubba.” I literally have him in a high-security storage area. He comes out to record and then he goes right back in. He never goes on tour. Bubba hasn’t been modified at all. It’s just one of those magical heads that you come across in your life that stands head and shoulders above the rest. I use that and a Marshall. There is a lot less gain on it than you’d think, and that’s part of how we get the clarity and picking definition. A lot of it has to do with my right hand and just being cognizant of my playing. I play all the rhythms, so that really makes it tighter overall. And Phil will come in and do overdubs and leads.
Q: You often use natural harmonics to accent riffs, like on “Davidian” from Burn My Eyes and “This Is the End” from Unto the Locust. How did that technique find its way into your style? — Jon Richards
FLYNN: When I first started playing guitar, I was really influenced by bands like Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost and D.R.I. Those bands would sometimes do these stops in their songs, where they’d let their guitars feed back. At the time, I was learning how to play on a $45 guitar my dad had rented that came with a little 6-inch practice amp. I didn’t even know what feedback was.
At some point, I stumbled on hitting the harmonic and I thought that was feedback. So when the feedback part came along on a song like Celtic Frost’s “Morbid Tales,” I would just hit the harmonic. Over time I realized I had learned it wrong. But as I became a songwriter, I still thought it sounded cool, so I started bringing that into my style. At this point it has become the trademark sound of Machine Head. It’s just one of those magical accidents that happens as you’re learning, and you just roll with it.
Q: Robb, what piece of gear is the most crucial to your sound and why? — Carter Burke
FLYNN: The Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress [flanger], which is a big old hunking, 9-inch-wide pedal. It’s one of the stomp boxes that I use religiously on every album. I use that thing so much, I can’t even tell you. It’s one of the best pedals ever invented. Listen to the opening riff of “Imperium” [from 2003’s Through the Ashes of Empires]; that effect is on both the clean part and the heavy part.
You can basically hear it in any clean tone on any of our records, like at the beginning of “Aesthetics of Hate” [on 2007’s The Blackening]. The way that it flanges is unlike any other flange I’ve found. It’s got this watery, glassy tone to it that makes almost anything sound better. I’ve actually gotta be careful I don’t overuse it, because I like it so much.
Q: In your opinion, what is the greatest thrash-metal record of all time? — Johnny D
DEMMEL: Of course, there’s Slayer’s Reign in Blood. I was brought up on Slayer; they’re the first thrash band I ever saw live. Metallica’s Ride the Lightning is a great thrash album too. It’s probably my favorite Metallica record. And Exodus’ Bonded by Blood is right up there. So I’m gonna do a three-way tie — a three-headed crown of thrash! [laughs]
FLYNN: The greatest thrash-metal record to me would be Bonded by Blood. Growing up in the Bay Area, Exodus were the craziest of all the thrash bands, particularly on that album. Their singer, Paul Baloff, was fucking bat-shit crazy, like a fucking psychopath. When they played shows, he just had this incredible knack for winding up the crowd into a bloodthirsty frenzy. I mean, I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. Exodus shows back then were the most crazy and violent shows that there were, period.
That record was the soundtrack to my life for years. The first solo that I ever learned how to play was Gary Holt’s lead on the song “Bonded by Blood.” That record just had such a huge impact on me. Everything about it impacted me: the riffs, the little bit of melody, the attitude. They should have been in the Big Four. They were there, for real, at the beginning.