Dead But Dreaming: Machine Head interview

Posted August 4, 2011 in

The heat is on, darkhearts—summer is sweltering all around us, but your faithful hostess has braved the inferno to bring you news from the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival. Among the glorious list of performing bands, one name stands out for their unique journey through the music industry and their refusal to succumb to the “pesticides” that would claim them: the legendary Machine Head. I was given the honor to sit down with drummer Dave McClain and find out how they’ve kept their heads and fists held high during their twenty years cracking skulls and taking names. We also have our weekly event listings (compiled by Ricky Vigil) and a few exclusive reviews from Bryer Wharton.

First, Dead But Dreaming would like to send our deepest condolences and thanks out to Club Vegas, its employees and all the bands who called this metal haven home over the years. For those who haven’t heard, due to economic constraints, the club had to close last Wednesday, leaving one less amazing venue for metal bands from Utah and beyond to find sanctuary. It is a sad time for us metalheads, indeed, and a time for anxiety. We can only hope someone with as much love for the scene and the music will step up to give our local musicians a place to show their craft. We will miss you Club Vegas, thank you for all the years and all the memories. The Utah metal scene would not be what it is today without your dedication.

Event Listings
On Friday August 5, the Wee Blu Inn in Payson will be hosting Diecast, A Balance of Power, Guttshot and Erimus. Tickets are $10 and the show kicks off at 8:00 PM.

On Saturday August 6, local favorites Gaza will be playing a rare all-ages show at Kilby Court with support from I Am the Ocean, Bone Dance and Cicadas. This is an amazing all-local lineup and a show that definitely shouldn’t be missed. $6 gets you in and the show begins at 7:00.

Also on Saturday, the Vans Warped Tour is happening at the Utah State Fairpark. There are a few metal-ish bands on the lineup, including The Acacia Strain, The Devil Wears Prada and Winds of Plague. If you can handle the heat and have $35 dollars that you really don’t need, check it out.

Interview with Dave McClain from Machine Head
SLUG: You guys have got to be pretty proud of your longevity—20 years in the business—especially in the metal genre, where it seems bands are breaking up every day. What is it about Machine Head that keeps you guys strong?
MCCLAIN: Being in the business, you learn there's good and bad things that happen, and we have always kind of been this band that once we get up there, something always tries to knock us down no matter what. Over the years, understanding how everything works, it's a cycle, and you gotta make it through the cycle. Robb has always been that dude to not take no for an answer, no matter what. There have been periods where we're not the cool kids on the block anymore, and it's just about how you weather everything. People see how you do that and either respect you or they don't. I think we've been through so much that people respect how we handle everything. You try to become a band like Motorhead, who have been around double our length. It's the same principle: you become this fucking cockroach that isn't affected by pesticides. Hard-willed bands that keep going obviously love what they're doing.

SLUG: Other than lineups, what else has changed the most for you guys since your first album?
MCCLAIN: Our mind-set. I joined on the making of the second record, and the way the music industry was at that time, there were things you had to do, hoops to jump through—you're on a label that's trying to make you bigger. One thing we realized now is to simplify everything. We're a metal band, straight and simple. We're not going to stray away from that. We may bring other elements into it, like add something mellow into the music, but we're a metal band and that's pretty much one of the biggest things that has changed. Nobody looks over our shoulder at what we're doing, nobody is asking us, "Hey can you write a song that sounds like this," none of that anymore. It's a cool thing—especially since the whole big downloading of music thing has changed the business for the better in a lot of ways. It's not about record sales anymore; it's about touring, merchandise. I think it got people more into liking music for music, rather than a popularity contest.

SLUG: So you find the music downloading a positive thing? So many bands out there see it as a troublesome thing.
MCCLAIN: It is what it is, you can't stop it. If you give someone something for free, they're going to take it, you know? And record sales are coming back around which is cool, but you just have to adapt to what's going on. What seemed like the end of the world when it first started happening was completely the opposite. I see why it was being fought, why Metallica took a stand like they did—it was a scary thing. They became the scapegoats of the whole thing, but it's just not as big a deal anymore.

SLUG: In 2001 you guys dealt with some bullshit with the video "Crashing Around You" being banned due to 9/11 and the censoring of "sensitive" images like falling buildings. How did you guys deal with that and did it affect you creatively?
MCCLAIN: That was a pretty critical record for us. The whole thing was fucked up and frustrating for us. After 9/11 and dealing with the whole two or three weeks of shock about everything in general, we started to get pissed off about everybody censoring music—censoring everything! I mean you can't play Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York"? It was very frustrating. Things just never got back on track with our record—it was just a bad time—but it never made us think twice about what we created, never made us censor ourselves.

SLUG: Tell me about the new record "Unto The Locust" and the direction you guys are going with it. It seems like the songs have gotten longer and more involved on the last few albums. Is that still the case?
MCCLAIN: We can't seem to write a short song now. [laughs] It fucks up our set time for shows like Mayhem Festival, which gives us 35 minutes. It's so hard to do a set list. We didn't purposely not play anything from before Through The Ashes, but certain songs we just don't wanna play in certain settings. Songwriting now, they just keep going and going. We tried the whole self-editing thing, we tried that on The Blackening and it just wasn't right. The song "Halo," when we wrote it we were like, "We'll never ever play it live, whatever" and it became our fuckin' biggest hit from that record, so we have to play it every show. [laughs]

SLUG: Is it any more challenging to write the longer songs?
MCCLAIN: It just doesn't seem like it's that long when we're writing, you know? Doesn't feel that way during the writing. And when they do seem long, that's when we start saying, "Alright we gotta take parts out." I think that's the sign of a good song: if there's a long song that seems short, or if it's a short song that seems long, that's a good thing.

SLUG: I heard you guys are getting out of comfort zones with your instruments, trying some new things, channeling some more challenging aspects to the music.
MCCLAIN: One thing we've definitely been doing on the last three records is challenging ourselves a lot more. Before we started writing "Unto The Locust," I'd been playing along to my Rush records, and I'd try to do one of Neal Pert's rolls, and I'd be like, "Man I need one more tom", so I added another tom on my kit to play Rush stuff. Robb finally called me and said, "Hey man, I'm ready to get down to writing," and so we got together, and the song that he had ready started off with this classical thing. He had started taken classical guitar lessons. He could barely play it, but he was confident that by the time we record it we should have it down. And he was totally digging that new tom I had. It was so hard to play for both of us, I was playing a lot of super fast crazy thrash beats. I started doing these rolls and I didn't know how he'd react to it, but he loved it. When we got to recording on some of the songs, Robb's got like 12 vocal tracks going, and we brought in this little orchestra, and this female vocal group called the Rogue Quartet. I'm like, it's becoming this Queen record or something! [laughs] Literally on some of the songs there's over 100 tracks to mix.

SLUG: Do you see "Unto The Locust" garnering the success of "The Blackening"?
MCCLAIN: There's no reason why not. There's cycles for sure—the people who loved "The Blackening", like in the press, they may be like, "Well I gave them good marks on The Blackening so I'm gonna fucking knock this next one down." You never know, but we're super stoked about it. We know we made the follow-up to "The Blackening." Worrying about what people would think about it would just drive us crazy.

SLUG: You have a unique perspective in metal with your longevity and what you've been through. What bands would you say are the ones to keep an eye on as up-and-comers?
MCCLAIN: Suicide Silence—we've known them a few years now, and it's been cool to see them develop and care about being a real band. They are super professional but super extreme at the same time. And Trivium, they toured with us when they were just kids starting out. Matt's first show was our show on The Burning Red tour. They've gone from that to us doing a co-headline tour with them in Europe, and they're such cool guys so it's great to see them coming so far.

SLUG: Anything else you want to tell your fans?
MCCLAIN: The new album is fucking fantastic. 

Blog exclusive CD reviews

Pursuit of Honor
Metal Blade
Street: 08.02
Battlecross = Trivium + Darkane + The Absence
The middle of the road is a treacherous territory for any band, and it’s exactly where Warren, Michigan’s Battlecross wind up with their sophomore. The album would have probably been twice as good if the band cut some of the fat in their—there are redundant riffs and some highly out of place breakdowns. Battlecross excel when they’re thrashing it up with some meaty riffing as well as their crossover into true melodic death metal territory. There are some cuts amongst the beef of the album’s eleven tracks to keep listeners interested—when the end of the road comes tracks blur together in no real good way. Fans of modern thrash and melodic death metal should give Battlecross some attention, but if you truly want some gnarly, brutal and earnest thrash metal from Michigan you’re better of checking into Nocturnal Fear. – Bryer Wharton 

Death of this Dry Season
20 Buck Spin
Street: 08.02
Brainoil = Iron Lung + IX Zealot + Buzzov*en + Eyehategod
For what it is, this Bay Area sludge trio offer a nifty bit of sludge, core, crust and doom for their sophomore effort. I say “for what it is” because you really have to be into the sludge and muck and all that’s crusty and nasty to dig what Brainoil dish out in just a bit less than 25-minutes, which is so syrupy thick it seems to play out longer in your head than the actual running time. The momentum bursts in the tracks are just teases to ultimate dirges. “Gravity is a Relic” starts out grooving enough and then it turns slo-mo, like you’re stuck in a big pit of mud wearing huge boots as more mud and guck cling to your boots with every step. Death of this Dry Season is easily more about the aesthetic and feel of the tracks than about individual songs, which is the general theme for muddy sludge slingers. If you like to get dirty as hell with your sludge this is the ticket. –Bryer Wharton

Gods of Death
Hells Headbangers
Street: 08.02
Cianide = Bolt Thrower + Grave + Celtic Frost
Kicking things off in 1988, Chicago based death metal trio Cianide have long been death dealers of the underground. The band’s full-lengths have everything listeners of classic death need, desire, lust over and crave. Gods of Death is a new release for 2011, but the album earnestly feels like it’s from the early ‘90s. It’s not trying to fancy itself up and be some tech wank-fest as some modern death metal acts do. Ultimately the record is underhanded riff after another with a heavy emphasis on groove. Tje down-tuned riff of the bass guitar plays outside of he standard rhythm of the songs at many times, but adds a mass amount of meat to the core sound of the record with a drumming performance sounding as natural as can be. This ride is definitely worth the coinage for classic death metal fans. –Bryer Wharton

The Sum of All Fossils
The Path Less Traveled
Street: 08.02
Flourishing = Blut Aus Nord + Immolation + Godflesh
The term “genre-defying band” gets tossed around quite a bit these days. NYC trio Flourishing stir the pot of oozing newness with The Sum of All Fossils, but influences pop and sparkle as throughout the melding of industrial metal, hardcore, punk, death metal and black metal into one disharmonious opus of melody rejections—Discordinance is the key. The big time influence bearing through it all is the mighty Godflesh—the album’s second song “The Prospects of Rejection” sounds exactly like the forbearers of industrial metal. The Sum of All Fossils strikes hard as an entire album with strong enough songwriting to highlight individual tracks—it’s dissonant and dismal music for a disturbed heart. Fans of Godflesh, Blut Aus Nord or fiends that just like noise in their metal take heed. –Bryer Wharton

Awaken the Tides
Metal Blade
Street: 08.02
Malefice = Bullet For My Valentine + The Haunted + Unearth
Danger! Danger! This is the third album from the UK’s Malefice, but upon listening I knew the reasons why I’ve never heard of the band before. Awaken the Tides is bland-o-rama, chock full of generic melodic death and thrashing riffs complete with hardcore type breakdowns each one sounds the same as the other. Lame attempts at melodic intricacies sound like the bands two guitarists are just plain bored and the vocalist… don’t get me started. Malefice’s Dale Butler has his thrashy moments, but ultimately sounds like a whiny screamo guy. I can see an audience for this style, but the album doesn’t execute the style like it should. The album suffers greatly from the sound-a-like disease—it’s a nasty one too, encrusted in herpes, warts and oozing pus. Awaken the Tides is the kid with dandruff at school who ate Spam for lunch and never looked anyone in the eye. Unless you have a hankering for hearing some incredibly boring tunes, stay away from Malefice. –Bryer Wharton

Street: 08.02
Unkind = Today is the Day + Amebix + Discharge + darkness
Unkind is a more-than-appropriate name for this Finnish five-piece. This is a crazed and depraved, superbly dark, d-beat, metallic, crusty adventure in between the hardcore and noise styles. There are huge post-hardcore leanings on the album, but not the type that sound whiny or all self-reflective and crap. There are many moments of outright insanity, but also many moments of tinkering of sounds and styles that make you question whether or not you’re listening to the same band. There are even some, dare I say, shoegaze elements on the album. Nasum put Finland on the grindcore map, now Unkind is going to put Finland on the map of pleasing insanity – this record hit me way from left field – do not by any means let this slip pass your radar. –Bryer Wharton