AN UNRELEASED 2012 INTERVIEW WITH PHIL DEMMEL OF MACHINE HEAD: “I don’t have fans, I mean, they’re friends that come out to see us.”

AN UNRELEASED 2012 INTERVIEW WITH PHIL DEMMEL OF MACHINE HEAD: “I don’t have fans, I mean, they’re friends that come out to see us.”

This interview was conducted in Denver, CO at the Summit Music Hall on January 15, 2012 and transcribed by an amazing friend throughout the years, Sal Pisciotta

The lineup that evening consisted of guitarist Phil Demmel, bassist Adam Duce, drummer Dave McClain, and vocalist & guitarist Robb Flynn. Suicide Silence with our beloved and always remembered late vocalist who paved the way for the Deathcore scene, Mitch Lucker, who performed right before Machine Head that evening. 

Okay, you guys released your album “Unto the Locust” in September. I watched an interview with you saying that you wrote some lyrics for this one. How do you feel you connected to this album?

I’m very connected to this record.

How so?

I came up with the locust concept.  Everybody’s had that person that comes into their life where they, under false pretenses,  under a different guise of, you know,  something different, they end up just taking everything they can from you.  You’re just another resource.  So they use you up, lie to you, take everything they can emotionally…not just physical things.  Then they just…you’re used up or you find out about it, then they fly off to the next unsuspecting person.  So that’s happened to me, it’s happened to you, it’s probably happened to you.  So, [being] able to write about those things…it’s a therapy, and it’s purging of those things and being able to talk about them is like doing interviews about them as well.  Songs like “Be Still and Know,” it comes from a Bible verse that…. My grandma had a bunch of grandkids, and each grandkid got a different Bible verse in their birthday cards and their Christmas cards or whatever and mine was Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am the Lord.”  It was what she felt for each individual kid, what they felt they needed, and so I had it tattooed on me about twelve years ago.  My tattoos started here, so it was right here, like if you cut down the trees, you see all the rings, you know, my tattoos, you can see the timeline when I get ‘em.  

Robb liked the idea he was writing about, like the tsunami and about people waking up and like having nothing and how do they persevere and what makes them go on, you know, finding that.  I like in “This shall pass, be still and know” too, like that light at the end of the tunnel is a mirror and that light has to be on inside of you for you to be able to reach that.  So, you have to have that light inside of you.  People aren’t weak, you know?  People have, just, more will than others.

Weakness is an excuse.

Exactly.  You know, it’s not a lack of strength, it’s a lack of will.  Yeah, being able to talk about a lot of that stuff has, you know, kind of given me closure on a lot of stuff, and it helps me kind of move on from that.

That was a very deep and intriguing answer.

It was all one sentence too.  No punctuation needed.

It was very deep and you can tell you’ve been through a lot. 

I think that’s a nice way of saying that I’m old. 

You’re not old.

Being in the band and being in the Music business, it comes with…you know, we’re under, to a certain extent, there’s a limelight that we’re kind of in.  Everything you do, there’s people that kinda…  I updated my Facebook status when I got engaged.

I saw that on Blabbermouth…

Exactly, that’s exactly what I’m saying, and then it gets on Blabbermouth and it’s everybody’s business.  So you have to be really careful with what you share and what you hold close. 

With you being so deep, let me see if I can figure out a question.

MH: I could be really shallow, too. [laughs]

Give me a good interview! [laughs]

I am.  We’re off to a good start.

We are, and thank you.

Absolutely. I will be 100% honest with you. 

I Love interviews like this!

I’m going to call you out now.  You make it a good interview.

I will.

So don’t ask me how the tour’s going.

I wiped that question out a long time ago because I’d keep getting the same answer over and over.  [laughs] Okay! You kind of explained it a little in your previous answer, but to have that depth within you, what is something that created that depth?

I’ve got through a lot…I’m 44, so it’s…I’ve been through a lot.  I’ve been married, been divorced, had a child.  [pauses] I’m getting married again.  You know, after 43 years I’ve found the person I was meant to be with and it’s an amazing feeling knowing that, experiencing that feeling, and I’m sure you have and maybe you have as well, but I didn’t know what real Love was until I met her.  You know, it’s just that feeling of thinking about her to the point of obsessing.  It’s like I had to check myself and with my Mom and some friends, you know “Am I fucking crazy here?  Am I mental?”

“You’re in Love, that’s what it’s all about,” and I said “Fuck, finally, it happened.”  But, you know, I lost my father four years ago and it was in this amazing way.  [pause] See, when you’re hungover, your emotions kind of well up a little bit, but I was in Italy and I used to have these episodes of passing out.

I read about that.

And it hadn’t happened to me in a long time, and I had a weird feeling, you know, during this day and I passed out on stage during this song that’s about death and dealing with death, “Descend the Shades of Night.”  And I’d think about him sometimes when we play it and, you know, I’d well up and cry because he was in declining health.  And so I pass out, and so I wake up and it’s like, you know “Ah, another episode, it’s happened to me before, whatever.”  So, wake up the next day and my sister calls, and she says that my father passed away.  So my drummer was adamant about what time it happened, I don’t fucking know, you know? Adam kept asking me. I’m all, “Why are you so concerned about it?”

So what happened was he was a diabetic.  He was in dialysis.  So, he went to dialysis, he got out, and he put the keys on the dashboard, and he just passed, he just went to sleep.  He just passed away.  So, we figured out the time.  You know, quarter after two is about quarter to two.  We’re 9 hours ahead, which is quarter after eleven, right when we were playing the song. 

Wow, that’s a crazy connection.

So it’s him saying goodbye, you know? [tears up]

Can I give you a hug?

I’m alright.  I’ve told the story.  Sometimes I get through it, but you know, and sometimes…it’s…

 Yeah, it’s… I couldn’t even imagine.

It’s hard, but it’s such an extraordinary circumstance, and to have that happen is special, but it carries that weight.

It gives you even more of a depth.

Going through a lot of that stuff puts you in proper perspective, you know?  I didn’t get to say goodbye to him, but he made it a point to make that happen, so it’s really special.

That is. That’s a very interesting story.

There you go. [laughs]

See, I was reading a bunch of your interviews, and I read about that, but not so intensely.  So hearing that, it’s just…wow…it’s mind-blowing.

Yeah, it’s kinda crazy.

It’s intense.  And you said something like having another perspective, right?

Mhm.  Because what happened was the next day we woke up and we got the news we’re nominated for a Grammy.  So I’m calling home to, you know, “Hey, you know,” and I left the message.  “Your son’s here, you’re the parents of a Grammy nominee .”  He had already just left, he didn’t get the message.  Now, it’s like people about the Grammy’s and everything’s associated with the Grammy, then finding out the nomination, and it’s just like “man.”  I took my Mom and my Sister to the Grammy’s, and it wasn’t even about winning or losing or whatever, it’s just being there as a family, experiencing it.  Putting it away.  Sorry.

No, don’t be sorry.  This is great.  I Love interviews like these.  They’re real, they’re honest.

Pretty honest.  Alright, next question.

This kind of connects to the honesty.  I was watching a Dimevision thing on YouTube a couple weeks ago where Dimebag was talking about how Music has its honesty in it.  Like, back in the old days, where you recorded it one time, it had its real honest parts because now you can just edit, edit, edit, splice it.

Right, right, chop it down, copy, paste.

Yeah, so my question is what would you say is your most honest part about your playing in Machine Head’s Music?  On a record, or live.

[pauses] Man, I think that playing live is where we’re at the most honest.  That being that we’re at our core, there’s no, you know, machines playing.  It’s us up there playing, it’s us emoting, the instruments are a conduit to share, and then that energy gets exchanged.  Music, and I read this thing from Victor Hugo, who I didn’t know was such a genius, but I knew he wrote Les Miserables, which I absolutely Love, but I read this quote from him, which, he says “Music is that which cannot be expressed by words, but it expresses that which cannot remain silent.”  So, it needs to be out there, and that’s just the form that it comes out in, and that’s what we do.  There are certain ways to say the things that we’re saying and that’s only through the brutality of “Imperium” or just through the beautiful and just melodic-ness…is that a word, melodic-ness?… melody, of a song like “Darkness Within.”  So that’s how we express ourselves.

How would you say that you express your passion and the emotions through your music?

It’s on stage.  The only reason why I’m doing this is for that energy reciprocation.  Being on stage, throwing it out, having it, and sometimes we turn into the crowd with the circle pits, and the stage diving, and everything that’s going on.  We just stop and go “Holy shit!” you know?  It’s an energy exchange, and it’s… [pause] You can’t match it in any way.

Here’s another question I Love to ask.  Obviously, there’s nothing that can compare to the energy you feel when you’re on stage performing in front of a crowd, but when you’re recording an album, is there anyway possible that you can even try to take that energy, even remotely, and put it into an album, or how do you try to translate some of that energy?

It’s about writing the music, and, you know, a lot of times, what you pour into a song doesn’t transcend into the recording through the production, through everything, so sometimes it doesn’t, but music’s magical.  It does transcend.  The brutality of “I Am Hell,” people just pick up on that, and it’s just… Your hair stands up, and you see it.  I think that it’s honest.  People know when you’re not being honest, when you’re being contrived and things aren’t real.  People aren’t stupid.  Some people are stupid, but as a whole…

Yeah. This kind of goes into the last couple of questions.  Earlier today when I was watching interviews with you and reading interviews with you, just so I could get a feel of what you were all about…

I appreciate that, by the way.

Who wants to read 10 same interviews?

I don’t want to do the same interview every time.

Yeah.  You said in one of them, like I said earlier, that you wrote songs for this new album.  There can be two parts to this question.  I’m trying to think of which one I should start with first.

[Laughs]

Since you’re a guitarist, you know, when the visions of the riff or a melody or something come to you, how do you translate those into a riff, if that makes sense.  Do you get visions of songs and things like that?

I get ideas as I’m driving.  I get…let’s see if this is one… [plays recording] That might be my son. [plays others] No, these are all…  What I do is I have something, I have a melody line come in, and I record it, hum it into my voice memos, and then I’ll put notes to it when I get home on the guitar or I’ll just noodle around with the acoustic and find a couple of notes that go together or you could be listening to something else and go “Oh, that’s cool,” time signature or something like that, and you kind of… Just hum something over and over until it becomes something else.  And then sometimes you get it on a guitar and it’s just the wrong key, or it just sounds fucking lame. [Laughs]  You know, that sounds like shit, or you bring it to the studio, and everybody jams it, and it just doesn’t translate.  It is a very special thing when notes come together and you think you really have something, especially when you’re in with a group of guys and you see this sharing, this trading, this exchange of notes going around and ideas pop up over someone else and they’ll come up with a drum beat or a harmony over here that takes you to this weird place.  When you’re done, you’ve created this amazing little thing of music, you know, it’s just like Art is such a blessed thing to be able to do and be a part of, and be able to travel the world and be able to do this, I’m fucking one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to do this, and especially in the band and with the style of music that I Love doing.  Watching it…there’s really no way to explain how you come up with a riff or how it becomes a song.  It’s just all these elements and all these little factors that kind of come in and, you know, accidents.  You stop playing for a minute, and you’re recording and you stop playing, or you mess up or you hit another note and they’re just so serendipitous. They’re just like “Oh, hey, we go this way now, that’s awesome.  I’m glad that I tripped over my feet and that other note popped in there, so…”

And here’s the other part of the question.  So you wrote the lyrics, but you can pretty much gather what this question is going to be.  Again, how do you, when you’re writing lyrics, do they come to you, or how do you, like if the visions come to you, how do you take.  Let me see. I apologize.  Doing interviews…

Now you’re psyching yourself out.

I know. [laughs]

Putting the words to lyrics and making them work?

Yeah, or when you’re… I’ve had some people describe like it’s a vision that they see and they take what they see and write it on paper from their mind.  How do they materialize for you?

Well, Robb comes up with the cadence; he comes up with the phrasing for the song because that’s just his deal.  Then I kind of help him. Like the lyrics for “I Am Hell” that I came up with, I came up with a concept for a pyromaniac, and as you’re kind of reading his journal, like you’re going through it as he’s discovering that he’s crazy.  “Oh, hey, what’s this, you know?” I could take you through the lyrics, but I had to write in my own cadence and he had to kind of fit them into where his phrasing would work or whatever.  I hate writing in the first person, the pronouns “I.”  I do this, you do this, you make me feel this way, I, you me, we, they, this.  I like writing descriptive and leaving all that out, and I wrote the line “where once a heart was beating, nothing but embers glow,” trying to be more descriptive.  Robb is the, you know, “Hear me now, words I vow, no fucking regrets,” you know, he’s that guy, so I think there’s a good balance.  I complement what he’s doing.

There’s a lot of passion between him and I, and it’s directed different ways sometimes, and so we kind of get that together and we kind of, you know, fan the whole spectrum and try to cover more stuff that way. 

I was going to ask later, but since you brought up the passion, how does the passion grow for you?  Does it evolve like every time you write a new album or every time you create a new song?  Do you become more passionate when things like that happen? And why?

It fluctuates.  I mean, there’s certain things that I get more passionate about.  It just depends on my mindset, you know?  I’m a moody guy, you know, and you go through different emotions, you know?  I’m totally emotional, as you have borne witness to and the one thing that I’ve evolved into, it took some time as being a person, you learn from your mistakes, it’s just being a clean operator and not carrying weight of things that need to be said, or dealt with, or dealing with things.  I mean, that’s why I get along with my girl so well.  We’re both just open, “Hey, we need to talk about this, this is bugging with me. How do we get past this?  So I deal with things as they come up. 

I wouldn’t be here if I’m not passionate about it.  I make a good living at home, I’m a union carpenter, you know, I can make a great living at home doing this.  We’re doing awesome right now, you know?  It’s awesome being in Machine Head, and it has been for the past ten years that I’ve been playing with these guys, but if I lose the passion for the music and for playing live, then I’m not going to do this.  So it’s about the energy, like I said, the energy exchange, and we’ve become so much more dynamic with what we’re doing now.  We’re doing acoustic stuff, we have a four piece string quartet on this record doing strings, we have our kids singing the intro to a song, and all these new elements are coming up.  Robb, and Dave, and Adam, they’re just pushing themselves as musicians, and Robb is taking classical guitar lessons and taking vocal lessons, and Dave is playing out of his mind on this record, you know?  So that pushes me to, like, “Man, I gotta…”

So on this record I took a different approach to solos and made it more…Randy Rhoads was a guitar player for Ozzy, you know, so I don’t know how old you are or…

I know who Randy Rhoads was.  I know my Metal. [laughs]

But he would write solos that were like a composition within a composition, and you remembered the leads.  They were so… The melody lines were amazing, so I tried to take that on and have these be more of a signature sound and try to leave my imprint and, like, once you hear the notes, you go, “Oh, that sounds like a Demmel solo.”

You said something earlier about how you and Robb have this passion.  Can you describe that? 

We’re not passionate for each other. [Laughs].  Everybody in the band has the passion.  Dave loves playing, he lives and breathes his drums, his music nonstop, Robb too.  I’m not as channeled into just doing music, I do other things, as they are, but I’m still passionate about being honest and being true and really relaying what’s inside of me into the music and sharing that with people, too.  I don’t have fans, I mean, they’re friends that come out to see us.  I went to Hader’s next door over here and ate lunch, and a couple guys were just kind of, “Hey man!”  Just sat down, and watched tv and watched the games with them and just sat.. I’m just a dude from Dublin who happens to be able to write some music that people enjoy, so I’m…like I said, luckiest people in the world to be able to do this.

That’s amazing, and it’s really cool that you said they’re not fans, they’re friends because it drives me crazy when I see people on award shows, “I’d like to thank my fans!”  It’s like we’re more than just a term. 

Yeah, and it’s, you know, they’re not friends, but they’re…  Metal’s a fraternity.  It’s a community, and we all belong to that.  We all belong to the same community, and that just travels. Almost a family, but I’m not having some people over to my house to eat for Thanksgiving or anything.

Here’s another question about writing the record…  How would you say that you brought Life to the album?  How did each song become alive?

Two of the songs were written before I joined the writing session for this record.  I had to take some time off, I had some stuff going on at home that I had to be a part of.  We had toured for three years straight, and I needed to take some time off to handle some stuff.  So they had written “This is the End” and “Who We Are” before I joined up.  I write differently than Robb, and Dave brings some ideas in too.  Dave is Robb’s sounding board.  Robb brings a lot of stuff to him and they work a lot of stuff out together.  I bring my stuff in, and sometimes I just give it to Robb, I say “Here, here’s a series of riffs, you know, make it a song,” and that’s how “Be Still and Know” came about, was a series of riffs.  Robb writes these crazy time signature stuff that it takes me so long to understand because he writes these, not Meshuggah-type crazy, but just weird riffs to me.  He’s got a weird…such a creative mind, you know?  I bring, like, I have this balance to him, to where we harmonize great together and when we go to notes, and we know which one’s going to take the fifth and the third or whatever like that, so we know where each other’s gonna go.  I think I’m more of a complement to Robb.  He has a vision for songs, and I offer all of these other little ideas, and some songs, like half of “Pearls Before the Swine,” I had brought half of “Slanderous,” I brought half of “Beautiful Morning,” I’ll bring, and then it gets to the bridge part and Robb takes over and it kind of goes from there.  I call Robb our sandwich maker, and I supply, “here’s a slice of ham, you know, how about a tomato!” and then he’ll put all these things together from all the pieces I get, so he’s really good at structuring and having an ear for that.

Music itself is a journey.  You’ve been through quite a journey throughout the years of being in Machine Head.  What have been some of the most significant parts of the journey and what are some things that have really made the flame that burns your passion burn brighter, if that makes sense.

I started off, not joining the band, but just being a temporary guy and filling in some gigs, and that started off huge.  We played these big festivals in Europe and that gave me the taste.  I was married at the time.  I was going to quit, just do this to get some closure on my Musical career, go home, be married, do that, you know?  I did the dates, I came home, and the marriage just went to shit.  So I said, “Ah, I’m gonna be in Machine Head.”  They hadn’t gotten a guy, so, I mean it started off so huge.  It just gave me that bite, and just the way that we clicked as a band was like, “There’s something special there, there’s something special there.”  

We connected and joined the band, so I think initially significant, playing the Download Festival for the first time in 2004.  
I got to meet Dimebag six months before he died, and it’s funny, my buddy just sent me a picture of me and him from that day, and Paul Gray is in the background. 

Oh, wow!

It’s crazy.  He’s the bassist for Slipknot, he passed away recently, too.  So it’s like I got a picture of me and two ghosts, basically.  So I think playing Download for the first time, playing Monsters of Rock, where all these legendary bands played, and I think playing the Wacken Festival in 2005 on the Ashes tour in front of, you know, we headlined, and there’s 80,000 people there.  

Writing “The Blackening,” being involved with Machine Head for the first time from the beginning of writing the record, very significant, you know, made me feel essential to what they were doing.

The whole Blackening, touring with Metallica, touring with Slipknot all over the world, playing in Japan, playing in front of 125,000 people in Germany, getting the Grammy nomination, getting a silver record, you know, “The Blackening” went silver.

And this album was the highest on the Billboard chart.

Charting at number 22, we’re a top 25 band.  [Laughs]

That’s pretty cool.

You know, just writing for “Unto The Locust” and being involved with the lyrics and contributing like I have.  Playing in Dubai, twice.  Playing in Israel.  Playing in Moscow.  We played in Portugal, and this is the year after my Dad died, and my Mom had never been there.  She’s 100% Portuguese, so I said “We’re playing with Metallica, you’re coming out to Portugal.”  Flew her out, she hung out with us, and before “Halo,” I had a Portuguese flag, and she was off to the side, and I brought her out on stage, wrapped the flag around her, and everybody, 75,000 people just going “Awwww!” and took pictures of her with me, and just a special moment to have her be there in front of a Portuguese crowd, it was awesome.  So I’m so lucky.  I’ve done so many cool things because of this band.  All of the sports teams that I’ve worshipped growing up, you know, I get to hang out with the players.  You know, I’m a Phillies fan, I got to go  in the dugout before they played, met some of the players.  I’m so fucking lucky, I can’t express that enough, that I get to do this. 

Is it really luck, though?  Because you’ve worked really, really hard.

Blessed.  I’m blessed.  I mean, there’s people out there, dudes in their garage who can play a thousand times better than me, they can write tunes.  You know, it’s just all those tumblers have to line up.  It’s being able to play, knowing people, being in the right place at the right time, and just, you know, it’s all those things.  So I think that is lucky.   

This concludes my interview, would you like to say anything else.

I want to thank all the people that come to the shows, that buy the records, that enable Machine Head to be a band and to be able to record records, or CD’s, or whatever the hell…MP3 files, that we’re able to do this.  I appreciate that people appreciate what we do.  That’s it.  And thank you for an awesome interview.  That was great.  That was one of the better interviews that I’ve done in a while. 

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