Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel gives track-by-track breakdown of Unto the Locust
Westword: With the success of Machine Head's 2007 release, The Blackening, was there extra pressure while writing and recording Unto The Locust, and did Machine Head have the mentality to bury The Blackening when going into the studio?
Phil Demmel: I don't think so. I think it was the same pressure that they felt after Supercharger, doing Thought The Ashes, or The Blackening. The band always wants to do a different record, and that's certainly been proven with the discography. I mean, no record has been the same, and that continues to trend. We've been writing for ourselves since I've been in the band. I can't speak for before then, but we write for ourselves. That's what we've been doing.
We've been growing in the music, as people, as friends, and bandmates. We've grown as brothers and in our everyday lives. So, we see the world from a different perspective now. So, that's also going to change our moods and the way we write. That's been the case, for sure. I wouldn't say there was any more pressure than the last one. You always want to write the best record that you can.
Did Machine Head take a new approach during the writing and recording process? I understand Rob [Flynn, vocals/guitar] took vocal classes.
Yeah, Rob took some vocal classes, and he's singing really low. He's trying different things, but nothing too crazy. There's a couple departures from what we've done in the past, but the writing approach is the same. We're all fans of different kinds of music, writing and creating what makes us satisfied, for whatever need or purge that is hitting us at the time.
What is your proudest achievement with Unto The Locust? Was there a personal goal you set for yourself?
A personal goal? Hmm... I think being involved with the lyrics. My contribution, lyrically, on Locust is probably what I'm proud of most. There's a lot of emotion on this record from Rob, and in that regard, I think that us working together, it came out really well. We work really well together.
So what were some of the lyrical themes you touched on?
The first thing I approached with Rob... I've always thought: Well, I come from a really descriptive writing style; Rob is more personal, more first and third person. I'm more descriptive. So, I thought of this, maybe taking the pages out of a Pyromaniac's Diary, as he's learning and the sickness is taking him over -- how it kind of grows with him, and how he becomes a murderer and maniac.
It's something we started researching a little bit. We found out that women are actually the most dangerous, because their crimes are, more often than not, crimes of passion. So, he took it from this female perspective. Taken in that vein, it's not really something Machine Head has done in the past, but it's kind of a cool story.
Will you be releasing another single from Unto the Locust before the full album is released?
Uh-huh. We had an advance mix that was done for this Mayhem Tour. There is a deal with iTunes where we could put up the song on iTunes, and they will pass out all this promotional stuff with it. So, we thought it would be a great idea to be part of that. So, we got a quick mix together of that out. It's been a hit, man. People are feeling it hard. We also wanted to have a taste of the new record out before we were on this thing to start hyping up the record a little bit.
Machine Head guitarist Phil Demmel
Can you give us a track-by-track breakdown of the album?
Well, it's not really finalized yet, but I think it's pretty close.
"I Am Hell," the opener, is actually a sonata. It's a song in three parts, and it's the pyromaniac song that I was talking about. You know, it's the most brutal song Machine Head has ever written. It's got to at least be eight minutes long. So, it starts off with... you know, I'm not going to break down the music too much. I mean its still pretty early before the record comes out, but it's a three part tune.
"Be Still in Now," which is, uh, kind of a few riffs that I threw together, that kind of got shelved for a minute, got put away, and got brought back from the dead when I came in one day and those guys were kind of jamming on it. It kind of got some chest compressions, and it got brought back to life. Epic jam. It's about struggle, and overcoming struggle, and knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is only there if that light shines inside of you.
The title was... Like my grandmother handed down all of her grandchildren bible verses in all their Easter cards and Christmas cards. She used to sign one to each, and mine was Psalm 46, which is, "Be still, and know that I'm the Lord". Basically, be steadfast. Know that you will get through, and this shall pass. It kind of fit into the tune and kind of fit into the chorus. I mean, I got it tattooed on my arm around eight years ago. So, it's been kind of my mantra through my life. So, I'm really stoked that Rob chose to title the song that.
"Locust" is a concept I came up with, based on a few people I have encountered in my life, just like everybody has: The type of person that just comes into your life under a different guise, under false pretenses, to befriend you, be your buddy, be your man, be on your team, or, you know, to be your lover or whatever. Their goal is just to soak up all your resources and just to drain you of all you've got, whatever you have to offer. Once they're discovered, they fly off into the next crop and drain that of everything. Yeah, it just feels like hell.
"This is the End" is a burner, one of the faster Machine Head songs ever [laughs]. Rob and David got together, and we took a break from everything after touring for three years. We took about a six-month break, got back together and wrote this song. It's really fast. Kind of a death metal song, but it's got the classical sound like a death metal tune. The whole record has kind of neo-classical feel to it. The song, Rob's going to have to describe the lyrics. It's basically about people kind of living and not being able to accept present times and moving on to things.
"Darkest of Day": this song is probably the biggest departure of our record, in terms of when we did on "Innocence Denied" on Through The Ashes. It's kind of a ballad, with acoustic guitars. This one I'm going to leave up to something of a surprise. All of my friends that aren't kind of into metal say, "Damn, is that you guys?" It's a beautiful, beautiful song. Still heavy, but us growing as musicians. It has my favorite, the best solo I've ever done for this band, so far, dripping with emotion. I'll leave it at that.
"Pearls Before Swine" is a song about addiction. It was a song without lyrics really for a while, without a concept. We kind of came up with an idea to write about addicts and addiction, when talking to each other and watching Breaking Bad episodes to kind of catch up and start again to see it. [laughs] It's not a song about hope. It's just a song about about being in the throes of addiction, in its claws, and a lot of my lyrics are in there. So, there's a lot of descriptive thoughts of addiction. It's not a song of hope for sure. It's not "Stairway to Heaven." It's not a song of hope for sure.
And the last song is a song called "Who We Are," which is another song that Rob wrote. He and Dave kind of had it before I started writing for the record. I took some time off last year to deal with some personal stuff. This one and the other one I talked about earlier are the two that Rob had already written and brought. You know, he had all this music pouring out of him, and he had to get it out...so. Yeah, I don't know really how to describe those two, so I'm going to refrain from doing that.
Any tracks that were left on the cutting room floor that we could potentially see as bonus material, maybe within a year or in a release in Japan or Australia?
We are doing some B-sides, and I am not ready to release what those are yet. It's still kind of early and stuff's not going out for another few months. But, there were a few songs that didn't make it on the record. I think with these seven tunes, we have got about fifty minutes or so. That's long enough. [laughs]
Alright, let's talk a little bit about Machine Head's touring cycle. You guys are gearing up for Mayhem, and this is Machine Head's second time around on the Mayhem Festival. What was the highlight from 2008 tour, and what will you do to top that this year?
I think the whole tour was pretty much the same night for me. It was my first summer festival tour, so just being part of that and the way it was put together was awesome.
Are you going to play any new songs off Unto The Locust at Mayhem?
Yeah, we will be playing "Locust." We have, I think, 35 minutes. With ten-minute songs, we have four, but are trying to stretch it into five songs. [laughs]
Does it frustrate you that bands like Godsmack and Disturbed are headlining in America, but in Europe, they can't fill venues that Machine Head sells out?
It is what it is. Certain bands are popular in different areas. I can't get upset that they sell a ton of records over here. With the Mayhem Festival, you see a cross of radio rock bands with heavier bands.
Machine Head will be touring South America for you the first time. You must be excited to see the South American audiences and the overwhelming reaction the fans give the bands. Any thought about recording for a DVD or live album?
Machine Head went to Argentina in 1995, I think, so everyone in the band is excited to get down there. We hear the crowds are crazy, from our friends that go over there. We are stoked. A live DVD... I don't think we have any plans.
Since you recorded your first album with Machine Head, Through The Ashes of Empires, there has been a huge resurgence of Machine Head. Do you think this is because of your contribution?
I don't think it was necessarily that, but I do think it was good timing for me and the band. They were at their lowest point, and I was in transition with my life. I needed the band just as much as they needed me, at that point. They had already made the effort to go in this direction that they were going in to write, and they had most of the record written already. I didn't know where they were at, but I thought it was fucking awesome. It was a good combination. I re-energized them a little bit, and they re-invigorated me. It was win-win.
What's going on with Vio-lence? Can we expect a reunion anytime soon? [Vio-lence was an early 1990s bay area thrash band that Machine Head vocalist/guitarist, Robb Flynn, and Phil were in together.]
No, no. We did the re-release of Eternal Nightmare and played our first show back in 2003. I'm confident in saying there will not be another Vio-lence show ever. We can't do any Vio-lence tunes without Sean Killian. It's pretty much done, man.
Thanks to all Machine Head fans that have been with us though the years, and they are the reason why we do this. Check out our record when it comes out.
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