Machine Head's new double live album, Machine Fucking Head Live, is available everywhere today (grab your copy from the Roadrunner webstore), so we called frontman Robb Flynn on the road to talk about playing when you know you're being recorded, learning to command the crowd, songs you can't not play, and much more. Enjoy!
All but one of the songs from Unto the Locust are on Machine Fucking Head Live – have you added “Pearls Before the Swine” to the live set now, too?
We put it into the set sometimes. We actually did it a few times on the last tour, on the festival run we did, but that was a little later in the year and the set was pretty loaded already with new stuff, so I think we swapped something out. We’ve played every song at this point.
Is this the first album where you’ve played every song live?
Nah. We’ve played everything off The Blackening, we’ve played everything off Burn My Eyes, we’ve played everything off The More Things Change at this point, I think we’ve played everything off Through the Ashes of Empires at this point. We might be missing one or two songs off Through the Ashes.
There’s a lot of crowd interaction on this record; you’ve become really known for that. Were you more self-conscious about that in the band’s early days? Is it tough to learn how to address the audience and stuff like that?
Yeah, I mean, you definitely learn. I still learn. Doing Metallica dates in the round, I had to throw away everything I’d learned to that point and create a whole new way of communicating and trying to reach people, 'cause all the jumping and circle pits didn’t really work, because there’s only about five rows of people in the round, and everybody else was in the seats going way up. So you’re always learning. For me, it came – I was introverted as a kid, but I was kind of an introverted extrovert. [laughs] I was always going out for talent shows and school plays and wanting to be the main guy, so when I got up on stage, I loved it. Music helped bring me out of my shell, and I think the band that I was in previously, I was primarily the guitar player, so having that guitar player performing onstage vibe really helped give me confidence, and a few years later when I was a singer, it was a pretty natural transition. By then I was ready to command the crowd.
Does it feel different to play a show you know is being recorded, or do you just shove it out of your mind and go do the show?
It’s better to shove it out of your mind, because you start thinking, like, “I gotta play good” and stuff like that. It’s the shows where you’re not even thinking about that where you can just go out there and it happens. And those are the ones that are fun. Being recorded – that whole festival run we did, almost every show was being recorded. Almost every show was ending up on YouTube, so at some point you don’t even think about it, you just go do your thing and some nights you have good nights, and some nights you have shitty nights. [laughs] That’s just the way it goes.
Does it change your approach when you’re playing a prestige venue, like Madison Square Garden in New York or some famous festival overseas? Does that get in your head at all?
Nah. For me, it’s like, “Wow, we’re playing the Garden, this is cool,” but it doesn’t matter. Once you step on that stage, it’s all about the energy you’re getting – or not getting, in some cases. It just becomes about what the crowd is. People always ask, “Do you like playing festivals to 100,000 people, or do you like playing clubs to 500 people?” To me, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the energy, the back and forth between the band and our crowd. I’ve played shows to 100,000 people that sucked. Like, literally 100,000 people just stared at us. And I’ve played shows to 500 people that were fuckin’ life-changing, like a religious experience. And the opposite’s true – I’ve played shows to 500 people that sucked, and shows to 100,000 people that were some of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. So for me it doesn’t matter – size, venue, nothing – it’s just about the energy, the people that came there to fuckin’ sing every word and lose their fuckin’ mind and get loose and take their inhibitions and throw ‘em away and not care if the person next to ‘em thinks they’re a weirdo for screaming their head off. Fuck them! They’re a weirdo for not screamin’ their head off!
Why do you think your audience is so strong in the UK? How did that build?
The UK’s a special place, but it’s not just the UK, it’s everywhere. Head Cases, as we call ‘em, they’re fuckin’ diehards, they’re nuts. They live and breathe this shit, and it’s amazing to us. I like to think that part of the reason is that we’ve cultivated the fan base. We haven’t relied on traditional media as the only way to communicate with them. Back in 2001, we were doing video diaries, and it sounds commonplace now, but back in 2001 no one was doing that shit. We were in a position where the press wasn’t giving us a lot of attention – they wouldn’t even do interviews with us. So we found a way to bypass them and I think that we’ve been very honest about the things that are going on in the band, the ups and downs and ins and outs, the victories and the failures. And I think people really respect that – other bands respect it, the fans respect it, it’s been very transparent and they like that. They like to know that there’s something behind the music, that there’s people and personalities and lives going on. Other bands choose to guard that stuff, to have a lot of mystery and a velvet rope, and to some degree we have to create boundaries, because fans can get pretty intense at times, but for the most part they’re a part of our lives, with the interactions we have and the stories they tell us. But there’s also an element of luck – good luck, good timing, and we’re not too bad at playing and we’re pretty heavy. [laughs]
There are a few songs on Machine Fucking Head Live that also appear on Hellalive – are those basically songs you can’t not play?
Yeah, totally. “Ten Ton Hammer,” for sure. Not in every situation, but definitely in a headline situation. I mean, we were mixing it up; we played other songs off of some of those records, but consistently, those are the ones that just rock the crowd, and that’s a big part of it. We play songs that we want to play, but we also play songs that fuckin’ whip the crowd up into a frenzy. And we like that. We like them whipped up into a frenzy.
Order Machine Fucking Head Live from the Roadrunner webstore and you'll get a free download of the six-song B-Sides & Rarities EP!
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