Our Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival interviews continue with Machine Head’s lead guitarist, Phil Demmel. We were a bit intimidated to chat with the metal musician since Machine Head has been there and done that. With a total of 6 studio albums and a career spanning across two decades, the quartet knows how to deliver successful album sales without compromising their metal authenticity. That’s true musical talent for you.
Our built up anxiety was pretty much all for nothing. Demmel had a laidback demeanor, but was extremely enthusiastic to discuss anything regarding Machine Head. Who wouldn’t be? Especially when the group has a jam packed touring schedule and is also getting ready to release their seventh studio album, Unto The Locust, on September 27th via Roadrunner Records. After Mayhem finishes up in August, Machine Head will continue to tour. The group’s next stop is Australia’s Soundwave Revolution with Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Bad Religion and Hole in September then South America with Sepultura in October and then the UK for ‘The Eighth Plague’ tour in November.
Time to chill doesn’t seem to be an option for Machine Head at least until winter. Fearful of wasting any of his remaining free time, we got straight to the good stuff when chatting with Demmel. Check out our interview below as we tackle several Machine Head topics, as well as Demmel’s opinion on the course metal has taken over the years.
To start off with, how has the tour been going?
The tour has been going awesome. We got caught up in this heat wave. It’s been hot!
You guys are releasing Unto The Locust in September. Have you been playing your newest single, “Locust”, on the tour?
Ya, we have been. We have 35 minutes and our average song length is like eight to nine minutes. So, you do the math and it equals out to be about four, maybe five songs. So, it’s hard to fit in a new one. People aren’t too familiar with it, but you know?
As the tour goes on are people starting to react to it more?
Ya, for sure. It’s on iTunes; it’s all over YouTube. So people are picking up to the song. It’s more when you play a new song, people kind of stand and watch anyways. We did night shows on the main stage, so it’s a lot of standing and watching over there, but you’re reaching so many more people over there. We come out in the parking lot and it’s just chaos and madness, but that’s why we are here. We are here to kiss the babies.
You guys took a year off from touring to make this album right?
What’s it like now going back on the road? How do you prepare for that?
We really can’t. We’ve toured for over three years for The Blackening and did almost 400 shows. We took 15 minutes off, so it was nice to be home with the families. Coming into the Mayhem tour, it is just madness out here. It’s heavy metal summer camp. It’s ridiculous. You can’t prepare for some of the stuff that happens. You just take it in stride and drink a lot of water. Try not to drink every night and keep your head.
What shows are you most looking forward to after Mayhem?
We are going to Australia and playing with Van Halen for five shows. So, I’ve never seen Van Halen, but they really rock. I am such a big Van Halen fan, so those are going to be awesome! We are going on a separate tour to South America, so that will be great. We are playing a pretty big arena tour in the UK with Bring Me The Horizon.
The Eighth Plague?
Ya. We are playing in an arena, all these arenas in the UK. So, it’s pretty ambitious.
How do the European fans compare to the fans out here at Mayhem?
No, it’s different. I am not saying American fans aren’t passionate, but it is just a little more clicky out here. You have your radio bands. People aren’t familiar with the other stuff. Maybe they aren’t exposed to it, like they already are over there or they don’t research it as much. Music is more of their life over there. It’s more of an open-minded community. America’s can be so narrow minded and so shut down. If you like this band then you can’t like this band. Watch T.V., or Hot Topic or Revolver… these are the bands you should like. If you don’t like these bands then you can’t like these bands. I am big fan of the European mentality.
Onto your upcoming album, where did the album title come from and the track title?
The locust concept is something that I came up with. Everybody has those people that come into their lives under false pretenses or just under the eyes of something that they are not, whether it be a coworker or a boyfriend or bandmate or whatever; they just sap you of your energy and take everything they can from you by lying to you or stealing by anything and once you discover what they are, it’s too late because they’ve robbed you of your f**cking humanity. Then they just up and fly onto the next person. It’s that locust mentality. It’s happened to me throughout my life; it’s happened to everyone. [Laugh] Certain people think that the song is about them. The song “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”, but it’s not. We’ve kind of taken it on as a theme. It’s good imagery; you know the locust and the swarms and everything. It’s just about that.
How long does it usually take you guys to make an album? A year like this one?
It’s usually a year. With this album, we have seven songs. We are so critical and scrutinize ourselves down to each little drumbeat to the point of overkill. We are at the point where we have seven songs, but it’s only 50 minutes of music.
How is Unto The Locust different instrumentally and lyrically from your six prior albums?
Lyrically, it is a little different because I’ve had Rob write lyrics in the past, but on this one I’ve done four of the songs. We really worked together. I am really descriptive in how I write and Rob’s more fishing for personality. So I think we kind of melted together our styles. I think lyrically and musically we just pushed our capabilities.
When are you going to play some more new tracks, other than “Locust”, off that album?
We have played that one tune and it’s available now. Probably when we come through January and February, we’ll get a chance to play more because we still want to play songs that best represent the band and people are familiar with, so they can stand up and dance…. [Laugh] I just said dance.
You guys are veterans on Mayhem with six studio albums already out. Do you guys feel like role models of the festival?
I think we are definitely a veteran band. I think the band has done so much and we’ve been around for 20 years. I’ve been in the band nine years already, but some of the younger bands, like Suicide Silence, we’ve kind of buddied up with. We love the shit out of those guys. We know what it’s like to be in their shoes. And the Trivium guys, we’ve toured with them and they kind of look up to us. So, it is kind of like they don’t come to us for advice, but kind of lean on us and our experiences and stuff.
Do they influence you guys with their music?
Oh ya. Suicide Silence, Trivium, All Shall Perish are all crazy musicians with some really brutal moments in their music too. We are always looking to see what’s going on with the other bands so we can improve on ourselves. You just can’t sit around.
How do you think metal music has changed since Machine Head first started?
When I first started [Laugh], metal to me was ACDC, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica and when Slayer first started out, that was what influenced me. Now, it’s just huge; there is a huge pool. Before them Internet days… [Laugh] It just broadens the landscape people can choose from. Other bands watch other bands. It just runs the market, but people aren’t stupid. You still see that most of the top bands are honest and true and the integrity is there.
Have any advice for the up and coming metal bands?
Be true and honest and have integrity.
by Lonnie Nemiroff