Nathan Percy

Interview: Phil Demmel of Machine Head

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SoCalMusicToday.com caught up with Phil Demmel, lead guitarist for Machine Head to talk about the craziness of starting a summer festival, the group’s new album Unto the Locust and the differences between playing the side stage and the main stage. Make sure you check out Machine Head as they will be either starting the main stage or headlining a side stage with the Mayhem Festival all summer long.

First things first, it’s Day 1 of Mayhem Fest in Southern California, how are you feeling?

Good, good. Crazy day, everybody’s going crazy, first day of school so everybody’s running all over the place, computer’s not working and I’ve got my wife and my son here just to add to the madness, but she’s great with him and she’s taking care of him so I’m thankful for that.

I love the analogy, “First day of school”.

Yeah, actually it’s a lot like the first day of Summer Camp, but we always like to come up with things like that on tour.

You’re the first band on the main stage, you’ll get a lot of fans from the side stages to warm them up for Godsmack, Disturbed, Dethklok, what are your thoughts on that?

It’ll be interesting, it’ll depend on how the schedule things and how they shuttle people over from the parking lot. If they get people over it’ll be good, but I’ve heard mixed reviews about opening the main stage of a big show, but I think this one is going a bit different where it’s almost better to headline a side stage because everyone is already down there and then they come over to the main stage and they just want to eat their nachos like, I don’t want to see these guys, I want to get down with the sickness.

You’ve been around for a while, quite a few studio albums out, so people know who you are and hopefully that means people will head over a bit early.

Yeah, I think so, we’re working on a seventh studio record, been around for almost 20 years and still kicking, man. I’m the third guitar player and they’ve had two different drummers, but only three changes in 20 years that’s not too bad.

Talk about how you entered into the band.

Well, I first played with them about nine years ago and I knew Robb (Flynn) while we were in a band called Violence and then from there he went on to start Machine Head back in 1992 and ever since he started that band it’s been the one I’ve always wanted to be in. Robb’s great at what he does, he’s got an amazing ear for music and great song structuring, but things being what they were, I was married at the time and I was at the end of that marriage and I decided Hey, I want to do this, tour with them for a little bit and then quit music, but…it didn’t really work out so I just ended up joining the band instead (laughs).

Couldn’t stay away from it, huh?

No, it was a calling, man. They were at their lowest point and I was at my two weird paths crossing and we needed each other just as much. I started instilling that attitude of “Fuck man, this is awesome, we’re going to kill it on tour, this is fucking great, let’s write this record.” and they were thinking “what are we doing”, ya know, it was all kind of a perfect storm.

Let’s get into some of that studio work, The Blackening came out in 2007 to a ton of rave reviews, people said it was Machine Head’s best work, talk about the growth of the band and this new record coming out in the fall.

Yeah, when we came out with Ashes, before The Blackening we thought that was the best record and then it was The Blackening and now we’re wondering what we were going to with this record. This one I feel is our best work of songwriting and musicianship and melody and although The Blackening was brutally heavy and it was what it was, each of these songs on Unto the Locust are so different from one another, you run the gammet of emotion, it’s such a journey. It’s only seven songs, but it runs over 50 minutes. We don’t write the short three-minute hits, we just can’t do it, I don’t think we can write a song under six minutes (laughs), but at the end of the ride, you’re thinking “Shit, that couldn’t have been eight minutes”. It comes out September 20th.

Any chance we’ll hear some of those songs on tour?

Yeah, we’re going to bust out a new one, called “Locust”, we need to.

Back in 2008, you did this tour and performed side stage, now you get a little main stage work, what will be the difference?

Well, the parking lot is crazy, it’s awesome and people are right on top of you and they’re going nuts, going all over the place and some of these sheds don’t allow the general admission down to the seats right in front of you, so hopefully there’s enough time for people to come in from the parking lot to get it packed in there for us to play in front of the main stagers. A lot of those people don’t even watch the side stages, they want to watch Ozzy, eat their nachos, it gives us a chance to play in front of those people who wouldn’t normally see us, hopefully it helps.

You get main stage to promote the new album, how much will that help?

That’s why we’re here, it’s all to promote the new record. We’ve got all the backdrops up, promo stuff up for the new album. We released the single, “Locust”, which is selling well and rating well, so we’re looking forward to it.

You’re playing alongside some great bands, who are you looking forward to kicking it with or watching on this tour?

You know who I haven’t seen, well actually I saw them once in Europe so that’s not true, but All Shall Perish, brutally heavy band and we toured with Megadeth and Disturbed before, cool dudes, great crew, Trivium, Suicide Silence both our bros, In Flames, great band and looking forward to playing poker with them. The last time I was on this tour was after my father passed and so I was in a funk and drinking probably more than I should have, sort of self-medicating if you will. This year I’m coming in with a clean head and I’m looking forward to pacing myself (laughs).

A common theme so far for sure. Last question, those who have not seen a Machine Head show before, what should they expect?

Energy. If you’re there we’re going to involve you, get you to sing a song, get in the pit, we’re there to play with the crowd and involve them in what we’re doing, I mean that’s what a live show is all about.

 

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