Phil Demmel has been the lead guitarist of Machine Head for the last 9 years. He joined them after his previous band Vio-Lence broke up; Vio-Lence being the band that he and Rob Flynn, Machine Head’s lead singer and guitarist, formed together as teenagers. Robb went on to form Machine Head in 1992 and Phil joined them in 2003, proof that the two were destined to make music together in whatever form it takes. We were lucky enough to have a chat with Phil in the midst of the madness that is the Rock Star Mayhem Festival where Machine Head participated in the rather innovative idea of sharing the opening slot on the main stage with Trivium and In Flames.
Mxdwn: So you guys are currently on Mayhem fest right? How is that going?
Phil: It’s going great. We’re about half way through now and we did a couple warm up shows, so it’s been a good few weeks of being on the road again after 15 months off.
Mxdwn: There’s some line up juggling going on this year’s Mayhem where you’re playing on the main stage some dates and the Revolver stage on some others. How is that working out?
Phil: There’s 3 bands that are rotating the opening slot on the main stage, so the first 9 shows we open on the main stage, then Trivium is opening the main stage for the next 9 and we go to the Revolver stage. Then In Flames is opening it for the last few shows.
Mxdwn: Any idea why they did it that way?
Phil: The 3 of our bands are pretty equal; we’re similar in status, so were just rotating it around and seeing how it goes.
Mxdwn: Sharing the love?
Phil: Yeah for sure.
Mxdwn: So are you guys touring more after this?
Phil: Yeah this will take us through the middle of August and in September we go down to Australia for the Soundwave Revolution festival tour with Van Halen [as of August 9th this tour was cancelled unfortunately]. Then in October were going to do a South American tour with Sepultura, then in November were taking on a pretty ambitious arena tour through Europe and the UK with Bring me the Horizon, DevilDriver and Darkest Hour.
Mxdwn: Yeah you guys usually tour pretty heavy for every album.
Phil: A band like us is not going to get a lot of radio play so we have to hit the streets, pound the pavement and kiss the babies.
Mxdwn: Speaking of which, the new album Unto the Locust is coming out on September 27th. And this is your first release in 5 years, is that mainly because of the extensive touring for the last album or are there other reasons?
Phil: Well it’s a combination of things. We toured for three years on The Blackening and we toured so long because when Metallica wants to take you out for a year you go out with Metallica for a year. When Slip Knot wants to take you out for eight months all over the world you go tour the world with these big bands because you’re expanding your fan base. We also took a good six months off before we started writing. We don’t write a record over night, it takes us a long time and we took the proper amount of time. I wish we could have kept writing for a little bit more actually but some things are out of our control and four and half years after The Blackening came out, September 20th will be the release date for the new one, I think we bumped it up a week.
Mxdwn: Did you go into writing this one with any preconceived idea of how it would sound, like “it has to be heavy” or “it has to be this or that”, or was it just whatever happens, happens?
Phil: It was the same idea we had with The Blackening. We went in trying to capture what we were feeling at that time and that works well for us. So we just went with the same formula, the same premise and things came out great.
Mxdwn: Is writing a fairly democratic process with you guys does everyone get a say, do you get together and jam in a room or what?
Phil: It’s somewhat Democratic, I mean Robb has a vision for it, we lean on his ear. He’s got such a great ear for notes, phrasing and structure. Dave does that as well. I also play guitar and I’ll be half way done with structure and I let the guys kind of go off on that. So it’s pretty democratic. Robb is the main song writer; I call him our sandwich maker. Me and the other guys will feed him a bunch of ingredients, you know a slice of ham here, some mayo here, and he’s really good at putting stuff together, but I do some structuring as well sometimes.
Mxdwn: Rob produced this album and this would be the third one he’s produced. I know as long as you’ve been in the band he’s been the producer but I’m curious if you think it makes it more efficient than if an outsider were to come into it and try to produce the record?
Phil: Well he did the first one just out of necessity nobody was really available or we couldn’t really afford somebody. And Rob would produce our demos and they sounded fucking great and so we gave him a shot on the first one [Through the Ashes of Empires]. Nobody knows what this band should sound like more than Rob. He has the capabilities, he has the ear, and I just can’t see a reason to put it into some outsider’s hands if he can handle the work load and the stresses that come along with it. That’s been the thing is to kind of balance that. He’s mixing this record right now too because we had something go on with the guy who was mixing our record and so he’s added that to it and its been a completely involving task for him.
Mxdwn: Wow so he’s mixing it now too?
Phil: Yeah he’s in the process of mixing this right now, him and our engineer.
Mxdwn: So I’m assuming you’re playing some of the new material live on the tour, at least the single “Locust”, how is the audience responding to it?
Phil: We’ve been playing the main stage [at Mayehm Fest] so far and those fans, the main stage crowd, aren’t that familiar with Machine Head. The parking lot crowd is awesome and they love Machine Head but we come over to the main stage and there’s not a lot of them out there. But on the other hand when we say “here’s a new song” there going to pay more attention to that so there’s a lot of head bobbing and paying attention. But we’ll get the extremeness with The Revolver stage afterward. So overall it’s going over really well.
Mxdwn: Is there going to be a video for “Locust?”
Phil: Yeah we are looking through possibilities right now maybe something while we’re out on the road.
Mxdwn: So you worked with Robb before you joined Machine Head in the band Vio-Lence, he left to form Machine Head while you and Vio-Lence continued on for about ten more years. Do you feel that was the natural progression for you when Vio-Lence disbanded to work with Robb again and join Machine Head?
Phil: When he started Machine Head I kept an eye on what he was doing and was excited about what he was doing and I kind of always wanted to be in the band. I got married soon after [Vio-Lence disbanded] and was kind of fazing myself out of music. I had done what I was going to do musically, then this opportunity presented itself for me to tour with the band in a temporary role and when we were playing together, we just played all these old covers, and we just have a complimentary playing style to each other. We’re pretty similar but were pretty symbiotic in knowing in our harmonies when somebody’s going to play something. Its kind of a special kind of kismet thing and I don’t know if I felt it that it would happen but I’m glad that it did because it just seems to be where I’m supposed to be.
Mxdwn: And obviously you must see yourself with Machine Head in the future, what do you see for the band in general for the future?
Phil: [laughing] I’ve been playing with these guys for 9 years now its like “wow really 9 years?” The bands been around almost 20 years so to think that I’ll have been with them half of their career’s kind of special. It’s an iconic part of metal and I don’t see us stopping as long as people want to hear us and want to come out to our shows we’ll be here.
Mxdwn: Do you see Machine Head being more fulfilling musically than Vio-Lence was or is it just a natural progression for you? Because I read that you and Robb both seemed to have creative issue with Vio-Lence and maybe weren’t able to expand it to the places you wanted to.
Phil: Well the Vio-Lence thing was so long ago it’s really kind of a non issue. Our relationship in Machine Head is where we are now; it wasn’t really a progression from Vio-Lence. Well I guess it kind of was, but like I said I’ve been playing with these guys for 9 years, we were together in Vio-Lence for maybe four years. So we were kids, and it was a band we did when we were kids and this is the grown up version. So yeah I guess this is the natural progression. Its Robb’s vision and Vio-Lence was my vision but Machine Head is Robb’s vision and I’m here to be a part of that. I know my role in this band everybody does.
Mxdwn: Are there any side projects or anything that you are working on as just your thing?
Phil: No, no no, I mean this is where all my music focus goes and pretty much all of us. There’s kind of a no side project mandate with this band it keeps us all pretty encapsulated into Machine Head and I kind of prefer it that way. I’ll go off and I’ll jam with a few of my friends bands. I’m pretty good friends with the guys from Shinedown I’ll go and play a few songs with them or the Nonpoint dudes but other than that, just playing a song here or there and jamming, all my creative energy goes into Machine Head.
Mxdwn: Well I really like the new single and I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the new album I’m sure a lot of people are. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Phil: No not really, just Into the Locust should be coming out Sep 20th go pick up a copy.