In March 2007 MACHINE HEAD released their sixth studio album, their most epic and punishing Heavy/Thrash metal recording to date ‘The Blackening’. Peaking at #54 on the US Billboard Chart, the album received critical acclaim worldwide winning best album at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards last year and also scored a Grammy nomination. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better MACHINE HEAD recently announced that special International and US editions of ‘The Blackening’ containing b-sides and rare DVD footage will be released this October. But it gets even better than that! That same month the band is finally visiting New Zealand for one show at Auckland’s Trusts Stadium on October 22 as they tour Australasia with SLIPKNOT. NZRock speaks to lead guitarist Phil Demmel before MACHINE HEAD heads down under to give New Zealand one serious rev up…
NZRock: It’s awesome news that MACHINE HEAD is finally going to make it over here to New Zealand! You’re on a brief break at the moment, then what are your plans?
Phil: We leave a week from Saturday to do some shows in Japan and then we’re heading down your way. It’s my first time in New Zealand… we had to cancel the last time.
NZRock: Yeah what was the reason for that cancellation?
Phil: Well we had a real tight run coming from Japan then Korea and New Zealand and we couldn’t get our Visas processed quick enough a make it over there. And getting the gear there and everything it was pretty tight so we had to cancel Korea and New Zealand.
NZRock: MACHINE HEAD has special edition versions of ‘The Blackening’ coming out very soon which feature things like the making of the album and rare demo tracks. Did you guys have a lot of input into what went onto this release like in terms of the bonus tracks and all that?
Phil: Yeah we were very included in what was going on. We wanted to put the ‘Burn My Eyes’ on there because it was in hot demand for a while and a lot of the b-sides. It was kind of like giving the people the opportunity to have the whole comprehensive collection of you know, what we’ve done. So there’s a lot of stuff that hasn’t been released before. Some of it has but you know, depending on what release you get, from the UK or down theMachine Head Bandre, or in America, they’re different.
NZRock: Aside from doing these special editions of ‘The Blackening’ you earlier released the album on LP which is great to see. How important do you think it is to continue releasing Metal on vinyl?
Phil: It’s particularly a collector thing and you know, with me being in the band I thought it was cool to have but I wouldn’t want… HAHA I’m not going outside to get the next SLAYER [vinyl] record. For a piece of art or something I guess it’s cool but it’s not that important for me.
NZRock: I was on Ebay the other day and saw a whole bunch of VIO-LENCE records going for sale which made it pretty tempting to put a bid on.
Phil: Yeah yeah! That VIO-LENCE record before we re-released it was going for 150 to 250 bucks or more on CD because there weren’t a lot of them around. But yeah it’s cool to see the people into the old stuff for sure. You know what, I am looking at my record collection right now because I’m in the process of moving my room around and yep, I’m about to give them all to Dave McClain I think because I’ve got absolutely no use for them HAHA! All my KISS records and my RUSH records… SLAYER ‘Hell Awaits’.
NZRock: You must have a most prized record though? Or are you going to give Dave the whole lot?
Phil: Ah, I dont know. Let me take a look at em’ real quick… let’s see what I’ve got. You know I’ve got VAN HALEN I and II… WHITESNAKE ‘Come And Get It’ oh my God HAHA! I’ve got SAVATAGE’s first record ‘Sirens’ which is awesome… um I’ve got SCORPION’s ‘Virgin Killer’ and ah… the first MOTLEY CRUE record. I think that’s about it. My KISS records were my pride back when I was a kid… you know the KISS albums were the ones. And so… AC/DC… yeah that’s about it.
NZRock: How about METALLICA’s ‘Master Of Puppets’ though since you did that cover of ‘Battery’ on ‘The Blackening’.
Phil: No not on vinyl no. Although I blasted that out in the Camaro with all of the windows down and the AC on HAHA!
NZRock: After doing that awesome ‘Battery’ cover on the deluxe editon of ‘The Blackening’ did you get any feedback from METALLICA about it?
Phil: Yeah actually we did four shows with them over in Europe about three or four months ago and they loved it, they loved the cover of it. They’ve been talking about it, the record and everything and it’s been really cool to hear your heroes and the people that you know, are the reason you’re playing heavy music are so into what you’re doing.
NZRock: It looks like you guys had a lot of fun recording ‘The Blackening’ like getting in some fans in to chant “Fight! Fight” on ‘Clenching The Fists Of Dissent’. What was your favourite part in creating that album?
Phil: My favourite part was actually structuring my solos. I had a lot of time to prepare and to write them and I think that it’s the best record that I have done up until that time. So me sitting down, structuring and recording my leads was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun doing that.
NZRock: You said in a past interview that neither you or Robb have had formal guitar lessons before. How do you manage to harmonize so well together especially with the dual leads?
Phil: I think it’s basically just from ear. Just from you know, hearing notes that sound right and sound wrong. I took lessons when I was kid for a little bit but it was only just to learn IRON MAIDEN songs you know HAHA. Like, show me ‘Hallowed By Thy Name’ or show me ‘Killers’ HAHA. So it’s basically just from ear and knowing what sounds right or whatever. You know Robb is an amazing player. I’ve learned so much and respect so much of what he does so playing with him just kind of drives me to play better and you know be a better play.
NZRock: Do you find that there’s a lot of competition between you guys or does both of you playing lead guitars help to raise the bar in terms of your performance?
Phil: Yeah I don’t know if it’s a competition because we both know our roles in the band and we know what we’re capable of doing. But he’ll play something sometimes and it’s just you know… kind of a healthy competition but it’s more of a team than anything. I think that its more of a guitar team and helping each other in that sense.
NZRock: You guys have said that you’re not going to do a new album for another couple of years. I dont suppose there’s any chance you’ve changed your minds yet? HAHA!
Phil: HAHA! Have we changed our minds? I mean it’s just not physically possible. We’re booked through to May of next year and then we’ll probably end up doing festivals. And we still want to do a proper headlining run in the States and in Europe probably through to the end of next year. And it’s going to take us at least a year, I mean we’ve got such an amazing record to follow up. I was going to say 2010… 2011… HAHA!
NZRock: Even so, have you got any thoughts running through your mind on how you might be able to top that recording?
Phil: No, not yet man you know. We’re so far away from the writing process and where we’re going to be at that point. You know, we’re so far removed from that. We’re in touring mode right now. We’re not the type of band who can write really on the road. We sit in the jam room and feed our ideas that way. So it’s going to be what the mood is at the time that we’re home writing. We’re not in that mode yet. We’re still in traveling mode… still in Vodka and Coke mode HAHA!
NZRock: Ah yes, the ‘Browneye’ is that vodka and coke combination still part of a balanced MACHINE HEAD diet?
Phil: Yeah that’s Robb’s drink and that’s what he feeds everybody. I will every once in a while but I’m not drinking right now, I’m taking a little bit of time off. I’m more of a whiskey guy but the caffeine will give me a quick jolt so I’ll have one with him before sometimes. I’m the anti browneye guy you know. If it’s the only thing to drink then I’ll drink it but screw it otherwise HAHA!
NZRock: There seems to be a real resurgence of Bay Area Thrash at theThe More Things Change moment, with all these bands like TESTAMENT, MACHINE HEAD and METALLICA releasing great new albums. Do you have any theories as to why that’s happening again now?
Phil: Yeah I don’t know man… its a circle, a heavy music circle. You know I’m fortunate to be young enough to have started 20 years ago and be a part of it and then to be able to play with these guys and be a part of it 20 years later, it’s amazing. There are some really good heavy bands out there and its just enjoyable to hear everybody playing heavy again. You know it wasn’t cool for a while but now it’s a really good time for Metal… and as it was back then you know, the market was flooded with a lot of crappy bands you just had to weed them out and look for the good ones.
NZRock: You were a involved with DUBLIN DEATH PATROL with some other very well known Thrash musicians like Chuck Billy from TESTAMENT, what happened with that band?
Phil: I was never in the band, I mean what it was, was just a group of buddies that got together and jammed, they were never really a band until later on. You know they had the band that played live. But it was just a jamming thinBurn My Eyesg. I had known the guys since I was a kid and I played about 10 solos on the record, probably 8-10 hours max on the whole thing. I actually recorded a song that I wrote when I was 16 years old. So ‘Trail Of The Executioner’ was the song that I wrote… ohhh a long time ago… 26 years ago!
NZRock: Going back to MACHINE HEAD, you’ve been a member of the band since 2003. What have been your biggest highlights so far?
Phil: Oh man it just keeps getting better every year. Doing the Rock In Rio with METALLICA in front of 70,000 crazy fans and playing… you know… I’d have to say that playing ‘Hallowed By Thy Name’ – we played it day – and me being an IRON MAIDEN fan and that being my favourite song almost out of any song ever. Playing in front of that crowd with the crowd screaming and the winds blowing my hair I just had that you know, this isn’t happening to me kind of feeling!
NZRock: You worked with Jackson guitars to create the ‘The Demmelition King V’ model. Can you run through the process of how you collaborated with them to make this guitar?
Phil: Jackson had approached me to do a signature guitar and I love the King V, that’s my guitar, it has been for a long time now. I did the cutouts on the bottom of it and then came up with some cool colours and the design and man, it’s selling like crazy and people are loving it. So God bless Brian McDonald and Jackson guitars and all the guys over here for giving me the opportunity to do it. I’m so happy to even be associated with them in any way and I’ve been playing their guitars for over 20 years now. I’m a very fortunate guy!
NZRockL OK I’ve got a random question for you from the VIO-LENCE days. Someone I know over here in New Zealand asked me to find out from you how Pat Saugar is doing? Ring any bells?
Phil: Yeah Pat, we used to practice in the studio before they practiced and then FORBIDDEN practiced after. That’s how we got to know Robb. We’d seen Robb practice over there, that’s how we stole him! I don’t see those guys at all now. They lived in Freemont, we lived about 30 miles away so after the scene kind of broke down, and I geeze, I think Pat was 40 back in the day so that’d put him at about 50 now… I don’t know where he is anyway. Yeah that’s it.
NZRock: New Zealand is really looking forward to seeing you guys perform over here, have you got anything that you’d like to say to the fans?
Phil: We’re just looking forward to getting to New Zealand. We cancelled the last show so we’re going to make it a point to make it a double kickass show.
NZRock: Actually I meant to ask, are you guys going to have the full setlist for this show?
Phil: I think we’re playing for 50 minutes maybe so it’ll be rockin’. We wont leave them wanting more that’s for sure!