Niclas Müller-Hansen of Sweden’s Metalshrine recently conducted an interview with drummer Dave McClain of San Francisco Bay Area metallers MACHINE HEAD. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Metalshrine: How many songs were recorded [for the new MACHINE HEAD album, “Unto The Locust”]? You’ve got seven songs and about 50 minutes of playing time and I know you recorded cover versions of a RUSH song and a JUDAS PRIEST one, but was there anymore original MACHINE HEAD material recorded that didn’t make the album?
McClain: Yeah, we had a couple of songs. There was one that I wrote the music for. We were working on it and Robb [Flynn, guitar/vocals] was working on it for a long time, lyrically and melodically, and just trying to get a melody he was happy with. I wrote it to be a bit more of a mellow thing and I gave it to him and told him I wanted it to be kind of like “Changes” by BLACK SABBATH. We kind of took it into this… there was a piano at the end and he started working on it and had this guy do some piano stuff and then he also put like these kind of little orchestra pieces on there, like cellos and violins and stuff, but Robb just never got to the point… By the time we got to the studio, we were so swamped with doing stuff that he never got to the point where he was happy with it. Maybe it will surface somewhere… Then there was this other song that we had. Me and Robb wrote it and it was kind of the same thing; it just never really took shape. It’s a good song. A lot of the time, Robb tries a hundred different things with melodies and stuff, but it’s not just up to par with the rest of the stuff. We’ll leave it on the backburner for now and maybe somewhere it will come out.
Metalshrine: Usually when you guys work on a new album, do you ever go back and pick stuff that wasn’t finished from the last album or do you always start from a clean slate?
McClain: We always start off with a clean slate. Once we’re in the writing process, we’ll kind of remember riffs more, like on my laptop I’ve got from the time we started writing “Through The Ashes Of Empires”, probably literally 150-200 riffs on there that never were used. We’ll go back sometimes and I always listen to stuff and I’ll go back and listen to some of my old riffs and see if there’s anything that could do something for us now that it didn’t back then of if it fits something that we’re doing, so we’ll bring the stuff back, but we usually always start with a clean slate. I think there was something… I’m trying to think here… something that was left unfinished from “Through The Ashes Of Empire”. There was a riff and I was in the practice room one day and in the storage there was a tape from… it was one of Robb‘s riff tapes and I found this riff that was like, “Dude, this riff is amazing!” I think it might have been left unfinished, but there are things that kind of resurfaces.
Metalshrine: The reason for you settling for seven songs and about 50 minutes of playing time, was that because of… usually these days with the CD, people try to cram in a lot of music and there’s music for like 78 minutes worth and it usually gets boring and songs that really wouldn’t have made it get in there as well. Was that the reason for it? To keep it short and keep the listener more interested?
McClain: Yeah, I mean, sure! When we did “The Blackening”, there were eight songs that we felt… you know, there are always songs that you’re doing on every record we’ve ever done before that and we’re like, “Well, this song is kind of [lame]” and it’s this and that and the record company really want 10 or 11 songs and for “The Blackening”, we were like, “These are the eight that we love! This is it! This is a solid record!” and it’s the same with this one. These seven songs we felt were super solid and it’s like 53 minutes of music. All the records we were looking at, like doing “Witch Hunt” by RUSH… we looked at like “Moving Pictures” by RUSH and there’s six songs, I think and you look at “Reign In Blood” and that album is like 32 minutes long! It goes by fast and the songs are really short, but they’re such good songs, that it doesn’t seem like there’s two-, three- or four-minute songs. We didn’t wanna put more on, like the two that we had, we don’t wanna clutter it out just because maybe the record company wants more songs. I guess it looks better buying the record, but to us it’s more about quality.
Metalshrine: MACHINE HEAD, being what you are today and you’ve had tremendous success over the years, is there any kind of pressure from the record company these days? Do they even look for a metal band to come up with something they would call a single or anything like that? Any pressure recording today?
McClain: No, I mean, not with us. The type of deal that we have with them, we know that we’re not gona be this radio band. There was a time in our career when Roadrunner was wanting to take stuff to the radio, but it’s not gonna happen now. The cool thing was when we were doing this record, they were saying that, “If we hear anything that we think could work on the radio, we’d love to take it!” I think that’s cool! It’s not forced and it was cool to hear, but it wasn’t anything that made us write anything different for the radio. That’s a bad thing about… having that aspect in your mindset, if you do something for radio and it fails, it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket as far as that goes. I think a lot of the times with radio, radio bands have like one song on the radio and next time nothing and you’re getting fans just for that one song. The way we look at it, we would rather build our following by being a great live band and touring and really work hard to make more lifelong fans.
Read the entire interview from Metalshrine.