Last Sunday, the 2011 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival rolled into Hartford, CT, bringing with it 10 hours and 13 bands’ worth of ear-blasting heavy metal. San Francisco thrash metallers Machine Head headlined the Revolver stage, putting on a short but brutal show that was one of the most engaging performances of the day. Two days later, I caught up with guitarist Phil Demmel by phone, to ask about the band’s road troubles at the Hartford show, other bands on Mayhem Fest, and the eagerly-awaited new Machine Head record. Read the interview below, and check out my review of the entire Hartford Mayhem Festival by clicking here:
Examiner: Hey Phil, how are you doing today?
Phil: I’m doing great.
Examiner: We’re talking on the phone because you guys had some bus trouble on the way to Sunday’s show in Hartford, was it just a standard breakdown?
Phil: Yes, just one of those things that happens on the road. Mayhem was real cool, they sent a production truck to pick us up and hitch our trailer, and we made it in time for our set without any real trouble.
Examiner: At Sunday’s show, Robb thanked all the Disturbed and Godsmack fans for coming early, do you feel like you’re gaining new audiences?
Phil: Well he was kind of joking, saying that those bands pull in different kinds of fans. It’s great to see kids enjoying us for the first time, especially kids that maybe haven’t been exposed to us before.
Examiner: With your limited time slot, I noticed you couldn’t play Davidian, does it hurt to have to cut songs out of the setlist?
Phil: Davidian has been played at every single Machine Head show, ever, really, before this tour. It’s just been a staple. But we want to play current songs, that the fans know and want to hear, and Halo is a great song to end the set with. We only have so much time to play, and some songs are almost 10 minutes, we’re squeezing in the fifth song, you know otherwise we’re just playing four tunes, and squeezing in that fifth song is kind of hard.
Examiner: What’s been the best date so far on this tour?
Phil: For me, Montreal was. We got to play 45 minutes, and we got to slide Davidian in that slot. It was a big stage, big crowd to play in front of going nuts, so Montreal has taken the #1 slot for me right now.
Examiner: There are some different styles on the main stage, between Megadeth, Godsmack, and Disturbed, which of the three headliners do you relate to, as a metal musician, the most?
Phil: Well I think just the fact that they’re more metal, it’s gotta be Megadeth. The band’s been around for a long time, gone through ups and downs, I think we relate to that band the most. I don’t know much about Godsmack, I do love the drummer he’s awesome, that little jam they do together. Disturbed all are cool dudes, all hang out a lot, love the crew, love them dudes, but I think Megadeth as a band, Machine Head kind of relates to just because they’re more metal.
Examiner: That’s cool, because I interviewed Chris Broderick on Sunday (watch that interview here) and he said Machine Head was his favorite band.
Phil: Oh killer!
Examiner: Are there any of the other second stage bands you’re into?
Phil: Yeah, Suicide Silence, their new record I’m digging a lot, and they put on a great live show. They bring a lot of kids, they do the wall of death, it’s very exciting to watch. I like Unearth, I like All Shall Perish, those are the bands I try to watch every day. Lots of good bands.
Examiner: I know you’ve had some medical issues in recent years, obviously you feel confident enough to be here on tour, but are there any precautions you have to take, especially with the heat in the summer?
Phil: You know, in the past it wasn’t really the heat, in a couple of incidents it might have been, but it’s more depression and stress related, and this Vasovagal Syndrome, which causes me to pass out sometimes, hasn’t happened in a couple of years, and so it’s more related to that. My father passed away about four years ago, and it was during that time when everything kind of escalated, I had a lot of other stuff going on, so a lot of contributing factors that have since been taken away, so it’s been a lifestyle change. I’ve met the love of my life, and things are going well with my son, and so my headspace is just a thousand times better than it was, so that helps.
Examiner: That’s great to hear. Are you still able to party on tour, or do you have to be careful on the road?
Phil: Well, too much of anything is not good, so I’ve been trying to eat better, trying not to drink as much as I was back then, just more responsible now, and when I was drinking more before, it really affected how I was playing too, so I’m concentrating on playing better on stage and things to that effect.
Examiner: So everyone’s excited to hear the new record, you released this new song Locust, which you’re also playing live on this tour… On interviews over the past year, you guys have been quoted as saying that you’re not trying to make The Blackening part 2, but I listened to it online, I got to hear it live on Sunday in Hartford, I think this does sound like it could be on that album, in a good way of course. Are other songs being written in another style?
Phil: Oh yeah, for sure. There are seven songs on this record, and every song is different from the rest. Blackening? Hmm, I don’t know if Locust could’ve fit on there. Maybe. But we’re not trying to match the same overall fire of that record, there’s more of a classical vibe on this record, more of a melodic flavor to it. When you hear a couple of the other songs you’ll see what I mean, but I guess if you just have Locust it’s kind of still in that vein. Definitely we didn’t have any of the booty-shaking grooves that the Locust verses have on the Blackening, so it’s a little bit different.
Examiner: Is there any power ballad like Halo on the record?
Phil: I don’t really see Halo as a power ballad…
Examiner: I was about to say, I don’t think that’s the right term, but I meant something with a super melodic and catchy hook or chorus.
Phil: Well I think Locust falls into that actually, I think that Locust has that hook, but there’s a song called Darkness Within, which is kind of acoustic, and kind of dark, folksy, there’s a four string quartet of strings in it too, it’s a departure from Machine Head, it’s something that we haven’t done yet, but it’s something that I’m proud of and pretty exciting to have out there.
Examiner: Who’s idea was it to use such a different production technique on the song?
Phil: Well I had this riff lying around for awhile, and then Robb kind of took that, and played it acoustically and wrote this really dark, kind of brooding ode to his family while he’s away, and it’s really personal and really emotional, and man, it was his idea. He’s our leader in that department, I come up with riffs and structures and stuff, but at the end of the day, he’s got the better ear for things, and we all lean on him for that. Dave’s contributed a few things to this record, and I’ve helped him lyrically on four out of seven songs. So yeah, it’s Robb’s direction.
Examiner: So I guess the other question on everyone’s mind is, once this album comes out, will there be a Machine Head tour? Will you do a headlining run?
Phil: Well we finish this tour up August 15th, the record’s going to come out September 20th, we go to Australia to do a super short festival run with Van Halen, and Bad Religion, and Alice Cooper, there’s like 30 bands on it. And then October we go to South America with Sepultura, and then November-December we go to Europe and the U.K. to headline with Bring Me The Horizon, Devildriver, and Darkest Hour. So probably headlining in the States the first quarter of next year, January, February like. It’s been almost four years since we’ve done it, so it’s about time.
Examiner: I was about to say, it really is, because you guys opened for almost every other band these past few years, I’ve seen you with Metallica, Megadeth…
Phil: We did Megadeth, we did Lamb of God, we did Heaven and Hell, so the biggest names in metal we supported, so it’s time to get out there and headline.
Examiner: I’m looking forward to it!
As always, stay in the loop with the Hard Rock Examiner for further information on tickets on-sales and all local rock and heavy metal news by subscribing at the top of this page, or follow me at twitter.com/NYROCKEXAMINER.