Interview: Machine Head’s Robb Flynn Wanted To Create An Album That Was Like A ‘Murderous, sad, crazy movie playing out in your head’

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As of today, Machine Head have released their tenth studio album Of Kingdom and Crown. With this new record, Robb Flynn and company offer listeners truly one of the most thrilling and epic releases the band has ever put out (and we MEAN that).

Of Kingdom and Crown is an incredible record, packed with exhilarating instrumentation and that of rich lyricism. It makes for a narrative adventure as well, with Flynn crafting one hell of an intriguing concept that plays from song to song.

With the release of this new album – of course we wanted to talk to Robb Flynn. We conducted a two-part interview with the Machine Head singer; the other day you may have seen part one, where we talk to Robb about how this album was inspired by the anime Attack On Titan. In part two, we talk about other creative elements involved with this record, such as how Flynn went about writing a concept album and what he hopes folks get out of this record.

The Pit: While this record explores grounded themes, it’s also Machine Head’s first ever concept record. The most “fantastical” that the band has ever been, lyrically speaking. What was it like writing a concept album? 

Robb Flynn: For me it was a really cool creative writing experience. I mean most of the record – I’m a total night owl, pretty much every record that we’ve ever written was written between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM, lyrically. And with this one, I would just set my timer for 20 minutes and I would just write nonstop for 20 minutes every morning, ’cause I already get up anyway like for no reason in particular. I just do, so I just do work or I write lyrics or whatever.

When I started putting the idea together – I’ve written nine albums now through the lens of my eyes; you know, how I view society or experiences that have happened to me. And as with most artists, that’s the case. When I started forming the idea that there was going to be two characters, [I realized I’m] going to have to kind of write from both [of their perspectives]. I wrote in that traditional American story arc: Good guy, bad guy, good guy wins [at first].

The Pit: From a technical writing standpoint, how important was it for you to make sure the lyrics expressed a narrative flow? You know how a band like Coheed and Cambria will write a song – and the lyrics express part of a narrative, but they also exist on their own as a song. Did you want something like that, or something that was presenting the literal plot progression of your story?

RF: No, because I felt like since it was set in the future – you know, it’s in this futuristic wasteland – I really wanted it to be very metaphorical, because I wasn’t really talking about any place that exists. I just wanted it to be metaphorical. When I was writing a lot of the lyrics for Burn My Eyes, to me, that record is very, it’s kind of just violent poetry. [The lyrics] don’t necessarily make sense, but they paint these pictures in your mind that make sense. And that’s maybe because we just had finished up this wildly successful Burn My Eyes 25th anniversary, like, that was at the top of my head; like writing those type of lyrics.

Then the pandemic hits and now I’m writing this record in the pandemic. But you know, I really [worked to] good lengths to really make [the album] be visual. I wanted it to be like a movie playing out in your head; so it could be this, violent fucked up, murderous, sad, crazy movie playing out in your head. But narrative-wise, I didn’t feel like it was super important to have, you know, “This song has to be about that.” I don’t know if I could have written it like that, but there had to be key songs that held the story together, that told the story. That’s kind of how it is.

Then I wanted to put in – you know, I love Operation: Mindcrime by Queensrÿche; I love [Pink Floyd’s] The Wall with like the little interludes that kind of move the story along. So I put a couple of those in to help just move the story along like that. “Now this group of songs is about this,” you know, like that kind of type thing. 

The Pit: Through your writing, you have offered listeners a great deal of politically and socially insightful lyrics. While this new album does explore a fantastical narrative, it is speaking to real serious matters. Is there anything you hope your audience takes from this? Or do you just want them to be part of a thrilling and epic ride?

Robb Flynn: Definitely the latter. If people get [something insightful] out of it, that’s great. Like I said, I did write it very metaphorically. In some ways, I think that’s because I believe that storytelling – it’s the things that kind of get stuck in your brain. You know, the little hook or the little, “What does that mean?” that you ponder for a minute. That ultimately, I think, makes people connect deeper and, at least in my experience with the music, that I’ve loved.

Like when The Beatles sang about “Blackbird singing in the dead of night,” I loved that song and I still love that. That’s still one of my favorite Beatles songs. I always thought it had trippy lyrics ’cause I was just like, “What is this?” As a kid, I was like, “What does this song mean?” Then later to find out that that song is about the Civil Rights Movement and about the riots that were happening in Watts and Detroit and police brutality. [Coming to that realization] made me trip on [the song] even more like, “Oh wow, what a clever way to to talk about that.”

There’s some of that [quality] on this record.

The Pit: What is a personal element that went into making this album that you are really proud of?

RF: When the pandemic hit, we started doing these things called Acoustic Happy Hour. I’d been touring for five months and I was like “I gotta play some music, I’m going crazy.” I started doing these Acoustic Happy Hours and it’s like I’m going to just drink beer and play acoustic songs and you are locked up and I’m locked up; so like just tune into Facebook Live if you want [and chill with me], and if you don’t and think this is stupid, then do something else. But you know, I really started enjoying it and somewhere over the course of that – I’m known for my heavy singing and Machine Head has always had melodic vocals. You know, big clean singing, but I had never sang a two hour show with all clean vocals and they weren’t great – it was just more just fun and spontaneous. Just having a good time and I’d take requests – no setlist – and just try and learn songs on the fly. Then at some point I was like, “You know, I want to take some vocal lessons. I want to just get better at this.” 

I had taken vocal lessons about a decade back for my heavy vocals, but I’m basically self taught and I do a warm up that I got from Billy from Biohazard, that’s about it. I started taking these vocal lessons to get better and then and I did. […] Then Jared came in and, Jared and I have this very, magical, like our voices together sound fucking incredible, like they just complement each other. The two of us are doing the Acoustic Happy Hours and we’re doing Fleetwood Mac songs and Stevie Nicks songs and System of a Down songs and shit that translates well to acoustic. Pretty soon it’s like he can finish my sentence, like I know what harmony he’s going to go to. He knows what harmony I’m going to go to. And we really get in tune with that kind of shit. And during this time, we’re still rehearsing three times a week, We’re working on it. We’re working on the record twice a week and we start putting this type of shit into the record and it’s like for no reason other than like “Hey let’s try that Stevie Nicks thing in this song?” Like why not look and see if it works, and then [realize] oh fuck that sounds killer.

[…] We just were trying new shit and it worked and I’m super proud for all the Headcases of America to hear this record. The label is really fucking behind it. Monte Conner, he’s been my A&R guy for my 30-year career. Signed me four times. He’s like “This is the best record you’ve ever done,” and I’m like wow, like, that carries a lot of weight coming from a dude like him, you know?

We would like to thank Rob for his time talking to us! The new Machine Head album Of Kingdom and Crown is out today. If you want to check out part one of our interview with Robb, follow the link below!

Interview: Robb Flynn Speaks To How Attack On Titan Inspired The New Machine Head Album + Getting Ahold Of Slayer Bootlegs