A Drunken Night Listening to My Chemical Romance Got Robb Flynn Inspired to Write Machine Head Concept Album
Machine Head's Robb Flynn was a recent guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, where he discussed the new album, Of Kingdom and Crown, and how My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade and the popular, ultra brutal anime show Attack on Titan, both inspired him to write his first concept record.
The pandemic presented many new opportunities, which Flynn embraced, enjoying TV with his two sons while resurrecting the idea of date nights with his wife, where the two would drink together and listen to music. On one of those drunken nights, she laid out all of the details about The Black Parade and insisted he author his own concept. Although he was reluctant at first, he elected to forge a new path for Machine Head while also reframing his narrative arc as a result of watching Attack on Titan.
Read the full interview below.
Of Kingdom and Crown is a concept album that explores duality of morality. Although the stories are based on Japanese anime, how is it also indicative of American society?
It was inspired by a show called Attack on Titan. It's not about Attack on Titan, though, but my kids are crazy into anime. I started off as a Star Wars nerd and went super deep. I had all the action figures, the Death Star, the Darth Vader mask and then I became an anime nerd — the early wave of Akira, [The Super Dimension Fortress] Macross and Robotech... I was just bananas about it and then I became a metal nerd. I got super into bootlegs and tape trading and demos and then I kind of moved away from anime for a while.
Over the pandemic, my two teenage boys just went down some anime rabbit hole and got completely obsessed with it. I started going in there and I was watching it one their other computer and was like, "Dude, let's watch this on TV. This is sick! This is so brutal and nuts."
So the family started watching it and in a sense it inspired this concept. Of Kingdom and Crown is a futuristic wasteland with a sky that's always stained crimson red. It revolves around two characters — Ares (character one) loses the love of his life, Amethyst, and goes on a murderous rampage against the perpetrators who killed her.
Arrows (character two) is the perpetrator who killed Amethyst and loses his mother to a drug overdose. In his downward spiral, Amethyst becomes radicalized by this charismatic leader and goes on his own murderous rampage. The lyrics detail how their lives intertwine and the part that Attack on Titan inspired it was that almost any typical American story arc is good guy vs. bad guy and the good guy wins and that's how I started writing this concept, but as I was watching the show, there was no good or bad guy.
Machine Head, "Arrows in Words From the Sky"
Both sides believed that they were doing good, but they were both committing evil atrocities. Once I started tripping on that I when I started writing all the lyrics... I've written nine albums now through the lens of my eyes and my experiences and how I see society and the world.
Now I'm writing through the eyes of a character and then I'm writing through the eyes of a character who is on the polar opposite end of this and it was just it was such a trippy way to write. Creatively, it was amazing and I go all these different places and it had to connect to me emotionally on some way. It was really a really awesome way to tell a story inside of music.
Some of the most iconic albums in rock history are concept albums. What reference points did you take from other concept albums while making this one?
I've always been a fan huge fan of The Wall by Pink Floyd, which was actually the first Pink Floyd record that I ever heard. I remember being a kid listening to all the dialogue between everything and the bombs dropping — "Whoa, this is a trip."
Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime still one of my favorite albums of all time. My wife and I really love My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade. Over the pandemic, we were listening to that record all locked in. When the pandemic hit, my kids were about 13 and 15. When you have young kids, as a parent you've got to make dinner dinner, take them places... and then the pandemic hits and they're kind of just kicking it in their rooms. My wife and I can have date night again, so every Friday and Saturday night we'd just go out to the garage and just get hammered and listen to music and talk and laugh or cry, or whatever we did and inevitably, The Black Parade would come on. She kind of inspired me to go down the route of doing the concept album because she was so into the lyrics and I knew all the lyrics and what the story of The Black Parade was, but I didn't know all the songs that well.
One night we were both super drunk and she just broke down every single lyric and every single song and what it was all about and was like, "You should do a concept record." I was like, "I should." It sounded good at the time, but I wasn't sure if I could do it and the more I started thinking about, I started writing the lyrics and the story just started happening. The more that I pondered where it could go, the more and more it came out.
Once the 10-minute opening track "Slaughter the Martyr" came into place, I knew if I can get this song to tie together then I can do this — I can just tweak this and this song and tweak this and another song and then the whole story ties together.
The new album is extremely heavy. How do different stages of life affect what you appreciate about aggressive music?
I'm just ... I'm drawn to metal.
Hatebreed have a song called "A Call for Blood." It's savage and it's one of the heaviest songs. I remember when I saw Jamey Jasta after that record came out, I was like, "Dude, it warms my soul to hear a man that angry. You're so pissed and it's beautiful."
There's a part of that that I need to hear and when it's done right and when it's real, there's nothing better. It makes sense of the world and it matches an anger that I feel inside of me and helps me cope with it. I'm constantly looking for music that makes me feel that way.
This is the first record to feature the current lineup of Machine Head. What's invigorating and stressful about acclimating new musicians to that heritage?
There wasn't really anything stressful because we had already been on tour for a while together. We were doing the 25th anniversary of Burn My Eyes where my my two new guys were playing it alongside Chris [Kontos] and Logan [Mader] from the Burn My Eyes lineup and we were doing the "evening with" set so it was a three hour show. We had gelled as a band and I think the biggest challenge, as with anybody during the pandemic, was we were all cooped up and in some ways it made the record better.
I've talked to a lot of younger bands and when they write, they just email riffs or a vocal or drum beat and they just kind of add on to it like that. They don't even have a rehearsal place. They just rehearse at home and show up onstage and play together because they can't afford rehearsal room. It's so expensive now.
I remember thinking I can just do that and email Vogg riffs and vice versa. Jared and I still live in the Bay Area together, so that was a big plus. When the pandemic hit I was just in tour mode and playing and I thought, "I've got to keep on playing." I was the only person allowed in my building because the studio is mine and the building owner would let me in. I started doing a thing called "acoustic happy hour" just drink beer and play acoustic songs [via a livestream] for two hours and take requests, and figure out stuff on the fly.
I tried to learn two or three new songs every week to mix it up. I've never done a two hour show completely clean singing and the first seven or eight of them were terrible because I'm not very schooled, but they were fun, loose, and completely spontaneous. I started taking singing lessons again. I took some about a decade back for my heavy voice, but it was more to keep my heavy voice in shape while we were on the road. I started taking lessons for my clean singing just so that I didn't embarrass myself on Facebook Live.
Some of the happy hours my voice would do everything that I wanted to and then the next week I'd come in and I couldn't do anything that I did the week before. So I started taking lessons and then a few months later, Jared started coming down and he and I have this magical combination with our voices. He joined me for the acoustic happy hours and we were doing Bob Marley songs, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, The Beatle songs.
We got to this point where he can finish my sentence — he knows what harmony I'm going to go to, I know what harmony he's gonna go to and then when we started going to work on the Machine Head songs, which we're also doing in the middle of the week. We'd try a Stevie Nicks or Fleetwood Mac thing and it opened up this whole different line of possibilities of what we could do and we went with it. I don't know if that would have happened if we would have just kept on touring and gone down the route that we were headed prior to the pandemic.
Robb Flynn, Acoustic Happy Hour - Aug. 21, 2020
Your podcast 'No F'n Regrets' puts you in the interviewer’s chair. What do you enjoy most about bringing other musicians stories to an audience?
Certainly during the pandemic, it's been a great way to stay in contact with friends and make new friends and be social. It's really less about someone's new record and it's more just a conversation about life, things that we're all going through and where they came from and how they got here.
Jamey Jasta is the one who pretty much inspired me and said I need to start a podcast. I had so much going on in the band and raising my two boys and it was too much stuff on my plate. But he kept on mentioning it to me and finally I agreed to try it. I reached out to Lars Frederiksen from Rancid.
I totally lucked out that he was my first interview for my podcast because he's so funny and so charming and so charismatic and he's got a good jillion stories. I was just like, "I'm into this." When I started, they were a lot shorter and then the pandemic hit and that's when the show came into its own because everybody was cool with talking about life for three hours. It got way more deep and we could riff on My Chemical Romance for an hour and that's when I felt like the show really kind of got its legs and came into its own.
'No F'n Regrets' Podcast With Robb Flynn + Guest Tony Foresta of Municipal Waste
Having been interviewed for the last 36 years, I know what I enjoy when it's a good interview and when the person is knowledgeable, funny and you can talk to them and go off on a little sidebar. That's what makes an interview good to begin with.
Thanks to Robb Flynn for the interview. Get your copy of Machine Head's new album here and follow the band on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.