“You have to let shit go” – Phil Demmel about forgiveness and the future of MACHINE HEAD
Skriven av Bella Qvist   
Skapad 2010-03-15 18:00
Any MACHINE HEAD fan with YouTube access knows that Phil Demmel passed out on stage in front of thousands whilst on tour with METALLICA at Sonisphere Festival last summer.

Despite common belief, sex, drugs and rock n’ roll was never the reason for that or other YouTube captured episodes.

In an emotional interview with Critical Mass Isabella Qvist, Phil talks about how the depression after his father’s death as well as his incapability to move on and forgive his cheating ex wife physically affected his heart.

Phil hasn’t had a holiday for fifteen years, he hardly ever gets to see his three year old son and he has had false Twitter accounts set up in his name, spreading lies over the Internet.

Still Phil is one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. Like a big cuddly bear with his long dark hair hidden under his favourite black beanie hat, the MACHINE HEAD guitarist sits next to me in a cold concrete staircase in Leeds, telling me how you need to forgive and let your anger go, even when the people you love cheat on you and leave you in ruins.

You can’t change the way people behave, but you can control the energy you give a situation, he tells me.

Let’s rewind the tape for a bit...

Elton John’s "Candle In The Wind" is playing from a lonely laptop as I thirty minutes earlier arrive in the Leeds O2 Academy backstage area for The Black Procession, MACHINE HEAD’s latest cycle of their three year long tour of the in 2007 released and Grammy nominated "The Blackening". With them on tour are HATEBREED, BLEEDING THROUGH and MAN MUST DIE.

The guitarist first looks confused as he greets me with a firm hand shake and leads me through the maze that is the concert venue, holding up doors like a true gentleman, before finding a place that somewhat shields us from the sounds of MAN MUST DIE’s brutal sound check.

Tell us about the Black Procession Tour.
“The tour’s going really good. We’ve gone through Europe and Scandinavia and we have been in the UK for a week or so. The shows are awesome over here so I’m glad we saved them for last,” he says, starting off politely.

“This is the first time on this cycle that we’re doing it all on our own terms with our own production and stuff. We haven’t done that over here before so we wanted to get out here and play a full two hours or an hour and forty-five anyway”, he says and laughs his first of many contagious laughs.

How did you find Sweden when you were over there?
In Sweden we had an awesome show, we had one of our best shows there. Normally Norway and Sweden are kind of iffy for us but this time it was really good. We played the arena and did really well.

You’ve managed to catch the coldest winter in a long time.
“Yeah it’s pretty cold but I don’t mind the cold weather. I like to visit the snow but I wouldn’t like to live in it,” says the man who claims he used to go snowboarding thirty times a year before joining the band.

A sporty guy in other words.

“This is the most sober we’ve been on tour” – MACHINE HEAD have changed their ways

And as it turns out, the whole Black Procession Tour is. Whilst HATEBREED do yoga and BLEEDING THROUGH’s Brandan Scheieppati plans a fitness video, the headliners have brought a treadmill along and are swopping booze for juice.

“Well, this is the most sober we’ve been on tour. Robb [Flynn, lead vocals and guitar] and I haven’t really been drinking, Adam [Duce, bass] doesn’t drink, Dave [McClain, drums] has kept it down. I mean we’ve got a treadmill and a juicer with us. Fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts is on the rider, not so much the booze.”

And the healthiness doesn’t stop there.

Adam and I are doing this paleo diet. It’s like cave man diet which means no breads, no grains, just all nuts, fruit, and meat. Plants and animals, that’s it. Robb’s really picky with what he eats, he’s really organic and knowledgeable. And after the gig somebody will always go down and get the juicer going, throwing the ginger and the carrots in and then everybody’s all stoked for their juice and it’s like ‘man we’ve come a long way for sure’,” he laughs.

Despite it being a very exciting mix of bands touring around Europe together, Phil tells us he has no juicy stories to share. Excuse the pun.

"I'll pretend you didn't say Twitter" – Phil has his reasons for hating the social networking site

“It’s been pretty uneventful so far. It’s been mostly about catching up on our TV shows and watching True Blood and Lost,” he says and bursts out laughing.

“No real crazy stories. We had a couple of nights off in London, we saw ‘Les Miserables’ and then we went out and raged after. We went and saw FEAR FACTORY one night, we had one drink a night but that’s about it. Nothing too crazy,” the cosy looking rock star says.

And at first I don’t believe him. Having kept up to date with the most recent MACHINE HEAD online updates I had seen a tweet indicating that Robb had a very wet night in a certain European city.

“Vienna? Na, maybe for him but not for me, I went to bed pretty early in Vienna. And I’ll pretend that you just didn’t say Twitter.”

It turns out I have hit a sore point. And Phil has his reasons for it.

“I’m really hating Twitter right now, on a number of levels. Somebody put up a fake Twitter page for me, so it’s a kind of touchy subject for me.”

“I just got back from the doctor, I have herpes. Thanks groupie,” he quotes a tweet and gives me a serious look. “Not very cool.”

Today most bands can’t survive without MySpace and Twitter.
“I think it’s a great tool for bands on that level. I mean it’s great to be seen and it’s great to be noticed,” he says as MAN MUST DIE’s sound check growls echo throughout the building.

“But the whole Twitter thing, I don’t know. It’s cool for kids, but I just think it turns adults into kids. I’ve seen some really, really immature things happen to forty year olds with that thing but as far as bands and that go I think it’s an amazing tool.”

Do you have any tips for bands starting out today?
“I think the more people that you know and the more people that know you, you have a better chance. It’s always going to be [about] whether your band is good or not but it’s also having the right people see you. Go out to as many shows as you can, do the MySpace thing, do all the social networking things and just get seen, but its going to come down to you being good or not.”

Where do you stand on downloading and streaming and, well, the future of the music industry I guess?
“It’s just about following the technology, man. I mean I can’t say that ‘oh it sucks and bla bla bla’ because I used to do it when I was a kid. I was syncing up my dubbing station with my cassettes or taping people’s hours, I was doing the same thing. It’s always been a part of what’s going on, it’s just that it’s so easy now you know and it’s just a flick of a button. I mean you don’t even have to know somebody who has the record, you just go online! So it’s just the nature of the beast.”

“The whole Internet thing in general can be very evil,” he says and flashes a sly smile.

“It’s like a super power; do you use your super power for good or for evil? It’s about how people use it and hopefully it’s for the greater good. It has really hurt album sales and that is just the way it is.”


 "You're doing the same goddamn thing, so shut up!" – Phil on the subject of anti download preachers

He hesitates before answering whether he buys CDs or not.

“Sometimes, yeah. But I’m on the road a lot so its easier for me to just go to itunes and grab it or take my buddy’s and rip it, you know,” he laughs, pausing again to think about his words.

“I do that. And everybody in my band does that. And everybody I know does that, so if anybody’s going to stand up there and be like ‘oh dudududu,” he says comically mimicking a preacher with a serious frown, “then it’s like ‘you’re doing the same goddamn thing, so shut up!’”

True. So, is touring necessary in a different way now that people don’t buy CDs?
“I think it’s absolutely necessary, especially for a band like us. I mean we have to tour, that’s how people know us, that’s how we’ve have maintained our popularity. We’re a great live band and that’s what it comes down to. You can play all you want but if you’re not good then people aren’t going to come back. So that’s why we’ve been touring for almost three years on this record.”

Are you getting a bit tired of touring?
“I’m really ready to be home, yeah. I’ve got a three and a half year old little boy I haven’t seen for a long time you know. I need to be home.” 

"I've been through a lot to clear myself of the stressful things in my life" – Phil

It must be really hard to have relationships when you’re on tour.
Yeah, well relationships are really easy, I just don’t have them,” he laughs.

Having thought about it, I decide now is time to take the bull by its horns and ask what every MACHINE HEAD fan with YouTube access has been wondering about.

I understand that you have a heart problem and you’ve had problems with fainting; would you mind telling us a little bit about it?
pulls a face, he is anything but happy to talk about his famous mid performance fainting episodes. The last one happened on tour with his favourite band, METALLICA, last summer and now the previously so confident rock star struggles with his words.

“I have a condition, its called cardiogenic syncope. There’s a valve on your heart that communicates with your brain and the brain tells it how much blood to flow and if I’m,” he interrupts himself and thinks before he continues.

“I’ve gone through…”

He sighs and starts again.

“My father died a couple of years ago, and that kind of triggered this huge depression for me and so if I’m in a real depressed state, then I’m really susceptible of that and so in the last couple of years I’ve suffered really bad series of episodes of that and sometimes they happen on stage. It hasn’t happened since last July. At Sonisphere with METALLICA,” he says and rolls his eyes, clearly embarrassed.

“And if you go on YouTube you can see ‘em all.”

He laughs uncomfortably.

“I’ve been through a lot to clear myself of the stressful things in my life and I’ve really worked on, really been going trough this forgiveness phase. Letting shit go and just realising that there is nothing I can do about that and just forgiving people and letting shit go and moving on. As I’ve proceeded with that I’ve improved health wise. So I’m not going to be recovering and I’m not looking back.”

Phil keeps his eyes fixated on the floor for most of the time talking but as he finishes that last sentence he looks up at me with his big, honest eyes and I feel he is just the right person to ask my next question.

How do you mend a broken heart, how do you forgive someone who has cheated on you?

“Well, I was married for seven years and I was with her for twelve.”

He takes his time as he answers.

“And you know, she basically ruined me,” he says and laughs bitterly.

“It’s taken me a long time and she’s the reason why I’ve taken this long because I’ve held this against her for all that time and I can’t help the way that she is. They call it a grievance, I have an unenforceable grievance with her. I can’t make her be [anything] other than she is. It’s like a cop stuck on the side of the road and he’s got a broken down car and all these people are speeding by, and he can’t write these tickets, and it’s something I cant write a ticket for. And so that’s just something you have to let go.”

“The only thing you can control is how you feel about it and the energy that you give to that situation. So by giving, by holding a grudge against that person, it’s not helping your situation in any way, you should focus on your own healing instead of focusing on blaming that person. So that’s it.”

That’s it. We continue onto a lighter subject. In 2007 ‘The Blackening’ was nominated for a Grammy Award. And recently it was named “Album Of The Decade” by Metal Hammer.

“Thanks. The Grammy we lost to SLAYER, that’s OK you know,” he says and grins, genuinely now.

What has been the biggest moment so far in MACHINE HEAD’s career?
“Oh, there’s been so many bench marks that we have achieved with this thing. Our best selling first week with ‘The Blackening’ and then we won Record of the Year, there’s been so many things!”

“I mean we toured with METALLICA for a year, we were out with SLIPKNOT. The biggest bands in the world want to have us with them so I can’t pinpoint which one has been the one. But the Grammy nomination was really cool,” he nods.

Looking back at things today, do you think that MACHINE HEAD would have done anything differently at any point?
“I can’t really tell, I’ve been in the band since 2002 and we’ve since I’ve joined it’s been a steady climb, everything’s just been improving and getting better and then we’ve made a series of really good choices. So I can’t say that since I’ve joined the band that we would change anything.”

What do you want to achieve next?
“I’d like to play bigger places in America, I’d like to have a gold record, and I’d like to have a Grammy. But I mean we just have the love of our fans and that’s more than anybody could ask for, we have that so anything after that is great but it doesn’t matter.”

How many fans come to the shows looking like Robb?
“There’s some, there’s some,” Phil laughs.

Robb has this old party alter ego, his name is Rufus and he has this fro that he puts on and shades and suntan. I didn’t get it on this tour when there were some Rufuses upfront and I was like ‘what’s with the fucking fro’s’ and then I realised they were being Rufus. Also, Robb is really big on wearing the same shirt for every night to make it his own trip or whatever and so people start wearing the shirts that he has.”

Is the look important to the band? Do you think about what you wear on stage?
“I wear the same thing just about every night. I’ve found something that I like and that I’m comfortable with and that is easy for me to play in. The look is very much important to other people in the band but not so much for me.”

Speaking of a natural look, what do you sing in the shower? Have you got any guilty pleasures that come out?
“You know, I’ve been singing,” he says with a beaming smile. “I went to ‘Les Miserables’ the other night, the musical in London, its one of my favourites. And I can’t get the songs out of my head, I can’t!” he says laughing as he lists them all. “At The End Of The Day, Master Of The House, that’s what I’ve been singing. But one of my favourite bands in the world right now is SHINEDOWN so I sing a lot of the tunes off of their new album too,” he says saving the situation somewhat.

Is MACHINE HEAD going to begin working on a new album of their own anytime soon?
“As soon as we get home in April then we’ll sit down and we’ll get into our little jam and that’s where we rock out. We just have a couple of things now so nothing really solidified. So we won’t start until then.”

Will it continue along the lines of the epic long songs of ‘The Blackening’?
“No. I think that we’ve done the epicness already. We’ve done the long epic tunes and I think that we’ll probably still keep the heaviness and maybe a little bit the progressive arrangement that have been on the past couple of MACHINE HEAD records but I don’t know, man. We didn’t know what ‘The Blackening’ was going to be like until we got in there and we’ll just have to see what kind of mood we’re in and what comes out of it. I’m not going to put any limits on it.”

And with the band finally finishing off their three year long tour and going into the studio in April, they won’t be playing any festivals this summer. Phil admits they have had some very tempting offers but seems relieved at the thought of some time off.  

“I’m still going to come out to Download [Festival] though, I’m going to come and see AC/DC and AEROSMITH and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and spend the weekend out there so yeah, I have a little vacation coming up,” he smiles.

"There wouldn't be a MACHINE HEAD without them" – Phil wants to thank his fans

Holidays are a rare thing for rock stars and Phil hasn’t been on a proper vacation since his honeymoon in 1995. That’s 15 years.

“Touring is not vacation. Yeah I travel a lot but I don’t get to see anything. We had like three days off in Italy one time and we had a nice place on the beach and that was cool but its still mid tour so you’re still exhausted from that.”  

The Black Procession tour ends in Australia, just in time for Phil’s birthday, which Wikipedia has told me is April the first. But as it turns out the Internet has, once again, played a trick on him.

“Yeah, it’s wrong, it’s April the second. Somebody needs to fix that,” he laughs, pretending to be angry. “I will be getting home on my father’s birthday which is like three days before mine so I’ll probably be doing something with my family. I keep it kind of low key and my son lives in L.A. now so I’ll probably try to get down and spend it with him.”

Have you got a message for your fans tonight?
"Same as every night, it is ‘thank you so much for letting us do what we do’. We’re a real fan friendly band and they’re so integral to the MACHINE HEAD machine, they are part of it, so they’re part of us, they’re family to us. So thank them all because there wouldn’t be a MACHINE HEAD without them.”

Nice, well I hope you have a very lovely birthday.
"Well thank you very much. And notify Wikipedia man, they need to get my birthday right,” the charming guitarist jokes and laughs one more time before saying goodbye and showing me the way out of the labyrinth like building.

Once outside I am for the second time tonight greeted by confused looking eyes.

A long line of fans are waiting to get into the building that I have just left and it hits me that I have finally found the solution to a life-size puzzle.

You need to laugh, you need to forgive and you need to let shit go. Live.

Something which I have no trouble doing to the sounds of MAN MUST DIE, BLEEDING THROUGH, HATEBREED and a brilliant MACHINE HEAD later that night.

You can’t change the way people behave, but you can control the energy you give a situation.


>>> Feel free to leave your comments below! No registration necessary. <<<




0 #3 brad 2011-07-24 16:25
it is amazing that the interviewer never asks anything about Phil's old thrash metal band Vio-lence, they were legends
+2 #2 brad 2011-07-24 16:25
it is amazing that the interviewer never asks anything about Phil's old thrash metal band Vio-lence, they were legends
0 #1 Grim 2010-10-10 21:16
Machine "Fucking" Head rules !

Phil is a really awesome man and I hope hope his heart will get better.

Really nice interview, and nice motto :
"Laugh, forgive and let shit go"

Rock On !

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