How MACHINE HEAD Nearly Fell Apart

April 16, 2009

U.K.'s Kerrang! magazine published a five-page cover story on MACHINE HEAD in the April 4, 2009 issue, exploring the conflict between the band's vocalist/guitarist Robb Flynn and bassist Adam Duce that was revealed in Robb's recent online posting on the group's official web site. Read the text of Ian Winwood's excellent feature in its entirety below, and go to to check out the spread, including Paul Harries' great photos.

In December 2008, MACHINE HEAD were coming apart at the seams. Then they signed up for regular therapy sessions. Here's what happened...

The tour in support of MACHINE HEAD's sixth album, "The Blackening", began in North America more than two years ago. Since that time the band — frontman Robb Flynn, bassist Adam Duce, guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Dave McClain — have racked up more road and air miles than any band since METALLICA toured in support of their own "black" album at the start of the '90s.

In that time, MACHINE HEAD have rounded the world many times over. In the United Kingdom alone they have shared stages with, amongst others, METALLICA, SLIPKNOT, TRIVIUM, MASTODON, HIM, ARCH ENEMY and DRAGONFORCE. By the time the Bay Area thrashers return home from the road at the end of this coming summer, they will have been on tour for more than two and a half years.

Is it any wonder, then, that life has become a bit fractious?

It was on November 20 last year that things came to a head. The details of the conflagration need not detain us here — indeed Flynn and Duce, the two combatants, offer slightly differing accounts of what happened that night — but the essence of the story is as follows.

Someone Robb Flynn did not care for was set to attend that night's show. The frontman believed he'd made it clear to Adam Duce that this person's presence was not welcome at the show or in the dressing room. Duce, for his part, did not believe the issue was so clear cut, and felt that were this individual to attend the show he could be kept out of Flynn's way. This proved not to be the case, and when Flynn discovered the offending person in the dressing room, he went nuts. Duce swears that he did not permit the man access to the backstage area of the Amsterdam Music Hall to spite his band mate, but the "the way [Robb Flynn] reacted you would think that I had done so".

[Adam's note: "Just so it's said, it seems to me that the writer put a slant on this whole thing to make Robb look like the bad guy in this article. I want to be clear that neither one of us are exempt from ownership of the problem. I own at least 50% of the wrongdoing here."]

The next day MACHINE HEAD traveled to Paris, where the fight continued. For a time the two musicians — who had been a part of the band since the release of the group's debut album, "Burn My Eyes" in 1994 — weren't speaking. It was during this time that the frontman considered boarding a plane back to California and quitting the band entirely. Somehow, it had come to this.

This is not the first time MACHINE HEAD had incurred trouble within its ranks. Some years back drummer Dave McClain abandoned his post in an unseemly squabble over money, hurt and offended that Flynn had referred to him as "a 1-per center." Today McClain says that "life in any band can be difficult, and we're no exception."

So it would seem. In Paris, before Flynn could do a runner, the pair finally spoke and decided on a course of action, and that course of action took the form of therapy sessions.

The interviews for this feature took place separately, in a small, white-walled room inside London's 02 Arena, a few hours before MACHINE HEAD's special guest slot as support to METALLICA. This is, of course, a coincidence, if not an irony. MH have not spoken to their Bay Area brethren about the time that they had their own very public meltdown. But if there are similarities there are also many differences. For one thing, there are the economies of scale: where METALLICA paid therapist Phil Towle a monthly retainer totaling $40,000 — Flynn and Duce are working out their problems at a rate of $150 a session.

If there is something darkly humorous about this disparity — and there is — you can bet your face that this something isn't making MACHINE HEAD chuckle. When informed of the angle of this interview, Duce admits, "We actually had a therapy session about whether or not we should do this." Things may be on the mend in the MACHINE HEAD camp, but their recent troubles are still, clearly, no joking matter.

When you were in Paris, what was your state of mind? Did you actually get to the point where you'd booked a flight back home?

Flynn: "No, I didn't book a flight. I was still in my hotel room. But I was up all night. I was too angry to eat or sleep, I was so angry I couldn't even go pee. In all of the time that I've known him I've never been so pissed at Adam as I was at that time."

You posted all this on your website, a strange thing to do, is it not?

Flynn: "Not really. I look at it as being like a diary. I think about what's going on in my life, in the band's life, and I write it down. It's a snapshot of that. We're a very honest band that tells people what's going on, and we tell them to hang in there with us. And the part of the diary that concerns [what happened between the two band mates] is only one paragraph long. But we played two shows in Paris, and by the time of the second show we'd had our fight and we were starting to work things out as best we could. He said that he'd never seen me as angry as I had just been and that it was time to clear the air."

Is there a part of you, Adam, that wishes this hadn't been conducted quite so publicly?

Duce: "Probably. But at the same time the information is out there, so there's nothing that can be done about that."

Would you describe Robb as being your friend?

Duce: "Yeah, I would. But I'd also describe him as being my brother, and brothers fight. We fight. Being in a band together and being friends for as long as we have, that's way more of a brotherhood."

Have you ever had a fist fight?

Duce: "No, never."

Can you give an example of some of the things that have occurred that have led you into therapy?

Flynn: "Well, there are a million things. Amsterdam was just the last straw. If you've been in a band for 17 years, and if you've been friends for as long as we have, then there's lots of things that can happen. But the things that make him mad I would never think would make him mad. And the things that don't make him mad are the things that I assume would drive him crazy. So it can be very difficult to gauge. It can be like a minefield, and I'm sure it can be for him as well. I'm not saying it's his fault, or all his fault, because it's not. I want to be very clear about that."

Duce: "I think [Robb and I] have a very fat communication barrier between us. And because we've known each other for so long the way we talk to each other — or at least until recently — went from zero to 50 in no time at all. We'll be talking like you and I are right now, and then two seconds later we'll be yelling at each other. The thing is, he's not trying to press my buttons and I'm not trying to press his, but they've been pushed so many times that if you push a couple of them then the 'fuck you's' start to fly."

Flynn: "Adam and I are both alpha males, and we are both better at fighting than we are at talking."

Is there anything that has happened leading up to this, Robb, that you could identify as definitely being your fault?

Flynn: "Well, I would say that I definitely have control issues."

Do you try and control too much, and at other people's expense?

Flynn: "Yes, I do. And it can be reflected in a personal way."

And do you think that is resented?

Flynn: "Yeah, I do. I think my guys deal pretty goddamn good with the attention I get. I'm the singer and so a lot of attention goes onto me. But I think I could have done a better job at deflecting that [attention], though. I try and share the credit out, but I might have done better with that. But I'm a control freak, I'm not denying that. I'm not saying I don't like control, I like it and I tend to take a lot of it. I think that's a good thing in some ways, but in other ways it's a bad thing. There's a line in there somewhere."

MACHINE HEAD's therapist goes by the name of Suzanne Slyman; she practices in Oakland, California. Ms. Slyman was already known to Robb Flynn, as she was the woman that mediated between the musician and his wife when the pair were having marital problems during the writing for "The Blackening". (Flynn will laugh at the suggestion that, with him, it's just one catastrophe after another.) Anyway, the frontman found the sessions to be "very helpful" (he's still happily married) and so naturally suggested Slyman be the person to help guide himself and Duce through their problems.

Slyman's workspace — the room in which they unveil themselves each session — featured a carpeted floor and comfortable seating. It is, Flynn says "very peaceful, very relaxing," with "a kind of holistic, kind of spiritual vibe." And it was here, on the week after the end of the tour with SLIPKNOT at the close of last year that Robb Flynn and Adam Duce began therapy, each paying $75 per hour in order to find out what it is that keeps them apart.

When you suggested therapy to Adam, what was his reaction?

Flynn: "He thought about it for a couple of minutes and he said, 'Yeah, we should try that'."

In the therapist's office, do you lay down on couches like they do in films?

Flynn: "No, of course we don't do that! But the vibe she has is very relaxed. It's different from, say, [METALLICA's former therapist] Phil Towle. I should add that this opinion is based only from what I saw on [METALLICA's 2004 documentary] 'Some Kind of Monster'. And I'm not saying anything against Phil Towle, just that what we've got going is very different. And it seems to be working for us."

Did you have faith that undergoing therapy would work or were you skeptical?

Duce: "No, I definitely had faith. I definitely wanted this to work. These sessions are costing me $75 bucks a fucking hour! I want to get to the truth as quickly as I can!"

So what form did these early meetings take?

Duce: "Well, the first few sessions were about breaking the ice, and about getting to know the person we were talking to; and her getting to know us as well. But for the first few sessions Robb and I were communicating with each other in the way that we normally do. Now our therapist sees this from a therapist's point of view. She knows the technical terms for what it is we're doing to each other. And she explains these terms in regular English and explains to us what it is we're doing to each other. She's very careful to avoid using words such as 'co-dependency' and those kinds of terms. And then she offers us different ways of doing things."

If you don't mind me saying, Adam, you don't strike me as the kind of man who would be receptive to the idea of laying yourself open to a therapeutic process. I can imagine you being there with your arms crossed and a scowl on your face...

Duce: "Well, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. People tell me I'm intimidating to talk to, but that's not the way I mean to present myself. All I want is for people to listen to what it is I have to say and to look me in the eyes when I'm saying it. But growing up the way I did, this isn't the first round of therapy that I've gone through. Between the ages of 11 and 18 I spent two four-month periods at home with my parents. The rest of the time I was in drug rehab, juvenile hall, group home, mental hospital... It's quite a list."

So do you think back on those times and think, "compared to that, this is nothing?"

Duce: "Yeah, that's right."

What kind of things have you been able to uncover in therapy that you otherwise might not have been able to talk about?

Flynn: "There's a lot of shit. And it sounds like [the incident in Amsterdam was] a reaction to one thing, but really it was a reaction to 1,000 things. Adam is a really strong dude, and I really respect that. He's got super-strong convictions, and those are qualities that I admire. He quit smoking cigarettes, he quit smoking weed, he quit drinking alcohol — he's a very different person to the guy he was when we started. He used to be a really difficult person to be around when he was so fucked up all the time. But he cleaned up and straightened up. But sometimes it seems that he gets consumed with stuff at home that supersedes the band totally, you know. A lot of it had to do with trust issues, and him honoring, or not honoring, the things we agreed to. He doesn't like touring, and that's a hard thing to get your head around with a band that tours as much as we do. I was pretty sure he was going to quit in 2007 not long after [the Download festival], he just seemed miserable. When he broke his leg and we toured without him for the one tour, I think it helped him appreciate the band more, and it made me appreciate him more and what he brings to the band."

Adam, was there ever a time when you thought, "Fuck this, I'm off!"?

Duce: "I didn't think about leaving [following the arguments in Europe] but I have thought about it. There have been times when I've thought, 'Well, if this is the way it's gonna be then I don't want to be a part of [the band].' But I was 30 when I thought about leaving, and I'm 36 now. I haven't thought about leaving recently."

Given what you're currently going through, that seems surprising.

Duce: "Well I'm pretty big on winning and losing, and I don't like losing. I'm not fucking good at it and I don't try to practice it. Quitting at this point would just be one of the biggest losses that my life could possibly have. And I'm not going to play a part in that. I'm not just going to say, 'Okay, well, I lose.' To me quitting and losing are brother and sister. To quit something that I've been a part of for almost two decades is simply not acceptable."

How long do you think you'll need your therapy session for?

Duce: "That's difficult to say, but I can already tell that we interact with each other with more compassion than we did prior to therapy. Before, Robb and I were really quick on the draw, and now we speak a lot softer towards each other. How much longer is it going to take? I don't know. It took us a long time to get [to this point] so it might take a while for it all to unwind. But I do know that every time we go [to therapy] it feels as if we're accomplishing something. It feels like a good thing."

What do you hope to have achieved when they come to an end?

Flynn: "Well, for one thing, I think therapy has already taught us both that we don't want to lose [the group], that this is worth fighting for. I have my wife, my kids and the band. But the music business is where all the rejects find a home, you know? Both Adam and I are both pretty fucked up. We've both had very fucked up childhoods, similar childhoods in a lot of ways, and we're two guys who are used to not giving in. And we've been living on a bus together for much of the past 15 years — there were bound to be problems. It's a very dysfunctional way to live, and we started off as dysfunctional people in the first place. So there is stuff that we have to work through, and right now we're working through it. And that is a good thing."

So, given the circumstances, would you say things are going well for MACHINE HEAD right now?

Flynn: "Let's put it this way, the therapy is working. We're still a band."

For more information on Kerrang! magazine, visit

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