PHIL DEMMEL: Joining And Later Quitting MACHINE HEAD Were Two Of 'The Best Things I Ever Did'

April 6, 2023

In a new interview with The New York Hardcore Chronicles LIVE!, Phil Demmel, who left MACHINE HEAD more than four years ago, reflected on his decision to exit the band, saying: "I think that it just became… Well, it was a job after a while… It did become routine. And once it got to a point of where it was just material that I didn't believe in or things that weren't genuine for me was the time for me to kind of move on, when it was stuff I wasn't connecting with."

The guitarist continued: "I wanna choose my words careful[ly]. We'll talk about MACHINE HEAD here for five percent of what this interview is, and that'll be what gets grabbed [by media outlets making it seems like] I had a horrible time in the band. And I wanna be positive about my time [with MACHINE HEAD]. I wanna look back on all the positives. But without things going south and things going in a different direction, I wouldn't be where I'm at, which is lightyears of happiness and fulfilled moments."

He added: "One of the best things I ever did was join MACHINE HEAD. And one of the best things I did was quit MACHINE HEAD."

Demmel clarified that there were plenty of experiences during his time with MACHINE HEAD that he looks back on fondly. "The festivals that we played and the shows that we played, and the connections [that we made]," he said.

Phil also once again discussed his decision to buy a ticket to see his former bandmates perform late last year at their concert in Sacramento, California. The December 23 show at Ace Of Spades was part of MACHINE HEAD's "Electric Happy Hour (Live)" fall 2022 tour which saw HAVOK's Reece Alan Scruggs playing second guitar in the place of MACHINE HEAD's Polish guitarist Wacław "Vogg" Kiełtyka, who was unable to make the trek due to his touring commitments with his longtime band DECAPITATED.

"What's really cool is I went and saw them in Sacramento [when] they came by, and this kid that they had playing guitar for 'em was Reece. He's from a band called HAVOK," Demmel said. "VIO-LENCE played with HAVOK one time, and I really admire the dude's playing and him as a person. And so I wanted to see him play [with MACHINE HEAD]. So I bought a ticket and went with my hood up and I found myself a little spot. And I had the best time, man — listening to songs and air guitaring. I was able to just put on those musical blinders of all the personal shit and everything else and just rock out to the tunes. And I had a great time. And watching Reece play was awesome."

Demmel left MACHINE HEAD at the end of the band's fall 2018 North American tour. He was in MACHINE HEAD for nearly 16 years, during which time he played on five of the group's studio albums: "Through The Ashes Of Empires" (2003),"The Blackening" (2007),"Unto The Locust" (2011),"Bloodstone & Diamonds" (2014) and "Catharsis" (2018).

During a January 2023 appearance on "The Jasta Show", Demmel was asked if he has been in contact with MACHINE HEAD frontman, fellow San Francisco Bay Area resident Robb Flynn, since he left the group. He responded: "I've seen him twice. And one of the days [was] at [last year's] Bloodstock [Open Air festival in the U.K. where MACHINE HEAD played a surprise set and Demmel performed with both VIO-LENCE and LAMB OF GOD]. He was by our dressing room, talking to the dudes. I just kind of walked by. The first time I saw him, SYSTEM OF A DOWN and KORN played some West Coast shows, and I went to that show, popped my head in to say 'hey' to Shavo [Odadjian, SYSTEM OF A DOWN bassist] and 'Thanks for the tickets.' And I stick my head in, and Robb's kids are there, his wife's there. I went, 'Oh, no.' I saw Shavo and I just went, 'Hey. Have a good show.' And I went to front of house to watch. Juan Gonzalez, he works with DEFTONES forever, he was the front of the house. And so I'm hanging with him. And then I get a tap on my shoulder, and I went, 'Oh, shit.' And it's Dean Dell, the bass player from VIO-LENCE, who I haven't seen since he was let go from the band. So it's, like, 'Oh, hey, Dean.' I chatted with him for a minute, and as I'm talking to him, Robb came up and he was, 'Hello, Mr. Demmel,' and he stuck his hand out. And we bumped knucks. And that's been the extent of our contact in the past… it's been four years now."

Demmel went on to say that he has had a "civil-ish" relationship with Flynn since his exit from MACHINE HEAD. "There's no words exchanged," he explained. "I don't think that there's any need to have any words exchanged. In that sense, there's separate worlds, and they can thrive on their own, and they have been. They're killing it. I'm doing my thing. Everybody's okay with that happening. I don't think that they need to — the worlds don't need to collide at all. I would prefer if they didn't. I prefer things this way. I have friends in that camp. And I'm not too sure how welcome they are or welcome they feel to be able to say hello to me, which is weird. But him and I got a divorce, in a sense, and not everybody else, so there's no beef."

In 2019, Demmel told the "In The Pitts Of Metal And Motor Chaos" podcast that MACHINE HEAD ended up becoming a Flynn solo project toward the end of his time with the group. "We weren't a band," he said. "That was Robb's trip, and we were basically just being told what was gonna happen… Everything had changed over time. Shit, we were together for 16 years and stuff changes after that. It's been the band that he started. So things shift, and as they weren't what we agreed to or what we wanted to be a part of, [drummer Dave McClain and I] just left. So we do our own thing, and [Robb] does his thing." Demmel also said that the musical side of MACHINE HEAD took a sharp turn for the worse during the writing stage for "Catharsis", an album he said he hated.

Demmel told SiriusXM's Liquid Metal that there were "a lot of things" that he couldn't do while he was a member of MACHINE HEAD, including speak to the press. "There was a point where we were taking liberties and still doing [interviews]," Phil said. "It got to be where the talks that came along with it, it was unbearable. It was just like, 'Man, I'm punching the clock here. I'm gonna show up. What songs do you wanna play? Okay. Cool. We're gonna play the songs. When are the dates? Okay. Cool.' For the last cycle, it was the paycheck. That was my living. I didn't like my job anymore."

Phil also revealed that he decided to quit MACHINE HEAD after spending "many stressed-out nights" talking with his wife and occasionally "losing sleep" over everything that was going on with the band. "And it just got to the point to where I [couldn't] do this anymore," he explained. "It's unhealthy for me physically, it's totally unhealthy for me mentally, and it's taking its toll on my family now, and there's where I've gotta draw the line," he said. "This isn't fun, and I've gotta quit my job. And there was a straw that broke the camel's back."

Demmel announced his exit from MACHINE HEAD in October 2018, explaining at the time that he wanted "to step away and do something else musically." Phil, who first played with Robb in VIO-LENCE in the late 1980s and early 1990s, went on to complete MACHINE HEAD's "Freaks & Zeroes Tour" before officially leaving the band.

Demmel spent much of the last four years playing sporadic shows with the reunited VIO-LENCE, which released a new EP, "Let The World Burn", last year via Metal Blade Records.

Although Flynn was part of VIO-LENCE's classic incarnation and played on the band's debut album, "Eternal Nightmare", he wasn't approached about taking part in any of VIO-LENCE's comeback shows.

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