October 30, 2013, posted by Crumbs
Yesterday the guys and I were having a beer down the street from our jam room at a place called Beer Revolution. While I was sitting there sippin' on an Altamont Beer Works "Dirty D" brown ale, Phil turned to me and said, "Through The Ashes is 10 today." "Wow". I knew it was coming up, but forgot to look up the date. Fuck me, it's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since this era of the band has happened, I mean really hard to believe.
Back in the day there was an old Virginia Slims cigarette ad aimed at empowering women to smoke and it said, "You've come a long way baby."
A lot of you know the story by now, as it was well documented in 2005's "Elegies" DVD and re-told (and often twisted around) ad infinitum by the press regarding the struggles we went through as a band just to even get the album out.
But on this momentous occasion, it's definitely worth re-telling and maybe even filling in a few blanks for you guys. And make no mistake, it IS a momentous occasion! It’s a milestone for Machine Head and something that deserves to be celebrated by both us and our fans, and an album we should be, and are, very proud of.
I'm going to tell this in 3 parts, because I think it's important to frame "the times." Where we were at as a band, where we were at as people, and where the music business was at. Honestly so much of what went in, and came out of that record is what we were up against.
So without further adieu in honor of the 10 year anniversary of “Through The Ashes Of Empires,” here is part 1 of the story:
It all started back in Sept. 2001; we were getting ready to release our “much-less-than-spectacular-but way-better-than-most-people-complain-about” 4th album, “Supercharger.” Then 9-11 happened some two weeks after we had shot a video for our song "Crashing Around You" that had images of buildings on fire, and an original treatment that had us playing on top of buildings that were "crashing around us", needless to say, this and "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" were the worst song titles of the time and were instantly banned off of every radio playlist in America.
We got into a huge fight with our-then label Roadrunner Records, our stance was that we needed to push the record back, that no one was going care, that it was too much of a national tragedy to get people to care about music. They, and in particular their dickhead radio guy Dave Lancao insisted it would be fine, that in 2 weeks 9-11 wasn't going to affect people buying records, and the release would go on as planned. We went on tour "6 days" after 9-11 in the U.S. with Fear Factory, Ill Nino and Chimaira on the ‘Road Rage’ tour and played to a depressed / stunned / confused nation, and in many ways, these dates shaped what was to come.
It was a confusing, shocking, at times overwhelming tour. Every night walking out onstage and looking at a crowd of Machine Head fans whose faces said "why am I here?", "is it going to be all right?", "what's happening?". And unfortunately our faces said the same thing; we didn't know the answers either. We were just as confused and fucked up and wanted to be home with our wives/girlfriends because if it “wasn’t going to be all right, who the hell wanted to be alone?”
But we had music. And in that moment, we had each other. And we needed each other. We got thru it together. As crazy as the World around us was, for a short time, somewhere in a half-filled club, somewhere in the United States, the world made fucking sense. I will never forget that U.S. tour as long as I live, in the end it was one of the best tours I've ever done. Machine Head changed on that tour, it wasn't about headbanging and getting drunk and having a good time, it was about connecting, surviving, believing, being alive in the moment.
We headlined Europe in November, when every other band cancelled cause “they were too afraid to fly.” We said "fuck that!" That’s exactly what the terrorists wanted, for people to be scared and not live their lives anymore. If we die flying over to play for our fans, well... there's a lot worse ways to go. The tour went amazing, we sold out Brixton Academy, recorded it for "HellaLive". Somewhere in there we fired our then-manager (Slayer's manager) Rick Sales, hired our old manager Joseph Huston back, and then went and headlined America in January 2002. Roadrunner had told us they would re-launch the record since as we had predicted; the world was in too much shock to care about buying anyone’s album.
They reneged on the deal, and in combination with many things; the fact that we had originally signed an incredibly shitty deal, signed over our merchandise and publishing, had gotten atrocious rates, owed them 1.2 million dollars, and had our publishing rights sold out from under us in the middle of a renegotiation, we demanded to be let go from our recording contract 3 albums early. I wrote the "letter" myself on a day off in a hotel room on a cold January morning somewhere in the mid-west on the ‘Supercharging America’ tour. The tour went well selling out most major cities, but things were changing.
Roadrunner soon complied, wrote us off as a tax write off, and we were released from our contract as per our request. Just like that, amidst all the other things swirling around in our lives, Machine Head was unsigned.
"Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true"
Up until that point, Major labels had been gobbling up every heavy-ish band out there, throwing 'em at radio, and often having success. Now, radio wouldn't touch a heavy band with a 10 foot pole. On previous tours we had been courted by many labels, all insisting they loved what we do and how we did it and if we were to go with them it would be a seamless move. Now they all wanted "singles" and "hits". A band with 4 albums and a solid track record was worthless to them when a new upstart band could go "DIAMOND" (a new award that certified 10 times platinum) in the era of mega hits like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, et al.
We didn't know how to operate in this new world. We wrote heavy, that's what we did. The American metal media blacklisted us, magazines like Revolver told us, "we can't cover you, but if you get to 50,000 copies we'll give you an article." When we got to 50,000 they said, "Well, when you get to 70,000 we'll give you an article." When we got to 70,000 they said, "well, the record is too old now." The metal media of the time continued that blacklist well into ‘The Blackening’ album cycle, when after that, they just didn't matter anymore.
We solicited label after label, but everyone said “we want to hear new songs”, “we want to hear hits.” Ahrue quit the band, and we soldiered on as a 3 piece. Adam got a job and became consumed with rebuilding a house he'd just bought and for the next 12 months we rarely saw him. In a stroke of luck, Genevra and I got a settlement from our landlord to move out of the house we were renting, who wanted to move back in, we took the money and bought a house in Richmond, but the happiness would be short-lived, the month that we moved in, Machine Head ran out of money. We wouldn't see money for another 5 months. Genevra would (much to my embarrassment); pay the mortgage on our new house for the next 4 months. I got a job doing some guitar tech work at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. We fought endlessly about me quitting the band and getting a job.
In the middle of all this, Dave Williams, Drowning Pool's singer passed away and their manager offered me both a chance to sing for them as well as a pretty hefty paycheck. So for about 2 weeks Genevra and I debated about why I should or shouldn't do this. We desperately needed the money. So finally, I stood in front of a full length mirror, looked myself right in the eye and said to myself, "go ahead sing “Let The Bodies Hit The Floor" with conviction AND, believe it.” It's a decent song, I'd seen them a few time live, they and Dave were good, but as I began singing it, something in my body just stopped. I couldn’t sing it, I couldn’t feel it and there wasn’t an ounce of conviction in the delivery. My body, my entire being rebelled on me!
It felt so wrong in every way possibly imaginable, I just could not do it. I called the manager and said "you don't want me in your band, I have to lead bands, I'll take over Drowning Pool, you don't want that, good luck, and thanks for considering me."
Genevra and I got in a huge fight when she found out I passed. "The dream is over Robb, get a job." We argued, we cried, we screamed, we sat in silence, but in the end, she took my side when I asked, "dude, do you see me as the Fed Ex guy?" Through tears she answered "no, you're a fucking star, you're meant be onstage." Her answer hit me like a ton of bricks, she'd never said anything to me like that before, and in that moment I said, "Then believe in me for just a little while longer." We cried, we hugged, and in typical Genevra fashion she replied, "then fucking hurry up!!!"
I went back to practice with a newfound determination. Within days we’d recorded a 4 song demo that had “Bite The Bullet,” “Left Unfinished,” “Elegy,” and our attempt at a radio song "Pins And Needles" that we would begin to shop to labels. We had some festival dates coming up in Europe that were a big deal, we needed a guitar player to fill in, and we decided to keep the fact that we were unsigned a secret, at least for a while, but what lie ahead would be even harder than we knew.
To be continued tomorrow...
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