November 7, 2013, posted by Crumbs
In July of 2003 Machine Head entered Sharkbite Studios in Oakland, CA to record our fifth album. We had just signed a deal with Roadrunner Records International that excluded a North American release, and we decided it best not to announce that until we had an American deal in place. In doing so, we had surely peaked the interest of Roadrunner America. Proof of this was their request that we make a demo of some new music for them. Since we were already in the studio recording we put something together quickly with the existing drum tracks and sent it off in hopes that they would re-sign us, and we could have a simultaneous album release (sounds so sexual!). We were confident in the new material and continued recording the album, our first with new / old guitarist Phil Demmel.
Things happened very fast with the new Roadrunner deal, I mean literally we were signing the deal as Mark Keaton was giving us a studio tour! One of the side effects of the quickness of the deal was a few songs were still getting written lyrically / vocally in the studio. Roadrunner needed the record out in their "third quarter" (October) and it was already July. Because things happened so fast the producers we would normally have chosen were all busy or soon to be busy and we then started looking at other “strange” guys to produce. After much discussion no one felt that paying some of these guys $20,000 plus "points" made a whole lot of sense.
We knew our long time producer Colin Richardson would be mixing the album, so in June I decided to throw-my-hat-in-the-ring as producer. I figured anything I fucked up, Colin could fix. This was to come as a surprise to some, even though I'd been producing our demos since 1996, first on 4-track cassette, then an 8-track cassette recorders, then digital, and I had learned a lot from Colin about tones and Ross Robinson about capturing "vibe." The band usually loved my demos so it wasn't that big of a stretch. But this wasn’t just a demo and I was well aware of what was at stake. Because of this it seemed dangerous.
The band was a little apprehensive at first, but eventually got on board. My old buddy Andy Sneap who had engineered / saved the 3rd and final remix of ‘The More Things Change’ (and had since launched a successful production career) was in town recording Exodus's "Tempo Of The Damned," and would come down on the first day to help set up tones. Our gear was pretty shot, Dave didn't have new drum heads and my old Marshall 1960 BV cabinet didn't even have handles on the sides and barely had any low end coming out of it. There was also the input jack on Adam's bass that had been broken for the last year and worked maybe 50% of the time. Five albums in and we were total pros!
Somehow we made it all work. We began recording drum tracks as a 4 piece and this process was fairly uneventful other than Adam who was constantly an hour or two late, barely knew the songs, and goofed off the whole time. Dave was annoyed and often furious with him, and he and I got into it more than a few times because of it. Historically speaking, and because of this, ‘Through The Ashes of Empires’ would be the last time we ever recorded as a full band. This honestly wasn’t all that unusual as it was Dave and I doing the demoing and half our practices were just him and I, until Phil joined.
As I briefly touched upon in an earlier, despite the band being nearly broke, Adam had recently bought a house (which he got for a good deal; he always was a good negotiator), completely gutted the insides down to the framework, and borrowed a large amount of money to expand it. But his plans stalled and for 14 months he would be totally consumed with re-building it. We barely saw him. He had started contributing lyrics on ‘Supercharger’ ("White Knuckle Blackout", "Nausea", "Supercharger") and now that I was producing the album, my already full plate, was very fuckin' full and I needed help with lyrics. I needed ideas or at the least another point of view. I drafted everyone, McClain even chipped in a few lyrics. From time to time Adam would fax me a paragraph or two, and I worked them in (most notably the entire middle section of "Vim" and "Wipe The Tears"), but usually the lyrics would show up a week after I had already recorded the song. After a slew of arguments with him, I finally just gave up.
It was all on me.
Even with all that surrounding us we were optimistic. Mark Keaton was a great engineer, and recording was going smooth. We had a batch of really strong songs, Phil was writing some awesome leads ("In The Presence Of My Enemies" is still one of my favorite leads by him, and one of the best leads, well, EVER!) and even though some songs were still in their final stages, we knew we had something special.
Some songs were extremely cathartic for me. As I mentioned in Part 2, "Days…" was about Genevra's heroin addict / alcoholic father who had recently passed away. Despite the urging of his doctor to quit drinking, he wouldn't. The doctor told him in no uncertain terms that if he "didn't stop drinking alcohol, his esophagus would separate from his stomach lining and he would die." His family urged him, his daughter urged him, but he wouldn't. Eventually, his esophagus separated from his stomach and he died. He was barely in her life and even when he was it was useless. I’ve told this before but it’s worth repeating, he called her the day after her birthday one time, not to wish her happy birthday, but to ask if "any of her friends were diabetics, so he could get 'some needles'." Somehow, somewhere, he was supposed to stop, he was supposed to make amends, he was supposed to change, there was supposed to be a happy ending.
It was a tough time.
The song "Left Unfinished" tackled my feeling about being adopted and never feeling like I fit in, never "knowing" anything about my history, and was basically was a "fuck you" to my birth parents. Don't come looking for me, don't try to reach out to me, just fucking die. In that song I admitted for the first time publicly my birth name "Lawrence Mathew Cardine," which my adopted mom had informed me of a few years before. It was a bit of head-fuck. I needed to get it out.
But the constant theme that came up lyrically was death, rebirth, and overcoming struggle. From that came the idea for the title of the album. I wanted something epic, something truly timeless. I was fascinated with the word "Empires", even though I hadn't used it in lyrics. We had survived a lot, and in many ways we had "died," and from it a new Machine Head was being born. We had watched two musical movements come and go and we were still here, and I firmly believed, about to be stronger than ever. I typed "Machine Head - Through The Ashes Of Empires" in an email and sent it to the guys.
Everyone liked it except Adam. He was still mad at me because I had shot down his idea to name our 2003 live album "Let's Roll." (Titled after the Flight 93 passengers who supposedly, right before they attacked their 9-11 hijackers, all said, "LET'S ROLL!" and still-makes-no-sense-to-me-what-so-fucking-ever-for-a-live-album-title!!). Instead, we named it the equally idiotic "HellaLive,"which means I-have-no-fucking-idea-what?-other-than I guess "A lot of live." "Hella," for our Northern California slang, and "live" for well, live! In Nor-Cal you might say, "dude, that band is hella sick!", or, "dude, that band is hella brutal!", or maybe, "dude, that chicks ass is hella bootylicious!" but you WOULDN'T say, "dude, that band is hella live"!?! **smacks hand to forehead** It's like one of those bizarre t-shirts you see Japanese tourists wearing with giant, random American words, "SUPER MARSHMALLOW HURRAY!!" But that's what happens when you have a contest to name your live album, and let your drummer and manager pick the winning title!!!!!
We enlisted "Supercharger" and "HELLALIVE" artist P. R. Brown at Bau-Da Design to come up with the album package. We wanted an angel in a graveyard, and Dave had a photograph of an angel statue he and his then-wife Shelli had taken at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, France (where Jim Morrison is buried) that we used as a reference point.
Paul delivered in spades. The cover was breathtaking. Most of the gravestone photographs he used, he had taken at the Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. The last piece came from our web-master Mike Parkers' wife Ariel. She had some photos displayed in an art show at an "herbal-cafe" in Oakland that I attended, she had one picture that stopped me dead in my tracks. A lonely battered gravestone with the words "They That Sow In Tears Shall Reap In Joy" carved into it. I later begged her to let me use it (thru Mike), she agreed, and the package was complete. Our "blue" album.
Upon this important piece now complete the excitement was high. Vibes were good, we had enacted a "Hawaiian shirt Saturdays rule" during the recording. Saturday night was also "Brown Eye Saturday", with usually Mark, our video guy Shawn Sparks (aka: Sparkles!) our manager Joseph and myself libating ourselves with vodka and cokes a few hours before the session was over, and then well into the night playing music loud on the giant studio speakers.
We had begun a series of internet video web-isodes documenting the making of the album. The internet had come along nicely and since no magazines were covering us, in early 2002 I began writing a series of "internet diaries" to keep our fans up-to-date with where things were in Machine Head world. During recording I stepped it up to almost daily updates, these updates were far more regular and in-depth than any magazine could get and were un-filtered from the band. There was a buzz happening.
Around that same time, a new type of metal news website cropped up that were extremely supportive of Machine Head. Websites like Blabbermouth and the The Pimp Rock Palace (later-The PRP) would often would re-post my internet diaries, and soon go on to pioneer a new model of web-magazine that would revolutionize the music and magazine industry. It sounds a bit absurd to say nowadays, but this was uncharted territory, no one was doing it and it wasn't done to be on the vanguard of some new tech bullshit, this was done purely out of necessity. It worked. We embraced it.
I was set to fly to Lincolnshire, England (population 60) to mix the album with Colin Richardson at The Chapel. The Chapel recording studios is located inside a beautiful 900 year old chapel in the middle of the English countryside, four hours drive outside London. Things were looking up as we wrapped up recording, and on the last day of recording, the night of July 29th, I received an email from my long-time A&R guru, Monte Conner. The contents of the email were basically informing me / us that Cees Wessels, the owner of Roadrunner Records, would not be re-signing Machine Head in the U.S. Monte loved the songs, the other A&R guy Mike Gitter was nuts about them, but they didn't see a future in the band and didn't feel they could give us the support we needed. The label had changed and they were signing a lot of radio-rock bands and they wanted hits. With regret, Monte ended the email by wishing us the best.
I was crushed.
I felt like a failure.
The songs were good. Really good. What the fuck?
I got wasted.
The next day, hung-over as all hell, I drove down to Sharkbite to grab the back-up hard drives, and broke the news to Mark. I cried some more.
Now we had to do what we had hoped to avoid and that was to let the world know that we would not be releasing the record in the U.S.A. Our fans would now find out that we'd been unsigned. Let me tell you, it’s tough admitting your failures, but then to have to do it in public? It feels 100 times tougher. It validates your enemies; it causes confusion with your fans. But it had to be done, so I took to the internet, and with as much class and confidence as I could muster, in no uncertain terms, I spelled it all out. That we had been unsigned for the last 16 months, that the record would only be coming out in Europe, Japan and Australia, that we did not know when it would be released in our home country, but were confident it would. I thanked Roadrunner U.S. for their years of support.
You can read it here: Blabbermouth.net.
I made it sound like we had other options, but the reality was we didn't.
The next day I jumped on a plane bound for England, to mix a record I was now completely in doubt about. Hung-over, depressed, and angry, I now had to go face the notoriously brutal U.K. press, already in tear-down-mode, and who now had quite a bit of ammo to throw in my face to back up what they had gleefully been jeering.
"That Machine Head was over"...
And maybe they were right...
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