“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.
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