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Dave McClain: Machine Head Banger

Dave McClain

The fifth time’s a charm and Dave McClain, the fifth drummer for Machine Head, is the man of the hour for the band’s fifth and latest album Supercharger. When we last reported on McClain (Aug/Sep 1997), he was still the new guy in the Oakland-based Machine Head sound. And now, four shredding hit albums later, the ex-Sacred Reich skinsman is master of the throne, badass of the backbeat, ruler of rhythm for what has become a tight family of four.

“Over the last year or so,” tells McClain, “we’ve all come together way more as a band and as friends. We know that it’s us against everybody else. And we’ve gotten stronger because of that.”

It’s deserved comfort for the San Antonio native with 24 years of drumming under his belt. McClain’s massive attack approaches near tribal qualities on this release, a new direction from his work on their previous album. “I don’t know if tribal is the right word, but I try to do a lot of beats where I work the toms in between quarter-notes on the crash cymbals. On The Burning Red I consciously tried to lay back and play basic, because I had never tried that before and it’s something I wanted to do. Holding back, to me, just wasn’t me. So the main thing [with Supercharger] was to open up the drumming again. The double bass stuff, to me that’s meat and potatoes, and I didn’t do any of that on The Burning Red. So on this one I wasn’t really concerned with overplaying. I just wanted to do anything that I thought of and even stuff that I would never have done before. I would just try it out and do it.”

The denser, more elaborate technique isn’t the only change on McClain’s latest work. “I decided to tune my drums this time,” he laughs. “On The Burning Red I was on this thing where all my toms were just finger tight. So my 12" tom was like a floor tom and my 14" tom was like a floor tom and my floor tom was like a big floor tom. There was no separation. The kick and the snare sounded good but there was nothing there in the toms. So our producer Johnny K went in and tuned them higher than I would’ve ever tuned them. They just started to cut through and you could hear the separation between the toms. It was just cool because I don’t think I would’ve ever gone there and done that.”

With his toms now tuned and the new album boosting the band’s dedicated cult following to even greater numbers, McClain takes the stage with overwhelming vigor and unabashed bashing. “To me, if you’re playing heavy aggressive music you need to put everything into it. People go to see a show and they want to see people going off. To me, playing is one half and the other half is being visual and entertaining people. I mean, I can’t spin my sticks and stuff yet like Tommy Lee, but if I could I would. I try to do everything I can to make it exciting to watch. When I go see a band like Slayer or Pantera I want to be the drum geek and kind of air drum to stuff. You want to see them play what you know from the albums. So I try to keep the live drum parts the same.

“Drums are more of an aggression outlet for me. When I play I just like to put everything into it – from my mood to just bashing the hell out of the drums. That’s really the main thing I get out of playing the drums. I started using these really big sticks too. They’re like marching field series sticks – they’re huge, dude. When I first got them I was like, ’Oh my God!’ And I just stuck with them and now they feel like normal sticks. That’s a pretty good workout.”

Finding your place in today’s metal world is a workout in itself. Machine Head perseveres through the murky waters of one-and-out alt-metal with creative song structure, sincere rage, and emotive, dynamic musicianship. “Some people try to write us off as new metal or this or that,” admits McClain. “You see bands come out that are like the flavor of the day. They’re all over MTV and the radio and it’s real quick for them. But people don’t go to see them when they play shows. We’ve been around for all this time and we’re not just a flash in the pan. We have a core following that comes out to see us and that makes me proud. People have expected the band to fail album after album, but we’ve kept that core following and kept going and it means a lot to me that people have stuck with the band.”

Enduring the ferocity of the music business requires a strong work ethic backed by absolute passion for what you do. McClain keeps these principles close at heart, almost to the point of frustration. “Having days off sucks because you’re just stuck somewhere doing nothing and you just want to go play. I hope that feeling never goes away. It’s something that really keeps me going in my life for sure.”

He’s come a long way from the days in seventh grade when he was demoted out of the school band’s percussion section to fill a gap in the trumpet line (“which sucked”). And we get the feeling he’s just getting started. We asked him if he had a plan laid out for his future as a drummer in the business. He replied quickly with, “Yeah. Tons of platinum albums and tours.” Duh. Perhaps vocalist/guitarist Robert Flynn sums up the band’s intentions best with his line from the precisely named “Bulldozer” – “Full speed we go against the odds. Head first we go against the grain.”

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  • Dave McClain Rocks!  I totally love his drumming, sounds like two drummer playing at once sometimes.  The last Machinehead show was great!