John Rzeznik refers to this as his "disco song". "I’m really horrible at programming drum machines, but this was like pattern 74 on my drum machine, which said 'disco.' I called all my friends and said, 'Check this out, this is my disco song!'" He describes it as "a propulsive tale of unrequited love". "Big Machine" was occasionally performed live on a smashed Stratocasterguitar that Rzeznik has fondly nicknamed "The Half-Caster". Despite being smashed in half, it still plays. It can be seen in a 2002 VH1 Storytellers special. Rzeznik stated that he had someone fix it up and it works just fine.
John Rzeznik wrote this song on the phone while talking to a friend. He asked his friend if he should "take the chords up or take 'em down?" and the friend told him to "take 'em up" and that's how he came up with the chorus and the rest of the song came together shortly thereafter.
According to Rzeznik in 2007, the video for this song cost more to make than the entire Gutterflower album.