Mastondon cover art by Ian Chalgren
Any metalhead with their ear to the ground is sure to hear the rumbling, gargantuan footsteps of the mighty Mastodon. The densely complex and thought provoking heavy rock of the recent Crack The Skye and Blood Mountain releases have propelled Mastodon out of the underground and onto arena bills and critic’s top lists. I conversed with drummer Brann Dailor in anticipation of their May 18th appearance at the Orpheum Theater in Madison. Mastodon is rounded out by guitarists Bill Kelliher, Brend Hinds, and bass player Troy Sanders.
Maximum Ink: Has Mastodon been to Madison before?
Brann Dailor: I’ve been there a bunch of times.
MI: Were the shows at, what, the High Noon Saloon maybe? I’m guessing it must’ve been pre Blood Mountain.
BD: Yeah. I’m trying to think of the name of this place we played a couple times.
MI: I seem to remember Today Is The Day coming around…
BD: Where’d we play?
MI: Well, that’s hard to say too. It would depend on when it was. Maybe at The Annex?
BD: Across from the water, the place like burned down or something.
MI: Oh! O’Cayz Corral.
BD: Was that O’Cayz?
MI: That was it. That was real close to the lake.
BD: With Today Is The Day, and I think we played there as Mastodon as well. We played there with Neurosis as I remember, and Bongzilla.
MI: Right on, yeah, those are hometown boys.
BD: Yeah, I stayed at Mikey’s house a couple times. We played there with Clutch a few times too… at some bigger place. I can’t remember the name of it.
MI: Well, this is going to be a big deal having you guys come back with the success that you’ve had from the past couple albums. It’s being pretty heavily promoted in town. I’m sure you’ll have a pretty packed house.
BD: Hope so! Yeah, we’re pretty excited to come there. This tour is cool because I feel like we’re playing a lot of places that we played a lot earlier on every year, in basements and little shit holes, y’know, little dive bars or VFW halls or whatever. It’s going to be cool coming back to some these places. I’ve been wanting to for a long time, but y’know, there’s only so many months in the year and we’re pretty booked on tour for all of them. But we’ve been really lucky over the years and have gotten a lot of offers to go out and support bigger bands, so we always seem to be tied up. Like, we’ll be in Europe in three months and all that stuff. Y’know, it gets a little tiresome, but we’re excited to finally get to some of these places where we kinda got our start, and then came back to.
MI: Do you see any difference in how you’ll be approaching the tour, since you’re going back to headlining again rather than opening for Metallica or Slayer or a band like that?
BD: There’s no real different approach. We’ll just add a bunch of songs to the set list and play for a longer period of time.
MI: From what I understand you play the whole Crack The Skye album straight through, is that right?
BD: Yeah, we have like a little show, that’s like a movie that goes along with the record, that we play behind us on a tiny little television.
BD: No, it’s on one of those big huge LED walls that we have behind us.
MI: That’s awesome. You have a keyboardist playing with you now too?
BD: Yeah. His name is Eric (?)
MI: Do you think he’ll be on any of your future records?
BD: Uh, you know, we’ll see what happens. I think it’s hard enough for us to write as a four piece. Not that it’s hard to write, but it’s just we’re so used to writing as the four of us that I couldn’t really imagine pulling someone else in to that aspect of the band at this point. It’s much easier to just have a hired gun play the keyboard parts. Y’know, we’re not like a seriously keyboard driven band. It’s good because we used a bunch of it in the record, so it’s easier for us for the do the keyboard stuff when it comes to it in the studio, and then have someone recreate that live.
MI: When you guys are writing, is there a primary lyricist?
BD: Not really. It’s whoever is inspired and gets an idea and writes it down, and has something to say and thinks it’s gonna fit there. We share a lot of those duties, well, at least three of us. Me, Brent, and Troy. Bill doesn’t do much in the lyric writing department.
MI: Well, I guess I even wonder more so with the thematic element of Crack The Skye. It almost seems like there’d have to be some kind of consistent line of thought, to pull that whole concept together.
BD: Yeah, there’s an outline, like before even we went in to record the record. And during the process of writing I was kinda putting together the story on the side. And then I think one day I just kinda blasted out an email with an outline of the story so everybody gets on the same page with that. And ask everybody’s permission, like, “Hey, is this cool? What do you think of this?” you know what I mean?
MI: Uh huh.
BD: And everyone came (back) like, “Yeah that’s pretty rad, that’s pretty far out”. And we were wanting to go into a more psychedelic realm. We kinda felt like with Blood Mountain, we loved the story, but people got the wrong idea, and were kinda putting us in this dungeons and dragons (category), and we were trying to have a crowbar separation there. Not that there’s anything wrong with dungeons and dragons, but we just wanted to get away from that. I think people thought we were somewhat involved in that. So, we went the more mystical route. We want to be more “mind’s eye” about it, I guess you could say.
MI: I know from scanning the Internet there’s been talk about some of your different influences, and there’s been mention of classic rock and some of the more “prog” bands… Genesis and (King) Crimson, that have come up. I think that it’s interesting that writers, such as myself, have a hard time describing the band, and the term “prog metal” get used a lot. Which is very vague, you know?
BD: Yeah, it’s pretty vague. But that means progressive, y’know.
MI: How do you feel about being associated with bands from that era, King Crimson for example?
BD: Oh, of course, that’s what we’re going for, you know. It’s obvious, I think, that it’s in there. That’s who we listen to, and that’s what we’ve always listened to, but I guess it’s just took this long for (the influence) to really start rearing it’s head. We’re more than happy to be compared to any of that stuff, which is incredible music when it came out. I think it still is pretty “new” stuff, and I guess I wish there were more groups that were headed in that direction.
MI: Well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking on new challenges with the music, and I think you guys have been pretty fortunate that the response has been really positive. If anything, the popularity of the band is growing from album to album. Do you feel any concern about that, like “Oh my God, now we have to top ourselves again with the next record”?
BD: You know, I think that feeling is in there a little bit, but it’s not like our main focus or anything. You just gotta start writing, and we trust ourselves, and out belief in the band. What’s good enough, and what’s not good enough. We’re really hard on ourselves when it comes to the music we write. We’re really serious in there, as much as we goof around. The music (is) super, super important to us. We don’t want to let anything slip through our fingers, as far as one part in one song, we’re real sticklers. I trust “us”. I trust the guys in the band, and I trust that everyone’s going to have that feeling in the practice space, and we know when we’re creating that feeling. When that happens, we all know that there’s something good about that. That’s kinda what keeps me going, and keeps us together as a band, is being able to create that moment for each other. I can describe it as some kind of “high” that we get from creating something. Then the four of us perform that, and that’s the magic moment, as corny as it sounds, when the hairs on the back of the neck stand up as you’re playing it. It’s an indescribable feeling. That’s why we’re compelled to even go down (this road), is to hopefully do that again. If that keeps happening, than there will keep being Mastodon records. If that doesn’t happen, then we’re done.
MI: That’s a good attitude to have. So, hey, you’re working on this soundtrack now for the ‘Jonah Hex’ movie.
BD: We only worked on it for two weeks or something. We’re just waiting to hear back from them. What they’re using, and what they’re not using, and what we need to do. I know we need to do some more work on it. I think later this week we’re supposed to hear from them. They got a new composer. We haven’t even met him yet, so I’m not sure what’s the deal, but he’s coming to hang out with us and maybe talk about the future of our involvement in the film, and what he envisions as our role in that music. We’re really not around that much. We’re home for a month, and we’ve got maybe a week and half left to hang. It’s been awesome, but it’s time to get back to work, y’know? That’s our life, we live on tour pretty much. That’s how we make our living, and that’s how we’re able to afford all of our fur coats and our BMWs.
(we’re both laughing)
BD: We go out to fancy dinners, you know what I mean? And we’ve got to bring the music to the people.
BD: Yeah, we’re never home, so we can’t be like, “Yeah, we’ll work on your movie now!”. Because they’re on a totally different schedule obviously, and they don’t have a whole lot of time. I don’t know, we’ll find a way to make the music. Or we won’t. I don’t know.
MI: How did you get involved with the ‘Aqua Teen Hunger Force’ show?
BD: They just kind of called us out of the blue. We know a bunch of people here in Atlanta that work for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. We’re easy to get ahold of, so I think Dave Willis just called me out of the blue and suggested we come down, and said, “Hey we want you guys to write a song for our movie” and this and that. It all came together really easy and quickly. At the time, and still, it is one of my favorite shows. It’s exactly our brand of humor.
MI: Do you play that song (“Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife”) live?
BD: No, we’ve never played that live! I’d have to do King Diamond vocals while doing rolls. I’d make a complete jackass out of myself.
MI: (laughing) Aw, I’m disappointed!
BD: I don’t mind making a complete fool out of myself, but I don’t know that I could actually pull that off. I’d have to go practice that, if we were ever going to that. We really, like literally, wrote the song in about ten minutes, me and Bill down at the practice space. They called us on a Friday, and were like, “We need you to do this song”… “Oh, okay, when?”… “How about Monday?”
(we’re both laughing)
BD: “Monday… it’s Friday afternoon, but yeah, sure, okay, we’ll figure that out”. So Sunday Bill and I went down there and put together like three riffs and said, “Here you go”… because, they wanted a thrash song.
MI: Speaking of totally ridiculous, I saw a picture online of you guys with Sacha Baron Cohen. How did you meet that character?
BD: Oh, yeah yeah yeah… that’s when we did the Conan O’Brien show, he was the guest. We got lucky, and Borat was on there with us. I don’t know, he was in the hallway dressed in that sweet outfit, that “ball-kini” or whatever. And yeah, we grabbed a photo.
MI: You’ve got another band with Brent… Friend Without A Face?
BD: Fiend Without A Face.
MI: Oh! Fiend Without A Face! That’s a better name!
BD: Yeah! Friend Without A Face… my friend has no face!
MI: So, that’s kind of like a surf and old school rockabilly kind of band?
BD: Sorta, yeah yeah… psychobilly. Surf guitar, it’s real guitar driven.
MI: Is that something you just kinda do for fun when you’re not concentrating on Mastodon, or is it a serious second project?
BD: Maybe for Brent, but there’s really not much time to do other stuff, really seriously. Maybe this summer with a couple months off, hopefully Brent will want to go in and record some new Fiend Without A Face, and I’ll play on it, if they’ll let me. I was really just filling in for their original drummer, but I did a buncha shows in Europe and here in Atlanta. I guess I’m their drummer (laughing) I don’t know! He’s always like he doesn’t want to ask me, because he doesn’t want to bother me. But, it doesn’t matter, if I’m not doing anything, I’ll do that. He understands that when we get home I go into hibernation. I don’t really go out anywhere. I stay at home and hang out, because we’re not ever really home for that long. Once we’re home for a long time, like, I’ll be kinda itching to do some different stuff. I don’t know, there’s so many different side projects to talk about, but there’s no time to do them, but, maybe one of these days.
MI: I’m really intrigued by the artwork that Paul Romano does, that you guys use on the covers. How did you meet him? Is it sort of like he shows you work of his that you decide you’d like to use, or has he ever done something specifically for Mastodon?
BD: It’s all specifically for us. It’s all stuff we talk about in great detail, exactly what we want to see, and he adds stuff to that.
MI: Wow, so you give him a concept, and he goes with it…
BD: Yeah. For Remission it was basically like I told him about this crazy dream I had, I saw this horse that was on fire, and was falling down, and it’s eye… I was making eye contact with this horse that was on fire, and it was really fuckin’ traumatic for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’d come to practice and be like, “We’ve gotta have this cover be this fuckin’ horse on fire that’s in my head”. And Paul was able to replicate that. Y’know, I think he was a fan of the band at first, and he was from Philadelphia and friends with a lot of the people at Relapse, and he had expressed interest in working with us possibly. And then we met him, and he was really like our dude where we would go stay at his house. He has bands stay at his house in Philly, and cooks for ya, and buys a case of beer. He’s really an awesome, awesome dude. So, we were friends first and foremost, and he has art of his at his house, and crazy movies, and introduced us to all this stuff that we definitely hold near and dear to our own personal tastes these days. So, he really kinda had a lot to do with us wanting to go further into the concept album arena. Because of the fact that we had this great artist and we could be able to explain to him all the different things we want to do with the art, and he could execute them without a problem. He’s a person that you can call and say, “Astral travel, worm holes, czarist Russia, abstract psychedelia”, and then he comes back and says, “How about this?” – and we’re like YEAH !! (laughs)
BD: “That’s fucking rad!”
MI: That’s a great collaboration!
BD: We’re all really big art fans, and art fanatics. Everybody’s house is decorated from top to bottom. I don’t have enough walls for the amount of art I have, that I want to put up on the walls. Neither does anybody in the band. So, we’re just really into that aspect of it. We love pop art, and a lot of the guys that do the rock concert posters.
MI: Well, that’s definitely a collaboration that works. Whenever I show people your CDs, the first thing is they just rave about the imagery on there.
BD: Yeah, I don’t necessarily think it’s a lost art, but I think bands need to be conscious of it, and make sure that it doesn’t get lost, and try to present something that’s really great, y’know? And try to find an artist out there that matches their project, that they can work closely with, because I definitely think that’s a big part of it. Art and music have been together since the beginning. You’d hate to see just because it’s gone to CD format, a smaller format, and maybe CDs are becoming more and more obsolete… I think that our fans are buying stuff on vinyl, y’know. The vinyl format has definitely gained a lot of popularity especially among younger kids, like teenagers that are experiencing it for the first time, and think it’s a brand new thing, y’know? And they want to collect the colored vinyl, and all the stuff that I wanted to collect when I was a kid too, so I think that’s cool.
MI: Right on! Okay man, I gotta wrap this up, but it’s been great talking to you, and if I get a chance I’ll stop by at the show and say “hey” to you guys.
BD: Cool man, sounds good!
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