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Metal/Prog Metal Interviews

Mastodon

Interviewed by Marc Leider
Interview with Brann Dailor of Mastodon from 2006


MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.


Well, first off, excellent show tonight. How have the rest of the shows been going so far on this tour?
The shows have been going great. The attendance has been high, people have been getting rocked by us, we've been rockin', and we're in pretty good shape! I've been happy... we're all very happy with the shows.  

MSJ: Tonight's show had a pretty diverse lineup of bands. Did you guys hand pick all of these bands for this tour? (line up was - Mastodon, Death By Stereo, and Cult Of Luna - ed.)
Um, sort of, yeah. We're on tour, and they (record label - Relapse - ed.) kind of send us CD's and stuff, and say - hey, you wanna take these guys out? We're like - yeah, sure. We had heard all of these bands before anyway.
MSJ: One thing I wanted to mention right off the bat here is, I heard you guys just signed with Warner Brothers - congratulations...
Thanks, Man...
MSJ: How did it come about?
I don't know, to be honest, it's pretty f**kin' weird. All of a sudden five of the biggest record labels were interested and we were just kind of taking it all in. Warner Brothers seemed like the best place for us to be, you know... the best family for us to join. Relapse will still be involved with us, you know? So it's going to be a good thing. They just want us to do our thing, and do what we do.
MSJ: So you guys are still under contract with Relapse just for "Leviathan?"
Yeah, just for Leviathan. They're still working it...Then we signed with Warner Brothers and that's where we're at now.
MSJ: How many albums do you get with them?
Three, I think.
MSJ: Backtracking a bit here, you and Bill (Kelliher - guitar - ed.) were both in the band Today Is The Day, before you formed Mastodon. Why did you guys decide to leave that band?
Mainly location. We were living in a area that we just didn't want to be in... you know? A very rural part of Massachusetts, and we wanted to move down south to Atlanta, because Bill's girlfriend lived down there, and we wanted to start our own project. So we went down there and formed Mastodon with the other two guys. (Troy Sanders - vocals, bass, and Brent Hinds - guitar -ed.)
MSJ: Were there any hard feelings between Bill, yourself, and Steve Austin, when you guys decided to leave the band?
There was a little bit, you know... but it's all been taken care of now, and everything's good between us.
MSJ: Mastodon has a very unique sound. I was curious, when you guys first formed the band, how did you come up with your style? Did you all put your ideas together to create this one big sound experience?
Yeah, it just kind of came out, it wasn't something we really thought about...It just turned out that way.
MSJ: Your new album "Leviathan" is based on Moby Dick. Are you guys all big history fans...
Well, literary fans, I guess. History plays a part, but you know... whaling in general and just the whole story that went along with Moby Dick was a cool thing to base a record on... it's loosely based, you know? With concepts and stuff you try to make sure that the artwork is the coolest tie in, that's one of the most important things... it all made sense.
MSJ: I think your artwork is killer. Are you guys inspired by the art of older bands, like say - Iron Maiden for example?
Oh, absolutely. I bought "Piece Of Mind" when I was seven years old, because it had a monster on it. I love art; we're all huge fans of art. If you can have it, why not have the best, or the best you can come up with? There are really cool ideas in art; it all ties in with music, and works really well together. So that's what we're all about.
MSJ: Was "Leviathan" written on the road when you were touring for "Remission?"
Yeah, pretty much. We were collecting riffs the whole way, then when we got into the practice space and started writing it, it all came together really quickly. So we had the album within a month and a half. We started touring for it, and then headed up to Seattle to record it. We recorded it for a month, then started touring again.
MSJ: Now in regard to the lyrics, how are they handled? Do Troy and Brent focus on the lyrics, and you and Bill concentrate on the music - or do all of you guys contribute to the writing process?
Well, usually you leave the lyrics up to the guys that are going to be singing them, because they have to sing and play at the same time, so that's kind of difficult, and you know. They're going to be singing the songs, so it probably would be better if it was words that they wrote, but if one of us has a good idea for some lyrics, then no one's opposed to it obviously.
MSJ: Do you guys prefer to write songs with a "live" vibe in mind - or do you prefer to try and keep them in line with the album as a whole?
We write them "live," because we're a live band. You get the songs to a certain point and you record them, but the songs are going to change as you go along and stuff, but yeah, they're made for us to dig into really heavily and get off on them while were playing live, and that's what translates with the audience...the give and take with that.
MSJ: On your latest album "Leviathan," Neil Fallon from Clutch appears on "Blood And Thunder" and Scott Kelly from Neurosis is on "Aqua Dementia." How did these guys wind up playing on those songs? Were they working on albums at the same time you guys were in the studio?
No, we just had a couple of parts we felt that those guys would do a great job on, and they're really close friends of ours. So it made sense... you know, to call Scott and be like - dude, you wanna do this? He was like - yeah. So it was like - yeah, great! Neil we've toured with immensely, and we love him to death. Both guys have two of the most distinctive voices in the underground scene. They're heroes of ours, and very close friends. So it's really cool to hear your friends on your album, and it doesn't hurt that they're from Neurosis and Clutch!
MSJ: "Hearts Alive" is one song on the album that is so epic sounding. How did that one come about? It sounds like the type of song you put a lot of time and thought into.
Basically that's Brent (Hinds - guitar -ed.) sitting at home stoned with his acoustic guitar, just writing and playing! He wrote the whole thing, we arranged it together, put the two halves together, made a whole song, and said - "hey, screw it, let's do a fourteen minute song..."
MSJ: So originally it was two songs?
It wasn't two songs; it just didn't feel like two songs, it felt like this half and that half. So we thought - ok, let's melt the two together and call it one song, because it made sense... in proper prog-rock fashion to have an epic at the end, just like Genesis's Foxtrot.
MSJ: Brent and Troy both share vocal duties on the album. How is it determined what each of them will sing? Do they just sing on their own material?
No, they'll be like - hey, I came up with a vocal line for this part... you know? That's pretty much how it gets determined, they just decide between the two of them which one is going to do what, when something comes up. It's all real natural with us, from the gut.
MSJ: I noticed the vocals on "Leviathan" aren't as harsh throughout the whole album, like they were on "Remission." This one has a mixture of clean style, and the harsh, aggressive vocals. Did you guys do this to balance out the album more?
It was talked about that we wanted to do something different with the vocals than we had done in the past, just because most of the music we actually listen to is sung clean, you know? Brent can sing, and it came up one day where we had some riffs, he was screaming, and it just didn't sound right. We said - try singing something, so he did. It's cool. it's kind of a more classic rock vocal. So it sounded good, we liked it, and went with that.
MSJ: Do you have any good road stories or Spinal Tap moments from any tours you've done past or present?
Yeah, the first show of this tour, last month, or a month and a half ago. We were at the House Of Blues in New Orleans on the first night, and it was our guitar player Bill's birthday, and at the end of the set, they brought a cake out. So it's the end of the set, end of the show, great show, awesome, nine hundred people, it was great. Troy heaves the cake into the audience unbeknownst to us, and afterwards we're up in the dressing room, and he's like - holy s**t, I think I just hit some dude right in the head! Then our sound guy came walking in, has cake in his hair, and he's like - "we need to talk!"

It hit Paul (sound guy) directly in the head, broke in half, and fell cake first onto the sound board, which cost us our pay that night. It's kind of a bummer for your first night, you know... Those guys (House Of Blues -ed.) were totally pi**ed off, and... Oh, well. (laughs) You live and you learn. We paid for it, so we're in the clear.
MSJ: You guys are having a lot of success lately. Do you have any more goals you want to accomplish, that you haven't done yet?
No, we're not really a goal oriented band. We just kind of go with the flow, and see what happens, enjoy the ride while it lasts. We never expected to get this far. I mean, we always expect to be playing music, but to get to this level is pretty cool. We're just going to try and continue to grow and write music that we like, and hopefully other people will like it, that's all we can really do. Try to put the money back into the machine, and build a cool stage show. Hopefully we'll get to the point where we're massive and can have this whole cool Mastodon world.
MSJ: How has your "Workhorse" been holding up? ("Workhorse" is a song on Remission that refers to their touring van - ed.)
The "Workhorse" is doing good. The F**t Box, The E250 Ford F**t Box, Refrigerator On Wheels! It's fine, it's working. I'm looking forward to being on a bus for the next few months, it's gonna be good.
MSJ: Are you guys going to start work on your next album?
After that, yeah. We've got a bunch of stuff for the new record already, but we're gonna get in there... same way that Leviathan was put together... you know? We've all been collecting riffs, and collecting songs, and trying to put stuff together on our own, and then when we get into the studio or the rehearsal spot again, we'll put it all together. I think it will be pretty easy, it'll all come out, it's gonna be interesting, should be cool, it's gonna be a little different...
MSJ: I love those riffs on your albums. That's pretty cool, you guys have a treasure chest full of riffs, and then you can just bring them out whenever you want and belt them out...
Yeah! We just collect riffs, and put them away for safe keeping, and then when it comes time to put them together, we dump 'em out on the floor, put them all together, some win, and some lose, and you know. Only the strongest riff survives! It's a darn winning approach to writing music!
MSJ: Will the next album be covering topics like; sharks, elephants, and stuff like that?
I don't know. I have yet to see. There's a bunch of different concepts that we're working on for the new record, but we're not sure what we're going to do yet. It'll be a surprise to us as well.
 
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