Metal Special: Mastodon
The American sludge/progressive rock band on how one of the most intense touring cycles inspired their new album ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’
The significance of the length of “High Road,” Mastodon’s first single off their sixth album Once More ”˜Round The Sun, is not lost on the sludge prog rock band’s drummer Brann Dailor. “High Road” is exactly four minutes and 20 seconds long, referencing the idea of 4/20, a day and time celebrated by cannabis users as the best time to spark a joint. Of course, it was only fitting that the single be released in April, the fourth month of the year. But Dailor laughs it off over the phone, saying, “No, we didn’t do that. It has nothing to do with smoking weed, but I’m not surprised people equated it with that. It’s a simple super-heavy song.”
The drummer adds that the main influence for “High Road” came from two bands ”“ sludge veterans The Melvins and post-metal band Neurosis. Once More ”˜Round The Sun, set to release on June 24th, also features Neurosis vocalist-guitarist Scott Kelly on the cinematic eight-minute epic final track “Diamond in the Witch House.” Says Dailor, “We look for the balance between progressive and heavy metal and melodic parts to draw you in.” Thematically, Once More ”˜Round The Sun draws from “sideline stories,” which occurred in the band members’s lives ”“ including Dailor, bassist-vocalist Troy Sanders, guitarist Brent Hinds and guitarist Bill Kelliher. Although their well-received 2009 concept album Crack The Skye dealt with the suicide of Dailor’s sister Skye when he was a teenager, Once More ”˜Round The Sun recapitulates the time the band has spent on the road, with both good times and bad times.
In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Dailor talks about their new album and their road ahead.
RS: The last time we spoke to you, you were supposed to play in India. But the show got canceled”¦
Brann Dailor: That [an India show] is on the top of our list. That’s where we want to go the most. I just want to come there for a vacation and hang out. I wanted to come there for years and years. We were so disappointed when that festival got canceled. We sort of play the same places over and over and it’s very rare for us to go to someplace new, exotic and cool. One of the reasons we got together as a band, was the desire to travel the world.
India is on top of the list. We want to go there real bad. We were talking about it last night. The powers that be, the people that we pay to book our tours and work for us ”“ we have told them numerous times, ”˜Hey, we want to go to India’. This record, for sure.
Speaking of touring, I feel like a lot of Once More ”˜Round The Sunis inspired by that tiring cycle of recording, releasing and touring. Was that an influence?
No, not really. It was more constructed out of mortality on a daily basis. We took a year to record the album and there were sideline stories ”” a lot of things that happened in people’s lives that are still unresolved. It found its way on to the record and that’s why it’s the name of the album.
It’s about life, and not about touring, but touring had a lot to do with it. We are gone a lot, and when a tragedy happens at home ”“ like it happens in everyone’s life ”“ we’re not at home to deal with it. We’re not there to help out. Our hands are kinda tied and we’re out here in this tour bubble, away from our families, who are maybe suffering and we’re not able to help them. That’s frustrating. But we have to work and write music and that’s what the album is going to be about ”” what has transpired throughout the year. It’s been a tough year for everybody ”” that’s what you’re going to end up writing about, it’s in your face, you know? You can’t be like, ”˜Oh, I’m going to write about this other dragon or something’ but there’s no way to escape it. It’s on your mind and you’re going to put it in the lyrics.
Bill [Kelliher, guitarist] had mentioned last year that you had written a lot of heavy metal-influenced material for this record. Has it shaped up that way?
I think so. It’s heavier and faster and kinda crazy. But it’s got the sort of melodic flavor that we like. I need something to hook me in. We look for the balance between progressive and heavy metal and melodic parts to draw you in. I think we did that. Did you hear it?
I’ve heard the first single so far.
Oh you didn’t get the album? That’s a bummer. Hopefully soon, they’ll give it to you.
Do you ever miss writing stuff like Leviathan and Remission? Or are you done with that phase?
I don’t know. It’s certainly not like that until people point it out. ”˜This doesn’t sound like Mastodon’ and I say, ”˜Yes it is Mastodon’. I’m just a participant and put in my two cents on what I’m digging on and the four of us, whatever we’re liking and whatever is coming out is what the record will be. Anything we put out, I’m fully behind. I’ve never been looking for a previous version of us. I’m looking for something new and different. That’s what we’re looking for. I don’t ever want to go backwards. I’m not opposed to a song coming out and hearing it and going, ”˜Oh that reminds me of something we did 10 years ago’. But it’s nothing that I or the band looks for ”” we always want to be surprised and look for something different.
What’s interesting is that on “Chimes At Midnight,” there’s a line from your 2004 track “Hearts Alive.” How did that happen?
We just write what we write and it sort of comes out. We jam and someone says ”˜I like that and maybe it would work with this’. We put them together and we try not to over analyze things when we put things together. We’re still the exact same people and all those different versions of Mastodon still exist inside each and every one of us. It’s natural for those things to be around and raise its head every once in a while.
Stream “High Road” here
And then there’s a song called “High Road,” which was exactly four minutes and 20 seconds long. Was that an intentional stoner reference?
No, we didn’t do that [laughs]. It has nothing to do with smoking weed, but I’m not surprised people equated it with that. It’s a simple super-heavy song. I love that riff and I like lay into it on the drums. It’s really fun to play live, actually. I think the chorus was super hooky. It reminds me of two of the main bands who are our influences ”” The Melvins and Neurosis. It’s a simple, heavy song and it balances out the album’s more crazy parts.
The band has said on numerous occasions how difficult it was to write Crack The Skye, in terms of composition. How was it working on this one?
It was pretty easy to record, but it was tough to mix. We were on a tour of Australia when it was being mixed. We were listening to all the mixes on different stereos and it was a pain in the ass, to be honest. Next time, we definitely want to be there. We want to be in the same room and listen to the songs be like, ”˜That sounds awesome! Guitar up, drums up, vocals down’ or whatever. That was the only tough part.
You worked with a new producer this time around ”“ Nick Raskulinecz. He’s better known for his rock records, though.
We chose Nick because we’ve been friends with him for years and we’ve been trying to coordinate a record with him, it’s just that the planets couldn’t align. But he’s been in touch since Crack The Skye and we met up wanting to get to know him. We became friends and he was always hitting me up, going ”˜Hey man, what’s up? You guys doing a record or something?’ We were looking around to do the album with someone else because we want each album to be a separate experience, with a different person. I don’t think we’d want to have an identical album as far as the sound [is concerned]. We’re changing it up every now and then and with this album, that’s the case more than ever. It’s a different artist, different cover and different producer.
He’s the rock guy ”“ he’s worked with a lot of friends of ours like [alternative metal band] Deftones, Alice in Chains and Rush ”“ a lot of bands we respect. Their records sound great and that’s why we wanted to work with him. And this record sounds great too.
Speaking of cover, the artwork for Once More ”˜Round The Sunlooks like a weird acid trip. Did the band have a few creative inputs for [California artist] Skinner?
We had discussed things at length when Skinner was at my house ”“ we just talked about it. We told him to go nuts and he certainly did. I think it’s incredible. I’m so excited. He’s such an awesome guy and a good friend and really happy about that collaboration. That cover artwork is going to be historical.
You’ve been scaling the album charts with each album and even getting Grammy nominations. How does mainstream success affect you guys?
I don’t know. I don’t feel it, I guess. It doesn’t affect me. I’m still the same person. I occasionally get recognized out on the street, but no, it’s not a big deal. I don’t think about it.
There’s a video tour of your rehearsal studio Thunderbox, where you’ve jammed for the last decade. Why do you have a lot of appliances that need repair lying around?
Oh, we just don’t spend that much time down there so things never get fixed. We don’t really use the microwave down there. We’re kinda in and out. I just go down there and play drums and then I leave. Until I get kicked out of the house and have to probably live down there, the microwave is going to be the same way it is.
There was a photo gallery up about how you rescued a cat while you were on tour. Do you guys get upto stuff like this often on the road?
Nothing really, man. This tour has been super lax. It’s an hour and a half show, then we eat dinner and we crash. It’s been the most boring tour as far shenanigans are concerned. We were always drinking but now nobody’s drinking and everybody’s just concentrating more on the live performance more than anything else. It improved our lives as a whole, everybody’s trying to get as much sleep as they can. So yeah, no shenanigans, sorry. It’s just cookies and milk and then straight to bed.
This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.