Mastodon - The Great Beast Rises

By Joe Who?

Whoa...What's this? A reaction of confusion and mystery that came over me, after I discovered a very odd looking album cover with a frantic horse that was about ready to burst into flames, otherwise known as "Remission" by the Atlanta Georgia based band Mastodon. Further investigating the song titles revealed a peculiar, yet interesting wide range of topics and subjects covering the likes of; fire ants, behemoths, elephant men, and the horror of being trampled under hoof, while being crushed and destroyed. Needless to say my curiosity killed the cat, (or extinuished the elephant in this case...) and I was intrigued to check this out. After hearing the album in its entirety, I was blown away, and became an instant fan. All my preconceived notions were quickly diminished, as I heard a band that was different, unique, and had all the skills and know how to grow and flourish into something special. Through a series of tours to promote the album, the band made a name for themselves, and created a "buzz" by captivating audiences coast to coast, which would eventually set up the next album perfectly.

Next on the agenda for the new millennium rockin' / metal mammoths, was their concept album adaptation of the classic Herman Melville novel Moby Dick, otherwise known to Mastodon fans as "Leviathan". The second full length album would prove to be easily their best work to date. It was "classic", creative, diverse, epic, progressive, dynamic, and could appeal to fans of different genres. This blockbuster album would definitely be their "break through" release, receiving a tremendous outpouring of critical acclaim and praise from the press and fans alike. So much so, that they caught the ear and attention of major record label Warner Brothers, and were signed to a multi-album contract.

So here I am writing this out with 2005 only a few short months away, and 2006 is right around the corner. Looking back it was a unbelievable year for Mastodon, what they've accomplished is nothing short of amazing. Their hard work and perseverance has paid off, and their future looks so bright, they gotta wear shades!

I had a chance to talk with drummer Brann Dailor when they made a headlining tour stop in Chicago. Here's our conversation, where we discussed all things Mastodon...

Wormwood Chronicles: Well, first off, excellent show tonight. How have the rest of the shows been going so far on this tour?

Brann Dailor: 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.

WC: Tonight's show had a pretty diverse lineup of bands. Did you guys hand pick all of these bands for this tour? (show was - Mastodon, Death By Stereo, and Cult Of Luna - Joe Who?)

BD: Um, sort of, yeah. We're on tour, and they (record label - Relapse) 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.

WC: One thing I wanted to mention right off the bat here is, I heard you guys just signed with Warner Brothers - congratulations...

BD: Thanks, Man...

WC: How did it come about?

BD: I don't know, to be honest, it's pretty fuckin' 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.

WC: So you guys are still under contract with Relapse just for "Leviathan"?

BD: Yeah, just for Leviathan. They're still working it...Then we signed with Warner Brothers and that's where we're at now.

WC: How many albums do you get with them?

BD: Three, I think.

WC: Backtracking a bit here, you and Bill (Kelliher - guitar) were both in the band Today Is The Day, before you formed Mastodon. Why did you guys decide to leave that band?

BD: Mainly location. We were living in a area that we just didn't want to be 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)

WC: Was their any hard feelings between Bill, yourself, and Steve Austin, when you guys decided to leave the band?

BD: There was a little bit, you know...but it's all been taken care of now, and everything's good between us.

WC: 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?

BD: Yeah, it just kind of came out, it wasn't something we really thought about...It just turned out that way.

WC: Your new album "Leviathan" is based on Moby Dick. Are you guys all big history fans...

BD: 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'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 all made sense.

WC: I think your artwork is killer. Are you guys inspired by the art of older bands, like say - Iron Maiden for example?

BD: 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.

WC: Was "Leviathan" written on the road when you were touring for "Remission"?

BD: 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.

WC: 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?

BD: 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.

WC: 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?

BD: 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.

WC: 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?

BD: 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 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!

WC: "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.

BD: Basically that's Brent (Hinds - guitar) sitting at home stoned with his acoustic guitar, just writing and playing! He wrote the whole thing, we arranged it together, put the two halfs together, made a whole song, and said - hey, fuck it, let's do a fourteen minute song...

WC: So originally it was two songs?

BD: 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 proper prog-rock fashion to have an epic at the end, just like Genesis's "Foxtrot".

WC: 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?

BD: No, they'll be like - hey, I came up with a vocal line for this 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.

WC: 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?

BD: 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.

WC: Do you have any good road stories or Spinal Tap moments from any tours you've done past or present?

BD: 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 fuckin' 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 shit, I think I just hit some dude right in the head! Then our fuckin' 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...) were totaly pissed off, and...Oh, well. (laughs) You live and you learn. We paid for it, so we're in the clear.

WC: 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?

BD: No, were 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.

WC: How has your "Workhorse" been holding up? ("Workhorse" is a song on "Remission" that refers to their touring van - Joe Who?)

BD: The "Workhorse" is doing good. The Fart Box, The E250 Ford Fart 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.

WC: What are your plans for the months ahead?

BD: We're doing the Iron Maiden tour in Europe. We leave in three weeks to do that tour mixed with a bunch of festivals with Slayer as well. Yeah...we're going to play with our idols once again, so we're really excited about it. Then we do Ozzfest, you know...Black Sabbath, Killswitch Engage, a bunch of our friends...The Haunted, Blah, Blah, Blah...A lot of great bands, it's gonna be a huge party, and a lot of fun. We're gonna rock and have a great time...Ozzfest'll be cool...(Yeah, I'm sure Bruce Dickinson thought it was a blast...Dr. Mality)

WC: Oh, yeah, I'll be there...

BD: Yeah, it's gonna be amazing. (Raises his voice...) I'm really excited about it, can't you tell? (laughs)

WC: After Ozzfest, are you guys going to start work on your next album?

BD: After that, yeah. We've got a bunch of shit for the new record already, but we're gonna get in there...same way that "Leviathan" was put 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...

WC: 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 em' out...

BD: 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!

WC: Will the next album be covering topics like; sharks, elephants, and stuff like that?

BD: 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.

WC: One day at a time kind of thing...

BD: Yeah, definitely. Just go with it, and let time take it's course. You have to kind of let things happen naturally, you don't want things to be forced, because when you're forcing it, that's not good.

WC: Thanks for your time Brann. Do you have any final words for your fans out there?

BD: Um...No.

WC: No! Are you serious?

BD: (laughs) I love you all...Thanks for the interview.

Relapse Record's Website

Mastodon's Official Website