Interview with Mastodon: Cracking The Mold

While established bands are usually gung-ho about their new material, there’s always some trepidation about running headlong into new songs on stage. After all, a good portion of the audience came here to see the songs they know, not songs they don’t. So you might get three or four songs on a new record per show. Some bands may only play one.

For Crack The Skye, Mastodon were confident enough in their own material, their own “masterpiece” as guitarist Bill Kelliher explains, that they just decided to open the show with the whole album. Start to finish.

The band’s been out playing this monster of a progressive heavy metal album with a short break before launching into old material from their critically acclaimed Blood Mountain, Leviathan and Remission releases. After doing a smaller club circuit, they’ve headed out with the mighty men of Converge, High On Fire, and Dethklok (yeah, they’re real) for a full-blown U.S. tour, but not before perfecting their visuals and positioning Crack The Skye for a possible film release.

I talked to Kelliher a few days after they filmed their set in Chicago for an upcoming DVD release.

You were filming on Saturday right?

Yeah, Chicago, we did the DVD.

Do those film events up the pressure of the whole thing?

Yeah, it does to an extent. First of all, having the four bands and two headliners who are trying to both get ample amount of soundchecks in and then you’ve got the other two bands that are trying to get up there and at least get some kind of sound going. High On Fire sometimes has to do a soundcheck in front of a crowd, which sucks, so having a 10-camera crew there as well kind of put the pressure on right off the bat.

Then for me as a player trying to pretend like there’s not cameras and shit is a little frustrating at times. I was fucking up stuff I would never fuck up because I started thinking too hard like, ‘Oh, shit there’s a camera on me now.’ I think it was a really good show in the long run and after its properly mixed and put out properly it should look pretty cool.

Have you seen any of the footage yet?

No, I have the audio though which I listened to a couple times. I sounded really good.

How hands-on are you when it comes to that kind of stuff? This is only your second DVD, right?

Yeah, the other DVD we put out was years of different footage and concerts and shit like that. On that we kind of chose the better shows to put together. On this one, I believe we can go into the studio if there’s one little thing—it’s all ProTooled so if we have to fix something, maybe. But I think overall it came out pretty well, we just gotta sit down and listen to the audio recording that I have and then if there’s something major maybe we can fix it so it doesn’t sound so bad but for the most part it’s gonna be live. The truth, you know.

How are the audiences on this tour? Does it skew really young for the Adult Swim crowd?

I dunno. It’s kind of different every night. The Chicago show, there were like 4,500 people, it was huge. There were a lot of kids there for each band but I am seeing a lot of younger folks coming out to the show for the Dethklok thing because they are a TV cartoon, it gets more of the younger fans. But they deliver every night and put on an awesome show, it’s really intense, and the cartoon screen behind them is really funny to watch. It’s very tongue-in-cheek but it’s not super cheesy watching it over and over every night because I usually catch a couple of their songs. It’s pretty cool.

Now that you’ve had a little time with Crack The Skye do you feel differently about the material, have new things presented themselves live?

It seems more natural now to play it. It’s like two sets that we’re doing. We do the Crack The Skye set that’s more mellow, but I’ve actually seen some kids moshing to it which is not really moshing material, but if kids dance to it and they like it, that’s great. The past couple big shows like Milwaukee and Chicago there were actually kids circle pitting, which is cool.

Once we kick into the second set which is older songs which are faster and heavier, more speedy and more mosh-worthy I guess, it’s still the same kind of reaction it’s just a little more intense. But I guess to answer your question, no, not really. It just seems like we’re kind of perfecting it. Now we have a better screen and better visuals going on to the follow the story a little bit better.