An Interview with Brann Dailor from Mastodon: Shape Shifter

Mastodon are one of the biggest bands in metal, so it’s fitting that they are part of the biggest metal tour of the summer. The Atlanta, GA, prog metallers will share the main stage of the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival with Rob Zombie, Amon Amarth and others. With support of their fifth studio album, The Hunter [2011], wrapped up in earnest, the band looks forward to playing a mixed bag of tunes off each of their releases. From early thrashers like Remission [2002] and Leviathan [2004] to prog metal opuses Blood Mountain [2006] and Crack The Skye [2009], as well as the most recent riff-rocker, Mastodon have more than enough stony riffing and perplexing, heavy psychedelery to make seeing them alone worth the price of admission.

Drummer Brann Dailor caught up with The Aquarian to promise a different set of mayhem each night of this tour and let us in on when to expect new music.

It seems like 2013 so far has been a lighter year for you guys.

Yeah, we wrapped up a lot of touring. We did probably 12 months of touring for The Hunter. Now it’s time to write. So we’ve been home writing.

We’re never idle for very long. We always say we’re going to take a year off, but we never do. We live very close to each other and very close to the practice space. After a few days, we always call each other and go down there and see what happens.

We get down there and lo and behold some riffs get played. That’s what we do.

Do you play much when you’re between tours or do you try and get away from music for a while?

The most I get away from it is probably about two weeks. Then I get back to it. After a really long tour, I find taking two weeks of not playing and not being around drums or music to be pretty healthy. When I get back, I want to play.

Do you often sit down and try to learn music by other bands these days?

Yeah. Not all the time, but sometimes. If I hear a drum part that sounds pretty interesting and I want to see if I can do it, I’ll play along with someone else’s tunes.

Was that a big part of your development as a drummer or were you more of a freestyle practicer?

Yeah, that’s how I learned how to play drums basically. I always had a record player behind my old drum kit and I had some headphones. I’d put on the headphones and play along to Rainbow and Black Sabbath and stuff like that.

When you’re working on Mastodon songs now, do you think about a part of a Maiden song for example? Do you have those licks integrated into your musical vocabulary?

Yeah, definitely. That happens for sure. Sometimes you get an opportunity to sort of tip the hat to someone who influenced you. That’s always fun.

Can you think of a part on The Hunter where you tipped the hat, as you say?

Yeah, the beginning “Stargasm” has a drum fill reminiscent of a Nicko McBrain specialty.

Since Mastodon doesn’t take much time off, do you look at these festival tours as a chance to see some bands you otherwise don’t get a chance to watch live?

No, I don’t mostly because I’ve seen most of these bands before. We’ve played with them many times. I just look at it as a way to be heard by some people that might never have heard us before or never gave us a chance. Maybe they’re there to see band x, but they’ll check us out because they’ve heard of us. Hopefully we perform well enough for them to come see us when we come around after the new record comes out. I look at is as an opportunity to approach fans of other bands.

Since you’re not supporting The Hunter anymore, do you look at these shows as an opportunity to mix up the set more?

Yeah, we’ll probably do a different set just about every evening that we play. You only get like 45 minutes and we have so many songs to choose from. We’ll bounce around and do some different ones. We have about two hours worth of songs ready, so we’ll mix it up. We’re drawing from all the different albums.

Do you look forward to shows like these after an album tour?

I guess so. It’s all sort of the same to me. I just like to play, you know? Whatever song it is, I’m not really concerned about that. I like all the Mastodon songs equally. I like performing them all.

When you’re doing a supporting tour or a festival show, do you ever try and tailor the set to what you think the crowd will enjoy the most? Or do you not really concern yourself with that?

Sometimes. You sort of have to be mindful of it. And we have the material that we can open up for Slayer and not get booed off the stage. The next night we can open for Queens Of The Stone Age and not get booed off the stage. We have that ability to shape shift like we have over the years. Different vibes, different genres weave in and out of our sound.

Did you attempt to do the same early in your career or was it just not possible due to the material?

Early on, when we were playing a lot of shows with Slayer, we wouldn’t play a lot of songs because we know what would get someone’s feet in the door. What would open their ears enough for them to want to come out and get a record? Then maybe they would get into the lighter stuff or moodier stuff on their own. I’m not opposed to playing any of our stuff for any crowd, but I think you should be mindful of the audiences you’re playing for.

What do you think Mastodon’s next release will be? Are you putting out more live material or will it be the new record?

We’ll start doing a new record in September. I’m guessing the middle of September and it’ll be out early next year some time.

Do you think it’ll be another concept record or more like The Hunter, which was like a collection of songs from a period?

I’m not sure yet, but I’d like to do something with sort of a concept. I’d like to do something with sort of a theme but not super cohesive. A little looser but with a central theme.

Yeah, I think you guys can do anything with the next one. I’m looking forward to it.

Yeah, me too. We have a direction; we have a lot of stuff written. I think we have a pretty interesting theme that plays with all of it in an unexpected way.


Mastodon will play Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ, on Friday, July 19, and PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ, on Tuesday, July 23. For more information, go to