Heavy metal is kind of like the redheaded stepchild of music. Today’s musical culture generally lacks appreciation and celebration for the genre. So when the high-caliber heavy metal Atlanta-bred Mastodon releases a record, the shared sentiment is that of a birthday celebration for a Leap Year baby: So exciting that it compensates for lost time.
Mastodon is: Drummer Brann Dailor, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, and bassist Troy Sanders. Their latest release, 2014’s Once More ‘Round The Sun, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 chart after selling 34,000 copies in the first week of release. The album features the band’s third Grammy-nominated song, “High Road,” and the single “The Motherload.”
The band has collectively been preserving the art and sound of pure heavy metal since early 2000, with six studio albums evolving their raw, melodic, and collaborative sound. In addition to boasting serious skills on their instruments, all four musicians also participate in the vocal composition of their songs, serving up a unique variance of melodic metal.
Their comprehensive style has meshed well across many concert bills, including tours with Black Sabbath, Dethklok, Gojira, and Tool, among others. The band is now immersed in the middle-ish of The Missing Link tour across North America with Clutch, Graveyard, and Big Business. Drummer Brann Dailor paused to talk about what it’s like to play with old friends, his performance prep, and the band’s next music video. The interview transcription follows:
How has The Missing Link tour experience been for you?
It’s been great. It’s super easy. We’ve been friends [with the members of the other bands] for years and we’re falling right back into being good pals. The bands are low maintenance—sometimes we go on tour with bands that need a lot of equipment onstage and require a lot of time. It’s a pleasure to be with bands that just get up there, check out a song, and are done. There’s a lot of quiet time during the day and it’s nice…We’ve toured so much that we pretty much just have it. We have a great crew, too. They’re probably the real reason it goes so smoothly. Those guys behind the scenes make it all happen.
Technically Mastodon is one of the most sound, sophisticated bands out right now. It’s really cool that you in particular sing AND play drums. How do you prepare for performances?
I warm up a lot before to prep my voice. Sometimes it’s easier than other times. I tend to get sinus issues or sick sometimes on tour. I had the flu the day the tour started. I never get the flu. I had a chest cough and my head was full of gunk. That’s really the biggest pain in the ass. I need everything to be perfect with my health for me to be able to do it because I have to belt out my notes. They are really high notes and you can’t belt strong if you’re playing too hard. When your body is playing so hard it’s basically like sitting on an exercise machine. So if you try to go soft with it, you’ll hear the [imperfections of the vocals], like you’re beating on your chest when you’re singing. You really have to go for it, but if you have a cold and try to sing through it, that can be really dangerous for your voice.
I want it to sound like it sounds on the record. I want it to sound awesome—so I’ll push myself as hard as I possibly can. I’ve blown my voice out and then I have to go apologize to each and every person after the show—let them know how sorry I am about that one part!
As far as doing it, I try to pick my moments wisely, when I’m not as busy as I normally would be on the drums. I recognize the challenge. Sometimes I wish I can go back and just play the drums and don’t do vocals so I don’t have to worry about when I have cold. I definitely feel like on tour I take care of myself a lot more.
We were notoriously a party band when we first started, and lots of bands are like that. You get out here, there’s beer everywhere, and everyone wants to party with you. If you can make it past those first 10 years, it [becomes easier] to figure out how to stay the next 10 years. Everyone is pretty on board with that—we’re not those guys anymore, which is a whole different side of being in a band and out on tour. It’s really just about the show and trying to take care of yourself. When you’re out here you’re not sleeping as well. Your immune system is compromised. Everyone takes vitamins!
This year Mastodon was nominated for a Grammy for the song “The High Road” but lost out to Tenacious D, which seemed like a miss. Did it feel that way to you, too?
No, it’s a Grammy, what else? It’s not something I really think about that much, especially when we’re making the kind of music we’re doing. It’s cool to be nominated, because, I mean, metal never really was a part of that whole world. Metallica got so big and it wasn’t a category but they couldn’t ignore it anymore so they had to put it in there. Now it’s a staple but it’s not televised.
It’s cool to be invited. It’s cool to go and represent for heavy music and be the band that got picked to be there. It’s nice to show “we’re musicians, too.” We’re some of the most exciting people writing and recording their own music and pushing limits of their musicianship just as far as the jazz guys out there. It’s cool to tell mom and dad, grandma and grandpa. It would be cool to get one just to show that this is still a possible thing. You can start out in a van and make songs with your friends, and you can play in VFW halls and basements and write all your own music, produce all your own albums, and you can win a Grammy! For us, you can get nominated for three Grammys, get invited to their show, and be a band that started off as the so-called “American Dream.” It would be cool to show that’s possible.
Metallica made it seem possible to me that you could be some kid, practice, jam out with your friends and you can achieve that much—you can touch people’s lives with your music if you just work really hard.
Were you surprised at the critical backlash surrounding the music video for “The Motherload?”
Yeah, I didn’t really see it coming but I mean, what are you gonna do? I knew that it was my treatment. I guess I was just naïve so that’s on me. But I still love the video and I stand behind it. I think it’s possible that a lot of people who were speaking negatively about it were kind of skewing what actually was making them upset and what they said was making them upset. That’s what I think happened. Some were kind of enraged, but I think a lot of people feel like heavy metal is this exclusive club, and we don’t feel that way. We live in Atlanta so that’s kind of our lives. Everyone is welcome to the Mastodon party. It was fun to shoot, man! My wife was there helping all the dancers get ready and it was just a blast… If you look at the women in the video, they’re having a great time. They’re obviously in charge of what they were doing.
We have a new video coming out soon for “Asleep In The Deep”—it’s along the spectrum of our last video, so you’ll see a little bit more of a Mastodon variety.
Mastodon will be playing with Clutch as part of the Missing Link Tour on May 15 in Bethlehem, PA at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, as well as Rumsey Playfield in Central Park in New York City on May 19. For more information, go to mastodonrocks.com.