Reflection And Reinvention: Mastodon Interviewed

Friend of the Quietus and prince among men Tom Cheshire, called on his Atlanta, GA neighbour, the dude-like riff master Bill Kelliher of Mastodon to discuss one of our favourite albums of '11 - The Hunter

I poured myself a glass of red and several more quickly followed. It was raining out so I sat on the porch. The sky was black, just the way I like it, and the air was damp and cool. I pressed play, then closed my eyes and was instantly at the movies.

I like my metal smart and I like to be surprised, taken off guard

even. I like my rock witty and funny and angry and violent. Music is the greatest gift and the most beautiful escape in the world. I love it when an artist or group of artists take you on their journey with them. I heard The Hunter, I felt The Hunter and I saw The Hunter. When it was over I went right back on for another ride. This record has sadness all over it and talks about death, but most of all, I think it is a celebration of life. It is about being born again and reinvention. I saw things in the sky and had my eyes closed and ears wide open. It was beautiful. I am a huge fan of these gentlemen as artists and musicians, but most of all as humans.

Thank you men, for what you do.

I was taken on a ride, twice, and was taken by surprise, which is what I live for. This record has beauty and everything that goes with it.

When I want to wear my metal hat, I listen to Mastodon.

I listened to the record twice last night in its entirety and it is really fantastic. It made me happy and sad at the same time and gave me chills. It even made me a little warm.

Bill Kelliher: Thank you so much. That means a lot. We feel like we are under a microscope sometimes when we make a new record, so hearing that from you is very nice. I have to say that Warner Brothers are so supportive of what we do. I have heard horror stories about major labels. Our label doesn’t breathe down our back with a whip, demanding a single. We are very fortunate. They just let us do our job, which is to create art and music and they stand behind us. The music on the record is music that makes us feel good, otherwise we wouldn’t have written it. I am very proud of it and I get chills when I listen to it too.

I thought of two words when I finished listening to this record, reflection and reinvention.

BK: Reinvention for sure. We have been doing this for a decade now. We’ve had some bumps on the road but we are good. This band defines me and defines us, but we needed to kind of go back to basics. We are not trying to dumb anything down, we just needed to write the record that needed to be written right now, for us. Everything we do is a document of things we are going through or feeling at that moment in our lives.

That leads to the reflection. There have been some people that we have lost and we felt that we needed to write something about it and pay our respects. It is that simple and we are very lucky to be able to do that. We love what we do. There is sadness on this record but it is also full of life and excitement. Life is full of good and bad and we just take a snapshot of it. After ten years, it’s almost as if we’ve been reborn.

This certainly was new ground for you. It seems like the writing process and the recording itself happened very quickly.

BK: It was like a breath of fresh air. We have always taken a great amount of time to write a record and a very long time in the studio to record it. This process on both levels happened in what seemed to be a blink of an eye, and that is just what we wanted. It goes back to that rebirth and rejuvenation. We intentionally were spontaneous with the whole thing. Brent [Hinds, guitar, vocals] came in with some ideas. Brent is like a magnet with his guitar. It is always with him and he really knows how to make magic. Brann [Dailor, drums, vocals] came in with his own ideas and I did too. Then Troy [Sanders, bass, vocals] would

come in and sing on something and it just felt complete. It happened amazingly fast and we couldn’t be happier with the result.

It sounds like Black Sabbath, Queens Of The Stone Age and David Gilmour are having a party. How did those song ideas come about?

BK: The songs just came out. Someone would walk in the room with an idea and we would just build on it. I certainly can hear those bands and musicians that you mentioned on this record. We love those bands and don’t mind the comparisons. We are a band that has no problem wearing our influences on our sleeves. The thing that makes us different though is we try to make the record and the songs our own. The Ramones made what seemed like the same record over and over again. I love The Ramones and they were great at that, but that is not what we want for us. When you buy a Slayer record, you know what you are going to get and it is great. I absolutely love them and they are great at what they do. We want you to expect anything and everything when you buy a Mastodon album. We want to catch you the listener, constantly by surprise. We want to take you on a journey, our journey, with us. Between the four of us, we are huge fans of music and we have

so many bands that have influenced us over the years. I love early Metallica and Brann listens to early Genesis. We show our influences but make it our own and never want to make the same record twice. That would be walking backwards.

Can you talk about the title of the record and the title track a little bit?

BK: Brent Hinds, our other guitar player, it is for him and his

brother. Brent’s brother was a hunter and he passed away last year while on hunting trip. We are not sure what happened. It was not a hunting accident. It is a horrible mystery. It was some sort of heart attack. We just know that it was a terrible thing and we just wanted to do this for him. Brent is our brother and this is for his brother. That is it.

It seems like you went back to square one with your approach to the music. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen?

BK: Yes, it was a conscious decision, that we all made at the same time. We work very hard. We tour a lot. We have never turned down a tour. I think all of us at the same time got very tired, extremely exhausted. We knew we needed new life breathed into the band. We have always had concepts and multiple story lines for our albums. We had a theme and concept for this record and then we just scrapped it and said let’s have fun with it. We tried to write a three minute song with a great verse and chorus and concentrate on melodies and work on our vocals. We have always had vocals in the background and we really tried to push them forward and showcase them. It very much was like going back to square one. In many ways we became a new band.

You also used a new artist to do the album cover. How did that come about?

BK: Yes again, it seemed like time for a rebirth. We love what Paul Romano does and respect him as an artist tremendously. He is amazing especially when you are working on a concept. He dives into the project and pours his whole life into it. We knew we were doing something different musically so we figured we should present it in a different way as well. Brann had discovered AJ Fosik. AJ is an artist who does sick and twisted sculptures. We love that stuff. We really appreciate evil imagery. We saw something that he did that blew us away. It was a rabbit wolf and it just looked insane. We decided to use something of his for a backdrop on our European tour. That led us to contacting him. He did the album cover and we love it. It has a 70’s feel and it is creepy.

Brent has said that this record is going to make kids want to take acid and run in the streets naked. What do you think this record is going to do? What do you want the kids to do after listening to it?

BK: I want kids to do with it whatever they want. I hope they give it a chance and love it and run in the streets and do some reflecting of their own. I’m a huge fan of music and since I was a kid I’ve had songs change my life and help me at times. We have been really lucky and have met kids all over the world that have said that our songs have shaped or changed their lives in one way or another. That makes me feel so good. It is the greatest feeling in the world hearing that a troubled teenager didn’t commit suicide because of one your songs or albums. Something we wrote spoke to him and told him everything is going to be alright. Those are the greatest of chills.

There are songs on the record that are very serious that deal with death and life but there are also songs that make you want to celebrate life and run in the streets and destroy things. What are you trying to tell us? Do you want us to just live and breathe and enjoy life?

BK: You said it, all of the above, you know, stop and smell the roses. I want you to do with it, whatever you like. It matters what you are going through at that particular time when listening to it. Some days the record sounds very sad and some days it is energetic and insane and very full of life.

What are your favorite songs on the record?

BK: ‘Stargasm’ definitely is on the list. When I hear it, I can see the song in front of me. I don’t need a video or visuals. I hear it and it is loud and I see it floating in front of me. I feel it in my arms and I get chills.

I really like ‘Black Tongue’ also. I wrote that one and love the way it came together. I did the solo in my hotel room in Europe on my laptop. I love that song and love the solo that I did for it. It changed the song completely.

‘All The Heavy Lifting’ came out insane. That is another one that just took on a life of its own. I wrote that one but then Brent put his magical touches on it. Once the whole band kicked in, it turned into a monster. I was so proud and once again, chills. That song was like a little kitten. We started feeding it and watching it grow and then one day it was this tremendous lion. Brent added double picking, Brann threw in his ideas and when Troy started singing I was just so proud. The song is a lion, it is a monster.

I just want to say that I love this record and I love the album cover with it. Once again, you boys created a wonderful piece of art as a whole. Thank you for your time and hard work and cheers.

BK: Thank you Tom.

Tom Cheshire is a member of West End Motel with Brent Hinds of Mastodon. Expect to hear more from the pair on the Quietus in 2012

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