Mastodon On New Album And Supporting Metallica and Slayer

Brann Dailor and Troy Sanders hang out with John Doran back stage at their recent show with Slayer and talk velvet paintings, miniature percussion and putting house guests off hand to gland combat.

It is over two years since we were treated to Mastodon’s dizzying major label debut Blood Mountain and the metal arm of The Quietus is fully primed to receive another dose of mammoth-heavy, concept driven, progressive death metal thrash. So it is just as well that the Atlantan quartet have confirmed the release of Crack The Skye via Reprise in early 2009.

The seven-song strong, 50 minute long player promises to be a much more "focussed" affair, according to bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders and drummer extraordinaire Brann Dailor. Their fourth studio album was recorded at their local studios, Southern Track by Brendan O’Brien (Rage Against The Machine, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, AC/DC) and is eagerly awaited by many after Leviathan featured so heavily in metal end of year polls and Blood Mountain did likewise in the general music press.

Of course, that they actually got to record Crack The Skye is something to be celebrated itself. After the band and Josh Homme performed ‘Colony Of Birchmen’ at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards the group’s guitarist/singer Brent Hinds ended up in hospital with a life-threatening injury. Initial reports claimed that he was the victim of a brutal assault but police reports later suggested that the frontman had drunkenly provoked a fight with SOAD bassist Shavo and another party. Whatever the cause, Hinds ended up in hospital with a brain haemorrhage, which luckily, he has made a full recovery from.

Once again the group have been chosen as a support act by Slayer to accompany them on their Unholy Alliance world jaunt but they were also recently announced as support for Metallica on next Summer’s tour. Brann and Troy, although pleased, were more keen to discuss Dexter however . . .

It’s really exciting to see you over in the UK again on the Unholy Alliance tour and at least this time people will actually get to see you. I remember last time by the time I got inside the venue you were already off stage.

Troy Sanders: "We were happy just to be asked on the last tour. We were in a position where we were playing on stages that were actually bigger than some of the clubs we had been playing in a month earlier, so we were just happy to get the opportunity.

Brann Dailor: "This venue in particular (Hammersmith Apollo) was the only one that we were playing to an empty room. Well, there were a few kids down at the front."

TS: "Security at the front were slow at letting people in for some reason which we were fine about, we understand why that is but we went on ten minutes after doors so there were only 30 people there at the get go and by the time we were done with our set there were literally about 100. We were happy to do that though, even though we’d sooner have played to a full crowd."

Now that Mastodon have been endorsed by Seth Rogen do you feel that masses of money and supermodel girlfriends beckons?

TS: "Really?! Are you sure?"

Totally. He wears a Mastodon T-shirt in Knocked Up.

TS: "Really?"

If it isn’t Knocked Up then it must be one of his films that I’ve seen since.

TS: "Pineapple Express?"

Nah, I’ve not seen that so it can’t be that.

TS: "The only film of his that I haven’t seen is Zack and Miri Make A Porno. There is a film called Choke in which Brad William Henke plays a sex addict who wears a Mastodon T-shirt.

A Mastodon fan yesterday

Wait a second . . . it was Choke! Not that I want to suggest that this guy is a poor man’s Seth Rogen . . .

TS: [laughs] "Well, he looks like him a little bit."

BD: "We were stoked that he was wearing our T-shirt because he was in our favourite show Dexter and we love that show. He was almost murdered by the Ice Truck Killer.

TS: He was playing Tony Tucci.

Well, I’m glad we’ve got that sorted out. I was beginning to feel quite stupid for a second then.

TS: "I’m sure that guy’s as cool as hell. If he wears a Mastodon T-shirt and plays a sex addict he’s gotta be a nice guy."

You seem like the sort of band who would attract a lot of sex addicts as fans.

BD: "We do, we do. It’s the look we’ve got."

All through your career, especially after Leviathan however, you’ve always been a very progressive band, very forward looking, yet you always get the props from old school thrash bands. You’ve been chosen by Slayer and Metallica as support acts. Do you think they see something of themselves in you?

TS: "They might see bits of themselves in us, that’s true but I want to believe they pick us because there’s something that appeals to them personally because they get to pick their own support acts and there’s something about us that they like because they bring us with them. Because we do help a little bit with selling tickets but obviously compared to Slayer and Metallica we’re not really packing out half the joint. So I think that they like us as people as well because we’ve become friends after our paths have crossed and we’ve hung out together. And I hope they dig our band, I hope they think we’re in the heavy rock genre but we’re doing something that’s a little bit different or original. And if that’s why they’re picking us – and that’s what I want to believe – then that makes me feel better."

So, give me the skinny on Crack The Skye – your new album because by the time that comes out it will be three years since Blood Mountain won’t it?

BD: "It will be two and a half years. It’s finished. We got the master about a month ago. It sounds amazing to us you know. It’s everything we wanted to do as a band at this point. It was not an effortless record to make but it seemed that way because we didn’t travel to Seattle to make this record; we recorded this in Atlanta, our home town. It was close to where we lived . . . not that that’s why you should choose a producer! But it just worked out that way."

TS: "It’s a big rock & roll record and it sounds pretty epic."

Not to be confused with Attention Deficit Disorder

Is it inhabited by all manner of AD&D Monster Manual characters like the last one was?

BD: "This one is perhaps more . . . I don’t want to say streamlined but whereas the last one was a really fun record to make with a lot of crazy things going on; this one is perhaps more focussed and concentrated as regards song structure and allowing the song to do its thing. Rather than the ADD thing that the last one was chock full of. [There has been some confusion here between Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Attention Deficit Disorder but both of these things are actually just as applicable to Blood Mountain so it doesn’t matter.] With the last record we’d just moved to a major label [Warners] and there was a lot of stuff to prove for us. Obviously we weren’t going to compromise just because we’d signed to a major so we had all these crazy elements on the record which was saying: ‘Look! We can do whatever we want!’ But with this record it became obvious as the songs started unfolding that maybe there was a deeper heart to this record that needed more exploring. There was something deeper here and we all sat back and let that thing happen. We got more involved with feeling the vibe of the record and everything feels more creepy and spaced out and something special is going on. Something keeps on bringing me back to this record. I think with Blood Mountain I listened to it up until it coming out but with this one I want to listen to it more. It’s more addictive. I put it on at home and it works."

You’ve been quite vocal in the press saying that it isn’t a concept album about Rasputin

BD: "No one wants to go head to head with Boney M . . .

TS: "Exactly!"

But is there a theme or a concept?

BD: "Yeah there’s a story which goes from start to end. And there is Tsarist Russia in there and that was picked because ever since the first record we’ve wanted to do something about this period and their art aesthetics, with the black lacquer boxes and that look was something we were going for. From there you take elements of that, and it’s multi-dimensional and it goes into outer-space and it’s about the ether and deals with astral travel, out of body experiences and deals with Stephen Hawking’s theories on wormholes. But I think one of the cool things about our band is that we will leave it ambiguously for the listener to dive into the lyrics themselves and maybe come to their own conclusions and form a little movie that plays in their heads."

This is what’s great about heavy metal – you would never get an Oasis or Arctic Monkeys album about something like this. Just an album about having a top laugh with your mates.

BD: "It’s fun for us to research all that stuff and get it all in there and make it as nuts and as far out as we can. I feel like we’ve worked hard on the lyrics, that they’re more meaningful and they’re going to be able to get more out of them this time. I mean it’s all metaphors for stuff that goes on in your everyday life like being away from home and missing your lady or whatever but it’s not so literal. You tell it through a totally different mindset. So it becomes that we’re not going on tour but we’re going into outer space. But that’s how you feel some times. You’re on tour and you can’t get internet and your mobile doesn’t work and you haven’t talked to your wife for a week and you feel lost . . . that’s what it’s like some times."

A good metaphor is a good metaphor and should be celebrated. I for one don’t want to hear about how much it sucks being a rock star or how it’s not that good being on tour.

Both: "Exactly."

BD: "There are ways you can explain those feelings differently through lyrics."

Do you know how you had Josh Homme on the hidden track on the last album – do you have any other notable guests this time?

TS: "I don’t think that it’s any secret that Scott Kelly from Neurosis sings on an entire track. He’s our only guest because Troy and Brent do amazingly on all the vocals."

Scott Kelly [legendary Neurosis frontman] has become like the Johnny Cash of alternative rock music.

BD: "I think so. He is one of our closest friends, an amazing person and every time we get an opportunity to make some art we want to include him in the process. It’s become tradition I guess."

Neurosis are one of those bands like the Velvet Underground. No one bought their records but everyone who did went on to form a band. Is Brent fully recovered after the incident at the MTV Video Awards and what actually happened?

TS: "Yes he is getting better, he’s made an amazing recovery but we don’t really want to talk about it. He was able to turn a horrible experience into something positive in forms of songwriting. Over all that’s a great accomplishment."

BD: "I’ve never seen a silver lining reveal itself so quickly from a tragic set of circumstances."

Well, we’re glad to hear he’s getting better. I heard that Mastodon are a band of collectors. In fact Brann, I seem to remember you collect a certain sort of painting done on black velvet and Bill has an entire room in his house dedicated to Star Wars merch. Troy, do you collect anything?

TS: "I collect miniature percussion instruments. I have them all lined up with bells, finger bowls, little cymbals and little gongs. It’s fun shit to have round the house you know ‘Dinner’s ready!’ BOING! It’s all functional and set up so I can play on it whenever I want. I get up, have a coffee and start jamming on bells and whistles. I love the gongs. I’ve got my dogs trained to come in when they hear the gong. They have a Pavlovian thing going on."

BD: "I’m getting a gong. I guess I’ll have to now that we have two songs that feature it. I’ll get to light fire to them and stuff. I’ll show you a photo of my most recent velvet painting. I’ve been looking for it for eight years since before we started the band. Do you see that? That’s JonBenet Ramsay. You know the little princess? The girl who got put in for the beauty pageants and was murdered?"

Works better than bromide

How did you first get into collecting these?

BD: "You know, in 1990 or 1991 I got a velvet painting of a tiger. I used to go to thrift stores all the time looking for weird records to buy and that’s where I saw it. Then I found one of a lion. Then I got an Elvis. Then I got the velvet Elvis painting on my leg . . ."

They’re not that big in this country although I seem to remember they were quite popular in the 70s amongst fans of Elvis. Can you explain what they are?

BD: "It’s acrylic paint on black velvet but they occasionally come on red. They are a Tijuana kind of thing that kind of became famous in the 70s like a pop art representation of popular figures; people who are in the news. If people went to Mexico this is what they would bring back."

That and a venereal disease. And maybe some heroin in the wheel arch. How many have you go?

BD: "About 14 or 15. The price depends on what it is. I paid $120 for the JonBenet Ramsay and that was the most expensive. But it’s just a stupid painting, the least important thing going really but I just happen to have a small obsession with them. I just happen to think that the JonBenet Ramsay one is very macabre and I like it hanging in my guest room, it freaks people out."

TS: "It stops people from wanting to stay over."

Or if they do stay over it stops them from masturbating.

BD: "Yeah. I’ve got some crystal skulls and a bunch of garden gnomes in there so it’s a messed up room."

‘The Wolf Is Loose’ from Mastodon’s 2006 album Blood Mountain.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today