Mastodon play music for the right reasons and, against a backdrop of generic contemporary music, that is admirable. Almost 15-year veterans, the band is preparing to unveil their sixth studio album, ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’. We sat down with drummer Brann Dailor to discuss the album experience, delivering music in its intended form and where everything is currently positioned.
G’day Brann, how are you?
I’m all right, how are you?
Going well, thanks mate.
Not long now until the new album drops…
I just want it to be out (laughs). It’s always like this. We’ve been sitting on it for months and now it’s like, “ok, come out.” (laughs). We’re crowning out the moment and ready to cut the umbilical chord.
It’s another typically impressive visual album cover for Mastodon. I’m interested in the concept of the “album experience” – particularly in this digital age where listeners can be fickle. You always seem to be able to give fans something to embrace and engage with.
We don’t really look at the album artwork as being for the CD or the digital download version obviously as it’s only going to be on a one inch x one inch square on a computer screen. It’s really for the vinyl. The whole purpose of the piece was for the vinyl and that was the reason it was created. The full piece is there and it’s really stunning to see in person [and] as you unfold it into your lap, it’s really incredible. Skinner is an incredible artist and a great friend of ours and we always want to put that in there because we’re big fans.
I’ve got shelves filled with art books and my walls are completely covered in art and it’s the same with all of the rest of the guys in the band. Whatever we can do to get cool art incorporated into the world of Mastodon in the same way as the forefathers, whether it be Miles Davis or Iron Maiden’s ‘Somewhere In Time’, it’s all about staring at that giant album cover and listening to the songs that are on the album, and just having that connect with those two things. We’re old dudes, so that’s what we grew up with. We just love art and we love music, and we love the combination of the two.
That’s interesting when you talk about the “connect”. For listeners it’s that notion of they anticipate the album and then they have the opportunity to go to the record store and physically buy it. It’s that experience of desire then purchase then actually receiving the album when they get home.
Exactly…[and] that’s what we want. We’re sort of foolishly refusing to give in and be like, “ok, whatever. Put whatever on the cover.” (laughs). We just couldn’t have that. We will not have that! For us, it’s all going to tie into our visual show when we go out on tour. It’s going to be the massive backdrop that hangs behind us, so it better be kick ass.
You guys have been creating music for quite awhile now. What’s the mentality like within the collective currently? I guess there’s the extreme story of the Eagles, as an example, from the early 80’s throwing bottles at each other and muttering insults on stage. I take it things wouldn’t get that intense or bitter with Mastodon?
We mind our p’s and q’s with each other [and] that’s why we’ve been able to stay as the four guys for 15 years. We get in there [the recording studio], know what we want to do and do it. We eagerly await the surprises that come with writing and recording an album. You just get excited about different stuff and gingerly approach anything we might have to say critically [whether it be about] someone else’s performance or a riff that someone might have, you have to be cool about it. There’s an etiquette involved with being friends with someone. Nobody is throwing bottles at anybody that’s for sure (laughs).
In regards to the anonymity of home, when you’re not in band mode will consciously allocate time daily to sit behind the kit with sheet music and work on rudiments?
To be honest, no. I’ll play, but I never learned how to play the drums properly so I’m just kind of guessing back there. If I play, it will be the same way I played when I was five years old. I just get back there and start going nuts for fun…because it is fun. I’ll never be that guy that sits down and practices his rudiments. I’m almost 40 years old now and as many times as I’ve tried to dedicate myself to try and do that, it’s just not who I am and it’s never going to happen. There are plenty of other guys who are doing that on a daily basis and that’s fine and awesome. I’m here to play music and that’s pretty much it. I’m not going to be any better at rudiments than this other guy. I really am just trying to write some really amazing music with my friends and music that I love, and then perform it well live and go out and have fun. I’m not trying to be the best drummer in the world. I’m just trying to get back to music the way it was given to me.
One thing I admire about your live shows from seeing you at Soundwave and on headline shows, is when you’re playing live there is no in-between song banter. You’re having fun and you’re appreciative of the crowd, but you leave the words for the very end. How much of this is a conscious decision? Almost a ‘let the music do the talking’ approach?
Yes, I guess you could call it that. If you talk a bunch then you have to leave a song out, we’d rather play a song (laughs).
Early on you toured with some notable bands like Tool, Metallica, [and] Slayer. When was the moment you felt like you belonged and it all clicked?
I never really felt inferior, I just never really thought about it. It wasn’t like, “are we like that band?” or “are we as good as that band?” We were just kind of like, “let’s go!” So we just did as much as we could and that’s still our mentality. [In terms of] the parametres of like, “can we hang onstage with Slayer?” I think we can. At this point, we’ve done it many times and I’ve walked away feeling pretty good about what we’ve given and what we’ve done on stage as compared to the headliners or any other band we’re out on tour with – we’re just different than those bands. We offer something different so it’s a cool show. I never look at a tour as any kind of competition with any band. I just look at it as we’re giving the audience their money’s worth by being here and offering them something different to listen to that’s in a genre they enjoy. They might not like it, but there might be some people that do. We’re always here to poach fans and get new fans. When you put together a big package with four or five different bands, it’s an effort by the four bands to entertain to where the audience members feel like, “That’s a great day! I had the best experience and it was awesome. I saw all these amazing bands.” Also, [listeners] are like, “Not only did I see Metallica or Slayer, I saw some new bands like Ghost or Gojira…or Mastodon.” Hopefully you get some of those people spill over and come see your headline show when you come back around.
Talk us through personal pass marks for a record. Some musicians, if they’re happy that’s all that matters. For others, they take stock in outside opinion.
My personal goal for this record would be to not give a shit what anybody thinks (laughs). But, it’s almost impossible for me because I’m so concerned with what other people are thinking and I hate that about myself. I really wish that I didn’t care, but I do, I care a great deal, unfortunately, because sometimes you read something and it really hurts your feelings and you’re like, “Fuck! That guy hates me.” (laughs). But, it doesn’t really matter. My wife is the only thing that matters. As long as she likes it and my mum and dad like it then I’m good.
It’s good to have that perspective and you get a thick skin to the rest.
Talking before about how you just jam behind the kit instead of practicing rudiments, I remember a few years back the drum battle you did with Tool’s Danny Carey. Drum battles are synonymous back to the glory days of Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. What was your experience from that performance?
That was really fun. We’re good friends and it was just us trading eighths and going back and forth (laughs). It was his [Danny Carey’s] music and his band, Volto. I just sat in and learned the songs halfway and he was like, “Just do what you want.” And I was like, “I’ll try.” (laughs). It was kind of scary and frightening, and I couldn’t hear that great. It’s always something, it can’t just be easy. It can’t just be like, “oh yeah, I heard everything great. It was really awesome.” There’s always got to be some obstacle in the way. [In this instance] it was like, “I can’t hear Danny at all.” I had to watch him and see (laughs). But, it was still super fun. I love Danny and I love hanging with him, we’ve been friends for years.
Looking forward to the album, Brann. Loving what I’ve heard from the first few listens. Really appreciate your time today.
No problem man, thank you.
‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is out this Friday via Warner.