- Fri, 2009-06-26 10:16
Formed in late 1999, the first musical offering from Mastodon came in the form of the 2001 Lifesblood EP. This was followed by their debut album Remission in 2002. However, it was their second album Leviathan, a concept album loosely based on Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, that won them the praise they deserved with an Album of the Year award from Kerrang! Known to embrace the concept album and delve deeply into a number of themes, their third album Blood Mountain featured a number of guest collaborations. These included Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Josh Homme (Queens of The Stone Age) and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (The Mars Volta.)
No strangers to the road, Mastodon have become known for their live appearances, having supported Tool, Metallica and Slayer. Their fourth album Crack The Skye has already been met with an abundance of critical acclaim. An intricate blend of heavy metal and progressive rock, the album explores the concepts of astral travel through the mind and journey of a paraplegic boy. I Like Music was fortunate enough to catch up with drummer Brann Dailor to chat in depth about the themes within Crack The Skye, the emotional charge behind the record and the Mastodon process of making music.
"I Like Music because… music likes me.” Brann Dailor, Mastodon
ILM: What's your personal reaction to Crack The Skye?
Brann: That's a tough question. I never know what to say. You never want to talk about how great you are, but I really like it. It's my favourite record that we've done. When you get an opportunity to make a record you always want to try and out-do your previous efforts. I think the band grew to an incredible height with it. It's really nice that after ten years of being in a band the well isn't dry. I feel like our band has flipped over and started anew. It's really good. I feel like it's the start of something even better than what we had before. There is a lot more music for us to get out of our systems. We had to be together for those ten years to really get comfortable and make this album.
ILM: Fantastic. Did those feelings and that discovery come via a change in your music making process?
Brann: Nothing has changed dramatically. It's pretty much the same as it has always been. The writing process is similar to every person I have played music with since I was a young teenager. A bunch of guys that get in a room, go through everyone's ideas and then just play what they dig. You've just got to wait for things to happen, for a song to come together. We try to take the most honest process we can with the music. We write for ourselves first. We go in there and we play what we love. There is often a magical moment that will happen in the studio. We're all playing a part together and then the hairs will stand up on the back of your neck. Everybody in the room knows that it is something that we think is great.
ILM: Your music tends to focus on a theme or a concept. For example Leviathan, which focused on Moby Dick and Crack The Skye, which looks at the concept of astral travel. How and why do these ideas formulate around your music?
Brann: I'm constantly thinking about what we're going to do next. As far as stories are concerned, the Moby Dick thing was really cool. I really liked what we were able to do with that, from an artistic, aesthetic approach. When Blood Mountain came around it was really our first stab at story writing. We wanted to write this cohesive story and put it to an album. However, after Blood Mountain I felt that people were associating us a little too much with things like World of Warcraft. We wanted to go further towards a bigger spiritual picture. To go out into outer space and deal with matters of the soul and spirits made of ether.
ILM: So that's where the thoughts and ideas began for Crack The Skye?
Brann: Yeah. Crack The Skye started to come together pretty early on during the Blood Mountain touring cycle. I came up with the idea of a kid that was paraplegic and the only way he was able to experience the outside world was to astral travel, or astral project. I learnt about astral travel through my Grandmother. She is considered a medium. She'll read your tarot cards, read the runes, tea leaves, she's into crystal skulls and astral travel and the spiritual realm. She's always had me interested in that stuff. We had a story that started with a paraplegic travelling. He has a golden umbillical cord. The cord that ties you to the material realm, that attaches you when you are able to go out. We knew that we wanted that to be severed somehow, that he would then get lost in space and put into a worm hole. But I didnt't know where to go from there. The story kind of stopped. I didn't know what to do next. It was obvious that wasn't enough. He gets lost, but what happens to him? Fine, he goes into a wormhole, but where does he go? Those are questions that you need to sit and ponder upon.
ILM: And that takes time?
Brann: Yes. Just like when you are waiting for a riff to finish a song, you have to wait for that story to unfold naturally in your head as you go through your life and the whole writing process. You have to wait to be inspired. You have to sit around and hope that it will come to you. You can't force anything. You don't want to do that because that's not natural and not true.
ILM: A continuing theme in your work is Tsarist Russia. Your artwork is heavily inspired by that period. Why is that and what does it mean to you?
Brann: Yes. That has always been a focal point with our artwork. With Remission, The Russian Black Lacquer boxes were one of the first influences for our artwork. The artist cited them as the focal point. They are part of Russian folk art. Very beautiful, tiny, ornately painted, super detailed boxes. They are all black lacquer and they are painted with gold leafing. I went to Russia for two weeks when we finished recording Blood Mountain. I had in the back of my head that there was going to be something that came out of it. I didn't know what but I have always been fascinated with Russian history.
ILM: With Crack The Skye you worked with producer Brendan O'Brien instead of producer Matt Bayles, who you worked with on your first three albums. What was it like working with Brendan O'Brien? Why did you make that decision?
Brann: It was great. He was fantastic. A breath of fresh air. Nine months of working on an album, I mean, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. You're in there flogging it out everyday and playing the same songs. You kind of get to a point where it's like I'm ready to go into the studio. Let's do this! We were scheduled to record with Rich Costey but it didn't work out. We were ready to go in in May, he had us scheduled to go in in October. If we were to sit around for six months on the material then it wouldn't have been this record. It wouldn't have been as exciting to record it. Also, to be honest, I didn't feel like he was on the same page as us. He had a long list of changes that he thought needed to be made in the songs. And we didn't feel that way at all. We thought the songs were where they needed to be and at that point you have really got to just trust your instincts. We knew we needed to find someone else.
ILM: As well as collaborations with producers, you've worked with a lot of artists. Particularly on Blood Mountain, which saw collaborations with Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Josh Homme (Queens of The Stone Age) and Cedric Bixler-Zavala (The Mars Volta). What have been the most memorable or exciting collaborations for you?
Brann: It is always fun to work with Scott. He was one of the first people we asked to sing on a record, him and Neil Fallon from Clutch. It's fun to have a voice that you admire and is familiar to you from music you've listened to for years and years become part of your song! It's born out of a deep admiration for musical heroes. We've also been able to become really good friends with all these people as well. We admire each others music. I don't think I could point to one collaboration and compare it to another one. But, I will say that Scott is an old and dear friend of mine. My friendship with Scott is probably deeper than anyone else we've ever collaborated with. If we can get him in and involved in something then it means a lot to me and everybody in the band. If there wasn't Neurosis then there wouldn't be a Mastodon.
ILM: What do you look forward to the most about playing live?
Brann: I love it. It's so much fun. I go up and play my drums. That's why we're here. That's the whole reason that all this is going on. Whatever it might be, forty-five minutes, an hour, whatever. I love headlining. The past few months playing the entire Crack The Skye record from start to finish has just been awesome. It's a tough record for me. Not tough in terms of hard to play, but there are lyrical moments that exist on the album that are extremely personal. They put me in a place that perhaps I don't want to be all the time.
ILM: To have to do that on demand must be challenging?
Brann: It's emotional for me. When I finish listening to Crack The Skye, it's like I've just been to see some heavy movie. It does put me back in those places. It's hard to go there all the time. I think that it's really important that I do go there. For the fans. I really want them to experience the record all the way. I think that it translates to the fans. If I'm feeling that, then although everyone else might not be, that deep connection that I've been able to make with the music and what's happening must be affecting somebody. We are all connected.
ILM: Out of all the shows you have played, which will you never forget?
Brann: In every show there is always a new opportunity for something awesome to happen! Some of the biggest things for me personally have been things like having Nicko from Iron Maiden at the side of the stage. It totally puts you in little kid mode! I never thought that would happen. All the guys from Metallica checking us out! Stuff like that. Also things like playing Portugal with Metallica, which was crazy! The people were just going crazy, it was so loud!
ILM: What's your earliest musical memory?
Brann: For me there was no question. That was what you did. You played music. My Grandmother plays music, she sings in a group. My Grandfather plays in a band to this day. My Mother was in a band. My Uncle plays drums. My dad was putting music on headphones for me when I was tiny. I got pumped full of music that I don't even remember from an extremely early age. There is a picture of me at three years old in a diaper hugging and kissing a bass drum! Ever since I can remember that was just what I did. I played the drums. There wasn't a question about it. I played the drums. I just devour music on a daily basis. I look to the past and to the future. It's always been there and it's just the same as eating, sleeping and breathing. It's one of those things. Sitting behind the drum set, that's where I belong.
ILM: What would be your advice to anyone looking to do something similar?
Brann: Well, I think that those people are probably out there and they are already doing it because they need to do it. It's not like I can't do this, I have to do this. I have to play the drums. I have to get these songs out. We have to. I would say listen to as much music as possible. Listen to all different kinds of music. Know your craft well. Play your instrument because you want to play your instrument. Play your instrument when you want to play it. I never took any lessons. I just played the drums because it was fun. Do it because it is fun. Don't expect anything out of it. The only thing you should want from music is the soul purpose of creating art. It's nourishment through your soul. It should just make you ahppy. If your band gets popular because of it, if you're able to perform for a lot of people and your able to make a living out of it then that's great. But that's all gravy, that's all icing on the cake. What you really want to look for are other people that you can play with that share your enthusiasm. People that you can create something really special with. No matter how many people hear it or like it.
ILM: What are you listening to at the moment?
Brann: I just got a version of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. It has a big improv section on the third song. It's killer. It's really awesome! I've been listening to an interview from 1986 with Howard Stone and David Lee Roth, it's like 2 hours long and it's fucking funny! I've been listening to that like non-stop at the moment. It's really comforting hearing David Lee Roth speak. I don't know why! Haha!
ILM: Have you been to any gigs recently?
Brann: I saw Isis last week. That was phenomenal. They were killer. I love their new record!
ILM: Dare I say it, have you made any plans for your next album?
Brann: Crack The Skye has been an experience. Making the album and going through the whole thing. And here we are. At the moment writing another record is daunting. We're not in the mental head space at the momemt. Right when you first release a record, when you birth it, if you hear things like You've got to do it again you're just like REALLY?! Haha! But we will!