Interview with Brann Dailor of Mastodon

For most bands, jagged guitar solos, snarling vocals spitting lyrics about drinking blood and killing goats, and artwork that depicts a three-jawed deerwolfbeast would not constitute a recipe for commercial success. Not for Mastodon, whose latest album, ‘The Hunter,’ hit #10 on the Billboard 200 chart after its release in September. The new record offers up a ferocious yet accessible synthesis of the band’s previous metallurgical ventures. “Thickening” plunges back into the seasick arpeggios of ‘Leviathan’; the cosmic wanderings of ‘Crack the Skye’ continue through “Stargasm”; the sludgy drop A riffery of ‘Remission’ rears its head once more during the hell-bent “Spectrelight.” But don’t think Mastodon are merely treading water on this one — ‘The Hunter’ also features the band’s strongest hooks and most varied vocal performances to date.

Currently, Mastodon are shredding their way across Europe on a tour with fellow metallers Red Fang. The jaunt features a massive, career-spanning setlist, and the Atlanta rockers are tighter than they’ve ever been. New songs “Black Tongue” and “Blasteroid” are tailor-made for the mosh pit, while the anthemic “All the Heavy Lifting” and “Creature Lives” have audiences singing along in no time. Hardcore fans will be happy to hear that older tunes such as “Megalodon,” “March of the Fire Ants,” and “Circle of Cysquatch” still rock as hard as they did several years ago. As in the studio, Mastodon are at the height of their powers on stage.

Drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor was nice enough to chat with Rock Edition before the band’s show at Le Bataclan in Paris. Head below to check out our conversation about playing songs from ‘The Hunter’ live, humor in metal, and reading Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and the Mormon Bible.

BD: [humming] You a Bon Jovi fan?

Mostly just “Wanted Dead or Alive.”

Oh, okay.

That song, pretty much. You?

Not really.

[laughs]

I like the hits, though.

Yeah, for sure.

I like them more now than I did as a kid. I hated them when I was a kid ’cause they were sort of a glam band.

Yeah.

I fucking hated them.

There’s some pretty solid songwriting there, though.

Yeah, absolutely. Now I like it. I turn it up at karaoke. Yeah, those are good songs. [sings chorus to “Livin’ on a Prayer”]

[laughs] Do you do karaoke a lot?

I try to. We did some last night; it was fun.

Oh, nice. Where at?

Some Irish bar in Brussels, across the street from the venue.

So how was that show?

That was great.

And you guys just started this tour, right?

A little over a week ago.

Cool. How’s it going so far?

It’s going good.

Yeah?

Yeah. Except I fell down the stairs on the bus. [points to small wound near temple] There were some winding roads.

Did you bleed a lot?

Yeah, I was bleeding last night. I was like, “What the fuck?” The steps on the bus to get up are like walking up a wall, basically.

Those can be super steep.

Yeah. I rarely fall ever.

You pretty good at bus surfing?

I’m really good at it. But there have been some mishaps on this tour. It’s only been a little over a week, and I have to live in a plastic bubble for the remainder of it. I don’t want to get killed.

[laughs] Well, it looks like it healed up all right.

Yeah, it’ll be fine. It’s more embarrassing than anything else.

Did everyone laugh at you?

Yeah, pretty much. Everyone saw me this morning, and they were like, “Are you okay?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m fine. I just feel stupid.” But what are you going to do? I didn’t get punched. Now I have to tell everyone — every conversation that I start from now on is going to be like, “Listen, I didn’t get punched in the face.”

Or you could make up a story about it.

My wife likes it. She’s like, “I love something about a guy with a shiner. It’s a turn on.”

[laughs]

I’m like, “Oh, remind me to fall down the stairs more often.”

How do you like Paris? Have you been able to get around at all?

Not today. Pretty much rolled out of bed and came here and did sound check and started doing interviews and just snuck in a quick burrito.

Where do you get a burrito around here?

I don’t know. It was weird. This guy came in and was like [imitating a French accent], “You would like some tacos? Some burritos?” I was like, “Usually, no, but is there anything else?” They’re like, “No, there’s nothing else open until 6:30.” I was like, “Fuck, okay.” It was actually really good. I couldn’t believe it. [claps hands]

The burrito?

Yeah. Who knew?

I’ll have to try to find that.

No, you don’t need to find that. You’re in Paris.

Yeah, but you miss Mexican food over here.

Yeah, I know. It was actually pretty good. It wasn’t a total nightmare, like I thought it was going to be. I thought it’d be like fucking filled with squid and corn or something.

[laughs] Frog legs.

Yeah. [laughs] You’ve got to be careful in Europe when you’re eating food. Everyone thinks that it’s going to be great, but you go into some places, and looks can be deceiving.

What’s the worst thing you’ve eaten on tour in Europe?

England is pretty good about having some bad food.

[laughs] I’ve heard about that.

I think the Nazis bombed their spice factory during the war, and they never fucking found it again. But they’re all excited about Indian food and there’s so much flavor, but they can’t figure out how to transfer it. The flavors; salt and pepper; stuff like that. I don’t want to talk shit on the British, but their food leaves something to be desired sometimes. But Indian food is fucking awesome.

This sounds like rock star stuff, but I had my drum tech go out and get a sandwich because we were in the venue, and I looked outside and there was this massive line to get into the show wrapped all the way around the entire building. I was like, “Okay, if I go out there, I’m just going to get — I have to get back up here to start warming up and getting reading for the show, and if I go out there, I’m going to have to stop and sign everybody’s stuff and take pictures. If one person does want something, everyone’s going over, and I’ll never get that sandwich, and I’ll never get back upstairs. I don’t want to be a jerk and not sign everybody’s stuff because if I get locked into it, I’m there until the last person. I won’t be like, ‘Rah! Fuck off!'” So he went and got me a chicken sandwich, and he brought it back. It was literally just boiled chicken with no seasoning at all on whole wheat toast and really thinly sliced cucumbers.

That sounds pretty horrible.

There was nothing on it. No sauce. Just nothing. That was it.

Super dry.

Yeah, I bit into it, and it was really dry. I was like, “What?”

I heard the breakfasts are pretty weird over there, too.

I don’t mind the breakfasts. They’re not that bad. You get sausage and — it’s just the beans that will throw you for a little bit. Beans and roasted tomatoes, like half a tomato roasted.

I guess that’s not that weird.

It’s just different. But beans is the one that throws it for me. It’s like, “The fuck is this?” For Americans, beans are more like — hot dogs and beans is more of a lunch or picnic type of food.

Or Mexican food.

Yeah. Beans, like cowboy beans on SpaghettiOs sauce.

That’s kind of awkward.

It’s a little weird, but once I was able to wrap my brain around it, it was fine. Now I know what to expect going in, so it’s okay.

For sure. Any places you’re looking forward to in particular on this tour, countries or cities?

Tomorrow, we’ll be in Portugal for a day off in Lisbon. I always like it there. It’s really nice; they’ve got good food. The weather’s usually pretty nice.

Have you looked into anything that you’re going to do there?

Nope. We’ll see when we get there. But I’ve been there a couple times before. It’s a pretty great city, and there’s lots to do. I don’t know that I’ll do anything. I might just stay in my hotel room and be like [sighs], “Oh, God.” We play a pretty long set, so I’ve been pretty beat after the show every night. When I get a day off, I like to just relax and Skype back home. Talk to everybody.

You have a family, right?

I don’t have any kids, but I have a wife, and I got a dog and a cat.

Skype’s good with the long distance.

Yeah, it probably saved my marriage. I remember when we used to come over here ten years ago. No one had a phone, and it was always a real chore to get a phone and call back home.

Expensive, too.

Expensive, and you get a phone card, and you go find a pay phone, and throughout the years, the pay phones started to disappear completely. You’d get to a pay phone, the box, and the phone’s not in there.

[laughs] Someone had taken it?

“Shit, it’s gone!” If you don’t talk to somebody for a week, it’s messed up. They get upset, and I get upset. So I don’t know how we did it back then. I went two weeks without calling home one time.

Damn. I guess that shows things are strong afterward.

Yeah, but we couldn’t do that now. It just couldn’t work. It’d be like being deprived of oxygen or something.

For sure. So how’s it touring with Red Fang?

Good. We did the whole States with them last year. So it’s been pretty good. We know them already. They’re our good friends, and everything’s fine.

Cool dudes to hang out with?

Yeah. Totally.

Nice. Their music is awesome. Good stoner metal.

Yeah, totally. It’s very good stuff. We’re stoked to have them out here because it’s always good to follow a good band.

Did you guys pick them out, or did they get hooked up with you?

We picked them, and it made sense. It has to be both. We can’t just be like, “Well, we like this band.” It has to fit; obviously some bands wouldn’t make sense to come with us. You have to understand your fanbase and what they want to hear.

I think that was a really good choice.

Yeah, It’s perfect, I think. It’s good. And we had Dillinger [The Dillinger Escape Plan] out there. They’re going to join back up with us in the UK. We were hoping they could do the whole thing, but the logistics of it just didn’t work out. But at least they’ll be there for the UK stuff. That’ll be good.

Yeah. And then you guys are doing a few shows in Australia.

Yeah, we are.

And [for support] you have Kvelertak and…

Gojira.

Gojira. Did you pick them out as well?

Sort of. We like those bands, and, again, they’re sort of like-minded “artistes.”

[laughs] If you will.

[drums against legs]

You’ve been touring these new songs for a little while now. How do you think they’re holding up live?

Great.

Awesome.

Yeah, I think they really lend themselves more to the live stage more than the last album just because they’re a little more straightforward and a little easier to play. I felt like with the ‘Crack the Skye’ stuff, when we recorded that album it was almost like a ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’ I was like, “This is fuckin’ impossible.”

Huge productions.

Yeah, and then when we toured, we withdrew a little bit playing it live because it was hard to make it all work and get the vocals right and get everything going. So everyone was internalizing all of that, and then while we were playing, it was apparent that it looked like none of us were having any fun. [laughs]

That sucks.

Yeah because everyone was just like, “I don’t wanna fuck up.”

You’re just focusing on getting all the fills right.

Yeah, exactly. I still concentrate on doing everything right, but it’s just a little less stressful than it was to do that.

You guys had a keyboard player on tour with you, right?

For ‘Crack the Skye’? Yeah.

That guy’s not with you anymore?

He’s not, no.

I guess that simplifies that a lot, too, if you have one less member.

He wasn’t — not that he was a pain in the ass or anything; to have him on stage was great. It filled it out with the ‘Crack the Skye’ stuff. It was almost imperative that we have someone there to do that because we had put so much of it into the record, so it made sense. For this record, we didn’t really have much [keyboard playing]. We just had some stuff on “Stargasm” and “The Sparrow” or something like that.

“Creature Lives.” [laughs]

“Creature Lives,” obviously. That whole beginning, that whole Moog —

Do you guys do that live, that song?

Yeah. We play it every night.

Really?

Uh-huh.

That’s great.

Yeah. We have the Red Fang guys come up and help us sing it. We hope to get the point across to the audience that they’re supposed to be singing as well. They usually do.

Awesome. That’s funny.

That’s our finale.

[laughs] Speaking of that song and others, you guys always have a really great sense of humor about the whole metal thing. What’s your opinion of metal bands that are straight-faced the whole time?

Oh, I don’t know. I guess I don’t really have much of an opinion about it. I don’t really think about it too much. To each their own. They can do their thing… You know? I think it’s pretty funny.

[laughs]

[laughs] The almost like live action role play bands.

Doom and gloom. The corpse paint. I guess they probably think it’s funny, too.

They don’t think it’s funny. No.

I guess Norwegian black metal stuff —

It’s not funny. It’s so crazy; it’s so deep. Those guys are deep into it, and there’s no irony at all. There’s not; there’s no irony. There are bands that are just [sighs] way too serious. [imitates Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight] “Why so serious?”

Yeah, exactly.

I can’t do it.

I love how they almost have a whole philosophy about it. It’s a lifestyle.

It is, to them. They take it very, very seriously. But yeah, I don’t… Come on.

[laughs]

That’s not how you want to approach it. That’s not how I want to approach life in general. It’s like, “Do you guys ever laugh?” What’s that like?

[laughs] It’s cold up there. Can’t waste energy laughing.

No, definitely.

Along with [the humor], you guys have these really ridiculous music videos. I think every single one has been kind of off the wall. Do you guys have a large hand in usually creating the scenarios?

Yeah, completely. The last one — the “Curl of the Burl” video — I wrote the whole screenplay for it.

Have you ever considered going into movies?

Not really. I don’t know; maybe in the future.

The Mastodon full-length feature film?

Oh, I’d love that. That would be cool. Kind of like Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

You guys could have an extended puppet segment.

Yeah. I like puppets.

Yeah. What was it, “Deathbound”? Definitely one of my favorite videos of the year. It’s hilarious.

Yeah, pretty crazy. I like that. We don’t want to — I see people get mad about it, too.

Really? You mean about you guys being funny about it?

Yeah. They don’t like it; they don’t want it to be like that. They’re like, “No! It’s supposed to be like this!” When “Blood and Thunder” came out, everyone was just like, “It doesn’t match the subject matter at all!”

Wow, you’d think they were all English majors or something.

“Sorry!” They’re like, “I wanna see guys in boats killing whales!” I’m like, “Why you gotta be so literal all the time?” “It doesn’t make any sense! Why are there clowns? Why is there a bearded lady?” “Cause I like clowns.”

Well, was that song inspired by clowns at all? There could’ve been a backstory.

No. Right, yeah. On the Pequod [whaling ship in Moby-Dick], whatever it’s called.

The what?

The Pequod.

Oh, the boat, yeah. I forgot.

Queequeg [character from the novel] is kind of a clown, right? He’s got face paint — grease painted up. No, there was no — “Blood and Thunder” is most about Moby-Dick out of any of the songs on the record. “Blood and Thunder” is a line taken from the book itself.

Did you — I’ve always been wanting to ask this to you guys — did you guys actually read all of Moby-Dick?

Yeah. I read the whole thing.

Nice. Good read?

Yeah. You should check it out.

Well, I’m an English major, so I feel like I have to at some point, probably. [laughs]

Yeah, you do. Have you read the Bible?

No.

You should read it.

I’ve read parts of the Old Testament.

Fuck the King James Version. You should check out the Mormon Bible.

Really? [laughs]

I scored one from a hotel recently. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, though.

What hotel were you in that had a Mormon Bible?

Dude, they’re seriously on the trail. They have billboards everywhere, like, “Look at me! I have a job! And I’m a Mormon! Look at me, I know how to work a lawnmower! I’m a Mormon!” I don’t understand who they’re talking to. What regular person out there — I’m not affected by that at all. They can put billboards up everywhere. It just doesn’t make sense to me. They have TV commercials, too. Now, their Bible’s next to the Gideons Bible in hotel rooms? They’re trying. They’re infiltrating. “Why read that Bible?” First of all, who’s reading those Bibles that are going into those hotel rooms. Who says, “Oh, I’ll read the Bible for a little while?” What’s the thought pattern there? Is it like, “We’re going to save people”? Chances are — I could see maybe in some destitute hole in the wall — Notel Motels or whatever — I could see maybe having it in there, and someone’s like opening the drawers to look for some misplaced heroin or something like that. They’re like “What’s this? A Bible. Maybe I should get my shit together. Get right with the Lord.” But in four or five star hotels, up at the top there, I don’t think you’re converting anybody. Those people are like [makes snorting sound], “I don’t need God in my life. I’ve got money!” Anyways, that’s my spiel about that.

Well, I have one more question real quick. Why doesn’t the octopus have any friends?

I’m not really sure. He’s never told me why. He just seems very alone.

Okay. I just didn’t want him to be sad for a bad reason.

I’m not sure if he’s even sad about it. He just doesn’t have any friends.

He’s a hermit.

Yeah. You always see him [mimes poking his head out from behind something] hugging a rock somewhere. Rocks are inanimate objects, so you can’t be friends with those. Although they did make a lot of money with the Pet Rock in the ’70s.

Pick up Mastodon’s new album, The Hunter.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.