American Metal Maestros Prepare for Mayhem

With countless tours and five releases already under their belt including their 2006 major label debut, Blood Mountain, Atlanta’s progressive metal outfit Mastodon are gearing up for a busy next couple months. They recently started recording a brand new album with producer Brendan O’Brien, who has worked with everyone from Pearl Jam to Rage Against the Machine to Bruce Springsteen, and in early July they will embark on the first annual Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour that will bring them to Sleep Train Amphitheatre on Friday July 11 alongside Slipknot, Disturbed, Dragonforce and a shit load of other bands. Submerge recently spoke with drummer Brann Dailor about recording the new album, performing at Bonnaroo, their main stage spot on this summer’s Rockstar Mayhem Fest and The Boss.

How long was the writing process for this record?
We’ve basically been home since last July I think now, for about a year. We were on the road for like around 14 or 15 months, something like that, a long time.

When did you actually start recording for the album and not just demoing songs? And what stage is the record at currently?
We started like two weeks ago. We got five songs pretty much done. But nothing is finished until we are totally finished with everything, you know? We’re taking a week off of the studio, so we’re doing everything in smaller increments so you’re not in there like the whole time.

I’ve read that you are much more comfortable in the live setting. What do you do to adjust when all of a sudden you’re cooped up in the studio for months at a time after being on the road for so long?
We’ve been writing for like eight months so we have been home just kind of hanging out and going down to the practice space every day. So we’re kind of used to being home, and this time we are doing the record here at home and the studio is like half a mile from my house. So it’s really close and this is like the easiest record that we’ve ever done so far, you know, simply because of the fact that we are home doing it. The overall mood of the whole band is just a lot better. Everyone is a lot more excited to make the record because everyone is just kind of refreshed everyday. You sleep in your own bed and you get up and go down to the studio and it’s like, “Yay!”

I read somewhere recently that you said the record has a “creepy, spaced out feel,” can you explain what you mean by this a little?
I don’t know. It’s hard to describe, you know? That’s like the best I can describe it.

And there is a 15-minute jam song? Will that make the final cut?
I don’t know if it’s a jam song. Everything is locked in; it’s not just like were going off on a tangent, you know what I mean? It’s just a 15-minute-long song. I think that was just some previous journalist’s words, he decided to call it a jam song. There are lyrics and everything; we made it into a real song.

I saw a picture on your Myspace of Bill [Kelliher, guitar, vocals] tracking with a nine-string guitar? Who influenced you guys to use that?
I think it’s influenced by that band The Fucking Champs. They had nine-string guitars that they had made, and I think Bill had always wanted one since we played with them. But, also I think also its probably influenced by Matt Pike [of High on Fire]. Those guys are really, really close friends of ours, and Matt is an extremely talented guitar player. That nine-string sounds pretty bad ass on the new record. We’re using a lot of different guitars in the studio, there is a ton of cool ones down there that Brendan has.

How did you guys come to be working with him?
You know I can’t even believe that we didn’t think of him. It just didn’t even dawn on me. Matt Bayles [producer of the last three Mastodon records] used to work with him; he assisted Brendan on a couple records in Seattle. There is just a lot of ties that make sense, but he just wasn’t on our radar totally until really recently. Everything came together really fast and we were like, “What about Brendan O’Brien?” Then we met him like the day after we said that at the Bruce Springsteen show.

Yeah, I saw a photo of you and Brent with The Boss! What is that all about?
We met him through Max Weinberg, the drummer from the Conan O’Brien show. We know Max because his son is a big music fan and they come out and see us whenever we are in or around New York. Max invited us out to see them play and we came out and met Brendan there and we met The Boss. That was pretty rad!

Break it down for me: Is Bruce Springsteen a Mastodon fan?
[Laughs] Oh, I don’t know. It was like a handshake and a short conversation. But I was thrilled to meet the guy. He is a legend.

So how has it been working with Brendan? Are you guys feeling it?
Yeah everything is great, everything is awesome. Brendan is real easy and he just knows what he wants, he knows how to get what he wants out of us. It just sounds really incredible. We are all really, really excited about the sound of the record. If no one likes the record, we know we love it and we know that it sounds incredible.

Is it still yet to be titled? And I know it’s a concept album, but what is going to be the theme?
We’re still kind of keeping that stuff under wraps. It’s got a title, and it’s got the whole story. The story has been written for like a year. So, we have had the story for a long time, but we’re not ready to divulge that information.

You guys just played Bonnaroo, how was that experience?
It was great; it was a lot of fun. There were a lot of people there. It was a really receptive crowd and it was fun we played three new songs, which might have been a mistake, but we did it anyways.

Did you guys get through the new songs OK?
We got through two of them really well, the first one we screwed up at the end.

It probably wasn’t even noticeable for the crowd, don’t you think?
It probably wasn’t but you know it was the first new song that we’ve played, and at the end somebody who I wont name went into the chorus too soon or something, it was just one of those brain-fart moments and I was like, “Oh god!” So I think it kind of ruined the confidence to do the other two but we ended up doing them anyway. The other two went fine.

Are you worried that when you play these new songs live this summer people will try to decipher the concept of the new record? Wouldn’t you say someone is bound to post something on YouTube and get all your fans talking?
No, I think it’s cool to tease people like that and have people start trying. It was posted like 10 minutes after we got done playing.

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Rockstar Mayhem Festival tour? Do you prefer huge tours of this sort with tons of bands and different stages, or do you enjoy the smaller tours with a couple bands? You know, getting out on the road with friends.
I don’t know they both have their good points about them. The cool thing about this big tour is that there are so many bands that it kind of takes the pressure off of a headlining gig where you got to draw all the people and worry about ticket sales and all that. With these kinds of shows, you are pretty much guaranteed a lot of people are going to come out just because it’s a big summer festival. A lot of people are just looking for something to do and with Ozzfest gone you got all these people that are like, “Well what big rock concert am I going to go to this year?” This is probably the one that they will go to. It will be like a summer camp kind of thing, you know? There will be so many bands and so many people. It will be fun; we have toured with Slipknot before so we’re already friends with them and the Dragonforce guys and Machinehead and The Red Chord. We’re looking forward to making friends with new guys.

How long of a set will you guys have on that tour?
We are opening the main stage, and there are four bands on the main stage. Probably 45 minutes, maybe 40 minutes I’m not sure.

Will there be material from the new album sprinkled in there?
I don’t think so. I don’t know I’m not sure we haven’t discussed that yet. We’re still talking about what we’re going to play this Saturday at the Iron Maiden show.

Yeah that show seems cool, how did that come about?
Yeah they just called us and said, “Hey!” So I’m going to go up there with my wife we are celebrating our fifth year anniversary the day before on Friday.

Oh wow, congrats! So you’re like, “Happy anniversary babe, I’m playing with Iron Maiden!”
[Laughs] That’s right! Yeah so that will be fun.

With the Mayhem tour coming in early July, what will happen with the record?
We’re going to go in [the studio] on the 23rd [of June] and we’re going to track like five more songs I think. With these 10 songs there are a few that are pretty long. I don’t know it kind of just turned out that way. There’s not a lot of three minute ones, you know? So with 10 songs it will be too much for a record I think, so we’ll see what happens. We are just going to track it. Then probably in late August when we get back home, we’ll go in for a couple weeks and just put the finishing touches on it and it will be done.

We’re kind of hoping during the time we’re doing Mayhem we’ll continue writing, because you just never know. If we come up with something that’s super rad then when we get back we will have the time booked and we’ll be able to go in there and be like, “Dude we got these two songs and we love them and they have got to go on there!”

How do you record new songs and ideas while on a tour bus?
We have a laptop with Pro Tools. We’ll bring some mics and stuff and set up a little mini studio. Maybe set up the drum kit in the dressing room and track something. Then you know, e-mail the demo to Brendan or something. He can open it and check it out while he’s doing the new Pearl Jam record.

Do you have a relative time frame for the release?
No we don’t know yet. We’re hoping before the end of the year. The most important thing to us is that we’re going to take our time and make sure that every single song and every single moment on this record is the best that it can be. I don’t totally 100 percent feel like we did that with Blood Mountain, so we want to remedy that situation and make sure that this record is something that everybody in the band is 100 percent happy with and make sure that this is our best record. This is a big record for us.

How tough is it knowing people are expecting certain things from you guys at this point in your career? Are you feeling any pressure?
No, no, no. I feel confident, you know? I hear this material and I think it sounds awesome and I really am super proud of it. We’re just excited to play it for people. I’m sure there is going to be a lot of people that aren’t going to like it but that’s just the way it is with every record.


    Jonathan Carabba

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