Like the beast it's named after, Atlanta's Mastodon is fairly ugly and makes a hell of a racket. In just over a decade, the band has released five albums and each has been better than the last, culminating in 2011's The Hunter.
Speaking from the tour bus and in anticipation of tonight's show at The Palladium Ballroom, drummer Brann Dailor talked about Mastodon turning away from the concept albums of the past and how multi-band tours can be a pain in the ass.
Brann is an unusual name. Is it Swedish? No, it's Celtic. My parents were Irish.
Oftentimes, your music is described as sludge metal, but your newest effort, The Hunter, doesn't fit that description. Do you agree? Yes, there are all sorts of silly ways that people label bands. It's often about each person's musical vocabulary. Some people just throw labels out there so they can have something to write, so that they can try to explain what something sounds like. I don't feel like the new album is that sludgy, but it might have a little of that in there. I try not to label it. I just play it. But I understand the need people have to label bands, to put it somewhere.
When The Hunter came out, it debuted at number ten on Billboard. Were you surprised? Sure, I'm always surprised when somebody buys our records. You know what I mean? I was excited about it. Ten is a good number. It's cool that people still buy records. Our fans are actually committed to buying the music. We are lucky in that regard. But we wanted to move away from making another concept record, so we tried to write the best collection of songs we could and just put them on one album. I guess fans like that idea.
The band's 2004 effort, Leviathan, was the one that really broke Mastodon commercially. What was it about that album that connected to a wider audience? I'm not really sure. We get in our practice space and we write the things that sound good to us and that album just came out at the right time. We were constantly on tour like we are now. That's the deal. It just sort of happened and things took off for the band. The Moby-Dick theme resonated with people. They could connect with something.
Do you think by basing the album on the Melville novel, you guys are promoting literacy? I guess. I never thought about it that way. From an artistic standpoint, we wanted to do a water- based record. The idea of basing it on Moby-Dick kind of jumped up and popped out at me.
Have you seen any of the film versions of Moby-Dick? You can't do a Moby-Dick movie. It just doesn't work. There are too many side stories. Melville trails off a lot and gives the reader a lot of background and history in the book. This was extremely fascinating for me. The movies never do that. That's where the movie versions fall short.
Why do metal bands love concept albums? I don't know. Maybe it's folks like King Diamond and Iron Maiden. Those are two of my favorite bands. For me, it all started with those two and then I started getting into the progressive stuff, even Yes' Close to the Edge.That style has always appealed to me, to my inner nerd.
Why does the band often use guest vocalists? Because they are our friends and we want to put them in our music. And it's fun. They are our buddies and they are good singers. We always have spots for them. Of course, live it's going to be a little bit different. The live shows are a separate piece of art. We try to recreate the songs as close as we can to the album versions, but it's going to be different.That's the way live music is supposed to be. These days, everyone has Pro Tools with all these backing tracks to make it sound exactly like the record. We don't do that. I'd rather it be less like the record, warts and all. So many bands think it has to be so slick and perfect. I want to hear the song maybe a bit faster. I want to get excited.
Mastodon tours with bands like Cursive, Against Me and Planes Mistaken for Stars. These bands are very different stylistically from what you guys do. Is that intended? Yes, it is. When we went out with Cursive, it was an experiment. They are our great friends. We love those guys and we love that kind of music. But some fans are not as open-minded. They are not going to start liking that kind of music just because we put it in front of them. These days, we try to stick a little more with bands that are closer to our sound. This is so kids can get their money's worth and have a well-rounded rock show.
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Have those more experimental bands ever been mistreated by your audience? I don't think mistreated, but fans were sort of separated. Some fans were sitting in the back not excited about what was going on. I think there was a percentage of people who liked all of the bands, but there were a bunch who were not excited about it. It's unfortunate, but the reality is something different. I remember being a teenager and all I listened to was Metallica.
Are these multi-band tours a pain in the ass? They can be. The festival circuit can be a tough one. You are on at different times every day. The set lengths can be different and it is hard to get into a groove. You're flying a lot and getting up at six in the morning. It's a wild experience. You get to meet a lot of people and see some old friends.