Mastodon Hard at Work on Follow-up to ‘Crack the Skye’
Something dark, cerebral, and dizzying is gathering power in the streets of Atlanta. Four hyper-talented musicians are working together to create the ultimate combination of memorable riffs, jaw-dropping beats, mild-altering vocal harmonies, and unearthly guitar passages. Yes, Mastodon are writing the follow-up to their 2009 masterpiece 'Crack the Skye.' Right now, even the band members don't know exactly where the songs are going musically, but they're happy with the direction in which they're headed.
"We've got a ProTools rig set up and [guitarist] Bill [Kelliher's] been learning how to use that," Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor recently told Noisecreep. "We're recording bits and pieces and stringing up three or four riffs together and testing them out. It's super-heavy and it sounds killer, so it doing what it's supposed to do. It's doing what every other Mastodon song has done for us. We really just try to play music that we dig and that's bad-ass. Our approach has always been exactly the same, and we've learned that we need to do it that way. Otherwise, it's just not right."
Between earth-rattling jam sessions, Dailor talked to Noisecreep about the band's creative process, the sonic vibe of the songs, the tentative concept for the record, and how his feelings about religion, mortality, and mythology are factoring into the music. Dailor also discussed Mastodon's recent experience scoring the movie 'Jonah Hexx,' as well as his predilection for Spongebob Squarepants.
How much material have you written?
Brann Dailor: We've got tons of stuff. We've got too much stuff. We go in there every day and just work on it. It's coming out great.
Guitarist and vocalist Brent Hinds seemed to take the reigns musically on the initial songwriting for 'Crack the Skye.' Is that the formula you're working with this time?
I think it's a little more collaborative, with everyone chipping in. Brent has a lot of great stuff. [Guitarist] Bill [Kelliher]'s got a lot of cool riffs, too. There are so many, it's hard to know which ones we're gonna use. But we go in and jam all the time and record stuff. Then we sort it out later.
Can you describe the general vibe of the material so far?
It doesn't seem as proggy. There's moments, but it seems more riff-oriented. It seems a little more stripped down. [2004's] 'Leviathan' was a little more stripped down, and it feels like that to me. Everything always changes once you go in the studio, but at the moment it seems like a really super-heavy Led Zeppelin or something. It has a lot of that [John] Bonham-esque groove to it, but really heavy and dark. I really like playing like that, and when it goes into those parts, I'm psyched.
Do you have a producer in mind?
We do and he said he'd do it, but nothing's finalized and we still have to meet with some other people just to make sure. But for us, we don't need that much production. We just need to get in a room with somebody and hit record, and if they have some cool ideas, that's cool too. But I don't feel we lack any vision as a band. We usually have everything mapped out, as far as how the story line goes and what the visual imagery looks like. And that kind of plays in your head along with the riffage. We're pretty good at arranging and making the parts flow as a song. We just kind of need somebody to put the mics in the right spots and make it sound great and feed our egos as we go along.
Is there going to be a concept for the record?
Yeah, totally. It's all worked out. I don't want to talk about it yet, though. It's not totally ready, but it's gonna be cool. I feel like it's a classic story about redemption. It's a mythology that's invented because we care so deeply as human beings for one another, it's hard to think that you just go into a hole [after you die] and that's it. So you want to see your loved ones be exalted in some way, or be a part of something that's much more grandiose.
Do you hold any spiritual beliefs yourself?
I think you go into a hole and that's pretty much it. It's depressing, so I don't want to think of life that way. As much as I try to fool myself that Bigfoot exists and there is a Santa Claus, and when I finally do pass away I'm gonna go somewhere awesome, I can't do it. There's just no evidence for it. I think we're just a bunch of f---in' animals and we live, then we die. But no one likes to think that way. If that's your best friend or your mom or your grandmother, you want to think that she's going to go to this amazing place, and that makes it okay for people, and that's a big part of why religion exists in the first place. Everything dies and everyone dies and the last thing you want to think is, "Oh, well, it's just over. There's just darkness and nothing." You want to think that Grandma is in a better place, and you say that to yourself to console yourself. And also, for people who are dying, it makes them feel better to think they're going somewhere else. They rationalize. They go, "Well, that was really good, and I'm ready to go to this great place, so I'm f---in' set. No problem."
On a lighter note, you did some music for the movie 'Jonah Hex.' Would you consider working on another movie score?
We're not working on any other films, but I thought that was a really cool experience. It gave us a chance to be spontaneously creative and write music on the spot, which I think has helped with our writing process with this record. We're writing things and then moving on and not dwelling too much on anything. And then we'll come back and visit it later and say, "Okay, what's great about this and what's not so great?" I would definitely do it again if anybody needed some riffage for their movie picture film. We'd be willing to create some. It was cool, it was fun and we made some great friends out of it.
Any other projects lined up besides Mastodon?
I'm pretty much knee-deep in Mastodon. Bill's got the Primate side project [with vocalist Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth), guitarist Evan Bartleson (Hallows Eve), bassist Dave Whitworth (The Despised) and drummer Shayne Huff (The Despised)]. And Brent is doing Fiend Without a Face and West End Motel. This summer we're gonna go out on the European festivals. We'll be playing Sonisphere with Iron Maiden, Metallica and a bunch of other bands you've never heard of. We were scheduled to do the last Sonisphere shows, but we had to cancel them because of Bill's [recurring] health condition. That sucked, but he's much better now. So we're moving back to hitting it in this summer. We did it two years ago and it was crazy. It was a whirlwind to play in front of that many people and hang out with Metallica. Time of our lives. I can't wait to do it again.
You're a big movie buff. Are there any films that you've been inspired by recently?
I've been watching a lot of documentaries on streaming Netflix through my Xbox. I saw 'The Staircase' recently. It was a Sundance true crime miniseries program where this guy's wife supposedly falls down the stairs. And then you go and see it. And they show her and there's blood everywhere. And you're like, "How the f--- did a fall down the stairs produce that much blood? I don't see it." That was pretty incredible. I also watched one called 'The Suicide Tourists,' which was a PBS [Frontline] program. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, so a lot of people with terminal illnesses have traveled there for assisted suicides. If you like to cry then you should watch that. It's pretty depressing. I like depressing movies, though. They work for me. But after I watched 'The Suicide Tourists,' I had to watch two episodes of 'Spongebob Squarepants' back to back or I wouldn't have been able to sleep.