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Mastodon: “Fans think all we do is sit around and listen to heavy metal. We just don’t”

Mastodon
(Image credit: Press)

Twenty years ago, a wild Mastodon appeared. In honour of the occasion, the beardy Atlantans have put together a rarities collection featuring instrumentals, live tracks and one-offs from their two-decade career.

“It’s awesome to have the same four guys in the band, because we went through all of it together,” smiles drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor. “Listening to this album was a trip down memory lane for me.”

We asked Brann and guitarist Bill Kelliher to give us a guided tour.

Metal Hammer line break

Fallen Torches (previously unreleased)

Bill Kelliher (guitars/vocals):Fallen Torches has so many elements of Mastodon in it, that that’s what makes it such a great song. We had done a European tour on Emperor Of Sand [in 2017], and we had brought [Neurosis vocalist] Scott Kelly with us. We were toying around with the idea of writing a whole record with him, and we would sit backstage and play acoustic guitar. After that tour, Brann had just come over to my studio in my house one day and said, ‘Hey, let’s try to write a song for this thing with Scott we’re gonna do.’ And he had a real simple idea for the main riff, which is like [sings the riff]. And that’s usually how he and I will write together. He’ll come over and he’ll hum an idea in my ear, and I’ll say, ‘OK, let me figure out how to play that on a guitar.’ When he and I get together, we’re pretty proficient.”


A Commotion (Feist cover)

Brann Dailor (drums/vocals): “We were on Later… With Jools Holland, and we were so excited to be invited. Heavy metal kind of gets pushed under the carpet, so whenever we get invited to these things, we feel like we don’t belong there, you know? We’re like these dirty heavy metal guys.
But all the bands were coming up to us. The Feist people came up, and they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re huge fans.’ It was a mutual admiration society. We went out afterwards, we got drinks, and then the idea came up from Leslie [Feist, Canadian singer-songwriter]. She was like, ‘We should cover each other’s songs for a Record Store Day thing.’ Feist covered Black Tongue, and we covered A Commotion. It’s probably one of my favourite things outside of doing an album that I think that we’ve done. Just the fact that we traded songs with somebody that you would never, ever expect. I wanna do more of that!”


Asleep In The Deep (Instrumental)

Bill: “It’s a bit of a departure for us; the songwriting is kind of different. It’s a little more lightheaded. When I first was writing it and Brann was singing over it, it had this weird, almost like a Radiohead kind of feel, where it was a little melancholy and a bit dark.”

Brann: “When I think of Asleep In The Deep now, I really think of our friend Ikey [Owens], who played keyboards and piano for The Mars Volta and later the Jack White band. He passed away a few years ago. I remember going to pick him up in Nashville, and then driving him back to the studio in Franklin, so it’s like 45 minutes each way. And it’s just cats and dogs, raining like crazy, in my big old Ford, E350 van. He came out and played some beautiful synthesisers. Asleep In The Deep has a lot of ornaments on it. It’s like a heavily decorated Christmas tree.”


Capillarian Crest (Live)

Brann: “I think it was recorded on the Slayer tour, when we played in 2006, in Canada. We played the Vancouver Canucks arena, so I was kind of excited because I’m a big fan of ice hockey, because I’m from up north, and you gotta figure out things to do in the winter, because the winter is 10 months long. I played ice hockey for a number of years. It was exciting to see their dressing room and hang out there. Capillarian Crest, to me, was like reaching the heart of the mountain. But I could see this crest, and then thousands of capillaries coming up over the crest itself, almost like vines, you know? And blood pumping through those capillaries, and using those to propel yourself up the mountain, and past the heart, to the apex. That’s what I had in mind, anyways.”


A Spoonful Weighs A Ton (Flaming Lips cover)

Brann: “We did that cover in the same session as A Commotion. We’re all big Flaming Lips fans. It takes me back to the first European tour
I ever did, when I was in Today Is The Day, and we were opening for Neurosis and Voivod. It was 1999, and that record [The Soft Bulletin] had just come out, and the sound guy for Neurosis – this guy named Dave Clark – would check the PA with A Spoonful Weighs A Ton. Every day I’d go out there and listen, because I’d wanna hear it all big. I think fans tend to think musicians only listen to the kind of music they make, like all I do is sit around and listen to heavy metal, and I just don’t. Your average teenage boy that listens to Amon Amarth is not thinking that his beloved singer of Amon Amarth is sitting around listening to Sade!”


Toe To Toes (Instrumental)

Brann: “It tells me you don’t have to be super-prepared to go into putting a song together for it to be great. On Emperor Of Sand, we laid everything down, but a couple of things had been ignored; the arrangements weren’t figured out. But Brendan [O’Brien, producer] was like, ‘Let’s take a day, and we’ll go through that one, and the other one’, which was Jaguar God. They ended up being two of my favourite tracks. So that is almost therapeutic for me, to understand that, to relinquish those feelings of ‘I wanna control everything.’ Some beautiful things can happen in a whimsical state.”

Bill: “I thought it should have been on Emperor Of Sand, but Brent [Hinds, guitar/vocals] really felt strongly about not putting it on the record at the last minute, and we were sick of arguing about it. The Cold Dark Place EP was his idea.”


Mastodon

(Image credit: Justin Borucki)

Circle Of Cysquatch (Live) 

Brann: “The first time we ever played it was an encore, in London, at the Scala. We had done an encore already, but the people just wanted more, because we were so great! Ha ha ha! And so we had been working on Circle Of Cysquatch. I don’t even think it had a name yet, or vocals, really. That’s the first song that we wrote for Blood Mountain. I remember the first riff, it was a Bill riff that he had totally forgotten about, and I found it on a cassette tape that was from my little dictaphone that I used to carry around and hum into. I was like, ‘Bill, you remember this riff?’ And he was like, ‘No, I don’t remember that at all.’ ‘Well, can you figure out how to play it? Because it’s badass!’ It’s about a Bigfoot cyclops. It’s not an actual thing; we invented it.”


Atlanta (feat. Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes)

Brann: “We were on tour with Slayer, Amon Amarth and Trivium [in 2008], and then we ended our trip at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. So this is where we met Gibby Hanyes, because the Butthole Surfers were playing. I remember turning around to get a towel and a drink from my drum tech, Ozzy, and Ozzy was not sitting in the seat back there, it was Gibby Haynes, and he was flipping me off! And he did not have a towel or water for me. I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ So we met him there and – surprise – him and Brent became fast friends. Because you know, birds of a feather, flock together. And they are similar feathers. Anyway, a couple of years later, we were writing for Once More ’Round The Sun, and Brent had this song. He’s like, ‘Gibby wants to sing on a track.’ So we sent it to him, and that’s what he did.”

 


Jaguar God (Instrumental)

Bill: “It’s a very powerful song, and it’s beautifully written, and we’ve got Mike Keneally [Dethklok, Joe Satriani] on keyboards. We want to let the fans use it as a soundtrack. Jaguar God reminds me of the closing of the record. In the studio, that was the last song we recorded. Getting out of the studio, and my mom had passed away, and it was kind of like putting it to rest. All that bottled-up energy and emotions and feelings and everything that was going on, we’ve got it all inside this bottle. We’ve got the genie back in the bottle kind of scenario. And that song is perfect, because the way it starts out and ends, it’s bookended with the same emotion on both sides, so it’s just a great way to cap that whole Emperor Of Sand moment in time.”


Cut You Up With A Linoleum Knife

Brann: “We’d crash at somebody’s house after a gig, and then we’d sit up and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force on DVD. We love that show, it cracks us up. So Cartoon Network is a Turner company, and Turner is located here in Atlanta. One day I got a phone call and it was like, ‘Hey this is Dave [Willis] from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, I got your number from so and so, I want you guys to be in the movie.’ And I said, ‘When do you need music by?’ He said, ‘We’d like to record it Monday morning.’ Like, what? It’s Friday night! Sunday afternoon, Bill and I went down to the studio and we wrote that song in a couple of hours. We recorded it on Monday morning. I sang like King Diamond, and Brent got his thrashiest vocal going. It was hilarious!”


Blood & Thunder (Live)

Bill: “That was a riff that Brann had come to me with. Basically, he came up with the entire song as far as the instrumentation. As a guitarist who’s been playing for over 30 years, I was like, ‘Well, it doesn’t do much.’ But I’ve learned, you know… I love bands like the Ramones and they’re three-chord rock, and it’s some of the best songs ever written. So I see why people like Blood & Thunder. It’s punchy, and it’s fast, and we’ve got [Clutch vocalist] Neil Fallon, who we all love and adore and admire. I knew it was a great song, I just never thought out of all the songs we have, and all the really complicated ones, and the super-heavy ones… I look on YouTube and people are trying to learn that song, which, to me, is like Mary Had A Little Lamb on guitar!”


White Walker

Brann: “They [the Game Of Thrones showrunners] wanted us to do a song because they wanted a heavy song, but I kept thinking of almost like a campfire song. It was the end of the [2014] European tour, we were flying from Helsinki to London, and London to home. We got on the flight, and it was winter, and I started singing it in my head, and then I hummed it into my phone. By the time we got to London, I had it pretty much all worked out. I sent the lyrics to Troy [Sanders, bass/vocals]. When we got home, I went over to Bill’s, he got his acoustic guitar out, and we started working on it, then we recorded it. It was pretty quick. It was sung from the point of view of a common person who’s heard the mythology of White Walkers, and maybe that song has been sung a thousand times throughout the ages.”

Mastodon on the set of Game Of Thrones in 2014

(Image credit: Press)

Halloween (Instrumental)

Bill: “We thought it was finished, but then Brent just started playing the very last riff, which is the one that the solo goes over. And we were in the rehearsal room with all our gear on, and he just kept playing it. And we were playing along, and then after three or four minutes of that, it’s like, ‘OK, well we beat that to death, let’s stop playing this now’, and I took my guitar off, but he just kept playing it. I’ll never forget that. We all walked out of the room and into the control room of the studio with the glass so you could look out there and see the band, and it was just him in the room. And we were like, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m not gonna stop him. He’s just going off on that riff, because he really wants that riff to be on the song.’ So it went in the song.”

Brann: “We play it a lot, live. It’s got the cool steel drum intro. When we recorded it, all those guys left and went on a sailboat for the day in Seattle. It’s like, ‘You guys go on your sailboat ride and I’m going to drive around Seattle and see if I can find two 50-gallon drums to record this intro that I have in my head.’ I drove around with Matt Bayles, the producer, and we found this homeless guy who had a bunch of 50-gallon drums near him. We went over and said, ‘Hey man, are these your 50-gallon drums?’ So we gave him some money and we borrowed ’em, like, ‘OK, we’ll bring these back in a couple of hours.’ We brought them to the studio and I played 20-something tracks of drums. Every bit of those drums got played for that intro.”


Orion

Brann:Kerrang! got a bunch of bands to do covers for the 20th anniversary of Master Of Puppets. We chose Orion, because it didn’t have any vocals, and that was good for us! Plus, it’s one of my favourite Metallica songs. They’re known as being the really super-heavy metal band, but there are a lot of beautiful moments in their music that don’t get talked about. It’s also a look into the soul that was Cliff Burton – what a great person and beautifully talented musician he was. We started getting sounds for Blood Mountain using that particular song, just to see what tones we had going on.”

Bill:Kerrang! never mastered it, so the song came out really quiet compared to everyone else. We were really bummed about that. So we were like, ‘Well, we’ve gotta master it properly, and put it on the record nice and loud.’”


Iron Tusk (Live)

Brann: “It reminds me of our first arena trip in the UK, and I can’t remember where, but we were opening for Hatebreed, Slipknot and Slayer. And we were so nervous: ‘They’re gonna hate us, they’re gonna throw stuff at us, they’re gonna yell “Slayer!” the whole time we play. But we’re gonna do it anyways cause we’re big boys.’ And we opened with Iron Tusk, and I swear to God, the whole place was jumping up and down to the rhythm. I saw Brent looking back and being like, ‘Holy shit! I can’t believe this!’”

Bill: “It’s a real mover. I feel like playing really, really old songs, they feel really slow and easy. Maybe because I’ve played them for the past 20 years, or maybe because we’ve matured as a band and gotten more proficient at our instruments, so we kind of write stuff that’s a little trickier. But there’s nothing wrong with a simple song that’s catchy and gets people moving.”