The Complete Interview: Mastodon Drummer Brann Dailor Talks New Record, Mortality, and Craft Brews
When we caught up with Mastodon drummer, sometime singer and chief songwriter, Brann Dailor (pictured far right), for a studio report in the April/May 2014 issue of Revolver (on newsstands now, see page 20), the band was concluding the tracking process in Nashville with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Deftones, Foo Fighters, Ghost B.C.) for their sixth studio album, Once More Round the Sun, the follow-up to 2011's The Hunter. The group has premiered a new song, "High Road," from the record, which you can listen to right here.
Unfortunately, due to space constraints, we couldn’t include most of the interview. But that’s what the Internet is for! Read what he has to say about the new album, mortality, and craft beer below. And make sure to catch Mastodon live this spring with Gojira and Kvelertak.
What can you tell me about the album’s sound and lyrical themes?
BRANN DAILOR As far as themes are concerned, it’s abstract sort of esoteric lyrics, but it all extremely personal subject matters that are masked heavily. We don’t like to be too transparent when it comes to the lyrics and we don’t want to spell things out for people because I feel like that’s sort of cheating them. It doesn’t give them the opportunity to own that piece of music or the lyrical content. But it sounds evil to me. It sounds pretty dark, but deceptively so. It’s not so obviously there. I can’t really put my finger on what kind of music it is. Obviously some of the songs are super heavy, but it’s really all over the place. We are sort of more excited about the prospect of offering varieties. We have to go all over the place with it or we’re not really happy with it. But there are some songs on here that are just bizarre and I’m not sure what they are, but they sound super cool, evil, and trippy.
Do you think fans have to expect the unexpected from you guys, especially considering that The Hunter was a total departure from your prior, more prog sound?
Yeah. Well, I’m never really sure how it’s going to come out. I don’t even know where some of the stuff comes from. I think it’s a combination of the four people in the band that make it sound as different as it does.
Well, each member has various side projects going on, too.
I’ve been playing as much drums as I can. Brent [Hinds, guitar, vocals] and I have another band [Fiend Without a Face] and I’ve been working on this weird project that doesn’t really have a name--it’s electronic stuff I play drums to. Bill’s [Kelliher, guitar, vocals] got his other band, Primate. So everyone has all their different stuff going on and we like to put some space and some time between Mastodon records so it doesn’t sound the same, so it has that hopeful evolution and growth. I think it’s necessary for that time to pass and for it to be as natural of a progression as possible and not force things--when it’s ready, it’s ready. It’s OK to push it, but there’s a point where you’re pushing too much and you’re not going to get it. That’s what we look for with Mastodon.
Often Scott Kelly of Neurosis guests on your records. Will anyone else appear?
Yes, and I think Scott will be making another appearance. We love him and his contributions are always welcome. We send him a couple songs that we hear him on and find what sticks for him. He gravitated towards one of the songs and he’s working on his part at the moment. There are a couple other guests, too, but I’m not ready to divulge them yet because they haven’t done their parts. So I don’t want to say who they are because it’s been talked about and it will happen, but it has to happen very soon. So I don’t want to say who they are and it doesn’t happen. But there are plans for a couple more guests to be on the record so let’s see what happens.
When do you think we can hear the next installment of Mastodon?
Soon! [Laughs] I think a summertime release. I can’t wait for this beast to be unleashed because it’s pretty amazing. We’re really excited about it.
Have you guys seen a change in fans or popularity since the success of The Hunter and the radio play for “Curl of the Burl”?
I think we lose fans and gain fans, but I don’t have that much control over it and I don’t pay that much attention to it. But I think we got a bunch of new fans with the last record, like people who just discovered the band. But I think that happens with every band--they put out a new record and your journey with that particular band will start at whatever point it starts at. For some people, it starts at Blood Mountain, or for some people, it was Crack the Skye. Then they work backwards if they like that stuff. It might be vastly different, but I think there’s a thread that weaves all these albums together so you can tell it’s us. But with the band it’s been a nice, slow steady climb.
Do you think Mastodon can be considered a gateway into more underground music, because you not only have stoner/sludge fans, but also hard-rock fans?
I’m not really sure. I’m just so kind of consumed with writing, T-shirt designs, the stage show, my own personal drumming and singing. All of that is outside of where I’m at. Maybe it’s a bunch of people that feel the same way about music that I feel about music—that genres are put into place for whatever purpose they serve, identification or to be able to categorize something is important for a lot of people. But for me, music is more based on an evocative feeling or attachment you have to it. The feeling you get from a Stevie Wonder song is the same feeling you get from a Slayer song. Or this Slayer song is the same feeling you get from a Mozart piece. So genre kind of melts away when you put it in those parameters. You can bounce around to whatever kind of music as long as it does something for you.
I read in interviews that you have been thinking a lot about mortality and death.
I always think about death. I think about it all the time, every day. I think about that constantly I guess. I think since I was a kid, you know? Especially when I was a teenager. It’s probably unhealthy to a degree to be honest with you.
It’s a morbid curiosity with the big question: What happens? I guess I shouldn’t be so obsessed with it. I’m just interested in how people deal with it because you can’t talk to someone that’s gone. It’s quite the conundrum because there’s no way you can find out. [Laughs] You can jump to all sorts of conclusions based on nothing. There’s just no evidence of anything. But it forces me to try to live a certain way or try to live a certain way. Or have a good time all the time. [Laughs]
Speaking of good times, can you tell me more about your Black Tongue Double Black IPA, which is 8.3% ABV?
It tastes really big and super hoppy as you would expect from a double black IPA. It’s not super boozy, but it’s pretty tasty. It’s packed with flavor and it's a palate-crusher, which is what we wanted. I guess I’m sort of a beer nerd.
There has definitely been a rising trend in microbrews. How did you get into craft beer?
I liked good beer. There was a brewery in the mid-'90s in Rochester where I’m from and I used to go there. They had this scotch ale that everyone would go crazy for. When they’d come out with it, they would fill up their growlers. That was my first introduction into beer that was not the watered-down sort of pilsners that are available. But from there, my tastes changed to liking that stuff. But I didn’t get into it until maybe the last 10 years or so. My friend Dave Witte, who plays drums for Municipal Waste, he’s a huge beer freak. He’d come out to shows and bring all this crazy beer. We’d get tastings on the bus. He’d get a box of 15 different beers and pour everyone a glass of it like, “Here! Try this one, that one!” It blew my mind how amazing some of the beers were. I’ve made some beer-nerd friends in Atlanta. It’s a fun little thing to take your mind off of work and it’ll get you drunk! [Laughs]