This story was originally published in 2007.
On paper, it doesn't seem like Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl and prog-metal maniacs Mastodon would have much in common. After all, Grohl is the platinum-selling, Grammy-winning superstar who writes snappy rock songs with classic pop structures (as heard on the Foo Fighters' new live CD Skin & Bones), while Mastodon are the perpetually-touring road dogs who specialize in making mind-expanding concept albums (like 2006's Blood Mountain) and generally trying to cram as many complex riffs as possible into the space of a single song.
But in fact, the former Nirvana drummer and the Mastodon boys (vocalist-bassist Troy Sanders, vocalist-guitarist Brent Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher, and drummer Brann Dailor) are very much kindred spirits: Hard-drinkin' Southern dudes — Grohl's from Virginia, Mastodon are from Georgia — who share similar musical roots.
"I grew up listening to underground hardcore, and underground metal, thrash metal and death metal," says Grohl, who paid tribute to those seminal influences in 2004 with his Probot project. "Mastodon reminds me of a band that I would have seen in Richmond, Virginia, around 1985 or '86, opening for someone like Corrosion of Conformity. I only got to hang out with a couple of [the Mastodon band members] once, but they have that right-on, dirty, southern party-metal spirit that I love!"
Ideally, a proper meeting of minds between Grohl and Mastodon would involve an all-night drinking session. But with Mastodon in Europe supporting Tool, and Grohl currently demoing songs for a new Foo Fighters album in Los Angeles, Revolver has to settle for a three-way phone conversation between Grohl, Dailor, and Sanders. Still, we're sure you'll agree that any conversation covering such a wide array of topics as Maynard James Keenan's alter-ego, smoking pot with your mom, and taking a fragrant dump in your band's van is a memorable one, indeed.
DAVE GROHL Gentlemen! How are ya? Where are ya?
BRANN DAILOR We're in Wales right now. We're outside because the bus is locked, and we're standing in a churchyard cemetery.
TROY SANDERS We're up against the church so we can avoid the wind, and we're walking over these old tombstones of priests, which is kind of weird.
GROHL Excellent! How's the Tool tour?
DAILOR It's good; there's been too many days off, though.
GROHL Hey, I have one question about Maynard. I don't know him too well, but is it true that he was Schneider from [Seventies sitcom] One Day At a Time?
DAILOR Yeah. [Laughs]
GROHL I'd heard that, but I wasn't sure if that was true! So, if there's something wrong with the bus, could he fix it?
DAILOR Well, Schneider never really fixed much of anything; he just tinkered around, and in the end it was still broken.
GROHL This is true. OK, anyway — look, it's a pleasure to talk to you guys. You're the two I haven't met, yet; I met the other two guys from your band when they came down to the show we played with Weezer in Atlanta. Which one of you is into chainsaw art?
DAILOR Well, Brent sometimes gets naked at four in the morning, and chops trees down and sculpts tiki stuff.
GROHL Fuckin' A, man! With a chainsaw? I don't know that I'd trust that guy with a bottle of whiskey in his gut and a chainsaw in his hand.
DAILOR No, because the chainsaw quickly turns into the shotgun! [Laughs]
GROHL But I guess he's got something on the side, if the band doesn't pan out.
DAILOR Ice sculpture's in his future, I think. They pay big for that at weddings and shit.
GROHL Now, when I listen to you guys, I can hear a lot of old school punk rock, hardcore, and metal, and maybe some early Genesis, freaky prog shit. Who's the prog guy in the band?
DAILOR That'd be me.
GROHL I kind of figured!
DAILOR Yeah, my parents kind of raised me on that stuff. Old Genesis and King Crimson… they were, like, Frank Zappa-style hippies.
GROHL Right on! Did you smoke weed with them?
DAILOR Well, later on, I smoked weed with my mom.
GROHL Is that weird? I've never done that.
DAILOR It is weird. It's really weird to get super-wasted with your mom, and then have your mom start to hit on your friends. That's not good! [Laughs]
GROHL Okay, who's the punk?
SANDERS Bill, our guitar player. His favorite two bands in the world are Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, so he kind of brings that element into the mix.
GROHL Who's the Maiden guy?
DAILOR That's me.
GROHL Dude, you're taking up all the influences!
DAILOR I'm sorry! [Laughs]
GROHL Okay, who's the death-metal guy? C'mon, Brann, it's not you, is it?
DAILOR Yeah. I started with the prog rock, then I went into Maiden and Priest, then I went into Metallica and Slayer, and then from Slayer I went into Gothic Slam and Läaz Rockit and Nuclear Assault, and then I got into King Diamond, Venom, Death, Obituary, and all that.
GROHL That's quite a fuckin' menu you've got going there, my friend. That's good shit! I was sort of the same way. I started with the punk rock, and then I discovered Metallica and kind of went from there. Now, I know there's a Neurosis dude in your band somewhere…
SANDERS Neurosis has had an overwhelmingly powerful influence on all four of us. They touched each of us differently in magical ways, and their existence spawned our creation. I got into them in 1994, right when I met Brent. He totally turned me on to [Neurosis' 1993 album] Enemy of the Sun, and it brought a whole new level of understanding and appreciation to everything — how to channel every emotion into music, and make it real and serious and actually come to life. It totally set me on my ass.
GROHL Agreed, they're totally awesome! Now, Blood Mountain, I dig that album a lot. Of course it has riff after riff, and fuckin' incredible energy, but it also seems to me like it has a lot of melody going on, maybe more so than on your earlier records. Was that something that you guys were conscious of?
SANDERS We weren't afraid to dive in on this record and try using melody as a fifth instrument. We listen to a lot of Thin Lizzy and a lot of Melvins. Neurosis sings, you sing—there's a lot of bands out there that sing and use it in a powerful way to make the song itself better. So we did pay attention on a couple of the songs to try and find a vocal melody, which we'd never done before. We were always just blowing our throats out, because we were just too busy rocking out with the music.
GROHL Yeah, that's a real challenge. I grew up in Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., and the hardcore scene in D.C. was great — there were tons of amazing hardcore bands. But there weren't too many D.C. bands that had a really strong sense of melody and were still really powerful, except for the Obsessed. The Obsessed played with all the hardcore bands — my hardcore band opened up for them when I was a kid — and it was so great, because they were so fucking mean and heavy and amazing, but [frontman] Wino's sense of melody was so classic. It was one of the things that made them stand out above all the other bands. They were a wicked band, but their songs were great songs. And I think Blood Mountain is the same way. I mean, Remission and Leviathan, both of them have fucking amazing songs on them, but to me, it seems like this time you guys have really focused more on getting to the bare bones and fucking going for it.
SANDERS Those are kind words, Dave. Thanks!
GROHL Have you all ever taken acid together?
DAILOR We've all taken mushrooms together. We watched Aqua Teen Hunger Force — it was pretty awesome! [Laughs]
GROHL How did you find the transition from the van to the bus? Because I know about all the stories about your van, the Fart Box…
DAILOR Well, we've moved from the Fart Box to a long cylindrical tube of farts. But it's much more comfortable, and me and Troy can drink after the show now, instead of having to drive like we used to. We can just sit and watch R. Kelly's Trapped In The Closet DVD over and over and over! [Laughs]
GROHL So what happened to the Fart Box? Did you sell it?
DAILOR There's been, like, three of them, but the famous one, I sold it to a friend of mine. And there's people offering obscene amounts of money to buy it from him because it's the Fart Box from the [Workhorse Chronicles] DVD.
GROHL Wow, it's legendary!
DAILOR Yeah, it's the stuff that myths and legends are made of. He's like, "I left all the stickers in it, dude! And all the shit you guys wrote in there with markers!" There's like random phone numbers written all over it and shit. It's pretty funny.
GROHL Years ago, when I was in a band called Scream, we did a lot of touring in this great Dodge Ram extended van with this little loft in the back. I used to wear these old school Air Jordan high tops, and I didn't really have any socks when we were on tour, so I was just doing the straight hot-foot-into-old-Nike-boot thing, and it got to the point where my feet were stinking really bad. We were staying at someone's house one time, and I left my shoes in the van. Later on that night, one of the guys in the band went out to the van to hook up with this chick. They got in the van, and I think she threw up because my shoes smelled so gnarly. I felt really bad about it!
DAILOR Was he angry with you?
GROHL Yeah, actually! The band broke up shortly after that! [Laughs] That van was kind of like the "Third Base Mobile," but it also doubled as a portable toilet. Nobody ever shit in the van, but…
DAILOR Troy shit in our van, many times!
GROHL Did you really, Troy?
SANDERS Yeah, I'm a germ-o-phobe, and I have a paranoia of shitting in a club toilet after all these people have pissed all over the place. So I always found a sense of calmness in our own van. I'd take the local weekly entertainment newspaper, lay it down and do my business.
GROHL But wouldn't that make the van smell even worse?
DAILOR Yeah! [Laughs]
GROHL So, are you guys allowed to shit in your bus? Because that's a rock-and-roll no-no!
SANDERS No, but Brent did shit in our bus this week. He did it Troy-style — he laid down a towel in the middle of the aisle, and just let it go!
GROHL No!!! Really? [Laughs]
SANDERS Yeah. He just wrapped it up and threw it in a local trash bin.
DAILOR And told us about it later! [Laughs]
GROHL Do you guys watch each other shit? Or is that not cool?
DAILOR We video it and watch it later, in private.
GROHL Oh, hey, make sure when you play your big show in Wales tonight that you say, "Hey, it's great to be in England!" Because I made that mistake once.
SANDERS You know what I did last time we played in Japan? I went out to the crowd and I said, "Hey Tokyo, thanks for showing up! We're Mastodon!" But we were in fucking Osaka!
GROHL No! Was it a full-scale riot? Well, they don't riot there, do they?
DAILOR No, they just were polite and nodded.
SANDERS I felt like a total dick, though. [Laughs]
GROHL Did you guys get any good German compliments on this tour?
SANDERS "Your new album, very good. Your last album, much better!" Yeah, thanks man! [Laughs]
DAILOR "I came because my friend came. I don't like your music."
GROHL My favorite one I ever got there was, "What happened to your sense of humor? It seems to be gone." It's like, you're a fucking German, dude! What the fuck? [Laughs]
DAILOR When we were playing in Germany with the Haunted, a bunch of these German dudes up in the front just turned around and leaned their backs up against the stage! It was like, We hate your music, but we're not even going to make the effort to leave!
GROHL I probably shouldn't pick on the Germans, though — I think we've had bad audiences everywhere. I remember we were playing in Vegas once, maybe 10 years ago. We played outside of this hotel, by the pool. The audience was so bored that in the middle of the show I went, "Hey, everybody — let's jump in the pool!" I went and jumped in the pool, and I think maybe three people followed me. I realized it wasn't working, so I went back onstage and put on my guitar. I stepped barefoot on my distortion pedal and got the fucking shit shocked out of me! [Laughs]
SANDERS That's not good! So hey, Dave, what are you doing these days?
GROHL We're getting ready to make another record. We've got a studio in Los Angeles [Studio 606], and it's beautiful — we took an 8,000 square foot warehouse, and we've built one of the nicest studios in LA. We used to make our records in my basement in Virginia, but everyone wound up out here in Los Angeles and we thought, Hey, let's just make another little basement studio. We wound up making the fucking Abbey Road of the San Fernando Valley! So [Foo Fighters drummer] Taylor [Hawkins] and I went in three days ago, and we started doing demos. We demo'd like sixteen songs, and we're going to start making a record in March.
SANDERS Well, I look forward to meeting you sometime, dude!
GROHL Yeah, next time you guys come out to LA! The last time you played here, I found out about a month and a half before the gig, and I was like, Oh fuck, this is going to be great! I ordered all this fucking Icelandic schnapps, this Brennivín stuff that we drink all the time, so I could share it with you — and then the gig turned out to be the night before we were going to Australia. So, the reason I didn't come down to your show is that I knew if I came down, I was going to get more fucked up than I'd ever been in my entire life, and I didn't want to get on a Qantas flight and vomit for 15 hours. Next time you guys are here, I'll bring the Icelandic schnapps — and I'll make sure I've got a day off afterwards!