To honor their recently departed longtime manager and friend, Nick John, Mastodon have recorded a faithful, evocative cover of Led Zeppelin's inescapable classic "Stairway to Heaven" as a Record Store Day 2019 exclusive.
John passed away in September 2018 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. Mastodon paid tribute to their friend, who they refer to as the "the band's Dad," by performing a touching version of Led Zeppelin's classic track at his funeral — an experience drummer Brann Dailor, who assumed the lead vocal duties on the track, called "daunting."
After hearing an amateur recording of that performance — captured by Gojira's Joe Duplantier on his phone — Mastodon decided to lay down the studio version of the tribute, which they're packaging as the "Stairway to Nick John" 10-inch vinyl for Record Store Day on Saturday, April 13th. Only 1,500 copies of the records were pressed and all proceeds from their sale will go to benefit the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
Ahead of the track's release we caught up with Dailor to talk about the emotional experience surrounding their touching tribute to John.
CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE INSPIRATION BEHIND COVERING ZEPPELIN FOR THE UPCOMING "STAIRWAY TO NICK JOHN" RELEASE?
BRANN DAILOR As you know, Nick John passed away last September. He was our manager, but also one of our best friends, and one of the coolest dudes ever. We were really devastated — still are — over his passing. His wife had reached out to us and asked if we would perform at his funeral, and of course everything inside me was like, "NOOOO!!!" It just seemed so daunting. Two things that don't mix well together are singing and crying; I don't think anyone can do it. Stevie Wonder couldn't do it while he was singing at Michael Jackson's memorial concert — and if he can't sing and cry, no one can!
I just didn't know where I was going to be at, mentally, at the funeral; it was just such a heavy, heavy situation. But of course you have to do it. As sad as everybody was, I wanted to be a part of it with the guys. He loved us so much, and we loved him so much, and we wanted to be able to quote-unquote send him off right. Nick was just such a huge Zeppelin fan, and we thought it would just be the perfect thing — "Stairway to Heaven" is the perfect song to do acoustically, in the church, with everyone else. Everyone knows at least some of the words to "Stairway to Heaven," so they can sing along, so it made the most sense. So we came back to our rehearsal space and worked it out acoustically, and then we performed it at the church [during the service]. Unbeknownst to us, our friend Joe [Duplantier] from Gojira was sitting in the front row, and he taped it on his phone. He got back to New York with it, loaded it up, and he told us, "Hey, man — it sounds pretty good, actually!"
So we decided that we would go in and do a studio version of it, and do a double-sided 10-inch and put his face on the cover, and call it "Stairway to Nick John," and have all the proceeds donated to research for pancreatic cancer, which is still one of the deadliest cancers you can get. So it made perfect sense to us, and we're super-excited for it to come out. The thing that's most exciting to me about it is that his face is huge on the album cover, and one of his favorite places to be in the world was in an independent record store, just flipping through the bins — and now his face is going to be plastered all over every single record store in America!
So I think that's a really beautiful tribute to a really amazing person that was never going to get the credit he deserved when it came to our band, Gojira, Slayer and all the other bands he worked with. There were so many people that he touched in his life, and just gave advice to for no purpose other than that he was just a good dude — and that's just so hard to come by in our industry.
DID YOU RECORD AN ACOUSTIC VERSION IN THE STUDIO, AS WELL? OR IS IT A FULL-ON ELECTRIC VERSION?
No, we tried. At first, we were like, "Let's do an acoustic version!" I was playing bongos … and then we listened back to it and we were like, "What are we doing? Let's just do the actual version!" [Laughs] So it's a pretty faithful rendition of "Stairway to Heaven."