Short answer: Mastodon is a metal band.
Long answer: Mastodon is a Grammy-nominated, heavy, progressive quartet weaned on a unique and complex mix of stoner rock, prog-rock, grunge, hard rock, and heavy metal.
The Hotlanta quartet shuns the textbook metal clichés of disingenuous evil and excess, and instead goes for an epic, foreboding, dynamic and storied sound. It's unparalleled. It's huge; it's Mastodon. Formed in 2000 in Atlanta, Mastodon boasts bassist Troy Sanders, guitarist Brent Hinds as well as Rochester homeboys guitarist Bill Kelliher and drummer Brann Dailor. Dailor called from the road to chat about being on tour with his heroes, listening to vinyl, and keeping it fresh. Here's what he said; an edited transcript follows.
City: So what's it like touring with heroes like Judas Priest?
Brann Dailor: It's awesome. I grew up on Judas Priest. My mom was a huge fan; we had Judas Priest bumper stickers on our car. It's one of those bands that's been on my list. Whenever people ask me, "Hey is there any band you'd want to tour with?" And I'd say Judas Priest. I dunno; after this I might just pack it in, you know?
Who else is on your list?
There's a bunch of bands I wouldn't mind touring with, but nothing little-kid-dream-come-true-type of stuff, you know what I mean? We did Metallica; we did Slayer; we're with Judas Priest now; Iron Maiden. We've done all the big ones ... for me, anyway.
Your albums are each centered around conceptual themes. How do you write?
I guess we go for a kind of epic sound which is akin to a kind of story telling that's involved. It's all metaphor. We write the music first. I usually have something in mind for a theme beforehand, then I share it with the group. I try to make it the type of thing we can all contribute to lyrically, so everyone in the group can feel an attachment to it. I don't want it to be just one person ... everyone in the band is creative and I think everyone should contribute. That's what makes it Mastodon: everyone's involved. So yeah, we come up with the music first then shoehorn lyrics into it wherever we can and try to make it a cohesive story if we're doing a story.
After six studio albums to your credit, how do you keep it fresh?
Keep looking for it. If it's not fresh and we're not excited about it, we probably won't play it. I keep waiting for the well to dry up but it hasn't dried up yet. You just look for some kind of spark and keep forging ahead. And if you're having trouble finding it, you've got to trust that it will come eventually, and just try not to push anything in any one direction. If we actively look for it, it'll appear eventually, because we're all creative people and that's not going to go away.
Do you focus more on your old fans or on getting new ones?
Neither really; it's not something I think about too much. Obviously I want to please the fans we have and make them happy, but when you write music, you have to be selfish and keep it between the four people that are making the music together. You have to make yourselves happy and make sure you have those moments when you're writing, otherwise it's not going to be real and no one's going to respond to it. But I think if you have that moment personally, then someone else can connect with that. But when I'm on tour I think about the fans; I'm an entertainer.
Studio or live: which do you prefer?
I like them both. Creating something and having it come to life is one of the best feelings. Playing live is a whole other thing. You want to have that great night. You want to be locked in with the other people on stage, and you want to be locked in with the audience and feel that magical thing that happens. It's so awesome that you're willing to live on a bus with 12 stinky dudes and leave your families behind. So it must be awesome or you would not want to do this shit.
All of your releases are available on vinyl. What do you think of this ongoing vinyl resurgence?
I like the ritual of sitting down with an album: you put it on, you look at the artwork, you trip out to all the craziness. I love it. I'm a 40-year-old man, and growing up, that's how we got it. It means that people are actually buying music instead of stealing it. It's a bummer when you work so hard on something, someone takes it, listens to it, and types "Meh" in the comments section. It's like, "Are you f***ing kidding me? I worked a year and a half on that shit."
When are you back in the studio?
January we might start kicking it around, see if there's any life left in there. For now, we're just out on the road doing the "being on the road" thing, talking about myself during the day on the phone, trying to handle whatever home business I can; I talk to my wife whenever I can. Playing rock shows.