Drums Not Dead
Mastodon’s drummer/vocalist talks new album, touring and not touring
written by BRANN Dailor
"Everything’s up in the air,” Brann Dailor says. “We don’t have an album title yet. There’s some song titles we like, but nothing’s in cement. We’re not sure who’s doing the artwork yet. We don’t even know which songs are gonna end up on the album.”
And that, in a nutshell, is the status report on the next Mastodon album—the recording of which was supposed to be well underway by the time we called Dailor at home in Atlanta on the trusty Masto-hotline. But as the band’s drummer, conceptual mastermind and sometimes-vocalist tells us, shit didn’t work out that way. “We pushed it back a couple of weeks,” he explains. “We came to the decision that if we had a little more time, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s a Crock-Pot thing, you know? You can’t put it in the microwave. Some things needed to sit and simmer for a minute, and we’re happy to do that.”
You guys tour constantly. Are you enjoying being in one place for a change?
Oh yeah. I love it here. We’ve been on tour for the better part of 15 years, so the older I get, the more I feel like I really wanna be here. I don’t wanna go out there. [Laughs] Once I get out there and start playing, it’s fun. But the weird thing about it is that the stuff I wanted to write about on this album is sort of hinged around the idea that you’ve been told you have a year to live. What do you do with that information? The strange paradox for me is that I’m not 100 percent sure that it would be going on tour with Mastodon. I’d rather hunker down with my wife and see the sights and go jump in the water. I love the guys in my band and I’d wanna spend some time with them, too, but it’s an interesting conundrum. We seem to think of life as never-ending and continual, like, “Oh, I’ll do it later.” But who knows?
How old are you now?
I’m pretty old. [Laughs] I’m thirty-great. And yeah, when you get older, I think you start paying more attention to the things that are truly important. But the art and music that I make with the other individuals in Mastodon is important to me, too. That’s also a huge part of my life. If I’m not creating, I feel antsy and weird. If I haven’t gone to another level musically or artistically, I don’t feel good. Does it mean that I need to be on tour? I don’t know. I don’t feel like that’s an integral part of the equation as far as what’s satisfying for me.
So, let’s take your own hypothetical: If you were given a year to live, you’d make this new Mastodon record, but you wouldn’t necessarily go on tour to support it.
Yeah. We might do some shows, but it wouldn’t be extensive touring. If I was told I had a year to live, I wouldn’t go, “Oh yeah—I’ll spend it on the road!”I would love the record to happen, though. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but I think people are searching for immortality—which is impossible, obviously. So, the way to go about it is to make your mark artistically and leave something that will be here forever.
That’s always in the back of my head when we’re creating music. I don’t wanna make something that’s bullshit because it’s gonna be here forever when I’m gone. Maybe it’ll disappear into obscurity, but there’s an outside chance that it could end up like Mozart’s Requiem, where I’m listening to it on my iPod 250 years after the man has died. That would be a cool thing. Am I gonna know about it? No, I’m gonna be in the void. But I guess it’s cool to think about while you’re here.
That’s also why every band says their new record is their best record yet. On one hand, it’s a cliché. But on the other hand, if it’s not your best record yet—or if at the very least you don’t believe it’s your best record yet-- you gotta ask yourself why you’re making it.
Yeah, you do. But at the same time, you do things for different reasons sometimes. Maybe your new record isn’t the best you ever did, but it’s helping the people you’re in the band with get through a difficult time. At the end of the day, the Mastodons, the dudes in the band, we’re really protective of our music. We really scrutinize every little part and think about it all the time. You go to bed and you can’t sleep because of a riff or a song arrangement. It intensely occupies space and time. When it comes down to it, we’ll get rid of stuff. I remember Brent [Hinds] talking about some riff we were playing. Everyone felt like it was a little disjointed or weird and it wasn’t hitting that sweet spot. Every time we’d get to it in the song, he’d just stop and go, “I don’t know, man. It’s like my soul won’t let me play it.” [Laughs] I thought that was hilarious—and 100 percent true. I know exactly how he feels. When I was younger and hurting for money, people would say, “You could be in a cover band,” or “You could do session work.” But I couldn’t do it. My spirit wouldn’t let me. I’d just wanna put my drum sticks down if it came to a part that I wasn’t able to sink into.
So, what can you tell us about the new album?
It’s gonna be incredible. I promise. I mean, I already like it. I’m already falling in love with it. [Laughs] That’s all I can control, though. I’m sure some people will hate it. But the fact that we like it—that’s the part that I think is transferable. I always stress out over new records for no reason, but I guess that’s how it has to be—for me, anyway. [Laughs] But it always comes together. It looks like we’re gonna record this one in Nashville with Nick Raskulinecz. He’s worked with a bunch of friends of ours, so I’m sure it’ll be cool. And with him, there’s no cause for alarm. When we did The Hunter with [Mike] Elizondo, everyone was freaking out because he was a hip-hop producer. But it’s not like we were gonna come out the other side with a hip-hop album, you know? We’re terrible rappers. And there’s nothing I can do about that. I can practice and practice, but I just ain’t got that flow.
How much material do you have?
I’m not 100 percent sure how many songs we’re gonna end up doing, but we have something like 17 or 18 that are playable start to finish. It ends up being an hour
and 40-something minutes’ worth of music. Which is retarded, because it’s way too much. But it’s all good stuff, so I wonder which ones are gonna rise to the top.
Does that mean you have the next album in the can as well?
No, I think it’s dangerous to have the next album in the can. You lose your luster for it. To really put out an awesome record and be excited about the material, it should be a snapshot of where you were at. So, we’ll probably record all of it, and the stuff that doesn’t make the album will be delegated to other things. Maybe we’ll do a split 7-inch with someone or see if a video game wants one. Centipede 2 or something. We’ll see.