“[I’m] just hanging out waiting for my new record to come out.” Mastodon drummer and vocalist Brann Dailor has had some time on his hands lately. In the three years since the release of their album Once More ‘Round The Sun, Mastodon have not exactly been idle – Dailor for instance, has food on the brain. “I’m smoking a chicken right now – a five hour ordeal, I’ve got to check on it.”
Still waiting for their eighth studio album Emperor Of Sand to drop, Dailor has a little time to kick back and reflect with HEAVY. “It’s always a fun time,” he says, “It’s always really exciting, we’ve been so close to it for the past year and gone through all the stages of writing and recording it, worked really hard on it, you know? Hopefully someone actually likes it – we like it!”
Indeed, it is important to like your own work, because otherwise, what wold be the point? Dailor’s answer to the stating of the obvious is perhaps the best response ever “I would have to quit.” Ye Gods, can you imagine such a thing?! What on earth wold the drummer for one of the greatest bands to ever emerge in hard rock do with his newfound time? “You know when you stay in a fairly decent hotel and you go down for breakfast, you know, and you’re like ‘Oh I’ll see what’s happening down there’, maybe some scrambled eggs, you know, whatever they’ve got kicking around in those silver bins, all those breakfast foods.
“And then in some places you see a guy in a chef’s hat and he’s got a couple of little pans there and you’re like oh… My God. Omelette station, let’s DO this!’ I would like to be the omelette guy. Everyone loves the omelette guy, I think that would be a cool job. I make omelettes at home all the time, I have a proper omelette pan and I’ve been practicing making omelettes – I’m telling you, I’d be good at it!
Fans will be relieved to hear that for the time being, Mastodon are still happy to be on the customer side of the breakfast buffet, still creating new music, and with Emperor Of Sand, awesomeness has returned. The conceptual storyline is intricate, involved and such a well thought out plot that the simple process Dailor describes toward its compilation is surprising and of course, witty.
“You know it’s like 7th grade creative writing class stuff – when it comes down to it, it’s a very simple outline and I try to fill in the blanks and try to make that work in the context of the album, make that all work with what everybody else wants to do as well, then have it work in tandem with the people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and what that feels like.”
Writing new material is no different from the creative process of any other band – but for Mastodon, the new album carries more deep and serious meaning, ones that resonates closely with many members of the group. Quickly, the excitable go-lucky musician from the start of the conversation has turned in to a more serious and contemplative person. Evidently the darker side to the new material is difficult for Dailor to discuss.
“[The album is] a whole other form of art, another cool link that I think our fans will appreciate – we’ve taken the time to create something a little more immersive, that they can really sink their teeth in to and get the whole cinematic vibe from. The first song we put together was ‘Sultan’s Curse’ and it really triggered in my mind of vast desert wasteland and that was the springboard for the whole thing…
“That was in the very beginning stages of the record and you know, my mom had been very sick for a very long time and Troy’s wife had just been diagnosed. Bill’s mom hadn’t even been diagnosed yet, that happened a couple of weeks later. This all developed and really didn’t come in to focus until we went in to record – it’s really all kind of travelling along at the same time, it’s a miracle it lines up and we’re actually able to get everyone in to the studio to record because everyone’s so busy, you’ve got people that are really sick, people in your family – you’re trying to take care of them but at the same time you wanna make music because, you know…” Dailor pauses for a moment.
“We’re four healthy people at the moment, thank the universe… So yeah… Yeah. I just clue off of imagery, I write it down and get it all organised as I possibly can and submit it to the guys. I’m like ‘hey man, I don’t know how personal you want to get – I mean, I know what Troy’s gonna wanna write about, it would be impossible for him not to want to write about his… I couldn’t imagine sitting here knowing my wife had cancer, it would torment my mind. I knew that everything that came out of his pen was going to be about that situation. You know it’s all sorts of inspiration that people pull out of everyday life for songwriting but we didn’t need to go further than what was staring us in the face.
Indeed, as far as looking for influences to write new material, nothing comes close to being as a heavy a topic as that of cancer. It’s a heavy subject and it’s commendable that Mastodon were able to find an escae in the additional imagery to the music.
“I think when we’re writing it, it is somewhat of an escape and… First of all, it’s our job and it’s awesome, it’s wonderful to have this place to put stuff like that because everyone goes through cancer – and it’s frustrating to watch someone to go through that. Any artist is going to submerge themselves in their art and all that stuff will find its way there.
“It helps on the surface, it helps down below too, but it doesn’t really make it any easier. Bill’s mom passed away probably midway through the writing the album from brain cancer and so… But the day his mom died, we went to his house, went in to his basement and wrote the back half of ‘Roots Remain’.
“It’s in there, it’s wide open and totally bare naked – it’s probably the most vulnerable our band has ever been. I think we’ll get an emotional payback with a connection with the people, and that’s all you can really hope for with your art, is that it makes a connection with someone else, that it’s evocative in some way, that it’s helpful in some way for someone else.”
“I guess I just feel like I want to help anybody if I’m on the planet, and I don’t really have many tools to do that – one of the only tools I have is playing music. I know that muss has helped me through just about every single tough situation. It’s our contribution to the humans.”
As the new album so cleverly ties in with Mastodon’s 17 year discography, forming one epic saga, in many ways their music forms a documentation of life’s journeys. “For me, it’s almost my story of adolescence in to adulthood and I think the guys would agree to that – follow suit.
“We’ve written a lot of music, over 90 songs and we’ve tried to change it up with everything we’ve put out there and I’m proud of it all – we’ve made good use of that 17 years.”
Still writing, still surprising at every turn, Mastodon, though they may not know how they create such magic, won’t be running dry of ideas any time soon. “I just know that we do try to look for new versions of ourselves in everything and try on different hats. We look in the mirror quite often to see if we’re being real, and if the hairs stand up on the back of our neck – we know that if it happens one time, it’s worth pursuing.”
“We’re just gonna follow wherever it takes us, we have that desire to want to do something different – couple more albums then maybe that’s when I retire. I don’t know when we’re supposed to bow out, but when that happens, maybe that’s when I’ll be making omelettes in hotels.”
Written by Anna Rose