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Mastodon’s Brann Dailor Talks New Album, Playing Grandmother’s Bass + New Band Studio

Liz Ramanand, Loudwire
Liz Ramanand, Loudwire

As 2016 winds down, there’s some great news for Mastodon fans. New music is coming soon! We recently had a chance to chat with drummer Brann Dailor about the progress of their next studio album and he gave us an update in the interview below. We also talk about the drummer playing a very special instrument you might not expect on the new album and he discussed the creation of the band’s own studio in Atlanta. Check out the chat below:

I saw you finished recording but where do things stand at the moment in getting the album out?

Let’s see. We all just got home a few days ago, from LA, we were there mixing and we each came home with reference CD or flash drive or whatever people had. So we’re currently kinda listening on different apparatus and making decisions on – now that you have it out of the studio, which is kind of an unfamiliar listening place, everyone’s got the music in their cars or at their homes. Coming back with changes like I think this snare needs to come up a hair just for the first two verses of whatever song. So there’s some mixes that are going in today or tomorrow and we’re gonna remedy whatever those are and kinda make everybody as happy as possible.

So, ya know, it’s super close when we all left because we all were in the same room listening to mixes together, everything sounded awesome, so when we left it was all high fives and hugs and when we got home there’s just little things here and there, like nit picky. But you know, if the computers went down and everything was gone, whatever we have on our CDs would be fine, well we might not be totally fine with it, but if we have the opportunity to nit pick, we might as well, ya know?

You mentioned working with Brendan O’Brien on this album again. You worked together on Crack the Skye. Was there anything he did on that album that made him the right guy to do this record?

First and foremost we had a great time working with him. It was a deep, emotional record to make but it was a fun one. He’s a fun person to be in the studio with, we’re all just sharing the same sense of humor. It was nothing but laughs the whole time. He’s super fast, things just get done. If you have an idea go do it, let’s refine it and it’s off to the races. I think it took us like five weeks total from start to finish, so that’s pretty great, I like that.

We knew that we had something great and ornate, which is what this needed. Like a heavily decorated Christmas tree, it’s hard for you to see the branches of that tree just because there’s so many ornaments and lights, and I like that, I liked listening back and listening to a whole lot of attention to detail and it makes a difference, ya know? We spent more time doing that and with the songs, they build in a different way. We just figured let’s work with Brendan again. There have been a couple names kicked around and I think that we want to get back with him since we did that record. Now is the time.

I’ve seen reports of this being a double album, but that was awhile ago. Is it still a double album?

We trimmed it, we got it trimmed down to about an hour. So it’s kind of our every couple years we’re good for an hour of music, ya know? We have probably a few songs that were questionable that we were trying to work on further to see what they’ll get to, and when it came down to it, we just figured it’d be better for everyone if we just trim it down to the absolute best of the best and just go with that. Absolutely no filler, all killer as they say.

I know you’ve done stuff with concepts in the past. Is this a conceptual album or more great songs straight through but nothing tying them together?

There is a tie, a concept that goes between them. The last couple of years have been not, there’s been some illness within the bands family, there’s been a bunch cancer, so the whole album is sort of all about cancer basically. Well, not literally. It’s a big story that sort roped to go along with it. It takes place in the desert.

Is that more difficult to get through emotionally? Did it bring the band together in terms of the writing just because of the subject matter?

It brought us together writing wise, because when someone is going through cancer, Bill [Kelliher]’s mom was going through cancer and he’s kind of far away from her, so there’s wasn’t a lot that you can do and my mom’s also sick as well and being far away there’s not a lot you can do. I mean, you know we were done writing anyways but we kind of needed something to occupy some hours of the day that would’ve been kind of us sitting there worrying about the situation that you don’t really have that much control over.

Unfortunately, Bill’s mom passed away a few months ago, her illness came on kind of quickly, and she had a brain tumor and she didn’t last more than 8 or 9 months. Yeah, it sucks. But ya know that’s life, it’s just constantly happening. For us it always just ends up in the music somewhere, in terms of a song or we see what we can do with it, ya know. If we can turn it into something beautiful then that’s good, that’s a good thing.

A good way to honor your people is with your art. We just would go down to Bill’s basement, we got a little studio down there and we just kinda riff out and see what we were liking and biting on, and low and behold a bunch of months later we had like 15 great song ideas that got down to somewhere about 9 or 10 great pieces. And then Brett had this big long thing that he wrote that was insane and so I love that. He had another amazing song that he wrote, so it brought everything together towards the end. We were on tour, in August we went out to Europe and started to solidify everything and got on the same page as far as our plan of attack with recording. We get home in early September, let’s jam out the whole month of September, and then we had to play one show in Atlanta Oct. 1st. Oct. 3rd we were at the studio tracking and then just finished a few days ago.

You mentioned getting back out and playing again, then going right into the studio. How much does the live experience factor into what you guys are putting into the music? Are you thinking, “Where will this fit in our sets? How will this translate live?” whenever you’re putting together an album, or is that not part of the equation?

No, that’s not really anything that any of us really think about. I mean we are what we are and we’re gonna write Mastodon songs. We’re sorta just looking for a newer, updated version of us. Something fresh I guess. We’re a seventeen year old band at this point and every time we go back to the well and lower down the bucket, we want it to be full of fresh water when we pull it back up so, we’re always kind of wondering when it’s going to come up with nothing. But this time, like the last seven, it came up with water and we’re all still happy and ya know, when we’re making an album we start doing everything we can to make it amazing, then worry about the live version later and treat that like it’s own thing.

In the studio, we treat it more like ABBA where you try to go in there and just create something that’s a piece of art that’s a separate thing. That’s gonna hopefully live on beyond any of our lifespans as band members. That’ll be something that we leave behind. Actually, today Bill and myself just ran through the whole album start to finish. I just figured, might as well start practicing all of those songs now and get a head start. Start figuring out how i’m going to sing and play – most of it we had rehearsed it live before we went into tracking, we played it pretty much nonstop start to finish. We tried to treat it as an actual set of music.

Is that something you’ll play as a full set at some point?

That’s just about the idea of every album we’ve done since Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye. That’s the idea. To have that ability to do, start to finish.

You talked about honoring family members. I saw the post online with you getting the chance to play your grandmother’s bass which I thought was cool. Looks like an interesting instrument as well. Talk about that experience, what led to that?

That was super cool. My grandma died about a year and a half ago. I got her bass in the will and that was her prized possession. She’d been playing in bands since she was 14 or so, she was just a singer then she played bass. The two of them were in a group with my grandfather. Then after they split up in the late ’50s she became a bass player and did old jazz standards like “Take The A Train” and all that kind of stuff.

When I was a teen, I used to jam with her and her fabulous piano player. He had a Liberace-style dude on the keys just kind of dripping with diamonds named Billy. He was an awesome guy and it was always a lot of fun to sit and jam with them. I remember that, that bass, that beautiful bass. She got it in 1965. It was the first of its kind up in Rochester, N.Y., where I’m from. She needed something – she wanted – she played bass, at the time, all there was was Fender, big heavy bass. She wanted something she could lug around from club to club and not really strain herself because she was a petite woman. So the Hofner was perfect. It’s light and it traveled well. She took exceptional care of the instrument, and then I got it.

The first band show I got it, to my grandfather I said, “Well I think the next time we go into record maybe I’ll have Troy [Sanders] play one of the songs with it.” That was the intention. I had no intention of actually playing it, I can play a little bit. I can fake my way through something. But I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to play poorly on our album. It’s important that it sounds great. We picked the part, and they said, “Oh you should play it.” I said, “Uh, ok.” He’s like, “I don’t feel right playing it. If we’re gonna have your grandmother’s bass on the album, then it should be you doing it.”

It’s really not much, it’s just the beginning of one of the songs. It’s a slow, pretty intro that we have. Luckily I have awesome dudes in my band who are willing to let something like that go down. Came out great and I’m super stoked that they would do it because it means a lot to me and it means a lot to our family.

Is there a title for the song it’s on?

Not yet. It takes place in the desert, I’ll tell you that.

You guys had Scott Kelly from Neurosis with you in some form or another on all of your albums. Has he been around for this one as well?

Yeah, definitely. He’s there for sure, his life has also been touched by cancer same as just about every single person that is alive had their life negatively impacted by the disease. He’s no stranger to it. He’s in there, but he would have been in there anyways. We always save a spot for Scott. One of those days we need to get him out on tour because we have enough for a full set with just Scott. We could do Mastodon featuring, definitely in order.

You mentioned having the studio in Atlanta. Ember City, is that the place?

Yeah.

Can you talk about putting that studio together? I know it’s been at least a year in the making. How was the experience of putting it together and getting your own specifications?

It’s coming along. Looking really good at the moment. Recently gotten approved for a bunch of – when you’re dealing with any city and dealing with any kinds of permits, things of that nature. Building permits, HVAC permits and electrical and all this stuff that needs to pass. You’ve got inspectors and all that, it’s gonna take three times as long as you think it’s gonna take.

We’re still chipping away at it. We’ve got friends of ours down there building it – they are experienced builders, putting everything together. Sealing up the walls as we speak and it’ll be ready to rent rooms out to some of the local Atlanta bands in the next few months. Hopefully sooner than later. But we have our spot solidified there, we have our room there and it’s pretty cool to have a room again. We were one of the thousands of homeless bands there in Atlanta right now because of all the condos that have been going up. All the demolished rehearsal spaces that housed hundreds of the city’s rock bands. So that sucks. I don’t know who’s buying up all these f–king condos, it’s kind of ridiculous. I think it’s a national phenomena.

I hear you, I’m located in Los Angeles. We’re seeing that here too.

I saw that Skid Row documentary, not the band but the place in Los Angeles. It’s pretty f–king sad movie. If you get a moment and you’re in a great mood, I would go ahead and watch that.

What’s on the horizon over the next few months for the band?

We’re gonna start doing press for the record and hopefully get some final mixes pretty soon. Mastering, artwork, we always have some big grandiose package and lots of crazy art — all that stuff and at the same time think about going out on tour possibly late April, when the record comes out and what we want to do as far as production is concerned because I feel like we need to step it up. The bread and butter of any rock band these days is out on tour, so I want to present a cool show and trying to get some good artists involved to do some cool visual things. [There are] some t-shirt designs that need checked into as well, so it’s pretty much all Mastodon. Mastodon is all consuming of my brain so there is little time for anything else. I look forward to all of it, just because I’m so super excited about our new album that’s a new direction and awesomeness that it is, so yeah. I feel super confident to roll all of this stuff out. It’ll be nothing but Mastodon for the next couple of years.

Our thanks to Mastodon’s Brann Dailor for the interview. Stay tuned for information on the band’s next studio album and keep up to date with the band’s tour dates as they are announced at this location.

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