Mastodon Drummer Dishes on ‘The Hunter,’ Upcoming Tour + More
When word first came out that Atlanta-based metal outfit Mastodon had tapped Mike Elizondo to produce their fifth album, ‘The Hunter,’ fans of the band were understandably wary of what was to come. After all, Elizondo is best known for his work in the world of hip-hop — he’s produced and/or co-written massive hits from the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem and Jay-Z — and his production output outside that has included the very non-metal singers Fiona Apple and Alanis Morissette. His hard rock resume was limited to just one album: Avenged Sevenfold’s 2010 release, ‘Nightmare.’
Mastodon went into Atlanta’s Doppler Studios in spring 2011 to begin work and emerged just a few months later with ‘The Hunter’ firmly in hand. The album, which we recently reviewed here, is a change of pace of for the quartet, whose last three discs were sprawling conceptual pieces, each with a different thematic focus. ‘The Hunter’ finds Mastodon returning to the sludgy grind of their 2002 debut, ‘Remission,’ while still taking an evolutionary step forward.
Loudwire recently caught up with Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor at his home Atlanta for an exclusive interview. We recently posted excerpts featuring Dailor talking about the video for first ‘The Hunter’ single ‘Curl of the Burl,’ and about how the album “doesn’t cater to your average metalhead.” Here, we present the bulk of the interview, which features Dailor’s thoughts on ‘The Hunter,’ their upcoming fall tour with Dillinger Escape Plan and more. After reading the following Q&A, be sure to enter our contest (below) to win a signed Mastodon drum head and copy of ‘The Hunter.’
You have said writing ‘The Hunter’ was a more collaborative process than in the past. Please explain.
It was more collaborative because everybody was chipping in this time. Not like we hadn’t in the past, we always wrote together, but the last record in particular was more [singer-guitarist] Brent [Hinds] oriented. He was writing a lot of stuff, it all sort of seemed to go together. We concentrated our efforts on that and stuff that we had been working on that was a little faster and heavier and crazier. We decided to shelf it for a later date and a few of those riffs and things rear their head on ‘The Hunter.’ I wrote a bunch of stuff, [guitarist] Bill [Kelliher] and [bassist] Troy [Sanders] wrote a bunch of stuff and Brent wrote a ton of stuff. We all put it together and there you go, that’s ‘The Hunter.’ I think it sounds like that, too. It sounds sort of eclectic. There’s a lot going on, a little something for everybody, so to speak. And a couple things for nobody!
You guys had an interesting choice for a producer this time around with Mike Elizondo.
He came down and met us down in Atlanta, he had been wanting to work with us since [2006's] ‘Blood Mountain’ and we saw his resume and we were kind of just as puzzled as most people were when they found out who we were working with. We’re like, ‘You work with mainly hip-hop bands. That’s cool, but do you want from us?’
Turns out he’s a big metal fan, and he just got a break. Dr. Dre took him on as his right-hand man, and rightfully so, he’s a very musical and just very cool, down-to-earth guy, and is very skilled and schooled when it comes to music and in general. It made perfect sense when we hung out for an afternoon in Atlanta, discussed music and the future of Mastodon over some tacos at our favorite restaurant and bar, El Near. From there we went down to our practice space and jammed him some tunes that we’d been working on and he liked it, so he decided — and we all decided within the next couple weeks — that he was the man for the job.
Elizondo has co-written hits with Eminem, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. Did he write anything with you?
No, not really. He was a good set of fifth ears, you know? After you’ve been working on something for months and months and months, and listening to it constantly, it’s one of those hard-to-see-the-forest-through-the-trees type of situations. It’s nice to have someone with some fresh perspective come in and say, ‘Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. Maybe that’s not so cool.’ When something is not so cool, you sort of know it already, it just takes someone saying it for you to be like, ‘Yeah, get the f— outta there. We were really happy with the outcome, he’s a really great person and we look forward to working with him again.
The songs on ‘The Hunter’ are shorter than in the past. Was that intentional? Did you guys show up to the studio with shorter songs written?
There wasn’t a blueprint, but there was a lot going on during the writing process. There was a lot of stress hanging over the record, with different people’s personal lives. Brent’s brother passing. In the past, it’s always been very labor intensive, writing a Mastodon record. It’s been difficult and really stressful to get from point A to point B and so on and so forth. There was so much going on outside of Mastodon in everyone’s regular lives that we needed to have the rehearsal space where we were going to be writing the songs for the record not be this place where everything was going to be stressful and not a place where everything was going to be like banging your head up against a brick wall before you had a breakthrough, you know? ‘OK, how does this part tie in with that part and we’ll this thing doesn’t work,’ you know? Writing [previous album] ‘Crack the Skye’ was, ‘Oh God!’ You know, going down there every day, it wasn’t like it wasn’t fun, but it was hard, you know? And I guess we just wanted [writing 'The Hunter'] to not be hard, you know?
How did you hook up with Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang for your upcoming tour?
We’ve known Dillinger Escape Plan since waaaay back in 1998. The band that Bill and I were previously in, Today Is the Day, we played with Dillinger a lot back then and we toured with Dillinger as Mastodon in 2001 right when ‘Remission’ was about to come out. And then we did some touring with them after when ‘Leviathon’ came out. We’ve always really been close friends with those guys and any opportunity we get to play together is welcomed.
What about Red Fang?
Red Fang is just a kick-ass newer band that we dig. They were available to come out so that’s gonna be fun. They seem like cool dudes. I think I’ve met a couple of them before but I don’t really remember.
You guys traveled to Las Vegas to hang with Foo Fighter Dave Grohl and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards.
Yeah, those guys are funny.
Do you remember how that happened?
Dave called me and he’s like, ‘Hey, this is Dave Grohl.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, cool. Hey, what’s up dude?’ We had talked before, we did an interview with … I think it was Revolver, where he interviewed us, me and Troy. I had been told around the time ‘Remission’ came out that he was a fan, and it was exciting cause it was the first time, ‘Oh my God, a famous person likes us! Someone with some musical importance thinks we’re good.’ So I remember everybody was excited about that, it’s always exciting when one of your musical heroes also digs what you are doing, always fun to find out.
But yeah, he called to say, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing in a couple months? We’re doing this thing in [Las] Vegas and we want our friends to come jam, and bands we like. And so we said, ‘yeah, cool.’ So we went and did that and it was fun. I like those guys and it was a pretty raging party. We were doing beer bong funnels, we were racing [with] Coors Light. It was like a bunch of 15-year-old kids hanging out, it was really funny. I had a good time, Brent and Dave put Cee-Lo in the pool, and I remember Cee-Lo screaming [in his best Cee-Lo impersonation], ‘My Blackberry! My Blackberry!’ And then, smash! He went in the pool. And he’s like, ‘That’s alright, I have another one.’ That was pretty funny.
Tell me about recording ‘Just Got Paid’ for the upcoming ZZ Top tribute album.
Warner Bros. is putting out like a 50-year anniversary album, a cover album. Basically they gave us this huge list of songs and artists that had put their records out. And we picked ZZ Top and we picked that song, we thought it would be fun and easy, you know? We could just jam out that rock tune and it would be sort of unpredictable for us to do that song, so we decided to do it. And then [ZZ Top guitarist-singer] Billy Gibbons wanted to play guitar on it, which we thought would be pretty sweet. So it’s like Brent and Billy like trading leads on it.
Did Gibbons overdub his parts, or did he go into the studio with you?
He did it at his leisure, it was overdubbed, so I’ve never met the man. But hopefully one of these days we’ll get to jam the song together, that would be awesome.
Maybe when you kick off your tour in Texas?
One would think, we’ll see. We had talked about and he said he would be down to do it, but obviously it’s all about timing — when and where and how.