Mastodon – The Beast Sure Is Burly

Sunday, 31st March 2013

(This content originally appeared on Blistering.com)

Perhaps no band in the Internet metal age has been as successful as Mastodon. Since 2002’s monstrous Remission, the boys from Georgia have been on a steady ascension, and along the way, have outlasted the various trends and fads that have defined metal the last ten years. And somehow, they’ve been able to thrive in major label land, a testament to the band’s ever-evolving sound and dogged determination, which continually scores points with critics and fans alike. If it seems like every two years the band comes back more reloaded than before, then you’re drinking the same (delicious, non-poisonous) Kool-Aid Blistering is.

Now out on the road with Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang in support of their new (and awesome) The Hunter, Mastodon appear to be poised to handle another 18 months of road wear-and-tear. The free and loose vibe of The Hunter gives the band even more space in the live arena, a direct contrast to the ultra-elaborate and serious aura of 2009’s Crack the Skye, an album that was played in full on a nightly basis. Such happenings have made guitarist Bill Kelliher as stoked as one can be to be out on the road, as he would go onto to tell Blistering in his casual Southern drawl…

Blistering.com: How is the tour going?

Bill Kelliher: It’s going great. Got Red Fang, got some Dillinger, got some Mastodon…it’s three totally unique and different bands. It’s good for people coming out to see it. We like to mix it up rather than having three of the same bands.

Blistering.com: You normally go out with different-sounding bands than you anyway.

Kelliher: Right. Who wants to go out with three Mastodon bands? We’re old friends with the Dillinger guys; we’ve known them for 10 or 12 years, something like that. We like the Red Fang guys – they’re good people, so we figured we’d take both out. Red Fang, they’re not known so well, but we’ve seen some of their videos and listened to their records and they’re a good group of guys. They put on a great show. They’re more of the rock and sludgy…I don’t know how you describe them [laughs].

Blistering.com: The new album isn’t nearly as complex as Crack the Skye, so how are the new songs going over?

Kelliher: We’re playing “Dry Bone Valley,” “Black Tongue,” “Bedazzled Fingernails,” “Spectrelight,” “Curl of the Burl,” “Blasteroid,” and “All the Heavy Lifting.” It’s fun. You get tired playing the same songs over and over and when you get a new record out, it’s good times [laughs]. It’s fun to play something new.

Blistering.com: With Crack the Skye you had a run where you played it all the way through on a nightly basis, so will you do something like that forThe Hunter at some point?

Kelliher: No, not really [laughs]. That would be a real challenge. Maybe in a few years, but some of the songs on the record, I don’t even know yet. I don’t even know how to play them. It’s that new of a record. Seriously, some of the songs in the studio, I was the only one playing guitar and same with Brent [Hinds]. We didn’t play on the same songs. The record was written so quickly and so spur of the moment, so we didn’t have time to learn each other’s parts; we just winged it. We only had a month to record it and leave for tour in Europe. There are songs that he wrote and played all the parts, and there’s songs that I wrote and played all the parts. We’re still learning them, but we didn’t want to go that route again. It was cool for Crack the Skye, that record lent itself to being a theme, a whole concept with the really deep story and having the movie behind us, the light show, the LED screen.

That was a period of time where we thought, let’s play the whole record front-to-back and it was challenging. We wanted to do something completely different with this record and do a 180 and not play the whole fucking thing, all 14 songs every night. The songs are so different. Each song is a different reflection of the next. Crack the Skye, they flowed together really well and was one big piece. We wanted to stay away from that and go back to being free and not being limited and say, “We have to play this fucking record every night.” We didn’t want to do that; we wanted to mix it up so the songs are mixed in the set throughout. It’s better for this record, I think.

Blistering.com: Not having to stick to a concept, it must have made the record easier to write given you had such a short amount to record it, I would imagine.

Kelliher: It gave us the freedom to be like, “Hey, I got a riff. What do you got? Okay, cool.” We didn’t argue about any parts or riffs – we let everyone do their own thing, which we’ve never done before. We’ve always practiced and everybody learns every single part. We’d practice every day and would be down there for hours and fucking re-arranging songs, and argue over solos and all of that shit. That didn’t happen with this record. We put it together separately, brought it all to the table, and said, “Here you go!” It worked out really well that way.

Blisteirng.com: This particular lineup has been together for quite some time now, which means there has to be a lot of trust between the four of you, right?

Kelliher: Yeah, kind of. I don’t know…”trust” is a big word [laughs]. There’s still a little bit of saying to someone that you’ve gone a little over-the-top on certain things. We give each other advice on our parts and our songs when we’re in the studio. On the last record, a lot of it focused on vocals because they’re the hardest part for us. We definitely try to write way more vocal parts and different options, but for the music, we all know what sounds good, we think. We trust each other come up with cool shit.

We had an abundance of songs; we had a few extra songs that didn’t make the record and it’s all good stuff. We just had a really quick burst of creativity on this record. When we were on the Alice in Chains tour, we had ample time backstage to fiddle around on guitars and record a lot of stuff, so when it came time for The Hunter, we’d bring up those good riffs. All the riffs we chose were the ones we all liked. I guess you could say we trust each other to write in our style and something that’s good.

Blistering.com: Your schedule is crazy year-round and you’re two weeks into this tour. When does it start to take a toll?

Kelliher: [pauses] If we go overseas or to Europe, everything seems like it’s doubled. You’re over there for two weeks and it seems like a month. You’re so far away from your creature comfort zone…right now it’s been almost two weeks in and it’s almost half over. I’m not tired of it yet. I mean, I’m a little tired, getting used to sleeping in a bus that’s moving and traveling so much – there’s a lot of factors involved with that. Everyone is in good spirits, the shows are going well. Everything’s good; I can’t complain.

Blistering.com: You’re so in demand now, you can literally pick and choose what you want to do. Do you see that as some type of reward for all the time you spent slogging it out on the road in your early days?

Kelliher: It’s cool to share the bill with some these super-huge bands we’ve looked up to like Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Metallica. To say that we’re friends with all of those guys is amazing. There’s a lot rewards as well.

Blistering.com: Another thing is that we’re coming up on ten years since the release of Remission. When it hits, is it going to be one of those head-scratching moments, like, “Where has the time gone?”

Kelliher: [laughs] No, I know where it’s gone – we’ve been on the road, working our asses off. We used to take every freaking tour that came our way and didn’t know how to say no, and now we’re slowing down and we’re able to pick and choose and do our own tours like this one. Ten years…to me, it seems a lot longer. Ten years doesn’t seem like much, but that’s just the nature of the beast. You have to work, work, and work and a lot of people ask me, “How do you guys do it? How did you get signed?” And I’m like, “Well, you need to find three other dudes that are willing to sacrifice everything including their jobs and are willing to get into a van and start touring.” None of this happens overnight. For some bands it does, but not us. You just have to stay out there and keep working at it. That’s what we’re doing and it’s been 12 years.

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