The divining rod
Touring Emperor of Sand, Mastodon finds new riffs everywhere
We don’t know what the next Mastodon record will sound like. Neither does Mastodon.
But ahead of their Saturday show with Primus, Brann Dailor, the metal band’s drummer/co-vocalist, was willing to talk about it anyway. Mastodon’s still touring the world with its seventh record, Emperor of Sand, which released in March 2017. The road remains long, and Dailor doesn’t see a point in charting where things will go until the four are back in the studio, probably sometime in January.
“People have these throwaway phrases, especially with heavy music, where they claim that their next album’s going to be super heavy even though they haven’t written it yet,” Dailor says. “It’s just mouth service, or lip service. Mouth service. [Laughs.] You can put that, mouth service. It’s just a twist on an old classic. … It’s a salacious statement. It [could] end up being your softest record, or middle between heavy and soft. Those are all really bad descriptions for music.”
Dailor also says it’s silly to describe what a band sounds like to friends, but anyway: imagine a trucker driving straight through a wormhole. All-American heavy rock colored by the infinite. Big riffs as Captain Ahab battles Moby Dick (the concept of their second album, Leviathan) or chicken-pickin’ spirit-travellin’ in Rasputin’s body (2009’s Crack the Skye).
The four—Dailor, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, and bassist Troy Sanders—experienced a slow-cooked rise since they formed in 2000 after meeting at a High on Fire show. A sort-of scientific May survey by Metalsucks.net ranks them No.8 among the world’s most popular metal bands right now, just shy of Iron Maiden and beating out Machine Head. In March, they won their first Grammy for Emperor of Sand‘s single, “Sultan’s Curse.” And a few years ago, they guest-starred on Game of Thrones as Wildlings, barbarians who worship the Old Gods of the Forest, and who kind of look like Mastodon’s members. They were killed in the episode, but generally, it’s “onward and upward,” Dailor says.
“We’ve never been a motivated band, we just wanted to play,” he says about their start. “We [loved] writing music together because it was really producing something that was heartfelt … new and interesting and different … we thought we were adding to the giant pile of music that’s available to the humans.”
Meanwhile, Mastodon’s new songs are being conjured, and they come from everywhere. Lately for Dailor: serial killer podcasts, but not only that. A visit to a museum abroad could also inspire another “homeless riff,” what the band calls vagrant pieces of music that haven’t found a song. When they do return to the studio, they’ll feel it out democratically, as they’ve done with the previous records.
“We just sort of follow this divining rod until we hit water,” Dailor says.
But with a new album incoming, how will Mastodon keep things fresh and inspired after 18 years? The short answer is trying on as many musical hats as they can. But Dailor put it better:
"[Lately], we’re in that sort of role-playing phase,” he says. “Put this wig on, or change up your lipstick color, or just wear an outfit that’s different. Or we’ll play cops-and-robbers or something. You know, leave the back window open, and at 9:30 p.m., I’ll come busting through that shit with a ski mask on, and we’ll see what happens.”