America’s greatest progressive metal act is undoubtedly the Southern rockers known as Mastodon. Their uniquely creative aesthetic is unlike any other band's in the States — or the world, for that matter. The four-piece out of Georgia also claims a most original architecture when it comes to music design and production. Seemingly all pieces fall together in an unparalleled compilation of cover art, merchandise, thematic albums and peculiar marketing.
Of course, that’s not what is most impressive about them. Not only do Mastodon's lyrics impress even English scholars, the remarkable technicality of the band’s musical execution is pure genius. Imagine, if you will, a band so superlative in its arrangements and time-keeping that it defies categories, and the peculiar fascination metalheads have with distinguishing subgenres falls apart with Mastodon’s music. They defy classification. They’ve been labeled everything from math core and prog to djent and even stoner-rock. (Just don’t call them a metal band.) Yet none of those labels truly define Mastodon's real greatness.
Speaking to drummer Brann Dailor is something altogether different as well; he seems more likely to poke fun at his own success than take it seriously. The Houston Press caught Dailor on a reflective day — willing to open up in detail about the magnificence that is Mastodon.
Houston Press: So, unfortunately, we’re not going to get to see Judas Priest in Houston on this leg of the tour, but we will see Corrosion of Conformity and Clutch. What can your fans anticipate about this particular performance?
Brann Dailor: Loud noises and lots of them. At least for us, we’ll play Mastodon songs. That’s kind of our thing. We play songs by Mastodon. It’s a lot of fun; we go onstage and try to perform spirited renditions of every single Mastodon song.
[Laughs] Right, sure. So, when you create a set list, do you focus on a new list by venue, or is your set list specific to the tour overall?
We have a certain amount of songs that we’re comfortable playing. Songs we all enjoy. So out of those, we may pick 15 and decide to play those. You know, I guess we’re the kind of band that forces our new material on people. I know that may be frowned upon, but we like our new stuff. And we also like to reach back and revive older tunes as well, so there’s a couple in there that are surprises that I think people will be excited about, too. I try — as often as possible — to have the audience in mind.
I’m always very impressed by a band who can handle a cover well, and Mastodon have taken some very interesting songs and made them uniquely theirs even though they didn’t write the material.
Yeah, we do…we like to play the Thin Lizzy cover. We also do a Melvins cover, and…I can’t remember what else…
Well, you have to do that in Houston.
Yeah, I know. If they would come out and jam with us, that would be pretty cool. We will have to lure them out.
They do make appearances…
We will put some feelers out on that one…
So, let’s talk more about the tour. You guys have been on tour for a long time. I know the BBC reported on some canceled dates. At what point does touring become agony? Or does it for Mastodon?
I’m just happy to be there, you know? I’m always happy to be on tour. I miss my family, of course. I’m not going to complain about it. Am I tired? Yes. Everyone is tired. You wanna complain but you don’t. We committed to these dates, but that’s not the reason we canceled [those summer dates]. We had a specific family reason. We’ve never canceled a tour before, so if we were going to cancel, it wouldn’t be because we were tired or something like that. We make commitments, we honor those commitments, we are a professional band, and we go out and play the shows, tired or not.
Hopefully, [our show] went well…we don’t have too many shows that are complete bum-outs. Once in a while we have a show that just doesn’t go our way, like technical difficulties or people just aren’t at their best because they’re wiped out and tired — it just happens; nine times out of ten we have awesome shows. If it were to tip the other way and nine times out of ten we had bad shows, I wouldn’t be in this band anymore.
The press you receive is really positive. I’m curious, how does that affect you, or does it at all? Are you cognizant of the fact that Rolling Stone called you “the most significant band in metal, the most influential, and the most important new band in metal”? What does that do to a band?
Nothing happens to me. I don’t necessarily feel that way about myself. I’m happy that other people take that away from what we’re putting out, but it doesn’t affect me as a person. It’s not something I think about. I only want to continue and create new ideas, on to the next thing, you know? You’re only as good as what you’re doing presently, and I just want to spend time on music and be great. I love those feelings of creating something from nothing, you know? I like to see people get really excited about songs we write. I’m happy if people discover Mastodon through good press, but it’s not a motivating factor for me.
But I don’t see that stuff and then somehow believe I am special. I don’t need that. I just feel like there’s more work to be done. I want more of those good words out there, I want more people at the Mastodon party. That’s the whole reason why I even want to play music in the first place, to make the human connection. I first do this for myself, then the guys in the band, then the audience and the greater [world] and the interaction with the fans. And, yes, that was very long-winded and I apologize.
No worries. I’m impressed with your humility. So many bands will try to respond to the praise of the press. They may create a successful album and then try to mimic that sound again in subsequent albums in order to gain further positive press, but they just stifle their own growth.
Right. You can’t make true art in response to praise. I know there are people out there who came on board with Leviathan and then [we] kind of lost them with our other albums. They’re no longer with us; they just don’t like the new stuff. There’s just nothing I can do about that, you know what I mean? I feel bad, I do. There’s a huge part of me that feels bad. I want to make everybody happy. That’s just part of me; it’s who I am. You’ll have core fans who will love every single thing you do, and it’s great to have those people. It’s just awesome. Then you have people that are just casual; they’re with you in the beginning then…at any time, [new fans] are just dropping in on a life; on four guys who are in Mastodon.
An album may take a year to write and record, and it’s [reflective of] everything that has happened to us at that time. Lyrically and musically and wherever we are as people — that’s just not gonna click with everybody. If we were to try to re-create Remission, we would spend all this time doing that and we probably wouldn’t like it, and if we don’t like it, the [fans] won’t because it’s not an honest thing, you know? If you love it, then you love for the right reasons. Who knows why people like stuff? There’s so many variables in why people like what they like. I mean, am I the one who’s fucked up? I don’t know.
Not everyone is attracted to complexity. So what does the future hold for Mastodon?
In January we’re really going to start digging in on our writing.
What does that creative process look like?
It’s pretty simple. We get together in a practice space, a room, and we just start. ‘Does anybody have anything?’ you know? We always have something. We never just go in there and have nothing. We’ll have something, I’m sure. Brent [Hinds] will have guitar stuff he needs to teach Bill [Kelliher], and I’ll have some riffs. And we just start building from there, you know? When it feels right, it's right.
Any themes you’re leaning toward?
I’ve got some ideas. They’re not set in stone, so I’m gonna leave it open. It’s dangerous to say because people hang on your every word. But it’s definitely open to any experiences we have in between now and then.
[Laughs] Yes, including housecats…
Fun fact: You are probably my second favorite band…and only because I’ve loved Metallica since I was a little girl.
Really? Wow. That’s awesome. I’ve loved Metallica since I was a little girl, too.
Mastodon performs with special guests Clutch and Corrosion of Conformity Friday, October 30 at Revention Music Center, 520 Texas. Doors open at 6 p.m.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.