A couple of days after their sold out show at the Islington Academy, I’m sitting in the offices of Warner Brothers Records awaiting Mastodon. In true rock and roll fashion the band seem to have gone missing in London, and I’m reassured now and again that they will eventually turn up. The wait gives me enough time to have a look around the place. Colouring the boorish white of the walls are framed posters of all of WB’s big, and not so big, artists. The Enemy, Gnarls Barkley and Greenday are all proudly on display, and yet there’s something puzzling me. It seems strange that despite their rather remarkable success (Grammy nominations, big sales and almost entirely positive critical feedback) there are no Mastodon posters on the walls at Warner Brothers. Eventually Brent Hinds (vocals, guitar) and Bill Kelliher (guitars, vocals) turn up, apparently back from a trip to a coffee house chain. Once everyone’s settled conversation immediately turns to Tuesday’s show, where the band played the whole of latest album Crack the Skye (photos of which you can see here). “It was…small.” starts Bill. “It was intimate I guess. But it’s always good to play London. I mean, it sold out in thirty minutes which was amazing and I like saying that. A lot of people we talked to after said it was a great show and a great sound, but a lot of people were like ‘this is the worst place to see bands’”. I immediately fear for my life when Brent turns round and asks me what I thought of the sound that night, and his eyes flare up as I suggest that his guitar (from where I was standing) was a little bit on the quiet side. “What do you mean you couldn’t hear my guitar? You could hear the guitar solos, right?” I nod. “Ok…then that’s all that matters.”
But it seems Brent’s insecurities are niggling away at him from this point, as he continues to grill me about the night. “Did it sound like the album, or did it sound like a live version of the album?” I answer suggesting the latter, and he seems a bit disappointed. “See, what we try to do is do an exact replica and then it ends up sounding like a live version.” Suddenly it seems as if Brent has begun defending his honour: “It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve ever written and tried to sing to at the same time ‘cuz of the way the guitar patterns are and I’m singing that way, and the guitars going that way. I mean…I can do it; it’s just that it’s difficult, you know what I mean?”
Still on the subject of the show, I ask if they felt anything went really wrong. “No, there were no major fuck ups – except for the beginning of ‘Megladon’. No-one heard Brann’s (Daillor, drums) sticks and we thought ‘fuck it, we’ll start it over real fast.’” Bill adds: “There was like a rush of photographers [who] came in and it kind of threw me off because I was watching them.” Brent seems to have a bit of vendetta towards the snappers. “We hate it when the photographers come out and take our pictures. You ever seen that picture of Johnny Cash and he’s like ‘fuck you’? Well that’s telling the photographers to fuck off and get the fuck out of my face. And I feel the same way, because it fucks me up every time. ‘Cuz our music is going everywhere and we’ve gotta be on top of it and there’s like a cattle of photographers [that] comes rushing out. It fucks you up man.”
I’m starting to feel it’s time to distance the conversation from the subject of the show, lest I feel the wrath of Brent, so I move things on to the latest album, Crack the Skye. Clearly their most self-indulgent piece of work yet, I’m intrigued to find out what made them throw caution to the wind and go ahead with it. Brent answers first: “We’re big fans of classic rock, and we just wanted to pay homage to classic rock.” “All the stars just kind of aligned when all the riffs came together and Brenden o’ Brien came into the picture,” starts Bill. “He comes from the same school as we do really [and] he knew exactly what we were going for. We wanted an old school sound, a record that would stand the [test of] time.” Is it the peak of everything they’ve done so far? Answers Brent: “It is, for now. I mean the next record’s gonna be the next peak.” And Bill adds: “We just write what we fucking write and put it together. We never want to make the same record twice; we wanna keep getting better and better as we mature as people and as a band. Everytime we sit down and write, and the process is getting a little easier now, because with this record we didn’t have any time constraints. We need a fucking year to relax, chill and take time to put shit together. We did it the right way this time.”
Continuing the subject of time, one that is prevalent on Crack the Skye, Brent opens up a little. “Sometimes when you don’t have enough time to write a record you get some B-sides. You don’t want B-sides. To me there are some B-sides on Blood Mountain. I’m allowed to have my B-sides because I’m in the band.” Intrigued, I ask what they are. “Well, for me ‘This Mortal Soul’. It is an amazing song and I love it but it’s not as amazing as the other songs on the album to me. Now, I know a lot of people that fucking absolutely shit their pants over that song. But that’s just my opinion, being one of the members of the band. When I ask them, both Bill and Brent seem to agree on what their favourite cut from Crack the Skye is however. “Definitely ‘The Tzar’ and then my next favourite track is ‘The Last Baron’. I just love those two songs. Even being the person that the music came from me can still love it. The way it’s woven together…it’s kind of like a dreamcatcher, and you never get tired of a dreamcatcher!” explains Brent. “It’s always fun to blow people’s minds, like Brenden o’Brien. If you blow someone’s mind like that then you think: ‘we’ve done something pretty awesome!’ That dude has worked with Bob Dylan, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen and Faith Hill!”
So now that the band have asserted themselves as a dominant force in the metal world, how do they feel having reached this point in their eight year career? “It feels awesome. We don’t ride in Sprinter vans anymore, we can actually lie down while we go down the road. It’s a really, really good feeling because it’s a feeling of accomplishment and everyone likes that feeling.” Bill stresses that all this is the result of a lot of hard work and his down to earth attitude is respectable. “You’ve got to appreciate everything you have, and remember where you came from and be happy that you’re alive today.”
Aware that time is running short, and Brent’s interest is waning (he’s started to do push-ups in the middle of the room) I quickly want to find out what the future plans are for Mastodon. “There’s an endless well of riffs and ideas, our creative juices are always flowing, but we don’t really know,” answers Bill. Brent on the other hand seems to be looking forward to a break. “I need to sit down and have a lot of time off. Smoke a bunch of weed and play some acoustic guitar, preferably by a fire in the wintertime, by myself.” Bill’s ideas of relaxing differ somewhat to his bandmates however. “When I go home relaxing to me is like going into my backyard and building a fence, sawing wood or something. I don’t know why, but I take on this persona of a handyman, fixing shit up in my house. That makes me feel good.”
There’s one last thing that I need to get in just before time is called. What is with the obsession with legendary beasts? “You’re not obsessed with them?” asks Brent. “It’s because they’re legendary beasts. Everyone’s obsessed with them dude, whether you know it or not. It’s really captivating for a kid, and we just grew up with it. It’s obviously fascinating.” There’s one question I’m left to ponder on the train back home – could Mastodon be the manliest band of our generation? Possibly, possibly.
Originally published at The Line of Best Fit.