Mastodon Drummer Talks About the Hard Rock Band's Eclectic Approach


  • Jimmy Hubbard
While many musicians claim to have listened to a wide range of music while growing up, the parents of Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor truly exposed him to a mix of different genres.

“My mom’s boyfriend, who moved in when I was three or four, was a drummer in my mom’s band,” he says via phone from a St. Louis tour stop, where he jokes that he was “partying super hard” with a cocktail of beets, lemon and ginger to help him kick a cold. “They would do four hours worth of covers. It was all the late ’70s and early ’80s popular music, everything from Styx and Boston and Journey to Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and Yes and King Crimson and Genesis and the Go Gos and the Police. My mom was a little hellraiser. She would be blasting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis. In my family, it was not whether you would you play music, but it’s more like what instrument would you play.”

He says his dad was into “crazy music” too.

“He was putting on records by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Mozart’s Requiem,” Dailor says. “Then, my dad got into punk rock and new wave. There was that angle as well. He was into Bauhaus and Tones on Tail and Cocteau Twins and all the 4AD stuff.”

While Dailor would eventually embrace hard rock with Today is the Day and then Mastodon, which he formed in 2000 with bassist Troy Sanders and guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, he’s continued to take an eclectic approach to making music. Emperor of Sand, Mastodon’s latest effort, draws from different genres.

Album opener, “Sultan’s Curse,” features proggy guitar riffs and snarling vocals that mix well with Dailor’s propulsive drumming. “Steambreather” features a trippy interlude before embracing an aggressive approach that sounds like early Rush.

“It just happens naturally,” Dailor says when asked about the band’s eclectic approach. “We are all into different types of music. We never take anything off the table. If something finds its way in and we are digging on it, then we just do it. We don’t question it. We’ve never asked, ‘Is that what people want from us?’ We never asked that question. We’re always looking to surprise ourselves, regardless of what other people might think or say about it.”

For Emperor of Sand, the band started with “a bunch of good riffs.”

“There was personal stuff going on with people, like [friends and family with] cancer,” Dailor says. “We tried to balance it. When we could get together and do work and do it, we did it. We did a lot of demoing this time around in Bill’s basement so stuff was worked out ahead of time for vocal melodies. We would write down stuff to say, and they would be place holders for the actual lyrics. We’re a music-first band and then you have to shoehorn lyrics over the top. It’s not always the best thing for lyrics. We’re more of a riff-based band. I try not to embarrass myself with the lyrics. I think, ‘Can I read them out loud to someone without cringing?’”

The album is so accessible, it will likely appeal to people who don’t even like metal.

“It’s based in heaviness, but I never came out and said we’re a heavy metal band,” says Dailor. “We’re just a band and we just play music. I get the same feeling from Stevie Wonder that I get from Slayer. But it’s also hard to call it anything else. It’s heavy but likeable. It’s hooky. If I’m going to like music, I need hooks. Even Neurosis has hooks.”

Dailor admits that some fans might have jumped ship as the band’s music has changed.

“I’m sure there have been drop-offs and jump-ons,” he says. “I do that too with bands. I get it. I do that too. I would never speak ill of anyone. I know how much time and effort it takes to make an album. If you don’t have [Swedish hitmaker] Max Martin writing your songs, there are blood, sweat and tears. If I don’t like it, I know the people in the band probably still love it. If I don’t like it, it might be my fault too. It’s so subjective and it’s kind of intangible and a little bit mystical. You can’t put your finger on why a song invokes a feeling. It’s time and place for a lot of people. This album helped us get us through a hard situation, and we hope that feeling translates.”

Mastodon, Eagles of Death Metal, Russian Circles, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 4, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $32.49 ADV, $37.50 DOS,

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