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No Funk, No Junk Up In This Trunk: An Exclusive Interview With BRANN DAILOR Of MASTODON

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Friday, May 13, 2022 @ 11:07 AM


"We had this very large crop of songs that we really liked and we were only able to whittle it down to about an hour and a half’s worth of music, so we said “screw it, let’s put out a double album”."

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Band Photos Credit: Clay McBride

“There’s nothing wrong with being a large mammal. A big beast. A TANK!” – Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison, THE DOORS

While that same quote didn’t exactly pan out to the advantage of Mr. Mojo Risin’, it’s otherwise worked wonders for Georgia’s heavy-sounding elephant riders MASTODON, who’ve been a powerful force on the hard rock and metal scene since their debut album Remission was released 20 years ago. Since then, the quartet have been virtually unstoppable throughout their thundering journey. Top festival billings, industry nods including two Grammy wins and eight albums into their career including last year’s Hushed And Grim and the band are still as mammoth-sounding as ever as they take the high road now across North America with OPETH and KHEMMIS. Yours truly got drummer Brann (pronounced “brawn”) Dailor during the band’s stop in Edmonton to drop a couple of proverbial lines (whenever the phone connection wasn’t doing just that!) about touring, down time during double album demoing, more touring, a surprise revelation about the band’s own musical genesis, finding a new guest sound on their latest album, celebrating an Ottawa Bluesfest first, reminiscing about their Heavy MTL performance and talking the NHL playoffs!

KNAC.COM: Good day to you, sir. How’re things?

DAILOR: I’m doing pretty good. How are you?

KNAC.COM: I’m doing good myself. Apparently, you’re in Edmonton right now (at the time of this interview) as far as I can tell regarding the tour. How’s the tour been going overall?

DAILOR: Been going awesome. We’ve been absolutely crushing it. So, there’s OPETH and there’s KHEMMIS, so that’s all that anyone could hope for. Pretty packed houses and three bands at that top of their game!

KNAC.COM: Awesome to hear, and wanted to congratulate you on MASTODON’s near-Grammy win for “Pushing The Tides”, which you got nominated for. After six Grammy nominations at this point in MASTODON’s career, do you think that the band is due for another win in the near future since your previous Grammy win was for “Sultan’s Curse” in 2018?

DAILOR: I don’t know, I mean I sorta feel that I already have one, so it’s cool to be nominated, like a fun sorta date night and it’s always just a cool people-watching experience, y’know, to be there. Plus, we got to see the DEFTONES guys and the GOJIRA guys, who are really good friends of ours, so it was a night out to party with those people.

KNAC.COM: That’s good to hear. Glad that everyone had a good time. So, turning to your latest album Hushed And Grim, which is definitely a departure from the overall MASTODON catalogue, reflecting mostly on the themes of personal loss and loneliness, particularly stemming from having lost your longtime manager Nick John, and also being the band’s first double album too, if I’m not mistaken. Had there been a proverbial push for MASTODON to attempt a double studio album in the past?

DAILOR: No…I feel like when we would get about 50-something minutes of material that we would sorta stop and say “Okay, we got it, we have the album, we’re gonna do this”. But this time, there was so much extra time to work on stuff we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves except continue to go down to the rehearsal space and keep on working as far as we could. I think we took, like, four months away from each other and from everything to spend that time writing and everything MASTODON-related, so when it was time to go back to work, it wasn’t time to be still touring and all that kinda stuff, sorta the last thing to come back to, we had many, many more months to just sorta work on stuff. We had this very large crop of songs that we really liked and we were only able to whittle it down to about an hour and a half’s worth of music, so we said “screw it, let’s put out a double album”. I feel like there’s some bands where you wouldn’t expect a double album from – like, you’re not gonna get a double Britney Spears album, I would assume.

KNAC.COM: *laughs*

DAILOR: But, a band like MASTODON, I think it’s probably…if it didn’t happen, people would say “when’s MASTODON gonna do a double album?”. It seems like something we would do, and there it is!

KNAC.COM: Yeah, I thought the same thing too as well. I mean, normally, musically speaking, MASTODON have always been pretty much known for being a doom/heavy-style progressive-sounding band, so I’ve always wondered whether or not your previous tours with bands like OPETH have been more or less consistently instrumental in inspiring MASTODON1’s last few albums – at least, in terms of duration and sound. What’s your take on that?

DAILOR: I dunno…I mean, maybe. We’re always inspired by…if we go out with any band, we listen to them every night, it creeps in there for sure. Especially if it’s a great band like OPETH. So, I think it’s fine just weighing it in there but I wouldn’t say that…as far as the progressive side of us, it’s more influenced by the older bands that we grew up listening to, like KING CRIMSON, GENESIS, YES, even like CAMEL.

KNAC.COM: Oh yeah, I remember that you caught a lot of flak at one point by saying that you weren’t really a metal band and that kinda got a lot of people wondering where exactly does MASTODON fit in that whole grand scheme of things. I remember the backlash about it.

DAILOR: Oh, we’re firmly in the metal camp if you listen to it. But I feel like we pull from lots of different genres and try to fold in as much of the music that we listen to as possible, try to fold it in there.

KNAC.COM: That’s good. I mean, you’re definitely a very unique-sounding band by that definition, especially since you’re not commonly about the usual metal bands. You kinda progress a bit in terms of what your influences are. Like you’d mentioned, YES, GENESIS, all those sorts of bands and such.

DAILOR: We hope so. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: I also noticed that Hushed And Grim is also the first MASTODON album to not feature the guest vocals of NEUROSIS frontman Scott Kelly, who usually does backing vocals on a lot of the songs. Was this more to do with the album’s overall mood representing MASTODON’s own personal catharsis where the band needed to just simply have their own voice heard on the album, or, to sound a bit less dramatic and profound here, Scott simply wasn’t available at the time during the album’s recording?

DAILOR: Yeah. He just wasn’t available to do it. Always with Scott, there was never a prerequisite, like “you have to be on the album or we can’t do the album”. It’s like, “hey, if you’re around and if you’re inspired, we’ll send you stuff, if you’re into it, that’s cool. If you can’t do it, that’s totally fine”. It’s up to him where he’s at in his life and with what’s going on if he has the time to do it. He’s been busy with another project and also had some family stuff going on that he was dealing with, with the pandemic and all that. We had a space that we thought would be for him and that space ended up going to Kim Thayil from SOUNDGARDEN to do a guitar solo.

KNAC.COM: Ah, yes. Cool. I think I actually heard that track.

DAILOR: We were able to find someone that we admire and love and get him in there. We had a few guests on the record and one of our favorite bands is SOUNDGARDEN, one of our favorite people is Kim, and to be able to feature him on one of the songs is almost like a dream come true, so it was pretty awesome.

KNAC.COM: Yeah…he is a pretty versatile guitarist. Like, I gotta say that my first – my only – experience seeing SOUNDGARDEN actually was probably at a festival called Bluesfest in my hometown of Ottawa. Actually, I remember when you actually played at that festival, too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to catch your show but I remember that you were deemed as the heaviest band to have ever played that festival. That was actually coming from the festival’s organizer.

DAILOR: *surprised* Oh, wow! Okay!

KNAC.COM: Even more unbelievable was that the reason I wasn’t able to attend that show was because I’d ended up booking some sort of high school reunion that just happened to fall on the same day. Luckily, I’ve seen you in concert before. My first experience seeing you guys was at one of the very first Heavy MTL festivals in Montreal, I think. Was that probably one of the reasons why you started the tour in Montreal? Because you get a pretty good reception, especially in the eastern part of Canada, so I’m guessing that Montreal is almost like a second home for MASTODON in a way?

DAILOR: I feel like it’s Canada in general. Our first out-of-town show was in Winnipeg that we booked.

KNAC.COM: Nice

DAILOR: So, we’ve always loved coming to Canada, just being there. I’m from Rochester, New York, originally, so I used to go over the border to see lots of concerts when I was a kid.

KNAC.COM: Cool

DAILOR: Like, all of the Lollapaloozas in Toronto, Molson Park. So, I’m very familiar with Canada. I’m a big hockey fan so I like coming in and talking about hockey with whoever wants to talk hockey. Montreal, my first time playing there was with TODAY IS THE DAY and I think we played Foufonnes Électriques and then we played Quebec. So, yeah, I have some fond memories of playing all over Canada, Montreal especially. Heavy MTL definitely helped raise our profile, I think.

KNAC.COM: I think I saw you at the first two Heavy MTL’s in 2008 and 2010. I do remember those shows being extremely extremely hot and sweaty just because I was trying to get as close, or almost as away from the pit as I could. I was taking photos at the time and I ended up getting my camera wrecked, although I think that did actually happen when I was trying to shoot SHADOWS FALL’s performance.

DAILOR: Aw. Bummer.

KNAC.COM: Yeah…that was my fault though. I didn’t really have my camera properly secured and I got an elbow from behind and I dropped my camera.

DAILOR: Aw, man. Shitty.

KNAC.COM: And I was like “oh, shit, my $200 camera”. I’m not about to go after some guy in a moshpit just to tell him “dude, you owe me $200 for the camera you just broke!” Anyway, it’s a lot easier to just shoot everything from your phone now.

DAILOR: Exactly.

KNAC.COM: I do notice that you have some upcoming festival tours in the Southern US that are coming up – the Louder Than Life festival in Louisville, Kentucky on September 22 and the 25th and Furnacefest in Birmingham, Alabama, on pretty much the next day. You got a full itinerary as far as the end of September goes. What’s it like playing Louder Than Life and Furnacefest?

DAILOR: Well, we played Furnacefest once really early on in our career when we were still in our van, and so our van broke down about 20 minutes away from the festival and so we got a ride from a friend into the festival and then our van showed up on a wrecker. It was pretty funny for all of the other bands. They were laughing at us when we said “yep, here’s our van! The ol’ fartbox. Put ‘er down!”

KNAC.COM: Well, least you got your exposure.

DAILOR: Those festivals are always fun, y’know? Usually, you’re not there very long, it’s just kinda throw and go, so it’s a little bit nerve-wracking but always fun, a big crowd.

KNAC.COM: Cool. I imagine that at these festivals of that particularly large magnitude, they’d usually have somewhere between like 4-5 dozen bands on the bill and they usually tend to separate their shows by maybe 20-25 minutes at most. At least that was the case with Heavy MTL because for a festival like that for example, you get some smaller name bands and then one of the larger name bands like yourselves and I think the one year MAIDEN, ROB ZOMBIE, KORN

DAILOR: Yeah, I think Furnacefest is a little bit different because they got a hardcore element that was there. I think the DESCENDENTS are playing, so that’s kinda cool. We don’t really get to swim in that pool very often so that’s interesting. And Louder Than Life is more heavy radio bands that are playing those kinds of festivals. So, you see a lot of your ROB ZOMBIE like bands, things like that. Y’know, it’s always fun, usually a nice reunion of sorts. You see some of your old touring pals and meet up at catering and hang out for the day, do your 45-minute set, kick back, see a bunch of bands. It’s fun.

KNAC.COM: And, of course, you got some tours happening in Europe too, which is also pretty good. I know that currently, since the schedule is updated, you’re playing quite a lot of festivals there too as a matter of fact. Like, Nürburgring in Germany for both nights, although at two different festivals. What was one of the most chaotic European festivals you’ve ever played at?

DAILOR: Well, they’re not…I’d say that as far as chaos is concerned, it’s more like if you get there late and you’re kinda like behind schedule and you’re trying to make some of these festivals, it can be very difficult. You’re flying, you’re getting up really early in the morning, you go through security, you fly, you get into a shuttle, you drive for an hour and then you show up 20 minutes before you’re supposed to show up to play, you scramble to try and get warmed up, like, sitting in the shuttle with drumsticks like *slaps leg* beating my leg, trying to get ready to play. When we get there, we need to get out and pretty much go straight from the shuttle to the stage, just get onstage and do your show. Those are nerve-wracking. Not the most fun, y’know what I mean?

KNAC.COM: I can only understand.

DAILOR: You do your set, you finish and you’re like “thank God, we did it, we made it, oh my God”. So those can be pretty stressful. That’s what would create any kind of chaos. Otherwise, it’s pretty much par for the course to just get there and sit around all day, hang out and watch bands and just do your thing, you hear the crowd response or maybe they don’t and just hope for the best. You just hope to play for the people who are here to see you and then also make some new fans who are treating the festival experience as “hey, I’ll check out this band. I’ve heard of them”. But for us, we’ve been around 20-something years so I think most people know who we are and what we’re about a little bit.

KNAC.COM: Oh, for sure. What would be one ideal festival you’ve always wanted MASTODON to play at, if you haven’t played there already?

DAILOR: We haven’t played Glastonbury and I’d love to play that.

KNAC.COM: Cool. Any others, or is it just Glastonbury in particular that kinda sticks out for you for being more of a special festival?

DAILOR: It doesn’t just stick out for us but it would be a nice feather in the cap. Lollapalooza, I’d love to play that.

KNAC.COM: You’d definitely be a welcome addition to Lollapalooza. I mean, we both remember Lollapalooza when it first came out and it was strictly more of an alternative touring festival, but, I mean, there were actually bands that were more groundbreaking. The current lineup at Lollapalooza has gotten a bit too mainstream. That’s not a bad thing in itself as it does bring in the audience, but sometimes I feel like those festivals themselves kinda lost a bit of their magic and identity. What are your thoughts on that?

DAILOR: I’m not really sure. I’d have to look and study the lineup. I’m not sure who’s playing these days, but I guess the name alone just kinda…like, that was the first time I saw TOOL, first time I saw RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, first time I saw FISHBONE, ALICE IN CHAINS, y’know…that was the deal back in the day.

KNAC.COM: So, the last question that I have would be with regards to hockey. Who are you rooting for in the NHL playoffs? You did ask about hockey.

DAILOR: Since my Winnipeg Jets have been eliminated…*continues to think*

KNAC.COM: Yeah…same as my Senators, but we had a terrible season.

DAILOR: It was a weird year. It was a very weird year, so hopefully next year. So, I dunno…I guess the Maple Leafs because the guy who did our album, David Bottril, is a huge Leafs fan. We got him a jersey with his name on it for making the record with us. I know that he’s just a crazy Leafs fan, so whoever my friends root for, I try to help, and our sound guy Rob is a huge Capitals fan, so I’ll watch it with him and then cheer whoever he gets excited about. But, for me, it’s hard for me to get excited about hockey right now because my guys aren’t there. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: Fair enough. Same as mine too, at least for the time being, just jump on the Leafs’ bandwagon like most other people and see how far they’ll go because they got a pretty phenomenal lineup and I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve played. I mean, anything is possible now in the post-COVID world. Maybe they do have a chance at the Cup after all.

DAILOR: For sure.

With special thanks to Rick Gershon and Jenny Huynh for setting up this interview.

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