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Mastodon: An Interview with Brann Dailor
An Interview with drummer Brann Dailor
photos & interview by Pia
When Mastodonplays, the front of the stage is filled with musicians spellbound by the sheer brutality and beauty. Performer's more famous and seasoned then these four young lads stand motionless with mouths ajar. What makes Mastodon earn the title "musician's music" is a sound so new and influential, so technically precise, it leaves those who crave the heaviest of heavy breathless. Mastodon's drummer, Brann Dailor, took time from recording their forthcoming album, Leviathan, to address the rumors of his past involvement with Today Is The Day, explain his Zen-like drumming technique, and the kinship he's found being in Mastodon.
What's that you're listening too?
Neurosis. It's this live bootleg thing from a show with Today Is The Day when I was playing with them.
When you and Bill (Kelliher, Mastodon vocalist and guitarist) were in Today Is The Day, you went on tour with Neurosis, then what happened? You and Bill got ditched halfway through the tour or something?
No, just Steve left. The Neurosis guys asked Bill and me to stay and hang for the week that we weren't playing. So we became roadies. Scott's doing some back-up vocals for Mastodon, or maybe he's gonna sing a part on our new CD.
Most Mastodon interviews are with you. It's rare to see a drummer as the spokesperson for a band. Actually, I requested you because your drumming style is so distinctive and, to me, it's the foundation of Mastodon. Are you the one most comfortable giving interviews?
In the beginning, there were a lot of people with questions about Today Is The Day. So it'd be "Brann, you do it." Once somebody starts doing the interviews, it's nice to have all or a lot of the interviews kind of consistent.
There are many rumors about you and Bill's working relationship with Today Is The Day.
Once you break a band up from its original line-up, it then breaks up again from a second line up. Then a third... There's no foundation left. Steve Austin was trying real hard, you know? But he'd been down so many roads with so many different people in his band. I think Chris is a soulmate for Steve. Steve has found someone who's hanging in there. I thought their performance (at the New Jersey Metal and Hardcore Festival) was awesome, simply amazing.
We have to categorize everything in life, especially in America. How do you describe your music?
Organically heavy and soulful. Some of it's complex and challenging musically, and some of it is kind of heavy in a cerebral sense.
I noticed you didn't use the world "metal." Is that something you guys choose to leave out of the conversation?
No. I'm not afraid of saying we're metal. I think metal as a genre can come in many, many different forms. Maybe more forms than any other kind of music out there. Dynamically, there's so much you can do with metal music. You can play really soft and it can be in there. The hardest of hard and the heaviest of heavy can be in there at the same time. You can get away with that with metal.
Your back rhythms, the fast quarter notes, speed drum fills combined with double-kick techniques: The sound is bombastic. Yet watching you, you're loose and limber. You're not hitting hard, but you get this brutal sound. How would you describe your drumming style?
I build a basic beat for all the different parts, and then I kind of go and fuck with it. Kind of play outside of it. There are riffs where you have to play a straight-forward beat or else it won't work. But for a lot of it, I can just go off and kind of do my own thing and bring it back two seconds later.
When I was younger, maybe 16 or 17, I felt I was relying a lot on the double bass. So I got rid of it and depended on just the single bass to make the beats full. Then, when I brought the double bass back in, I still had these full beats using toms, using everything on the kit. I throw the double bass in for accents, when it's needed. There're some riffs that sound like a warship or a tank is rolling over you, and the double bass is needed there.
The goal when I'm playing is to kind of lift off. Take off and go somewhere else. It doesn't happen every time. But if I can get into that spot, that's where I want to be, that almost out-of-body experience that playing music can give you.
When I see you guys live, I keep my hand on the floor of the stage, I have to be right up front so I can feel the vibration. Going for the brown note.
It does feel really good. To me, when we're doing it all together, it really feels like we're delivering pure power, you know?
Your audience is growing fast. Which, to me, says the world is ready for more complex music. Do you see that happening?
That feels good. We just have a good time playing music together. When we get up on stage and play together, it's really cathartic for us. We put our blood and sweat into it. We're more than happy to go through hell to play music together, no matter if there's two people in the audience or two thousand.
Any crazed fans or people coming up saying "Your music changed my life, blah blah blah"?
There's like a pack of wolves that follow us everywhere we go. They'll say "I've been to twenty shows." They follow us like we're the Grateful Dead or something. It's really pretty bizarre.
Do you like that, or is it a weird feeling?
I love that! It definitely touches my heart to see that these people care so much about the music. It's really incredible. That's the point of playing music for people in the first place. And to imagine that your music does that for someone... It's like how other music has been for me, and for all the guys.
Your music saved my ass. Your playing on Today Is The Day's In the Eyes of the God. When I heard you started Mastodon, I went right over to that. Today is the Day expressed the anger, but Mastodon did something else: It soothed the pain, gave the angst a place to go. It's a beautiful thing.
It was that way for me, too. Writing the songs for Remission did the same exact thing for me. My sister committed suicide when I was 15 (she was 14). It's been 13 years since. I was never able to put that stuff anywhere. All that pain I was carrying inside. The pain of losing her had always been there. With Today Is The Day, there was a lot of anger involved. After that, I didn't want to be angry. When I start playing in Mastodon and moved to Atlanta, there was a big personal healing. Mastodon had a lot to do with that. That's one of the main reasons that the album is titled Remission. Remission means forgiveness and healing. Mastodon helped me do that: Forgive a lot of things that happened in my life.
Do you find that having your art saves you from your own self destruction?
Oh, absolutely. That's what drums have been my whole life. Playing music in general. Drums have been a "hit the pillow" situation for me since I was a little kid. My mom's like "go play your drums." Then I'd go and just bang away like crazy. Drums were like a toy, that's how it's always been.
Did your folks get you drum lessons?
I never did lessons, really. I just picked 'em up and put 'em down, know what I mean? I'd play drums for a little while, and then I wouldn't play for a long time. Just like a toy. A favorite toy comes and goes, in and out of your life. When I turned 13, my friend got a guitar, and then I was on again.
You have a video out and it's in rotation on MTV2 and Uranium on FUSE TV. That's pretty major.
We went to a friend of ours and we were like "This is what we wanna do." We got done with this long-winded explanation of our video and he's like, "Well, this is the money we have to work with, and we only have one day to shoot it. So you're gonna have to scale it down a lot." It ended up we weren't able to use any of our ideas at all.
What was it that you wanted to do?
We wanted to have water and fire and a bunch of other stuff. We wanted pure aggression, we wanted beauty, everything mixed together. We had a lot of favors done for us by people in Atlanta who worked mostly on hip hop "look what I got" type videos. A lot of the guys were bored doing them, so when they heard there was a metal video, they jumped at the opportunity to work on it.
Especially now when metal seems like "The Thing" to be into. We all saw it happen at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. TV cameras were everywhere.
I really respect Scott Lee. I like the stuff he does, the festivals he puts on, and he runs 'em well. There was a long time where people were afraid to even say the word metal. But now it seems like people are proudly putting their horned hands up and screaming from the mountaintops.
A lot of kids resent extreme brutal metal getting mainstream attention. The feeling that "their bands" are selling out. What do you have to say to those kids? How do you deal with their accusations of betrayal?
Music is for everyone. Realize that there are a lot of people who have worked really hard to play the music they believe in. Who am I to decide who listens to it and who's not allowed to listen to it?
What musicians blow your mind?
My friend Dave Witte, who plays for Burnt By The Sun. He makes me look at things differently, drumming-wise. I don't pay attention to new music as much as I should. I listen to a lot of old stuff. I'm having a lot of fun getting the first King Crimson records. I like old Genesis. Phil Collins: He's super up my alley on drums.
Yah! I've stolen quite a bit from Phil Collins. He's killer. Every little accent he throws in there. It just hits my ear and I'm like "Yes! Like that!"