In 2005, Rock Sound headed out on the road with Atlanta stalwarts Mastodon to get their most candid interview ever for our cover story… Read the full feature…
Straight after their earth shattering set at Download Festival, Atlanta sluggers Mastodon are playing two sold out nights at Dublin’s Ambassador Theatre supporting Slayer. Not many bands fair well in such a slot, but Messrs Sanders, Dailor, Hinds and Kelliher are victorious. As the ‘Don pummel their way through the likes of ‘Iron Tusk’, ‘Megalodon’, ‘I Am Ahab’ and a blinding rendition of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Emerald’, the Irish fans are putty in the quartet’s hands. Midway through a European jaunt, wives and girlfriends are present to witness and share in the excitement. Almost a year since the mighty ‘Leviathan’ was released, and with a new label and management now in place, there’s plenty to talk about.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
On first meeting, Troy Sanders is a rather imposing character, but chat to the bassist / vocalist for a while, and you’re faced with one of the friendliest guys in rock ‘n’ roll. As well as his girlfriend, Troy’s parents – who are celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary – have joined him in Ireland. While his elder brother Kyle plays with rising rockers bloodsimple, his younger bro Darren is currently Troy’s tech. Having watched their son play in bands for the past 16 years, his folks are visibly excited to see the thunderous reaction Mastodon receive over their two-day Irish stint.
“My mum has always played classical music piano and French horn, but growing up she was trying to teach us the piano but we never cared – we wanted to play guitar and rock ‘n’ roll. Having three sons that are all in the music business, I think maybe once she probably thought, ‘Where did we go wrong?’, but now they see it has turned into our lives, our careers and passions all at the same time.”
Academia was never high on Troy’s list of priorities; instead the 31-year-old says of his school days that he was “into staring at girls and smoking weed – so I never did shit. I wanted to play in a band, and that’s all I tried to do”.
For the past five years Troy and his band mates have been building Mastodon into the metal roadhog it is now. Since last summer, they’ve spent the entire year on tour across the States and Europe. Following their European stint, the band will spend the summer on the US Ozzfest. The success of ‘Leviathan’ has accrued the quartet a new management company (Sanctuary – they used to be self-managed) and a new deal with Warner Brothers, who take over from Relapse. Troy however is adamant that signing to a major label will not change the Mastodon machine, but just enhance it.
“Nothing is going to change, it’s going to get bigger and better. Relapse is super-supportive of this (new deal), they have been our friends for five years and they have been very good to us. They know we want to do bigger and better things on a more worldwide level, and they have limited resources to do these things.”
As ever, Troy will spend the summer on stage rather than getting to spend the time with his seven-year-old daughter, Hayley. But he takes on this situation, along with everything life throws at him, with a positive outlook.
“I am the optimist,” he smiles. “I always try to take a negative or a bad situation and try to pull something positive out of it, and that sheds a brighter light on the next situation or the next day, so we can overcome any obstacle as people and as a band.”
DADDY DAY CARE
For Bill Kelliher, the first show with Slayer was one of Mastodon’s best ever. Playing Download was also an amazing experience. It’s certainly a far cry from rolling burritos at his friend’s tequila bar, which until last year, in between bouts of touring, was Bill’s steady job. A firm believer in hard work paying off, Bill is certainly enjoying the fruits of his labour right now. And while it’s been an important year in the band’s career, it’s also been an important one in the Kelliher household – with the arrival of (now) 10-month-old Harrison. He describes his wife as being “110 per cent” behind his career choice, but leaving both her and a new-born child to hit the road has been difficult.
“Hopefully he won’t remember it too much that I’m not around, and hopefully in the future I will be able to not tour as much and be able to take some time off. Right now we’re really building up to something. We’re not there yet, so we need to take all these big tours. A lot of bands don’t get that opportunity to play with such huge metal gods, so hopefully he will understand when he’s older, but for now it’s pretty tough.”
Bill’s father was an Irish immigrant who moved to Rochester, New York, in the 50s and spent 30 years running a specialist hi-fi shop. He passed away a few years ago, and while Bill only started getting close to him during his 20s, because of his work, Kelliher senior rarely saw his son while he was growing up.
“I only really got close to my father in my 20s and I don’t want that weird separation between Harrison and I. I have always said that to myself,” he states. “When I am home off tour, I don’t go out. I stay at home and I am daddy day care – it’s me and Harrison. I play with him, change his diapers and feed him. It’s like one extreme to the other, it’s just two different worlds, two different lives.”
Like his band mates, Bill sees the arrival of new management and a new deal as an exciting opportunity to take Mastodon even further, but remains pleased with what they’ve achieved so far. “Even if the band dissolved tomorrow, it’s been a great fun time and I think we have accomplished a lot of stuff in five short years,” he concludes. “It’s been awesome and hopefully it’ll last forever and we’ll always play good music together. And we’ll keep our integrity as a band and as people – I don’t want to turn into a fucking rock star or die of an overdose, God forbid.”
BUILDING A BAND
Years ago Brent Hinds told his mum he was going to play rock ‘n’ roll for a living and for the past year, the 31-year-old guitarist has done nothing apart from rip up stages with Mastodon.
“I totally feel like I have made it – this is it, I have made it!” smiles the axeman. “Opening up for Iron Maiden, Slayer, and playing in front of thousands of people that seem to love it… to me, I can’t see how it could get any better.”
A massive Thin Lizzy fan (he was in a cover band for about six months that eventually morphed into a proper band called The Blood Vessels), Brent has made sure he got to visit Phil Lynott’s gravestone during this Irish jaunt. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, growing up in such a slow environment was, according to the guitarist, “pretty boring”. After his parents split during his formative years, Brent lived with his father in an apartment complex filled with “crazy kids from broken families”. A self-confessed “horrible kid”, Brent started listening to heavy music, smoking pot and skateboarding, as well as spending his time vandalising the apartments where he lived. “I was up to no good all the time, mischief – all I wanted to do was sneak booze, cigarettes and porn mags and stuff like that,” he recalls with a laugh.
Inevitably during his life Brent has also seen his fair share of trouble with the law. “I have definitely been arrested several times; I have definitely been to jail a couple of times (for being) drunk in public, battery, drunk driving and marijuana. So after that was over with, I was like, ‘Fuck that, I don’t ever want to go to jail again – it sucks’. It costs so much money, you’re on probation, it makes you nervous, it makes you have anxiety – it just sucks being in trouble with the law. I haven’t been in any trouble with the law in over six years now. I would definitely say music inspired me to stay out of trouble, keep my head clear, to try and be cool and live for your family, friends and music.”
His musical interest started on his fifth birthday when Brent requested a Slim Whitman (famous country yodeller) album; after initially hearing the singer on TV, Brent became somewhat obsessed. But it was his pre-teen discovery of AC/DC that led the guitarist into the world of rock ‘n’ roll. Around the same time, Brent’s father finally succumbed to his son’s persistent request for a guitar – only he was forced to share it with his elder bother, which led to obligatory sibling fighting! Brent then turned his back on further education, despite his parents’ wishes, and instead opted for the school of hard knocks – the construction industry.
“(It) made me understand hard work, discipline, what it’s like to not have anything and what it’s like to really, really bust your ass for something – going to work at 7am and not leaving ‘til 6pm and working like a slave all day.”
He never lost sight of his musical goals and is now living his dream. “I finally achieved what I wanted to do,” he smiles. “It’s hard to feel that feeling of accomplishment you get through construction work unless that’s really what you want to do. All the time I was building houses all I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to leave there and go and play music with my friends. I’d work construction all day long and then get off work, go meet my band, and play 7pm ‘til 1am and then go home and sleep and do it all over again. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I did it!”
For Brann Dailor, playing drums – as clichéd as it sounds – has probably saved his life. Born 31 years ago in Rochester, New York, his parents divorced when he was three years old. His mother, still only 24, and unable to work due to her rheumatoid arthritis, remarried with a 19-year-old drummer. Together they played in a band, while his new stepfather also dealt cocaine, turning the family home into one big 24/7 party zone. And while the drugs provided good times, there was also a darker side, with the stepfather becoming violent. On the day he was finally escorted away from their family home, he had loaded a shotgun intended to kill his surrogate family.
“The flipside of that whole situation was that I grew up around drums and lots of crazy music,” says Brann. “I had a steady diet of really awesome music that came at the time of my life when it meant a lot, ‘cos I was a little sponge soaking it all up.”
His sister also suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, and while Brann skipped school out of choice, she wanted to attend but was often too unwell. Then at 14 she committed suicide – something Brann still finds hard to deal with now.
“When she died everything just flipped upside down. My mother was just a wreck, my new stepfather who had been with us for that had become an alcoholic. You would think that in a heavy grief situation it would bring a family closer together, to deal with the situation, but everyone just kinda ends up moving apart from each other and leaving each other alone,” recalls Brann.
“My sister’s death is the thing that I always go back to in my head; that’s the one that fucks with me the most, I think. I feel I love her and miss her like crazy – it seems to be when I am drunk and emotional that’s what comes out, my sisters death. It’s just a real thing that sticks out and I can’t seem to shake.”
At the time Brann turned to drugs for comfort and after reaching all-time lows, eventually pulled his life back together. Following a string of jobs – including working in a mini-mart (where Brann was held at gunpoint by armed robbers and was once shot in the hair), and a porno store – his drumming finally started to pay off with his bands Lethargy, Today Is the Day, and now most importantly Mastodon. Playing drums is his best form of therapy.
“I started therapy when I was four years old – it never did anything for me. I think it is helpful for some people, and maybe I haven’t found the right person. I have been to five or six different people, and it’s never helped as much as playing drums helps or writing music in general. It’s an awesome feeling and helps to get that stuff out, and that’s the place to leave it – on stage.”
Since the release of ‘Leviathan’, the drummer has “done some of the coolest things I’ve ever done as a human”, and describes his year as “mind-blowing”. His family issues however remain – just days before this European tour he received a phone call from his mother, who had just been admitted to a mental home.
“I had some crazy phone call from her, totally whacked out,” he explains. “I think she is going to be okay. They got her so pumped full of medication – the western attitude on medicine in the US is really crazy. Doctors just see how many drugs they can put inside you. At one point she was on 40 types of medication at the same time and all those medicines have adverse effects on each other. Now her original disease isn’t even an issue, it’s the diseases that all the medications have given her since she’s been on them. She died like four times, it’s been crazy for her. She has had a tough time and it’s hard for me ‘cos I am on tour so much I can’t do anything.”
Remarkably, despite these hurdles life has thrown at him, Brann remains optimistic about the future. “I am a really happy,” he concludes. “I have everything I could ever want. I have an awesome life, I have a wife, a house with a cat and a car. I don’t get to see them that often, but when I do it’s amazing. I have an awesome band and three awesome guys that I love to death and we make awesome music together and play it to thousands of people all of the time. A lot of people don’t ever get to have that kind of opportunity, so I just feel very lucky to be where I am right now.”
WIND IN THEIR SAILS
Dedication, devotion, friendship and just complete and utter love for their music are what keep Mastodon going, according to Brent. Realising that Slayer have spent over two decades – mostly on a major label – keeping it real, Mastodon’s future looks better than ever. Straight after Ozzfest, there will be more shows and 06 will see the release of album number three – which right now isn’t even written.
“Things aren’t really going to change, because if it’s not broken you don’t fix it. What we have here is simply a situation of just putting more wind behind the sails of the ship we steer – and the ship’s name is Mastodon,” concludes Brent.
“We only know how to write Mastodon music, we’re not trying to change our sound. We love our sound, we’re totally keeping the wheels rolling, and (we’ll) ride this thing until the wheels fall off. Hopefully they won’t – and we’ll keep them well maintained.”
Full steam ahead!