It’s an exciting time for Mastodon. Their sixth album, Once More Around the Sun, will be out in June, the album’s first single, “High Road,” is just about to come out at radio, and later this month, they’ll begin a tour with Gojira and Kvelertak. Drummer Brann Dailor spoke to us about the album itself, which he calls a “mover and shaker,” the care that they put into designing album art, and what’s kept them together for so long.
You’ve named the new album Once More Around the Sun. What does it mean, man?
Once more around the sun? Repetitions, A year in the life basically.
Is that a lyric in one of the songs?
It’s usually something I say to people on their birthday. Like “hey you made it!” Once more around the sun my friend, Congrats. It’s like all the things that can happen in a year. This past year, being a lot of craziness. A lot of crazy things happen every year, of course. But seems like the themes that appeared on the record have a little more to do with what has happened, what has transpired throughout the year. Rather than previous albums dealing with subject matter in the past.
Were there any one or two events that really informed the album in the past year?
There were but there super personal so its not something I can get into. But the music speaks for itself and it’s in the lyrics. So if anybody wants to go dig in it, I feel like it’s that heavily masked in metaphors. So it’s all there.
This is your second album that doesn’t have an explicit concept or theme. Did you feel like you were writing yourself into a corner by doing that with your first four albums?
No, I don’t think it was that conscious of a decision. If it comes up again that we want to do another concept album, it’s there for us. We have the capabilities but, yeah I guess maybe we sort of felt like we were becoming a band that was predictable almost. Like ‘oh yeah its that band that does crazy concept albums and 15 minute long songs, that’s what those guys do.’ We don’t want to be that band that everyone figured out.
What’s the longest song that you wrote for this album cycle?
The longest one that’s on this record is 8 or 9 minutes. “Diamond in the Witch House.”
You’ve mentioned that you may be releasing another EP with some songs that didn’t quite fit with this album. Is that something you thought about while recording the record?
Well we knew going in that we were going to have too much material, but liked all of it. We put it all together and listened to it as we were starting to finish and it was a little bit exhausting. It was like 1 hour and 15-20 minutes. And it was just really 2 separate feels going on. It seemed to me that it be a cool idea to, because we have this small group of songs that were a little more moody, a little more slow and chill. And since this record is coming out in the summer, it a mover and shaker. We want it to be present at every 15 year old party in the woods. Like when I used to go to a party in the woods, whatever just came out in the summer was the soundtrack for it, and it was some of the best time of our lives. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I still go to those and the 15 year olds make me leave… it’s a little awkward.
Haha, yeah there like “bro, what are you doing here? You choppin’ wood or something? Get out of here. Did you buy the beer? You did?! Okay, so take your two cans and get out of here, we’re trying to make out dude. We’re trying to get to first base and Bram is fucking it up!” I know it’ll sound a little weird because the record will come out and be out for a long time and it does have the potential for someone to buy it in the winter time and hopefully they’ll still dig it. But we were thinking we might release a collection of slower songs and more moody stuff and sort of let people know that that’s what it is, something they can curl up next to the fire in the winter time. A winter warmer, if you will.
So basically you have seasonal albums now. I can’t wait for the autumn record.
The autumn record, I don’t know what that’s gonna sound like. It’s gonna sound like leaves crunching beneath their feet.
So the label totally on board with his?
I think so, I mean they’re on board with this new record and they’ve heard the other stuff too and I think they dig it. We don’t have that much communication with the label to be honest. We got lucky and it’s not like we don’t want to hear from them. I want them to be excited about the record and excited to put it out. We’re starting to hear from them now because it’s done. We’re starting to get e-mails from certain people, like our publicist, and we want people to be totally stoked. But we are that kind of band that got lucky and they sort of let us do our thing. They let us write and let us record and they don’t really say too much. I think they know we’re kind of a weird band and that’s what people want from us. They want a heavy weird album and they let us do our thing.
So there is no pressure from them to write a radio song?
Oh no no. I mean radio is dead pretty much. I mean it’s not dead, it’s just not like it used to be. Used to be, if a band had a top 5 radio hit they were a huge band. You could count on that, it would equal that. The same with MTV if they had a video that got big on MTV then the band became huge. Those were sure things and that doesn’t exist anymore. You have bands that are top five in the radio and they can’t sell any tickets.
I’m sure you weren’t expecting mass radio play when the band formed over a decade ago. Another thing that’s changed is the rise of streaming services. How do you feel about that?
It is what it is, so there’s no way to take control of it. The band that we are and the band we’ve become over the years, I don’t know, a lot of it might be due to the fact that those people heard it for free. I don’t know how much of it equates to legal or illegal. Who knows? I get told all the time that “If it was the 90’s you guys would be selling this many records.” I’m like ‘really, you think so?’ Who knows that? All I know is its hard to sell records and we kind of go about our business and play lots of live shows and we’re still old school in the thinking that we want to put out a record that makes sense from start to finish and we aren’t too interested in releasing singles.
We like the idea of The Album from start to finish and the vinyl, and the packaging and cool art to go along with it. That’s where we’re at, we’re slowly becoming dinosaurs. But i think vinyl over the past five years or so, has slowly picked up and we’re the kind of band that is sort of a collectible band. So we’re all set with all that because kids like the vinyl and we like the vinyl and we’ll release the monster edition of Once More Around the Sun on crazy vinyl.We’re releasing it more for ourselves then anything else because we wanted to see it, because the art is really out of control and amazing. The artist Skinner did a four-panel piece that’s really ridiculous.
What other album art has he done?
I don’t think he’s done any other albums. He releases some prints and he’s done massive murals and you can check him out on theartofskinner.com. You’ve got to see his work. It’s phenomenal, and he does some of the craziest… it’s insane you got to check it out. You’ll be like “What the fuck?!” We’ve always had crazy art. We went to Paul Romano for a long time and then AJ Fosik, And we’ve been wanting to spread out on the albums and use different guys just because we all like different kinds of art so much that we love combining the two worlds. I just always liked as a kid hold that big piece of vinyl and having something that was super intricate that you could look at for hours while you were listening.
Absolutely, that’s one of the main reasons I got into Maiden. You could look at their album covers for hours.
Yeah, they always have little trinkets laying around in the art. Especially Somewhere in Time which is packed with little goodies.
You’ve been a band for a long time. No personnel changes, no craziness, and i know there’s some volatility in the band. What’s your secret to remaining a unit?
Eat healthy and plenty of exercise, Bram. I don’t know I guess it’s a respect for one another and a respect for Mastodon and the art that it is and we all want to keep doing it. At this point it’s sort of easy. It pays the bills, it’s a fun life, and none of us want to see it go away. At the end of it all, we’re good friends and we can look past differences or if there’s bad drunk behavior we chalk it up to just that. Everyone has chilled out in the last few years, and we just respect each other’s space. It would so strange if one person left the band because we live so close to each other and we’d see each other at the grocery store and be like “Hey man, um yeah we’ve got this other guy playing.” It would be so strange to have someone else in the band. If someone would want to leave that would be their prerogative, but kicking someone out of the band would take a lot, because we’ve had a lot happen. At the end of the day we love each other like brothers and it’s my extended family so I could never see something other than death taking it away. But like I said, if someone decided, “Hey man it’s not for me anymore and I don’t want to be on tour and I’m just done with the lifestyle. It’s hard being away from home all the time and it’s not easy…” At the moment everything is good. We’ve had some time off, went to Australia played like seven shows in two weeks and that was really fun. And we’re about to start digging in again pretty soon. I take a deep breathe as I say that. Oh boy here we go.
Once more around the sun…
Exactly. I’m really looking forward to it. I love the new songs, love the new material, I’m really excited to play it live and its always fun to make something from start to finish with your friends and put everything you have into it and then put it out there and see what comes back from it. They come from the ground up to you playing it and the audience singing it along. So it’s super rewarding in that way and I’m excited to go do it again.
So the tour, how do you feel about the line up?
Yeah it’s ridiculous. Kvelertek and Gojira are formidable forces to be reckoned with in the heavy metal world and then we’re on there. It’s a powerhouse of a bill. We’ve played lots of shows with them. We just did Australia with Gojira and we did Europe the last couple of summers and we did Australia before with Gojira. We’ve known them for quite a while. Kverlertek we’ve done shows with them as well. More over Europe we’ve ended up running into them, hanging out and we’ve been to Australia with them a couple years ago. So yeah everybody down.
Will you be playing much new material on this tour?
I don’t think so, probably just one or two maybe. Because no one knows it yet. It won’t be out until June and I’m not a big fan of playing stuff before it’s been out. I’m just not fan of that in general. When I go to see a band and they play five new songs…
Time to get a beer…
We want to play some stuff we haven’t played in a long time because it’s in between records and we’re about to have a new record to come out and when that record does come out we’ll play a lot off of that. So this is an opportunity for us to dig deep into the catalog and play some stuff we haven’t played in a really long time. I’m excited about that as well. It’s been fun combing over the old stuff and relearning it and being like, “Oh yeah.. Oh yeah! that riff, thats pretty cool.”
Photos: Cindy Frey