The Drummer as Mastodon
Brann Dailor on music and life
That’s just one of the items he and I rolled over and through in a wide-ranging conversation that launched on a shared fascination with Peter Gabriel’s Genesis and crested when the dude talked about Mastodon’s latest, Emperor of Sand. Here’s some of all that talk, done up fine in print for music lovers and concert-goers all over Alibi land.
Weekly Alibi: A friend told me you were down with Peter Gabriel’s version of Genesis. I remember that piqued an interest—for me—in your band when Leviathan first started getting airplay in 2004. Where on earth did that influence come from?
Brann Dailor: My parents. Both my mom and dad were big Genesis fans. The album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was always on the stereo when I was a little kid. I kinda lost touch with that for a while, as a young person, you know? In the early ’90s,’91-’92, I rediscovered Genesis. I had moved back from New York City to Rochester [NY] where my mom was and started digging into her record collection.
What sort of music were you playing then?
Thrash metal. I was playing whatever my friends could play on guitar. You know, which was basically Metallica; the popular music of the day.
Coming up as a drummer, you practiced with a guitarist as opposed to a bass player. Has that decision influenced your drumming style?
I think so. It just depends: Like the person I was playing with was very influential. I played with a few guys that were just trying to be really, sort of technical players. There were really a lot of notes going on. I was trying to match up those notes. And there weren’t a lot of bass players ... everyone wanted to be a guitar player. I’ve been lucky enough to play with some amazing musicians. This guy named Eric Burke from Rochester. When I was 16 or so, he’d come over. He was this super virtuosic player. He was into some of the technical death metal that was out at the time, like Death’s Human had just come out and that band Cynic was out, bands like Atheist and Gorguts, so there was a lot of technical metal going on around me. Also, Mr. Bungle had just come out.
That’s interesting. Mr. Bungle shows your early prog leanings, again ¿que no?
Right. I had a band called Lethargy that was sort of in that vane. Human Remains were also super far out; they had these crazy volume swells. We used to play with them all the time. That was a huge inspiration. We were reaching and pushing, trying to define ourselves through performance. Play as many notes as possible. We’d have 15 to 20 parts for each song. None of the parts ever repeated, like an endless string of crazy riffs that intertwined with each other. These things were forced together, it was cool to figure out those song puzzles—like how do you get these two riffs to be friends when they probably shouldn’t have anything to do with each other? That’s where I cut my teeth and became the drummer I am today, playing super-technical music, pushing into that realm.
Of course Mastodon has been noted for drawing from a wide range of rock traditions to create a singular sound that’s evolved over time. Is there any way you can describe that process?
I dunno, August. I do know that in the beginning, it was straight up ferocious. Really notey. Super heavy and fast and intense and crazy. As time goes on, we’ve found ourselves wanting to explore the slower, more melancholic side of music, the kind of music we like to listen to. We want to see if there’s a way to manifest that sort of sound for a while, but still maintaining prog sensibilities—like those of King Crimson or Yes. We’ve also been paying more attention to song writing in general. We’re trying to strike a balance between showing off the fact that we can play our instruments and the fact that we’re trying to write substantive music that is memorable, has real emotion and means something, is evocative.
How does your latest recording, Emperor of Sand, fit into that paradigm?
What has informed the actual sounds? It comes down to the fact that the things you’re putting in the album, the songs you’re writing in the studio every day have been informed emotionally by what’s happening in your life, in tandem. It’s been a hard year. We have a platform to express such thoughts. That’s where we’ve piled all our musical baggage, within the musical folds of this thing called Mastodon.
The Historic El Rey Theater
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