Interview: Mastodon’s Brann Dailor Gets To the Dark Heart of ‘Once More ‘Round The Sun’
By Jeremy D. Larson
Brann Dailor is one sick dude. The Mastodon drummer sits in the back of the Atlanta metal band’s tour bus, face pale, with dark circles under his eyes. He’s nursing a VitaminWater with his elbows on his knees.
“The other night I got one of those deconstructed gyros,” he slurs out. He wanted the regular one, you know, the one with the pita. But after eating the deconstructed gyro, the gyro never reconstructed itself, as it were. And so in the middle of the night above bumpy New England roads, Dailor suffered his decision for hours in the tour bus bathroom. This is just one of the more unglamorous parts of being a rock star drummer and singer in one of the more famous metal bands going right now.
“I haven’t puked like that since I was, like, 12. It was fourteen or fifteen times. I was the only one, the unlucky one.”
He looks at the drink I’m holding in my hand.
“Are you drinking throw-up?” I say no, it’s just a some fancy heath drink that’s supposed to make you feel better.
“Does it work?”
This feeling Dailor’s feeling in the back of the bus keys into the themes and energy of Mastodon’s new album Once More ‘Round The Sun, the band’s sixth. It’s a purge and an exorcism of a “really hard year” for everyone in the band. Gone are the byzantine, elemental concepts of their previous albums about viewing death through a prism of fire (2002’s Remission), or based around Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (2004’s Leviathon), or a about a kid who travels back in time to meet Rasputin and then Rasputin transubstantiates into the kid while the whole album also grapples with the death of Dailor’s sister, Skye (2009’s Crack the Skye).
“It was a strange record,” says Dailor of Once More ‘Round The Sun. “It wasn’t hard to make, but it was just like I did my drums in four days and I was gone, and I went back home.”
Dailor won’t say why he left, other than for very personal reasons dealing with his family. He left Nashville went back to Georgia for three weeks while the rest of the band recorded the rest of the songs. While he was dealing with this unnamed event, the band pressed on without him. His absence was felt.
“I was supposed to be with everybody while they were tracking their guitars,” he says. “It’s nice to be together when we’re all doing stuff like ‘yeah that sounds awesome.’ I just felt bad about the whole situation. I can’t tell you what it is, I just felt bad about it. So everybody’s mind was — everyone was scattered for a little bit.”
Brann Dailor, pictured left, with Mastodon (Photo by Travis Shinn)
But Dailor eventually made it back to the Nashville with the three other guys and first-time Mastodon producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Evanescence, Rush). Together, they put the finishing touches on the album. Dailor laid down his vocals, took lead on several tracks, and put the final snarls.
“It gave it a little more weight,” he says. “There was a weight missing, and then it got supplied — unfortunately, but fortunately I guess. But unfortunately. I didn’t want this to happen, but it happened. Isn’t it weird to talk to me about it and I can’t say what it is?”
It is, but Dailor’s hesitation to talk explicitly about the emotions behind Once More ‘Round The Sun is understandable. He hopes people will be able to inform their own emotions when they listen. Without a storyline dictating where the songs go, Mastodon have created one of their more straightforward metal records from a lyrical standpoint, but pepper math rock (led by Dailor’s technical wizardry on the drum kid) all over the sludgy guitars and classic Brit-metal. It is smaller in scope, but it may be the most pure thing the band has done yet. It has mass and gravity, without devouring everything around it.
“I think it’s the most literal we’ve ever been,” says Dailor. “It was so fresh, it was happening right then, we didn’t have time for metaphors.”
He says sometimes he has a hard time listening to it, in the same way that he has trouble hearing Crack the Skye. Death always seems to hang above Mastodon’s albums, even with their 2011 album The Hunter, when guitarist/singer Brent Hinds was coping with the loss of his brother. “I don’t know, something always comes up,” Dailor sighs. “It’s just how life is, and that’s the thing that finds its away into our artistic endeavor being Mastodon. Everybody had a really hard year. The record is more like a sideline to a story of the year.”
It’s led by their latest single “Chimes of Midnight,” about a dream Dailor had where he talked to his wife about dying. He said that in the dream, while he was laying on his death-bed, his wife asked him about his life and said, “How was it?”
“And I thought it was cool how she worded it like that,” he says, “So simple. But then I was wondering am I going to see you again. When you hear the chorus, that’s what that means.”
The next chapter has just started for Mastodon. Once More ‘Round The Sun just debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, their highest ever as a band. They are currently on tour in Europe, but have much more in store for the rest of the year, a year bolstered by the dark heart of the one before. That’s just how they grow.
“Next step? I want to be a bigger band. I want the big stage show. That’d be cool. We’re pretty close.” He smiles. “Maybe by next Wednesday.”