Mastodon: “We don’t talk about our feelings with each other, we just put them in the lyrics”
Mastodon have spoken to NME about how making sense of dark times inspired their new album ‘Hushed And Grim’ and how the band has become “a dumping ground for all the negative emotions.”
The metal titans’ eighth studio LP was released last Friday (October 29), but as drummer and vocalist Brann Dailor explained, it wasn’t intentional.
From the outside, the sprawling, 15 track record with a runtime of just under 90 minutes might seem like a conscious reaction to their first Grammy win (Best Metal Performance in 2018 for ‘Sultan’s Curse’) as well as their first nomination in a non-metal category (seventh album ‘Emperor Of Sand’ was nominated for Best Rock Album the same year) but as Dailor told NME, “It’s much simpler than that”.
“There were no conversations about what something’s going to sound like or what we’re going to do,” he said. “It’s all a knee-jerk reaction. Sure, we’ll sit in the studio and agonise over the arrangements once the songs are written but whatever comes out, comes out.”
He continued: “It’s funny, being put in the ‘Rock’ category meant people treated it like we’d levelled up but for the most part, the Grammys was a fun night. It’s cool to get an award knowing Stevie Wonder has the same thing and it means your parents, your grandparents can brag about you down at the hair salon. I guess there’s a little bit of validation there, but it didn’t put us under any more pressure.”
Admitting that the band “cut our teeth playing Metallica covers as teenagers”, Dailor explained how they don’t think too much about genre but always angle towards metal because “the possibilities with heavy music are endless”. Instead, Mastodon asked themselves the same question they do before any album: “Do we have anything new to say?”
Dailor replied: So far, the answer has always been yes but there’s always that fear. ‘Hushed and Grim’ is a massive record but god, what are we going to do next?”
Across their 20 year career, Mastodon have never been afraid to try new things. As Dailor said: “There’s something that attracts us to things that don’t sound like us. We always have those tried and true Mastodon songs but then there are tracks like ‘Dagger’ on the new album where if you played it to a fan, they wouldn’t know it was us.
“We’re here to confuse people. People expect to not know what to expect by now.”
While the drummer said that the band “definitely all had a lot to say on this record”, he doesn’t feel that it would have made it to a double album if it weren’t for the pandemic bringing life to a halt.
“There’s always been a tour looming, but for the first time in 20 years, there was nothing,” he said. “The only thing we had to do was sit and pour over this material, which just got bigger and grander. We always knew we were going to dedicate it to our friend and manager Nick John (who died in 2018 from pancreatic cancer) so it was the perfect situation to create this grand gesture.”
John had signed Mastodon in 2006 and was considered to be the band’s fifth member. He’d also worked with Gojira and Slayer as part of the Rick Sales Entertainment Group. Mastodon have always used their records to commemorate loss, with 2002’s debut ‘Remission’ helping Dailor come to terms with his sister’s suicide, while 2011’s ‘The Hunter’ was named after vocalist Brett Hinds’ brother who died during the recording process.
“Lyrically, this album is pretty dark,” said Dailor. “We went through some dark times and rather than talk about it with anybody, it all goes into the music. There’s a lot of loss and the different stages of grief are explored from start to finish – there’s anger, frustration and a realisation towards the end that it was better to have had this wonderful person in our lives that helped us out so much.
“In the past, it was very much our thing to cloak everything in all this fantastical metaphor, but the things that were going on were so immediate, there wasn’t time for trickery.”
With every band member contributing to the lyrics, Dailor said that this helps him “to understand where those guys are at as well”.
“We don’t talk about our feelings with each other, we just put them in the lyrics,” he admitted. “We’re blokes so we’re not sitting in a room telling each other how we feel, but writing songs together is pretty close.”
“There’s a lot of other stuff in there as well though. Mastodon has just become this dumping ground for all the negative emotions that we experience in daily life, that everyone else experiences as well. Maybe they don’t have a place to put those feelings but we have this vessel that we like to cram all our sad feelings into. Hopefully that helps other people.”
‘Hushed and Grim’ is ultimately an album about loss, being released after a period where everyone has experienced that to some extent. Describing it as “the right record for right now,” Dailor said that it hoped it would help people process their tougher times.
“We live in this culture that is so against people feeling sad, but it’s natural if you lost something that was important to you,” said Dailor. “This record could be a companion piece that rides in tandem with you along that and helps you out in some way, because it does help to sit in those feelings for a while.
“I know I’ve had those records that I turned to during tough times that let me revel in my feelings.”
Confessing that at one point he worried that ‘Hushed and Grim’ was “too atmospheric and slow” and slow in places due to its moments of quiet reflection amidst the heaviness, Dior concluded that “the heart wants what the heart wants”.
“Hushed and Grim’ is more beauty than beast,” he said. “We can’t try and appease this imaginary person, we can only make what feels genuine. Also, Metallica are seen as this ferocious band but there’s a lot of beauty in their music, especially on tracks like ‘Master of Puppets’.”
The band will be back in the UK next year for Download Festival, where they’ll play just underneath second stage bill-toppers Megadeth on the second stage – however he’s “not too concerned about headlining the festival”. “It would be cool but it’s not something I think about on a daily basis,” he said before tipping Gojira and Ghost for future headliners.
Late last year, Mastodon hinted that they could record another album after ‘Hushed and Grim’ before they hit the road once more. However 12 months on though, Dailor told NME how ambitious that plan was.
“When we got done making this record, everyone needed a break from being in the studio,” he added. “Who knew making a double album it twice as much work as making a normal one? We needed to focus on ‘Hushed and Grim’ and it’s not fair on whatever the next thing is going to be, to try and make it be that right now.”
‘Hushed And Grim’ by Mastodon is out now.
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