Mastodon är just nu ute på en Europaturné och svängde inom Stockholm nyligen. Efter att först ha pratat snö, som man gör när huvudstaden är helt vit, och Brann berättat att han är van eftersom han ursprungligen kommer från “the snow belt” i staten New York, blev det snack om kommande album, huruvida han kan rangordna bandets alster och om deras managers tragiska bortgång förra året.
“I ran every single decision that Mastodon ever made through him first and we basically lost our biggest fan. We were his Led Zeppelin. He loved us and we loved him and it was a very special relationship that I don´t think a lot of bands get to have with their manager. Fuck that! I hate it. I really don´t like that. A Nick John´s album is coming.”
What can you tell me about the new album? Is it done or are you still working on it?
Nah, it´s far from done. We´re working on it.
How far into it are you?
Not very far. A couple of years ago we, as a band, bought a building in Atlanta and turned it into practice spaces for bands. The two major practice space facilities in town both closed down like in the same month, so there were hundreds of homeless bands basically. If it was for practice spaces like that, we wouldn´t be a band because we relied on those spaces. We lived in apartments and there was nowhere to jam. We just finished construction on the bottom, the basement of the building and in doing so, we took two rooms and turned it into a studio. We got everything hooked up, everything´s up and running. We got my drums set up and we really wanted to hear what the room sounds like or what it´s capable of, so we had a track that was… I mean, we wrote it in a couple of days. I had a few riffs and went to Bill (Kelliher) and said ”I´ve got these riffs.” and he went ”Well, I´ve got this riff that fits with that…”, like we do and then we started working on it. It yielded something really cool and we all liked it. Our main goal of doing that was just to see if we can make an album here in this room? If we got these raw tracks and we get it to a proper mixer, can it match our previous sonic output? It has to be on a certain level for us to go ”This sounds like a real album.” or ”This sounds like a demo.”, and we can´t have that, so fully anticipating being saddened by ”This sounds like a demo and it´s not gonna fly.”, the opposite happened and it sounded amazing. We were like ”Awesome!” So that´s like a sorted thing. Hopefully it will lead to more fruitable… I don´t want to say faster, because we´re pretty fast and we´ve put out a lot of records and sometimes we´ll have our album written and finished and we just won´t say anything, because we don´t want to leave home yet. When we´re gone for two years, we owe the people that are back home a year of our time, obviously and we want to be home and givet hem that time. And that time is not… we don´t get a full year sitting at home, there´s no way. We´re doing one offs here and there and we´ll go away for a month. We say that were off for a year writing, but it´s not like that. When you´re gone for two years, it´s not like life stops, so there´s all sorts of stuff you´ve got to deal with and tend to and relationships that you want to keep, so you´ve got to hunker down, but having said that, there´s a ton of material. Brent´s (Hinds) got a ton of crazy stuff. Just wild and I´ve never heard anything like it and so does Bill and so do I. We all just kind of have the same kind of deal.
There was talk about a song dropping just recently, a brutal, heavy song?
We wanted to release it right ahead of this tour and we were trying really hard and we had one foot in the studio and one foot on the airplane coming to Europe and it just didn´t really come together as quickly as we wanted it to. It´s finished, the song is fully finished and it´s mastered and ready to rock but we´ll just have to wait to release it. It would´ve made sense to release it ahead of this tour because we have Scott Kelly (Neurosis) with us and he sings on some of it, so that would´ve been cool. We missed by a week or something and then we were stupid and went and blabbed about it like it was going to be a done deal. We thought it was going to be done sooner, but there were som circumstances that got in the way unfortunately, but it´s still a kickass song and it´s pretty heavy.
Are you working with someone, producer wise, or are you doing it yourselves?
No. At the time being, yeah. That´s usually how we work. We get things pretty much there and then we´ll bring someone else in to reaffirm what we already know.
This studio of yours, that´s something you´re pouring your own money into?
And I guess it will be for other bands to use as well?
Well, yeah! A friend of ours, an engineer friend of ours who has worked on ”Crack the skye” (2009) and ”Emperor of sand” (2017), he lives in Atlanta and he´ll be using the studio to record bands, but our stuff is always going to be down there. We bought a mellotron… we´re digging in. (laughs)
It sounds like the set up Gojira has in New York? It looks really cool. Have you been there?
It does. No, but I´ve seen photos of it. It´s beautiful.
It sounds nice to have your own place where you can go whenever you feel like it?
Yeah and we´ve got a rehearsal space right upstairs from the studio, so if we´re riffing on something we like, we can just roll down there and record it. Should be easy.
The album? Are we looking at a release later this year or early next year?
I think next year would be smarter, on our part. We need to let people miss us, maybe.
How do you feel about the album ”Emperor of sand”, looking back at it? Do you look at it as your best effort so far?
No. I´ll put it right in there with everything else.
Do you have a favorite Mastodon album?
Nah, I don´t think so. I did this thing where they made me rank the Mastodon albums like top to bottom and I could´ve made a case for each one to be the best and each one to be the worst. That´s how it is. If you remove any and all emotion for something you can say whatever you want. You can spin it however you like, like when you review something. You can either tear it down or build it up, depending on whatever side of the bed you got up that day. So each album, for whatever reason, could be like ”Yeah, this is my favorite!”, but I don´t really think of our music in those terms. That´s for fans and I am not a fan. (laughs)
I guess reviews and such was a bit more important back in the day than it is today?
I wish I didn´t read them, but I tend to read the negative ones more these days. It´s like ”Glowing reviews! Boring! I wanna hear someone make a case…” I´m interested in that. I love the record so much so I wanna hear someone that hates it and I want to hear why. Sometimes I´ll be like ”Ok, I can see that. I can tottaly understand this.”, you know what I mean? Or I can be like ”Ehh, that´s not exactly right.” I feel like I can look at a negative review objectively. You know, who knows why anybody likes anything, right?
I guess as long as you have valid points about something…
I think so, yeah. But it doesn´t matter at all. (laughs) It really doesn´t matter. A lot of times people are just reading a review to see if they agree with a person. If they really like an album they want to look up and see what everybody else thought.
I really liked that ”Red death” song you put out. Is there going to be more of that stuff and do you have like a ton of stuff that´s not Mastodon stuff?
I do have some stuff, some songs that probably wouldn´t be Mastodon, but they don´t really sound like ”Red death” (2018) They´re just different. If I was to do a solo album it would be pretty weird, I think.
When you write stuff and songs pop up, do you immediately know if it´s Mastodon or something esle?
Yeah, I can tell. It has to be pretty far off to be not Mastodon, because Mastodon´s pretty wide at this point in time. That being said, I like my friends in Mastodon so I like to be with them and create with them and see what else we´ve got going on.
When was the first time you realized you had a voice?
When I was a kid. I was always in the select choir. That´s my real first experience of creating something with a group, that gave me that feeling that I look for. I think we were singing Händel´s (1685-1759) ”The Messiah” (1742) and sometime in the middle of it when we were all singing it, it was like ”Wow, this is so cool!” and I went to another place and we did it. I always could sing and in my first band I was the singer. I was originally the drummer, but my friend Jeff played the drums as well and I did not want to be the singer at all, but I was the only one that could sing. ”You have the blonde hair and you can sing those high notes.” because my voice hadn´t changed yet, I was like 13. I think we played two gigs. A roller skating rink and we played some youth centre. It was fun, but I really just didn´t like it. I didn´t like being up front. I didn´t know what to do with my hands. Do I point at people or… (laughs) I was confused. Do I headbang or play airguitar? I didn´t have the pole thing going on and I really didn´t want to work to figure it out. It was not for me. But I could always sing in the van, you know. When Mastodon was starting out I always put on Stevie Wonder while I was driving and sang along. Everybody knew I could sing so I´d sing along to King Diamond and Iron Maiden. Get me drunk at a party we were staying at after the gig and I would… (sings in falsetto) I would go into the vocal booth and have ideas but my voice wasn´t fitting for a lot of the earlier Mastodon stuff. I just try to contribute as many ideas as I can to the group and help out. Maybe sing like a pattern over it. That´s what I did with ”Oblivion” (Crack the skye). I said ”I´ve got this idea!” and usually it would get passed off to either Troy or Brent, but there was something about the way I sang it and Brent was like insistent that I´d do it. he just liked it a lot. We tried to get Troy as close to it as possible and he went in there and tried to mimic it, the exact timbre and tone and everything. We all listened back, including Brendan O´Brien (producer), because Brendan was not cool with it. He was like… from his standpoint, he was saying ”We can´t have the lead single, the first song on the album, the first vocals that you hear, be from the fucking drummer! We can´t do that. It has to be from that guy, who stands in the middle!” (Troy) We were all listening to it and it was pretty close, but you´d see Brent back there going ”Yeah, it´s close, but it´s not exactly…” and he´d say ”Play Brann´s again!” and everybody was just like ”Yeah, that´s it!” and I said ”Ok, well that sucks, because I don´t want to do that!” I went back to my house and got on my drums to see if it was even possible and I came back and said ”I think I can do it!” I don´t mind it as much now and I take a lot better care of myself while I´m on tour. I just try to be as healthy as possible, which doesn´t always work out. It´s one more thing you´ve got to worry about. I get sick all the time when we´re on tour, especially in Europe in the winter. I haven´t seen the sun in a month. You´re beat up and cold and everybody´s sick right now. Somehow I´ve avoided it, but when I woke up this morning I felt that my throat was a tiny bit tight and I was like ”Oh no, no, no! I can´t be.” I got up and took two vitamin C. I take all my vitamins every day, just have a couple of beers and a Meletonin to go to sleep on the bus. When we got here (Stockholm) there was like eight people ouside shoveling because our bus was stuck. Started making the tea and started getting everything going, you know. There´s a lot of maintenance and there´s a lot of worry. I understand singers – they don´t hang out, they don´t talk, they wear scarves all the time and they don´t want to shake hands with anybody. I understand fully now. I didn´t understand before. I was like ”The guy´s an asshole!” Now I get it. (laughs) Now I´m like ”Don´t shake my hand! Fistbump!” Because if you get sick you´re screwed. You want to be so good and crush it and then you wake up and it´s like ”Oh, laringytis! Cool!” It´s not the most fun way to be on tour. What people´s imagination of what a tour is. Maybe it was the first five or ten years of us touring and party, party, party and now it´s like ”You have to take care of yourself! There´s a lot of people and they´ve paid money. They want to see a good show.”
It´s got to be hard? I´m thinking, you come into a city, play the show and you´re on a high from that? It´s got to be real easy to have a couple of beers and stay up late? You need discipline.
Absolutely. If you wake up feeling shit enough times, you´ll stop. You´ll just be like ”This is way better than to not feel that way.” You´re not going to feel one hunded percent anyways while you´re on tour. No drinking, no drugging, nothing. You´re just collecting all this intermittent sleep. If you get five or six hours of sleep a night, that´s like interrupted sleep for a week, see how you feel? Do that for two months and when you´re done you´re toast. It´s syressful to perform under those circumstances, but we fucking do it all for the kids, man! They deserve it.
When you come back from a tour, does it take some time to and get back into family life and such?
Not for me. Whenever I get home, I´m good. ”Boom! Let´s go to the grocery store and be amongst my people at the grocery store.” I love to ccok. Troy and I was just talking backstage and we´re a couple of weeks out from going home, so mentally we start preparing what we´re going to cook the first couple of nights we´re home. I just texted my wife before I came here and said ”Two weeks.” Two weeks till we go to tel Aviv and she´s meeting me there. We´ll play that gig and then we´ll stay five nights in Jordan and hang out at Petra and see all of that old junk where they filmed ”Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), which was sort of my jumping off poing for ”Emperor of sand”
Sadly, your manager passed away, which must´ve been a heavy blow?
Yeah, he was one of my best friends. Nick John.
Seems like there´s been a lot of death surrounding you guys?
Yeah and I almost feel like… I mean, we put out this cancer record with the depiction of cancer on the album cover. The day after we played LA and saw him, he got sick. It was right at the start of that touring cycle when the record came out. That´s when he got sick, but I was really sick at that point too. I had gotten really sick on tour, like our first day of touring. We started in Missoula, Montana. We got there and the day before we had a full production day and I woke up and I had a really bad throat infection for no reason at all. I don´t know what happened. It was like ”Awesome! I´m singing the most I´ve ever sang and I´ve got all these high notes and I have a throat infection!” I tried to sing through it and fucked my throat up even worse. It was horrible and so depressing. We got to LA a few days later and we saw him and the next day he was like ”Man, I´ve got the bug you guys all had.” and a couple of months later he said he had pneumonia and we were like ”Ok, that´s weird.” I think it was after the Grammys that he told us. When he wasn´t at the Grammys, I knew something really terrible was going on. I knew it was cancer. I was texting with him and I was taking pictures of different outfits that I might wear, as you do, and I said ”What do you think about this one?” I had this blue one and this white one with and black lapels and he was like ”You´ve got to wear both of them. Somehow you´ve got to wear both.” and I was like ”What are you going to wear?” because I was starting to beat around the bush. He had not showed up to a bunch of stuff and just got a little cryptic. We talked every single day for years and years and then he was like ”Something´s going on with my throat and I can´t talk.” We had gotten some information that he was going to step away from every day stuff to get better and we were like ”Absolutely dude!” So I stopped contacting him all the time but we were really close and it´s hard to speak of him even in past tense, because it still hasn´t really hit me. We cancelled the tour and we were with him when everything went down. That´s our guy. I ran every single decision that Mastodon ever made through him first and we basically lost our biggest fan. We were his Led Zeppelin. He loved us and we loved him and it was a very special relationship that I don´t think a lot of bands get to have with their manager. Fuck that! I hate it. I really don´t like that. A Nick John´s album is coming. What are we going to do? That´s all we can do, write a song about it.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk, Michaela Barkensjö