Mastodon's Bill Kelliher talks Mayhem Festival, 'Monsters University,' metal in Georgia and more
Mastodon plays a style of massive, mighty metal, where one could see how they’d be the ideal soundtrack for a creature in Monsters University.
On records like Leviathan and Blood Mountain, the Atlanta group combined technical metal with complex narratives. But the group has a sense of humor as well, lending the song Island from Leviathan to Monsters University’s soundtrack and selling Mastodon bikinis.
And on their latest release The Hunter, the band incorporated more of their hard rock influences. Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher said their new record will follow that album’s direction, and should be out by next year.
But before that, they’ll play the main stage of the Mayhem Festival’s Tampa date on Wednesday at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre (click here for details and tickets). In an interview, Kelliher discussed Mastodon’s new album, metal in Georgia and Monsters University. Here are excerpts.
What have your Mayhem Festival shows been like so far — mostly songs from The Hunter?
Yeah, we’ve been doing mostly new songs off The Hunter, but we try to mix it up a little bit. Last time, we had a headlining show, so we played about an hour and 20 minutes and did all sorts of old songs, new songs. But on Mayhem, we only have 45 minutes, so it’s really hard to pick a decent setlist that’s got everything in there. So we do about 90 percent of The Hunter’s material.
You said you’ve written about 25-30 songs in the process of writing the new record. Can you talk about what those sound like compared to your previous albums?
There’s a little bit of experimentation going on, a really good rock vibe going on, I think. Somebody told me that one of the riffs sounded like old Scorpions meets Slayer, which was cool. We’re trying to take a different approach to writing and not to overthink it and make something too complicated, too technical. We’re just trying to let the music flow, naturally come out and lend itself more to nice vocal patterns and melodies — get kind of more like how The Hunter came out.
Is this record going to have a concept like your earlier albums, or is it going to be more standalone songs like The Hunter?
I think we have a concept that’s in the back of our heads, we just haven’t quite sorted it yet. It’s kind of hard to on the road, being so busy and whatnot. I think there’s going to be a concept again. But I don’t know, every song we’ve been writing definitely sounds different. There’s some stuff in there that sounds like old Remission riffs, and there’s a lot of The Hunter influence in there as well. It’s going to be an interesting record. I think just like The Hunter was, we’re going to go in a little bit of a different territory with our music.
How did it come about that your song Island got featured in Monsters University?
Well, we had a bunch of fans over at Pixar in the music department. They needed a really heavy song for a scene in the movie where the mom is listening to her music, and she’s a monster obviously, so she has to listen to some kind of crazy monster thing. So we had a lot of fans over there at Pixar and they were like, “Yeah, we really want you to do a song and we’re all fans and we’re really excited to have you guys do something with the movie.” One of the guys from Pixar called me up on the phone and told me what they wanted, and we worked it out. At first they wanted us to write something separate, which we did, but then last-minute they wanted to change it back to the Island song.
And how did you guys come up with the idea for Mastodon bikinis and beach towels?
We’ve always had the shark image for Megalodon, and what better to put it on than a towel? You’re at the beach, you’ve got a big shark on the towel. Bikinis, you know, we did the “Asstodon” gym shorts a few years ago and they seemed to go over really well. So we just figured try to make some bikinis and see how they turn out.
Like Florida was for metal, Georgia seems to be producing a lot of today’s most prominent metal bands — you, Kylesa, Baroness, Harvey Milk. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know, I think maybe it was Mastodon’s influence — maybe that put a microscope on the area after Mastodon’s success there. Because if you go to any city, there’s always a few really good local bands that are doing the same kind of thing. In Seattle during the grunge years, it was like, “Oh, we’ve got Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Melvins, Gas Huffer” — all these bands got that style. I don’t want to say we paved the way, but I think that had a lot to do with it, maybe.
Those bands were always around, they were all friends, so maybe they started taking it more seriously and started getting out there and touring a lot more. We took a lot of those bands on the road with us too — we’ve toured with Kylesa, Baroness and Black Tusk. Harvey Milk, they’ve been around for a long time. To me, they’ve always been an amazing rock band, they’re really talented guys and I think they’re just getting noticed now after they’ve broken up and done their thing.
You’ve covered The Flaming Lips and Feist for Record Store Day releases. What are some other bands you listen to that people might not expect?
There’s a band called Metric that I really like, they’re really poppy and they’ve got a girl singer. Blonde Redhead, Pixies, Weezer, Tame Impala — a lot of those bands I really like.
What else do you have going on beyond Mayhem Festival? When do you plan on going in the studio to record the new album?
I think once we get home from this tour, we’ll go back in the studio and start really laying some stuff down, probably like September. Hopefully we’ll get the record done by the end of the year, and have it out early next year.
-- Jimmy Geurts, tbt*