Interview by Aaron Richter
We torture musicians enough. We beg for our favorite new records to come equipped with stories, myths and legends. And when bands comply–as Mastodon has done mightily with its fourth full-length, Crack the Skye–we force them to recount the themes and concepts endlessly, in interview after interview. How many more times can we hear about astral travel, ethereal worlds, Russian Czars and Stephen Hawking? Enough is enough.
So forget the album, we say. This past Mother’s Day, self-titled sat with Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders and drummer Brann Dailor before their show at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg and let the guys chat freely about whatever they wanted. Given the comfortable tone and casual pace, the bandmates opened up about family, death and the struggles of touring. But not without cracking a ton of jokes, making up lies about their band and serenading us with a impromptu rendition of Journey’s “Faithfully.”
self-titled: I’m leaving this up to you. What’s on your mind right now?
Troy Sanders: The immediate thing is I’m going to call my mother very shortly.
Brann Dailor: Yeah.
Sanders: The other thing is my lady was just visiting and left for the airport about an hour ago. The past three days she was with me, we made a list of things to do because next week we’re home for two and a half weeks, and then we’re gone until mid-August. So we’re trying to be as productive as possible at home–cool stuff like go tubing in the Helen, Georgia, mountains all the way to get a new fence for the garden.
Are you married?
Sanders: Uh, I’m gonna call her my…
Sanders: [Laughs] I’ll call her my midwife because we’re halfway there. She is the midwife. We’ve been together for nine years, and I always introduce her as my wife because I don’t like to just say girlfriend.
Dailor: I’m married [pronounced like “murried”].
Sanders: So that’s what’s been on my mind for the past few days: What am I going to do next week when I’m at home.
Dailor: Our friend, this photographer in Atlanta named Frank Mullen, passed away last night.
Sanders: Oh, really?
Dailor: Yeah, he died last night. He was in his mid-40s or so, married, had kids. He photographed us.
Sanders: At the Masquerade a couple years ago.
Dailor: Yeah, and he photographed us at the All Star game. He was kind of a local scene staple. He took photos in the early ’80s at the Metro in Atlanta when punk just started happening in Atlanta. He took photos of all those bands. I got a text and talked to my wife this morning about it.
Was it expected? Was he sick?
Dailor: I think he had some kind of illness and didn’t tell anybody about it because he just didn’t want all that… It’s a difficult thing. I was thinking about it. What would you do if you found out you were going to die soon? Do you tell everybody and have people coming to your house and saying goodbye and crying all over you?
Sanders: Or would you even invite that sympathy your way?
Dailor: Do you want that?
What do you think you would do?
Dailor: It’s a heavy-duty thing. I don’t know.
Sanders: I’m a pretty personal, quiet person. I would probably just have to share that with my immediate family–the parents and my midwife.
Dailor: But you gotta think that there would be people who would be pretty bummed out that you didn’t say anything and they didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I guess maybe I would keep it secret and reach out to people that I wanted to talk to. It would be hard to keep it in if you were talking to a really close friend.
You’ve gotta realize that you’ve touched other people’s lives and not telling them would be a bit selfish, however hard it might be.
Dailor: It would be extremely selfish to not let certain people know.
Sanders: And if you’re such a staple in the scene, almost everyone around knows you. You couldn’t go to any restaurant or grocery shop without people saying, “Oh, I heard. I’m so sorry.”
Dailor: What do you say to that person? “Oh, I’ll be dead in a week.”
Sanders: I feel bad for his wife. In your mid-40s, to have to start over…
What other stuff are you guys thinking about right now?
Dailor: My T-shirt collection got amped up yesterday. I’m really excited about that.
Where’d you go?
Dailor: I went to Forbidden Planet and got like five or six really awesome T-shirts.
What sort of stuff?
Dailor: Conan, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Creepshow. I got one that has Michael Jackson as the zombie in “Thriller” [which he wore on Letterman later in the week].
Mastodon performs “Oblivion” on the Late Show
Are you a big T-shirt guy?
Dailor: Yeah, I’ve got a ton.
Sanders: Would you say enthusiast? Or is it beyond it?
Dailor: I guess so.
Sanders: You collect it. You live it. You wear it. It’s not a connoisseur. It’s not an enthusiast. It’s whatever the word is above both of those. Aficionado? I don’t know what the fuckin’ word is.
Dailor: My shit is tight, yo! My closet is like… I don’t hang ’em. It’s not that bad.
Sanders: It’s very dedicated.
You’ve got collectible ones?
Dailor: I do. I’ve got some collectible ones for me, you know? I have an early 1972 Genesis tour shirt with glitter. It’s unwearable. I’m real specific about the T-shirts that I like.
What do you like about T-shirts?
Dailor: They’re just funny. And I like to make people laugh. I like to entertain. I’m the dude that brings all the movies on the bus. I like to sport a new T-shirt while I’m walking around to get smiles, like a clown puking a rainbow into a toilet. On tour, 90 percent of your day you’re not onstage, so you gotta pass the time somehow. And usually you gotta level the playing field and tell a bunch of dick jokes all day long. It gets your mind off the extreme boredom that tends to exist. It’s all about inside tour jokes and stuff like that. The T-shirt collection is definitely for me but for others as well.
Sanders: Brann’s a funny dude. But he enjoys to wear his humor as well. It’s a subtle display of his character.
What sort of shit are you into right now, Troy?
Sanders: Dude, I’ve been going ape shit on cowboy shirts, like this handsome one right here [pulls at the plaid cowboy shirt he is wearing].
Did you get that in New York?
Sanders: This was a gift from my good friend Steven in Atlanta, Georgia. It was too small for Steven, so he gave it to me. And it’s fuckin’ gorgeous. I’m handsome all of the sudden. [Snaps fingers] Immediate handsomeness.
Dailor: You throw a cowboy shirt on, and it’s like, “Oops, I’m sexy.”
Are you gonna do the whole cowboy getup?
Sanders: Oh, no. I doubt it. I’ll keep it simplistic.
Dailor: When it gets out of control, we’ll tell him about it.
Sanders: Yeah, sometimes he’ll just close his eyes and shake his head “no” when I walk in the room. I know what that means. It means, “Dude, take that shit off.”
That’s when you’re wearing your 10-gallon hat.
Dailor: [Sings] Like a rhinestone cowboy!
Sanders: About once a year, Brann will say, “Troy, can I talk to you for a minute?” I’m like, “Shit, what’s going on?” He’ll close the door and give me advice and tips, some pointers, on the dos and don’ts about what I’m wearing. It’s a relief because usually I’m like, “Shit, what happened? Is the band… Oh, god. Did I fuck up?” And it turns out that the pants don’t match my personality or something. I’m just a small boy from Stone Mountain, Georgia, and I really haven’t graduated past that. It was Mark David Chapman, the guy who shot John Lennon?
Sanders: OK. Because he’s from Stone Mountain, Georgia, too.
They made that terrible movie about him.
Sanders: I didn’t see it.
Dailor: I saw it!
Jared Leto gained a bunch of weight for the role.
Dailor: [Sternly] You needn’t bother. You know what I mean? You needn’t bother. There’s no Raging Bull happening there.
It was him and Lindsay Lohan, right?
Sanders: Oh, and she’s top-notch.
Dailor: What a talent!
Sanders: We’re excited about the high potential of meeting John Goodman tomorrow.
Dailor: We’re doing Letterman tomorrow, and John Goodman is the guest. I just want to go and shake his hand and say, “Thank you so much. Hours of enjoyment butchering your lines from The Big Lebowski and Barton Fink. Hours!” That’s pretty much another thing that we constantly do: movie quotes. Just to make everybody laugh, we’ll go back and forth.
Can you guys make up some lies about yourselves and your band?
Sanders: Oh, that’s easy. We do that all day long.
I figure there’s plenty of shit that people just get wrong.
Sanders: Oh, constantly. Apparently I’m forty-nine years old on Wikipedia. People are always like, “Wow, you look really good for forty-nine.”
[The tour manager enters to give the guys $10 a piece.]
Dailor: You know what $10 buys in New York City? It don’t buy $5.
Sanders: We were doing a meet and greet when we were done with our set the other night and I got my $10. Someone was like, “Oh, great show. It was packed!” And I got my $10 and was like, “Yeah, man, at the end of the day, this is what we get to walk away with.”
What’s the money for?
Dailor: For food. Instead of the clubs feeding us.
OK, I need lies.
Sanders: The four of us got together on the foundation of trying to get rich and to get as much pussy as possible.
Sanders: Right, that’s probably why every other band out there gets together. But that was actually the exact opposite.
Dailor: I saw a rumor that said they saw the person behind the amps that was actually singing and doing your vocal parts and playing guitar.
Sanders: Oh, wow. That’s a compliment.
Dailor: It was on some message board.
Right, someone who doesn’t know what a guitar tech is.
Dailor: Everyone was like, “That’s bullshit. I don’t like Mastodon anymore. I was wondering why Troy’s voice sounded so good.”
Sanders: That rules!
Your turn to make something up, Brann.
Sanders: He doesn’t have a T-shirt collection at all. He owns two shirts and likes to lie about it all the time. It’s a weird way to try and go impress people.
Dailor: A weird rumor about me is that I collect Precious Moments and My Little Pony. That’s not true. No, actually, that’s something I do collect. I have the largest Precious Moments and Beanie Babies collection in the Southeast.
That’ll bring you the chicks and the money.
Sanders: His father is Jack Handy.
Dailor: Yeah, my dad is Jack Handy. My grandfather invented edible underwear. And furry handcuffs.
Dailor: Yeah, he had an epiphany. It was during the Depression. He would stand outside Kodak in Rochester, New York, and sell them to people. That’s how he made his millions [laughs]. He’s passed on now, but edible underwear and furry handcuffs, I mean, if that’s not a legacy, I don’t know what is.
Is there anything you guys want to ask each other?
Sanders: We pretty much know everything.
Dailor: He knows I’ve got a bit of a sore throat. We have these crazy vents in our bunks, and they blow out extremely cold air all night long. A couple night’s I’ve dealt with it, but this morning especially, I woke up and it’s still kind of kickin’.
Sanders: I’m gonna brew some hot tea for you in a minute. That shit’s good for you.
Dailor: I need to sing later, so it’s always a bit perplexing during the day when there’s a sore throat. It gets in your head.
I’ve always heard air conditioning is the worst thing for singers.
Dailor: That shit’s crazy, right?
Sanders: I don’t have it.
Dailor: You don’t have it? It’s insane. It’s so cold.
Mastodon’s official video for “Divinations”
Is this the beginning or the end of the tour?
Dailor: [Sings] This is the end.
Sanders: Four more shows.
What’s the tour following this?
Sanders: We’re supporting Metallica for two months across Europe.
Does Europe like you guys?
Dailor: They like us more than we like them, that’s for sure [laughs]. No, we like them. There’s subtle differences. There’s definitely something to be said about how you’re just used to certain things and when you’re over there it’s not quite right, and then after two months, it starts to kind of wear on you. At big festivals it’s like, “Where can I go get cleaned up?” and the everyday struggle of trying to find some kind of normal routine. You don’t know where anything is, and you’ve gotta park way the fuck across–”Oh, it’s way on the other side. You gotta go through here,” and then you get there and don’t have the right pass. You get sent back. I don’t want to bitch. It’s awesome, but it’s a daily struggle. It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon and two bands that are extremely loud are jamming. You got like four hours of sleep because the bus went on a dirt road, but you know, ten years in and we’re still OK.
You’ve toured with Metallica before right?
Dailor: It’ll be fun. But we’re gonna be away from home for nine weeks, and we’ve been away from home for five weeks now. We have two weeks off in between and then nine weeks. That’s a long time.
Sanders: It creates a giant disconnection between ourselves and our wives and our kids. It’s one thing to do a five-week tour. But nine weeks, not to complain, but we do it. We’ve been touring for over nine years now. You leave for nine weeks and you come back and the kids are in the next grade.
Who has kids in the group?
Sanders: Bill and I do. Not only that, but it just creates a giant disconnect when you don’t see your wife–and I’m speaking for the whole band–for that long.
Sanders: You can talk on the phone for twenty minutes a day, but after a while…
Dailor: [Sings] Two strangers learn to fall in love again.
Sanders: We love Journey!
Together: [Sings] I get the joy of rediscovering you.
Sanders: [Sings] Oh girl, you stand by me. I’m forever…
What’s the longest time you get off?
Dailor: Last years we took about six months in a row off, which was the biggest break we’ve had in nine years.
[Guitarist Bill Kelliher enters.]
Kelliher: I think my fingers poked through the toilet paper.
Sanders: Don’t you hate that.
Kelliher: Always wash your hands.
Sanders: A lot of times they get that real cheap toilet paper, and every time I do meet and greets, I always ask people, “Don’t you hate that shit when your finger pops through and you get shit under your fingernail?”
Dailor: I get the beehive going [pretends to wrap toilet paper over his hand]. I’m in there for an hour.
Sanders: [In a thick southern drawl] Is that enough for your school newspaper?
I’ll probably get an A.
Sanders: That’s from Sling Blade by the way.
You guys do quote movies a lot. Is that something everyone wants to do, or does Brann force it on you?
Dailor: Bill and I will go toe to toe on a bunch of different movies.
Kelliher: Brann watches a lot of movies. His whole life is a damn movie.
Dailor: [Pulls up his shirt to show his belt buckle with a picture on it] You know who this is?
Dailor: Crispin Glover in River’s Edge. I can quote the whole thing. I do that one. I do Rocky. I do Saturday Night Fever, Goodfellas, Big Lebowski.
Kelliher: We’re gonna have to rub your belly.
Dailor: Have you ever seen My Breakfast with Blassie?
Dailor: Andy Kaufman went into like a Denny’s with “Classy” Freddie Blassie, the big old-time wrestler. He’s a real crass old man. It’s hilarious. Look it up. It’s on DVD.
Do you guys want to be doing this when your 50? Talking to me, I mean.
Dailor: Nah, not you [laughs]. Sure! I’d love to.
Well, Troy, Wikipedia says you’re 49, so this isn’t far off.
Sanders: Next year, hoping the band stays together, yes. One of the coolest things my mom ever said to me when I was a little kid was, “Learn to play an instrument because that’s one thing you can do for the rest of your life,” as opposed to playing sports or whatever. That was the coolest advice and one of the few things that I actually listened to my mom. Barring any horrible limb injuries, I want to be playing the stand-up bass or whatever.
Dailor: I totally see myself in the Carribean or somewhere on the beach working at a Holiday Inn, with a little jazz band.
Sanders: Bongoing up.
Dailor: A couple sets a day. Roll out to the beach. Fuck yeah. Me and my lady.
Sanders: That’d be great.