Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher Talks Upcoming Album ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ + More
We recently spoke with drummer Brann Dailor about all things Mastodon, but now that Mastodon have unveiled further details on their sixth studio album (tentatively due in June), we went back for more juicy details. In this new interview, Kelliher goes in-depth about ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun,’ how his guitar style meshes with that of Brent Hinds, the album’s vocal work, if we’ll hear any new material while Mastodon is touring with Gojira and Kvelertak + much more.
Enjoy this new chat with Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher!
Let’s talk about first single of the new album, ‘High Road.’ It’s a great track and the chorus has been stuck in my head all day. Do you feel like ‘High Road’ is a good representation of what fans can expect from ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’?
Yeah, in regards that a lot of the stuff on the new record is very verse / chorus based. A lot of it was built as ‘less is more.’ We’ve done our really complex, mathy and even proggy records, but I think we write our best stuff when we strip it away from there. We focus on clear verses and choruses and add the proggy stuff in — salt and pepper it. I feel like we’ve done that in the past, where something wasn’t complicated enough, so let’s make it more complicated. It’s like, no, let’s make the song simpler. It took us a while to sound as good as I feel like it does. It’s very clean sounding and with a lot of really catchy verses and choruses going on.
I think there’s still a good amount of crunch to it, as well. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ isn’t a concept album, but are there recurring themes throughout?
"‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is loosely based on the life and times of each person in the band during the past year."
Yes. It’s not a concept record, but there is a theme going on. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is loosely based on the life and times of each person in the band during the past year. Each song kind of explains what has happened to each one of us in our personal journeys in life, outside of the band. Struggles and hardships, relationships and big change, almost being kicked out of our homes — just things that happen to everybody.
Without going into detail, it’s kind of about all of those things that have happened to us. Nothing that was too tragic, but there are things that have happened. When you read the lyrics and you listen to what is being said, it’s really more open to interpretation and how you can do your own game of ‘Mad Libs.’
That’s the great thing about music, though. Everyone is going to find their own meaning in it. I saw the opening track is named ‘Tread Lightly’ and I immediately thought of ‘Breaking Bad.’ Is that an allusion to the TV show?
Yeah, that guy’s [Walter White] life is crazy. You take a walk in one of our shoes; this past year there’s been a lot of crazy s–t behind the scenes for each person in our band. Just our personal stories and it’s just kind of cathartic to get the lyrics out about another year as a band, as people. We’ve persevered. We made another great record, I feel.
With Mastodon’s music, I’ve always really enjoyed hearing the dynamic between your guitar and Brent’s guitar. The different tones you guys have; and on this one, I was really pumped by the soloing you guys are doing. Is there a process to decide to whose guitar should sound like what and who should do what?
I don’t know. Usually when I write a song, I don’t do a lot of solos, I do more lead. I do more texturing — simpler, more catchy sound. Brent will plan it out and spend hours and hours on how to attack a solo in the studio. He’ll just go into the studio and just rip some crazy lead. We’re completely opposite and that’s kind of the charm of our band, we’re not the same guitar player at all. That’s what makes Mastodon. But then, he might rip something and try it two or three times, he’ll nail it and move onto the next thing. That’s just the kind of person he is. He kind of lives in the moment. I’m more like, “Ah, s–t,” I have to make this sound the best I can and take my time doing it. That’s how we’re different.
You guys are very well known for writing big, big riffs. Do you think that this new record is more driven or less driven by riffs? And same with the vocals, more vocally centered or less than past works?
The vocals are extremely heavy on this record, there are some songs where it’s singing all the way through, but that’s just the natural progression of us. We’re trying to get a little better at singing and coming up with melody. But it’s got really heavy riffs and really beautiful leads, vocals and all that stuff. It’s all in there.
I think ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ features the best clean vocal work you guys have done yet. When it comes to those vocals, how has Mastodon progressed in your mind?
Lately I’ve noticed we’ve been doing lots of warm-ups, listening to vocal takes, taking voice lessons: stuff you need to do to keep your voice in shape. I would never have thought 10 years ago what we’d be doing in 2014. Now we’re taking voice lessons and warming up our vocals cords before a show. Just getting all professional, you know what I mean?
"I think us screaming and yelling is kind of a thing of the past."
I think us screaming and yelling is kind of a thing of the past. But also, our music back then lends itself to more of that style of screaming because the music was really in that direction. We just kind of wrote in any old fashion, just kind of let it fly, let the s–t fly. We didn’t really know how to write songs, we just kind of threw riffs together and screamed over it and people liked it. I guess we just kind of matured and maybe we lost some fans who liked that about us, but we can’t continue to write like that on purpose. Every record to me is a snapshot of the frame of mind our band was in, who we were as people when we wrote those riffs.
I think it gets harder and harder as you get older to keep screaming and screaming and screaming about s–t, you know? I think the songs we write are getting a little more rock, a little bit of rock going on and little more thought behind the groove. We’re constantly evolving and are more about the groove and feel rather than just playing as fast as we can or sounding as complicated as possible. Let’s put more of our effort into writing a song that feels like something Zeppelin would do, AC/DC or Black Sabbath. They didn’t play as fast or as slow as they could, they just made songs. I think we’re slowly gravitating towards that in an organic fashion.
You’re about to go out on an awesome tour with Gojira and Kvelertak. Are fans going to hear any ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ material live?
Yeah, the two singles. ‘High Road’ and ‘Chimes at Midnight’ are two songs were getting ready to start practicing them and get them ready. Those two singles will be out while we’re on the road and we might as well play them. We’ve also been practicing some old songs we haven’t played in years too. So we’re trying to give the audience kind of a new set, new show instead of the same old f—ing songs every night. Gotta mix it up.
Can we expect it to go all the way back to ‘Remission’?
Oh yeah, a few songs off of that one. Sure.
I’m a big fan of your vocal style, your monstrous yelling. Do you think in the future we’re going to be able to hear more of that from you? I remember talking to Brann [Dailor, drums] a little while ago and he said he hopes you do some of that in the future.
Really? Yeah, well. We’ll see. I can’t really predict what will happen. I guess I’ll have to try a little harder to get my voice in there. Thank you for the compliment.