Mastodon break out the big guns

New album Once More ’Round The Sun has confirmed Mastodon as the hottest metal band on the planet. So, after all these years, how do the Atlanta-based rockers keep their standards so high? Guitarist Bill Kelliher has a theory – “I’m an Irish citizen. My father is from Killorglin . . .”

Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 17:08

There were a lot of fans who thought living up to 2012’s The Hunter would be really difficult. How do you feel about the new album? We all worked really hard on this record. We spent many months writing and arranging riffs and practising and just getting it right. Some people say writing a hit record is not so complex, it’s much more down to earth. Honestly, for me it is harder to write an accessible record than it is to write a technical one because in the early days we would just write a bunch of riffs back to back and scream all over the record.

Now, to sit down and to try to realise that this is the verse, this is the chorus, and we’re going to go back to the verse and chorus and now we had to write a bridge. We spent a long time trying to work out what makes sense.

Did you go out of your way to make an accessible record? No it’s just the way we turned out. We’re pretty dysfunctional as a band. We don’t got out and have dinner every Wednesday night together and talk about business. We write in our separate ways and we bring it to the practice room, the jam room, and we just lay it down. That’s just the way the music is made. We’re never thinking of making a more accessible record. That never crossed our mind. To us it is a case that if something sounds good and we like it, it makes it on the record.

There are a lot of people who believe you are the trailblazers for modern-day metal. Where do you think you fit in? People tell us that a lot, but we take it with a grain of salt. We don’t really think about it like that. It’s hard sometimes to see the forest from the trees when you’re in it. For us, it is just another day at the office really. We’re out there playing the music. We’re concentrated on just putting on a great show as much as we can and writing good music. When people say that we have restored their faith in metal, those are great comments, but I don’t really take them seriously or take them to heart because it might obscure my thought process. I don’t go into the studio and think I might write something that is trailblazing.

How do you assess the present state of music, especially metal? The shit that’s on radio today is terrible. I understand that you pay to be on radio nowadays, that’s why the music sucks so bad. I don’t even want to be on the radio because I don’t want to associate with those kind of shitty bands.

You and your fellow guitar player Brent Hinds seemed to have forged a great partnership together. Would you go along with that? We don’t have the greatest relationship. We see each other every day, but we don’t sit down and play guitar together. It is more that I’ll write something and I’ll say to him, ‘do you want to learn it’ or visa-versa. I guess we should sit down and play guitar more often, but we never really do. We both play guitar a lot, but we don’t sit down together and play.

We’re totally different guitar players and totally different people. We are at different ends of the spectrum is how I look at it. I think that’s what really keeps our band special.

Once More ’Round the Sun has done really well in the charts around the world. It’s currently number eight in the Irish music charts . . . It’s great news. We’re hoping to start our headline tour in Ireland in a few months time. I’m an Irish citizen. My father is from Killorglin, Co Kerry. He has passed away since then. I researched it and got my Irish passport and became a citizen, so I’ve got dual citizenship. Coming to Ireland is amazing. I’ve got a lot of family there, all my cousins and relatives come out from Cork, Kerry and Dublin.

Tell us about your father. He came over when he was 15 or 16 years old. My grandfather and my uncle Joe got him a sponsor in America. My uncle went over first and then brought my father. By the time he was 23, I think, he opened a hi-fi business, a stereo shop in New York. I grew up in upstate New York. My father owned up a hi-fi business for about 30 years. Music was always a big thing for us.

Did you grow up listening to Irish music? My father tried to assimilate into American culture as quickly as he could. My father never had an accent as I recall. His sister, my aunts, and my grandfather did. I never even noticed until I got older and I asked my father ‘why don’t you have an accent’ and he said ‘I don’t want to stick out. I just wanted to be a normal American citizen. I didn’t want to just be the Irish guy’. The Edge was one of my first guitar influences especially with his guitar distortion.

There is clearly a Thin Lizzy influence in Mastodon’s music. Were you a fan? Thin Lizzy was always playing in my early days. I remember that my father’s cousins, Deirdre Mulligan, was always playing Thin Lizzy at her parties. Every summer, we’d go to Massachusetts to go vacationing and all the Irish cousins would come out and Lizzy was always on the turntable.

Once More ’Round the Sun is out now on Warner Records