Samick Motherlode

December 2014
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Mastodon: A Year in the Life of the Sludge Metal Lords

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Brent Hinds gets nasty on his Flying V while playing Detroit’s Fillmore while on tour in 2011 supporting The Hunter. Photo by Ken Settle

Having very successfully written both complex and simpler songs, what are the key ingredients to writing a good song?
Kelliher:
Well, a song’s really gotta have a good melody and a good meaty hook. It has to be something that grabs you, something that you want to hear again. You listen to music because you like the way it sounds, you know? You hear a riff and you like it, and you want to hear it again. Sing-along parts are great. I love early Weezer records, and the Beach Boys, and the Beatles. It’s all about melody and harmony, to me, and obviously about the riff, having some kind of massive, chugga-chugga riff going on.

How do you guys come up with the two-guitar parts?
Hinds:
Bill does all that stuff. I’m not trying to go to Bill to get him to play guitar exactly on point with me ever, really. A lot of times Bill will come to me and say, “Hey, can you play this guitar solo that I wrote with me,” and I’m like, “Okay, cool. No problem.”

Kelliher: Brann and I collaborated on a lot of the stuff, but most of the riffs are mine. I wrote a lot of music on this record, for sure. When Brent writes a song, he’ll play a lot of open notes and I don’t always lock up with what he’s playing. To me the part doesn’t call for two guitars doing the exact same thing. I think that we have to complement each other. He and I are completely different players. He has a style that is very chicken pickin’, and has a lot of open, dissonant notes and chords, which is where we kind of mesh. When I show him stuff, he tries to complement it by writing something different over it. We’re two different players and that’s what makes Mastodon, Mastodon.

“It’s just a feel-good, rockin’ record for the summer.” —Bill Kelliher

Let’s talk gear. The opening of “High Road” has a really meaty guitar sound. What did you use there?
Kelliher:
I recently purchased a Friedman BE100 that Friedman’s buddy Rob made for me. I just absolutely love it. It’s such a modern answer to a good cross between metal and rock, with a really warm tone. I used it on almost everything because it just sounded so fuckin’ good. I was like, “Man, this amp just kills it.” I used that for all the distorted stuff. I think we were also running an old Orange—either a bass head or a guitar head—that, by itself, sounded pretty crappy. But somehow Nick [Raskulinecz,producer] had a lot of bass tonality going on there, and it really brought out the sound when you mixed the two together. On its own, when I played through it, I was like, “This does not sound good. I don’t know where you’re going with this.” He was like, “Trust me, it’s going to sound great.”

Bill Kelliher’s Gear

Guitars
1977 Les Paul Custom loaded with a Lace Sensor Nitro Hemi Humbucker
Gibson Bill Kelliher “Golden Axe” Explorer with signature Bill Kelliher Lace Dissonant Aggressors pickups

Amps
Friedman BE100
Orange Thunderverb
Friedman 4x12 cab with 65-watt Celestion Creamback speakers

Effects
DigiTech SC-2 HardWire Valve Distortion
DigiTech Bad Monkey
TC Electronic G-System

Strings and Picks
D’Addario EXL116 medium top/heavy bottom (.011–.052)
Dunlop Tortex Sharp .88 mm

Hinds: I use old Marshall amps. JMP Mk2 100-watt Lead series—’76 and ’77, around that era.

How about cabs?
Kelliher:
I used mostly the Friedman 4x12s with 65-watt Celestion Creamback speakers, which are my personal favorite at the moment. They sound great.

A lot of your songs feature ringing open strings as a texture. How do you set your gear so that the notes ring out crisp, yet still sound warm and blend well with two guitars?
Hinds:
It’s just years of practice, I guess. I don’t really know.

Kelliher: I grew up playing metal, and had a cheap guitar, cheap amp, and cheap pickups. I could get that metal tone because I’d always scoop out the mids. Take all the mids away and then you’d have this chug-chug-chug, super trebly, super bassy ’80s metal sound, you know? After playing with various rock guys, I learned to not be afraid to turn the mids up because the mids is where the actual presence of your guitar sound is. You scoop the mids a little, but I tend to believe that a lot of people scoop it too much and you get that false sense of a heavy, bassy, chuggy metal guitar sound, but you lose the presence of where the guitar actually sits. You can’t take away the mids. You have to have a good EQ of all that stuff in there.

So what does your EQ curve look like? Is it less pronounced of a V-shape or are the mids peaking?
Kelliher:
Well, if you’re going to look at it, I have my bass frequencies at probably 75 or 80 percent, the mids up about 55, and the highs at about 55.

Is all your gain from the amp or are you using dirt pedals, too?
Kelliher:
I just use the amp distortion. I mean I like pedals and have hundreds of distortion pedals that I use in different ways, but for this record I basically plugged straight into the Friedman. The less things in the way….

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Mastodon gives the fans at NYC’s Terminal 5 a pre-release teaser of “Chimes at Midnight,” another song off their new album, Once More ’Round the Sun.

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