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Mastodon: Epic Wail

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Mastodon: Epic Wail

Bill, are you happy with how the different writing approach worked out this time?

Kelliher: It was real spontaneous— some of the stuff was even written while in the studio rehearsing and recording other songs. But honestly, I was really nervous about going at this album with the attitude of “Let’s just go record—even though we don’t know each other’s parts.” But our producer, Mike Elizondo, reassured us that a lot of bands do it that way—he mentioned that James [Hetfield, vocalist/rhythm guitar] in Metallica records all his parts, and then Kirk [Hammett, lead guitar] comes in and records the solos. Don’t get me wrong, though—the stuff we’ve done in the past, with those contrasting guitar tones and mannerisms, do give a song a bigger feel. Brent and I, James and Kirk of Metallica, or any two guitarists are never going to play the same song or the same riff the same. So I feel The Hunter is a tighter album because we did it this way.

The whole album seems to groove a little more than past albums, especially on songs like “Black Tongue,” “Curl of the Burl,” and “Blasteroid.” What do you attribute that to?

Kelliher: I think it was the atmosphere and mentality of not feeling pressure to perfect every nook and cranny of every song. We just went at it with a fun, low-key attitude that allowed us to really go places we’ve haven’t explored yet with Mastodon. With “Curl of the Burl,” that was a chorus and drum riff that Brann had for a long time, and Brent came in and added the intro riff. Whether a song is a skull-crusher or a ballad, you need to have a catchy groove— that’s something we strive for on every song. If you can’t write a great song, at least write a great groove [laughs].


Kelliher plays his 1974 Les Paul Custom and Hinds plays his Electrical Guitar Company signature model while tracking The Hunter at Doppler Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Andrew Stuart

What was it like working with Mike Elizondo?

Hinds: Amazing. Mike is a great man—I’d vote for Mr. Elizondo for president. I really liked working with Matt Bayles on our first three records, even though it was a battle at times, because we weren’t really known or trusted as musicians yet, so we’d have creative conflicts like you would in any recording environment. Brendan [O’Brien] was the guy for Crack the Skye, but I’m glad we went with Mike, because he let us do our thing while maintaining some control and having lucid and constructive input for our song structures and guitar parts.

Kelliher: Brendan was the right choice for Crack the Skye, because we wanted that ’80s classic-rock sound, and Brendan has worked with so many acts of that genre— like AC/DC and Springsteen—so it was just the perfect fit. That album was so dialed-in and meticulous that it was helpful to have a guy pushing for perfection. But we did so many sessions and takes that it was grueling. Mike was full of energy and so excited to be with us that it just immediately clicked. Usually, when I record my parts in the studio, no one is very vocal or directing me if something sounds bad—or suggesting I try it in a different key or with a different guitar. But Mike was really vocal on what was working and wasn’t for my guitar parts.

What sorts of things would he say?

Kelliher: Sometimes I’d be going overboard with my solos or adding too many tracks. I kept layering “guitarmonies” [harmonies] and ambient noises, and it would be too much at points and he’d let me know that what I originally recorded was good enough. It was a good, creative back and forth.

Which song would you say he was particularly helpful on?

Kelliher:
“Black Tongue.” The verse riff was an old riff I’d been hammering on for years, and the beginning riff for the chorus was something Brann came up with when we were messing around in rehearsals. The part that ties it altogether is the middle section with its groove—I came up with that while jamming alone one night. And then we recorded all the parts and glued them together with Mike’s help. I really like the guitarmonies I came up with by accident one night in the studio. I actually did half of the solo—the first 20 seconds—on my laptop in a hotel room in France while we were on tour. That shows you how this record was done in comparison to Crack the Skye, and how far technology has progressed. I completed that solo’s harmony part at 4 p.m., emailed it to Mike, and then he mixed it and sent us the finished song the next day. It’s amazing that you can write and record ideas thousands of miles away for your album [laughs].
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