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Bill, other than that Yamaha you mentioned, what guitars did you use for The Hunter?
Kelliher: My main guitar is a ’74 Gibson Les Paul Custom 20th Anniversary tobacco burst that I recently had refretted and set up with all new hardware and volume and tone pots by the Gibson USA Custom Shop. They put in their killer ’57 Classic humbuckers, too. I also got turned on to a Fender Jim Root Telecaster that Jim gave me. It has EMG 81 and 60 pickups, but it still has the Telecaster twang to it—especially when you play close to the bridge. I was surprised. I used that on the intro to “All the Heavy Lifting”— where it has all those high notes—and then again on “Black Tongue,” where Brann’s double-bass part goes, I added some high notes into the mix with it, too.
What about amps?
Kelliher: I used my old, 2-channel Marshall JCM800s, because I always find myself going back to those amps for my tone. I really like the punch they offer and how I can cut through and be heard between Brann’s crazy drumming, Brent’s riffs, and Troy’s bass lines. I used my 100-watt Marshall Kerry King JCM800 for layering and a few other parts, but the main parts were recorded with the old JCM800s. All my amps went through this beat up Marshall 1960B 4x12 loaded with 20-watt Celestions. I love trying new gear all the time, but I always seem to come back to the Marshalls.
Hinds: I used a lot of amps for The Hunter—a Diezel VH4, an Orange Rockerverb 50, a Marshall 100-watt JMP Mark II Lead Series head, and an ’80s JCM800—but the one I used the most was a ’70 Fender silverface Princeton Reverb. No matter what guitar I used with that Princeton, it sounded and performed the best—especially for my single-note runs and clean, textural parts. For the heavier, chunky riffs and distorted solos, I used the big monster heads. I’m old-school like that.
Tell us about the cool, slow warble effect you get with your wah on “Dry Bone Valley.”
Hinds: To be considered a bona fide guitarist, you need to record one wah song. I’m starting to get pretty fond of it—I might start wearing bell-bottoms [laughs]. That slow sweep combined with some serious hammer-ons at the beginning are my favorite—it’s like a helicopter swooping down to capture swimmers in Niagara Falls. Jerry Cantrell got me one of his signature Jim Dunlop Crybaby wahs, and I figured “Dry Bone Valley” has the perfect swaggering, galloping vibe to the chorus and verses that leads right up to the wah solo perfectly.
Did either of you use any other effects on the album?
Kelliher: Probably the only effect I used was my original Ibanez Tube King, for when I really want to take it over the top and soar.
Hinds: I have an old Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer, a Visual Sound Route 66 overdrive, a Boss RE-20 Space Echo, a Boss DD-6 Digital Delay, a Custom Audio Electronics Boost/Overdrive, a Morpheus DropTune, and a personal favorite is the Monster Effects Mastortion, which my friend John Spears built for me. It’s basically a TS808 Tube Screamer clone with more volume and low-end power.
Mastodon’s guitar sound has evolved over the years from a fast, sludgy barrage to a more melodic and subdued aggression. What do you attribute that to?
Hinds: We used keyboards all over Crack the Skye, and again with The Hunter. Keyboards and organs add another dimension that can’t be achieved with anything else. They give us this old-school, classic-rock vibe that we really want to be a part of the band. I’m sure some metal fans laugh at the organ and its spot in Mastodon, but it’s a badass instrument.
I love playing fast and heavy like we did on Call of the Mastodon and Remission, and we’ll always have that metal feel—because we all love it— but adding the melodies and harmonies, and diversifying our sound all the way up to Crack the Skye has made us a better band. The band we became during those sessions was where I saw us going years ago, but we had to experiment and find it ourselves instead of forcing the issue. And with The Hunter, it was about incorporating all the elements from our previous records and our collective and individual influences, and bringing it together for a fun, good-time, party record. The Hunter represents Mastodon’s full body of work.