Download 2017: No. 37 - Mastodon - 50 bands in 50 days

By Eric Mackinnon




Download Festival

Main Stage

Friday, June 9, 2017


Unlikely any of the 100+ bands who crank up the volume over Donington Park on the weekend of Download will leave heavier bootprints on the hallowed turf than Atlanta quartet Mastodon.

They will bring their heavy does of musical heaven to the Main Stage on Friday, June 9, and Rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher has spoken at length about their new record 'Emperor of Sand' which was released just over seven weeks ago.

“I feel really good about it because I feel like we do our best work when we have some kind of thematic story to go by,” explains Kelliher to Popmatters.

“The storytelling of the album and how it all ties in. It makes it a solid record all around.

We branched out with 'The Hunter'. It was a different time for us and there were different things going on. We weren’t all in the same room at the same time, so to speak. It was one of those things like, “Hey, we need to get a record out.”

“We had a big concept for that but we didn’t want to throw it on at the end. Like, write the record and then say, “Oh, here’s the concept” to tie it in. We’re a little deeper than that. We need to live and breathe the concept as we’re writing so it’s steeped in there. So it’s real, you know?”

He continued: “This record was extremely steeped in reality and sorrow and depression. People getting sick and the unknown and wondering how much time people have left. What do you do if you’re handed a death sentence and you only have so much time to live? I guess we just thought about writing about something else because it was surrounding us every day. 

“It was all we talked about as a band; Brann and I wrote the majority of the stuff and he’d come over to my house and we’d have coffee and talk about our moms. Like, “How’s your mom doing today?” “Well, she’s not well. She’s in the ICU. How’s your mom?” “Well, she’s having radiation or chemotherapy.” Every day was like that, and it kind of rubbed off on the lyrics and the mood of what I was writing.”

“When I’m writing, I tend to go for evil chord progressions and make it deep and dark anyway, but this seemed to shine a light into that darkness. Like, “Here’s the path.” I could see it more clearly. Maybe that’s because I was trying to keep myself distracted from what was really happening to my mom.

“I really dove in head first and came out with a lot of riffs and songs and ideas than I needed. It’s a concept and I just feel like the album sounds the best when there’s a concept that’s truly intertwined with our real lives.”

'Emperor of Sand' dabbles with a little poppier and radio friendly mudslides but Mastodon remain a riff-loving metal band at heart. But do they gauge the opinion of critics or fans dictate their musical direction?

“Never. I try not to read too much into what people write because opinions are like assholes: everybody’s got one,” he said bluntly.

“So it’s like we make the music that we think sounds good enough for us and makes us happy. If you happen to like our music, then you can come to our concerts and enjoy the music or buy our CDs.

“Once you start writing for what you think the fans are going to like, you sell out because you’re trying to appease everybody. We’re not trying to do that at all except for ourselves. I think our fans understand that.”

He expands further: “We love our fans to death—if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be here—but we’d be doing them a disservice if we tried to make music for them.

“Each one will hear something different, so you’d be chasing your tail doing that. Or listening to critics. I don’t give a shit; it’s their job to be critical about everything. Today, Facebook is your platform to stand out a soap box and tell people how shitty their band is. Everyone is a critic at home, sitting behind their computer and typing a bunch of stuff about a band they don’t like.

“What I don’t understand is, who the fuck has time to go on a band’s page that they don’t like and write shit about them? Don’t you have anything better to do with your life? There ARE plenty of bands out there that I don’t like but I’d never go on their websites and badmouth them.

“I just don’t get it; maybe it’s because I’m older. I have too much respect for the little amount of time that we have on this planet. I wouldn’t waste it with something petty like that. I mean, what do they care about what I think?