HitFix Interview: Mastodon on first ‘Live’ set, ‘Jonah Hex,’ new album

Mastodon”s last album “Crack the Skye” may have been all about adventuring outside of one”s body – a metal narrative to existentialism and The Beyond – but in mid-October in 2009, the four-piece was very much on a stage, in Chicago, and playing their asses off.
During that year, Mastodon enjoyed some of the greatest touring and commercial success in their decade-long history, as they were on the road for half the year. At The Aragon in the Windy City, there were 10 cameras pointed at the stage and surrounding to get that moment, and the result is “Mastodon: Live at the Aragon,” a DVD and concert album out today (March 15).
“We”d been wanting to do one for a while,” drummer Brann Dailor told me in an interview this week, speaking to releasing the band”s first live set. “We”ve played hundreds and hundreds of shows but [the Crack the Skye tour] was our biggest production to date. We took a snapshot – it was nothing out of the ordinary.”
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What fans may find extraordinary – if you”ve never seen the band live – is how the unique accompanying visual backdrops to each track is cast over the stage and the foursome. Additionally, the set is getting a sexy vinyl Record Store Makeover plus a “Crack the Skye: The Movie” concert mini-feature thrown around for good measure.
Also on that very special aforementioned April 16 drop date, a split 7” will arrive with Mastodon covering ZZ Top”s “Just Got Paid” on one side and the classic rock original on the other. The latter”s own Billy Gibbons even helped on the new take.
“We knew that song would throw people for a loop, for a band as heavy and dark as us,” Dailor said. The cover is part of a larger ZZ Top covers set, cleverly titled “Covered.”
All this, of course, was arranged and executed around the time the band endeavored into the new realm of movie scoring. They were tapped by director Jimmy Hayward, who apparently listened to the band non-stop as he wrote the script for the comic book film.
While the reception to “Jonah Hex,” the film, wasn”t as warm as producers probably hoped, Mastodon”s tone and layered atmospherics were richly appropriate for the compositions.
“I thought the movie was cool,” Dailor said of the project. “There seemed like too many cooks in that kitchen on that one, but I guess that”s what happens in the [movie] business.
“We had a good time writing that music. We had been on tour for a long time. We were beat up, tired, we were in Europe for three months with Metallica. By the time we got back home… we had to do the music. It was like, Oh boy…. But it was really nice once we got there. Normally, you”re playing the same set every night, months and months and don”t have the opportunity to be spontaneously creative. We wrote cinematically, taking a vision of what in your head of what”s happening and then suddenly making a riff that describes it.”
Dailor”s happy for rock artists like Trent Reznor who”ve made a name for themselves in film; he said Mastodon would be open to working in movies again were the right opportunity to pop up.
“Yeah,” he says of Reznor”s Oscar win. “Didn”t see that one coming.”
In the meantime, the band is nearly done writing a new record and Dailor is still hashing out “the story” in the lyrics of the new set. They”re juggling some ideas for producers on the as-yet-untitled album, but have some time before they head out to Europe in June and back to touring the ‘States mid-summer.
Dailor feels gifted that the band – despite the “hundreds and hundreds” of shows – doesn”t seem to tire of the road, or each other, a helpful inter-relational dynamic that will help to follow-up their biggest selling album to date.
“We never really ever get there, get sick of each other. We”ve never been that band, been hateful toward each other. We”re lucky in that respect. So we get to just enjoy the moment.”