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Night of The Hunter: Guitar World Spends an Evening With Mastodon Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher

Night of The Hunter: Guitar World Spends an Evening With Mastodon Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher


When the Wiltern's doors open at half-past six and the sold-out crowd begins streaming into the venue, it's clear that people have taken notice. Tonight's demographic of men and woman ranges in age from middle school to middle age. This mixed bag of Silver Lake hipsters, ragged heshers, indie-metal beardos, emo teens and hardcore kids becomes increasingly lively as the openers, Red Fang, followed by the incendiary Dillinger Escape Plan, burn through their sets.

As the night progresses, some fans get a little too excited, in the case of one guy who purchases a pair of ladies booty shorts- with "Asstodon" printed on the backside- and proceeds to drops his jeans and change into them right in the middle of the lobby.

Backstage, everyone's vibing up, too, and some are also shedding their pants. Brent Hinds is pacing around, incessantly fingerpicking a Yamaha semihollow electric. At one point he notices a bathroom in which hangs a poster of Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet, a classic portrait of the artist from 1967. Despite the heavy backstage traffic, the guitarist grabs our photographer, unabashedly drops his drawers and takes a seat under the Zappa print.

"I love Frank Zappa!" he says, with his pants around his ankles. "I basically only listen to him and country artists, like David Allen Coe and George Jones. I don't really listen to new music because I'm not done with all the old stuff yet."

Hinds' country-flavored runs and psycho chicken-pickin' licks have always been crucial to Mastodon's signature sound. An example of this can be heard on the new record in the syncopated hybrid picking on "Bedazzled Fingernails." Hinds also fronts a couple of side projects, Fiend without a Face and West End Motel, in which he explores a more traditional rockabilly and country sound. When asked how he divvies up the down-home licks, he shrugs.

"Well, there's no Brann Dailor and no Bill Kelliher, so it's easy for it to not turn into metal. [In Fiend Without a Face] I've got a stand-up bass, because I want to get that clean, rockabilly, surfish, country-type style. But when I show the Mastodon guys a part, we always take it in a completely different direction and morph it into metal."

Hinds eventually pulls up his pants and leads us to an adjoining room where he addresses one of the album's most impressive aspects: the vocals. Since their debut, Remission, Mastodon have been moving away from post-hardcore/sludge screams into a more melodic vocal delivery, shared by Sanders, Hinds and Dailor. And The Hunter is the group's most vocally ambitious effort yet.

"We shoulda been singing like this all along," Hinds says matter-of-factly. "I think we were scared to before. Plus, after a while you just get sick of screaming. It actually hurts to scream because there's no way to warm up for it."

The Hunter finds Hinds trying out some new soloing approaches as well, as heard in the wah solo in "Dry Bone Valley." "I've never used a wah on a solo before, so I thought it'd be cool to try it this time," he says. "I wanted to get that bubbling effect out of the envelope and then just nail you with the fast part. I really wanted to do a solo like if Slash stepped into the room. I feel like I captured that essence, too, with a Brent Hinds haze added on top."

Another powerhouse contribution by Hinds is the album's title track. This song, which builds from a simple riff doubled on acoustic and electric and grows into a transcendent solo, holds specific significance for the guitarist: he penned it as a dedication to his brother who died of a heart attack while hunting in December 2010.

"I wrote everything for this album after he died," Hinds says. "And it's weird, because even though the album was dedicated to my brother, everything about The Hunter was just happier: writing, playing and performing it. I just thought about how it was a good way to pay homage to him. It's really more of a celebration."


Mastodon retreat to the dressing room, where they finalize the night's set list and tend to last-minute chores, like autographing stacks of posters and meeting with buddies, guests and tourmates. Together for the first time since soundcheck, Hinds and Kelliher pose for a few photos and comment on what is certainly the album's most surprising track, "Creature Lives."

Written on keyboard by Dailor and fleshed out in the studio with the help of Sanders, this song begins with Dark Side of the Moon-style laughter and keyboard swells, and unfolds into a simple bass riff and rousing choral vocal harmonies. "I don't exactly know how I feel about that song," Kelliher says with a laugh. "When my wife heard it, she was like, 'Wait, is that you guys?'"

"I'm glad I wasn't in the studio the day they tracked it," Hinds adds. "I would have tried to put something more complex in it. But it works perfectly as it is. Plus, as soon as they said it was about the Creature from the Black Lagoon being rejected from society, I was like, 'Shit, that's amazing. I love it!' "

Fifteen minutes before Mastodon's 9:30 set time, management clears the dressing room and the guys make their final preparations. Kelliher and Hinds cycle through finger exercises on their guitars, Sanders runs through vocal warm-ups, and Dailor unremittingly beats his legs with his drumsticks. From the increasing volume of the ambient noise rising from the packed audience, it's clear that the crowd has waited long enough.

Mastodon make their way to the stage, and Kelliher pauses to relay one more anecdote. ''When I came to L.A. to record The Hunter, my mom called me," he says. "She was reading all the blogs and was telling me stuff like, [mimicking an older woman] 'It seems like your fans really want to hear the old Mastodon.' I explained that we were already writing stuff that was faster, quicker and bursting with energy. She was like, 'Well, that's good. Your fans are gonna love it.'"

Photo: Travis Shinn





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