Mastodon: Russian Revolution
GUITAR WORLD You’ve each had a couple of near-death experiences in the time since the last Mastodon record. Brent, you suffered a severe head injury in an altercation in Las Vegas, and Bill, you were admitted to the hospital in England last November with strange symptoms. Did those episodes have any effect on you or on the making of Crack the Skye?
BRENT HINDS It didn’t really change anything.
BILL KELLIHER I think that Brent’s incident chilled him out a bit. He was pretty messed up for a while after that, and he basically stayed at home a lot, resting and writing songs on his acoustic guitar. When you get a second chance like that it makes you think twice about a lot of things in life. He could have been killed.
HINDS It might have slowed me down a little bit—a very little bit. Not much.
KELLIHER In my situation, the doctors told me that if I hadn’t made it to the hospital when I did, I could have died within the next couple of days. I got really sick. I thought it would just go away in a couple of days, but it kept getting worse. I couldn’t eat, pee or shit, and I was hallucinating. My whole body was shutting down, and I had no idea what was going on. That incident made me think how precious life can be. Everyone is here for a reason. Mine is to be a dad and to be a musician that writes good music that people can get into. It was a life-changing experience. I can’t drink any more, and that was always a big part of my life being in a rock band, touring and partying too much. It helped me become more focused in life. I’ve really concentrated on my playing.
GW You’ve described Crack the Skye as the What was different about making this album?
KELLIHER All of the planets aligned when we made this record. We initially had a couple of different producers in mind, and Brendan O’Brien wasn’t one of them. All of the other guys fell through and our best option became Brendan, who also happens to be based here in Atlanta where we live.
HINDS We wanted to work with Rich Costey [The Mars Volta, Rage Against the Machine], but he wasn’t available. Working with Brendan here in Atlanta had its advantages. It’s great to be able to go home and sleep in your own bed when you’re done for the day. If you don’t have to be at the studio you can go home and hang out at your own house. Brendan is killer to work with. He brought a lot of spontaneity, comedy, laughs, talent and ideas. His ideas were pretty much the same as mine. Every time he suggested something, it was always what I was thinking we should do.
KELLIHER My neighbor, who is a good friend of mine, works at Southern Tracks Recording, and he has always been trying to get me to go to there. It’s one of the greatest rock studios in the southeast United States. It’s a really expensive studio, so I was really surprised to find out that we were going to be working there with Brendan O’Brien. I thought he only worked with bands that are much bigger than us. He’s recorded Bruce Springsteen, and he had just finished AC/DC’s last album. I always thought of him as a stripped-down rock producer. We did a lot with what we had, and it still came out sounding like a big, sonic record.
GW How did you prepare to make this album?
HINDS This time we already had the record written and had done preproduction on it before we started working with Brendan. We were more than ready.
KELLIHER We were very well prepared for this record. I have Pro Tools on my laptop, so I started messing around with that. I recorded some ideas really early on, and I invited everybody over to my house to play into the computer. I brought my laptop to our practice space and plugged some mics into it to capture some drums. From that I moved on to a Tascam digital eight-track recorder with a built-in CD burner, which was more portable and easier to take to our rehearsal space and plug more mics into. We did preproduction on that every day from noon until 5 p.m., hammering out as many riffs as we could and trying to hook stuff together. We were really hard on ourselves. We played things over and over and kept rearranging things until it sounded like a song. We ended up writing about 15 songs, and the best of those ended up on the record.
Before we met up with Brendan we went into a studio here in Atlanta to record some demos. We pretended like we were making the record that week, so we went in and did the best that we could. We even did some guitar overdubs, added some keyboards and experimented with some vocal ideas. The songs really started coming together. When we hooked up with Brendan, he came down to our rehearsal space and we played all of our songs for him. He produced the songs from there, giving us his ideas and impressions of what we needed to do. He told us that he was going to be really brutal on our music. He said that if we weren’t 100 percent sure about a part, just take it out. We took his advice for the most part. By the time we went into the studio we knew exactly what we wanted to do. About the only things that changed were some vocal parts, but that’s mainly because vocals always come last in our recording process.
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