The New Guitar Gods: Mastodon
GW I want to go back to Leviathan for a second. In certain books on the occult and black magic, evil is depicted in the form of the Baphomet, a goat’s head within an inverted pentagram. The Hebrew characters at each point of the star’s five points spell “Leviathan.” As you know, Satanists make use of the symbol of the inverted pentagram.
HINDS Absolutely. In all those old writings, the Leviathan is the hugest, gnarliest, fucking underwater-dwelling creature around. You’d have to be an idiot to mess with that. So yeah, the pentagram spells out “Leviathan,” that’s right. [pause] So…what are you asking us: are we a bunch of Satanists?
GW Yeah, basically.
HINDS Hell no. I have no beef with Satanists, but only ’cause I don’t believe in their shit. There’s no flaming-hot devil dude who’s going to poke you in the ass with a pitchfork, man. That’s such bullshit. On the other hand, if we were Satanists, we’d be the best Satanists in the world, ’cause we don’t do anything halfway. [laughs]
GW I just want to be clear, though: you were aware of the origins of the Leviathan when you wrote that record?
KELLIHER Yes and no. More after the fact. We just liked the Moby Dick story and the search for the epic sea creature.
HINDS I don’t necessarily want people to listen to our songs thinking “Satan.” If they do, that’s fine, but I’d rather they think about the crazy tales we weave, the songs about nutty mountain men and colonies of weird tree people and shit. G W Run through the story of Blood Mountain.
HINDS Basically, it’s us parked in a boat at the bottom of a mountain, and our goal is to climb up and try to place a crystal skull at the altar, which then gives us the ability to travel to different solar systems and beyond. It gets pretty far out there.
KELLIHER Plus, there’s this part where this guy—not one of us—gets covered in an avalanche, and he starts seeing the aurora borealis [the northern lights]. Then he gets frostbite and starts seeing God, and God tells him it’s okay to eat his own flesh…
GW Which is frostbitten.
KELLIHER Well, yeah. I didn’t say it was easy. This is a hardcore story.
GW That it is. It’s very nonlinear and abstract, almost impressionistic.
HINDS Totally. When you’re writing about Leviathans and Sasquatches and Cysquatches, there’s no way you can follow an ordinary path.
GW What exactly is a Cysquatch?
HINDS It’s this crazy-ass mythological beast we created, kind of like a Cyclops and a Sasquatch combined. Imagine something like that coming at you. Shit, you’d be fucked!
GW But with one eye in the middle of his head, he wouldn’t have very good peripheral vision.
HINDS Dude, he’s mythological. He’s got other powers.
GW What kind of weed are you smoking to get these ideas?
HINDS [laughs] I keep myself medicated properly. I like to indulge in the psychedelias and the marijuanas quite often. And mushrooms… alcohol…and cigarettes, too. It really helps the writing process. [laughs]
KELLIHER I leave the lyric writing to the other guys. I help shape their ideas. But their lyrics are pretty vivid, so I let them do their thing.
GW Now, Brent, how much of the singing are you doing on this record?
HINDS I sing about half the songs, and Troy sings the rest. There are times we sing together, too. I’m singing much more than I did on Leviathan.
GW Vocally, what goals did you set for yourself?
HINDS To sound as good as possible without having to resort to pitch-altering tricks and bullshit. All I do is take a few shots of whiskey and let ’er rip.
GW You have such an intense vocal style. What do you do to save your voice on the road? Or am I right to assume that you don’t do anything?
HINDS You assume correctly. [laughs] I smoke a lot of pot and cigarettes, drink a lot of booze. I don’t do anything different on the road that I don’t do the rest of the time. I’ve been on the road for five years, screaming and yelling my head off, and my voice has never given out on me once. After a show, I’ll go out till three, four in the morning, laughing and smoking. And I’m 32 years old, too. The throat muscles are mature.
GW The guitar playing on this record is incredible. On the song “The Wolf Is Loose,” the solo really jumps out. Is that double tracked?
HINDS Yeah, but not the whole thing. I recorded the solo and then doubled certain parts that I wanted to accentuate. It makes it sound weirder.
KELLIHER Brent does all the solos in the studio. Live, I try to recreate the harmonies and the response parts that are on the record. He’s usually focusing on singing onstage, so that’s when I pick up the slack.
GW Overall, there’s a fullness to the production that was lacking on Leviathan.
HINDS That’s what having extra time and money can do for you. I know everybody thinks they can make records at home these days, but you can’t beat working in a kick-ass studio like Litho [Stone Gossard’s studio in Seattle]. You can hear the difference. GW Recording is a funny thing: the second the sound leaves your amplifier, it’s mutable; it ceases to be the original sound you started with. How accurately do you feel your guitar sounds were captured on Blood Mountain?
KELLIHER Very. I know what you mean, though. It’s weird when you hear your guitar played back in the control room and you think, Wow, that sounds kind of thin. But then you hear the record mixed and your guitar sounds 10 times as ballsy as you thought it would.
HINDS Matt Bayles, our producer, bought these $5,000 ribbon mics just to record the guitar tracks. I recorded my parts with a Marshall 1978 JMP Mark II Lead Series 100-watt head through a Marshall 4x12 cabinet with 75-watt Celestion speakers. That’s the balls, man. And one of my buddies, John Spears, made me a pedal called the Mastortion. The Mastortion is so powerful that I have to tape the tone and volume controls to a certain setting, ’cause if they move ever so slightly it’ll blow my head apart. Not my actual head, but my amplifier head. [laughs] Well, it could probably blow my real head up, too.
GW Wow. What’s in the Mastortion?
HINDS I have no idea. I just said to John, “Make it so it’ll blow my head up,” because your head only sounds good when it’s about to explode. I’ve already blown my head up three times with it: once in the studio and twice live. It’s the best pedal I’ve ever had.
GW Do you remember which track you were recording when you blew your head up?
HINDS “Colony of Birchmen.” I was powering the Mastortion, and then ka-boom! Out went the lights.
GW On the song “Crystal Skull,” it’s as if the band transcends thrash metal and creates its own genre: prog-thrash.
KELLIHER Prog-thrash. I like that. Yeah, that song’s pretty teched-out. It definitely took a few weeks to work out all the parts.
HINDS A lot of prog can be too proggy, and it’s like, “Well, that was cool for a second, and now the balls went away.” It’s like the players are overly impressed with themselves; they lack the spirit you need to really move people.
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