The New Guitar Gods: Mastodon
GW How complete are the actual songs when you take them into the studio? Do you work them out entirely, or do you leave room for surprises?
KELLIHER We rehearse the shit out of the songs, but we still leave room for surprises and spontaneity. It’s a skill we’re still trying to refine.
HINDS To me, a song is never finished. As good as it might be, it can always be better.
GW Do the two of you get together and play guitar without the rest of the band?
HINDS Hell yeah. I love sitting down with Bill and playing acoustics. He’ll come over my house, have some dinner, then we’ll break out the booze or weed, and we’ll jam on acoustics.
KELLIHER People are always surprised to learn that we write our stuff on acoustics. They think that stuff as heavy as ours can only be written on electrics. Not true.
HINDS Even when I’m home alone, there’s nothing better than smoking some weed and playing an acoustic. I get all tripped out and write some heavy-duty stuff. And I know if it sounds good on an acoustic it’s gonna sound better on an electric, ’cause an electric is gonna make it 10 million times louder.
GW Let me ask you a general question about the kind of music you play: How do you know when you’ve achieved maximum heaviosity?
HINDS No way of knowing, I guess. [laughs] No, wait. I know when something’s too heavy in a bad way: when it sounds like death metal; when the vocals are like [cups his hands and growls], “Rrrrraaaagggggh!” That shit’s just wrong.
KELLIHER We never really got together and said, “Let’s be as heavy as possible.” But from the minute we started playing together, it was obvious that we were heavy. It comes naturally, though.
HINDS Having toured with Slayer a couple times, I can tell you this: nobody in the world out-Slayers Slayer in the heavy department. They’re the heaviest machine I’ve ever witnessed. But we still go up there and we bring the people an avalanche. Our sound is like a giant mudslide. It’s like big fucking fiery boulders raining down on you. Nothing better than that.
GW During a show, have you ever played the wrong riff in the wrong song?
HINDS Are you kidding me? I’m always playing the wrong shit! [laughs] Look man, we don’t write three-chord songs. The way I see it, I don’t wanna fall asleep onstage. If I’ve gotta play this shit 300 times on tour, I may as well make it as hard and impossible as I can. But that can cause anxiety, and anxiety can be very uncomfortable, as I’m sure you know. Before we go on, I sometimes have panic attacks, because I’m so scared that I’ll fuck up a new song or whatever. But as soon as I kick that song in the ass, man, it’s like, talk about being proud of yourself. Then the fun is flowin’ like wine.
KELLIHER I’ve lost track of my playing live, I admit it. Our songs are very intricate. Sometimes I find myself looking at my hand on my fretboard and I’m like, Wrong position. This is bad.
GW Who were your musical influences growing up?
HINDS Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa…people like King Buzzo from the Melvins.
GW It doesn’t surprise me that you’re into the Melvins. There are traces of metal-punk in your music that, at times, recall the Melvins.
HINDS All four of us love the Melvins, and Neurosis, too.
KELLIHER The Melvins rule. I grew up on them, the Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag…all the Bay Area punk bands. I’m probably the most versed on my punk rock.
GW Do you follow any practice regimens?
HINDS Well, the first thing I do is smoke some weed. As soon as I take that first hit of weed, I’ve gotta go get a guitar. After that, I’m off to the races, playing, working on my chops.
KELLIHER I’d like to take lessons one day. I’d love to learn the theory behind all the things we do. But we have such busy schedules right now, I have no idea how I’d fit that in.
GW Does the band sense how huge it could become? From all indications, there’s such a groundswell of support for Mastodon. I think you guys could really blow up in the next year.
HINDS I wouldn’t necessarily run away from that!
KELLIHER From where we sit, it’s hard to tell the forest for the trees. We get to ride around in a nice tour bus now, which we still have to pay for. And yeah, the shows are getting bigger and the crowds are getting wilder. There is a feeling that we could blow up and be a really big band, but we try not to focus on that.
HINDS We concentrate on the jobs we gotta do. After all, everybody’s gotta do something.
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