Interview: Bill Kelliher of Mastodon

Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher discusses his early years.

What first inspired you to start playing guitar?

When I was growing up, my dad had a really good collection of records, which included everything from jazz to the Beatles. And through those records, I got into bands such as Boston, Van Halen and all the classic rock stuff.

Then around 1985 I saw Van Halen play, and it blew me away. Around the same time, I also heard U2’s War album and The Edge made me go, “What’s he playing, and how?” So I wanted to be like Eddie Van Halen and The Edge.

What was your first guitar?

When I was 15, my dad finally bought me a guitar. It cost him about $100, and it was this Eddie Van Halen Strat copy called a Starforce. It was red with white stripes and had a whammy bar. It was a really great guitar, and I wish I still had it, but I sold it back in the day to pay my rent.

What was the first song you learned?

It was “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2, and I learned the whole thing. After that I learned the riff to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” and when I learned that, I couldn’t believe how much of a growth spurt I had. It gave me a sense of self-achievement, and it inspired me.

Do you remember your first gig?

A month after I got my first guitar, I formed my first band, Krinkle Pig. We mainly played Ramones, Sex Pistols and Black Flag covers, and all sorts of East Bay early punk.

Our first gig was at a talent show I had organized at my high school. I remember feeling good about finally being up onstage with a guitar in my hand and having people watching us and enjoying themselves. It made me feel like a rock star.

Ever had an embarrassing onstage moment?

It was on a tour we did with DragonForce, Slipknot and Disturbed. We were going on before DragonForce, and they had all these platforms onstage that they jumped around on. I was moving around while I was playing.

At one point in the middle of a song, I stepped backward, and suddenly this drum riser on wheels came jumping out. I tripped on it and fell over.

What is your favorite piece of gear?

It’s an old Marshall JCM800 2210 head. I have had it retubed with 6550s. I never bring it out on tour anymore, as I don’t want anything to happen to it. It just stays in our practice space and goes in the studio, and that’s about it.

Got any advice for young players?

Make sure you practice and play to a metronome. Also, don’t take everything too seriously: have fun with writing music, and don’t let your feelings get hurt if your bandmates don’t like something you wrote. It’s really not worth it to fight with someone over a riff. Just write a new one.

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