Brann Dailor

HIS TAMA DRUMS AND MASTODON’S ONCE MORE AROUND THE SUN

BEFORE MASTODON’S DEBUT LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN PERFORMANCE IN 2009, THE LEGENDARY HOST HAD THIS TO SAY ABOUT BRANN DAILOR AND COMPANY, “OUR NEXT GUESTS ARE A GRAMMY-NOMINATED ROCK AND ROLL BAND FROM ATLANTA—AND I WON’T LIE TO YOU, I’M FRIGHTENED.” THOUGH “FRIGHTENED” MAY BE A BIT OF AN EXAGGERATION, THERE’S NO DENYING THAT A TATTOO-CLAD, SCRUFFY, SHAGGY-HAIRED SLUDGE METAL BAND IS A BIT OF A RARITY TO SEE ON THE LATE NIGHT CIRCUIT—BUT MASTODON IS JUST THAT: A RARITY. IN THE WORDS OF ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE, “MASTODON ARE THE GREATEST METAL BAND OF THEIR GENERATION—NO ONE ELSE COMES CLOSE.”

“[Drums have] always been there, the whole time. It’s the one true constant in my life—that, and 2% milk,” says Dailor, who serves not only as the band’s drummer, but also the lyricist, and he shares singing duties with bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds. “It’s wonderful when you hook up with some people who can play really well, and can emote through their instruments, and really come through and you have that connection,” he says. This makes sense, given Dailor’s demeanor as he spends his afternoon at Guitar Center Hollywood—cracking jokes with consistency and keeping things light. He’s the type of down-to-earth guy you wouldn’t mind spending hours with in the studio or on the road. “It’s like taking your friendship with someone to this other place … it’s like the next-level hang out. And that’s what I’ve liked about [playing music] since I was a kid … it’s a very social thing.”

Dailor continues, “I just like the whole process of it too, you know … writing the lyrics, and then shaping the music, and everybody kind of getting their hands on it together and making something, and then putting it out there, and then you go and you start playing it, and then all the kids are singing the lyrics back … it’s really cool. To be able to do that. And see, like, a few thousand people that you’re connecting with. It’s all about relationships, isn’t it?”

Mastodon’s sixth studio album, Once More ’Round the Sun, was released last month, and as Dailor puts it, fans can expect “Fifty-five minutes of musical bliss.” He laughs, adding, “It’s another Mastodon album, you know, it’s a snowball that keeps rolling and collecting snow. It’s my favorite … so far.” And as far as the band’s writing process is concerned, “We just make sure that everything happens naturally, and that we don’t push ourselves unnecessarily—we push ourselves a little bit, we like to have a little bit of a deadline, otherwise we might not get there, you know what I mean? ‘Ah, we’ll do it tomorrow’ … but then again, you have to trust that the riffs’ll come, and that the songs’ll come, so it’s a lot of up and down … but that always happens.” Dailor continues, “… as you get older, you know, we’ve been a band for almost 15 years now … we are at a certain place, and back then, we weren’t there … there’s still a place that we wanna go, but it’s not as immediate now, as it was—which is nice, because we can kind of chill a little bit—’cause back then, it was a little grueling. But when you’re in your early 20s, grueling is okay.”

For anyone who’s heard Dailor’s playing with Mastodon, one of the first things you’ll notice is how refreshingly real his drums sound. “I think that a lot of drums have lost a little bit of character along the way,” he says in reference to the modern music scene. Dailor emphasizes that, as a drummer, it’s important to go into the studio with determination and tenacity for one’s signature sound. “You have to be adamant about it, otherwise it’ll get pushed to the side, you know? So you just really need to make sure that you put it out there, first and foremost, and say, ‘Hey, listen. This is really important to me, and this is what I wanna do, and we need to facilitate it, and we need to make it happen … this is the most important thing … that the drums sound cool.’ And that, when we’re done, that you don’t sound-replace anything. At all. ’Cause that’s also a very popular thing, and something that people lean on now … ‘Oh, we’ll sound-replace it.’ No, we worked really hard on the drum sound. So don’t sound-replace it.”

And for his signature drum sound, Dailor relies on the Starclassic Bubinga/Birch kit from Tama—a company that has been an icon in the metal drumming community for years. “The Tama bubinga kits, they provide that ‘oomph’ that I was looking for,” he says. “A lot of my favorite drummers played [Tama drums] when I was a kid. I remember Dave Lombardo played ’em. You know, a lot of the main players in the drum world, they all make an incredible drum kit. So you could probably play all of them, but it was the people at Tama that I really kind of gravitated towards … they were super-cool, and we got along really well. And they just were on top of it; you know we go overseas a lot … when you’re gonna be going over there so often, it’s good to have something reliable, that’s everywhere, you know? If we go to Dubai, there’s a Tama kit there for me to play that’s exactly what I would play normally, so you can count on Tama to come through in that respect. And they make incredible drums.”

And though Dailor and the Tama name are widely associated with the heavy metal genre, Dailor believes that that label may not always be accurate—or necessary. “If you listen to any of our records, especially the last three, I think it’s pretty obvious that we don’t really care about genres,” he says. “We’re fans of all different kinds of music, and if anything finds its way into a Mastodon song, and we like it, then it stays there, you know? We don’t really worry about if someone’s not gonna like it, ’cause they probably won’t like it. But maybe this other person will. The most important thing is that if we dig it—and I like to throw in, like, a funk part, or something that’s really off, that is like a little surprise. Like a Bee Gees part or something like that … I can just imagine a metalhead, just furious,” he laughs. “That’s funny.”

With a family history that’s rich in the art of music, Dailor feels that the encouragement he received as a youngster helped him get to where he is today. “My uncle played the drums, my mom’s boyfriend played the drums in her band, my grandfather had a band, my grandmother had her own band, so there was a lot of music in the family … it’s just what you did. You played music,” he says. “I could keep a beat … the family would come up and watch me, and kind of cheer me on, so that’s nice, too. A little positive reassurance from the family, like, ‘You can do it!’ You know? So it made me feel good, and made me want to keep doing it.”

Dailor wishes that same inspiration on the next generation of drummers. “I learned from all my heroes, too, so I just played along to their records … nowadays, you can watch videos of those guys playing. When I was a kid, I just paid as close attention as I could to the music I liked, and the drumming that I was digging on, and would just try to go eke out the most awful version of it, until it got better and better, you know? But use those things that you learn, and implement them in a way that is your own self and try to build your own character back there. That’s the most important thing … and find some cool people to jam with.”

Written by Brian Ruppenkamp / Photography by Ryan Hunter

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