MASTODON Guitarist Talks About 'Crack The Skye' Recording Process

Andre Mihsin of ChartAttack.com recently conducted an interview with MASTODON guitarist Bill Kelliher. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

ChartAttack.com: When I first heard that the new record ["Crack The Skye"] was going to be produced by Brendan O'Brien, I was a bit surprised because he's more of a straight-up rock 'n' roll guy, and MASTODON are more complex.

Bill Kelliher: Yeah, I kind of felt the same way. What he does is he records bands and captures bands in their moment. He captures what they're doing live. He really has nothing to do with what the band is writing about or any of that stuff. You got to remember, it's not like he's joining the band and he's writing songs for us, he's just capturing us at our best level. I wasn't worried. I was interested to see what kind of take he would have on our music. If he'd be like, "Whoa, you guys are really out there. You guys are crazy. I'm used to recording AC/DC, 4/4 easy stuff." But he wasn't. He's a musician. He would just pick up a guitar and when we start playing something and he wouldn't know how to describe what part we were playing... because most rock bands have a simple verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus or whatever. He would be like, "I don't know what to call that, the pre-verse or the pre-chorus." He wouldn't know, so he'd just pick up a guitar and he would know how to play it because he's such a great musician. "It's the part that goes like this" and he would play it and we'd be like, "Oh yeah, that part," and he'd be like, "Yeah, lose that" or "Play that part 10 more times, that's an awesome riff."

ChartAttack.com: It seems like you guys were less focused on speed and complexity and more focused on atmosphere and melody.

Bill Kelliher: Yeah, we kind of stripped everything down, but we also really prepared for this record. Having that year off, we had all our songs in a row and all our riffs ready. We went out and bought nice microphones and an eight-track recorder, I got Pro Tools on my computer and we started putting all the riffs in. I think we're becoming more fine-tuned as a band and as a writing entity. I think Brendan had a lot to do with it, too. He was like, "I'm going to be really brutal. I'm not going to let anything slide by that's only half-assed. Every part's got to rock." And that's usually how our work ethic is, anyway. In a lot of the songs, we took out a lot of the parts and a lot of the riffs, but it made everything stronger and that much better. There are no boring moments, even a song like "The Czar" that's 10 minutes long or "The Last Baron" that's 13 minutes long. When Brann [Dailor drummer] first wrote all the riffs, it was like seven or eight riffs in a row, each one was played way too many times. It was like, "OK, we've got to make sense of this. We've got to put it together like a jigsaw puzzle and make it sound good and add some verses and chorus parts." We just approached it a little differently, just perfecting our craft. It's the perfect imprint of where we were at the moment.

ChartAttack.com: There's a lot going on on this record, with inspiration being drawn from czarist Russia, wormhole theories and personal stories. How did all these ideas come together?

Bill Kelliher: Brann took a trip to Russia, and they have a tour you can do where you go see where Rasputin had his last meal and then, like, a trail from when they try to poison him in the basement of the czar's palace or wherever it was, all the way to the river that they threw his body into after they shot him. And like any one of us, Brann was thinking about the band and what can be some cool imagery and lyrics, and he wanted to tie it into the record somehow. So we kept going with our theme of fire, water and earth, so it's got to be air, space, atmosphere or ether, so we kind of thought ether and spirits and spirits travelling and going into other peoples' bodies. We kind of just had a basic outline of the story and filled it in here and there. Lots of the stuff is metaphoric, some parallels between peoples' lives, but never coming out and saying it. It's kind of like you read into it what you want to get out of it. It's open to interpretation for each listener. That's what's cool about our music.

Read more at ChartAttack.com.

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