Brann Dailor, drummer of Atlantan titans of metal, Mastodon, is one seriously entertaining guy. From enthusing about the band’s upcoming Australian tour to the weird fortunes of the Winter Olympics, to his perplexed happiness at the Grammys, Dailor would have made an outstanding bartender; quick with a joke or to light up your smoke, as Billy sang. As we chat, he’s watching the Winter Olympics ice-skating, and his excitement is catching.
“You know, I’m from upstate New York,” he says, “Where it’s nothing but snow for ten months a year, so I really do enjoy the Winter Olympics more than the Summer. So many weird sports that you only ever see at the Winter Olympics. Like the biathlon where they cross-country ski, and then they have to stop and shoot something and then continue skating. It’s bizarre!
“The last time the Winter Olympics were happening we were in Australia. One of the skiers was too close to one of the others, and an announcer on the Australian feed just says, ‘Being a dick. It’s called being a dick.’ And I was, ‘Did I hear that right?’ They would not say that in the US. You would not hear that ever, ever - that a guy was being a dick. So my wife and I say that to this day: ‘It’s called being a dick.’ So thank you, Australia, for keeping it real. Calling people out on being a dick.”
It’s a neat coincidence, and makes for a nice segue into the band’s own recent fortunes. Mastodon had been nominated for three Grammys in the past, and as the 2018 Awards rolled around, Dailor and the crew were all geared up for a night of happy nomination and glorious after-party. A month later, he is still clearly reeling from the shock of winning.
“I didn’t even know how much I wanted one of those until I got it! We’d lost a few of them, and I’d gone in completely prepared to lose another one,” he says. “I figured Body Count would win, because they were actually playing there. So I was sitting there, holding my wife’s hand, thinking, ‘Please just say Body Count so we can get on with our evening.’ It’s nerve-wracking and stressful; you go through the red carpet thing. We don’t do that very often. So when they said ‘Sultan’s Curse’, I said to myself, ‘God, that sounds so familiar. Does Body Count have a song called Sultan’s Curse too?’ And my wife looked at me and said, ‘Holy shit!’ And then I realised.
“I don’t even remember being up there, I was so surprised. Afterwards, it was such a shock, but I was so happy. My wife was crying. I was all, ‘Oh my God.’ It was a huge moment. Everything that all of us have been through, for twenty years almost of playing music, for all of my family members who are musicians who never got to go up and do that, it just turned into a big celebration for all of that - for our entire lives. It felt fucking awesome.”
By happenstance, I was in Dailor’s adopted home recently. Stopping by the church and grave of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, I was struck by how empty the city seemed, how many buildings were in disrepair and just how vibrant the city’s music culture might be. Turns out, the Atlanta scene is thriving.
“We’re a proud Atlantan band, who honestly worked really hard to work our way up through the scene,” says Dailor. “We started out playing the clubs in town: the Star Bar, the Earl, at the Parasite House. We played the Fox Theatre, this old ‘20s movie house. When you hear about Atlanta, you hear a lot about hip hop, which is a massive scene, but it seems to be almost the only thing people know. So we try to let people know there’s a really healthy rock scene, too, where local bands are playing all the time. We have a killer scene, you know. You can go out any night of the week and see a great rock band, or see some great underground hip hop. It’s two really healthy scenes living side-by-side, and that’s pretty cool.”
Mastodon will perform at Download Festival at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse on Saturday March 24, with sideshows in Sydney and Brisbane. Emperor of Sand is out now via Reprise Records.