Bill Kelliher (Mastodon)

Bill Kelliher: The Interview (Mastodon)

The men of Mastodon have been crafting their signature take on heavy metal since 2000, blessing the world with five stellar studio albums, two live records a full length DVD and number of EPs. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, they've won fans the world over with an approach to metal that incorporates technical prowess, an affinity for killer hooks and vocals that throw all four members into the mix. On June 24th, they'll be releasing their sixth full length, entitled Once More 'Round The Sun. We had a chance to chat with guitarist/vocalist Bill Kelliher, to learn more about the album and what inspires their music.

ShakeFire (SF): The Hunter saw you guys leaving the concept albums behind. Is Once More 'Round The Sun similar in that it doesn't have an overarching concept? Or does it have some thematic connective tissue?
Bill Kelliher (BK): Well, it’s not a concept album, so to speak. It’s really personal though. We have had a lot of personal stuff happen this year, all of us have. People close to us have been sick, almost died. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Brann’s mom has had some health issues; she needed to be taken care of. While we were recording this album, she was put in the hospital and Brann had to leave the studio to be with her. He had a lot of down time while he was at the hospital. That’s when he wrote a lot of the lyrics. A lot of the lyrical content came out of that, those moments when you don’t know what’s going to happen. We might not be here tomorrow; we might not be a band tomorrow. We might be dead tomorrow. So that’s a lot of what the album is about. We didn’t go into too much detail but it’s a way for us to work through things. We don’t want to come right out and say it. We want fans to be able to interpret it for themselves.

Sometimes our fans read more into the lyrics than we even know is there. There have been so many people that have written to us and said “Hey, this really helped me out.” I read all our fan mail, and most of it is, you know, just shit like, “We love you!” or whatever. But sometimes people write to us and say that our music really spoke to them, really helped them. I read letters from people that say our music brought them back from the brink of doing something, making a really bad decision. That’s an awesome feeling to know that we helped someone through a tough time.

SF: "High Road" was released last month. Talk to me about the new song.
BK: We wanted to get back to basics and we took a ‘less is more’ approach with "High Road." This was one of the first songs that came together for the album. It came together really organically, but it took us a while to get it sounding just right. It has a lot of catchy choruses and verses. It has a sludgy, old school Melvins feel. I’m a huge Melvins fan and that’s really what came through on "High Road."

SF: Each album sees you partnering with some incredible visual artists (Paul Romano, AJ Fosik). This record features work from Skinner (http://www.theartofskinner.com). What led you to his work?
BK: Brann is always looking for new art and artists, for his T-shirts. He found Skinner and we all really like the stuff he was doing. We’ve worked with Paul Romano for a long time, we really respect him as an artist, but we’re just always looking for new stuff, something new that we like.

SF: And does the artwork evolve alongside of the writing of the album? Or is it something that comes into place once the music is finished?
BK: We definitely let Skinner have a lot of time to work on the album. We wanted to make sure he had plenty of time to work on it. It kind of came together at the same time as the album did, but not necessarily alongside the album. Skinner didn’t do the cover based on the music or lyrics or anything.

SF: Why is the visual representation of your albums such an important element for you?
BK: When I was a kid and I’d walk through a record store and see the cover the new Slayer album or whatever, that’s what made me want to pick up the album. I mean, that stuff wasn’t getting played on the radio, so all we had to go on was the album art. We want to do the same thing, just make something that matches the music and makes you want to pick it up. When you’re walking through a record store and you see something that catches your eye, that’s what we’re going for with every album cover. Just something that looks really fucking cool and makes you want to pick it up and listen to it. We’re big fans of vinyl and the whole vinyl scene. We want art that really stands out on a record sleeve.

SF: You guys have been together for 14 years. At this point in your career, what keeps you hungry and inspired to write new music?
BK: What keeps me hungry? It’s the fans. It’s those letters that we get that say we really helped someone through a tough time. I like making music with these three other guys, and it’s a fucking blast to do what we do. But the fans keep me hungry and inspire me to keep writing new music. The day the fans stop listening and stop coming to shows is the day I stop doing this.

Many thanks to Bill for making the time to talk with us! Be sure to visit Mastodon's site, http://www.mastodonrocks.com, to check out the Once More 'Round The Sun preorder, as well as their current tour dates overseas and here in the States.

Jeremiah Nelson
Interview by Jeremiah Nelson
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