Brann Dailor was probably three or four years old when he first picked up drum sticks, but it took him many years to perfect what he did with them.
“I’m self-taught and took the long way,” he said, grinning.
Dailor’s uncle played drums in his grandfather’s band, Cinnamon Road, which practiced in the attic of his grandparent’s house in Rochester, New York.
“I’d hear them constantly. I had really young parents and my grandparents helped out a lot. We were over there a lot. They had a jam room upstairs and a small practice kit, Rogers with an 18" kick drum. An old ’70s kit. If I was over at my grandmother’s house, I was upstairs playing the drums. Any three- or four-year-old kid, given the choice, is going to want to bang on something. Then it took a turn where I could do it and keep a beat naturally and was pretty good at it. I had a lot of positive reinforcement from everyone: ‘Let’s go upstairs and watch Brann play the drums.’ I enjoyed the attention I got from it. I really felt comfortable back there.”
Dailor’s stepfather moved in when Dailor was five. He played drums in Dailor’s mother’s band, and the kit he installed in the living room was far larger than the small Rogers kit Dailor played at his grandparent’s place.
“A huge Neil Peart–looking drum set in the living room. I couldn’t play that kit because it was just too big. There are pictures of me sitting behind it, but I just couldn’t reach around it. A giant tower of cymbals going all the way up.”
It was the late 1970s. His mother’s band reveled in progressive rock and heavy metal, playing covers of Rush, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath.
“Mom loved Judas Priest and we jammed it all the time. I naturally gravitated toward that heavier stuff. The imagery attracted me: Iron Maiden had monsters on their album covers. It was cool.”
By age nine, Dailor’s uncle gave him the Rogers kit, but it was dilapidated and lacked parts. At age 13, Dailor’s Mom sprung for a new 5-piece Pearl kit. Dailor couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I never took lessons, I was really self-taught. Kids would get dropped off and I started jamming with everybody. We’d eke out versions of Metallica songs.”
All that jamming led to a proper band. Through the late 1980s, Dailor would spend hours in the basement, honing technique while playing with friends.
“My drumming started advancing somehow. I would hit new plateaus. I’d challenge myself a lot. Eric Burke, our guitar player — we’d jam together. I never knew you were supposed to jam with a bass, so I’d follow what guitarists were doing. I’d follow along on my toms. That’s sort of why my style got so busy, I guess.”
When he turned 15, Dailor acquired a “big, ugly rocker kit” with double bass pedals and a rack of toms. His prog-rock band channeled early Genesis and King Crimson, called itself Lethargy, and began playing around Rochester.
By 1994, Lethargy was drawing crowds. The band started booking regional gigs in Syracuse and Cleveland.
“At that point I was like, Okay, I need to figure out how I’m going to do this for a living. I’m 21 — I’m going to give it a shot. But some of the guys in the band weren’t exactly on the same page, and didn’t want to tour.”
Dailor didn’t know where to turn. Then the phone rang. Dailor’s good friend Dave Witte, then of punk outfit Human Remains, needed a drummer for a tour. He took the offer and moved everything he owned to rural Clinton, Massachusetts.
“We wrote a record in a month. We needed a bass player, and I called Bill [Kelliher]. We lived in the recording studio, on couches. We toured with Napalm Death. It was awesome. Exactly what I was looking for.”
But Clinton was hardly the place for an aspiring young rocker — “There were no girls in Clinton,” Dailor admits with a smile — so he soon skipped town with Kelliher and resettled in Atlanta. His girlfriend — now wife — had a job down here at the CDC.
“I had never been there before,” he says. “We met the other guys at Mastodon within two weeks at some basement show; High On Fire was playing. It came together really fast. We started booking tours, and over the next five years just pounded the pavement — basements, VFW halls, any tour that would take us.”
Things moved quickly. After recording a demo in 2000, the band produced its first full-length album, Remission, for Relapse Records, in 2002. Met with positive reception, the album’s two singles — “March Of The Fire Ants” and “Crusher/Destroyer” — took off, the latter appearing in the video game Tony Hawk’s Underground. The band’s second full-length album, Leviathan, appeared in 2004 and garnered the band critical acclaim, exposure, and a major-label record deal with Warner Bros. Blood Mountain came in 2006, with tours with metal giants Tool, Slayer, and Metallica in tow; Crack The Skye followed in 2009.
In just ten years, Dailor went from playing Metallica and Iron Maiden covers in the basement to opening for them on stage in Europe. He still can’t quite believe his trajectory.
“I’ve had my moments with Lars [Ulrich] and Nicko [McBrain]. I’ve dorked out on those guys pretty hardcore. They know. They’re aware.”