If there’s a musical difference in Dailor’s playing on The Hunter, it’s that he sits in the groove far more often than usual. It’s the result of not overthinking his playing and rejecting perfectionist impulses to rework recorded pieces.
“One part of me was excited because it was different. I like that feeling — the pressure of having to get it done. I dig being scared of something new. The things we decided to do this time were not big, lofty concepts. The songs were a lot more straightforward and stripped down. A lot more groove. I really liked that aspect of it. As we moved through the process, I’d second-guess it a little bit but then listen through it and wonder what else we could do to that song. I really enjoy that we turned down some streets and didn’t turn around.”
At 36, it’s also an approach that’s becoming easier with age.
“It was way more fun to play a sick groove and find it and sit in it and work it. It’s a great place to sit. It’s something I do when I go and jam by myself. I like to sink in — I love that feeling.”
The need to release energy in a time of crisis was one reason for Dailor’s groove-focused playing on the new album, but another was producer Elizondo, who worked with Dailor to find the right sounds.
“He let it be known early on that he wanted to work with us. I guess he’d been wanting to do a record with us for a few years. So I talked to him on the phone and he came down to Atlanta and we ate some tacos. He did an Avenged Sevenfold record — we heard that and he obviously doesn’t want to change us. He’s a very musical guy. He’s an amazing bass player. He’s a prog nerd. And he’s got a great personality. Being a producer, you have to be good with people.”
The result of Elizondo’s touch is an album that’s much more groove-oriented than anything Mastodon has done in the past, with a drum sound that’s more expressive than is conventionally found on albums produced by heavy metal producers.
“He paid a lot of attention to the drums. We worked together to get the baddest sound. Coming in, one of his stipulations was that if I wanted to go down the road of getting the Phil Collins tom sounds, he’d come with me — but I had to rip off the bottoms of those toms to get those ‘barking toms.’ He was totally down with that. Not into sound replacement at all. The drums have to have character.”
Elizondo didn’t fully indulge Dailor, however, and occasionally pushed him to the brink to extract moments of brilliance from spontaneity.
“We did 15 drum tracks in, like, five days. I just worked. I went into machine mode. I did Remission in, like, a day and a half; a lot of those are first takes. Some [others] could have been first takes, but we did ten takes just to see by accident if something would happen. Tried different fills. It was fun, but toward the end it got a little stressful for me. It was a lot. At one point I was just done playing drums.”
At Mastodon headquarters in Atlanta, the excitement for The Hunter is at a fever pitch.
“I think we’re in a really awesome position,” says Dailor. “Everyone who’s heard the record thinks it’s great. We’ve surprised ourselves. Everybody’s buzzing. Can’t wait to get out there and tour it. I love this little spot in time right before a record comes out and no one’s heard it and you’ve heard it and a select group have heard it. We sort of have this little secret. We love the music so much that we’re dying to share it with everybody.”
As the band’s U.S. headlining tour in October nears, Dailor is unsure how the band will approach playing such a sensitive record — and song — that represents both the excitement of a new direction and the tragedy of the environment in which it was written. The promotional push behind the album is also top of mind. As the band retells the story behind the album at every new stop along the tour, it could prevent Hinds’ emotional wound from healing properly.
As someone who also lost a sibling, Dailor can relate.
“Grief is weird. You go into a corner and lick your wounds. You’d think it’d bring people together, but it doesn’t. It has this opposite effect. You can’t look at each other.”
On the other hand, the gradual exorcising of the band’s demons may help it grow stronger in the long term.
“I would hope that [Hinds] could look at me in the room with him and think, ‘Yeah, this dude knows.’ Now he knows what I knew for a long time. Now he understands what I’ve felt, that initial blow. He understands me more. It made it easier to be in the room together and make this record. It’s something that we can share.”