Mastodon Interview: Grammy-Winning Band on Weird Tokyo Experiences and Best Japan Metal Bands

In the music video for Mastodon’s psychedelic rocker “Steambreather” two rapscallions attend a “deep nasal enlightenment” seminar where the yogi-type figure Master Don snorts the essence of hallucinating attendees up his nose, leaving them as latex puddles on the floor.

“Embrace the weird,” says Mastodon’s drummer-singer-lyricist Brann Dailor. “It’s super cool.”

Founded in 2000, the Atlanta-based band, which Rolling Stone magazine calls “the greatest metal band of their generation,” has released seven studio albums. The most recent, 2017’s Emperor of Sand, reached number 4 on the US Billboard mainstream rock chart, earning the opening track, “Sultan’s Curse,” the Grammy for Best Metal Performance at the 2018 awards ceremony.

“It was a truly amazing life experience. I highly recommend it,” says Dailor, who, somewhere between Troutdale, Oregon, and Avila Beach, California, takes a short break from Mastadon’s North American tour to answer a few questions.

Besides dishing on Japanese metal fans, Dailor shares some of his favorite mind-bending Tokyo digs and clues us into his take on the country’s best metal bands, ranging from hair to prog to noise (unfortunately, or fortunately, Dailor’s never heard of Babymetal).

Brann Dailor. Photo: Shutterstock

Congratulations on winning your first Grammy after five nominations. How do you feel sharing the same trophy as Black Sabbath, Motörhead and Slayer?

Thanks, man. I suppose winning the Grammy meant a whole lot more to me than I realized. When they called our name, I was completely shocked, and I don’t even remember being on stage accepting the award. It made all of us in the band, and our loved ones, extremely proud and happy. We don’t necessarily look at it as an award for one song, but rather an award for all the sacrifices we’ve made throughout our career. Scraping and clawing our way through the metal scene. It’s for our family members that are left behind for months at a time and our wives and kids that hold down the fort waiting for us to return.

You’ve made several appearances on Game of Thrones as a wildling or white walker. What role do you want next?

As fun as it was being an extra in Game of Thrones, it reminded me a lot of the tour life I live already. There’s a lot of waiting around and sitting in a trailer, but for me, when there’s a rock show at the end, I can tolerate the waiting. I’m just not passionate about acting really, but you never know. I guess if they remade 1955’s best picture, Marty, I would audition for the part of Marty’s mother. That’s another thing – auditioning – that sounds awful.

Mastodon first toured Japan in 2002 to support your debut album, Remission, and last toured Japan in 2015. How did the first tour compare to the last?

Not much has changed for us when we get the somewhat rare opportunity to play in Japan. There’s more people at the gigs now than when we first came over, but the overall excitement about being in Japan is the same. We just love being there.

How do Japanese metal fans compare to those in, say, Philly or Sweden?

Japanese fans are some of the best fans in the world. They are extremely passionate, filled with life and energy, but also very respectful of the performance, not talking to each other in-between songs, very attentive and focused on the show, which is something that is unique to the Japanese audience.

Are there any Japanese bands you listen to?

[Hair-metal bands] Loudness and EZO – the best. I love Melt Banana, Ruins, Boris and Boredoms. They’re all fantastic.

What is your opinion of kawaii-metal band Babymetal?

I haven’t listened to Babymetal, but I like the idea of them. I’d like to see them live someday.

Western tourists tend to come to experience “weird Japan,” while tourism officials are pushing the concept of “Cool Japan.” As an aficionado of the absurd, what was your weirdest experience in Japan? What was the coolest?

I think that weird and cool go hand in hand, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask, but man, that robot bar was one of the wildest, weirdest and coolest experiences ever. I absolutely loved it. I also loved paying eight dollars to pet cats. I ignored the request to not pet a cat if it was sleeping – because they were all sleeping. Sorry about that.

What is your ideal night out in Tokyo?

Walking the streets of Shibuya, eating some street food, steamed buns or something. Having drinks at [dungeon-themed restaurant] The Lockup. Karaoke into the morning hours.

What are your first three karaoke jams?

“It’s Now or Never” by Elvis; “I Started a Joke” by Bee Gees; “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.

What are you looking forward to about this summer’s visit?

Just looking forward to being there with my wife (Tiger! Tiger! bassist Susanne Gibboney), exploring the city and just going with the flow. We absolutely love it there and can’t wait for our visit.

Catch Mastodon at Summer Sonic’s Mountain Stage on August 18. More information here.


Top photo by Jimmy Hubbard

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