On paper, it doesn’t seem like Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl and prog-metal
maniacs Mastodon would have much in common. After all, Grohl is the
platinum-selling, Grammy-winning superstar who writes snappy rock songs with
classic pop structures (as heard on the Foo Fighters’ new live CD Skin &
Bones), while Mastodon are the perpetually-touring road dogs who specialize
in making mind-expanding concept albums (like 2006’s Blood Mountain) and
generally trying to cram as many complex riffs as possible into the space of a
But in fact, the former Nirvana drummer and the Mastodon boys (vocalist-bassist Troy Sanders, vocalist-guitarist Brent Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher, and drummer Brann Dailor) are very much kindred spirits: Hard-drinkin’ Southern dudes—Grohl’s from Virginia, Mastodon are from Georgia—who share similar musical roots.
“I grew up listening to underground hardcore, and underground metal, thrash metal and death metal,” says Grohl, who paid tribute to those seminal influences in 2004 with his Probot project. “Mastodon reminds me of a band that I would have seen in Richmond, Virginia, around 1985 or ’86, opening for someone like Corrosion of Conformity. I only got to hang out with a couple of [the Mastodon band members] once, but they have that right-on, dirty, southern party-metal spirit that I love!”
Ideally, a proper meeting of minds between Grohl and Mastodon would involve an all-night drinking session. But with Mastodon in Europe supporting Tool, and Grohl currently demoing songs for a new Foo Fighters album in Los Angeles, Revolver has to settle for a three-way phone conversation between Grohl, Dailor, and Sanders. Still, we’re sure you’ll agree that any conversation covering such a wide array of topics as Maynard James Keenan’s alter-ego, smoking pot with your mom, and taking a fragrant dump in your band’s van is a memorable one, indeed.
DAVE GROHL Gentlemen! How are ya? Where are ya?
BRANN DAILOR We’re in Wales right now. We’re outside because the bus
is locked, and we’re standing in a churchyard cemetery.
TROY SANDERS We’re up against the church so we can avoid the wind, and
we’re walking over these old tombstones of priests, which is kind of
GROHL Excellent! How’s the Tool tour?
DAILOR It’s good; there’s been too many days off, though.
GROHL Hey, I have one question about Maynard. I don’t know him too
well, but is it true that he was Schneider from [Seventies sitcom] One Day At
DAILOR Yeah. [Laughs]
GROHL I’d heard that, but I wasn’t sure if that was true! So, if
there’s something wrong with the bus, could he fix it?
DAILOR Well, Schneider never really fixed much of anything; he just
tinkered around, and in the end it was still broken.
GROHL This is true. OK, anyway—look, it’s a pleasure to talk to you
guys. You’re the two I haven’t met, yet; I met the other two guys from your band
when they came down to the show we played with Weezer in Atlanta. Which one of
you is into chainsaw art?
DAILOR Well, Brent sometimes gets naked at four in the morning, and
chops trees down and sculpts tiki stuff.
GROHL Fuckin’ A, man! With a chainsaw? I don’t know that I’d trust
that guy with a bottle of whiskey in his gut and a chainsaw in his
DAILOR No, because the chainsaw quickly turns into the shotgun!
GROHL But I guess he’s got something on the side, if the band doesn’t
DAILOR Ice sculpture’s in his future, I think. They pay big for that
at weddings and shit.
GROHL Now, when I listen to you guys, I can hear a lot of old school
punk rock, hardcore, and metal, and maybe some early Genesis, freaky prog shit.
Who’s the prog guy in the band?
DAILOR That’d be me.
GROHL I kind of figured!
DAILOR Yeah, my parents kind of raised me on that stuff. Old Genesis
and King Crimson… they were, like, Frank Zappa-style hippies.
GROHL Right on! Did you smoke weed with them?
DAILOR Well, later on, I smoked weed with my mom.
GROHL Is that weird? I’ve never done that.
DAILOR It is weird. It’s really weird to get super-wasted with
your mom, and then have your mom start to hit on your friends. That’s not good!
GROHL Okay, who’s the punk?
SANDERS Bill, our guitar player. His favorite two bands in the world
are Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, so he kind of brings that element into the
GROHL Who’s the Maiden guy?
DAILOR That’s me.
GROHL Dude, you’re taking up all the influences!
DAILOR I’m sorry! [Laughs]
GROHL Okay, who’s the death-metal guy? C’mon, Brann, it’s not you, is
DAILOR Yeah. I started with the prog rock, then I went into Maiden and
Priest, then I went into Metallica and Slayer, and then from Slayer I went into
Gothic Slam and Läaz Rockit and Nuclear Assault, and then I got into King
Diamond, Venom, Death, Obituary, and all that.
GROHL That’s quite a fuckin’ menu you’ve got going there, my friend.
That’s good shit! I was sort of the same way. I started with the punk rock, and
then I discovered Metallica and kind of went from there. Now, I know there’s a
Neurosis dude in your band somewhere…
SANDERS Neurosis has had an overwhelmingly powerful influence on all
four of us. They touched each of us differently in magical ways, and their
existence spawned our creation. I got into them in 1994, right when I met Brent.
He totally turned me on to [Neurosis’ 1993 album] Enemy of the Sun, and
it brought a whole new level of understanding and appreciation to everything—how
to channel every emotion into music, and make it real and serious and actually
come to life. It totally set me on my ass.
GROHL Agreed, they’re totally awesome! Now, Blood Mountain, I
dig that album a lot. Of course it has riff after riff, and fuckin’ incredible
energy, but it also seems to me like it has a lot of melody going on, maybe more
so than on your earlier records. Was that something that you guys were conscious
SANDERS We weren’t afraid to dive in on this record and try using
melody as a fifth instrument. We listen to a lot of Thin Lizzy and a lot of
Melvins. Neurosis sings, you sing—there’s a lot of bands out there that sing and
use it in a powerful way to make the song itself better. So we did pay attention
on a couple of the songs to try and find a vocal melody, which we’d never done
before. We were always just blowing our throats out, because we were just too
busy rocking out with the music.
GROHL Yeah, that’s a real challenge. I grew up in Virginia, outside of
Washington, D.C., and the hardcore scene in D.C. was great—there were tons of
amazing hardcore bands. But there weren’t too many D.C. bands that had a really
strong sense of melody and were still really powerful, except for the Obsessed.
The Obsessed played with all the hardcore bands—my hardcore band opened up for
them when I was a kid—and it was so great, because they were so fucking mean and
heavy and amazing, but [frontman] Wino’s sense of melody was so classic. It was
one of the things that made them stand out above all the other bands. They were
a wicked band, but their songs were great songs. And I think Blood
Mountain is the same way. I mean, Remission and Leviathan,
both of them have fucking amazing songs on them, but to me, it seems like this
time you guys have really focused more on getting to the bare bones and fucking
going for it.
SANDERS Those are kind words, Dave. Thanks!
GROHL Have you all ever taken acid together?
DAILOR We’ve all taken mushrooms together. We watched Aqua Teen
Hunger Force—it was pretty awesome! [Laughs]
GROHL How did you find the transition from the van to the bus? Because
I know about all the stories about your van, the Fart Box…
DAILOR Well, we’ve moved from the Fart Box to a long cylindrical tube
of farts. But it’s much more comfortable, and me and Troy can drink after the
show now, instead of having to drive like we used to. We can just sit and watch
R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet DVD over and over and over!
GROHL So what happened to the Fart Box? Did you sell it?
DAILOR There’s been, like, three of them, but the famous one, I sold
it to a friend of mine. And there’s people offering obscene amounts of money to
buy it from him because it’s the Fart Box from the [Workhorse Chronicles]
GROHL Wow, it’s legendary!
DAILOR Yeah, it’s the stuff that myths and legends are made of. He’s
like, “I left all the stickers in it, dude! And all the shit you guys wrote in
there with markers!” There’s like random phone numbers written all over it and
shit. It’s pretty funny.
GROHL Years ago, when I was in a band called Scream, we did a lot of
touring in this great Dodge Ram extended van with this little loft in the back.
I used to wear these old school Air Jordan high tops, and I didn’t really have
any socks when we were on tour, so I was just doing the straight
hot-foot-into-old-Nike-boot thing, and it got to the point where my feet were
stinking really bad. We were staying at someone’s house one time, and I left my
shoes in the van. Later on that night, one of the guys in the band went out to
the van to hook up with this chick. They got in the van, and I think she threw
up because my shoes smelled so gnarly. I felt really bad about it!
DAILOR Was he angry with you?
GROHL Yeah, actually! The band broke up shortly after that!
[Laughs] That van was kind of like the “Third Base Mobile,” but it also
doubled as a portable toilet. Nobody ever shit in the van, but…
DAILOR Troy shit in our van, many times!
GROHL Did you really, Troy?
SANDERS Yeah, I’m a germ-o-phobe, and I have a paranoia of shitting in
a club toilet after all these people have pissed all over the place. So I always
found a sense of calmness in our own van. I’d take the local weekly
entertainment newspaper, lay it down and do my business.
GROHL But wouldn’t that make the van smell even worse?
DAILOR Yeah! [Laughs]
GROHL So, are you guys allowed to shit in your bus? Because that’s a
SANDERS No, but Brent did shit in our bus this week. He did it
Troy-style—he laid down a towel in the middle of the aisle, and just let it
GROHL No!!! Really? [Laughs]
SANDERS Yeah. He just wrapped it up and threw it in a local trash
DAILOR And told us about it later! [Laughs]
GROHL Do you guys watch each other shit? Or is that not
DAILOR We video it and watch it later, in private.
GROHL Oh, hey, make sure when you play your big show in Wales tonight
that you say, “Hey, it’s great to be in England!” Because I made that mistake
SANDERS You know what I did last time we played in Japan? I went out
to the crowd and I said, “Hey Tokyo, thanks for showing up! We’re Mastodon!” But
we were in fucking Osaka!
GROHL No! Was it a full-scale riot? Well, they don’t riot there, do
DAILOR No, they just were polite and nodded.
SANDERS I felt like a total dick, though. [Laughs]
GROHL Did you guys get any good German compliments on this
SANDERS “Your new album, very good. Your last album, much better!”
Yeah, thanks man! [Laughs]
DAILOR “I came because my friend came. I don’t like your
GROHL My favorite one I ever got there was, “What happened to your
sense of humor? It seems to be gone.” It’s like, you’re a fucking German,
dude! What the fuck? [Laughs]
DAILOR When we were playing in Germany with the Haunted, a bunch of
these German dudes up in the front just turned around and leaned their backs up
against the stage! It was like, We hate your music, but we’re not even going to
make the effort to leave!
GROHL I probably shouldn’t pick on the Germans, though—I think we’ve
had bad audiences everywhere. I remember we were playing in Vegas once, maybe 10
years ago. We played outside of this hotel, by the pool. The audience was so
bored that in the middle of the show I went, “Hey, everybody—let’s jump in the
pool!” I went and jumped in the pool, and I think maybe three people followed
me. I realized it wasn’t working, so I went back onstage and put on my guitar. I
stepped barefoot on my distortion pedal and got the fucking shit shocked out of
SANDERS That’s not good! So hey, Dave, what are you doing these
GROHL We’re getting ready to make another record. We’ve got a studio
in Los Angeles [Studio 606], and it’s beautiful—we took an 8,000 square foot
warehouse, and we’ve built one of the nicest studios in LA. We used to make our
records in my basement in Virginia, but everyone wound up out here in Los
Angeles and we thought, Hey, let’s just make another little basement studio. We
wound up making the fucking Abbey Road of the San Fernando Valley! So [Foo
Fighters drummer] Taylor [Hawkins] and I went in three days ago, and we started
doing demos. We demo’d like sixteen songs, and we’re going to start making a
record in March.
SANDERS Well, I look forward to meeting you sometime,
GROHL Yeah, next time you guys come out to LA! The last time you played here, I found out about a month and a half before the gig, and I was like, Oh fuck, this is going to be great! I ordered all this fucking Icelandic schnapps, this Brennivín stuff that we drink all the time, so I could share it with you—and then the gig turned out to be the night before we were going to Australia. So, the reason I didn’t come down to your show is that I knew if I came down, I was going to get more fucked up than I’d ever been in my entire life, and I didn’t want to get on a Qantas flight and vomit for 15 hours. Next time you guys are here, I’ll bring the Icelandic schnapps—and I’ll make sure I’ve got a day off afterwards!