InterviewsRock For People

Interview: Bill Kelliher of MASTODON

He’s the rhythm guitarist and songwriter of Atlanta heavy metal band Mastodon. I am sure you all surely guessed his name and if not, then at least his pretty recognizable appearance. Bill Kelliher, everyone. Recently, as they played on Rock for People in Czech Republic, we had a little chat together. And we talked about their latest album Emperor of Sand, inspiration and, of course, Game of Thrones.

“With every record we tried to do a little something that’s outside the box.” – Bill Kelliher

Mastodon - Bill Kelliher
Photo: Maq Brown Photography

ANTIHERO: How’s the summer festival tour been so far?

Bill Kelliher: Hot. (laughing) No, it’s been good, it’s been really good. You know, festivals are always… it’s good for the people to go to the festivals, to see a lot of bands, but it’s not always great for the bands because you don’t always get to use all of your equipment and get time for a proper sound check and something goes wrong and you’re screwed and we always balance: “How’s it gonna be tonight?” You just never know. It’s like a… we call it like a gamble. But it’s been good, the response has been good. We enjoyed it. And we have to play festivals; this is where the action is at.

ANTIHERO: This is your first time playing at Rock for People, but last year you’ve been to Czech Republic for Brutal Assault festival. So how are, in your opinion, the Czech fans? Are they kind of a different audience from, let’s say, an Austrian one, since you recently played Nova Rock festival there?

Bill Kelliher: Not really… I don’t know. Honestly, I think it was our second time playing Czech Republic. I think we played in Prague once.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, today is the second time you are playing in Czech Republic after five years of not showing up at all. (laughing)

Bill Kelliher: Yeah, we didn’t show up. (laughing) Yeah well, people always wanna know: Oh, what makes these fans different and those fans… It’s hard to say. I remember the last Czech festival was not good for us. It was like the first show, it was super raining, bad weather and something went wrong on the stage. I wasn’t really paying attention to the people.

ANTIHERO: But I guess the crowd will much appreciate your performance since you won the Golden Gods Award for the best live band.

Bill Kelliher: Yeah. You know we play places like Poland and Czech Republic not very often, or Croatia as well, so the fans go crazy, since they do not get to see us as much. We play a lot at the same places where the people are like: Oh yeah, that’s cool, whatever. And then we play like some crazy place like Gdansk and the crowds go crazy because they never saw us.

ANTIHERO: Let’s move a bit now and dive into your last album, Emperor of Sand. There is a word out that with this album you are kind of balancing back to what Mastodon has built their reputation on. Do you agree with that? Especially since you never record one album twice.

Bill Kelliher: I think that with every record we tried to do a little something that’s outside the box of the last record. But I felt like a lot of the songs I wrote on the new record I had the riffs left over from like five, six years before. So still in an old kind of genre couple records back like… Black Mountain or The Hunter or Crack the Skye even. Some of those riffs are just… it sounds like it starts fresh every time. Sometimes I have a lot of ideas from years ago.

ANTIHERO: And then you just freshen them up…

Bill Kelliher: Yeah, they are like in my stock pile of ideas and what not. And I know like a lot of the fans they wanna hear more the old-style stuff. Not that I am purposely trying to write like that but I just try to remember like… just open your mind and play what comes naturally sounds the best to me first, because I am the judge of how my band’s gonna sound.

Mastodon - Bill Kelliher
Photo: Maq Brown Photography

ANTIHERO: The critics say that you have no more to explore for the new albums, or that there is little you haven’t explored yet. But I kind of doubt that, since music has no boundaries, right?

Bill Kelliher: That’s true… I think we are staying somewhere within our genre, it’s not like we would do a jazz album or a country album. When we put each track out there is just a little bit of different influence on everything. It’s not like a major jump from like: Oh my god, that´s a totally different band! When we put the first record next to the last record you could say that definitely sounds like almost two different bands, because we evolved so much, you know… It’s all about evolving. Evolution.


ANTIHERO: Since we are already talking about this, do you guys have anything new you are working on? Some bands do take time off after releasing new album, but some not, so how is it with you?

Bill Kelliher: Well, I am touring right now, so it’ kinda hard to be working on anything, but I am always writing, you know, songs, and ideas and thinking of stuff. But I am kinda taking a little break from writing. I am trying not to force it, I did so much writing on the record, almost all of it.

ANTIHERO: The inspiration comes when you least expect it.

Bill Kelliher: Exactly. So, I let it wait a little bit. Let the well-built back up again with ideas before I start taping into it. I wanna have a lot of ideas rather than just to have one… I wanna let the water come back up. So, it’s going to take a little bit, but that’s okay. This album is brand new, I’m trying to focus on playing all these songs and playing them correctly.

ANTIHERO: The song “Scorpion Breath” features vocalist Scott Kelly. He has been recording guest vocals with you since Leviathan (2004). How did this collaboration happen, anyway? And do you plan to include him for the future albums as well?

Bill Kelliher: Scott’s band Neurosis has always been a huge influence on all of us, all of our listening styles. With Neurosis, we call all agree like they’re Gods, they’re great. Brann and I get to know Scott on a tour in Europe when we toured with band called Today Is The Day when Brann and I were in that band. And we shared a tour bus with Voivod and Neurosis, so we got to know them very, very well. There is something about Scott’s voice when we write a record or a song, it’s like: Oh, I hear a very Neurosis influence, so we can probably just get Scott to sing on it. We always leave a song for him to sing on. He’s kind of like the fifth member of the band. So of course, in the next record we will incorporate him again.

ANTIHERO: And now maybe something a bit different and off the topic. Are you looking forward to the new season of Game of Thrones?

Bill Kelliher: Oh, hell yeah.

ANTIHERO: Any favourite characters? But be aware of what you say since the favourites usually die very quickly (laughing).

Bill Kelliher: (Laughing). Favourite character? It always differs… At first, I didn’t like the… the little guy, the midget, what´s his name… Something with Lannister. Tyrion? I don’t remember, I haven’t seen the show in a long time. (Laughing) At first, I didn’t like him at all. But now I think he’s like one of the main characters, he is very smart. So, I like him a lot… now I’m trying to figure out who is still alive. (Laughing) I don’t know… I am just so excited because the thing about Games of Thrones is that you never know what’s going to happen. You think you know, like that guy’s going to always be on the show and they killed him off already, they killed her off… so you never really know. That’s what’s keeping it interesting.

ANTIHERO: Can we hope to see you guys as wildlings again?

Bill Kelliher: Well, you can always hope. (Laughing)

ANTIHERO: What a diplomatic answer. (Laughing) Thank you, Bill. It’s been a pleasure.

Bill Kelliher: Thank you.


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