After releasing their 2009 LP Crack the Skye – a dark, ethereal collection of songs drawing upon medieval themes and containing a four-part epic, "The Czar" – Atlanta sludge rockers Mastodon have dialed it back, opting for more direct, feel-good tunes on the follow-up release, The Hunter. Crack the Skye "was real serious," says guitarist Bill Kelliher. "People were into it, but The Hunter is kind of the rebirth." The group’s motto for the sessions? "Let's hit the reset button on the band," Kelliher recalls.
Following an extensive European tour that wrapped in February, Mastodon returned to their native Georgia to unwind. Now, after only a few weeks apart, they’ve reconvened, settling into a daily routine of intense practice sessions to gear up for a North American tour with Swedish rockers Opeth and Ghost, kicking off on April 4th in Portland, Maine.
While in Europe, Mastodon worked out several of the songs from The Hunter in concert – a process, Kelliher says, made easier by the relatively straightforward nature of the tunes. "They're more based on a live setting," he says of the newest additions to the band's live repertoire. "When we wrote the songs, we didn't think too hard about them. We're like, 'Let's just write a record that's gonna translate live and kids are gonna be able to pick up right away.'"
For their upcoming tour, Kelliher says the bands plans to play every song off the album. "We're trying to recapture what we did in the studio," he says. "Really surprise the kids and play the whole record – not front to back – but play every song off The Hunter."
This undertaking, however, has forced the band to relearn several of their new songs. "It's been challenging," Kelliher says. "It's kind of like cramming for an exam."
Much of the difficulty stems from the fact that many of the songs contain intricate instrumentals. "Songs like 'The Hunter' and 'Sparrow,' there's lots of doubled-up 12-strings, just kind of ambiances going on," Kelliher explains. "There's all kinds of stuff that we layered. Songs like 'Stargasm,' there was a lot of effects and delayed, spacey, kinda [Pink] Floyd sounds happening."
With most of their time consumed by intense tour rehearsals, Kelliher says Mastodon has yet to sit down collectively as a group to write any new songs. The guitarist does note that he’s been writing quite a bit himself, and that over the last few tours, any riffs that he or singer Brent Hinds drum up are quickly recorded onto his laptop. "Check back after the tour," he says. "We're kind of riff-collecting right now."