In the span of four years since releasing their seventh album Emperor of Sand, Mastodon lived through many transformations, one marked heavily by loss—the death of the band’s longtime manager and friend Nick Johns, who lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in 2018, all while dealing with a forced lockdown around the pandemic and personal tribulations.
Ending a tour with Coheed and Cambria in 2019, where the band celebrated the 10th anniversary of their fourth album Crack the Skye by playing it in its entirety, Mastodon—vocalist and guitarist Brent Hinds, bassist, keyboardist, and singer Troy Sanders, rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher and drummer Brann Dailor—were well into writing for a ninth album, one that would reveal some vulnerable states, reflections on fleeting time and regrets on the 15 tracks of Hushed and Grim (Reprise Records).
Through its 88-minute run, Hushed and Grim is a release of all the pent-up emotional heaps of memories and illusions, all surrounded by a more collective tome of grief for a dear friend.
Produced by David Bottrill (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Coheed and Cambria), and recorded in the band’s hometown of Atlanta, Hushed and Grim moves through the imagining of the Allman Brothers sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels with Black Sabbath on the southern rock crunch of “The Beast,” featuring guitarist Marcus King. Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil offers a guitar solo, along with French horn by Jody Sanders on “Had it All,” while the band sing around “The Crux” and “Skeleton of Splendor,” and again on closing “Gigantium” salute, My love, so strong / The mountains we made in the distance / Those will stay with us.
Dailor chatted with American Songwriter about the making of Hushed and Grim, approaching the band’s 20th anniversary since its debut Remission, collectively churning through their challenges for the past two decades, and drawing clowns.
American Songwriter: It’s been four years since Emperor of Sand, and so much happened within a short span of time. What was the genesis of the songs on Hushed and Grim, and did the pandemic shift the meaning of any of the 15 tracks?
Brann Dailor: The writing process had already begun a couple of months before the pandemic. We did a tour in the states with Coheed and Cambria where we were doing Crack the Skye (2009) in its entirety. We hadn’t really planned on doing that, but we decided to do it because it made sense. Otherwise, we would have started writing before that, because we’d already done our year and a half to two years of touring on Emperor. Usually, we’d stop, then do the writing thing. Then we record again and go on through the whole cycle that we’ve been doing for 20-something years. We weren’t one of those bands like Deftones or Gojira that had an album ready to go, so once everything got shut down, we had extra time to work on an album, but we took four months off of Mastodon entirely—not 100 percent, but we didn’t really see each other. Bill [Kelliher] lives around the corner from me, so when I did dog walks, they’d be on their porch, and we’d wave.
I did other creative things in this time. I started to draw a clown every day and drew one for 101 days straight. That’s kind of what got me out of bed in the morning.
By late July, early August 2021, the band began to get back together and back into their Atlanta studio to start recording. In September, the band connected with Bottrill, who is based in Canada, all while still coping with the loss of Johns and dealing with their own personal issues.
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