Mastodon

THE PROG-METAL MONSTERS FIGHT PERSONAL DEMONS, PUSH BEYOND THEIR COMFORT ZONE, AND EMERGE WITH A "PANTS-OFF, DANCE-OFF" ROCK RECORD ON STEROIDS
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Mastodon (left to right)—Brent Hinds, Brann Dailor, Troy Sanders, and Bill Kelliher.

Photo: Cindy Frey

“Our music is very religious to us; it''s a very spiritual thing,” Mastodon bassist and sometime vocalist Troy Sanders says from the group''s Atlanta home. “It''s about taking something tragic and finding a positive, beautiful thing from it. We create a shining light out of the darkness.”

Mastodon are the poster boys for emotional trauma and instrumental bloodletting, creating the ultimate head-pounding, nerve-shattering metal release. Crack The Skye, the group''s epic prog-rock masterpiece from 2009, was fueled by the death of drummer (and sometime vocalist) Brann Dailor''s sister, Skye. The Hunter, Mastodon''s new treatise on metal guitar heavyosity, space rock sensations, massively dirty grooves, and occasional Pink Floyd-tinged weirdness, was inspired in part by the deaths of guitarist (and sometime vocalist) Brent Hinds'' brother Brad and longtime Mastodon friend Susan Polay. Add to that side projects, undisclosed turmoil, and Mastodon''s teetering-on-the-brink of collapse reputation, and you''ve got an album designed for maximum volume and maximum sales, yet another notch in the band''s heavy-metal reign.

Crack The Skye was a heavy album,” Dailor admits. “The Hunter is triumphant. That has a direct correlation to the tragedies that have happened; some [band members] had personal issues while we made the record. It felt like the forces of the universe were against us and trying to tear our band down, so the music is us triumphing in the face of those forces.”

Produced by Mike Elizondo and engineered and mixed by Adam Hawkins at Sound City, Van Nuys (drums in Studio A), and Doppler Studios, Atlanta (everything else), The Hunter is Crack the Skye with lead boots on and the prog-rock panties tossed in the back seat. “It''s a pants-off, dance-off, party-style record,” Dailor laughs.

The Hunter is a seriously grinding slab of metal rock roughage, fit for scouring your intestines, for sanctifying your Black Sabbath-meets-Melvins soul, and generally purging that sweet spot you once called a heart. Brann Dailor gives into his love of all things Phil Collins; Brent Hinds creates acetylene guitar riffs purloined from banjo-based picking, coupled to Bill Kelliher''s fuzzed-out fretboard glory and Sanders'' Rickenbacker bass-capades. The Hunter raises Mastodon''s bar, the band chomping at the bit like the mad beast of their namesake.

“The whole process was about pushing Mastodon out of their comfort zone,” Elizondo comments from L.A. “The recording process was more spontaneous, as they didn''t have the songs completely written. They were willing to just try arrangements on the fly, so a certain spontaneity came from not having every drum fill or guitar riff worked out. We made sure every guitar riff had a purpose, sometimes playing it more times than maybe they would have [liked]. I especially wanted to make sure the vocals weren''t an afterthought, that they had as much conviction as every drum fill and guitar riff.”

Beginning, as on The Hunter, with basic sketches created on Kelliher''s Pro Tools rig in the band''s Atlanta rehearsal space, the band meant to get down to business. But Dailor couldn''t locate the band''s soul, or its members.

Producer Mike Elizondo.

“My goal was to get them asses in the audience wiggling,” he says. “But I wasn''t sure if this record was going to come together or not. It didn''t seem like the time was available for everyone to be in the same room to put it together. That was really frustrating. You can''t control people. We''re still best friends and we play together well. But every day something interfered with practice. So Brent and I started going down every single day with an engineer to our practice facility.”

Soon the pair had the basic framework for the songs. Mastodon, Elizondo, and Hawkins then flew to L.A. in February with a handful of compositions, but more rough drafts than not. Elizondo pushed and prodded, the band circled the wagons, and scratch tracks ensued as Dailor tracked drums at Sound City''s Studio A.

“This was one of the last records tracked in Sound City''s old live room, Studio A,” Elizondo notes. “It dates back to the ''70s and ''80s where classic records from Nirvana''s Nevermind to Tom Petty''s Wildflowers to Dio''s Holy Diver were recorded. That room had a vibe. It had a mojo. Now it''s being torn apart and remodeled. The board was a custom-built Neve [8058 console], installed by Rupert Neve. Dave Grohl recently purchased it. That board being so historic and the room being untouched, it had an amazing track record. That room brought so much character to this record. We were so psyched about the sounds we were getting, and that carried over to Doppler.”

Mastodon and Elizondo hit Sound City hard, cutting 14 drum tracks in minimum time. Back at Doppler, Kelliher and Sanders joined in the lyric-writing process. Everyone contributed: Sanders sings lead on 10 of 13 tracks, Dailor sings on “Creature Lives.”

“It was spontaneous,” Dailor recalls. “There were moments that happened in songs that I had never played before. We''ve only done that a couple times before. And we went into recording the least prepared we''ve ever been to make a record. It was an experiment that could have gone really wrong.”

Knowing Mastodon''s history, Elizondo went in prepared. A veteran producer/bassist/co-writer of records with Dr. Dre (contributing nimble bass work), Eminem (co-writing “The Real Slim Shady”), Fiona Apple, Maroon 5, Avenged Sevenfold, and others, Elizondo devoured the challenge. Mastodon enlisted Elizondo at every angle, Sanders taking direction for bass lines, Hinds and Kelliher copping his guitar ideas as needed. Elizondo also suggested the band rewrite melodies if they didn''t cut the proverbial metal mustard.

“Because the riffs and arrangements were new, there was less attachment,” Elizondo says. “It made it all much stronger. While we were recording drums, we were also coming up with arrangements. Things would change. Some of it was guesswork because the melodies and lyrics weren''t always written.”

Photo: Cindy Frey

How did Elizondo work with Brent Hinds, one of the wildest cards and most inspired men in metal? “You just have to be open for anything to fly out of Brent,” he responds. “Brent might wake up one day and say, ‘That''s not right.'' Something will go off and he can''t sleep until that is addressed. With that comes some of the most unbelievable guitar playing. He brings a heavy weight to his riffs, as well as more of a bluegrass approach to how he picks. He''s very emotional; he just reacts to things, and often at unexpected moments. You have to be willing to roll.”

The Hunter reveled in Hinds and Kelliher''s doom-laden guitars, but The Hunter is another level of guitar-drenched, sky-splitting, Harley-belching guitar grandeur. Elizondo brought many vintage amps to Doppler; Hinds'' foot pedals and careful layering also played a role.

“It starts with the player and his approach,” Elizondo says. “Brent has a crazy concoction of pedals, some custom-made. Half of them work, half of them don''t. But something magically happens when Brent, Bill, and Troy join to form one awesome riff. We spent a lot time with ''80s Marshall JCM 800s and Hi-Watts. Our idea was to make a classic rock-sounding record on steroids. It''s the type of riffs they write, then Brann''s drumming makes the riffs sound bigger and deeper, then the combination of those four guys. The secret is them, not a pedal or amp.

“We didn''t overdo the layering,” he continues. “We wanted to make the biggest sound possible and not layer something four times. That always makes things sound smaller. You think it''s louder, but when you layer too much, there''s no room for it to breathe and it sounds smaller. So I went for one or two guitars that were the hugest and pushing the most air.”

Drums pushed the most air at Sound City. Dailor played Tama Star Classic Bubinga, 1968 Grestch, and 1972 Ludwig Stainless Steel drum kits (the latter on “The Hunter”), augmented by ''80s Tama snare drums comprised of wood and brass shells, Tama Starphonic and Star Classic snares, and a Noble and Cooley model. Dailor''s setup consisted of three mounted toms (bottom heads removed); one floor tom; and 22-, 25-, and 26-inch bass drums. Dailor''s Meinl cymbals were standard.

“We spent five days tracking drums, nothing more than five takes per song,” Dailor says. “Some songs were more developed than others; other songs were set in stone and we knocked them out. In Atlanta I would go to the practice space and get ready, athletically—just play and play to make sure I had the stamina to record for ten hours. I was getting familiar with the parts and the songs, and how they might go.”

Removing the tom''s bottom heads created a punch that isn''t possible with double-headed drums. (Consider the concert tom rage of the 1970s, from ELP''s Carl Palmer to Santana''s Graham Lear.) “It felt the same; it just sounded way more awesome to have the bottom heads off,” Dailor comments. “It reminded me of when I was a kid; we always removed the bottom heads. It''s my favorite tom sound by far. It''s as close to Phil Collins barking toms that we could get, and that''s what I wanted. I couldn''t help but do those rolls all the way across the toms. Everyone would stop and look. I was nerding out!”

Troy Sanders'' bass glue was the final part of the process, the pick player adding his flava and flow after guitars and drums were nailed and set in stone. Sanders played Elizondo''s axes, including a 1973 Rickenbacker and a 1976 Gibson Thunderbird, and his own Warwick Streamer Stage II. Bass amps included TC Electronic BlackSmith for a “clean, round tone,” a JCM Marshall guitar amp for “a grittier sound.” Orange 4x10, Ampeg 8x10, and Mesa Boogie 2x15 cabinets provided that sweet plumpness. Hawkins miked bass cabs with an EV RE20, placed six inches from the center of the cone, running the signal through an API 4312 mic pre. “Mike recommended the T-Bird for the rocking warmth of the slower tunes and the Rick for the driving songs,” Sanders explains. “Its heavier tone put a fit on the rough edges of the bass cuts.”

Being the last man to track was something new for Sanders. He found the experience rewarding and ultimately confidence-nurturing. “It was really strange,” he admits. “I enjoyed it, because I already knew what the drums were doing, and what the finished sounds of the guitars were. I was more confident in sticking to my bass guns in having the room to move around. Ultimately, I played fewer notes. That is Mike''s preference in tracking, and I really enjoyed that. My job is to bring forth the rock!”

Hawkins augmented Doppler''s SSL 4000 board with two racks of outboard gear, everything sent to Pro Tools. One especially striking mix element is The Hunter''s glowing space-rock atmospherics. Like Hawkwind or Harmonia, The Hunter soars on a dark cloud of celestial good vibes and black-hole possibilities. “I''m using mostly plug-ins for that effect,” Hawkins reveals. “Lots of SoundToys EchoBoy, lots of UA EMT 140 [classic plate reverb plug-ins]. Sometimes the plate reverb was on the vocals, but a lot of the time it sounds like reverb, but it''s actually a delay with a lot of feedback. Probably 90 percent of it is slap delays and quarter- and dotted-eighth- and half-note delays. I automate them to come in and out at certain times. Other times it disappears, so the focus is on the song. We also used Brent''s pedals on the drums, or we''d set up an SM57 in the corner of the room and run it through a [Monster Effects] Mastortion [Overdrive] pedal.”

Along with Elizondo''s guitar layering approach, Hawkins'' careful mic choice and placement created the massive guitar mountains of The Hunter. Unlike most engineers, Hawkins says it''s the amps, not the guitars, that make the sound. “I used a 421 and an SM57 pretty close to dead center on the cone, with the 421 slightly off-center,” he explains. “Then I''d go to an API 4312 preamp, sum the two mics together, and go to an API 550A EQ. Following the 550A, I''d go to an [Empirical Labs] Distressor, and with the EQ, I''d use the filter switch on the 550. Sometimes I add a little high or low end. We used mostly vintage Marshall amps for the guitars, some Diezel in there, a tiny Gretsch combo amp. All the amps were cranked with a fuzz pedal in front of them.”

In a band where everyone sings and no one sings, Hawkins had to find the right mic to work as an all-purpose conductor. Sanders sang the bulk of the leads, Dailor sings “Creature Lives,” Hinds brought up the rear; one mic that made the cut.

“Oddly enough, it''s not what I would normally choose, but I used what Doppler had, a Sony C800,” says Hawkins. “I''d use that for a pop or R&B record, but not for a rock band. It''s too pretty-sounding. But it ended up working absolutely perfect. On occasion, I''d use a [Shure] SM7. Neve 1073s or 1081s, and the API, those are my go-to pres. But the biggest part of the vocal sound is a Urei Blue Stripe 1176 compressor/limiter. It''s what''s controlling the dynamics of everybody; it makes it instantly sound like a record without having to do anything else.”

Brann Dailor must feel like he had to do everything else, rallying his band to rehearse and write songs, functioning as cheerleader, bottle washer, and rhythm basher while some bandmates involved themselves with side projects and personal disasters. But that''s the nature of Mastodon. Next album, it may be Hinds or Kelliher inspiring the group to divide and conquer, to make “a pants-off, dance-off” party record of epic proportions. The Hunter scales heights of space rock profundity, yet it''s grounded in the kind of “ass wiggling” vengeance that marks the greatest metal heads. Two fingers closed; devil''s ears to the mothership.

“I wanted desperately to do Mastodon,” Dailor sighs. “That''s what makes sense to me in my life. That''s my job. I do the Mastodon thing. I just kept going down to the practice space, thinking, ‘this is what we''re doing. We''re making a record. Let''s go. Who''s here? Brent''s here. Awesome. Let''s write some cool shit and have fun.''

“Elizondo was there every step of the way,” he adds. “We need for someone to take the paint and paint brushes away or we''ll just sit there and color all day long. We needed somebody to look to. ‘Is this good? Does this suck?'' Sometimes you are in that forest and you can''t see your way out. It''s good to have somebody from the outside say, ‘Yes, you are doing the right thing. Move forward.'' That''s what we always do.”

Troy Sanders'' bass glue was the final part of the process, the pick player adding his flava and flow after guitars and drums were nailed and set in stone. Sanders played Elizondo''s axes, including a 1973 Rickenbacker and a 1976 Gibson Thunderbird, and his own Warwick Streamer Stage II. Bass amps included TC Electronic BlackSmith for a “clean, round tone,” a JCM Marshall guitar amp for “a grittier sound.” Orange 4x10, Ampeg 8x10, and Mesa Boogie 2x15 cabinets provided that sweet plumpness. Hawkins miked bass cabs with an EV RE20, placed six inches from the center of the cone, running the signal through an API 4312 mic pre. “Mike recommended the T-Bird for the rocking warmth of the slower tunes and the Rick for the driving songs,” Sanders explains. “Its heavier tone put a fit on the rough edges of the bass cuts.”

Being the last man to track was something new for Sanders. He found the experience rewarding and ultimately confidence-nurturing. “It was really strange,” he admits. “I enjoyed it, because I already knew what the drums were doing, and what the finished sounds of the guitars were. I was more confident in sticking to my bass guns in having the room to move around. Ultimately, I played fewer notes. That is Mike''s preference in tracking, and I really enjoyed that. My job is to bring forth the rock!”

Hawkins augmented Doppler''s SSL 4000 board with two racks of outboard gear, everything sent to Pro Tools. One especially striking mix element is The Hunter''s glowing space-rock atmospherics. Like Hawkwind or Harmonia, The Hunter soars on a dark cloud of celestial good vibes and black-hole possibilities. “I''m using mostly plug-ins for that effect,” Hawkins reveals. “Lots of SoundToys EchoBoy, lots of UA EMT 140 [classic plate reverb plug-ins]. Sometimes the plate reverb was on the vocals, but a lot of the time it sounds like reverb, but it''s actually a delay with a lot of feedback. Probably 90 percent of it is slap delays and quarter- and dotted-eighth- and half-note delays. I automate them to come in and out at certain times. Other times it disappears, so the focus is on the song. We also used Brent''s pedals on the drums, or we''d set up an SM57 in the corner of the room and run it through a [Monster Effects] Mastortion [Overdrive] pedal.”

Along with Elizondo''s guitar layering approach, Hawkins'' careful mic choice and placement created the massive guitar mountains of The Hunter. Unlike most engineers, Hawkins says it''s the amps, not the guitars, that make the sound. “I used a 421 and an SM57 pretty close to dead center on the cone, with the 421 slightly off-center,” he explains. “Then I''d go to an API 4312 preamp, sum the two mics together, and go to an API 550A EQ. Following the 550A, I''d go to an [Empirical Labs] Distressor, and with the EQ, I''d use the filter switch on the 550. Sometimes I add a little high or low end. We used mostly vintage Marshall amps for the guitars, some Diezel in there, a tiny Gretsch combo amp. All the amps were cranked with a fuzz pedal in front of them.”

In a band where everyone sings and no one sings, Hawkins had to find the right mic to work as an all-purpose conductor. Sanders sang the bulk of the leads, Dailor sings “Creature Lives,” Hinds brought up the rear; one mic that made the cut.

“Oddly enough, it''s not what I would normally choose, but I used what Doppler had, a Sony C800,” says Hawkins. “I''d use that for a pop or R&B record, but not for a rock band. It''s too pretty-sounding. But it ended up working absolutely perfect. On occasion, I''d use a [Shure] SM7. Neve 1073s or 1081s, and the API, those are my go-to pres. But the biggest part of the vocal sound is a Urei Blue Stripe 1176 compressor/limiter. It''s what''s controlling the dynamics of everybody; it makes it instantly sound like a record without having to do anything else.”

Brann Dailor must feel like he had to do everything else, rallying his band to rehearse and write songs, functioning as cheerleader, bottle washer, and rhythm basher while some bandmates involved themselves with side projects and personal disasters. But that''s the nature of Mastodon. Next album, it may be Hinds or Kelliher inspiring the group to divide and conquer, to make “a pants-off, dance-off” party record of epic proportions. The Hunter scales heights of space rock profundity, yet it''s grounded in the kind of “ass wiggling” vengeance that marks the greatest metal heads. Two fingers closed; devil''s ears to the mothership.

“I wanted desperately to do Mastodon,” Dailor sighs. “That''s what makes sense to me in my life. That''s my job. I do the Mastodon thing. I just kept going down to the practice space, thinking, ‘this is what we''re doing. We''re making a record. Let''s go. Who''s here? Brent''s here. Awesome. Let''s write some cool shit and have fun.''

“Elizondo was there every step of the way,” he adds. “We need for someone to take the paint and paint brushes away or we''ll just sit there and color all day long. We needed somebody to look to. ‘Is this good? Does this suck?'' Sometimes you are in that forest and you can''t see your way out. It''s good to have somebody from the outside say, ‘Yes, you are doing the right thing. Move forward.'' That''s what we always do.”

Interview outtakes with Mastodon and the production team behind The Hunter

Brann Dailor:
What was the goal this time?
You can say all day long what you intend to do, but it''s what comes out and whether you decide to explore what comes out. Or police it and say ‘No, we''re Mastdon, and we have to do something else.'' Luckily, we''re always open to whatever comes out. We definitely wanted to do something that was more stripped down. Crack the Skye went so far into the prog direction that we wanted to flip it upside down and do something, for lack of a better term, fun. I feel like the songs ended up being instinctual; we went with our gut feeling on all the songs. These four parts work well, let''s go with that. That''s the song, done. Instead of trying to shoehorn in a math part in the middle, or let''s make this riff harder to play. As much as people tripped out on Crack the Skye, most of our fanbase want to go crazy. That''s what I like to see.

How did you track the drums?
Five days tracking drums, nothing more than five takes. Roll in there with the guys. Some songs were more developed than others, some songs were done completely and set in stone and we knocked them out. I would go in by myself to the practice space and get ready. Athletically. Just play and play and play. And make sure that I have the stamina to be in there ten hours. Just playing through the songs. Getting familiar with the parts and how it goes, and how it might go.

No bottom heads? It felt the same, just sounded way more awesome. It made me think of when I was a kid, that''s what you did back then. It''s my favorite tom sound I''ve ever had by far. It''s as close to Phil Collins barking toms that we could get to, and that‘s what I wanted. I couldn''t help but do those rolls all the way across the toms. It''s sounds so awesome. Everyone would stop. I was nerding out!

Old ‘80s Tama snare drums, wood, brass, five or six different drums, Tama Starphonic, Noble and Cooley, Big Ted, and a Tamastar classic bubinga, Gretch 1968 kit, ‘72 stainless steel Ludwig on The Hunter. They''re super loud, large and in charge for sure. Everything sounded huge, all the drums, we took the extra time with tech Mike Pasano. Basically cut a week off of drum tracks to get him to play his drums to get all these textures and feels. For the nerds out there!

Why Mike Elizondo?
Mike Elizondo is a very knowledgeable and musical person. He knows music theory, he''s got really good taste. We start sending demos to him early on. And he really gravitated to all the stuff that we really liked. He gave us direction…we had a lot of stuff, too much.

How did working with Elizondo compare to Brendan O''Brien?
I didn't enjoy working with Mike anymore than Brendan O''Brien, he was a lot of fun. Elizondo gravitated to the heavy stuff and the crazy sh*t, I don''t think Brendan O''Brien would have.

What was happening with Mastodon this time?
The band was fragile, I won't lie. There was a lot of weird sh*t going on. Band members and personal struggles. We just didn''t know where we were at as a band.

Interview outtakes with Mastodon and the production team behind The Hunter (Continued)

Troy Sanders
What as the goal?
This was more of a release from the overall depth and seriousness of Crack the Skye. That was slowly driven into us after we toured the album. Musically and thematically that was a very deep and sincere album. Playing that 100 plus times live was great, but coming off the tour and writing for The Hunter, we wanted to shed the massive deepness on the emotional level and sprinkle some fun powder in the ingredients.

How did arrangements differ?
This time we played around with the arrangement more, and “The Sparrow,” the last rack, that was something that Brent had showed us bits and pieces of once at rehearsal. Then we went in Sound City at the end of May to lay down drums, we were at the last day, and Mike said we have the rest of the day. Brent remembered the ideas of “The Sparrow,” so that was put together on the spot. 25% of it was hashed out in the studio recording, for real. There was more spontaneity on this record than ever before. It was great to wing it.

No one lead singer?
We don''t'' have a front man or a lead singer. Who can step up is the one who does it for that song. We''re a band. Our band is selfless when it comes to vocals. Brent might come up with a vocal line over a very difficult guitar part, so he might want one of us to pull it off. If it works it sticks. We go for the greater good.

How do you like to track vocals?
Often my takes on a vocal passage are unknown till we hit the record button. Often I just trust the bandmates in the control room or the producer. It''s like writing a song. Unless you demo it you never hear it back, you just hear it while it''s happening. You can''t get a good quality judgment until you hear it back. When it''s spontaneous, for the first time, I trust the band and the producer. I have nothing else to go on.

Often I don''t know what I want till I hear the verses back. Then I know I can do it better. Some songs I have the melody and words hashed out before we record it, certain things, other songs I was winging it for the first time. I trust their feedback right away.

What effects do you like on your voice?
I am headphone man, and am a big fan of the various condiments, a little chorus and reverb, something to give it a live feel. Whether those effects actually make the final track, it''s more for listening back to my voice. It''s a confidence thing.

Basses: 1973 Rickenbacker and 1976 Gibson Thunderbird. Mike recommended the T-bird for the rocking warmth of the slower tunes, the rounder warmer trad bass sounds and the Rickenbacker for the driving, heavier edge to put a fit on the rough edges of the bass cuts. Uses fingers over pick.

Amp: TC electronics Blacksmith clean round tone, on the bulk of album, grittier tone used JCM Marshall guitar amp and Wurly Streamer Bass; Orange 410, Ampeg 810, Mesa Boogie 215.

Interview outtakes with Mastodon and the production team behind The Hunter (Continued)

Producer Mike Elizondo
How did you work with Mastodon?
Things came into focus when I heard the riffs and musical ideas. They were into my being involved as the songs were being written. The music had this heavy vibe, but this element of celestial moments. Something that Brann brought up first. It was probably rolling around in the back of his mind lyrically, songs like Stargasm, they took shape once the lyrics took focus. We didn''t overdo the keyboards, but wanted to make sure even with the guitar or drum sounds, and sprinkles of keyboards that it had this element of celestial heaviness.

Brent wrote “The Hunter” on his brother''s passing. They wanted this record to have an impact regarding tone and tempo and ferocity. Most of the ideas were new, but some were ideas they''d written but didn''t fit in on Crack the Skye. It wasn''t a conscious effort to go in a certain direction, but it took shape as the best ideas rose to the top.

How did you track?
We''d take it song by song. We began by tracking drums, but making sure even the rhythm tracks between guitar and bass were pretty close. We wanted to make sure the drums sounds would match the guitars. Wanted the right guitar tones to fit the aggression or openness of the songs. The difference, the band has a track record from CD to CD of pushing the different territories. This record, we balanced all the things they''ve shot for on a lot of their records and brought this collective balance. There was enough aggression, heaviness, and groove, and enough spaced out vibe, slow jams, it''s not like we were giving the listener an entire three-course meal of an entire record.

How were lyrics written?
Often lyrics being written in studio….sometimes melody and lyrics written at 11th hour. We had the whole song arranged and thought it would work, a couple songs like that. We had an entire arrangement and the melody and lyrics came together last, and we''d track the vocals at the last couple days of tracking, and come to life at the 11th hour.

Overall approach?
My thing was trying to find the riffs and melodies that were the catchiest and epitomized Mastodon and finding the ones that were big and catchy and epic and encompassed all things that Mastodon do. Making sure it was all just right. If there was a section in there that wasn''t as great as the rest of the song, I would suggest they rewrite it. Even down to melodies we''d discuss. Are they getting us there? Them being open to being pushed and allowing me to feel not protected and able to voice an idea if I thought it wasn''t working. They would push as well. A conscious effort to outdo themselves. As a producer, that''s what you hope for when you work with a band.

There are complete takes…other parts are more intricate so certain parts are punched. They wrote these songs pretty quickly before jumping into the studio. It wasn''t …sometimes you do have the ability to write songs and live with them, but a lot of these songs they were discovering in the studio. We made sure we had the right feel and the right tone and the right pocket because they were still getting familiar with the new riffs.

They wanted it to have a dance-y feel, a Mastodon version of what dance music is. They want the live show to give people a good time and so that they can move and react to these grooves. Brann laid it down with that Bonham approach but with the approach that Mastodon is known for. We wanted to make sure the record grooved.

Interview outtakes with Mastodon and the production team behind The Hunter (Continued)

How were drums tracked?
I would make notes as Brann did takes, then we''d comp takes. We would start with the bulk of a take. If some fill was better from another take, I would get as meticulous as possible and insert. Brann would listen and wed decide and move on. Classic comping, no beat detective. Brann can play open and free but just nail it with a click.

A special board at the old Sound City?
A custom Neve built and installed by Rupert Neve. Someone decided to completely scrap it and install his own choice of equipment; Dave Grohl recently purchased the board. That board being so historic and the room being untouched, it had an amazing track record. I am grateful we were one of the last recording sessions held there before it was torn apart. Within weeks of our recording, we heard the board had been ripped out and they were remodeling the entire live room. We couldn''t believe it. That room brought so much character to this record, and it was a great place to start. We were so psyched about the sounds we were getting, and that carried over to Doppler. Doppler was a great space to set up, we had a lot of options and a space for vocals. We kept the pace moving quickly.

Alex Hawkins
What were the challenges?
Keeping them sounding like Mastodon while at the same time updating them to sound a little more modern. A little more exciting. Just processing different instruments to sound more like a pop rock record than Mastodon. Hopefully make it a little clearer than their past records. Just a little bit more extreme. Treat the vocals more like I would for a pop record. Process it out front so you can hear every little detail.

Drum tracking?
Not a single drum sample, all 100% Brann. No beat detective. Drums recorded at sound city, Neve 8058, one thing that was custom that I had never seen before, every EQ knob has a little click. You go up or down one click and you can always get back to where you wanted to go. Going between songs we could actually recall settings. We used the Neve mic pres and EQs.

We would send all drums to a compressor and really smash it. And run that alongside the clean drums. That gives you the natural dynamics that are happening along with the tracks, but you get the blend in of that compressed, smashed blend. It brings out the room sound, the excitement and the energy, it makes things feel bigger than life.

No bottom heads?
Bottom heads removed to give you that smack, the drums sound unique compared to their old records or most records. They have more ring and less body. Brann wanted to go for an old Genesis sound. It was fun.

Overhead miking?
The overheads and rooms are an equal balance, depending on the song. “The Hunter” is mostly far mics except for the kick and snare. Sometimes I didn''t even use the overheads, just the distant mics to create a space. So you could hear the drums.