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Brann Dailor Talks 20 Years Of Mastodon, New 'Medium Rarities' Collection And How He Spent The Coronavirus Lockdown Drawing Clowns

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Brann Dailor Talks 20 Years Of Mastodon, New 'Medium Rarities' Collection And How He Spent The Coronavirus Lockdown Drawing Clowns

Mastodon founding member and drummer/singer tells GRAMMY.com about how the band's "homeless" songs led the GRAMMY-winning metal group to release a collection of rare tracks, left-field covers and B-sides

GRAMMYs/Sep 13, 2020 - 03:00 pm

We can all agree that 2020 is a milestone, albeit challenging, year: There's that end-of-the-world-feeling pandemic that's been going on since March. And oh yeah, it's Mastodon's 20-year anniversary, too. 

Brann Dailor, the band's drummer/singer and founding member, has been quarantined at home in Atlanta for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. His mother, who "smokes like it's her job, unfortunately, and has COPD," Dailor says, is at risk for COVID-19, so he didn't visit her in his Rochester, N.Y., hometown. (He jokes that his mom is akin to Keith Richards: eternal.) 

Fortunately, his other family, Mastodon, ended up using the last six months in lockdown wisely. Dailor and the rest of the group—bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, lead guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bill Kelliher—compiled Medium Rarities, a collection of rarities, covers and B-sides that marks their two decades together as a groundbreaking, GRAMMY-winning quartet that's often narrowly classified as "metal." 

In a wide-ranging conversation with GRAMMY.com, the talkative Brann Dailor waxed prolifically on everything from the "homeless" songs that led to Medium Rarities, how he drew 101 clowns in 101 days during the coronavirus lockdown, and how, after 20 years with Mastodon, he continues to focus on the now

Medium Rarities is a collection of, as the name implies, rarities and covers. Was the project planned before the pandemic? 

I mean, we were ruminating on it. The story of our song, "Fallen Torches," explains it. A few years ago, we bought a building in Atlanta because two of the major practice facilities in town closed down. There were hundreds of homeless bands in Atlanta, and we were included in that group. 

[Guitarist/vocalist] Bill's basement is very small. There's a little studio down there, but the four of us have been in the band together for 20 years; we're not cramming in that basement to write material.

So we had to figure something out. We started looking for a building where, maybe as a band, we could go in on a building together and build it out and end up with like 20-30 rooms. So we did that. We also put a recording studio in the bottom part. 

When we got everything totally hooked up and rockin', and we got the drums set up, we were all very excited to see [what it sounded like], what we had as far as a room. That's kind of a make-or-break: whether or not we can record an actual album in our own studio. 

I went over to Bill's basement and I had like three riffs strung together. He had a couple parts. We just started, and we put ["Fallen Torches"] together. We demoed it at Bill's, then we took it over to our place, recorded it and put all the bells and whistles on there. 

Very exciting that it sounded great!

Yeah, we were stoked about what we had done, then [guest singer] Scott Kelly had come to start rehearsals for a tour that we were gonna do together. He laid down some vocals for it, and we said, "We can just put this thing out, right? It's finished." Got it mixed and mastered and said, "Here you go, Warner Bros., check it out. We want to put this out ahead of our tour with Scott Kelly." It made perfect sense. 

Ha! Uh-oh—foreshadowing. 

So two weeks into the tour: What's going on? Where's the song? I don't know what happened. Bureaucracy. Red tape. The circumstances were explained to me at some point in time, like a year and a half ago. It has left my brain, like many other things. We had talked about it in the press, too, which is just a no-no. We thought [it] was a done deal. So we had to put it in the corner; we didn't know what to do with it. Should it go on our next album …

Even though it was meant to be a stand-alone one-off with Scott ... 

Yeah. Well honestly, with every single album, there'll be riffs and parts that we call "homeless riffs." "Remember that one riff from 2006? Let's revisit that." For instance, the very first riff you hear on [2017 album] Emperor Of Sand is a 10-year-old riff written in 2007 that was sitting in the computer for that long. 

So basically, our manager Kristen [Mulderig, president of the RSE Group,] came up with the idea. "Listen, you guys have all these songs … all your covers that only came out on a special release; seven-inches that only serious collectors have … It'll be cool to put all that weird stuff that's been hanging out for a long time all together."

So our "homeless" songs now live on an actual master and a release all together. And it was also a vehicle where we can finally release "Fallen Torches" and also say, "This is our 20th year. You've collected all this. This is all your shrapnel."

Phew. Long story, great idea. 

And that's the story of Medium Rarities, a cool thing to put out while we are in the middle of writing for our next actual full-length. We're talking about going to the studio somewhere around late September [or] October.

You did some great covers for Medium Rarities and some that seem left field, like Feist and The Flaming Lips. Do you have a favorite "rarity" from the record? 

I really like the Feist song, "A Commotion." I thought that was so cool. I want to do so much more of that [artists performing each other's tunes]. We did ["Later... with Jools Holland" in the U.K.] years ago, and that's when we met [Leslie Feist] and we met Bon Iver. It was such a cool thing because, you know, when you play [in] a metal band, you just don't get those kinds of opportunities. You don't get invited to those parties. When you're there, you kind of feel like you don't really belong, like a voyeur in a weird way. But the Bon Iver guys wanted to talk to us, they wanted to meet us, and they said, "We love you guys. We listen to Mastodon before we go on stage."

Mastodon have been nominated for a bunch of GRAMMYs, with one win in 2018 for Best Metal Performance for "Sultan's Curse" off Emperor Of Sand. I'm wondering, what is success to you? Is it an award? Or the band being featured on "Game Of Thrones"? Or …

Honestly, success for me personally is the moment that the four of us can sit together and listen to a finished piece of art that we made together. The pinnacle of success for me is when we listen back and it's tears of joy, high-fives, hugs. 

A different topic: your clown drawings. I've seen some online.

I was doing a lot of drawing when everything locked down. When I was a kid, I would draw all the time. I was the kid in high school or in middle school that could draw Eddie from Iron Maiden, so everyone wanted me to draw Eddie on jackets or book covers. I'd charge them $4 because it cost $4 for a hit of acid. "If I do a book cover, I can go to [name redacted!] house, get me a hit of acid for the weekend; it'll be great."

Wow! 

The doors of perception were open and my third eye was squeegeed quite well. So I hadn't drawn anything in like 25 years. The urge to sit down and draw something started to leave me in my late-teens as my life got busier; I just stopped drawing. All my concentration was towards drumming and hanging out with my girlfriend, my friends.

But I had a couple of piles, bags of art supplies in closets in my home. I was always [like], "One day, I'm going to crack you open, I'm going to write on you!" So I drew a clown on the first day of the lockdown on my 11-by-14 paper pad with like 20 pages in it. I liked how it came out. Of course, in the beginning, it was like, "This [lockdown] is gonna go on for 14 days and then we'll be back up and running and everything will be fine."

I drew the second clown. The third clown. Then I drew 101 clowns in 101 days straight. Every single day.

Different clowns?

There were all different themes. I did a Steve Harvey clown. I did a Richard Simmons clown … I did a clown in an open casket. A clown with a balloon floating up and the balloon said, "I miss you," on it. I did two clowns hugging. I did a Texas Chain Saw Massacre clown. I did a Silence Of The Lambs clown. It was crazy.

Are the drawings online? 

I haven't posted them because I went off all my social media months ago, but you can search. A guy here in town published a couple, and Metal Hammer published some as well. I think there's going to be a coffee-table book.

But I think it was just for me. It went to a snowball of friends; more people would get added to the daily clown list. It got to where it would take me 45 minutes to send in the clowns to everyone. It went to all sorts of people: Lars Ulrich [Metallica] and Josh Homme [Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles Of Death Metal] and all my buddies from tour who were sitting at home. Every once in a while, it'd be 8 p.m. and I'd get texts from people like, "Hey, are you OK? Where's today's clown?" I'd be like, "It's coming, hang on. I had sh*t to do today!"

Does Mastodon's 20th anniversary make you thoughtful? Do you consider it a big landmark? 

I thought it was more impressive when we were a younger band and I would know that another band had been around for that long. Like, "How do you do that with the same people?" Well, usually it's not the same people; you have [band] member changes throughout the years, which makes sense. Yet here we are: same four dudes, 20 years. 

Quite honestly, the only time I haven't really thought about Mastodon in the last 20 years was over this little pause. That was the first time in forever, 'cause I'm always thinking about it. It's always this moving motion: I'm not thinking about 20 years behind me, I'm only focused on what's happening now and what we're doing right now. The constant buzzing in my brain is about new material and what to do with it and how to make it better.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

Iggy Pop

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Iggy Pop Announces New Album, 'Free', Shares Title Track

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained… I wanted to be free," the Godfather of Punk explained

GRAMMYs/Jul 18, 2019 - 11:47 pm

Today, GRAMMY-nominated punk forbearer Iggy Pop revealed the details for his forthcoming 18th solo studio album, along with its short—at under two minutes—yet spacious title track, "Free." The 10-track LP is due out Sept. 6 and follow's 2016's GRAMMY-nominated Post Pop Depression.

"This is an album in which other artists speak for me, but I lend my voice," Pop explains in a press release.

The statement notes jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas and L.A.-based electric guitarist Noveller as the "principal players" collaborating with Pop on this exploratory new project. On "Free," Thomas' horn and Noveller's guitar add layers of depth, somberness and exploration, as Pop's echoing voice cuts through twice to proclaim, "I want to be free."

Pop adds that his last tour left him feeling exhausted but ready for change, and the shifts eventually led him to these new sounds:

"By the end of the tours following Post Pop Depression, I felt sure that I had rid myself of the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long. But I also felt drained. And I felt like I wanted to put on shades, turn my back, and walk away. I wanted to be free. I know that's an illusion, and that freedom is only something you feel, but I have lived my life thus far in the belief that that feeling is all that is worth pursuing; all that you need—not happiness or love necessarily, but the feeling of being free. So this album just kind of happened to me, and I let it happen."

Post Pop Depression earned the former Stooges frontman his second GRAMMY nod, at the 59th GRAMMY Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. It was produced by GRAMMY winner Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and as a tribute of sorts to David Bowie, Pop's longtime friend the producer of his first two solo albums, and was released shortly after Bowie's surprising passing.

As the press release states, "While it follows the highest charting album of Iggy's career, Free has virtually nothing in common sonically with its predecessor—or with any other Iggy Pop album."

You can pre-order and pre-save the new album now for the Sept. 6 release here. You can also check out Pop's new book, 'Til Wrong Feels Right, on Sept. 26.

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