Crack the Skye
Biographical insight from genesis to fruition in our own words
The Album of Our Lives
Bill Kelliher (guitars): This is the record we've always wanted to make. We finally made it! I just got back from the dentist and listened to it on my iPod and I started hearing more things that I hadn't noticed before. It was great. Awesome. Basically, "Wow! This is really us!" It's kind of hard to believe. We've come a very long way since our very first EP, so a huge sense of accomplishment came over me. I was thrilled. I'm really proud of everyone and the job we all did.
Brann Dailor (drums, vocals, and percussion): When I listen to it, I feel as if I've just come out of a heavy movie. The first couple of times I heard it through I couldn't talk for about half an hour. Took me a while to come down from it.
Brent Hinds (lead guitar, vocals, and banjo): It's almost like it could give you a music hangover. There's a lot of music going on. I'm impressed, even though it came from us. I listened to it and was like, "I'm so proud of these dudes!" I love those guys and am proud of this.
Troy Sanders (bass, vocals, and bass synth): Hopefully the album is a reflection of the emotional journey that we've sunk into its creation. After challenging all our emotions in the spectrum, I would hope the listeners will reflect on some of what we put into it. It's not just seven songs, but an up-and-down journey. It was to truly dig in and pull personal inspiration from both the darkest and dearest parts of our souls, and simultaneously with our wonder and amazement of the entire universe.
Its two totally different things, diving into a small part of your soul and then being mesmerized with the wonders of our universe. Those things don't really seem to match. But from that dearest spot within our souls, to the outer limits of our universal imagination, we've furthered our attempt to make a record that follows the steps of us wanting to trek through our journey, taking the most natural and brutally honest next step of Mastodon's evolution.
Bill: Back in the '70s and '80s and '90s even, when you bought a record like … And Justice For All or Kill 'Em All or Reign In Blood, you put the record on and listened to it until it was done and then flipped it over and started again. We're from the old school trying to bring that back. Take your life off "shuffle" and put the whole thing on and then you'll see the whole picture. We've always tried to do that – and with this one we did.
This Time It's Personal
Brann: There are some moments I put in there from a very specific time in my life, which I've never really done before. The music really called for it. Brent wrote most of the music and Brent, Troy, and I wrote most of the lyrics. Brent has dug deeper with the music and there was stuff in my past I hadn't really touched on lyrically before. I felt this was the perfect opportunity.
Bill: After the MTV Video Music Awards, Brent was badly injured.
Troy: We got this call that one of our brothers had brain injuries. That could be death or permanent damage to his motor skills. For a moment there, we were truly in shock, but first and foremost, we were concerned about our friend's well-being. None of us has ever taken our band and career and wonderful experiences for granted. We know that any day, no matter what, anything can be stripped from you. That would have been devastating. And it did cross our minds that that this could have been our last day as Mastodon. That last night could have been our last gig.
Brann: The Brent thing brought us closer. We had to forge ahead. Brent's in the hospital, fucked up, but we need to go to the practice space. I don't care if we write anyt hing, but we need to go there and be there and be in this band. And when he comes back he'll be back.
Troy: It affected me and the whole band the same. It takes moments like that in your personal life or band life or job life or anything – you have to step back, reconfigure your intentions of where your thoughts and desires are. It affected our whole thinking process and every emotion on the album. We were forced to take moments to step back and realize something more sincere.
Brent: I was so glad to be alive when it was all over. So glad to be have my motor skills back and be able to function again. I was laid up pretty hardcore for a couple of months. So when I finally started playing guitar again I was really into playing guitar. It was a creative outburst. Don't know if it came from the accident or not. But when I found out I was okay, I was really excited about playing guitar. Now I'm already tired of it and someone can knock me out again.
Bill: There's a lyric in the song "Oblivion" that goes: "Fall from grace, because I've been away so long." The way I think of that is Brent singing about his own injury or where he was out of it for a few months. The album has a personal side, but jumps around a little. It's not just a whole record about a certain thing. There are lyrics about black holes and secret societies and wormholes and the magnet of wisdom. I don't know exactly what it means. But the content really paints a picture in your head. A magnet of wisdom? What is that? Some giant brain in the universe pulling things toward it? I love it. Not like any other band or writing that I've ever seen or heard before. It's cool.
Brent: We were thinking about the next element. We've got water with our album Leviathan and earth in Blood Mountain. So what next? Skye, the spelling is Brann's sister, who passed away as a kid. That's her name. He has it tattooed on his neck. Blood Mountain was metaphorically about us signing with Warner Bros., climbing this mountain. Now the hard part is to impress these guys and show we're worth every dime they've put into us. Leviathan was about chasing the white whale, which we could understand — getting into our white van and leaving our families and friends and jobs like those fishermen did. Crack The Skye could mean we're going through the roof with this one. Go up and crack a hole in the sky.
Bill: There are songs telling a story from one man's eyes. I don't know if "ambiguous" is the right word, but there is purposeful double meaning. It's more about what you think it means, so you can form your own opinion. It touches on Rasputin and the Czar and the plotting and murder of him — also stepping out of your body and astral planning.
Brann: This story is a multi-dimensional journey starting in present day. Leaving a crippled body using astral travel, up into outer space, too close to the sun. Ripped into a wormhole and sent to the spirit realm. Convincing sprits that you're not one of them. Channeling you into a Russian Orthodox sect called the Khlysty in the early 20th century. Into Rasputin's body for his assassination. Out of his body and up through a crack in the sky and passing through the Devil's dominion without being dragged to hell and back into present day.
Means of Production
Bill: Working with Brendan O'Brien, this was the time to get busy with a real guy. We had opportunities to do a lot more on this record than on the last couple of records. There's more concept; it's a more layered record. For us it's always been about the whole record as a piece. We had 15 songs to choose from and it happened that seven of those sounded like they were coming from the same direction.
Troy: We felt it was the hand of fate that fell upon us. We had meetings with Brendan over coffee here in Atlanta and he said, "There are a lot in the demos I like. What kind of record do you want to make?" We said we had a classic rock feel in mind. There are a lot of those elements in it. And that's what he is, from Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan — he's a rock 'n' roll producer. And he works and lives here in Atlanta and we really wanted to work at home. And Brendan said, "Well, I was already committed to doing AC/DC so I can get to you when that's done." And we said, "Dude! That's perfect!" We felt we were following in another great set of footsteps. Only furthered the coolness factor.
He brought an extremely natural representation of what Mastodon sounds like live. Not a lot of bells and whistles, not a lot of compression. Raw yet big-sounding representation of what Mastodon plainly is. Bringing our keyboard player was wonderful too. Brann kept it stripped down so we were able to add keys here, piano there, a little banjo as an intro, but overall stripped down, raw and big.
Brann: Scott Kelly from Neurosis sang on the title song. He's one of our really close friends and it was important to us to include him on the record. That riff, we heard his vocals all over it and he's no stranger to tragedy so he knew what to do.
Bill: I was a fan of early Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. They would have 15- or 20-minute songs and you wouldn't even notice the length. It was like a movement — something real happening before my eyes to watch a band like that. All of us come from that school. I know we're all in our 30s, but we can all relate. Kids today need that. They need a good dose, not copied from the '70s, but new versions. Progressive on top of progressive, on the roots of Mastodon, still those heavy things and have your fans grow with you. There's no formula. We can play any style we want for as long as we all feel it.
And on this record there's a lot more singing and harmonizing, less screaming. We're honing our skills in our music. More hard rock than dirty Southern metal. Some bands can be pigeonholed and stay in the genre they came up with. But we needed to really step it up this time. We just made a better record than the last record and that's what we want to do the rest of our lives.
Brann: It feels like we're a new band — like we cracked some wall. It's a really good place to be. Collectively, we've all been doing music our whole lives, the last nine years together, and you wonder when this is gonna fizzle out. But for it to change like this at this point, and be this new fresh thing has really revitalizes everybody. It puts a whole new spin on the project and I feel we've almost reinvented ourselves. As heavy as the record is for me to listen to, it makes me think, "Wow! Now we're on this trip and the next few records will keep evolving in this style."