Mastodon's Guitarist Bill Kelliher Lives the Life of a Prog Metal Road Warrior
Courtesy of the band

Mastodon's Guitarist Bill Kelliher Lives the Life of a Prog Metal Road Warrior

As brutal as the road can be for the garden variety rockstar, there are some out there who just seem to be built for it. Speaking via telephone from Charlottesville, South Carolina, Mastodon’s rhythm guitarist and resident mullet-wearing prankster, Bill Kelliher couldn’t be more happy to be on tour. While some musicians dread the time away from home coupled with a cramped tour bus and exhausting schedule, Kelliher disagrees. Describing his day as, “Pretty radical,” he opens up about what makes life on tour so appealing.

“For me, I like being on tour. At home, I’m extremely busy,” he says. “I can hide on a tour bus, you know? You get used to a schedule.”

Kelliher elaborates on how he maintains a healthy lifestyle even on tour and for someone who became sober in the past few years after a hospitalization with pancreatitis that almost killed him, his health is paramount. “I get up early every morning. I exercise, I eat right, I may write some music and later meet and greet with fans. For me, nowadays, it’s just slow and go.”

It’s hard to imagine heavily tattooed rock dudes crunching calisthenics at sunrise while the rest of us are knuckling sleep out of our eyes, but for Kelliher it’s not optional. “I mean, we’ve been doing this now for 17 years,” Kelliher laughs, “Anyone out there complaining about tour life is probably partying too hard anyway.”
On what is the second night of their headline tour across America with the instrumentalists Russian Circles and the ostentatious four piece, Eagles of Death Metal, Kelliher assures us that this tour, like the last one will be a hit. “We toured with this same line-up in spring and the audiences really seem to dig it.” Indeed, this leg of the North American tour is stopping in cities missed in the spring.

“Last night we played Orlando and the crowd was fucking crazy. We haven’t played there in like, 10 years.” Considering how prolific Mastodon’s cannon has been in the last decade, it’s no wonder that cities who’ve missed previous tours are packing in fans. With last month’s EP release of Cold Dark Place, and May’s LP, Emperor of Sand, Mastodon is showing no signs of slowing the pace.

Even though he didn’t author the music on Cold Dark Place like he did on Emperor of Sand, Kelliher is still proud of the EP. “Brent [Hinds, lead guitarist] wrote these songs.” He continues, “These songs didn’t make it on to our other records. [They] didn’t match the themes that we wanted to use.” Oddly enough, when put together all the songs are in harmonious accord despite being written for different albums over several years.

“Blue Walsh” is a spacey track with drummer Brann Dailor on vocals. Reminiscent of his side project Aracadea’s self-titled release earlier this year, it’s melodic texture threads in perfectly with the album’s ambience. “Toe to Toes,” the only song on the EP that was originally slated for Emperor, hosts compelling time changes and chorus that hooks hard on the ear. Easily, the best song on the EP, “Cold Dark Place” features one of Hind’s most gorgeous guitar solos ever recorded.

Forboding, deeply subconscious and quietly beautiful, Cold Dark Place sounds like an extension of Mastodon’s most sentimental mood. Defying prog metal labels, the EP is altogether softer but not without intricate guitar work, unsettling time changes and provokingly poetic lyrics. Unfortunately, when asked if Mastodon planned on playing any of the EP on the tour, Kelliher said they had no current plans to play but possibly could in the future.
Cold Dark Place is probably not ampi-theater material for a rowdy crowd used to Leviathan riffs and Curl the Burl breakdowns that shake walls and melt faces. If Mastodon decides to perform Place live, it better find some intimate club circuits or play MTV’s newest Unplugged series.

Even without playing the songs from Place, Mastodon has more than enough fan favorites from all albums to fill hours and hours of performance. With songs from across the entire catalog according to setlist.com and a few deep cuts too, like “Halloween” and “March of the Fire Ants” and “Megalodon.”

See the Georgia darlings and prog metal masters, Mastodon October 19th at House of Blues San Diego.

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