Mastodon’s sound check at San Francisco’s
Warfield Theatre reflected the personalities
of the two guitar players aiming to destroy
the majestic venue come nightfall. Freewheeling
Brent Hinds completely entrusts his tech,
John Araya, to tweak tones while he gets some
extra rest. Detail-oriented Bill Kelliher works
closely with his tech, Warren Termini, fussing
over the pummeling guitar tones emanating
from his three towering stacks.
“Brent is a free spirit who lives like he’s going
to die in ten minutes,” explains Kelliher. “He
may or may not show up at sound check. But
I always show up to tweak every knob and try
each guitar. I don’t like to wing it.”
Kelliher auditions a Mesa/Boogie Royal
Atlantic RA-100, a Diezel Herbert head, a
Marshall Kerri King Signature JCM800, and
a pair of vintage JCM800s through a Marshall
4x12 stack, an unmiked Orange 4x12
stack, and a Mills Acoustics 4x12 stack.
“Finally something that sounds good!”
“Looks like we’re going with the vintage
Marshalls,” affirms Termini.
Hinds favors a classic pedalboard setup,
while Kelliher complements a few pedals
with a TC Electronic G-System effects processor.
He plays while Termini connects
a laptop to the G-System and dials in the
requested amount of chorus on a preset
as the rest of the band arrives, including
drummer Brann Dailor and bassist/vocalist
“My setup is simple,” says Hinds. “Each
head powers the stack it’s sitting on, and
they’re all on all the time.” A Marshall
Vintage Modern 2466 powers a pair of
Orange 4x12 cabs, a Deizel VH4 powers a
pair of Marshall 4x12 cabs, and a beat-up
vintage Marshall JMP powers two equally
beat-up 4x12 cabs.
Mastodon then gets busy honing the
hook-heavy “Blasteroid,” from the band’s
surprisingly melodic The Hunter [Roadrunner].
Significant for not being another concept
effort, the album has climbed as high
as #5 on Billboard’s Top Rock Albums chart.
The Grammy-nominated single, “Curl of
the Burl,” sounds strangely familiar—like
it could have been on one of Ozzy’s first
two solo albums. With a host of strong
supporters, The Hunter is bagging Mastodon
a broader audience. After a GP photo
shoot, Hinds and Kelliher are ready to detail
the piles of gear in tow, and explain how
they created the weighty riffs, classic metal
tones, and clever guitar harmonies that come
together gloriously on the new material.
Are the guitars you chose to pose with your current
Hinds: The Acrylic V (Electrical Guitar
Company Brent Hinds Custom) is my favorite
guitar for Mastodon because it looks so
great. I slammed in some Lace Sensor pickups
and now it also sounds a lot tighter and
less fuzzy and buzzy. The downsides are that
it’s heavy and awkward to hold, and it’s hard
to see what you’re playing onstage because
the neck is so shiny.
My overall favorite guitar for sound, feel,
and looks is an ’83 Gibson SG that I bought
from the Guess Who’s keyboard player at a
bar in Pittsburg. If you’ve got a beer belly
like I do, the SG is especially comfortable
because of the way it’s cut—your pouch goes
right in there. When you play a V, the guitar
kind of hangs over it unattractively. You’ve
got to suck in your gut.
Clockwise from top left—Kelliher’s Dell laptop running TC Electronic’s G-System software, Kelliher’s pedalboard, and Hinds’ pedal works.
Kelliher: Yes. My current favorite is a
’77 Gibson Les Paul Custom that I found
recently. It has the best action of all my guitars,
and I own 50 or 60 Les Pauls, Explorers,
and random others. The action is so low
it plays like butter. I’m trying it out with a
Lace Sensor Nitro-Hemi humbucker in the
bridge position. It’s a little hot at times, but
I like the sound because it’s got a bit more
midrange and a stronger attack than the original
pickup. That Les Paul will be my primary
stage guitar tonight. We use three different
tunings, and I use that instrument for the first
tuning, which is D standard. All the strings
are just dropped a full-step from standard.
I noticed that all the guitars on both sides
backstage are lowered a whole step, and then the
only difference is the bottom string.
Kelliher: Right. From D standard we also
use C and A on the bottom strings.
How do you decide which tuning to use for a
Hinds: It depends on the guitar I pick up
when I feel creative. I keep the solidbody electrics
I use for Mastodon in the lowered tunings.
I usually use hollowbody Gretsches and
Yamahas tuned standard for my two other
bands, West End Motel and Fiend Without
a Face, plus a new project I’m working on
with Ben Weinman from Dillinger Escape
Plan, Eric Avery from Jane’s Addiction, and
Jon Theodore from the Mars Volta. The band
is called G.T.O.—Giraffe Tongue Orchestra.
How would you describe its sound?
Hinds: It’s alternative classic psychedelic
We’ll look forward to that. In the meantime,
how did you guys come up with the material on
Kelliher: I built a Pro Tools studio in
our practice pad. Brent would start working
on an idea, and I’d start recording in
the other room figuring I’d learn the tune
later. When Brent wasn’t there, Brann and I
would sift through riffs we’d come up with
at sound checks and whatnot. Brent and I
usually write separately and then show each
other things because we’re two totally different
writers. If I show him one of my riffs,
he turns it into one of his riffs, so we don’t
really get anywhere.
Hinds: I always have to keep the mindset
that I’m working on a solo album in order to
get more done. When Bill wasn’t available,
I laid down my nine or ten songs—sometimes
playing to a click track, but usually
with Brann or Troy and Brann. When Brann
comes up with riffs he works them out with
Bill. They’re the clean-cut metalheads and
me and Troy are the dirty scumbags. That’s
just the way it is. I’ve never recorded with
Bill simultaneously. Bill’s always combing
his mustache somewhere while I do whatever
I’ve got to do.
You’ve always recorded individually?
Hinds: Exactly. I don’t waste time and
money showing Bill what to play in the
studio when I could simply record it and
then tell everybody that Bill’s playing on it
too. Besides, Bill doesn’t want to sit around
the studio when he can take his beautiful
children to the park or something. He can
learn his parts for the live show, and that
will sound a little different, which is cool.
Kelliher: Here’s an interesting story about
“Black Tongue.” Brent suggested that I track
a solo. “I don’t really play solos, so I don’t
really know what to do,” I told him. I had put
some guitar harmonies in the second half of
the instrumental break. That’s my thing. I
try not to overdo it, but I like using harmony
to add color to a musical break that needs a
bit of a spotlight to fancy it up.
The record was 99 percent wrapped
when we left for a European tour—still no
proper solo. Warner Brothers called to say
they were putting “Black Tongue” out as the
first single—the next day! Producer Mike Elizondo
liked the harmonies and encouraged
me to “do that some more.”
I had all the songs in Pro Tools 9, so I
spent five hours in a French hotel room figuring
out a 20-second guitar solo that had
kind of a Kirk Hammett feel. I just plugged
my guitar right into my laptop and tried to
get a good sound. I recorded a solo, and then
the harmony. I eventually played that in one
pass, but I had to do it about 100 times to get
it right. When I finally finished, I sent it over
to Mike. At 4 a.m., he e-mailed me his mix,
and everybody agreed that it sounded awesome.
I was excited because I’d never done
anything like that before on a major release.
What was your principal tracking setup for
Kelliher: I used a ’74 Les Paul Custom
tobacco sunburst loaded with Gibson ’57
Classic humbuckers. It’s very comfortable,
low noise, and it stays in tune. That’s huge
because we tune low, but I don’t use extraheavy
strings. They’re D’Addario gauges .011-
.052. The low string warbled least with the
’74, so I used it most. I used a Kerry King
Signature Marshall head for a couple songs,
but I got the best rock sound out of my
old JCM800s. Modern amps usually sound
too blended to my ears. I’ve got 20-watt,
handwound Celestions in the Marshall
cabinet because they break up nice and
Hinds: The ’76 Marshall 100-watt JMP
Mark II Lead Series is my overall go-to amp.
What about that particular vintage sounds
so great to you?
Hinds: Rock and roll, AC/DC, ”Kick Out
the Jams,” MC5, the Stooges, in your face,
shut the f**k up—all that awesome punk
rock that I missed.
“Curl of the Burl” sounds wicked. What can you
remember about writing and recording that track?
Hinds: I was messing around with a
riff using a Morpheus DropTune pedal for
an octave-down effect in dropped-A tuning
when Brann suggested that it would go good
with two other riffs we had played earlier.
I decided that we needed a bridge when we
were in the studio, so I wrote one really fast.
How did you get that big phasing sound?
Hinds: I played an arpeggiated part, and
then I layered it with a 12-string Takamine
acoustic until I got that phasing texture.
“Blasteroid” is a super-catchy tune.
Hinds: It probably took me two minutes
to write that song. I diarrhea music. I don’t
practice how to play guitar—I practice how
to write music, and then accidentally there’s
a song. Those parts spewed out in order. I
felt like I was on “The A-Team” that day. I
love it when a plan comes together.
Did you achieve the soaring, fuzzy, echoed-out
solo on “The Sparrow” by doubling it with a synth?
Hinds: That’s a Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Octavio
pedal through an Ibanez Tube Screamer
over a Monster Effects Mastortion pedal into
a Fender Princeton Reverb. It sounds doubled,
but it’s not.
As the song starts to fall apart at the very
end, lots of different vibe-y parts become audible.
What’s going on?
Hinds: There are probably six or seven
guitar tracks including a hollowbody
Gretsch, 12- and 6-string acoustics, and
my SG. I also played lap-steel all over the
place, which gives “Sparrow” that Meddleera
David Gilmour vibe.
On average, how many guitar parts are on
Kelliher: Usually only two. Back in the
day I thought more was better and I’d lay
lots of tracks down, but these days we like to
be as true to the recording as possible when
playing onstage. When you’ve got five guitars
doing harmonies with rhythms underneath
plus a solo on top it’s like, “Who’s going to
play all that extra stuff live?
What do you enjoy most or least about playing
Hinds: I’m not happy when we have to
play 12-year-old stuff that the audience has
heard Lord knows how many times, but
it feels awesome when we lock in on the
new stuff. I’m happy as hell during those