This year, Mastodon is contributing something even more special than an unearthed recording. The band is releasing its newly recorded cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” in memory of their manager and friend, Nick John, who died of pancreatic cancer last fall.
The quartet was asked to play the song at the church service for John’s funeral, and afterward decided to record it exclusively for Record Store Day and donate proceeds to pancreatic cancer research.
Dailor sings lead on the cover, which was recorded in Atlanta; the B-side will feature the church version of the song, with Dailor playing a cajón (a percussion box) and his bandmates on acoustic guitars.
Chatting from his Atlanta home recently, Dailor spoke with heartfelt emotion about the band’s beloved manager, the decision to release a song in his honor and what fans can expect from the upcoming Mastodon live show.
Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor shows off his "clown room" in his Atlanta home. The hard rock band returns for a hometown show in May at the Coca-Cola Roxy. Photo: Susanne Gibboney.
On performing “Stairway to Heaven” at Nick John’s funeral:
“It’s this cliché of a song, unfortunately, but it’s one of the greatest rock anthems ever written. I don’t know any other song that could compete with how famous it is. When we were asked to learn it and perform at Nick’s funeral, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ Everything is telling me to say no. I just didn’t know where my head was going to be at (during the funeral). It’s a daunting task. I’ve never sat down and tried to learn ‘Stairway.’ If you’re covering a Zeppelin song these days, you’re not covering ‘Stairway’! But what an amazing song. It was perfect for the funeral service. We printed the lyrics and the idea was to have everyone sing it along with us. I don’t think that wound up happening..
Nick was Greek Orthodox and the tradition is that it’s an open casket, so we were basically set up next to him. Two things that don’t mix well together are singing and crying. You have to pick one. Once the music started and I was next to Nick, it was really super sad. But once I started singing, it helped. I just dug into my anxiety of performing in front of all these people I didn’t know. What I never expected was to be playing at one of my best friends’ funeral with his open casket next to us. I just thought, we need to nail this for our buddy. We need to rise to this occasion. I just wanted to call him and tell him we learned ‘Stairway’ and were gonna play it live. He would have thought it was funny.”
On the decision to record the song and release it on Record Store Day:
“Our friend Joe Duplantier, from the band Gojira, taped it on his phone because he didn’t want (the moment) to go unrecorded. Afterward, he took it back to his studio and messed with the levels a little bit. The acoustics in the church were great, actually. It was a very real moment. When we heard that version, we thought, why don’t we do a recorded version for Record Store Day? And then we heard it and were like, we should release it in tribute to Nick with the proceeds going to pancreatic cancer research.”
Mastodon with beloved manager Nick John, who passed away in September 2018. Photo: Facebook
On Mastodon’s special relationship with Nick John:
“He was a one of a kind guy. He just loved music so much. He never played an instrument, but he wanted to be involved somehow. He wasn’t there to get paid, he wanted to help and manage. We would not be where we are today if it wasn’t for him. He worked his (butt) off for us. He talked many of our guys off many ledges. You just trusted him so much. I talked to him more than I talk to my parents, actually. He was so excited about everything we did. Every decision the band made, we would go to him first. We met him in 2004. I was told to start looking for a manager when we recorded ‘Leviathan.’ (The record company) gave me a list of 10 people and I called all of them and didn’t jibe with any of them. They were all L.A. people and they seemed slick…Then I called Nick and after five or six conversations with him, I got the nerve to pop the question to ask if he would manage us and he said, ‘Of course!’
All I can do it channel (my grief) into more music. We canceled tour (in August) and went to his bedside when he was at home and going to pass away. We canceled everything. He was one of the most important people in our lives and we weren’t going to not be there. He was our band’s dad.”
Atlanta hard rockers Mastodon have a special release for Record Store Day and will play a hometown show in May. Photo: Jimmy Hubbard
On performing “Crack the Skye” in full on upcoming tour:
“It’s the 10 year anniversary and we felt it was a landmark album to us. It’s a super proud moment for our band. We wanted to mark the occasion by doing something. We were gonna just do a few shows in major cities, but the Coheed opportunity came up and we figured we could do ‘Crack the Skye’ (on tour). Playing with Coheed, it makes sense to us. There’s an audience there that we haven’t played for. It’s always good to gain new fans; we’ve been touring on this last album (“Emperor of Sand”) three or four times, so if we weren’t doing the ‘Crack the Skye’ thing, we wouldn’t have gone out. We’ll do some oldy moldys to start out the show and then the (full) album. I feel like we’re a better band now. The 10 years has done (‘Crack…’) well. Not only the songs have aged well, but they’re performed better live.”
On playing in their hometown:
“I’m excited to play The Roxy. I always love playing Atlanta, no matter what. Our hometown is always really great to us. I love playing in the city. I love the people and all our friends and family always come out.”
What is in the future for Mastodon:
“We’re working on new stuff, but not that diligently at the moment. Everyone is gathering their pieces. We’ll probably start putting stuff together relatively soon and maybe next spring will have something out. We’re not in any big rush. I want to take our time with it and we want people to miss us.”
Here are some of the area music stores participating in Record Store Day. For a full list of locations, visit www.recordstoreday.com.
Moods Music/Little 5 Soul
Wax ‘n’ Facts
Decatur CD and Vinyl
Al Bum’s Record Shoppe
Sweet Melissa Records
In addition to the Mastodon special release, "Stairway to Nick John," here are some other exclusives arriving Saturday. Check out the full list and their formats at www.recordstoreday.com (and keep in mind that not all stores will order all releases).
The B-52's "Mesopotamia"
Weezer "Weezer (Teal Album)"
The White Stripes "Candy Cane Child"
Tedeschi Trucks Band "High and Mighty"
Aretha Franklin "The Atlantic Singles 1967"
Matthew Sweet "Pleasure Island, Live"
Billy Joel "Live at Carnegie Hall 1977"
Mark Ronson "Nothing Breaks Like A Heart"
Duran Duran "As The Lights Go Down"
The Rolling Stones "Through The Past Darkly"
Queen "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Mumford & Sons "Delta Acoustic Sessions | Live From Electric Lady"
David Bowie/Marlene Dietrich "Revolutionary Songs/Just A Gigolo"
Coheed & Cambria and Mastodon
With Every Time I Die. 6:30 p.m. May 31. $49.50-$74.50. Coca-Cola Roxy, 800 Battery Ave. SE., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, livenation.com.