Mic Check: Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor turns to art during pandemic

Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor in the "clown room" at his Atlanta home. Photo: Susanne Gibboney

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Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor in the "clown room" at his Atlanta home. Photo: Susanne Gibboney

Editor's note: With live music and concert reviews on hold due to COVID-19, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is focusing on how Georgia musicians are spending their time in our feature, Mic Check.

Fans of Mastodon and muscular drumming already know what Brann Dailor is capable of behind a kit.

But the affable rocker also has a delicate touch with a sketch pad, which, during the pandemic, he rediscovered to draw a daily clown to fit his mood.

Dailor is a self-described clown enthusiast, even dedicating a room in the Atlanta home he shares with wife Susanne, one-eyed kitty Don Tickles and Dalmatian Thriller, to grinning and macabre faces and masks.

But he’ll tell you more about that.

With Mastodon forced off the road this spring, the band, which also includes bassist Troy Sanders and guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, has dedicated some time to focus on the follow-up to 2017's "Emperor of Sand" album. (The opening track, "Sultan's Curse," earned Mastodon its first Grammy Award for best metal performance.)

Here is what Dailor had to say about life during lockdown.

Q: What have you been doing?

A: I've been drawing a clown a day. It's become my ritual. There was one with a clown underwater with a cement shoe; there was an open casket with a clown. I wake up in the morning and (decide) this is the clown for the day. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid. My parents thought I would be a visual artist, but I went full bore into the drums at 20. When I met Susanne in Atlanta, I bought all the paint and sketch pads and said I'm gonna start again. So for 20-something years, I've been threatening myself that I'm going to start drawing again! As soon as the lockdown happened, I cracked open a sketchbook, and I drew a clown, and the next day I drew another. It's a fun project for me. To my own detriment, I feel like I care too much about what other people think of stuff, but with this, I don't care what anyone thinks of my clowns. It's just a soul-nourishing thing for me and a way to keep me sane during the pandemic. (Dailor completed his endeavor earlier this month after drawing 101 clowns in 101 days.)

Q: What do you miss about “normal” life?

A: Other people, I guess, and leaving the house without this set of rules and precautions that are always in your head. I'm not so much worried about getting sick, but you think of other people, and there's a lot of unanswered questions because it's such a new virus. I'm trying to be responsible. My mom in New York has COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and she smokes like it's her job, and she lives in a high rise with people who all have some affliction. They have nurse's aides who come in and my mom has an aide who comes every day, but where does she go after she sees my mom? If my mom were to get it, she would be done. She gets pneumonia on a regular basis. A lot of her symptoms mimic (the virus) on a regular basis. I talk to her every day, and she's going crazy because she knows her condition, and it's very stressful. It's been a few months of nonstop this-is-what's-on-anybody's-mind.

Q: Have you been listening to anything in particular?

A: I'm a movie fanatic. I may be more into movies than music, to be honest. I feel movies are the ultimate art form; it's music, visual art, acting. I've dug back into my DVD collection, which had been abandoned, and have some great documentaries that you thought were out of print — "Driver 23/The Atlas Moth" and "Off the Charts: The Song Poem Story," a hidden gem of a documentary. "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," another great documentary. "Windy City Heat," directed by Bob Goldthwait. One of the things I do on a regular basis to get me out of any funk is YouTube Norm Macdonald late-night appearances. I've also been going through watching "Game of Thrones" for the third time.

Q: What’s the latest on a new album?

A: There's a bunch of stuff that's pretty much finished, about 20-30 songs. We never go into the studio 100 percent. We usually go in at 75 percent and leave some room for improvisation. I'm starting to get excited about it. It's super, super heavy, super moody. There's some slow creepy stuff. It's cool. There's some big old monster riffs, like we like to do. And some singing and some drumming (laughs). But I have no idea on timing… It's been a nice pause to be able to reflect on that material and dig in on it. If you're self-employed, you need to kick yourself in the [butt] every day to go do something.

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