Mastodon’s Brann Dailor: Crack The Skye Was Late Manager Nick John’s Favorite Album
Back on Record Store Day last month, Mastodon released a heartfelt cover of Led Zeppelin’s iconic classic, Stairway to Heaven, for their longtime manager, confidant, and beloved friend Nick John who had recently passed away. 100% of the proceeds from the record sales went to the Hirshberg Foundation For Pancreatic Cancer Research. Planned as “the ultimate rock’n’roll goodbye,” it was first performed by the band at Nick John’s funeral and recorded by Gojira’s Joe Duplantier on his phone. When they heard his recording, they realized the song sounded great, and decided to properly record it so it could be used as a vehicle to fill every record store in the country with their dear friend’s face.
The song is now available for streaming worldwide:
The band is now gearing up for their tour with Coheed And Cambria and Every Time I Die this summer in celebration of the 10th anniversary of their 2009 album Crack The Skye, so we called up Brann Dailor to talk about their history with Nick John — and how much he loved that record.
How did you meet your manager, Nick John?
It was around 2003 or 2004 — we just finished recording Leviathan. Up until that point, we didn’t have a manager and hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest, because that wasn’t something that bands like us had, really. We were playing clubs, but we also still played the occasional basement show, and we still had our foot in that world so we were just kind of doing it ourselves. Then Gordon Conrad, who was working at Relapse at the time and kind of was co-managing the band along with myself and the other guys in Mastodon, called and said that [Leviathan] was a really strong, great record, and that we would probably want to pursue management at that point because it would get rather hectic. It might’ve gotten too big for either of us to handle, and it would be a shame if we missed a slot because we didn’t have proper representation — somebody with connections and phone numbers or whatever. So he gave me a list of 10 different people to call, but Nick’s name wasn’t on that list.
I didn’t get a good vibe from anybody — they seemed kind of LA. Like, slick. We had a couple of friends who said that they could maybe do it, but I felt like, if we’re going to get a manager, we need to get someone who can do something, you know? Otherwise it’s more of the same thing — what we were already doing.
Our booking agent at the time, Rich Hoak, who played drums for Brutal Truth, was working at Relapse at the time as an in-house booker, and had been talking to Nick John on the phone a bunch to try getting someone on Relapse on a Slayer tour. Either us, High on Fire, Skinless, or one of those bands. He was speaking with Nick John, and told him about us, saying we were looking for management. Nick offered his advice.
After about six or seven times talking to him, I was just like, ‘Do you want to be our manager?.’ And he said, ‘Absolutely.’ He was managing Slayer, and I was under the impression that it was one band, one manager. [laughs] It didn’t even occur to me that there were management companies with several managers and they were always looking for new bands and blah blah blah. I was totally clueless to that whole thing. I figured, ‘This guy is busy with Slayer.’
From there, we were on Slayer and Slipknot’s tour in Europe, and then we went directly into a Slayer and Killswitch Engage tour in the States, and then OzzFest. Right away, big things happened for us.
So he instantly opened up a whole bunch of opportunities for you guys.
Yeah. And a lot of people were like, ‘Be careful with the Slayer tours — those are carrots that they’re dangling so you’ll sign with them!’ I was just like, ‘Okay, but we’re eating the carrots. What’s your point?’
Above: Brent Hinds with Nick John.
So you really felt like you were able to put your faith and trust in him and leap into the whole fame thing.
Yeah, he was super straight-up and honest. There was never any funny business with him. We felt like we could trust him so much — we trusted him with every major decision. If Nick John thought it was a good idea, we went with it. If we had questions on anything, he was our tie-breaker. If we were all on the fence about something, he would break it down from a different perspective, and give us proper guidance. Then it would be either yes or no, and most times, if he pushed something, we went along with it. And we are very controlling of Mastodon, and very protective of it, so to let someone in was a huge deal to the four of us. But we let him all the way in.
Was there a time where he just completely saved your ass?
Well, he got everybody out of lots of situations. He was probably on the phone constantly at 3 and 4 in the morning when we were in Europe, when we got caught at customs or something happened — he’d just be on the phone figuring it out. He took that part very seriously, not to ever leave us hanging or stranded. The poor guy and his wife would get calls in the early morning from us in Poland when all our gear got pulled out and we were sitting on the side of the road, and he’d be making phone calls trying to make something happen. He was just that guy, you know? But he was also the most stoked person about anything Mastodon-related. ”
It must’ve been great that the person that was in charge of your band was a huge fan.
Yeah, that’s a huge part of it. If the person isn’t really into it, it just sucks. That’s not really that fun.
And they probably wouldn’t be making the right decisions for the band if they didn’t believe in what you do.
I felt like with him, it wasn’t money-motivated. That’s where the music business is an oxymoron, and it’s hard on the business side of things. We want to make smart decisions, because we can’t be coming home broke from every tour, and we have to make progress and support ourselves and support our families, but I never got the impression it was just about the money. For things like tours, he’d never say ‘Do it, it’s money.’ He’d say, ‘Is this a good look for the band?’ or ‘Does this make sense?’ He’d look at it in every angle possible — the fans’ perspective, everything. He was always very good with that.
Are there any wonderful memories in particular that stick out to you?
He was definitely a person I always looked forward to seeing. When we were in LA, the few times we recorded there, he would come and pick me up early to get coffee to talk and hang out. But the day before I was supposed to start tracking drums for The Hunter at Sound City, we were in Coachella for The Big Four — the last show Jeff Hanneman played with Slayer. There was a party at Steve Strange’s bungalow. I just remember sitting in his Range Rover while everyone was partying, listening to demos of The Hunter. And he was just laughing because he was so happy and stoked, going ‘And this part! And this part!’ and he was singing along. There’s this line in the song in the song The Thickening that goes, ‘Wrapped up like a baby,’ and whenever he would call me on the phone, that’s how he would open up the call. I’d be like, ‘Hello?’ and he’d be like, ‘Wrapped up like a baby!’ It was hilarious.
He was just a funny dude with a super dry sense of humor. We just had all of our of inside jokes and I think he had that with a lot of different people. He was a funny dude, and super, super smart. None of us knew how to work phones and computer, and he’d help us. We’d call it ‘NJ Solutions,’ for ‘Nick John Solutions.’ I’d be like, ‘I dont know what the fuck to do with my phone!’ and he’d be like, ‘Here.’ He’d send me links to the newest iPhone that was coming out, or MacBook Pro, or whatever. He’d get all excited about the techy stuff. We enjoyed that about him because we’re just a bunch of neanderthals who have no idea how to work anything. We even had an ‘NJ Solutions’ shirt and coffee cup made for him. It was a deep joke. I think he even had a bathrobe with ‘NJ Solutions’ embroidered on the back.
What was it like performing Stairway To Heaven at his funeral? I can imagine that was very emotional.
Honestly, when we were first asked to do it, I didn’t really know if I wanted to do it. I didn’t know how I was going to be during the funeral, and it seemed like the most scary thing. I was like, ‘I’m good, I don’t think I want to do that.’ But of his wife, and Kristen, one of his best friends — and our new manager, who also manages Ghost — were kind of just like, ‘You have to say yes.’ None of us wanted to admit this was a real thing that this happened, but the funeral was going to happen regardless. But we were just like, ‘We have to step up and do something special for our boy, or we put our tails between our legs and don’t even show up.’ You know what I mean? I just felt like we had to do it. So we got into our space and acoustically practiced it, and then when it was time to do it we just did it. It was tough, and it was really intense, but somehow there was something that helped us push through. So yeah, we performed it, and luckily, Joe from Gojira was in the audience and he recorded it, and we were like, ‘Wow, this is awesome.’ It turned out that it came out pretty good — good enough to put on an album — and then we decided to do the studio version, a faithful rendition for Nick John, to release on Record Store Day, one of his favorite holidays. And we knew if we put his face on a 10-inch album, it’d be in all of the independent record stores days on Record Store Day, so that was another layer of our tribute to one of our best friends.
You’re beginning to gear up for the Crack The Skye tour. What did he think of that record?
Oh man — that was his favorite. He was just so proud and excited. I remember we were done demoing it, but we had it for about nine months. We just needed someone local who could go in and press record on it. So he found Brendan O’Brien, and he was like, ‘What do you think of him? He’s done AC/DC, Springsteen, Red Hot Chili Peppers.’ I was like, ‘That’s actually really cool, if he’d be into it!’ So he orchestrated that. He got Brendan to meet with us. Nick really understood that Brendan would be the perfect fit for us, because he’s more of a rock guy with more of a tie to classic rock, and he knew that we were aiming to make more of a classic-rock, prog-sounding record. Having someone like Brendan involved would work, and it was perfect.
Anyway, Nick John flew to Atlanta for mixing, and he was here in the room when we finished it up. I think he squeezed out a couple of tears for it during a couple of parts. He was like, ‘You did it. You did it!’ He was a proud papa for sure, and his wife told me after he came home he really celebrated it with her — they had a romantic dinner and listened to the whole thing multiple times and really celebrated it before anybody else heard it. He was as into it as the band members. He wasn’t just someone who was like ‘Good job, guys!’ he was really into it. And super excited for us because he knew it was a scene-change for us, and a new level that we had reached. He was just such a good cheerleader, and so stoked about anything we did.
See Mastodon, Coheed And Cambria, and Every Time I Die on the Unheavenly Skye Tour:
28 Louisville, KY @ Iroquois Amphitheater
29 Columbus, OH @ Express Live! (Outdoors)
31 Atlanta, GA @ Coca-Cola Roxy
1 Simpsonville, SC @ CCNB Amphitheatre/Heritage Park Simpsonville
2 Baltimore, MD @ MECU Pavilion
4 Asbury Park, NJ @ Stone Pony Summer Stage
6 Boston, MA @ Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion
7 New York, NY @ Ford Amphitheater/Coney Island Boardwalk
8 Camden, NJ @ BB&T Pavilion
10 Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE – Outdoors
11 Detroit, MI @ Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre/Freedom Hill
13 Council Bluffs, IA @ Harrah’s Council Bluffs - Stir Cove
14 Chicago, IL @ Huntington Bank Pavilion/Northerly Island
15 Minneapolis, MN @ The Armory
18 Kansas City, MO @ Starlight Theatre
19 Denver, CO @ Fillmore Auditorium
20 Salt Lake City, UT @ The Great Salt Air Pavilion
22 Seattle, WA @ Marymoor Park
23 Portland, OR @ Moda Center-Theater of the Clouds
25 San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic
26 San Diego, CA @ Petco Park - Park at the Park
28 Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas
29 Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre
30 Phoenix, AZ Comerica Theatre
2 Austin, TX @ Austin360 Amphitheater
3 Irving, TX @ The Pavilion/Toyota Music Factory
18 Cadott, WI @ Rock Fest #
20 Oshkosh, WI @ Rock USA #
#: Festival date, not part of the tour