All words: Jeff Jetton & Ian Palmiero
All Photos: Mike Danko
What types of questions can you ask dudes from metal bands that haven’t been asked before? Let’s be honest, at BYT we don’t care too much about the liver failure or the eight minute solo or the in-fighting. We live in DC, we want to know their party affiliations and their stance on the death penalty. So we sat down with Bill Kelliher and picked his brain about the one thing he doesn’t usually get asked about: his politics. The deer-in-the-headlights vibe we started out with soon gave way to an honest and reflective interview that he ended up saying was the most interesting he’s ever done. “Really good questions, man”, he said as he grabbed his guitar and walked out to a packed 9:30 club…
We ended up sitting on the interview for five months so we could run it in preparation for Mastodon’s show tomorrow night at The Fillmore in Silver Spring (With Opeth!).
BYT: We kind of wanted get into some politics with you…
Bill Kelliher: Sounds good.
BYT: The Occupy Wall Street movement: do you think it’s the embodiment of actual rebellion or just the normal type of energy you get from your audiences.
BK: Honestly, I don’t know the actual specifics. I know people are out of work. Our fucking country is going to hell in a hand basket. We’re spending millions of dollars a day in fucking foreign wars that nobody gives a fuck about. My view has always been that we really should look after our own people. If every country just looked after its own people, like in Scandinavia… I really think people have fucking had enough. People are being forced to take these measures… what else do we do to show people that we’re fed up?
BYT: So you sympathize with the movement?
BK: Look, if any group of people gets together and says ‘this is what we think about a certain thing’, well, it’s supposed to be a free country. That’s what this country was founded on. Freedom of speech, that’s the first one. It makes me sick to think that cops are going around beating on people. Pepper spraying protestors. It’s a peaceful movement. Let these people fucking speak. We’re spending billions of dollars in foreign wars but there are people starving, schools are closing. We’re not producing any scientists. It’s all going to come crashing down.
BYT: Do you feel that government-mandated healthcare is a good or bad thing?
BK: I think there are two sides to that story. It’s not a simple question to answer. I was sick when I was in London two years ago and went into a hospital. Now, personally, I have insurance because I can afford it. My wife works for the government so we’ve got a really good plan. As soon as we got married I got on hers. But when I was over there, it really opened my eyes to government subsidized hospitals and healthcare. It was horrible. The doctors didn’t work on weekends, I was in there probably much longer than I needed to be, and I just sat there. Nobody really ever came around to check on me. I’d occasionally get a nurse to come around and prick my finger and check on me…
BYT: Didn’t they know who you were (laughs)?
BK: It’s funny you say that because one kid came in, he was a nurse, and he said ‘my dad took me to see you, my dad’s a huge fan’. I was like ‘wow, how old’s your dad?’ And you know, it was horrible, but it was kind of like being in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, have you ever seen that? It was just like that. Bars on the windows. It was one of the oldest hospitals; it was the Royal Hospital of London. The Elephant Man was there. Being in there really opened my eyes. If you’re Joe Schmoe homeless guy and you get hit by a car and you need to go to a doctor, it’s good for that, but if you’re someone who is working and making money, well… All of my friends who were over there, from there, came and said ‘we have to get you out of here, there are better hospitals than this, private hospitals’.
BYT: It was like the London Tower, eh?
BK: It was! Good and bad, though. But I think in this country there are a lot more unemployed. I think doctor’s get paid way too much money here. Everyone should have healthcare. You shouldn’t have to break the bank or lose everything just to pay your hospital bills. I think it’s totally unfair and completely lopsided. Doctors could take a little bit of a paycut… somehow they need to figure it out. But this is America. It’s Capitalism. That’s what people forget. Everybody for themselves. Make as much money as you can and fuck the rest of the people. You know, we forget that, and that’s not right.
BYT: If you had to lose your voice or your hearing what would you choose?
BK: Geez, I’m already pretty deaf (laughs). That’s a good question. I think I’d rather lose my voice. I love listening to music and to my kids talking. I think auditory is more important. But I say that, yet I don’t wear earplugs when I play (laughs). I guess I could communicate other ways. I could fucking type everything out.
BYT: How many kids do you have?
BK: Two. It’s good. It’s really good when I get home and get to see them after being away for a month. I love my kids, they’re fucking awesome. It’s really interesting getting to watch these children learn stuff. And you’re the most important person in the world to them. Anything you do they’re like ‘how do you that, show me how to do that’. Watching your kids learn how to do stuff from you is the greatest gift in the world.
BYT: Have you seen Some Kind of Monster?
BYT: What is your opinion of bands going into therapy to work out their issues?
BK: (Laughs) I wish I’d never seen that movie. I love Metallica and now I know them, before I’d never met those guys… It made me sick that they had to get a fucking therapist. (Pauses) But you know, being in a band, people don’t realize this, is like being married to three other dudes. But I’ve been married to my wife for twenty-three years. And there are times… we’ve never actually been to counseling ourselves, but sometimes you need that fifth person to step in. I don’t know, it was really ballsy of them to go out on a limb and release that and let people see the real them. That’s not easy to do. It’s really hard to bare your soul in front of all your fans. But to me they sound like a bunch of whiny little bitches. I’m in a band, I understand, but instead of paying somebody forty thousand dollars a month so you can talk to your band mates, why not save the money and just call it quits. I mean, Metallica, they can’t really call it quits because they’re the biggest fucking band on the planet, but you can’t force creativity any longer at that point. Once you start putting out bad records and you have to start getting a therapist…
BYT: …then you start making records with Lou Reed.
BK: Maybe you should just call it a day. That’s the thing though, they’re a business. You have to keep the wheels turning.
BYT: So do you kill it when it becomes a business?
BK: No, this is a business that we have. But I don’t look at it like fucking punching a clock and going to work every day. We still enjoy making music together. We still get along pretty well. When you have to get a therapist to help you write a song, you’re really beating a dead horse.
BYT: Sounds like Metallica, then, are the biggest pussies of all heavy metal bands.
BK: No comment.
BYT: What’s your viewpoint on physician-assisted suicide?
BK: (long pause) I think if somebody really wants to fucking die and they’re terminally ill who am I to say no? If you’re in pain or you’re on life support, hooked to a machine… My father got really ill and within a year he went from being a really smart, hard-working guy to being a vegetable. Nobody knows why, he just went. One day I went to visit him and he was all disheveled. He looked like a bum. When I saw him like that he was already dead to me. He was already gone.
BYT: Do you believe in God?
BK: I believe in a higher power. You’d be fucking ignorant not to. There is something else out there besides us. But do I believe in Christianity or organized religion? (laughs) I believe that people believe in it, but I don’t personally believe in that.
BYT: So you’re more spiritual than anything?
BK: Spirituality you can call it. There’s definitely something larger than us that we can’t comprehend. I don’t believe that anyone has spoken to god or knows god.
BYT: Which brings me to my next question… what is your favorite H.P. Lovecraft monster?
BK: I don’t know what it’s called, but I’ve got this tattoo on my back of one of them. (takes shirt off)
BYT: Is it Kuthulu?
BK: Man, I got it so long ago I forget who it is. (takes shirt off) Actually I forgot that it was a Lovecraft tattoo.
BYT: Where are you from?
BK: Rochester, NY.
BYT: Rochester! So you love Wegman’s?
BK: I LOVE Wegman’s. I swear to God, I bought twenty-five cans of pasta sauce. Wegman’s-brand. Diavolo. I got Puttanesca. I got Vodka Sauce.
BK: I wish we had one down South. That would be great.
BYT: If you could get blind drunk with any U.S. President excluding Jimmy Carter, who would it be?
BK: That’s a really weird question. Bush. George W. Bush. That would be fun. I’d like to get in that fucker’s head.
BYT: How would you handle piracy off the coast of Somalia?
BK: (laughs) Shoot first, ask questions later?
BYT: Did you ever think that the members of Mastodon would outlive members of GWAR who’ve been around for about 57 million years?
BK: (laughs) Uhh, yeah I don’t know how to answer that, that’s a bit of a sore subject right now.
BYT: Would you consider the overall ethos of the band to be of a liberal or conservative bent?
BK: I wouldn’t say we’re one or the other but we’re definitely not conservative.
BYT: Do you know whom you are going to vote in the coming election?
BK: Not yet, I need to do my homework. I voted for Obama in the last election. It was right before I went in the hospital. I remember waking up and asking the nurse who won and she was like ‘Obama won’. I remember that.
BYT: So are you pleased with his presidency so far?
BK: I mean, that guy, I voted for him because when he speaks he is so intelligent. Anybody seems intelligent compared to George Bush. But he seemed very intelligent with a plan and poised. It was a no-brainer. I mean, John McCain? I was like, ‘fuck that old fuck’.
BYT: He was like your grandpa, though.
BK: Yeah, but I don’t share the same views as my grandparents. You know, I think Obama is a good dude with good intentions. But there was so much shit piled up from Bush, it’s going to take twenty years to fix it. You can’t expect change with one president. We’re so deep in the hole from Reagan and the Bushes.
BYT: What do you think of Glenn Danzig?
BK: I don’t know the guy. He seems like a tool, though. I just heard what he did in Austin [at FunFunFunFest]; what a complete fucking pusswad he was. That, to me, I don’t know, he’s a New Jersey wanker. He’s like one of those fucking Jersey Shore guys. That’s the kind of guy he is. I mean, he’s got good taste in music. I love the Misfits. The first fucking Danzig album is awesome. He’s got a great voice. But, really, he sounds like a douche.
BYT: Do you think, with the globalization of music, that metal will become a popular genre in places like China?
BK: I don’t know. I hope so. We’re going there. They tried to get us to go last year but the money wasn’t there. I am not sure. It would be a lot more fans. A billion and a half people. But China’s very censored. If there are fans over there we don’t know it.
BYT: Are you a foodie?
BK: Yes, definitely.
BYT: Favorite restaurant?
BK: There are a few places I like back home. Forth and Swift. Coleman and Finch.
BYT: What would your last meal be?
BK: A New York Strip. Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Some sourdough bread. A slice of my mom’s cheesecake.
BYT: Does your mom put cherries on her cheesecake?
BK: She puts strawberries on her cheesecake. I’ve got some on the bus, along with an apple pie. We had a day off in Toronto on the tour so me and Ron (Ron’s from Rochester, too), so me and Ron drove down to celebrate Thanksgiving, America’s top hat. So me and my mom cooked and the next day we drove back and played the show. And of course she gave me a bunch of leftovers to bring back to the guys. And an apple pie. And a bag of chocolate chip cookies.
BYT: That’s pretty cute. We’re going to end on that.
Other BYT Metal Interviews…