Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher is enthusiastic about his band’s co-headlining tour with alternative rock weirdos Primus.
Kelliher, whose bandmates include guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders and drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor, cites the importance his new tourmates had on him as a young musician.
“Primus is one of those bands that, when they first came out, I was completely blown away,” he says. “They were easily my favorite band for probably a good 10 years. I bought all their records. My first band I was in we used to try to cover Primus songs … They were very influential back then, as I was a young guitarist, even though there’s not a lot of guitar in their music, but the guitar parts are very cool.”
Though Kelliher is unsure how the seemingly unlikely pairing of Primus and his Atlanta-based metal band came to be, he holds the utmost respect for the Les Claypool-fronted trio, with whom he has been on tour since early May.
“Les Claypool is just a maniac on the bass,” he says. “He’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever seen perform. He’s really talented and a very interesting guy, to say the least. He’s really intelligent and he’s funny.
“All those guys are. Herb and Ler. Larry LaLonde—he’s a really nice dude and great guitar player, so it’s a great tour. It’s really cool.”
Kelliher’s fandom of the “Jerry Was a Racecar Driver” band dates back to their early days. He cites their debut album, Frizzle Fry, as his favorite, though their sophomore album, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, and the early live recording Suck on This also stand out.
“When I heard about it (the tour), I was just like, ‘Wow! I can’t believe we’ll be touring with Primus,’” he exclaims. “I saw those guys in 1990 back in Rochester, New York, in a tiny little club with like 300 people there, and they just blew the place apart. It’s a very proggy band, and I like to consider us a little proggy here and there. So, we get along like two peas in a pod, for sure.”
Though Kelliher, who played with other bands like Lethargy and Today is the Day in the ’90s, seemingly expanded his tastes as the years progressed, his fondness of Primus still stands.
“That’s about as far as I went for Primus,” he says of Sailing the Seas of Cheese. “I think I kind of moved on or maybe the gimmick wore off on me back then when I was a kid and I just started listening to heavier stuff, like more Metallica, Iron Maiden and stuff like that, and punk rock was Bad Brains and stuff like that … Primus was getting just a little too far out there for me on some of those records.
“I actually, when this tour started, I went home,” he continues. “We were on tour for two weeks and we had a day off at home, and I put my Spotify on, I listened all the way through Frizzle Fry and Sailing the Seas of Cheese just to re-familiarize myself with the songs and everything, just so I could remember all the idiosyncrasies of everything. I went for a jog one day and I put on Frizzle Fry and I just couldn’t get enough. Damn good band.”
Also, on the tour’s billing is psych-rock band JJUUJJUU, who hits the stage first. Mastodon follows, with Primus serving as a finale each evening.
“I haven’t actually caught their (JJUUJJUU’s) whole set yet, but I’ve seen a couple songs. They’re pretty unique. I don’t know even how you’d describe them. They’re kind of like a noisy rock band with a little bit of maybe Grateful Dead jam in there somewhere,” Kelliher ponders with a laugh. “But every night I hear when they get done with their songs they get a roaring applause, so that’s definitely a good sign.”
Though he says some fans in either aisle may need to be won over each night, reception has been positive thus far.
The eclectic line-up’s two-month tour will conclude July 7 at Comerica Theatre. After a month-long break, Mastodon will return to stages across the world later this year, including a string of shows with Dinosaur Jr.
“Everyone’s so laidback,” Kelliher says of his double-billing tour with Primus. “That’s the one thing that’s different about this tour than other tours we’ve done in the past. It’s really laidback, is a good word to describe it. Everybody’s really chill, there’s no friction.”
Though Kelliher says he and his bandmates often voice their desires to relearn and work more old songs into their setlists, they never seem to do so. They have, however, resurrected songs like Blood Mountain’s “Sleeping Giant” and Crack the Skye’s “Ghost of Karelia,” both of which they hadn’t performed in several years. In terms of the shows, though, Mastodon keeps them structured and consistent.
“It’s real smooth and everything goes as planned and we know what song is next,” Kelliher says. “We don’t really talk to the audience. We just try to kill them with sound. I like everything to flow really steadily so it’s like a nonstop barrage of sonic awesomeness.”
Primus and Mastodon w/JJUUJJUU, Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, 602.379.2800, comericatheatre.com, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 7, $38.50-$252.50.