Catching up With…
Fourplay’s Harvey Mason and Mastodon’s Brann Dailor
While most players go through peaks and valleys in their career, for more than forty years Harvey Mason has maintained a remarkably steady presence in the studio and on stage. Already a first-call session man by the time he recorded the watershed 1973 Head Hunters album with jazz-crossover great Herbie Hancock, Mason proceeded to become a household name among funk and fusion followers due to his subsequent work with Grover Washington Jr., Donald Byrd, George Benson, Bill Withers, the Brothers Johnson, and dozens of other top acts, plus his own solo albums.
Mason continued to thrive, adding Grammy-winning artists like Seal (“Kiss From a Rose”) and John Legend (“Save Room”) to his impossibly long résumé and scoring films such as Only the Strong and Deadly Outbreak. And the career highlights keep coming. Last May, Harvey was awarded a doctorate of music from Berklee, and his work with the popular smooth-jazz group Fourplay has garnered numerous Grammy nominations. The band is currently celebrating twenty-five years together with the release of its fourteenth album, Silver.
“In 1990, we’d just come off doing a record with Bob James called Grand Piano Canyon,” Mason says, recalling Fourplay’s birth. “We played so well together that we decided to form a band.
We got signed to Warner Bros., and our self-titled first album went platinum.”
A quarter century later, Fourplay is still a leading force on the contemporary instrumental jazz scene, with Silver providing yet another glimpse of Mason’s many charms. His beautifully syncopated kick drum and rimclicks drive “Silverado”; his highly controlled dynamics and rhythmic range make “Aniversário” an instrumental journey worth taking multiple times; and “Sterling” highlights his expressive left hand as it smacks accents and dribbles ghost notes on a soprano snare, which has become a signature part of his sound. “I started using a 10″ Brady snare on occasional projects,” Mason says. “I loved the sound so much that I incorporated it with Fourplay for contrast. Now I’m using a 15×14 snare by Canopus that’s like a field drum; it’s low and dry, reminiscent of [what you would hear on] an Al Green record.”
Last year the drummer recorded his critically acclaimed eleventh solo album, Chameleon, which features a mix of originals and covers that go back as far as thirty years. Pondering how times have changed since he first played the earliest of those tracks, Mason avoids a negative tone as he ticks off the technological and social forces that have impacted working drummers. “Radio is not as much a factor in selling records,” he explains. “Studio work has expanded beyond major cities and into private homes. Drum scores are being recorded all around the world now. And live music is still healthy. Also, drummers are getting better younger, as they take advantage of video instruction and live footage. They’re pushing the envelope, and that’s good—very good.” Bob Girouard
Harvey Mason has appeared on Modern Drummer’s cover on four occasions, most recently in October 1998. “Back then I was doing a lot of studio work,” Mason recalls, “and of course my solo career was taking off. Now I do more traveling. For example, in 2015 I went to Japan three times. Asia is a wonderful market for Fourplay. Audiences are respectful and enthusiastic, and they love good music. Live, I get to play…it’s freer, while people recognize my style.”
Mastodon’s Brann Dailor
Planting his flag—
and singing his lungs out—
at the top of Drum Mountain.
Practice may lead to improvement, but exercise off the kit keeps the body conditioned to handle the physical exertion. For Brann Dailor, it’s a responsibility that comes with his job.
While not on tour, Dailor’s Monday-through-Friday exercise and practice routine consists of kettle-bell training, pull-ups, cardio, and two hours at the kit. “I switch it up,” Brann says. “One day I’ll work on my left foot or my ride hand, or I’ll get lost for a couple hours creating new beats. On other days I’ll go through about two hours of Mastodon material that we don’t usually play live, just to keep it in my wheelhouse.
“I can’t take a month off of playing Mastodon stuff,” Dailor adds. “Life gets ‘lifey’ sometimes, and I’ve had to be away from my drums for several weeks due to some tragedy in my family or something. Then it’s a week before tour starts, and I have to cram. I call that starting from the bottom of Drum Mountain.”
Mastodon drum parts have always ranged from challenging to ludicrous, particularly on the group’s early recordings. “Sometimes forty-year-old Brann wants to go back in time and slap twenty-year-old Brann and say, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’” Dailor quips. “But I’m grateful for twenty-something Brann for playing all those intense parts, because maintaining that level keeps me in shape.”
It’s not as if things have lightened up, though. Even though Dailor has learned to make an equally intense impact with fewer notes, in recent years he’s taken on an added responsibility: singing. Mastodon’s melodies have evolved tremendously over time, and Dailor began contributing lead and backing vocals on 2009’s Crack the Skye album. “It did not come naturally,” he admits. “It’s a sacred contract you make with the audience that you’ll be able to pull it off live, and it’s a work in progress. It’s a new source of anxiety for me, but I love that aspect of it. I’ll go to the grave working on it, but I’m getting closer to where I want to be. I’m actively trying to pursue perfection on all levels of drumming and singing.”
Before wrapping up another successful touring cycle in support of its critically acclaimed sixth studio album, Once More ’Round the Sun, Mastodon hit the road this fall with metal godfathers Judas Priest for an eleven-date co-headlining tour. “It’s a real deep-rooted childhood thing,” Dailor says of his relationship with the elder group’s music. “My mom was a huge fan—we had a Priest bumper sticker on the dash of our station wagon. So the band, for me, is marrow deep.”
Right now Mastodon is taking some time off before reconvening to start working on new material. “When everyone’s rested and has put out whatever side projects they’re working on and wants to be fruitful again,” Dailor says, “we’ll do it.” David Ciauro