“I just don’t see the sexism in it. I know there’s half-naked women that are shaking their butts. For some people it’s titillating, but for me it just looked amazing.”
From Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and everything in between, 2014 has been the year of the gratuitous glute. But Mastodon isn’t the type of band you’d expect to stick a bunch of asses in their music videos, making the clip for “The Motherload”, from this year’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, somewhat of a surprise. Against a Satanic backdrop, a crew of women twerk in hypnotic slow motion, climaxing with a dance off and a Day-Glo explosion.
We hopped on the phone with the band’s Brann Dailor to get his take on how the video came to life.
Pitchfork: Could you explain the video’s concept, in your own words?
Brann Dailor: Well, there wasn’t much of a concept, I guess. The only concept was we wanted to start off as a sort of parody of a ‘90s heavy metal video. All those videos from the early ‘90s had that same look: some kind of esoteric imagery, sort of out of focus, something creepy or weird. Marilyn Manson, Metallica, Nirvana, they all had the same kind of look to their videos.
We wanted to do that, and I guess I thought that maybe people would be concerned that it wasn’t very imaginative if it was some kind of shitty ‘90s video. Then all of a sudden, twerking started happening, and it kind of went from there. I just wanted to make something that was bizarre—that would confuse people. I also thought to myself, what’s the most bizarre thing, or what’s something people would say completely does not belong in a Mastodon video? And the twerking was sort of what I came up with. I had a bunch of music video ideas but this was the one we were able to do in like a day, because we didn’t have a massive budget and we couldn’t pull off some of the other concepts I had.
We live in Atlanta and we wanted to be kind of all-inclusive and support the hometown. We thought it would be a fun video to make; there wasn’t any high concept, it wasn’t really parody. We weren’t trying to make fun of hip-hop videos. It was a fine line, because I didn’t want it to come off being sexist, so I thought that maybe the females took center stage and looked powerful and had this dance battle. It really blossomed and turned into this dance video, and I was like, holy shit, we have a dance video! That’s amazing. Some amazingly talented dancers showed up, so it turned into something else.
Pitchfork: It seems like there’s been a lot more visible twerking in the last year, whether Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video or Miley Cyrus at the VMAs. Was there any one specific incident that stuck in your mind, or was it more about the general trend?
BD: I don’t think I was super clued in that it was so much of a trend. I didn’t know about the Nicki Minaj video until after. I remember obviously hearing about the Miley Cyrus thing, but it didn’t really have too much of an effect on why. I don’t feel like what we were trying to do was jump on any twerking bandwagon, I guess. We just wanted to put something into our music video that people would probably think, “That shouldn’t be there”, or “Those two things don’t go together, they shouldn’t be together.” I wanted to just put them together because we can.
Pitchfork: How was the casting handled?
BD: I’m not sure. Jonathan [Rej, who co-directed the video with Thomas Bingham] kind of took the ball and ran with it. I’m not really sure how he found all the girls, but basically it came together in about a week and a half, about three weeks ago.
The girls, they had a blast. The most important thing for us was that they were in charge and that they were having fun, kind of trading back and forth dancing. You know? Trying to repurpose something and put something where most people would say it doesn’t belong, but it can.
Pitchfork: Videos that feature twerking always inspire a debate about that fine line between something appropriate and sexism or racism. Did the band actively consider those dynamics during the filming?
BD: Going into it, our main goal was to make fun of that ‘90s kind of video and have it be taken over by this dance video, which Mastodon would never do. We would never put out a dance video; we’re this very serious metal band. But our videos have always been kind of weird. We’re so serious about songwriting, we’re so serious in our lyrics—which are really serious, and are about a really serious thing that happened to me personally.
But if you’re going to make this very high concept, dramatic video, who’s gonna watch that? It’s a music video. For the “Blood and Thunder” video, we got 150 clowns, and people were upset about that. They were like, “It should be Moby Dick-themed! What’s the deal?” We kind of took the music video as a way to round out, because of the fact that we’re so serious on stage, so serious in our music, so serious in our art with our artwork of the record. The music videos were a way for us to put more of our personality into it as far as our sense of humor, or making it twisted somehow, or different, or bizarre, or provocative.
With the video itself, we wanted to make sure that the women that were there were in charge and that they were having fun. They made the video what it is. If it wasn’t for them and their talent and going out and doing flips and splits and just bringing it, it wouldn’t be great. All of them are forces of nature. It was amazing to meet them and amazing to watch them do their thing. There’s a scene where the garage door starts to open, and Khristine Moore, who plays the “queen,” is there. It gives me chills when I watch that, she just looks so awesome.
Pitchfork: There was a column in The Guardian that called the video sexist.
BD: I know! I’m really upset. I don’t know. The last thing that I wanted to do was come on and be defensive, because I don’t feel like I should have to defend it. It’s a music video and it’s really not supposed to be something that gets people this upset because this was really a fun thing that doesn’t really mean too much. It’s not to be taken so seriously.
I don’t know, I just don’t see the sexism in it. I know there’s half-naked women that are shaking their butts. For some people it’s titillating, but for me it just looked amazing. I thought the girls were awesome and talented, and I thought it was amazing to watch. I love when it turns into that kaleidoscope effect thing; it brings the video to a whole new level. But it’s gotten people talking obviously, you know. I figured that would happen, you know what I mean. I knew there was going to be some negativity. But we do that; we’re that kind of band. It hadn’t been done before, and we were kind of looking for something that hadn’t been done before because it’s hard to come by these days.