Interviews

MASTODON’S TROY SANDERS: THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW

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We’ll dispense with the usual bullshit: chances are, you’re already familiar with Mastodon. They’ve been, inarguably, one of the most important metal bands of the 21st century thus far, and a band that we pretty much revere at MetalSucks.

We recently got the chance to interview bassist and co-vocalist Troy Sanders during some pre-show downtime at the Rockstar Mayhem Festival’s stop at Nassau Coliseum. Adorned in sweat pants and flip-flops and, by his own admission, fighting a hangover, Sanders was amicable as he led us into the band’s dressing room, offered us Gatorades, and then plopped down on the band’s cooler to get down to business. After the jump, read Sanders’ thoughts about playing in front of huge crowds that are by and large not at the show to see Mastodon, the band’s forthcoming new album, and, yes, even barbecuing.

So how’s the tour been going so far?

It’s quite successful, too much fun, and too much downtime which leads to too much debauchery.

Any good stories from the road?

Well, Neal Schon from the band Journey came to our show. That was kind of a trip.

He’s a personal hero?

Well, fuck yeah! Journey is like Top 5, easily. I guess that’s been the highlight. I know it doesn’t sound like too much, but… We’re always confined to the amphitheater or the arena or whatever, so there’s not a whole lot of extracurricular activity outside of all the bands hanging out with one another. Actually, all the bands take turns doing barbeques at the end of the night after almost every show. That’s been pretty crazy. Last night was the Disturbed party and we mixed a little too many different types of booze. Tonight’s our party, so tonight is going to be the best night on the tour. I’m gonna go ahead and predict it.

What’s your special barbeque dish?

Well we’re serving dancing chicken, and for our drink it’s wolf urine.

Nice!

Have you ever had dancing chicken before? It’s fucking great. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to make. You cook the chicken low and a can of beer is in the cavity on the grill itself, so the bird is standing up, looking like it’s dancing. When you’re cooking it, it evaporates the beer from the inside out. For those that eat bird, it’s a moist, juicy, tender bird. So tonight’s going to be rad, and I think the Metal Mulisha bikers are going to jump over us while we’re cooking. I’m not sure if that’s confirmed yet, but they said they would do that. Tonight’s going to be the best night of the tour.

That sounds awesome… Now as for the actual music side of it…

Oh right, right. For us, we play a 40 minute set at 5:45 every night. It’s pretty consistent. Basically for this summer run that we’re doing, we’re just trying to put ourselves in front of a slew of new faces and spreading our word and our music throughout the world. We’ve done all sorts of different genres of tours, whether we’ve been headlining clubs or playing in front of other bands. So we’ve been attempting to stretch out into more of the mainstream hard rock music fans. Most of these people don’t even know who we are. So a lot of people have heard of us, but never heard a song [of ours]. So we’re trying to come in, punish the fans with our music, and hopefully turn some ears and faces.

Does that change the way you guys construct a set list?

Yeah, pretty much. We’re not playing anything off of our new record that’s going to come out in January. It’s all the shit… we’re blasting through the heavy hits, so to speak. Just to come up and play the songs back to back to back in 40 minutes to get people to say “Wow, that’s kind of crazy, kind of heavy, kind of weird.”

Have people been reacting that way do you think?

Yeah, by the end of the set it’s always been a very good response. The end of the 40 minutes is much different than the first 10 minutes.

Are you getting a lot of Slipknot kids throwing the middle fingers in the air?

No, we don’t have any of that. We don’t allow that [Laughs]. But we do a signing at the end of day, and the majority of the people in line have a Slipknot or Disturbed t-shirt on, which is great because that means it’s a safe assumption to say that they weren’t core [Mastodon] crowds for the most part. So I think that we’re slowly converting new fans, and like I said, that was the whole point of us doing this tour. When Slipknot asked us to do this run, we were like, the Slipknot dudes are great, and they’re awesome, down to earth fun dudes. So we enjoy hanging out with them, of course, and to put ourselves, our little band in front of their giant audience, we knew that it was an opportunity, so we graciously accepted.

So winning over new fans aside, from a playing point of view, how do you feel playing in front of huge crowds like this versus doing more mid-sized stuff?

It’s kind of two different kind of energies. They both have their pros. There are good things about both of them. When we do our own club tours, the energy that we’re feeding off of from the crowd and that they’re feeding off of us is very up-close. When we do our own club runs, the majority of the fans are our core fans, so the energy is higher and the frenzy is crazier. When we do this kind of a show, it’s bigger. The energy internally that we’re feeding off of isn’t quite the same as when we’re doing our own shows. That’s a given, because we already know that this is not our crowd. There are a handful of people who have our shits on and know all the words and shit, but it’s 200 Mastodon fans in a crowd of 4,000 people; so it’s predominantly new faces and fresh ears that we’re trying to convert. So playing to these big rooms is pretty overwhelming and cool, and as long as it sounds good for us on stage we can have a good time and rock out. So everything is going according to plan.

So you mentioned that you’re sort of going more for that hard rock kind of audience. Is the new material that you’re writing going in that direction too? Obviously you guys worked with producer Matt Bayles for a long time…

Yeah.

…and now you’re doing a record with Brendan O’Brien.

Yeah.

So is the new album more in that hard rock direction as well?

I think most of our new material is going to be more under the rock category, but it’s pretty epic and involved, extremely layered, broad, melodic, dark, and creepy. When we met up with Brendan, he had heard some of our demos and he liked some of the rock elements that we had with our stuff. We told him that we were interested in recording, quote, “a classic rock record that will hopefully have a long shelf life and have solid songs from start to finish, and that will live a lot longer than just listening to it a few times and shelving it.” Our favorite records of all time that we always constantly revisit in our own collection are by bands like Journey, Yes, King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Kansas, and all the shit that we grew up with and were inspired by and continue to revisit. We kind of wanted to attempt to capture a record like that, [at least] in our eyes and ears. The stars had aligned perfectly because Brendan’s a perfect match, a funny dude and a great musician who has an amazing ear. He can pick out little things that we can try to do that we hadn’t even thought of before, whether it be vocally or sonically with the guitars or something. So it is going to be more of a rock kind of Count Chocula-meets-Deep Purple thing. That’s kind of what we’re saying. We finish that record in September. There’s currently not a title, other song titles aren’t confirmed, and that’s all we can really say about that record now because we’re not going to spoil the element of mystery.

It does sound like there’s a real difference between this record and your previous ones.

Yeah, this is probably the biggest departure we’ve done from record to record. The four of us are incredibly stoked on the material.

Do you worry at all about the hardcore fans going along for the ride?

We’ve never worried about anything outside of the fact that the four of us dig it, love it, and our hearts and souls are in it. At the end of the day if the four of us feel that way, then anything that happens outside of our circle is a bonus, dessert, gravy, or whatever, and that’s great. It’s been obvious since day one that we’ve never really written music to please other people. So we’ve been playing a totally different genre since day one. We like to create the music that we feel good about so that we can channel all of our emotions and energy through this art that we call Mastodon. So it’s the four of us. Of course we want people to like our music, but that’s not the initial goal when we’re writing music and creating stories.

So you guys have been touring for quite awhile. After Mayhem, are there any more tours before the record comes out?

This is over in a couple of weeks. October and November we’re going to spend in the U.K. and in Europe supporting Slayer. We’ll be doing a couple of shows with the Melvins and Fantomas at the very end in December. We’ll come home for the holidays, open presents, and in January we expect our record to come out. Then we’ll probably be gone for 9 months out of the next year. Nothing is written in blood yet, nothing is permanent, nothing is set in stone for touring after January. It’s still quite a bit away and we’re still exploring our options. Neurosis, Melvins, High of Fire, Isis, Deftones or Metallica would be ideal, otherwise we’ll do another club run and just have a blast.

-AR & VN

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