Troy Sanders of Mastodon Talks New Music, Mayhem Festival, and Looks Back on "Blood Mountain"
Tue, 07 May 2013 09:43:53
Every time Mastodon hits the stage, it's like watching a monstrous battle from Clash of the Titans unfold live. They're by far one of the most thunderous and tight bands on the planet, and they consistently deliver mind-blowing performances night after night. If you haven't gotten the chance to experience them, make sure you check out the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival this summer.
Their last studio offering, 2011's The Hunter, remains a wild, wondrous rocker replete with swirling psychedelic moments and some of the best grooves of the band's career to date. It's also fittingly laid the groundwork for their next masterpiece, which looms on the horizon.
Given that the Mastodon beast is once again ready to shake rock 'n' roll to its very core, ARTISTdiret.com editor in chief Rick Florino spoke to singer and bassist Troy Sanders about the festival, the next album, and so much more.
What attracted you back to the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival?
There are a couple of reasons. When we go on really heavy tours, everybody is hungry for heavy music. Whether they've heard of us or not, they're going to hopefully find something about us that they enjoy to walk away with. On this tour, we were offered to be the second of four bands on the main stage. It's an honor to be asked to do that instead of playing in the afternoon out in the parking lot. There's a lot of energy in the parking lot. It's different, and it's more in-your-face. It's just a raw show. When you're playing on the amphitheater side, you're on a big stage later in the evening. That's more comfortable for us, especially later in the day. Putting us in front of Five Finger Death Punch and Rob Zombie, we feel there are going to be a lot of their fans who still don't know who we are. That's nice. Both of those bands get heavy radio play, and they're much more popular than our band. We're under a lot of people's radars. That will give us a giant opportunity to hopefully gain more fans. It's something different for us, and that's exciting. We'll be in front of some fresh faces, and we hope Mastodon can please them musically. We thought it was a great idea. The past couple of years, we've spent the summers playing the European festivals. Those are fabulous. It's very overwhelming and mind-blowing how many people attend those festivals. We did those last year. We're getting a taste of it this year by doing two weeks in Europe. It made sense.
The first Mayhem Mastodon did seemed like it was a great time.
It was! We were the first of four bands on the main stage. The tour promotes some great camaraderie. Every few days, each band sponsors its own parking lot party and cooks out. It's a typical good time of a bromance amongst many dirty bands [Laughs].
Didn't Joey Jordison [Slipknot] have a sign that said "Seabeast 4 Life" on that run?
He did. "Seabeast" was his favorite song for a long time. We played it because he specifically requested it. If you play in Slipknot and you bring your own homemade sign to a gig, we're going to have to accommodate that request.
How do you cull that big expansive setlist down into 45 minutes? What's the song curation process like?
Good question! We do both signs of the coin. When it's our own headline set at a club or a theater, that's our show. We get to play a lot of Mastodon material. All of the weight is on our shoulders. It's amazing. When you flip the coin, we're a support band, and our set time is much shorter. To a degree, it's rather easy. We need to get up there and do our 45 minutes. It does become difficult to pick songs when you've got five or six albums, but we're still riding high on The Hunter wave. I would imagine it's going to be a lot of The Hunter material with a song or two from the previous records each. Personally, I enjoy all of our songs. Whatever the guys choose as a set list, I'm fine with! I'm fine with playing "Blood and Thunder" after thirteen years as well as the entire new album. I'm easy to please.
You tap into a real urgency in the short time period.
I guess there's a greater sense of immediacy. We know we've only got that 40 or 45 minutes to make it or break it so we've got to start strong. Before you know it, you blink five times and the set is over. The entire touring life revolves around that time you're on stage. The other 23 hours are geared towards that time up there. We're all very excited to do Mayhem.
How did "Spectrelight" come together?
Once we set aside the idea of doing a thematic record or an overall concept, we were able to embrace any riff that anyone brought up. It's wonderful we could have a song like "Spectrelight" and a song like "The Hunter" as well as everything in between. "Spectrelight" was a tough-as-nails song Bill Kelliher had put together. As soon as we wrote that song, we were like, "That's Scott Kelly's part". It's balls-to-the-wall. It's a face melter. I'm very much in love with that song. I could see that song being in the set this summer. After we completed The Hunter, all four of us were very married to it. I'd imagine a lot of The Hunter material will be in the set.
What about "Thickening"?
Brent Hinds is always blowing me away with his intricate songwriting and guitar stylings. In my opinion, that's one of the most interesting guitar parts on the record he came up with. We slowly worked that one out on the BlackDiamondSkye tour with Deftones and Alice in Chains a couple of years ago. That entire run was very inspiring to create what became The Hunter. That tour was cohesive, and the brotherhood was over-the-moon. The song came together during a lot of soundchecks.
What's your favorite song from The Hunter?
Again, I'm in love with the entire record, but I'm fascinated with "The Creature Lives". At first, Brann Dailor had created the melody on a keyboard, and he brought it down to practice. He said, "I've got this silly thing, but I don't think it's us at all". Listening to it, I was like, "That's us completely! Let's do this. Let's branch out. Let's jog down that road. Don't stop because it doesn't quite sound like what Mastodon should". It came together into an anthemic sing-a-long. It's a song about a swamp baby. It was a lot of fun to create and still play.
Does the new material pick up where The Hunter left off or is it a new avenue altogether?
To a degree, I'm going to say it's picking up where we left off. It's kind of an open game or a clean slate. Every single day I go to band practice, I feel like I'm going to a chef's table for a food tasting because there's an element of the unknown. I'm fascinated with that. Either Chef Brent or Chef Bill will present a tasty riff dish of the day and we all lock in and go for it. Nothing that is out of the box will be turned away. We're doing this for ourselves and by ourselves. We're creating delicious sandwiches every day at band practice [Laughs]. Yesterday Chef Brent brought down some tasty turkey, and it was delicious. Brann decides what kind of bread is going to sandwich it. I'm just trying to create an intriguing mayonnaise or some kind of glue to hold this sandwich together. Who knows that's going to happen today? We just don't know. I'm hungry, Rick [Laughs].
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Blood Mountain?
I remember being very excited Warner Bros. Records had picked us up. That was the first major label record. Looking back on it, it's some of the most complex and unique material ever, in my opinion. That album was definitely a grower. We understood that. When I go back and listen to it, I'm still impressed with how it came together.
What's been inspiring you lately?
Just yesterday, I bought Everybody Loves Sausages, the new cover album from The Melvins. I also picked up the new Clutch record, Earth Rocker. Per usual, in the writing process, I'm completely absorbed in Mastodon material. I'm a late bloomer, and it takes me a while to grasp a lot of things in life, and Mastodon material is one of them. I'll listen to a demo of a particular song over and over until I can possibly find an interesting vocal melody line or lyrics that'll fit a certain part. I immerse myself one-hundred percent in our riff writing. I'm also enjoying my home time as we're about to leave for the entire summer. I'm trying to find a healthy balance of home and tour life.
What's next for you?
We've got the skeletons of enough songs for an entire album. We're thinking of vocal ideas and putting together as much rough demos as we can before we go overseas so we can listen to everything over the summer. Then, when we return from the tour, we'll know what we want to keep, delete, and add.
Would you ever want to score another film like Jonah Hex?
It was unique for us. The approach to create music was very different. We were honored Jimmy Hayward invited us to do that. We're stoked with all that music, and we'd love to do more of that.
What's your favorite Mastodon song?