Thu, 24 Jul 2008 07:31:32
Mastodon have made quite an impression on their Mayhem Fest tour mates. In fact, backstage at the tour's San Diego stop, Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison carried around a piece of paper that read, "Seabeast 4 Life." He came up with the slogan in honor of Mastodon's song, "Seabeast." Apparently, the double bass impresario wanted to hear the brain-bending sludge-fest's last riff so bad that he planned on carrying around the small placard until Mastodon played it. In the dressing room later on, drummer Brann Dailor finally responded to Jordison's request, "Alright, because of that, we may need to learn the song and throw it in the set!" Big laughs ensued, as they usually do with the Atlanta foursome.
The Mastodon guys are a happy bunch right now. Not only are they playing the main stage of the summer's biggest heavy music tour, but they're also on the cusp of finishing their fourth full-length album, tentatively due out in early 2009. Following modern metal classics Leviathan and Blood Mountain, the album's bound to be one of next year's most explosive hard rock releases. However, vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders has other things on his mind as he looks out his tour bus window. "Going to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles has been on my list of things to do forever, but I just haven't gotten around to it." The dinosaur aficionado laughs, "Luckily, I still have time because the tar pits aren't going anywhere!" He also had time to discuss Mayhem, his band's next record, superhero movies and much more with ARTISTdirect in this exclusive interview.
The Mayhem set list is pretty bludgeoning. How'd you choose songs for the 40-minute slot?
Well, we were really itching to play a bunch of new stuff, but on this tour, we're putting ourselves in front of a giant crowd that mainly consists of Disturbed and Slipknot fans, so we wanted to come out with our hard and heavy stuff to grab some attention and turn some ears our way. We try to convert the other bands' fans into becoming new Mastodon fans. We just thought we'd go with some classics, bash them out and be done. In the process, we hope to appeal to a handful of people that have no idea who we are.
Switching backdrops mid-set is a nice touch.
We've always wanted to have a cooler piece of art behind us. We brought the old Blood Mountain backdrop for two reasons. Technically, we're still touring behind Blood Mountain until the new album comes out. Also, for the hour that our gear is just sitting there, we want people to know who's about to play. Most folks really don't have a clue who we are. That's totally cool, and that's the whole reason that we're here.
Mastodon also stands out on the bill. Even though there are so many different genres of metal represented on the tour, you guys separate yourselves.
When we do European festivals, some of the shows are extremely diverse. We really dig that. At Roskilde last year, we played after John Legend and before Bjork. Of course, this tour isn't as diverse as that is, but as far as the heavy genres go, there's a little bit of everything here. We'll do any tour. We just try to stand out in a good way. We're always trying to better our band and work towards bigger and better things. This is just one little step in that direction.
Since there are so many bands, has this tour had a fun backstage scene?
Everybody's cool. A lot of times, there's just so much going on back there—between all of the bands, gear, semis and people moving shit. Sometimes, I feel like I'm in the way. It's definitely a good vibe all the way around though. Anybody that's got the mindset to play a heavy metal tour in the summer has to be cool. The catering's wonderful. The crowds are plentiful. I've definitely got no complaints. It's pretty easy for us. We get up on stage for 40 minutes, and we're done. Then we just try to fill our time for the rest of the day.
How do you usually fill your free time?
It goes one way or the other. Either we take it easy and soak in some movies, or we'll just hang out and drink lots of alcohol [Laughs]. The past few nights we've been taking it easy. We went to the theater and saw The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2. We also re-watched Airplane! and Monster Squad. We've been on a little movie kick. It's a nice, relaxing way to spend down time. Other than that, we go out, get silly with everybody and laugh all night. I definitely dug the new Batman movie, but I was really into Hellboy 2. That movie was just filled with monsters, trolls, goblins and freaks. I thought it was hilarious!
Is the new record done?
We finished the bulk of it. All of the basic tracks are done. We finished them on the Monday before we flew out to Seattle to start this tour. We go home on August 23rd. Then we have 10 days booked in the studio to touch up things, add any bells and whistles, take away anything we don't want, mix it and then figure out the sequencing. We have until Labor Day to finish it. We're hoping that it comes out in January. It should see light at the beginning of 2009. On the one hand, we're like, "We wish it would get here quicker" and on the other, we're like, "It'll be here before we know it." It's still cool. We wanted to finish it before we left, but on the positive side, we have six weeks out here to listen to it, make sure everything is the way we want it and let it all sink in. Those six weeks give us that cushion to reflect on it, soak in the new songs and decide if there are any changes we want to make. At first we were really bummed, because we didn't finish it completely before we left, but I think it's all good.
How would you describe the direction of the new material?
I think it's become more spacious, melodic and a bit more epic, in the grand scheme of things. Some of the guitar parts really space out. We paid a lot of attention to the vocal patterns. We really tried to become more melodic with the vocals, making them more intertwined with the songs. It's by far the biggest departure from record to record that we've done. A lot of the stuff on this record doesn't quite sound like us. You know it's us, because it's obvious that it is when you hear it. But on first listen, you don't know what the hell's going on. For me, the biggest departure was the vocal style that we applied to every song on the album. The vocal style is very much in tune with the music itself. We created this more unified, melodic record. I think that's what I'm most proud about. As far as songwriting goes, I think it's the coolest stuff we've ever done. I think it's good when you can actually say that on every record and really believe it. There are a couple songs that are straight-to-the-point, meat-and-potatoes rock and roll. Then there are a lot of songs that are very lengthy and epic-sounding. It's quite a journey. All four of us are really into this new record collectively—more than any other record before.
Did you record in Atlanta?
Yeah, we recorded in a place called Southern Tracks. We're working with Brendan O'Brien, and he's amazing. He's done some great stuff with Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC and Pearl Jam. We're respectful of his whole discography. As a person, he's hilarious and great to work with. We were super stoked to meet up with him. We were even happier to record in Atlanta where we could go home every night and not feel like we're on tour by recording in some other city. We recorded the last two records in Seattle. They ended up great. We were in the studio all day, but then we were in some crappy hotel all night, so it felt like a tour. We're on tour enough already, so we wanted to record at home. It was very cool, and it made a big difference. We were less tired and less stressed. Overall, we were a bunch of jolly dudes recording this record, as opposed to some of the previous ones.
“It's quite a journey. All four of us are really into this new record collectively—more than any other record before.”
Do you still feel like you're telling stories with the songs?
Yeah, we've constructed a bizarre concoction of a story throughout this record. For us, it's always better to have a theme record, because it becomes more unified, especially since the storyline helps create lyrics. Approaching the record with an overall theme has always made sense and helped us creatively. This one has that same type of scheme that we've been doing.
The music itself has always told those stories even more than the lyrics. It's like you guys create metallic symphonies.
We look at our music like the cinematography of a movie. The music tells the story on its own. Similarly, in some movies, the visuals can tell the story, because they're done properly, beautifully and spectacularly, so we create our songs like the visuals of a film. Then, we approach our lyrics like dialogue. The dialogue causes everything to wrap together and make sense. That's essentially the way we feel about our records: the music is the cinematography, and the lyrics are the dialogue.
It'd be awesome if you guys got to score a film by someone like Guillermo Del Toro or Christopher Nolan.
That'd be amazing. We'd be really delighted to do that!
What did you think of Joey Jordison's "Seabeast 4 Life" sign?
[Laughs] He said he's going to carry that around until we play it. It's his favorite song. We haven't had time to rehearse it yet. We actually haven't played that song in over a year. We talked about trying to go over it just to please him. It's pretty funny! He came out a couple days ago with that same damn little sign. I was like, "He's not going to stop bugging us until we play it." He sat right behind Brann's drum set with the sign. He was right next to it during our set. Then he busted it out again earlier today! He's amazing [Laughs].