Mastodon is hunting for weird ideas

Mastodon is clearly establishing itself as a major metal band. Proposing both terrifically aggressive and completely atmospheric compositions, and not to mention exhilarating live performances, the band has a very strong personality. Listening to the tracks of The Hunter, the band’s new record that will be out on Roadrunner Records the 26th of september, there’s still this easily recognizable “Mastodon sound”, which is probably what makes an artist special.

In that regard, it’s not surprising to find reading the interview below Troy Sanders (bass/vocals) that takes interests in every form of art and considers the band from Atlanta a hunter that can make the (extra)musical moves he wants. “We’re fans of all styles of music, we’re fans of all sorts of artwork, we’re fans of travelling to all sorts of lands. So yeah, anything could be a possibility in our world” says the musician.

Two years after Crack the Skye, a very good progressive metal-oriented record emphasizing harmonies and moving away from the sludge origins of the band, Mastodon is coming back with The Hunter and its surprising artwork. A proof that the band will keep surprising us with this new album? Anyway, two tracks from The Hunter – “Black Tongue” and “Curl Of The Burl” – are already online, and not to mention: they rock!

Now let Troy Sanders take it away: in the following interview, he tells us more about The Hunter.


« We didn’t think anything of Crack The Skye when this music was being created. We definitely didn’t try to create anything to cater to a certain type of crowd, or a certain type of fan »

Radio Metal: Crack The Skye was both a critical and a commercial success. Did this album have an impact on the writing of your new album, The Hunter?

Troy Sanders (bass and vocals) : I don’t think so. We’ve always tried to be very passionate about what we create. We write music from the heart, and it comes out very authentically from the four of us. So when we create music and the four of us are ultimately very happy with it, we kind of just go for it. And after months of work, it turned out to be a collection of songs that we all loved within the band. So we didn’t really feel any pressure, like: “We’ve got to outdo ourselves, it’s got to be better than Crack The Skye”, or anything along those lines. If we put our hearts and souls into it a hundred percent, we feel confident that it’s going to be good on its own.

Do you think that The Hunter would have been a different album if Crack The Skye had not been that successful?

No, we didn’t think anything of Crack The Skye when this music was being created. We definitely didn’t try to create anything to cater to a certain type of crowd, or a certain type of fan. We didn’t try to please our old school fans, we weren’t trying to please new fans. This is just the stuff that we do. Making the four of us happy while creating and piecing together meticulously all these riffs and all these songs, and ultimately making a whole album, that’s all we have in our control. We don’t let any success of anything in our past come into play when it comes to creating something new. We have this path that we’re on and have been on, and we’re travelling forward. We just try to continually do that.

Do you think that becoming popular changes the artistic path of a musician?

I don’t think that had anything to do with what we just did.

I was thinking about other bands, maybe…

Oh, good question. I have no idea! I don’t know what kind of MO other bands have when they’re getting together. For us at least, we have no pre-determined ideas, or any boundaries, like: “Hey, we shouldn’t do anything that’s like super slow and long. We should have a couple of short, fast songs. We should have a couple of ballad-type songs”. None of that comes into play when we’re mapping out what kind of music we’re about to write. It just comes out very instinctually. That’s just how we work. I don’t know how other bands do it, if they seek to please a certain group, or if they want to find more commercial success, find fortune or find fame. I don’t know how that works.

You’re a very creative band; your music can be complicated, very simple, very aggressive or very melodic. Even your way of screaming is original. Do you think that you are a band that’s totally free artistically?

Yes, we are. And I don’t think we would have it any other way. That free-spirited vibe from the four of us, it’s been there since the day we formed the band. It still is that way to this day. Even in 2005, when we signed over to Warner Brothers, it was not only verbally spoken, but also in writing, than we must maintain 100% creative control.

About this new album, Brent Hinds said: “Kids are going to get in trouble to this album. They’re going to break speakers, pop springs on their beds and get drunk and nude in public”. Did you already try to make kids listen to this album?

That’s the vibe we hope people get when they’re listening to it! We feel, especially coming off the Crack The Skye record, that this one brings a fresh breath of energy back into the band, in a very positive way. With upbeat songs like “Blasteroid”, and real movers and shakers such as “Spectrelight”, we hope it kind of rejuvenates the fans that we already have, and the new ones that hopefully will find us. Yeah, we want people to jump up and down and break something! We want to pass that good energy that we feel on to anyone that will listen.

« We want people to jump up and down and break something! We want to pass that good energy that we feel on to anyone that will listen. »

Was this a way to make fun of all the meaningless press releases that musicians do on Blabbermouth?

No. We’re quite positive people, and we don’t ever care to talk negatively about anything. Anything with negative energy is just a bum out, in my opinion. I’m surrounded by a group of dudes that strive on a positive vibe. That’s a good thing, and I’m glad that I’m surrounded by a group of friends like that.

The drum tracks were completed in a different studio, in Los Angeles, at the Sound City Studios, where Nirvana’s Nevermind was recorded. Why did you choose to record the drums separately?

Our drummer Brann Bill (Dailor) really wanted to try something different and special. He wanted to achieve this particular drum sound that he’d always wanted, very reminiscent of Phil Collins, Genesis-day-type drums. He really wanted to go somewhere special to try to achieve the sound that he was searching for. Sound City is a legendary studio that has been there for forty years; many classic, amazing albums have been done there. Of course Nevermind was done there, Dio’s Holy Diver was recorded there, four Tom Petty albums were recorded there, amongst many other “classics”, in our opinion. So it just had a special vibe to it, and it was something that Brann really wanted to do. So we packed up and went to Los Angeles for a week and laid down fourteen songs of drums! I was really glad we did, because the week after we finished there, they sold the building. So we kind of experienced a piece of musical history.

Drum parts are always very important in Mastodon’s music. Can you tell us more about the writing process? How is it different to write a Mastodon album, compared to an album from a classic band?

There’s several ways. I guess there are two most common ways that we create songs. First, one of our guitar players will come into the practice space and have many parts pieced together already, or maybe even a complete song they have written while at home on an acoustic guitar. A lot of times, Bill (Kelliher, guitar and vocals) or Brent (Hinds, guitar and vocals) will walk in and say: “Hey guys, I’ve got something, check this out”. And we’ll kind of go through this entire piece of music and take it from there. The other way a lot of songs are written is, we come in to the practice space, everybody plugs in, and then somebody starts jamming on something. If anybody turns their heads and say: “That’s cool, what was that?” or “Cool, let’s build on that”, then we continue to build and let something grow until eventually, it’s a song. So those are the two main ways that we write music.

Can you tell us more about the interactive experience featured on the deluxe edition of the album?

It’s something they call “augmented reality”. Basically, you hold a physical piece of art up to your computer camera, and it will automatically morph you and your face into the Hunter sculpture that’s on the cover of our album. You kind of morph yourself into this beast and it becomes you – or you become it. It was just a little something special that we thought, if anybody cares about it, they can take one step into our world, come into our world a bit more than they could before. I think it might be neat, but it’s never really been done before, so I don’t know if people will really dig on it or not. But anything that will bring our fans, if they’re willing and able, into our world, even a little bit, is only cool, we think.

That’s a weird concept; reality is what it is, it cannot be augmented or changed. What did you mean with that name?

We didn’t mean anything, that’s just what they call it. And we never really questioned why they called it that! (laughs) We just thought the idea might be cool to any of our fans that wanted to try it. I don’t really know what to think about that.

« I think we would be open to and entertain any idea about anything […] It could be anything: creating music for a certain film or going to play on the polar icecaps for a group of penguins… I think we’d be open to entertain any idea. »

Do you think you’ll go further into that kind of experimentation?

I hope so. I mean, our band is quite open-minded to anything. Even if we have some bizarre idea, or something that seems super out there, I think we would be open to and entertain any idea about anything. It could be a collaboration between Mastodon and David Hasselhoff, maybe, that might be kick-ass! It could be anything: creating music for a certain film, or going to play on the polar icecaps for a group of penguins… I think we’d be open to entertain any idea. That’s because we’re not narrow-minded, and we would be open to anything bizarre. We’re just a bunch of crazy dudes, so we’ll do anything.

Even other forms of art, like painting or something?

Possibly, yeah. We’re fans of all styles of music, we’re fans of all sorts of artwork, we’re fans of travelling to all sorts of lands. So yeah, anything could be a possibility in our world.

Mastodon always puts a lot of efforts in the making of the albums’ artworks. Can we say that without this visual aspect, Mastodon wouldn’t exist?

Oh, no, we would definitely exist. We’ve just always felt a very important link between the visual artwork and the music itself. For all four of us in the band, growing up, we would truly immerse ourselves into our favorite bands by listening to the record, looking at all the artwork, going through all the lines or notes – becoming one with the music we were listening to. We wanted that feeling to never die. That’s why we’ve always pressed vinyl, for every release we’ve ever done, and we’ve always felt an important connection between the artwork and the music itself.

In the video for the song “Black Tongue”, we can see A.J. Foski working on the cover art piece. Do you think that people tend to forget the work of those visual artists? Is that why you make that video?

Yeah. The connection between visual art and music is obviously getting lost. It doesn’t exist nearly on the same level as it has in the past. That’s one more thing that we constantly want to keep alive. So with that little video of the making of the Hunter sculpture, it was important to say: “Hey, look at this epic, massive wood sculpture; look at the time and effort and patience and talent that it takes to create this mythical beast that’s gonna grace the cover of our album”. I think otherwise, it looks like it could be very much a computer-generated image. So having that little teaser video for “Black Tongue” was really important to us, because we wanted to show that a lot of thought, time, effort and passion goes into our artwork as well.

Was it a way to remind people that Mastodon are not only about musicians, but also visual artists?

Yeah, I believe so. When we put out a record, we feel that the art of the album is very much alive in Mastodon’s world. And we will continue to tie all of them together. We want epic artwork, we want great music, we want the whole package.

What will happen to the sculpture? Do you plan to sell it?

No. It’s going to be shipped to our rehearsal space in Atlanta, and we’re gonna have it as a shrine, as a centerpiece for inspiration. We might even put some candles around it! You never know.

Will you bring it on stage, maybe?

(laughs) No, man, that thing is made up of so many different pieces of wood that it’s too fragile to travel.

Phone interview conducted the 23th of august 2011
Transcription: Saff
Introduction: Doc’

Mastodon website: www.mastodonrocks.com

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