The sun is shining once again for Mastodon

Mastodon is going forward slowly but surely, changing their music with every new album, like a butterfly shedding a new chrysalis every three years to show off its new, brighter colors. If you look at their whole discography, Mastodon is a strange animal indeed. Compare their first album, Remission, with their latest record, Once More ‘Round The Sun: the difference is substantial and more than a little surprising, considering only twelve years have gone by and the line-up hasn’t changed one bit. Bands with a 30-year career can’t say as much. The evolution was slow and gradual through the years. Although they’ve kept their sophisticated side, Mastodon has moved to a place that is more deeply rock in its approach and in its melodies, leaving aside the anger of their debut. That may well be why they’re so successful: they’ve never remained long in one place, and the audience has therefore never had a chance to get bored. The very concept of “going back to the roots” would make no sense to Mastodon.

Troy Sanders, the band’s singer and bass player, has only one motto: authenticity. Mastodon’s music is the reflection of its creators and their backgrounds. It’s also the result of a truly remarkable collaborative process. Sanders tells us all about this new widely acclaimed album, which could soon have a little brother in the form of an EP.

« We needed to be very much in love with everything that we record and release. »

Radio Metal : You stated that your new album Once More ‘Round The Sun was a continuation from where the band left off with The Hunter. The Hunter was a bit of a change compared to the previous Mastodon albums, even the cover art was very different from what we were used to. Would you consider The Hunter as a sort of turning point for the band?

Troy Sanders (vocals/bass): I think that all of them have been a turning point in their own sense. I like to view the Mastodon discography as one mass evolution of our band’s career, and I think that with every album, it’s the next building block, it’s the next giant step we are taking to ascend the mountain. I think they’ve all been a turning point in my opinion, but, you know, we spend a lot time, energy and effort writing all the songs that do become each album. So we’re very proud of each record and it’s like a giant stepping stone every time.

The cover for the new album is very psychedelic looking, which goes along well with the music that contains psychedelic vibes. Is this an aspect you wanted to develop in Mastodon?

We always take pride in creating a complementary album artwork that really matches on how we feel about the music. We attempt to have a striking image on the album artwork itself. So this time we wanted to incorporate a lot of colors and this psychedelic nightmare [laughs] really matches a lot of the lyrical content on the album. And it just looks different than anything we have ever done before. So we like to keep things fresh and exciting for ourselves and for our fans as well. I think some of the music on the new record has some dark moment, but in overall there was a lot of upbeat, feel-good, rock ‘n roll types of songs. I think the artwork complements the lyrical contents more so than the music. It is a very large painting that out artist friend Skinner did. It’s just a beautiful piece of artwork that he created for our record. I think it fits well.

It’s actually dominated with the red color just like the cover for The Hunter. Is this just a coincidence or is there a special meaning?

Yeah, it’s a coincidence. We wanted to incorporate bright and striking colors. But, you know, a lot of the red is similar to The Hunter but that was just a coincidence.

So what was the band’s state of mind in the making of Once More ‘Round The Sun?

It was quite positive. We were all in a good headspace. As always, the four of us really attempted to make every riff, every song and every lyric as strong as possible. We strived to find a unique sound that would help Mastodon’s sound grow. We just wanted to be very happy with everything on the record, because as the artist, we needed to be very much in love with everything that we record and release. Because once the record is out it lives forever and we will be touring for that record and playing those songs live for the next two years and then some. So the attitude was very positive in the studio, it’s always a healthy environment

It seems that you are more and more into a rock kind of vibe with grooves and catchiness, even though there are still some heavy riffs. Is this something you have been consciously going for?

Yes. We are always searching for the best melody and hook we can find that is authentic to the music itself. You know, if we can find a big hooky chorus then that’s great. Because all our favorite songs of all times have a guitar riff that is very memorable or a vocal line that is super catchy. So if we can incorporate melody… We try to incorporate melody as much as possible, as long as it is authentic to the music itself.

The album was produced by Nick Raskulinecz. He did some great and acclaimed work with bands like Alice In Chains, Deftones and the Foo Fighters. What did he bring specifically to Mastodon?

I think Nick is also a big fan of our band. The first time we have met, after we decided to work together, he said that he loved our band and everything we have done, and he wanted to help us make the best record we could possibly make. Not only because he is working on it, but he understands the back catalogue of our music and he was really excited and enthusiastic about making the best record with us. So he brought a lot of positive vibes and a good work ethic. He was in the studio every day and was very hands-on. So it was a good vibe working with him.

« It’s important that we let the music come to us as opposed to forcing it and trying to do a quick turnaround of a record. »

The Hunter was recorded at Sound City studios where many classic albums were recorded. And now you’ve worked with Nick. Are you trying to inspire yourself from how classic albums were written and recorded?

Yeah, if we can because all the four of us in the band had our favorite records when we were growing up in the seventies and those were our favorite time period of music with Yes, Genesis, Rush, King Crimson and Thin Lizzy. We all share love for 70’s rock and prog rock. So, yeah, we always try to keep that classic rock element alive in our band.

The name of the album is Once More ‘Round The Sun which refers to a cycle that makes a year. So what is this year you are talking about and what happened during this period of time?

Many things. I think if you asked all four guys in our band, you would get four different answers. And that’s cool. The title is very opened to your own interpretation, just as a lot of our music and lyrics are. To me it means having a fortunate opportunity to do all of this again. We’ve got to record a bunch of songs that me and my band’s mates really love, and over the next two years we‘ve got to tour the world on these songs. So it is a very positive and optimistic vibe to me. But you can take it any way you want. We’re trying to better ourselves as men, as band mates, as songwriters, as fathers, as husbands, you know, every good thing. That’s how I view this album title. We are not taking this for granted. We have a wonderful opportunity in front of us and we are going to take advantage of the next year, of the next cycle.

I’ve read in another interview of one of your colleagues that each song was talking about something that happened to you guys personally. Is this a kind of concept?

I don’t think it’s a concept. There might be some underlying themes that we all pulled from various experiences. It’s definitely not a concept, that might be an underlying theme on the record but there is no linear path to the entire album. It’s more in the tradition of classic rock album where the songs and the lyrical contents are all over the place. You know, it is a very free form.

Are your personal experiences always an inspiration for you guys when writing music?

Yeah, we try to pull inspiration from things that are very honest and true, and our life experiences are a great way to pull creative inspiration from, because it’s very real and it’s very authentic. We’re very proud that our band writes and creates music and our art from a very authentic place. We know that it is completely sincere and that’s the most important thing to us.

Apparently, you have around thirty minutes of leftover recorded music this time…

Yeah, we took fourteen or fifteen songs that we were really into. In the studio we recorded all of them, but we didn’t want to release a very very long album. When we go watch our favorite bands or listen to our favorite albums… We feel like one hour, roughly, that’s a good dose of music from a certain band. We didn’t want to achieve overkill. We’re hoping that people put our record on and listen to it from start to finish. We don’t want to put out something that might be too long to lose any attention and then lessen the impact of what the songs mean to us. So we have enough material leftover that we would like to put out, maybe in an EP in a few months. Because the music that did not make it to Once More ‘Round The Sun is very good, it’s got a lot of good substance in there. We don’t want to throw that away. It’s good stuff and we want it to see the light of day very soon.

« If the aggressive and abrasive vocals would match the song then we will do that. But to have an entire record… I hope I’m not in a position where I feel that angry all the time. »

How did you choose which songs are going to be on the record and which ones are not?

The four or five songs that we left over, they really mesh well together. So it would make what we feel is a proper release, having those songs, you know, having a very nice flow. It wasn’t about choosing the songs that did make the record, but it was more about leaving the songs off that would make a nice record all by itself.

You have posted a press release to seek « both eccentric character actors and real-life Live Action Role Playing enthusiasts » for a new video. What’s the idea behind that?

[Laughs] We just attempted to make something that was funny. It had some humor but it was also touching. You know, videos are short lived and we tried to make them memorable in some sense, where someone who watched the video would enjoy it enough to watch it again. We wanted to make an impact the first time you watch it so you want to watch it again or want to share it with your friends. We take pride in having a very diverse collection of music videos. This new one for “High Road” is out and we’ve already got a couple more ideas for new videos from this next record that would be very different from the previous. Just like our music and our records, we like to keep it very fresh and exciting.

You seemed to have found a good pace in releasing your albums since your past couples of albums are all spaced out by three years. Is this a good pace for Mastodon, with the wait not being too long for the fans?

Yeah. When a record comes out we generally tour for one and a half to three years on each record. So we like to take our music all around the world as much as possible, in each album’s cycle. And then, when it comes time to write and create for a new record, we’ll take as much time as needed. We don’t want to force ourselves to write something quicker than we need to. We want it to come naturally and authentically from us, from our deep within. It’s important that we let the music come to us as opposed to forcing it and trying to do a quick turnaround of a record.

All four of you in Mastodon are singing. So, how have your vocal approaches and vocal interactions evolved through the years?

We’ve definitely put more attention and focus on getting and having better vocal patterns, melodies and natural vocal performances. So we have a very good teamwork within the band. Whoever has the best idea vocally for a certain verse or chorus, then that’s who will take that part. No one is very selfish in the band and says: « Hey I wrote the song, so I need to be the singer. » It’s not like that. Whoever’s voice is best for the part that’s who we’ll go with. It’s very democratic and very much a teamwork.

And do you think you will come back one day to screaming and singing aggressively like you did at the very beginning?

I hope not. But it depends on how we’re feeling while we’re creating the music, you know. When we started fourteen years ago, half of us were homeless and angry, and that reflected in the music that we were creating. When we’re writing music we are reflecting on how we are and how we have been recently. That lends itself to being very natural and being authentic. We take pride in that process and in that approach.

You began your answer by saying « I hope not ». Why?

I mean, I don’t want to be that angry all the time. I am a happy person, you know. If a certain song calls for it then yes. If the aggressive and abrasive vocals would match the song then we will do that. But to have an entire record… I hope I’m not in a position where I feel that angry all the time.

« I love working with people and collaborating with one-another making music. That’s the only way I know how to do it and it just enhances the friendship and the camaraderie and the attitude with one-another. »

Once again Scott Kelly was invited on a song just like your previous albums, with the exception of the first one Remission. So what’s your relationship with Scott Kelly?

His band Neurosis is like a religion to us in Mastodon. We’ve been heavily influenced by the band Neurosis in how they approach music and life. And besides that, Scott in particular is a very very dear friend of ours, and every time we have something that we feel his voice could be on, we ask him and he always says yes. And he is very excited about collaborating with us. It just happened to be five albums in a row that he’s been able to be a part of what we’re doing, and it makes us very proud to have him do anything with us, because we hold him in such high regard in life.

Haven’t you ever thought about going further in this collaboration by doing a full album with him?

Well, that would be wonderful but he is a very very busy man with his projects, his family and his band Neurosis. We’re also very busy and we live on opposite coasts in America. So we don’t get together as often as we wish we could, but, you know, I would be open to that idea. But we’re just fortunate anytime we can cross paths with Scott or Neurosis and do anything with one another, because we have such a deep respect for him and his band.

Could we expect in the future you to do a full set with Scott Kelly and all the Mastodon’s songs he’s participated in?

Yeah! That would be amazing! That would be great. You know, we almost have enough material to do a full set with him now. So that would be a wonderful thing in the near future and I would be happy to see that a reality.

You participated in the project Killer Be killed, in Mastodon we see a lot of guest appearances and there seems to be a very collaborative way in how the band works, so does it mean it’s important for you guys to have the artistic work be something very collaborative?

Yeah, that’s all that I know. I mean, I love working with people and collaborating with one-another making music. That’s the only way I know how to do it and it just enhances the friendship and the camaraderie and the attitude with one-another. When you’re working together with someone, it makes my experience more enjoyable to be with him, because we’re working together for the greater good. So I enjoy the teamwork formula.

And apparently, about Killer Be killed, you kind of invited yourself in the project… Are you always like that very enterprising?

Yeah! Well I was truthful but it was also funny. But, you know, I wanted to be part of it and those guys had a good appreciation for what I have done musically in the past. It just seemed like an obvious fit. It was a lot of fun to do that record.

And did it meet your expectations?

Oh yeah it did. It has exceeded my expectations. It was a lot of fun and that was the whole point of doing that record, to have a lot of fun and just get together with some friends, make some music that we enjoyed and do it quickly because we all had to get back to our main bands.

So I guess we can expect another album from you guys?

I hope so. If times permits we’d be very happy to go and make music together again.

And did this experience inspire in one way or another in your work in Mastodon?

Yeah, you know, it was such a productive and positive environment that always inspires me and fuels me to want to keep going and keep on doing that. It fans my fire every time I can be with a bunch of musicians. That just makes me feel good and it’s a nice outlet of emotions. I just love making music with good people.

Are you coming to France this year with a tour?

Yeah we will be coming on November or December. Actually we’re doing a show in Paris in a couple weeks with Slayer and Ghost. But then we’re going to come back in November and do a proper headlining tour of clubs and theatres. So I hope we’ll do several shows across France, that’d be great!

Interview conducted by phone on june, 11th 2014 by Spaceman.
Retranscription: Thibaut Saumade.
Questions and iintroduction: Spaceman.

Mastodon official website: MastodonRocks.com

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