Mastodon Singer-Bassist Troy Sanders on the Ways of ‘The Hunter’
Atlanta-based metallurgists Mastodon have five epic studio albums under their belts, but it’s on the road that they’ve really shown their muscle and refined their craft, exposing themselves to a wide variety of audiences in the process.
They are that rare breed of metal band that is totally at home on the stage of Ozzfest, but can effortlessly shift gears and rock the hipster scene at the Pitchfork festival or the hippie-tinged Bonnaroo. Their latest album ’The Hunter,’ which hit stores at the end of September, showcases a refined Mastodon, one that features sprawling prog-rock and psychedelic flourishes, yet doesn’t skimp on the sludge metal that first put them on the map. It peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200, their best showing on the chart yet.
Mastodon singer-bassist Troy Sanders recently checked in with Loudwire while the group was on it’s current fall North American tour with Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang — the band’s first proper headlining trek across America in more than a year. We’ve already posted excerpts from our interview featuring Troy talking about the “circle of insanity” that inspired first ‘Hunter’ single ‘Curl of the Burl,’ and his description of the “prehistoric cavemen” experience fans can except when catching Mastodon live. Now we offer the rest of the interview, which includes Troy’s thoughts on why he likes sharing a bill with Coldplay, why Mastodon appeal to such a wide variety of fans and what he listens to while on the road:
This is your first full-on U.S. tour in over a year, but you spent the summer rocking Europe?
We just spent all of June and July doing the festival circuit across the U.K. and Europe. It was wonderful — we played all the Sonisphere festivals with Alice Cooper, [Iron] Maiden, Slipknot, Motorhead — that run was amazing. Since then, we’ve just been rehearsing and we went up to New York and played ‘Letterman’ a couple weeks ago, last week we went to the U.K. and played a BBC1 radio show and the ’Later With Jools Holland’ TV show. We’ve been hopping the globe already in bits in pieces on ‘The Hunter.’
What’s the biggest difference between playing in the States and playing in Europe?
Overall, they’re quite similar, but there’s a different magnitude across Europe that brings the hordes of music-hungry people en masse. They pull off so many festivals over there — like in Germany, for example, there are three massive festivals in the same weekend. There’s like 22 festivals just in Germany across the summer.
Then in the U.K. you’ve got Sonisphere, Download, Glastonbury, Leeds, Reading — there’s so many I’ve always been fascinated with how they have so many paying customers to keep these things alive. They’re not cheap of course, you go to a one-, two- or three-day festival and it’s gonna cost you a hundred bucks or more. With the parking, the camping out, the food, the booze, it’s an [expensive] adventure. I’m just always blown away that they can pull them off year after year.
There seem to be more festivals popping up in the U.S.
Festivals like Bonnaroo are great because they are so diverse … it’s like playing the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, it’s massive and incredibly diverse. It’s like John Legend, Mastodon and then Coldplay…
Playing back to back to back…
Yeah and I love that, because I want to expose our band to — and be surrounded by — very open-minded people when it comes to musical tastes. It’s just very different than doing Ozzfest or the Mayhem festival across the United States, which is just an entire day of a heavy barrage of music. I like those as well, but I’m a big fan of the diverse festivals.
Speaking of diversity, Mastodon attract a very eclectic audience. You guys will play a metal festival like Ozzfest, then go rock the Pitchfork hipsters. What do you think it is about Mastodon that draw that diverse crowd?
I think it stems from the four of us our in the band, our musical tastes and inspirations vary across the entire spectrum of musical history. The four of us are heavily influenced by and love classical music, the whole spectrum of music across the past 300 years. So when it comes to songwriting, anything goes in our band, we don’t feel like it’s gotta sound like classic Mastodon or else we aren’t going to write it. None of that ever comes into play.
To some degree, whether it’s obvious or very subtle, we’re gonna have songs that are inspired by early ’70s classic rock, and then something’s going to be very modern, heavy, Neurosis-ish. Or, we’ll come off tour with Queens of the Stone Age and then the next song we write is very Queens of the Stone Age-y. So it’s all over the place, so when we play a set of music, we’re gonna have bits and pieces that I hope many people can draw something from and find at least one thing about us that they think is refreshing or neat or cool.
‘The Hunter’ was a bit of a departure sonically from your last albums; did you worry about how your core metal fans will react to it?
If people have immersed themselves in the Mastodon world, they know that we’re a multidimensional type band, that were not ever going to record the same record twice, and we always want to bring something fresh and new each go-around and we always enjoy throwing a curve ball at the people and ourselves. It’s a constant surprise — we like to keep it like a birthday party. If we [were to] get some monkeys and orangutans and silver-backed gorillas, it would be a true zoo party, but we gotta work on that.
I was reading about plans to create a sort of altar in your practice space …
Our friend AJ Fosik carved that epic three-jawed minotaur wood sculpture that’s on the front of [‘The Hunter’], and currently in New York on display at an art show. Shortly after that it’s going to be carefully and gently shipped to our rehearsal space, and we intend on building a shrine for him right there in our practice space in Atlanta, perhaps put some candles around him, we can touch him, talk to him before each and every rehearsal. I think it’s going to be great.
Speaking of the minotaur cover, you’ve worked with Paul Romano on most of your artwork up until now. How did you end hooking up with AJ for ‘The Hunter?’
Our drummer Brann [Dailor] saw some of AJ’s work a couple years ago, he always had him in the back of his mind, and when we decided to venture out with a new artist this go around, Brann contacted and discussed kinda what we were coming up with musically and lyrically. There’s a lot of wood-related themes in our new record, and AJ said he was about to work on some mythological creatures.
We kinda shared some ideas back and forth and the next thing you know we’re in the practice space spending so much time and energy working on these songs, while we has in Philadelphia, doing the exact same thing, but with his wood, spending a lot of talented time and dedication to carving this massive sculpture. I don’t know if you ever saw the video we posted of ‘Black Tongue,’ it’s a three-minute video of him creating the sculpture, it’s bad-ass. It kinda gives a new perspective on how this thing of epic proportions was created.
What are you listening to while on the road?
On tour I tend to listen to my go-to, which is what I call My Big Four of Classic Country, like John Prine, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagner and Ray Price [Editor's Note: that's five in your Big Four, Troy!] I’m a classic country fan, and that’s nice easy listening, because the sensory overload hits the ears hard while we’re on tour, because we’re living and eating and breathing the live environment of the Mastodon world.
So I don’t listen to a lot of heavy or aggressive music on tour at all, it’s a lot of movies. We watch a lot of movies together as a band and catch up on our cinema. I’ll listen to some nice kick-ass classic rock or classic country but not a whole lot of music listening outside of what’s going on live.