Troy Sanders | Mastodon
Note: This interview took place two years ago. Since then, Mastodon has traveled the world, opened for numerous bands and headlined various other tours. The band has been hard at work on their forthcoming album The Hunter that will likely see a Fall 2011 release (we hope).
On the afternoon of October 3, 2009, Confinement Loaf had the real pleasure of interviewing Troy Sanders, bassist and singer in the acclaimed heavy metal band Mastodon.
We met in the Mastodon dressing room in the cavernous tunnels of the WAMU Theater. The room was empty but for two comfortable chairs and a folding table on which sat a vegetable tray. Yes, Troy told us, Mastodon eats their veggies.
Confinement Loaf: Troy, it’s great to meet you and thanks so much for this opportunity.
Troy Sanders: No problem. Happy to do it.
CL: We saw the show (High On Fire, Converge, Mastodon and Dethklok) last night, it was awesome, and you guys were amazing. Something that impressed me about all the bands was the level of integrity and devotion to their music, their work.
TS: Thanks. I appreciate that. The four bands on this tour, it’s all heavy. You know, High on Fire is so awesome, raw and in your face, just raw. You know, I think Converge is the best at that, they are so awesome, so intense I can’t listen to a whole Converge album at once, you know. I have to turn it off, in a good way, like this is blowing my mind. I even told them that, it’s a compliment, it’s hard, to get through their albums, I mean it’s so fucking awesome. It’s the same thing with Neurosis. And then we have our weird rock thing going on. And Dethklok is so fucking awesome at what they do. I think it’s like four kind of heavies.
CL: We’re huge Zappa fans. I was glad to see guitarist Mike Kenealy playing in Dethklok.
TS: Yeah, I need to find out more about him. I know he’s awesome and I just met him last night. I don’t know what all he’s done.
CL: Did you grow up listening to Frank Zappa? I swear I hear the influence of Zappa in Mastodon’s music. Is this correct?
TS: Oh yeah, I think we’re all big fans of Zappa. I think our guitarist Brent is the biggest and, um, some of that Zappa influence comes in through Brent and his songwriting. I think when I listen to our band, I hear, there’s a little trace of Pink Floyd, there’s a little trace of Zappa, a little bit of King Crimson… little bits and pieces of all of our favorite musicians.
CL: Mastodon’s new album (Crack the Skye) is the most psychedelic yet. Is this from a love of old psychedelic / instrumental music?
TS: Um, well I think it’s definitely a part of all four of us. It’s awesome, you can close your eyes and dream about something else while listening to some certain sounds. It’s a dream.
CL: The artwork on your albums is quite extensive and seems to be a visual way to participate in listening to the music. It seems that the album artwork must be very important to Mastodon.
TS: Yeah, um, we feel like the art of the album is not dead and we are going to do everything in our power to keep it alive forever and ever! The four of us have always been fascinated by getting our favorite album, listening to it, going over the back of the album, the artwork, go through all the liner notes, all the lyrics, just absorbing yourself into the music. We feel the visual part is really important as well, so we spend a lot of time working with Paul Romano, the artist for our records, to make it one wholesome piece of art, from the lyrics, to the imagery, to the presentation of it to go right along with the music. We spend so much time and energy creating the music that we’d be cheating ourselves if we just slapped something together for a cover. And we also want people to, um, if it is a wholesome piece of bad ass artwork, it will encourage people to want to hold that, to be a part of us, to kind of join us on our journey, you know. I guess to sum it up better, the art of the album is very much alive in our world.
CL: What albums, when you were growing up, really struck you, in a visual way? Maybe Zeppelin? They had cool interactive record covers. You know, some bands went all out.
TS: Yeah, I think, yeah, obviously Iron Maiden records were bad ass, scary and Yes record covers were cool.
CL: Black Flag?
TS: Well of course. But, my favorite of all, I have to say is that Lionel Ritchie album. Where he is in that kick ass sweater, it’s so awesome. I love Lionel.
CL: Yes, I know the one.
TS: Yeah, there’s so many that are so intriguing and involved. But then physically, you know, it’s a tangible product. We want to hold something and we want people to hold something they like. If they like our band, we want them to hold it, immerse themselves in it, to become one with it. We’ll spend a year writing and recording. Our music is a giant part of our lives, I mean we eat, walk, breathe and sleep Mastodon. That’s us and the package is really important. I mean it would be easy to just like put a picture of a dog on the cover or something, but that’s not us. I mean, the Melvin’s do the simplest shit and it’s so awesome but we want imagery. We want the imagery of the album to parallel the sounds.
CL: So, I understand that you are all involved in every step of the production of your albums. Is there one facet of creating your music, such as, recording, composing, and touring, that some of you enjoy participating in more than others?
TS: Yeah, I think, it’s um, we’ve been together ten years now and I think we’ve found a nice balance of not achieving overkill in any of those departments. In other words, like when the record comes out, we’ll tour on it for about a year and a half and its’ like, alright this is awesome but then I’d like to go home and see my wife and my dogs. Let’s go home, take six months off and write a new record. And then, after about six months of rehearsal it’s like, alright this is great, let’s get this shit done so we can go back out on the road or into the studio. And when we’re in the studio for awhile it’s like, alright this is great but I’m ready to take this shit on the road and it’s like this cycle that’s been going on for ten years. And it’s awesome you know, if you can find, you know, not being home for too too long to burn out. Yeah, we don’t want to achieve burn out in any of those areas. But yeah, as far as input to everything, we collectively agree on working with this guy or this particular studio we want to work with, and we all have our input with the guy who does our visuals, we all chip in to that. I guess overall, it’s a very democratic band, everybody has their say, it’s a band.
CL: Do you find that your, all of your, hands on, immediate involvement helps make Mastodon’s album complete, cohesive works?
TS: Yeah, with everything from songwriting to dealing with the artwork for the records or dealing with the visuals guy to create the visuals… um, Brann, our drummer, is involved in it (the visuals) even more than any of the three of us because he’s really into it and it’s great. But whether it is songwriting, communication on the visuals or whatever, anybody can have their say, put their two cents in. The four of us want to be happy, obviously.
CL: So how was last night’s performance for the band? You said you have the first one (of the tour) under your belt. How do you feel about the tour? About tonight’s, the second show?
TS: Um, I think our whole band was really satisfied with last night. You know, about day number three of any and every tour we’ve ever done, you hit your stride. We’ve done one hundred and fifty shows already this year. But uh, we all felt it was good. We were all hoping it would turn out good. We were all hoping that the visuals would work out good. But the four of us had a good time. The crowd was awesome.
CL: Mastodon has performed all over the world. How are your concerts / crowds and touring different in other countries?
TS: Overall it’s pretty similar but like nothing compares to… there are some countries that are so much more hungry, I guess, for music. Portugal is off the hook. They are just so cool and rabid. It’s amazing. Greece always blows our minds. We’ve been there four times and every time it’s mind boggling how responsive and energetic. You sing a song, and they know the lyrics. It’s just great. I would say Greece, Portugal and Mexico City were great. We walk off stage like, wow that just happened? Not just from our end but the energy coming back from the people. It’s like this whole circle of energy. Our sound waves and our music hits them and it just blows them up and they fire it up right back at us and it’s just this awesome bouncing back of energy.
CL: So, Troy. Mastodon has a following around the world. How do all these people find your music?
TS: Like get turned on to it or something?
CL: Yeah, exactly.
TS: Um, I think the biggest, probably, I would say, just from being complete road dogs since 2000. We just constantly toured. It started in basements for eight people and we’d go back around and play a VHF hall in the same city and there would be twenty-eight people and we just kept touring. And it’s like every tour that we did, mostly in the first five years, every tour got a little bigger and a little bigger every time. And then we started doing bigger tours like Ozz Fest and we did a handful of Clutch tours and uh, exposed ourselves, getting that support slot to open up through other bands and hopefully attracting people from all genres. You know, we’ve done death metal tours, we’ve done Clutch rock and roll tours, we’ve done tours with Dillinger Escape Plan… uh, you know. We did a bunch of shows with like, Queens of the Stone Age and Foo Fighters and shit… and um, I think we’re hoping that people of all those, uh, fans of any genre can hopefully find something that they like about us. So I think, for the most part, up to this day, it’s probably just come from touring like madmen. Um, and then again, I think a small handful of people probably caught on to us by video games. Or we’ve had two songs that have even had some decent spins on hard rock radio. So I think maybe a lot of people heard those songs and thought that sounds pretty cool. So, I would say it’s just from touring our asses off.
CL: So, do you listen to the radio?
TS: Um, well, we travel about nine months a year. And by travel I mean touring, so we play and listen to music all night long…and really… I’ll listen to uh, lighter stuff on my IPod like before I go to sleep, but usually my ears are still decompressing. So when we’re home, and I’m driving around in my truck, um, that’s the only time I really listen to music, like outside of live stuff. Um, I would say twenty-five percent of the time I’ll flip through stations, but this is all Atlanta stations. I was born and raised there so I’ve listened to the radio there forever. The other seventy-five percent of the time I’m driving in my truck, I’m listening to CDs that I’ve acquired, that people gave me, you know, said check this out, or what I’ve bought. So to answer your question, very little when I’m home overall but uh there’s a classic rock station I listen to and there’s 88.5 Georgia State, the college station there and I like the oldies station.
CL: Did you grow up listening to college radio?
TS: No. I didn’t get turned on to the Georgia Tech. station and the Georgia State station, that are awesome, but I didn’t get really turned on to that until I was like maybe twenty or so. I think college radio is awesome. I think it’s brutally important.
CL: So, Mastodon is touring with Dethklok. I have to ask, do you watch cartoons?
TS: Um, the only TV I ever watch really is when I’m home. I like to catch up on movies in the recliner with my wife and my dogs. It’s awesome. Other than that, I’ve been a Simpson’s freak for twenty years. This is the twenty-first season, that’s crazy. Yeah, so I’ve been watching that for twenty years, like religiously. Um, outside of that uh, you know, I don’t really watch a lot of TV anyway… other than the Simpsons and movies or the Discovery Channel or History Channel, it blows my mind. So to answer your question, no. I love cartoons but my time is so spread thin when I’m home. I try to be productive and do stuff around the house.
CL: Since Dethklok is part of this tour, I imagine you have seen Brendon Small’s cartoon Metalocalypse?
CL: What do you think of it?
TS: I think it’s awesome.
CL: I do too.
TS: The first time I met him, (Brendon Small) a month ago, we were in Los Angeles and he invited us to come do some voice over’s for an episode (of metalocalypse) that will come out in a few months. It was so fun it was just ridiculous. It’s like, dude, this is, you know, I know you know this, but your job is not a job. This is your creation. This whole building, it’s like an entire city block, and all these people working. This is your house. You know it’s so great. How did you, in a nutshell get here? And he (Brendon Small) said, “Well you know I went to Berklee College to shred on metal guitar. And then after I got out of college, I couldn’t find a band and I always loved cartoons and started drawing cartoons and kind of put those things together.” I just love hearing how crazy shit, how it comes to fruition. You know, and now he’s got three seasons and he’s a phenomenon and he owns this big building in L.A. with people everywhere creating episodes and it’s a total, whole dream come true, and it’s such an authentic way of putting one and one together.
CL: And it’s a great way to make your own band.
TS: Yeah, and obviously his band is bad ass. But yeah, it was the funnest hour ever doing voice overs for these characters. It’s (Metalocalypse) huge. Otherwise, like last night for example, this tour would have been a lot more just straight death metal people there. You know, all dudes, long hair, black t-shirts, for the most part, like a typical death metal show, but because of the TV outlet that they’ve opened up, its’ kids, there’s high school dudes, there’s adults, there are a handful of girls, which is nice. So that’s a direct result of the power of TV. What Dethklok has created, I think that’s great, otherwise, it would be a very one dimensional thing. I think the people who come to the show just to see Dethklok have to see us because we are playing right before them. So, I hope that a lot of people will like something about us and take that with them. Our fans, we feel, are pretty open minded, and uh, are fans of any style of music when it’s done well. If the crowd was fifty percent ours I don’t think all of them would leave after our performance. I think they’d stay for Dethklok.
CL: Absolutely. You guys played in front of very cool video imagery last night. Are you going to continue with the video screen in future shows?
TS: Um, well this is our second U.S. tour for Crack The Skye, our first was with Kylesa. We had a screen and we had some visuals created by our friend Josh Graham of Neurosis and we thought that it was really awesome. But this time around we wanted to do something different since we were playing a lot of the same cities we just did back in March. So we just stepped it up and we knew Dethklok does visuals as well so we just chipped in together and got a big ass screen and uh, so obviously we’re going to do it for the rest of the tour, which is the last tour for this record. Um, so I don’t know, I think we all dig it so I imagine that we will do something that incorporates visuals with our music.
CL: Could you talk about the creative process of Mastodon as it relates to your individual and collective experiences, the influences within your music?
TS: All of our favorite stuff comes in to here and somehow, out here and its pulled from everything that we love, every inspiration, whether it be travelling to Iceland and being blown away by the scenery, listening to a King Crimson record or whatever it may be. We’re influenced by everything, going to the beach. Everything influences us.
CL: Troy, thank you so much for doing this interview and taking so much time for us. We really appreciate it.
TS: You are very welcome. Thank you.
Thanks so much to Troy and Mastodon for the interview. Special thanks to Relapse records as well who hooked it up.