Sporting long hair, a shaggy beard and an awful lot of tattoos, Troy Sanders looks every inch your average wannabe rock musician. Spend some time in his company, however, and he reveals himself to be anything but. Snacking on fresh fruit he proves to be intelligent, lucid and driven. It’s no surprise as Mastodon, the band for which he plays bass and sometimes sings, are equally unique – a metal band with their own vision and attitude. As their fourth album -Crack The Skye’ is released, Sanders gave State an insight into the band and their history.
The story is that you all met at a High On Fire show in Atlanta and decided to form a band. That sounds too good to be true….
Well, Brent and I were playing in a band at the time and we knew who Brann and Bill were from their previous band Today’s The Day. We recognised them and went, what the hell are you guys doing in Atlanta? They’d just moved there looking for something fresh and were looking for a guitarist and a bass player, so we were like here we are.
What was it that convinced you that they were the right people?
We shared the same vision; we wanted to create this unique brand of heavy, tasteful music and take that music to people around the world. When you’re playing that sort of music you can’t sit at home and expect Tool to come knocking, you can’t expect a record deal to happen unless you take your music to the people. The four of us shared that same idea.
Unique it what way?
We met on the common ground of the Melvins, Neurosis, Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden. If you understand the Melvins and you get Neurosis, you have an unspoken bond.
The rock -n’ roll riffage of Thin Lizzy, the metal mastery of Iron Maiden, the total brutality of Neurosis, the most bizarre off the wall shit of the Melvins – put all four of those together in a pot, stir it around a little bit and we’ll see what we can concoct.
So what happened next?
The day after we met we went into a rehearsal space for less than half an hour just to vibe it out. After that we went over to Bill’s apartment to start talking about band names. We didn’t have a song but it felt right, we just connected. It was a great time to start a band, January 2000, the perfect time to start something brand new and we totally believe in that fate paced its hand on us and got us four aligned.
We wouldn’t normally associate Atlanta with metal, was it hard to get going?
There’s lots of music coming out of there, it’s mostly known for the huge hip-hop artists like Outkast and Ludicrous but there’s also tonnes of rock clubs, there are punk and indie bands, a little bit of everything. In the building that we rehearse there are a hundred rooms and every room has either one of two bands based there. It’s a great area.
Once we’d got a name and before we had a song I started to book a two week tour for that April. It really focused us, we’d talked about taking our music to the people and now we had to prove it. It was a real mix, some shit hole dive bars and people’s basements. We’d play anywhere we could. That type of touring ethic is what we did for the first four years then boom…
-Boom’ was landing a slot of the Unholy Alliance Tour alongside Slayer and Slipknot after the relase of second album -Leviathan’….
The first show on that tour, the stage alone was bigger than most of the clubs we’d ever played. It really took us to a new level, it made us play better. The Slayer fans were rabid and the Slipknot fans were out of control but we turned a lot of heads. Our band changed on that tour. We’d been playing dive bars, people’s house, kitchens and basements up to that point. We continued with that bar band attitude but just tried to kick more ass.
As a band, Mastodon have always appealed to a cross section, from the metal audience to the alternative crowd…
We’ve done lot of different kinds of tour. We toured with Clutch a few times, we played with Slayer, a handful of shows with Queens Of The Stone Age, then Dillinger Escape Plan or Against Me!. There are bits of our music that appeals to extreme hardcore music fans, some rock -n’ roll for Queens fans, there’s some interesting and unique guitar stuff going on. I think we can appeal to people within every genre and we’re very happy about that. We’re not just a one dimensional band and we like to play for the more the merrier. We want to play with the Melvins, then the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago then go on tour with Metallica. That’s what we prefer.
You use your lyrics to tell stories but how do they relate to yourself?
All of our stories are metaphorically speaking from our own personal or band experience, we just like to tell it through a parallel story so that it’s not so literal. We’ve been doing that for the past few records and we feel like that works for us. It helps us focus on writing lyrics when we have a main concept for a record so we’re able to use the music as the soundtrack and the words to create a movie almost. Everything ties in from start to finish, including the artwork etc.
Is there a concept behind -Crack The Skye’?
It’s ultimately based on the fifth element of ether. Our other records have touched on fire, water and earth so we didn’t want to just go to the air but go a little further. That allows us to crack the sky and go through a portal to outer space and experience time travel and different dimensions. Fifth album, fifth element – it makes sense.
Ether is the central element but there are lots of stories around that concerning out of body experiences, the supernatural, time travelling through space, wormholes, being lost in oblivion. A lot of people believe that ether, the dark matter that dominates the universe, is the initial stuff that creates the soul.
Is it a spiritual record?
A little. I think this bad is like a religion to us, we’ve dedicated the best part of ten years of our lives to it and we spend more time together than we do with our families. Our hearts and souls are into it 100%.
Mastodon play Marley Park, Dublin with Metallica on August 1st. -Crack The Skye’ is out now and we have four copies to giveaway. Email email@example.com and tell us the name of Mastodon’s first album by 5pm on Tuesday 31st March.