"Critical acclaim" and "heavy metal" rarely go together in a sentence, but Mastodon may change that. Consider the Atlanta group the hard rock cousin to the Arcade Firethey both create challenging, unique albums that resonate across a wide range of tastes and genres, with one theme usually at the center of their records. Only in Mastodon's case, the theme may involve killer yeti or giant whales.
Recently, they released "Blood Mountain," an ambitious concept album that added hints of melody and prog-rock to the group's sonic assault. The track "Colony of Birchmen" earned them a Best Metal Grammy nomination (they lost to frequent tour mates Slayer), and the album's success has helped them launch one of the year's most eclectic tours.
Bassistsinger Troy Sanders tries to explain what makes his band tick
and why it's OK that not everyone likes them.
You have two brothers also involved in heavy music. Exactly what kind of family did you grow up in?
My mom plays French horn and piano, but that's the extent of [my parents'] music knowledge. My younger brother turned me on to punk and my older brother turned me on to metal, so there was wonderful exposure on both ends of the spectrum. My family is really proud of all of us for following our hearts and staying persistent with our dreams. They buy every fucking magazine my band is featured in, they fly to shows and they're the first ones at the venue when we play in Atlanta. The moment we were nominated for a Grammy? Those are Momma-pleasing words right there. It was the best part about being nominated.
What's up with you always touring with Slayer? You've had literally six tours with them in three years.
It all began in 2004 when Slayer put together the Unholy Alliance tour with us and Slipknot. After we shit our pants at the offer, we were like "Yeah!" We had been a bar band and suddenly we went to hockey arenas with Slayer! I think they enjoy us as a band and as people
outside of the seriousness on-stage, we're all goofballs.
Slayer fans hate opening groups.
We knew that from day one. We knew we were going to get booed and "Slayer-ed" off stage, but we didn't let that stop us. We designed a "set list of brutality" to not allow the chance to not like us. We had the heaviest songs back-to-back-to-back
and I think we just destroyed.
Your new tour is with political punk band Against Me and softer, indie-rock group Cursive. How is that going to go over?
Oh, it was our idea to do that, to take a stab at something different and put together bands that were working hard and have solid fan bases. We're hoping our crowd will be open-minded, and vice versa. We've spent the past six tours supporting bands like Lamb of God, Slayer, Convergeit's always fucking brutal. We want to step outside that box. That said, we are laying our ball sacs on the table and taking a risk. Maybe all the Against Me fans will walk out, or our fans may not want to pay the high ticket price just to see us. It's a three-week tourif it doesn't work, we don't really give a fuck.
Your 2004 album, "Leviathan," was a re-telling of "Moby Dick." Your new album, "Blood Mountain," follows one man's journey up a mountain as he encounters fantastical creatures and fights off the elements. Care to explain the process there?
We're constantly throwing ideas back and forth, so we can agree on a theme and focal point for our albums. Once we all agree, it can be as simple as, "We're gonna chase a whale, or climb a mountain and write a whole fucking record about it." But everything we write about parallels something in our liveswhere we wanna go and how we wanna get thereand there are these beasts trying to stop us from ascending. For us, that might come out as a song about a one-eyed mountain yeti trying to eat us. Beneath the fantasy, it's sincere.
What's the best concept album you've ever heard?
Well, Pink Floyd maintained a unified, linear onslaught on their records. Every Iron Maiden album felt like a whole piece. Let's see
King Diamond's "Abigail," Genesis's "The Lamb Lies Down Out on Broadway"
all of us seem to be about creating one massive piece of art that extends through the album to the art, to the lyrics, to everything. Just like those bands and albums, we want our records to flow as one piece. It's worked so far!
Everyone seems to love you guys. You're constantly featured in year-end "Best of" lists, from major music magazines to the most selective indie-rock blogs. So we found the only bad review of your careerthe London Guardian called your new record "Supertramp in a foul mood" and gave it one star out of five.
That paper must be on acidwe love Supertramp! [To this, Sanders begins singing Supertramp's "Breakfast in America."] So fuck them! I guess for something like that, we can get pissed off, caveman-style, and go on a ravenous hate spree
or we could be like "Everyone has a fucking opinion, why should we give a fuck?" We don't write to please people. I mean, we love the positive coverageit's wonderful to read praise of a piece of art we've createdbut we don't let that shit blow up in our head. You do that, and you cease to be "the shit."
You got animated in the new "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" film and you performed a song in the beginning. That's quite an
Yeah, it was perfect for us. During our time off we started watching the DVD of the old episodes, and we laughed our balls off. Then, randomly, the Cartoon Networkwhich is based out of Atlantacalled us and told us the "Aqua Teen" creators were big fans of ours, so we collaborated. The lyrics to the song"Cut You Up With a Linoleum Knife"are actually the "don't pirate this" disclaimer that starts off the movie. They animated us as popcorn and candy boxes and nachos. The whole thing is really abrasive, rude and obscene. We love it.
What's a night like on a Mastodon tour bus?
Topless moustache parties, dude. We rock some New Wave music, everyone takes their shirts off and you have to have a moustache to participate. We call those Tuesdays.
Mastodon's Troy Sanders cusses (a lot) about topless moustache parties and animated popcorn
Mastodon, from left: Troy Sanders, Bill Kelliher, Brent Hinds and Brann Dailor.
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