Interview with Troy Sanders of Mastodon

With only a few weeks left before Atlanta-based heavy metal band Mastodon releases their seventh studio album entitled Emperor of Sand, it seemed like the perfect time for AXS to re-connect with Bass player and vocalist Troy Sanders. 

Emperor of Sand has been a highly anticipated release ever since the band released details that it may be the heaviest album in years.  The album, which was written during a very trying time in the bands personal lives, chronicles a character who is dealt a death sentence by a supernatural force, and deals with the concept of life, death and time.  In order to promote the release of Emperor of Sand (out on Reprise Records March 31) Mastodon will be embarking on a massive U.S. tour with Eagles of Death Metal and Russian Circles (tour dates at the bottom).

While speaking on the phone with Troy, we were able to get some insights as to how a band with 3 vocalists (Brann Dailor, Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds) chooses who sings what, how the recording process with Gone is Gone influenced Sanders’ style on EoS, what exactly is “Turd Factory,” and if there will ever be another Killer be Killed album, as well as what song Sanders would send to NASA in order to communicate with Aliens. 

For the full audio of the interview with more questions, click the video at the bottom

AXS: How did you guys decide what singles to release in order to promote the album?

TS: You know when we write an album, we love every one of these songs, and we think of them as equals.  We think of them like children, you know its something that we have created in this four way man marriage that is Mastodon. So the fine folks over at Warner Bros. in conjunction with the fine folks at our management team come together and agree what songs might be pushed for radio perhaps.  Because we have only ever had 3-4 songs in our whole discography that have ever been added to mainstream rock radio. So it’s a combination, we specifically pushed for the release of ‘Sultan’s Curse’ first because we felt it was a solid representation of what the album is.  It had some classic elements of the Mastodon sound mixed with the a lot of our new.  And then we come out with something like ‘Show Yourself’ which is doing really well and we’ve got some late night shows calling us to do some performances next month which is cool because you know we want to reach as many people as possible.  You know we used all our favorite ingredients and we feel we made a tasty record and we can’t wait for everyone to take a bite.

AXS: Considering how Mastodon has 3 vocalists, how does the band decide who sings what when you are recording?

TS:  One of the things I love about our band is that we are quite selfless.  We all want for the greater good of the song. For example, the 3 voices are quite distinct: My voice is more of the rougher and darker, or a warm gruff.  Brent Hinds as more of an Ozzy tinged southern style voice, and our drummer Brann just has the voice of an angel. And so when we are coming up with vocal melodies and patterns, a lot of time the music its self will dictate who is going to sing.  So if it is the heavier and more aggressive stuff, that tends to be where I come in.  And some of the softer, searing layers, anything that is reminiscent of 70s classic or prog rock, that is where Brann Dailor’s voice comes in.  And a lot of times, Brent will be playing something very busy and complex on guitar, and the vocals will completely contrast that.  He will say ‘Hey you know this is near impossible for me to do both here, hey Troy, you try singing here’ and we will get in the studio and if everything sounds good to everyone’s ears, that will become my part. So it’s all interchangeable because we are all teammates and all want the greater good of the song.

AXS: How did the recording of Echolocation with Gone is Gone influence the recording of Emperor of Sand?

TS:  Well for me it boosted my vocal confidence. Which is something that I am always needing and wanting, even where we are at this deep into the Mastodon lifespan. But I was called upon to do all the vocal duties for the Gone is Gone band. That is very humbling and complimentary, that is three other guys that I respect deeply in their musical tastes to pick me to be the voice of this band. So I am always striving to become a better vocalist, write interesting lyrics, and paralleled storylines, and finding interesting vocal patterns and melodies.  So after we recorded Echolocation, I jumped right in the studio and started recording Emperor of Sand and my vocal confidence was on a level 10.  When I create other music with people outside of Mastodon all it does is make me a better person and a better player.

AXS: The members of Mastodon have an insane amount of side projects, with everything that you have going on in Gone is Gone, Killer be Killed, Mastodon, and now the revival of Turd Factory, how do you find time to produce everything?  And when you announced that you were going to revive Turd Factory did Brent shake you around a little or was he stoked on it?

TS:  Yeah no, that kind of stemmed from a quick interview where I announced that we were going to be reviving Turd Factory and know I’m getting a lot of questions about it.  That was just a fun noise project that we did 15 years ago and I thought it would be something fun, silly and entertaining to do while we are on the road.  In terms of your first question, it’s a fine line of spreading myself too thin.  It can be tricky, because you know I want to fulfill myself but also be at home and balance all of my duties and all of my passions.  I guess that’s something that everyone balances in their life, you know what they love to do and what they need to do, and what is best for them and their families. So I’m booked solid, and I love it.  When I am home, the time feels more extreme. I am gone a lot, and so when I am home, we just cram a lot of home time in and family time.  I think I have it figured out for myself personally, with the music that I really do love to be a part of, and I do get a lot of home time in to soak up and enjoy every second of it. 

AXS: We did a survey in the Mastodon Mayhem Facebook group to see what everyone’s favorite Mastodon side project was, and Killer be Killed was the top, followed by Fiend Without a Face.  Has there been any talk about making another Killer be Killed album?

TS:  Yeah we have been talking about it since we released the first one three years ago. It was a project that the four of us were involved in because we loved it. It was fun, and positive and happy and healthy. You know Obviously Max Cavalera has 3-4 bands going all the time, between Cavalera Conspiracy, Soulfly and he’s out on tour right now doing Roots.  Greg Puciato has the Black Queen, Dillinger Escape Plan, he's a very busy man. I obviously have almost too much on my platter, but yeah we love the one record and the one Australia tour that Killer be Killed did, and so every time we talk, we just are trying to align the calendars. Basically meaning that when we are all home at the same time, then we will all get together.  We don’t ever want to just do things over the computer. We only want to be doing it if it is enjoyable, to be in a room creating music and having fun. It might take another three years, but it will be worth the wait.

AXS: Obviously you and Eagles of Death Metal are good friends with Queens of the Stone Age, but how did you hook up with Russian Circles for this tour?

TS: They have always been on our radar for someone we wanted to take out.  We pride ourselves for putting together a package that makes someone be very happy to pay for a ticket. Because we tour all the time and it would be very easy to have someone say ‘oh yeah I saw Mastodon last year and the year before that. But we want to put together a package that would make someone happy to leave the house and share their time with us. Eagles of Death Metal share a lot of our same crowd and they also have a large crowd that is probably unfamiliar to us, and the same goes for the Mastodon crowd. A lot of our fans love Eagles and they are going to be very impressed to see them live for the first time.  And when it comes to the first band of three, we like someone that we want to put in front of a lot of faces, and a band that is out there working hard for what they’ve got, and that sounds great. And Russian Circles was on our very short list, and we are glad that they were available and able to take part in this.

AXS: As I am sure you know Scientists just discovered several planets in another solar system that have the right conditions to possibly support life.  If NASA came to you and asked for a song that they could send to Aliens to introduce them to Mastodon, what song would you send them?  And if Aliens landed in your backyard, where would you take them?

TS:  The song that I would send to Outer Space would be ‘Stargazm’ because it’s about having sex in outer space. I would send ‘Stargazm’ to any different life form if I could beam it to them. But once we became friends I would send them this other song called ‘The Creature Lives’ because we know they do. I would say ‘We knew you guys existed, it was just nice to find you, and nice to meet you. Here is a long we wrote about you before we befriended one another. ‘  And if they landed in my backyard, I would take them right to the beach.  I would say ‘Dude you have to check out the Gulf of Mexico it’s gorgeous’, you know we would watch the sunset.  They have been watching the sunset from millions of miles away, they might not even know what our sun looks like. I would invite them to the beach, bring a picnic, and allow them to watch a sunset over the Gulf.   

Pre-order Emperor of Sand by clicking here, and catch them on tour at a city near you.