Mxdwn.com recently conducted an interview with vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders of Atlanta progressive metallers MASTODON. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Mxdwn.com: MASTODON is one of the few bands I’ve found that can explore a different style or concept on every record and still get everything right. Were there any specific people or events that inspired the music on “The Hunter”?
Sanders: The biggest event that inspired the bulk of the sound was the fact that we wrote, recorded, and toured “Crack The Skye” for two and a half years. That was such a layered, complex, emotional journey, and for the bulk of the tour, we would play that record in its entirety, and that was a daunting task. From start to finish, that thing is kind of a beast to play! When we were done with that seventh song, it was like a giant exhale, like a “Phew!” and now we can move on to some older songs that spark up some fresh energy. So, after writing, recording, and touring that record, when we went into the writing process for the new album, it was a knee-jerk reaction to go in the opposite direction, and not pound our heads into the concrete wall trying to write these 9-minute epics. You know, shoehorning a really difficult bridge in between three verses, two crazy choruses, and this long outro, and this massive intro…this time around, it was, “Hey, guys, let’s embrace the simpler side of MASTODON music,” and go the opposite direction that we did on “Crack The Skye”. We’re very proud of everything we achieved with “Crack The Skye”, but after living that for over two years, we wanted to make a sharp left turn, and this seemed like the obvious reaction.
Mxdwn.com: This was the band’s first record with Mike Elizondo handling production duties. What made you guys choose Mike for this session?
Sanders: Yes, he understood and embraced every aspect and angle that we were throwing at him! Around March of this year, he was the first producer to approach us. He flew to Atlanta, took us out for some tacos, and they were delicious tacos! That’s a good way to win us over, simply purchase four tacos. Besides that, he’s a fan, and had wanted to do a record with us since our “Blood Mountain” days. He just said, “Hey, guys, I just wanted to meet you face to face, and say that I’d like to work with you on your new album, and these are some things that I can bring to the table…” And everything that he mentioned was equally important to the four of us, so we shared with him some demos that we had done. He embraced our heavy songs, our psychedelic songs, the slow sweet stuff, the proggy stuff…he really understood everything that we were trying to do. So we befriended each other right away, personally and musically, and we had no desire to look anywhere else. We felt that we were on the same page, and that was the most important thing to us, to be on the same page with the guy who’s going to be our fifth member while we’re in the studio. Looking back, I don’t think we could’ve made a better decision.
Mxdwn.com: “The Hunter” marks a further foray into cleaner, more melodic vocals, a process begun on “Crack The Skye”. Was there an impetus for that, or did it just happen?
Sanders: Well, as we’re always trying to grow as songwriters, and focus on the art of song-crafting, we’ve slowly but surely realized that melody plays an important part in writing a memorable and unique song. In the past, it was always easy to ignore, as we were focusing the bulk of our energy on the songs themselves. Then it came to lay down vocals, and it was very easy to resort to a less than meticulously thought out vocal pattern. You could kind of be aggressive over anything, and it would work, to some degree. But slowly, and it started a little bit with “Blood Mountain”, then we really tried to step it up on “Crack The Skye”, and then more than ever, we focused our time and energy on vocals for “The Hunter”. It became vital to us that we wanted to create more melody, and a great way to do that is if you can find a proper vocal pattern that marries and matches the music itself, and it just lends itself to the greater good of the song. All of our favorite albums and songs of all time have a wonderful melody that gets in your head, and you fall in love with it. So that’s what we were shooting for. It wasn’t always as easy as we hoped, but sometimes we’d throw around some vocal ideas, and the guys in the band would say, “Yeah, that works,” and we’d just kind of stick with it. Looking back on the recording, putting more time and energy into creating the vocals was definitely a great idea.
Mxdwn.com: The cover art, as usual, is awesome. Did you guys have a hand in the artwork, or was it entirely up to the artist?
Sanders: No, it’s a complete collaboration. [“The Hunter” cover artist] AJ Fosik is a guy who can do some epic wood sculptures, and that type of art fascinates us. “The Hunter” is not based on wood itself, but there are a lot of references and phrases that deal with the element of wood: the trees, the forest and such. So having a carving of wood was a perfect fit! And we’re always fascinated with mythological creatures, so this triple-jawed Minotaur type head was right up our alley. As soon as we began sharing ideas with AJ, he started to work right away, and he created something that looks so damn slick, it looks fake. It’s that good! He spent hours on it, just as we spent hours in the studio simultaneously, so these two pieces of work coming together, it just seemed like the perfect fit. It made for a wonderful marriage of art and music!
Read the entire interview from Mxdwn.com.