Niclas Müller-Hansen of Sweden’s Metalshrine recently conducted an interview with bassist/singer Troy Sanders of Atlanta progressive metallers MASTODON. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Metalshrine: Why Mike Elizondo for producer [of the new MASTODON album “The Hunter”]? Did that have anything to do with him producing AVENGED SEVENFOLD?
Troy Sanders: We chose Mike. A lot of people look at his résumé and he co-wrote some giant hits with Eminem and Dr. Dre and he worked with Fiona Apple and Mavis Staples and that was one thing that drew us to him. Mike is a very, very musically intelligent person from all genres of music, just like the four of us are, as people who respect music from all over and every genre. But deep down his roots are in… he grew up playing bass in heavy metal and thrash bands and then he went to college for orchestral upright bass guitar and then he went and worked with Dr. Dre and then Fiona Apple and then he worked with Mavis Staples and he’s all over the place. Mike is the first producer for this record that approached us and said, “Hey, guys, I want you to know that I’m a big fan of what you guys have been doing and if you have any inclination to work with me at any time, these are things that I can bring to the table, dah dah dah dah!” So we befriended on a personal level immediately and then after many, many talks and sharing demos with each other, we thought he was the guy to work with. Now, listening back to the record, we’re very, very glad that we did.
Metalshrine: Did he approach you and had you come across him before and knew of his work?
Troy Sanders: We knew of his work, but he actually approached us back in February of this year when we were in the demoing process of all our new stuff. He flew to Atlanta and took us out to eat some tacos and that’s when we started sharing ideas and first and foremost we bonded on a friendship level, which was the most important to us. We wanna be friends with someone that we’re working with before we enter into a business relationship. It started from the ground up, personally first and business second.
Metalshrine: After “Crack The Skye” and you were done touring and all that, had you already decided that you weren’t gonna be working with [producer] Brendan O’Brien again?
Troy Sanders: Well, we didn’t decide that we would not work with him. It was more of a fact that we knew… once we decided to change everything… we wanted to change the direction of the music, we wanted to change the album artwork, we wanted to change producers. We just wanted to change everything and we wanted to hit the refresh button on our band. Kind of like feel free to explore anything that we felt and explore in any direction we wanted to go. We didn’t speak about the idea of working with Brendan again, but then we just said, “You know what, let’s change everything!” We love Brendan and he’s a giant reason why we were able to make “Crack The Skye” what it was.
Metalshrine: Speaking of that artwork? How did you come across that guy AJ Fosik?
Troy Sanders: We’d seen some of his work in magazines and such and books and it was quite striking. Months ago while we were in the writing process, we contacted him and discussed the idea of making an epic wood sculpture and he was very much into it, so he started busting his ass similarly to the way we feel about creating our music. He spent hours and hours of dedicated time and talent making this massive wood sculpture of a triple jarred minotaur-type head and it turned out to be so slick and beautiful, that it almost looks like a computer-generated image, but it’s not. It’s actually a massive wood sculpture that he spent many, many hours on. It was cool to change it up and we’re very, very happy with what he did.
Metalshrine: These days and I’ve talked to others about this, these days there’s like five different versions of the album released. The making-of DVD, the bonus tracks, the deluxe jewel case and so on. What’s your thought about that? Is that just another way of selling things?
Troy Sanders: Well, I think… we always do a limited deluxe because we do have a handful of people that want to have everything, that are collectors. A lot of people think that the deluxe stuff is only released like a cash grab, but in our opinion that’s not the case. I only buy the $50 version of things from the bands that I truly love and I really want to own. That’s why we only make a small run of those things, for those that wish to have that and that’s fine, but if you just wanna hear that 14th song, then you can simply buy that digitally for a dollar, so we’re definitely not doing that for any type of monetary gain. Obviously we release the standard version and that’s what bands do, but the deluxe is strictly for those that really want this limited collector’s-type release.
Metalshrine: Writing this album, I understand that it was more of a collaboration and a group effort than “Crack The Skye”. How do you guys work on songs? Does everyone bring an idea for a riff or a melody? How does it work?
Troy Sanders: Yeah. Essentially, everyone in the band contributes a lot to the finished product, but the majority of songs are written in one or two ways. One of the ways is that one of the guitar players will come into practice because they both have acoustic guitars and they play a lot of music at home on their couches, so sometimes that guitar players will walk in and say, “Hey, I think I have a whole song. Check this out,” and they’ll play it and then we take what we love and move forward and build on that or it might be a complete song already and we’re like, “Wow, kick-ass!” The other way that a lot of the songs are written is that somebody will come into the practice space and somebody will start jamming on something cool and everybody kind of joins in and then we try and find other riffs that match that and just kind of build it very spontaneously and then by the end of the day we’ll go, “Holy shit, that’s a song! Done! High five!” so those are the two main ways that songs are written in the MASTODON world. Essentially everybody has their style and their feel and their contributions to it, whether it be guitar-wise or vocally or whatever. It is very much a band effort when it’s all said and done.
Read the entire interview from Metalshrine.