fter releasing three devastatingly barbaric albums that smashed stereotypes and re-inspired a whole new wave of metal, Mastodon is gearing up to unleash their newest creation, Crack The Skye, on Reprise Records in early 2009. With a Grammy nomination under their belts and enough critical acclaim to convert millions of  “metal-is-dead” naysayers, this rugged and steadfast four-piece has been holding camp in a quaint studio on their home turf of Atlanta while preparing to once again resurge excitement for those who thirst for metal.

   After a successful two-album run with producer Matt Bayles (Minus The Bear, Isis, Norma Jean), the boys of Mastodon are going for a new sound with legendary veteran Brendan O’Brien (Incubus, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine) and a new lyrical direction that examines theories of astral traveling, universal connectivity, and the trials of embracing the unknown. Though these concepts may seem new to their fans, bassist/singer Troy Sanders explains, the band’s mental conquest is an ever-evolving process that they champion openly as bandmates and brethren.

   During our interview, which took place on a rainy day in Atlanta, Sanders had a lot on his mind: the recent hospitalization of Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds, the impending tours with Slayer and Metallica in early 2009, and the release of an album that must rise above the hype and high expectations that come with success. Here the introspective frontman discusses the new album and the next moves for a band that shifted so effortlessly from savage heathens to worldly philosophers.

Mastodon: Troy Sanders (Bass/Vox),  Bill Kelliher (Guitar), Brent Hinds (Guitar/Vox), Brann Dailor (Drums)

So the new album is all finished up, right?

Yes it is, and it feels great to have it done. We finished the record not too long ago, and just now turned it into Warner Brothers this week.

You guys must be thrilled to release this album.

Oh man, we’ve always been excited about this one, but I really think it came out better than any of us expected. It seemed like we were just able to hone into our stronger points in writing this material. And because of that, it really came out as a complete record.

Would you say that this new material is a departure from your previous work?

Definitely. We stepped away from everything we’d done before and really turned over a leaf into a whole new realm. We stepped off earth for a while.

Well, it’s good to have you guys back. What were your motives in writing this new material?

We wanted to make more of a classic rock record, something timeless. When all four of us do something, we all need to be absolutely happy with the outcome, and in this case, we all are. It takes a lot to merge the styles and tastes of four individuals, but we seem to do it pretty naturally. We pretty much eat, shit, and breathe Mastodon,  and we’re the ones who have to live with the outcome of our music, so we take the bullet for any decisions we make.

What was it like working with producer Brendan O’Brien on this album?

It was really amazing. We’ve gone with Matt Bayles on our last couple releases, and we love Matt and his work, but we needed to change everything up for this process. We needed to make everything fresh. Brendan is an amazing producer, and not many people know it, but he is an amazing musician as well.

What was the writing process like for this album?

We spent about a year getting this material down. We really didn’t want to rush anything, and it’s always best to let the writing process breathe and kinda figure itself out. The songs were written one of two ways—either Brent would bring in certain ideas on guitar, or one of us would bring in something simple like a riff. Oddly enough, this one was mainly written on acoustic guitars.

What are some aspects of this record that will surprise your fans?

The overall hints of creepiness and the touches of prog with sprinkles of psychedelic influence. We’ve always embodied those things, but we’ve never been able to lay them down on tape like this.

How do you go about writing lyrics?

We wrote the record vocally that we would’ve written if today were the last day for us on the planet. We tap into whatever passage fits emotionally into the song and then put everything we have into it. We’re maturing as a band and we’re maturing as brothers and it is really coming out vocally.

What do you feel was the hardest part about recording this album?

From a playing standpoint, probably learning each other’s parts. Making spaciousness spacier and filling in everything in between. You have to nail everything as a whole and really figure out how to make everything cohesive. It’s all about keeping it a collective, and sometimes that can be tough.

You guys were able to record this one in your hometown of Atlanta. What was that like?

That was an amazing part of this record—sleeping in our own beds. We would pen ourselves up in the studio for hours and then we’d cruise home and have the comfort of our space rather than hotel rooms. Being home and being with our dogs was a really important relief during this process.

Did you use any new gear for this album?

Yeah—I used Moog Taurus [bass pedals] for some cool dark sounds. Our guitar players had a batch of new pedals and we used a lot of outside percussion for a lot of the tracks. We also had Rich Morris play keyboards on some songs, if you consider that new gear.

What would you like the response to be from the fans on this new album?

That it hits them in an honest and pure way, just as it was created. It comes from a place of aspiring to create a new rock sound that avoids all ego and pretentiousness. We feel like we’re four prehistoric cavemen. I hope the fans can hear that we’ve sacrificed everything under the sun for this, for Mastodon.

What moods would you directly associate with this album?

Very deep, personal, honest thoughts. A lot of the subjects came out metaphorically. It is a very vulnerable record for us; it was completely liberating to make.

What music were you listening to when you were writing and recording?

A lot of our favorite records from the ’70s—timeless artists like Thin Lizzy, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. People who inspire us to originate and not follow.

What inspired you to make this record?

The never-ending fire in our bellies to make music and unite the world. That’s the purpose of music and we wish to

fulfill it.

What have the biggest moments of your musical career been so far?

Definitely touring with Metalica and Ozzy Osbourne on Ozzfest. We grew up listening and idolizing those bands our whole lives and it was absolutely surreal to be on a stage with them. Also, touring with Tool was a massive milestone. With Metallica and Tool we would just sit backstage and have amazing talks about life and deeper things.

So what’s next after the release of your new album?

We’re heading out to Europe in early November for six weeks with Slayer, and then we’re going to hole ourselves up in our practice pad to woodshed these new songs to get them ready for live shows. When everything is as tight as possible, we’re heading out for our own headlining tours. We have a lot of work to do first, though. This material is amazingly tough—we have a lot of wood-shedding coming up!


Story by Jonathan D’Auria

Mastodon– Megalodon live at Download 2007

Mastodon “Iron Tusk” (video)

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