How beardy metallers Mastodon made the hard rock album of the year

By Chris Schulz

Chris Schulz chats to Troy Sanders about how Mastodon created one of the hard-rock albums of the year.

Atlanta's Mastodon seem to be finally settling comfortably into the 'hipster metallers' tag they've been given.
Atlanta's Mastodon seem to be finally settling comfortably into the 'hipster metallers' tag they've been given.

TimeOut: Let's cut to the chase: how heavy does Once More 'Round the Sun get?

Troy Sanders: There are moments that have the layered and progressive rock elements from Crack the Skye or Blood Mountain, and then there are songs that are a bit shorter and sweeter that could have been on The Hunter. There are bits and pieces of all and everything Mastodon has done. It's like a best of, but all brand new.

With three singers in the band, are there arguments over who does what?

We have a very democratic way of approaching vocals. Whoever has the idea goes in and lays down the melody or vocal pattern. If the guys think it's really good, we stick with it. If everyone has an idea, we'll all take turns and decide. I'm proud that I have a bunch of dudes I jam with who can be so rational about who does what.

The vocals this time around sound particularly focused. Was more effort put into this?

If there was a weak link on our first albums, it was the vocals. As our music got more layered with more mature riffs and sounds we wanted to have vocals that were authentically matching the music. We like to find melody without forcing it. Our favourite songs of all time either have a memorable guitar riff, or a vocal hook that pulls you in. We're always in the hunt for a proper vocal melody.

Mastodon manage to span the divide between indie-loving hipsters, hardcore rockers and diehard metallers. How did that happen?

We're four different guys with four different personalities but we connect on many different levels. Thankfully we have a chemistry that has multiple dimensions. There are moments when various influences will shine, like jazz, punk rock, 70s prog rock, wild psychedelia, or straight up heavy metal. I think that's why we can do rock n roll tours, indie rock tours, hard rock tours and metal tours, and there'll be people in the crowd who can respect and appreciate what we do.

Mastodon's album art is always amazing, and you've outdone yourselves this time around. Who's responsible for the album's front cover?

His name's Skinner and he's from Oakland. Our drummer found his artwork in a book. The two of them really befriended one another and started bouncing ideas around. We wanted to incorporate lots of colour and be quite striking, but hopefully refreshing because a lot of the new music on the new record is upbeat and happy. We hope it helps people immerse themselves in the world of Mastodon and join us on our adventure.

You're known for being a pretty hairy band. How are the beards looking?

I just took a shower. We're keeping clean, so that's good. We're hairy guys, we're part neanderthal. It comes with the territory: if you're part prehistoric man, you're just going to have a lot of hair.

You were last in New Zealand for the Big Day Out in 2010. Any chance of a return visit?

We said that once our new record comes out we really need to go do more of the world. We love it down there, it's very beautiful and the people are very welcoming. We intend on coming and doing proper shows, yes.

What: Mastodon's new album, Once More 'Round the Sun
When: Released Friday, June 20
Other listening: Blood Mountain (2006), Crack the Skye (2009), The Hunter (2011)

- TimeOut

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