Here Comes The Sun

Mastodon have released their sixth album, Once More ‘Round The Sun. JAYMZ CLEMENTS chats with bass player, Troy Sanders in New York.Troy Sanders is a bundle of focused energy. Perched on the edge of a couch backstage at New York City’s Terminal 5 — where, in three hours’ time, Mastodon will play to a sold-out room — he’s just finished soundcheck and wandered off the stage.

The bassist (after sorting through some drying clothes in a road case) is all hair and beard. As he sits, his intense eyes flash as he talks up his band’s sixth record, Once More ‘Round the Sun. Mastodon aren’t a band to take things lightly, and Sanders speaking about Once More ‘Round the Sun is no exception.

Six albums in, Mastodon are breathing rarefied metal air. Critically acclaimed and commercially viable, Once More ‘Round the Sun is a salvo that befits a band of their ever-growing stature. Having spent their first four records carving out brutal slabs of game-changing conceptual metal chaos, now epic and systematic neck-snapping bad-arsery is Mastodon’s main province.

Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Trivium), the Atlanta four-piece have created a metal record that takes their usual psychedelic meanderings and infuses them with Southern rock and added lashings of classic metal. Writing the album in the band’s rehearsal space in Atlanta, Georgia (named, er, the Thunder Box) in March 2013, Mastodon —Sanders, drummer Brann Dailor, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher —pieced together songs from ideas they’d gleaned while spending two solid years on the road touring 2011’s The Hunter.

As with all Mastodon records, all four members wrote songs, with Sanders, Hinds and Dailor each contributing vocals — “we work best that way,” says Sanders — but the big difference is in the tunes themselves. Full of big, shining moments like the chorus of Motherload, lead single High Road, and the outro shout-along of Aunt Lisa, it’s telling that the dark, bizarre psychedelia of Diamonds in the Witch House and Chimes at Midnight actually feel comfortingly familiar. It’s a marked change from the Mike Elizondo (Eminem, 50 Cent, Fiona Apple) produced The Hunter.
That shift came about, Sanders says, from natural progression in the band, and Raskulinecz’s enthusiasm for capturing them at their best. “Nick is a fan of Mastodon. He was onboard to help us make the best record possible, not only for him and his discography, but for
us, because he’s a big fan of our band. He didn’t want to come in and slap something together, because it’s not just his name on it, it’s our name,” grins Sanders. “It was good teamwork – everyone wanted to get the best results possible – and y’know, he’s just a real big rock’n’roll dude.

“Listening back,” he adds, “I really loved the way The Hunter sounded. It sounded probably as big and semi-polished as we’ve had a record sound, but I loved it. Sonically I feel this new record might be a bit more authentic towards our natural live environment.”
In terms of Mastodon’s themes, here and on
The Hunter they’ve settled happily into writing about themselves in big metaphors in individual songs, rather than those big proggy conceptual pieces (as on 2004’s Leviathan or 2009’s Crack the Skye), something Sanders argues now suits them “for sure,” he says intently.

“Being heavily conceptual worked really well for us and we dove in together collectively and could focus lyrical contributions that would all fit under the umbrella of what that theme was. Then with The Hunter we decided to scrap that and go free-for-all and that was very, very therapeutic to do that, because it was like, ‘I want to write about blank subject matter’. It was nice to have the freedom to do something like that.

“We tend to work best when we dive in to personal experiences or band experiences that have happened recently and are very fresh on the soul and in the memory, because it’s very sincere and authentic material to pull from… when we take something that’s going on right now and channel something quite negative into something positive, mask it with metaphor and present it with a shred of light shining on it. We seem to work well like that. We don’t ever want to put our heart on our sleeve too much.”

As for that album title that’s so (typically) open-ended, Sander’s interpretation is that the ‘Sun’ in the phrase is “the point, the final hurdle,” he nods. “I love the fact our record’s titled this, because if you asked all four guys in the band they’d probably give you a different meaning as to what the title means to them,” he grins. “To me it means something very positive; it means we get to do this cycle again, we got to write a batch of songs and record them and now we get to go out and tour them, and be in this very fortunate place.”

It also works as a fitting rejoinder to those who will wonder if this is the record that pushes Mastodon into even more rarefied air. “None of this is guaranteed,” Sanders adds pointedly, perhaps a subtle reference to Brent Hinds’ 2007 coma. “We’re not guaranteed to write five more albums and be in Mastodon ’til we’re 60… this could be stripped away tomorrow. It’s all a very positive thing to me. However, I’m a complete optimist – my cup is always half-full.”