Mastodon's 'Blood Mountain' Flows Into Austin
Coming down the mountain with Mastodon
By Austin Powell,
3:11PM, Wed. Mar. 14, 2007
Like Iron Maiden and Megadeth before them, Atlanta’s Mastodon spew epically proportioned tales led by the spiraling twin guitars of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, filled with the buzz-saw drumming of Brann Dailor. Bassist Troy Sanders recently ventured Into the Void to unravel the band’s latest saga, Blood Mountain, and explain the difference between ligers and cysquatches. Catch them 8pm Saturday, March 17, when they wreck Auditorium Shores.
Into the Void: The first song on Blood Mountain, “The Wolf Is Loose,” begins in “The belly of the whale/Refusal of return.” In what way is the story that is interwoven throughout this album a metaphor for the band’s struggle to write a follow-up to Leviathan and about the writing process in general?
Troy Sanders: It’s just the next step. Even though we found out several months ago where we stood, at the base of the next mountain so to speak, things had been gradually ascending for our band. We’re still at the footstep of a giant slab of Mother Nature that we’re trying to scale. The struggle and quest on Blood Mountain is completely metaphorical to our true life journey, struggle, and sacrifice to achieve our goals, to the new record, to our new marriage with Warner Brothers, to the next year and a half of touring, to many things.
ITV: You just mentioned it briefly, but how did the move to Warner Brothers affect the writing and recording of Blood Mountain?
TS: It didn’t affect the writing or the recording at all. Warner just wanted us to keep doing what we’re doing, because they had enough faith in us that we’d put out a bizarre, hopefully unique heavy rock record. They knew we weren’t going to change our sound, and they recognized that we had a good thing going. Hopefully, they’ll just take us to more of a worldwide level than what we already had. It’s the same 12 songs we would have written if we were still on Relapse or unsigned or whatever.
ITV: Does your interaction with the label feel a lot different now that you’re part of a major?
TS: It’s still the same. We wouldn’t have signed with them if we weren’t friends first. We spoke for months and months and really worked at establishing a relationship, the same as we did with Relapse before. We talk to these people sometimes on a daily basis, and the last thing I want to do is be married to, or have to talk to, someone everyday that I don’t like. Those guys are fans and friends and they’re down and behind the music 100 percent. If a major label is going to give a heavy metal band full creative control, that’s showing a great deal of trust from the get go. We wouldn’t have done it any other way. We wouldn’t compromise our sound for anybody.
ITV: What is the most difficult part of scaling this mountain, as you put it?
TS: There are many difficulties. We travel nine months a year, so I think a lot of it is sacrifice. I have a house that I pay for that I never sleep at, and so does everybody else in the band. Half of us are married; half of us have kids. Are we idiots for touring nine months a year, or are we super dedicated for doing that? There’s a fine line between being driven and being fucking insane. That’s been a big part of all of our records, in particular Blood Mountain. I’m in Boise, Idaho, right now eating a bagel. It’s going to be a great show, and we’re having a great tour, but I’d like to be eating a bagel with my family, who I haven’t seen in quite a while, and I speak for everybody in the band when it comes to that. This is the underbelly theme of why we’re pissed off a lot.
ITV: Leviathan was one of the first records to really garner respect within the indie community. What was the band’s initial response to being accepted by this other music community?
TS: It came across as a little overwhelming and flattering. At the same time, we were really thankful that there was a different group of people opening their eyes and ears to us. We like to niche ourselves in with bands like Isis and Mars Volta - thinking man’s heavy music. It’s still a heavy rock record, but there’s a little bit of everything in there. I’d rather people be into Mastodon than a handful of other bands I’d rather not list right now.
ITV: There are a lot of guest appearances on the album: Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Eagles of Death Metal), Cedric Bixler-Zavala (Mars Volta), and Scott Kelly (Neurosis). How did those come to be?
TS: At 5 in the morning last year, we were drunk in London, and we were hanging out with Cedric, all hugging each other, like, "Dude, you gotta record our next record." And he’s like, "Okay, I will." When it came time to actually write the record, we called up Cedric, and we’re like, "Dude, come play on this track. You promised us at 5 in the morning, drunk in London." So we sent it over. He was in New York at the time; we were in Seattle. We mailed him the song [“Siberian Divide”]; he did his thing and mailed it back to us, and it worked out great. It’s not a gigantic part of the record, but he’s a good friend of ours, and we wanted to get him involved. We’re friends with Josh Homme because we’ve done some Queens of the Stone Age shows with him before. We’ve been Kyuss fans and QOTSA fans forever, so we were all for it. He was in a studio in Los Angeles working on some Queens stuff, so we sent it out the same way as with Cedric. On “Crystal Skull,” our friend, mentor, and brother, Scott Kelly – we try to have him be a part of everything we do, and he wants to contribute any way he can. So when we had a part that sounded like the most thunderous moment of the record, there was no one else we wanted the part to go to. That’s the highlight of the album in my opinion.
ITV: Is the cysquatch at all related to the liger?
TS: Um, no. The cysquatch is something we made up. They’re hideous beasts on the surface, but they’re actually very friendly. They come to warn us and give us guidance. At first, they surround us, these giant, one-eyed mountain creatures, and we think they’re going to eat us and we’re dead, but they’re there actually offering us kindness. It just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover.
ITV: How much of this is the listener actually supposed to piece together? Do you expect them to know what a brontotherium is?
TS: Brontotherium is the Latin term for prehistoric ground sloth. It’s like in The Empire Strikes Back: If you’re freezing and you’ve got a dead beast beside you, you have to slice him open, and you have to warm up inside of his guts, or else you’re going to get frostbite and brain freeze and die. So we had to dive into this prehistoric ground sloth to warm up, or else we’d have been dead.
ITV: Naturally. So there's this idea to create your own epic adventure?
TS: To a degree, we all enjoy being storytellers; we like to close our eyes and drift off into fantasy land. We find that when we’re writing, it helps to really focus if we’re working with a central idea that we can dive into and branch off of. At the end, you get this fucked up movie plot that’s like a story.