Troy Sanders possesses a focused air. Sitting on a couch backstage at New York City’s Terminal 5 – where in three hours’ time Mastodon will play to a sold-out room – the bassist is all hair and beard. As he kicks back (after sorting through some drying clothes in a road case), he’s intent on explaining his band’s sixth record, Once More ’Round The Sun. Mastodon aren’t a band to take things lightly, and Sanders talking about this recordis no exception.
Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Trivium), the album sees the Atlanta four-piece take its usual psychedelic meanderings and infuse them with southern rock and lashings of classic metal. Writing the record in their rehearsal space (named, er, the Thunder Box) in March 2013, Mastodon – Sanders, drummer Brann Dailor and guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher – pieced together songs from ideas they’d gleaned while spending two solid years on the road touring The Hunter.
As with all Mastodon records, all four members wrote and contributed vocals – “We work best that way,” says Sanders – but the major difference is in the songs themselves. Full of big, shining moments like the chorus of ‘The 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 feels comfortingly familiar.
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 on board 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’sour name,” grins Sanders. “It was good teamwork; everyone wanted to get the best results possible, and, you know, he’s just a real big rock’n’roll dude.”
Here, as on The Hunter, Mastodon have settled happily into writing about themselves via metaphors on individual songs, rather than overarching conceptual pieces (as per 2004’s Leviathan or 2009’s Crack The Skye), something Sanders argues suits them. “We tend to work best when we dive into 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 the album title, so (typically) open-ended, Sanders’ interpretation is that the ‘Sun’ in the phrase is “the point, the final hurdle”.
It also works as a fitting rejoinder to those who will wonder if this is the record that pushes Mastodon into even more rarified areas. “None of this is guaranteed,” Sanders adds pointedly, perhaps a subtle reference to 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.”
Once More ’Round The Sun out now through Reprise / Warner.