One of the fastest growing metal bands in all of the United States is Mastodon. Mastodon is a group of four guys who play some very hard progressive heavy metal. The band has just recently released their brand new album titled Blood Mountain which has been receiving rave reviews for its cool concept of conquering and surpassing obstacles. In its seven year existence, Mastodon has become known as a working class band, playing hundreds of shows every year and touring almost non-stop, bringing their music to people all across the world. Recently, we caught up with Mastodon’s lead singer and guitarist, Brent Hinds, to talk about the new record and how the band formed, among other things.
Mastodon has been around now for quite a number of years, but how exactly did the band come together?
Brent: Um, let’s see, well it was January of 2000, our guitar player Bill and I, we were living in Massachusetts playing in a band called Today’s The Day. We ended up quitting that band together and we moved to Atlanta where Bill’s girlfriend/wife lived and uh, so I went with them and then we met the other two guys within a couple of weeks and started rocking, started touring.
You guys of course first met altogether at a show that the band High On Fire was playing. Now after all these years later, what do you remember about that night? What did you discuss with the other eventual members of Mastodon?
Brent: Um, not too much, the conversation was pretty short at that particular place, uh, High On Fire was playing, it was like a basement show. It was the night Atlanta experienced an ice storm, so it was cold out and I was thinking, you know we’re in Atlanta, I kind of moved here to get away from the cold weather and now they’re having an ice storm. So, I remember Brett was kind of running around like a maniac and when I talked to him he was like, oh yeah you’re that crazy dude from Today’s The Day. And he told that his band had just played their last show and they were going to break up and I was like, well we should get together soon and see if it fits. So the conversation there was pretty short.
A little known fact about Mastodon is that when the band was first starting out, you had a different lead singer named Eric Saner who was only in the band for a short time. How do you think the band would have turned out today had Saner stayed in the band? Would you guys be writing the same music that you are today?
Brent: I think so, I don’t know, I think we’d be writing the same music you know, the vocals would be different but I’m not sure. I mean I don’t know, I think things definitely happen for a reason.
Your new album is titled Blood Mountain and again, you decided to work with producer Matt Bayles on the record. Why did you choose to go with Bayles again on this latest album?
Brent: Because we like him, he’s our friend at this point, we’ve done two records with him, two full-lengths with him and uh, also so much had already changed with everything that we wanted to keep a couple of things the same so we’d feel comfortable. The last thing we wanted to be uncomfortable while doing would be recording with someone new so we wanted to keep that experience as comfortable and as familiar as possible. And I feel like he totally understands our style and he gets the best out of us as an engineer and a producer.
Your last album, Leviathan helped propel you guys into the mainstream of metal. In your opinion, how does the latest record Blood Mountain differ at all from Leviathan?
Brent: I don’t know, it seems to be a little busier to me at times, it seems like there’s a lot more going on, that’s what it sounds like to me. I feel like we don’t have much control over our music, we have control over the music we write, but the music just kind of unfolds, I feel like we’re more like an envelope. But the differences, as far as what we did differently, I think the vocals are a lot better to me, I think we paid more attention to the vocals. Whereas we paid more attention to the vocals on Leviathan compared to the record before that and then we wanted to develop that further and I think we did you know. We demoed the songs on this record which we’ve never really done so I thought that helped a lot so we could live with the record for a month before we were actually going to go record it so that was cool. I know a lot of bands do that but we’d just never had the opportunity because with Remission, we had a lot of time to write that record you know, and then with Leviathan we only had a few months because we were told by our record company Relapse that we needed to come up with an album and record at a specific time or our album wouldn’t be able to come out for like a year and we were like screw that. If we had started writing Leviathan and not come up with the stuff we came up with quickly then we would have had it come out a year later because we’re not going to put out a product we’re not happy with. But it ended up working out, but we really didn’t do much pre-production, we got the songs to a point to where we could fumble our way through them and then we took them on tour and played them for about a month into Seattle and then we got there and recorded it. We were kind of beat when we went to record that record Leviathan, we were exhausted from touring for a month, or I think it was a month and a half actually.
I read that Leviathan is a concept album loosely based on the famous novel Moby Dick. First of all, is this true? And if so, how did this whole concept for the record come about?
Brent: Well I was reading it and I was on a really long journey on an airplane and I read almost the whole book. It was undeniable, for me the parallels, I was like, this could really be cool if we do it right you know. And by the time I got to London to join up with the rest of the guys in the band and start a tour in the U.K. and parts of Europe, I had it all pretty much mapped out by the time I got there and everybody felt the same way, they thought it was a good idea so we ended up using it. I thought it was good for imagery you know, we could use it artistically and I don’t know, it just spoke to us, the parallels seemed undeniable, within the first five or six pages it refers to Moby Dick as the Salt Sea Mastodon so I was like, “oh there you go right there.”
Would you consider Blood Mountain to possess any deeper theme or is it simply a collection of songs?
Brent: It’s a concept record, yeah, it’s a whole story that we wrote, you know it’s about climbing a mountain and all the different things that can happen to you on a mountain, running into creatures we’ve invented, you know, mountains are a metaphor for the struggles in your life or the different things in your life that you want to try to accomplish. Everybody should have a mountain that they’re climbing at some point and ah, it’s cool to involve a little bit of fantasy and throw some mythological creatures in there because we’re all big fans of that stuff and it’s kind of a way for us to remain kids in a way.
I also read that originally Blood Mountain was going to be one continuous large piece of music like a symphony, but instead decided to make it a collection of individual songs. How did you come up with this symphony idea and why did you decide to scrap it for the record?
Brent: Ah, I don’t know, I was doing interviews for Blood Mountain before even one song was written, people wanted to know what it was going to be about and I was like, I have no idea, I don’t know what to tell you, I just got home from fourteen months of touring. I’ve been everywhere around the world like twenty times over and my head is spinning and people are like “what’s your next record going be like?” like five days after I got home from being on Ozzfest. And I was like, I don’t know dude, I have no idea, but I would like it to be one continuous piece of music that would be cool. We could link all the endings and beginnings of the different songs together, but you know, I don’t think that’s us really, at least it’s not us right now. Once we got in there and started writing, we were writing definitive endings and we thought that that’s what we sound like. I was trying to give the interviewer some information, you know, something out of my head for Blood Mountain but really nothing had come to light at the moment. I mean we had some riffs and we knew we needed to start writing soon but we hadn’t written anything. It was bizarre to be doing interviews for an album that hadn’t have even been thought about. We had the title and a concept, we didn’t have the lyrics, we didn’t have the story, we had the name, that was the starting point for us, we were right at the start.
Blood Mountain features a guest appearance from Mars Volta lead singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala. How do you guys know Cedric and how did his guest appearance on the record come about?
Brent: Uh, we’re all big Mars Volta fans and I think we let them know that at some point and they let us know that they were big Mastodon fans. They invited us to play a big UK festival, it usually chooses artists or filmmakers or avant-garde people of influence to curate the festival and this time it was the Mars Volta that they chose to curate it. So they picked Mastodon and it was a really cool thing, it was a bunch of really eccentric groups to play this festival and we played just before Mars Volta. And afterwards we went and hung out with them and we’ve become good friends over the last few years and we talk to each other all the time and hang out with each other as much as possible. Then it came up about Cedric doing a little something on our record and he was totally into the idea, so yeah, that’s how it happened. He’s on it, Scott Kelly’s on it, he’s a dear friend of ours and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age is on it, we’re like a rap group now [laughing].
Since forming in 1999, you guys have toured almost non-stop and have practically lived on the road. Now that you’ve been doing this for seven years now, how do you feel about constantly being on the road and touring?
Brent: I feel tired [laughing]. I guess I’m motivated to do it because of the show; it’s the only thing that really matters. That’s the reason we leave our families behind for months and months at a time, sleeping in a van or a bus. It’s all for that forty minutes to an hour that you get up on stage, it’s a definite high to get up there and play music with your friends and have the crowd react like they do so that’s what keeps us coming back.
Things look to be good for Mastodon with the imminent release of Blood Mountain. What does the band have planned for the rest of 2006 and 2007?
Brent: Um, just more touring you know, I mean there’s not much else you can do. We’re just going to stay on tour pretty much, I don’t know if it’ll be by ourselves or as a supporting act, I know we’re going to Europe in November, that’ll be fun, and then we’ll come home in December and have Christmas with our families and January, February we’ll go back out.