Since forming in Atlanta over a decade ago (the members famously first met at a High on Fire concert in 2000), maverick metal outfit Mastodon has been shredding genre boundaries and melting faces with a bold mix of progressive rock, psychedelia, and neck-snapping thrash. A string of conceptual albums that started with the Moby Dick-inspired 2004 effort Leviathan and continued through the increasingly mind-bending creations Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye earned the quartet wide critical acclaim and a rabid global following.
While a couple of years have passed since Mastodon released The Hunter -- a more traditional collection of songs that scored the band's highest Billboard chart position yet -- that hasn't discouraged the group from hitting the road this summer. Mastodon comes to San Francisco to play Slim's on Wednesday as part of the Converse Represent concert series, filling out an absolutely insane line-up that includes NYC post-hardcore giants Quicksand, Oakland metal maestros High on Fire and Saviours, and SF psych/skate punk vets Hot Lunch.
After a quick sojourn to Southern California, the group returns to the Bay Area Sunday when the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival lands at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. All Shook Down spoke with bassist Troy Sanders Tuesday as he sat in his driveway in Georgia before heading to the airport to fly to SFO, and discussed the group's touring itinerary, plans for this visit to San Francisco, and what lies ahead for Mastodon's next album.
The first Mastodon show I ever saw was here in S.F., when you opened for High on Fire over a decade ago. It was back when the Independent was still called the Justice League.
11 years ago, High on Fire took us out on our first full U.S. tour and then immediately brought us overseas. We're about as tight-knit as they come. We love those guys and are thrilled to reconnect with them.
The bill you're playing for the Converse Represents show is ridiculous. I know your history with High on Fire, but was wondering if you had any connection with the other bands on the lineup?
Well, five years ago we brought Saviours to support Mastodon overseas for a run. Great dudes, great music. Quicksand is not only one of my favorites, but speaking for my entire band, they've been of our favorites -- way up there -- for 20 years. Slip blew my mind and still continues to do so. To have the honor of sharing the stage with Quicksand ... It's fascinating; if you flashed back and told me 20 years ago, that would have been one of those dream-come-true moments. And our good friend Sergio [Vega, Quicksand bassist] is in the Deftones, and we've done shows with them. Sergio is one of our favorite people on the planet.
I haven't seen you play at a place as small as Slim's since I actually saw you play there on the Leviathan tour. Do you still play smaller venues sometimes?
We do. Just last week we played four very small clubs in Germany as part of our three-week run overseas. So yeah, the smaller club shows are sprinkled in our tour itinerary. There's pros and cons for both massive festivals and small clubs. They each have good elements to them.
We love the Bay Area. We're taking two days off there after this show before we start the Mayhem run. We're looking forward to it. It's opening ceremonies for our summer tour.
Is there anything specific you have planned in San Francisco while you're here?
The four of us had looked into visiting Alcatraz as a band together. However, the earliest ticket we could get was like July 6 or something, so those are obviously booked well in advance. So we'll just hang out and walk the streets and try to take it all in. And we'll postpone our prison trip for a later date.
Have you done much in the way of this kind of sponsored show in the past?
No, not at all. This is kind of a first. The four of us in the band, we love shoes! So we were very keen that Converse even had our name in the mix and invited us to come out there. It was perfect, since we start Mayhem in Los Angeles two days later. It is kind of a new thing for us. It's not very often we get asked to do corporate-sponsored events. But we're thrilled to do it.
This is Mastodon's first Mayhem Festival since you were on the first edition of the tour back in 2008. Do you have any fond memories from that first go-round and are there any bands you're looking forward to seeing this time?
The reason we said yes to the offer of doing this Mayhem is because that the one and only one that we've done -- 2008 -- was run ship smooth, the camaraderie was over the top, and the vibe and the brotherhood between the bands was top-notch. It was a good time all around.
On the flip side, we think this is one of those big festivals where, while a lot of people coming to the shows are familiar with Mastodon, at the same time a lot of people probably are not. So it's still an opportunity for us to hopefully open some new ears to who we are. So we still feel like we can take away something positive from doing a tour like Mayhem. We're hoping it's a win-win situation.
Are your plans for your set on the Mayhem tour just going to be a kind of career overview? I figure you'll be hitting on most of what you've done so far.
Yeah, that's the beauty of having five or six albums to draw from when picking the setlist; we have a lot of material to choose from. However, we're still riding kind of high on The Hunter wave, so I would imagine it's going to be a bulk of the newer stuff with some of the older hits sprinkled in.
It sounds like the band will be heading into the studio in the fall. Is there anything that's worked out enough that you would consider previewing on this road trip?
No, we're taking our demos that [we] did earlier in the spring. We're going to take them on the road with us this summer to refine and tweak all the things we want to change so we're incredibly prepared, hopefully, to enter the studio in the fall of this year to record our next record. So nothing will be previewed this summer. We'll just be doing that internally amongst ourselves.
Any hints about the new material or the direction the album will be taking? I know The Hunter was a bit of a departure in that it was the first non-concept album you'd done in a while.
Well, we're not quite sure yet how to leak any information. But we'll see what kind of smoke is inhaled this summer. We're continuing to find a direction.
The last time I talked to Brann, he said that sometimes writing around a concept helped focus the songs, but that there was something really liberating about not having that kind of framework for The Hunter. Do you see yourselves going with another straight collection of songs for the next album?
We have yet to have a band discussion on this topic. We kind of just let things play out on their own. What we're about to embark [on] starting tomorrow for the entire summer will shape and mold what will become the new record. There are a lot of unanswered questions.
We just spent the previous few months working on riffs and hammering out parts that matched each other. So to a degree, it's at the beginning stages of it all. However, in the back of our bus with our Pro Tools handy, the entire record will be shaped and formed before September hits. If it's a chef's massive project, we're still in the process of previewing all the appetizers and figuring out what we want to present to the people.