When we were introduced to Gone Is Gone back in April, our jaws dropped. The don't-call-it-a-supergroup features Mastodon co-frontman/bassist Troy Sanders backed by Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, drummer Tony Hajjar of the recently reunited At the Drive-In and accomplished multi-instrumentalist and film composer Mike Zarin. Ahead of Gone Is Gone's July 8 self-titled EP, Sanders spoke with Fuse about adding another project to his plate, being the sole frontman of a band for the first time, and that bonkers Mastodon video "Asleep in the Deep," a.k.a. the Lord of the Rings of kitty acid trips.
Fuse: I read that you guys started working together in 2012. Was it really that long ago?
Troy Sanders: That is true. Our synth player, Mike Zarin, he composes music for film. He started collaborating with our drummer, Tony Hajjar, as Tony was on some downtime from At the Drive-In, they were not a band at the time. So the two of them were composing movie trailer music. Unintentionally it led to the idea of adding another multi-instrumentalist, and guitars included. They reached out to their friend Troy Van Leeuwen, who is extremely talented. That opened their soundscapes further than expected. Apparently over time my name came up several times, and when Troy Van Leeuwen called me one afternoon to see if I'd be interested in a project he was involved in, that was calling for vocals, I jumped at the opportunity immediately to fly to Los Angeles and lend my voice to some of their preexisting music. They thought that I was the guy—we befriended one another, first and foremost, that's the most important thing—and they felt my voice was what the music called for. From that moment, over time, we just made it work. We felt that if you're gonna make something like this work, the dedication has to surpass everything.
How'd you feel when you got approached?
It's an incredible contrast of emotions. The four of us involved were never looking to start, form or join another band, as we're quite fulfilled with out existing musical endeavors. We all have homes and we all have our people and our families, and we don't really desire to leave home more than we already are. So it takes an incredibly special opportunity for me personally to be involved, outside of what I already have. When Troy called me to see if I would be even remotely interested, I had already let him know that he's one of my favorite guitar players of all time. I always admired his taste and his tone and his style, before I befriended him. I remember telling him that once—Mastodon and Queens of the Stone Age were sharing a lot of festival bills, I told him right away, "It's a pleasure to meet you, because I admire everything you've ever done." That's a good way to start a friendship, with all bullshit aside, and it's all respect and admiration.
Even with all that positivity, was it a hard choice to commit to another band?
That's not a conversation that none of us ever wish to have. Can you imagine calling our girlfriends and our wives and being like, "Guess what? I've got another band! I'm gonna be gone even more!" You might as well pack your stuff and leave home. But that's one of the things this band is based on: The small slivers of time that are granted or allowed, and how there are opportunities you have to jump at, and how nothing is guaranteed.
How was your first show?
Four years after starting up, we made this announcement: we're a band, this is what we're called, here's the first song and we're gonna play a show. And we've got an album coming out. So it was the all-encompassing stomp: this band is a reality. The show was a bit unnerving. Just because you throw some marginally famous dudes together doesn't mean that people are gonna like your band or even care to show up to see it live, especially having never heard any of our material. It felt a bit ambitious—which was a positive—to book the show at a 400-capacity venue. But it turned out for the better, the place sold out, at the end of our 11-song set, the majority of people had their hands in the air, applauding loudly. So we felt like that was our first moment of reward.
Do you have a feel
for what it's like to be the frontman vs. the co-frontman yet?
I had mixed emotions about that. First I was incredibly humbled and flattered that they wanted me to be the voice of this band. Then I got a bit nervous. I'm part of a tag team, the Mastodon triple attack, vocal-wise, and Mastodon does not have a frontman, we're four equals up there. It was challenging with the show we played; I just made sure I had my parts nailed down. I wanted to perform it as if I'd played it all a hundred times before. It was wonderfully challenging.
Do you guys talk about
each other's bands?
I don't think we'd have all been in the same room together if we all hadn't appreciated and heard our other bands before. So of course we're always like, "Hey, what's going on, how was the tour you just finished?" It's not like we're cheating on one another. I just spoke to Troy Van Leeuwen and all we talked about was how the Iggy Pop tour went, because he was playing guitar with him all last month. We're friends first.
You did another side project, Killer Be Killed, with Greg Puciato from The Dillinger Escape Plan, Max Cavalera from Soulfly and Sepultura, and Ben Koller from Converge.
That was a ton of fun. I wish it could've been longer. We wrote and recorded a record [Killer Be Killed, which dropped in 2014] and the band did a brief tour of Australia, which was one of the funnest moments of my entire musical career. If and when time allows, we're gonna fire that back up as well. It's done because you thoroughly enjoy it, it's a refreshing and rewarding and fulfilling experience, and you're collaborating and traveling with your friends. It's just a win/win/win all the way around.
Is your life more consumed by music than the average artist?
You mean on a daily basis, or when I'm home, overall?
Overall. Is the majority of your time, in your head or as far
what you're actually up to, directly about music? Or are you able to take a lot
of time to disconnect from anything related to music?
Great question, actually. Majority of time, yes, I am consumed, and a lot of times it's just within myself and my own head. But that's all good, because I'm always thinking how that could possibly be a passage or a phrase and how could I mask this particular feeling or thought into a lyric or a phrase or a verse. It's not nagging at me, it's kind of challenging me. So I do think about music and my role and everything that I do...I think about it all the time. However, I do disconnect very, very frequently as well, so I'm not driven crazy or burnt out ever. Yesterday I spent like six hours on the beach, during a storm, and then a beautiful opening, and then this crazy rainbow, then a sunset, then it down-poured—all day long, I didn't think about music for a second. But already today I've kinda been listening to some Mastodon demos and pinning some words and coming up with some lyrical patterns. It's a continual on/off cycle.
What's next for Mastodon?
We're in the middle of writing a record right now. We've been spending every week over the last couple months in our studio in Atlanta. It's a great spot to be in, because we've got lots of material and we're trying to hone in and sift through. It's great when you're at a spot where it's the opposite of writer's block. That's basically consuming our Monday through Friday and will for the next couple months. We've dedicated 2016 to writing and recording a new record.
Little sidetrack here: Can you tell me about that insane cat adventure video for "Asleep in the Deep"? That was one of the best videos of 2015, easy.
Well, y'know, obviously a mysterious creature, the feline. Have you ever wondered what they do when you leave the house or you're asleep?
The "Asleep in the Deep" video is one possibility of a reigning supreme leader, which is just the common house cat. We never know, and perhaps we'll never know. But that was one scenario of what could happen. It's one of the many possibilities of house cats and how they can tap into psychedelia just as we do. I think the animation world caught wind of it and there's a movie coming out this month called, uh...shit, I just saw the preview today...it's called When Your Pets...fuck—
The Secret Life of Pets?
Yup. That's it. And I think they're aware of in-home surveillance. If you've got that going on, they're aware and they won't give their true actions away.
I read that Mike Zarin from Gone Is Gone created that BRAHHHHMMMM sound that's been in every action movie since Inception.
It's possible, I don't know that for a fact. But Mike is one hell of a composer and writer. He's got a very sophistated ear. I was blown away when I realized what he was behind. He's one of the unsung heroes in music, kind of like that writers of the old classic country hits. Millions and millions of people have heard his work, but no one knows the name.
Can you tell me something specific about the Gone Is Gone EP that people can look forward to?
I'm most excited for people to give that 35 minutes to ingest this record and hopefully find something promising on it. I believe it touches on...it really serves as an appetizer to what is to come. We've touched on many elements of what we're expanding to. The things we're going to do to follow this up will only be broader and more mature and hopefully excitable. It sure is to the four of us. I hope people like it to the slightest degree that I do, I'm absolutely in love with it.
Does Gone Is Gone
seem like a big part of your future or a smaller slice?
I certainly hope it's a big part of my future. I don't leave home unless I'm absolutely in love with something. And this is one of the few incredibly magical things in my life that have come my way and happened organically. It's too incredible to not give my full attention to. It feels too good for it to ever go away.
One more thing: Who
else would you dream of collaborating with?
Oh man. Um...my plate is so full right now I can't even dream. Before any of these things in my life happened, I never really heavily pursued it or searched for it. I've never really thought about people to collaborate with. I've spread myself quite thin already, and to dream further would probably be kicking my own ass, shooting my own foot. I am completely fulfilled with my musical life right now.
Gone Is Gone releases July 8 and is available for pre-order. This interview has been condensed and edited. Next, watch an old school Fuse interview with Mastodon: