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Album Reviews Q&A: Mastodon

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Mike Diver Mike Diver | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Mastodon live

Artist: Mastodon
Album: Live at the Aragon
Recommended by: Rock Show with Daniel P Carter

Atlanta-based hard-rockers Mastodon have waited 12 years to release their first live album, but Live at the Aragon, out now via Warners, delivers and then some. Capturing the quartet's phenomenal fourth LP Crack the Skye in full, and dipping its cosmic toes into a back catalogue of no little quality, the record is a rip-roaring ride through some of the most ambitious fare committed to wax this side of the Millennium Bug that never was. But, as bassist and vocalist Troy Sanders tells us, don't label the group metal...

- - -

So, Troy, where am I calling you today?
I'm stood in my front yard, at home in Atlanta, Georgia. I think we're five hours behind you.

Truth be told, it sounds like I've been connected to the dark side of the Moon, such is this line's quality...
(Laughs) Well, that's where I live too.

I'm glad we've got that confirmed. So, Live at the Aragon: it's quite the decent collection. Why wait 'til now to release a live LP?
We put out a live DVD in 2006, The Workhorse Chronicles, which documented the first five years of the band's existence. But we never really thought of doing another DVD - another live album - afterwards because we didn't feel there was that much demand for one. But after we'd recorded Crack the Skye, and we looked back at it, we felt that this was a good record to perform live in its entirety, because it felt like a complete piece of work with a nice flow from start to finish. When the idea came around, of recording another show - and like we'd never done before, too - we thought now would be a good time to attempt that. We love the ebb and flow of Crack the Skye, and we made these cool movies which we showed behind us, while we were playing, on this big LCD screen. We felt that the music was there, the production was there... if we were ever going to do a decent DVD, now was the time to do it.

And why at the Aragon Ballroom, in Chicago?
We'd played there before, and liked it. It's this giant, old spooky building. It seemed like a good environment in that respect - plus our fans in Chicago have always been really good to us. They've treated us wonderfully over the past 10 years. So we went for the Aragon, and waited to see what would happen.

The stars aligned...
Exactly!

And when you went out on stage, knowing that it was being filmed at a much higher level than before, did you feel any additional pressure not to... well, basically, not to mess up?
I wish we could have shut the fact that it was being recorded out from our mindset - but the fact that there were loads of different cameras, flying behind our heads and swinging underneath us, and getting right in our faces, made that kind of hard. It was like an amusement park ride or something. So we were very nervous, and the four of us were incredibly relieved when it was all over. If we'd messed up, it wouldn't have been that big of a deal - we're human beings after all. But that is was being filmed made us want to play as good as possible. Overall, though, it turned out okay! It's for Mastodon fans who want to see a live Mastodon experience that perhaps they've not seen before.

I guess you have reached that level where fans won't have seen you live yet - so this is less a souvenir, more a trailer for the real deal.
Yup, definitely. It's great to put out a proper DVD like this - but it really hasn't ever been a priority for us. It took this long because all of our ideas tend to sit in the slow cooker for rather too long.

It's not uncommon to find bands playing an album in full these days - ATP over here have the Don't Look Back series, which has featured the likes of Isis, Low, The Stooges and so on. Do you enjoy attending these shows, as much as you enjoyed playing such a show?
I am a big fan of that approach. For example, the other night I saw Queens of the Stone Age playing their first album in full, and that was great! I like the idea. I saw Sleep perform Holy Mountain in its entirety, and believe me that's something I would have driven hundreds of miles to see. It's cool. But then again I've been to thousands of 'classic' concerts, with material from old to new. I like both approaches.

- - -
Mastodon - Oblivion (Live at the Aragon) (CONTAINS FLASHING LIGHTS)
- - -

Would you guys maybe entertain the idea of playing a series of shows, doing each of your albums in full?
Yeah! We'd definitely entertain that idea. The discussion within the band would probably last about 30 seconds. Just a couple of months ago we got to see Melvins do Houdini, so we would definitely keep our options open. If we ever decided to do that... Maybe next year we could do (debut album) Remission in full, as it'd be its 10th anniversary. We could do some shows with that record. Actually, I'm gonna bring that idea up at band practise later today.

I'll be sure to email ATP and get them to book it up. Do you have a favourite live album yourself?
Erm... I guess I do not have a favourite live album, actually. If I did, it'd have rolled off the tongue.

I suppose the stock answer is often Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous...
Man, that is a great record though. That's amazing. A classic. But I don't think I have a favourite. I mean, I know my favourite colour is blue. I know that. I know my favourite food is Mexican food. But a favourite live album... can't think of one. At this moment in my life, I have many favourite live albums, but not one that stands out.

Do you hope that this release will offer newcomers an insight into the band that they'd not taken before, perhaps because they took you for a 'typical' metal band? To me, you've always been rather more adventurous than that...
I hope it's a way in for newcomers. I mean, there are dark aspects of our music, and melodic aspects, and hard rock aspects, and punk and rock'n'roll aspects... But I don't think we'd ever call ourselves a heavy metal band. We are a bizarro heavy space-rock band, maybe. (Laughs) But the term heavy metal can indeed turn people off from the get-go, so I've never even considered us a heavy metal band. We're a rock band that does some bizarre stuff. So yeah, I'd encourage new people to give us a shot - we're big fans of so much different music, so we're hopeful that everyone might find something to like in what we do. We can't please everyone, and certainly don't set out to do so; but we do feel that we offer many different things to different people.

Okay, favourite albums of the year so far. I realise it's pretty early on, but do you have any?
Truth be told I've no idea what's come out this year! Obviously the reissue of the first Queens of the Stone Age album came out - that's probably my favourite new-slash-old album of the year so far. Dude, I have no idea what's been out, or what's coming up. The past three months have been spent with the band, working on new material, so other music in 2011 hasn't happened for me yet. We've been working on new Mastodon material since the start of the year, and that's consumed my musical world. Apart from the few concerts I've been to, I've not stepped out of that little world the whole time. I will catch up, though.

Just finally, since you've brought it up: how is the new material coming along?
It's great, and in full flow. I guess it's a good sign, but I am super excited about what's already come together. It's so refreshing to be excited about writing, because we've toured Crack the Skye for two years. So to get back home, reconnect with family and get down the rehearsal room for a spell, it's exciting. We've collected so many ideas, so now we have to put them together to see which ones like each other, and maybe they'll become friends. I dunno man, I am ecstatic about this Mastodon album... I'm ready to record! But obviously we should give it a little time, so that the songs are right. We won't rush things.

Read the BBC review of Live at the Aragon
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