Since forming nearly two decades ago, the guys in the Atlanta-based metal band Mastodon have shared the stage with some of their musical heroes: Tool, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. So when they got the call from their booking agent a few months ago about a co-headlining tour with Primus, they jumped at the chance.
“The four of us in Mastodon hold Primus in the highest respect,” says Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders. “All four of us have been fans of their entire career and have nothing but appreciation for everything they’ve done. They’ve carved out something so original that there will be no other like them. So to be able to share time with them as people and, more importantly, sharing the stage with them, is just yet another magnificent opportunity that we can check off of our things-to-do-in-life list.”
While Mastodon has previously played co-headline bills where bands flip-flop the order every night, on this tour with Primus, which launches at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sunday, May 6, Mastodon will go on before Primus throughout the tour.
“That’s good news, because we wrap up our set and continue the excitement and watch Primus every single night,” Sanders says. “To be not only on the radar of the guys in Primus but to also have achieved a level in this musical world where we can co-headline on a stage with Primus is, you know — if you flashback to teenage Troy and told him that, he might have exploded.”
A teenage Sanders was driven to start playing bass and learn songs after watching videos by Van Halen, KISS, Cheap Trick, Metallica and the like on MTV.
“MTV opened up a magnificent world of rock and roll to me,” Sanders says. “And my life was kind of altered just by seeing all these guys. It looked like the most fun, and it looked a like a good time and kind of had a party vibe surrounding it. So I just wanted to play music and enjoy it, and that’s kind of what I dedicated my life to.”
Since Sanders founded Mastodon with guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher and drummer Brann Dailor in 2000 after they met at a High on Fire show, a big part of the bandmembers’ lives have been spent on the road.
“That's where the light is, you know — it’s on the road,” Sanders says. “Since day one, that’s all we’ve wanted to do is form a band, write the songs we wanted to write, and take them on the road and play them for anybody who would care to listen. The touring is really special to us. That’s where that circle of energy is, from the stage to our fans, from our fans back to us. It’s just incredible. That feeling isn’t, like, tangible. You can’t grab it and hold it and put it in your pocket, but you sure can experience it and realize how magical it is.”
Mastodon has played over a hundred shows since releasing its latest effort, Emperor of Sand, which earned a Grammy nomination this year for Best Rock Album and included the song “Sultan’s Curse,” which won the band a Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Sanders says the win was very unexpected, but the band was honored to be recognized by the Recording Academy.
“They’re our peers, and they’re in our world,” Sanders says of the academy. “Just to be recognized by this body of people we thought was great, because it just went to show, ‘Hey, you can kind of start a band and jump in a van and continue to work hard and be true to your yourselves year after year after year, and then something like this can happen.
“We just took it as a wonderful moment, and hopefully it brings attention to all our circle of people, too. The trophy went to Mastodon, but I feel it can bring attention to all our circle of bands that we tour with and travel with, you know and have grown up with. I don’t know, I just see it as nothing short of a wonderful thing.”
While winning the Grammy might have been a high point of the band’s career, Emperor of Sand came out of a dark period for the band.
“For us, it feels very authentic to take our real-life experiences and channel that and twist that and harness this energy that we may be experiencing,” Sanders says. “And with Emperor of Sand, all of us are going through really rough moments within our personal lives and discovering how cancer and diseases affect people so horrifically. We're all touched by it at the same time. So it was only in our natural mindset to say, ‘Hey, let’s take what we’re going through now and do something good with it.’”
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Sanders says there are two ways of reacting to life’s curves: either drown in depression, lie on the floor and cry, “Why me? Why me?,” or say, “Okay, this is reality. This is happening. I'm going to move forward with all my will and all my might and all my power, and I’m going to make a difference, and I’m going to give this everything I can. I am going to fight with all my ability.”
The bandmembers chose the latter and realized they could turn that darkness into a positive light with Emperor of Sand, which also resonated with some of the band’s fans who were struggling with darkness, says Sanders.
“Dealing with disease and cancer is very relatable because it affects so many people on this earth, and we’re not afraid to embrace that and share these stories with people, because we’re only human, but it’s what we do with it that we feel is most important," Sanders says. "While this was happening, we were sinking all of our time and energy into creating what would become Emperor of Sand. So to say that we’re proud of it is an understatement, because we felt like we’re just proud of the record that we’re still touring in support of. Hopefully it shed some positivity on folks that are dealing with it right now or in the near future.”
Primus and Mastodon, with All Them Witches, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, May 6, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 720-865-2494, $41.50-$79.50.