Mastodon's Troy Sanders

Atlanta’s Mastodon is on a wild musical adventure chasing after the Great White Whale. The expertly crafted, muscular music on the group’s album, Leviathan, is filled with massive riffs, complex rhythmic patterns, aggressive vocals, and Troy Sanders’s distorted, driving bass lines—all based on the classic Herman Melville novel Moby Dick. A self–taught fingerstyle player, Troy grew up jamming along to the music of Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, and Kiss.

How do you describe Mastodon’s music?
We are a band of traveling rock & roll pirates. We get tagged with our own genre of music: whalecore, mammoth metal, or elephant rock. When I strap on my bass my alter ego kicks in; I become a monster ready to crush people and drop jaws. I use my bass to lay down a solid layer of thunder.

How does your approach to grinding metal bass build on the more straightforward rock you grew up listening to?
I follow the common role of the bass player by locking into a solid bottom-end groove with [drummer] Brann Dailor. Depending on the song, I double the guitar parts to reinforce the strength of the riff. For cleaner parts with less riffage, I like to create movement in the bass line to add breath to the song. It can be easy to overplay in Mastodon because there is so much energy coming from the drums, but I try to keep it as simple as possible. Brann creates the bed frame, and I am the heavy-metal mattress!

What challenges are you working on these days?
Originally Mastodon had a singer, but when he left we decided to stay a four-piece, so I had to pick up some of the vocal slack. Singing and playing bass simultaneously was much more challenging when I first began than it is now. When the lyrics’ phrasing and melody differs from that of the bass line—like on the track “I Am Ahab”—it adds another dimension and layer to the music. We write the lyrics and melodies after the music is completed and then I learn how to actually play both live.