Mastodon Address Controversial Thanksgiving T-Shirt, Talk New Live Record and Upcoming Studio Album

Mastodon Address Controversial Thanksgiving T-Shirt, Talk New Live Record and Upcoming Studio Album
Photo: Cindy Frey
Although Atlanta prog-metal titans Mastodon have some exciting stuff going on, including an upcoming live album and a new full-length studio effort, most people are still just talking about the band's new T-shirt.

The shirt in question is the group's take on Thanksgiving, showing a pilgrim pointing a gun at a native woman with a campy "Happy Thanksgiving" emblazoned over the yellow fabric. As recently reported, the shirt has upset many fans, who have called the band out on what they feel is racism.

"We put out a handful of seasonal shirts," bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders begins to explain in a new Exclaim! interview. "We've had Easter shirts, Halloween shirts, Christmas shirts... the four of us do have a warped sense of humour; however, we are four very humble people that never try to seek attention, we're not trying to stir controversy.

"We've had a shirt before with Long Don Silver with his penis hanging down below his knees, and that caused a lot of stink about 10 years ago. The new shirt is not pro-white man, it's not anti-Native American. It's just a slice of, 'hey, kids, this also happened.' It is what it is, it's out there, it's a small run, they're done being made. Happy Thanksgiving."

Sanders insists the band are not racist and was not promoting a pro-white agenda. However, he also admits that maybe it was in poor taste for four white dudes to make a shirt like this.

"Could be," he says. "Yeah.... If you know us, the last thing we ever intended to do was hurt anyone's feelings. The intent was not to hurt or harm."

On the musical front, the band are about to release Live at Brixton, a digital-only audio and video release coming out on Tuesday (December 10). It's taken from a gig recorded during the band's touring cycle for 2011's The Hunter. As it turns out, it was their biggest show ever as headliners, with the legendary venue being sold out.

"We wanted to capture what we did on The Hunter tour," says Sanders. "The four of us were really proud of that album and the touring that came after it, and we wanted to capture something for those that are into it, and we're just hoping that people think it sounds and looks as good as it was that night that it happened. It just captured what we do and why we do it."

The band — who had previously released the 2010 live album Live at the Aragon, where they played 2009's ambitious concept album Crack the Skye in its entirety, along with a few other cuts — are aware that when you're recording a live record, mistakes may happen. Luckily, they escaped this particular recording session making few, if any.

"Even in the middle of a touring cycle, you still have your off nights," says Sanders. "Some nights are better than others; that's just the way it goes. So we were just hoping for a good one. I think we played well that night. It's always a little nerve-wracking when you've got seven cameras floating in front of your face. It's like a TV performance, when everything's going to be captured in high-def; it's a little nerve-wracking. We have a lot of notes going on, a lot of riffs, a lot of lyrics, and we're human, we realize that; if we were to make errors, then so be it. We're just four dudes who play a lot of music."

And now the next step is a new studio album, which Mastodon are currently hunkered down creating. Sanders says they're aiming to have be wrapped up with recording, mixing and mastering by February, and to have it released in June or sometime in the summer of 2014.

"It seems like a natural evolution from where we left off with The Hunter," he says. "Nothing is ever verbally spoken of beforehand, like, 'We need to write a bunch of long epic songs,' or, 'We need to have a lot of short, fast songs.' It boils down to what comes through [guitarists] Bill [Kelliher] and Brent [Hinds]' fingers, through the guitars, then we grasp the ideas from there and build them and build them until we have songs. We let it come naturally, and make it to the point where all four of us in the band are super stoked and happy with it. That's the most important thing for us."

The album will no doubt feature the labyrinthine twists and turns the band are known for, but will likely also contain some of the more straight-ahead rocking sounds found on The Hunter, an album which Sanders describes as being "a little more accessible and easier to sink your teeth into right away."

"I think doing something like Crack the Skye was important for us, and that's what we wanted to do. Then after we wrote it, recorded it, then toured for two years on it, we definitely wanted to erase that board and start from scratch. That's where The Hunter was born, and we went into a different direction. It was much more freeing, and easier to write and wrap our heads around as well.

"Once you have created something you're proud of and done that, we don't really want to go back and try to replicate something like that again. If it comes naturally, then, great, but I don't think we're in the mindset where we want to get that deep and intricate with the music."

Expect Live at Brixton to arrive via Warner Tuesday.