Gone Is Gone Q&A – Troy Sanders On The Mastodon, QOTSA, At The Drive In And Sweethead Supergroup

Gone Is Gone was April’s gift to fans of Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age and At The Drive In. The group – formed by Mastodon frontman Troy Sanders, QOTSA guitarist Troy Van Heeuwen, ATDI drummer Tony Hajjar and sometime Sweethead bassist Mike Zarin – released ‘Violescent’ in the middle of last month, and have just shared a new track, ‘Starlight’. These are just two of the eight tracks on their self-titled debut EP, which is out on July 8.

The group has been in the works for four years, and stems from a collaboration between Mike Zarin and Tony Hajjar. They were creating trailer music for films like Inception and scoring videogames like Splinter Cell: Blacklist. Some of the stuff they came up with together suited a band better, so they got QOTSA guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen involved. When he was on board, they produced a load more material, before realising they needed a singer.

Speaking to NME ahead of the EP’s release, Sanders paints a picture of how he joined them back in 2012: “I’m in line at the DMV – the Department of Motor Vehicles – which is a soulless, government building where you can only be there or work there if you have no personality whatsoever. It’s a miserable experience. I’m in line, and I get a phone call from one of my guitar heroes, Troy Van Leeuwen. In a heartbeat, I was in LA meeting these guys and putting down some vocal ideas.”

NME: How does Gone Is Gone differ from your regular bands?

Troy Sanders: The traditional ‘writing a record and touring for six months’ isn’t gonna happen in this band. It’s not going to be a full-on band in the traditional sense of write-record-tour.


So does that mean we will or won’t get to see you play live then?
We did our first show ever last month in Los Angeles. It was a small club called the Dragonfly in Los Angeles and there was 400 people that all had their hands in the air cheering at the end.

We are going to do a short tour in the States at the release of the EP in July, and we’re in talks right now – we really want to take this over to where you guys are. That’s the next proper step to take, so that’s all coming together right now. In my experience you guys have been so warm and welcome to live music. It’s always a pleasure.

Would you play something like Reading & Leeds Festival?
That would be fantastic. We’re all in separate areas of the world at that particular time but yes, our hopes are to do special shows here and there where possible. We’re going to find creative ways to collaborate with many styles of artists, and hopefully allow this thing to grow as a band without us following those traditional steps.

How would you compare the music you’re making with Gone Is Gone to the music of your other bands? Is it closer to any one of them?
I’m very excited for people to hear this EP. It’s got eight tracks on there that dab in various tastes of music, to a degree. The first taste we released, ‘Violescent’, is a very borderline, Mastodon-esque song – it’s just a short simple rocker. It made the band official with an announcement: we’re playing the show, we’ve got a little video, we’re a band.

It’s always tricky with what first taste you want to put in people’s mouths, when we’ve got many musical stylings and various sounds. We can’t wait for people to hear the eight tracks on this record – there’s some dreamy moments, there’s some darker industrial-type moments, there are some foggy, fuzzy cloudy singalong moments. It touches on many other things than ‘Violescent’ has to offer.

You don’t describe yourselves as a ‘supergroup’ – is it a dirty word?
I understand generic and simplified terms of how you explain something – when you go into a music store, things are labelled under metal, jazz, rock, post, pop-rock, classic rock, I get it. However, we never intended on putting some relatively known names in a band together for the sake of receiving any accolades before anyone’s even heard a full album from us or seen a full show.

We’re friends that started this for all the correct reasons and that word just seems to have too much flair, it’s got a cocky flair to it and I don’t really like that word. We don’t think there’s anything super about us, except for that we’re fucking super into the music we’re making and the camaraderie we’ve had over the past four years.


Why do so many ‘supergroups’ form in LA?
It’s the entertainment capital of the world, for damn sure. You can’t go anywhere without seeing someone that you’ve seen before in a magazine or a television show or a movie or a band onstage. Things just happen naturally there.

You’ve called Gone Is Gone ‘therapeutic’. What aspect of it do you mean?
I’ve learned it’s a very healthy thing to do to jam with other people. Whether it’s sitting for 30 minutes in someone else’s practice room and just jamming with somebody, or learning a cover song together, or writing something together – any kind of collaboration I think is a healthy thing. You pull different positives from different people.

For the bulk of the past 16 years I’ve been very fortunate and proud to be in a band called Mastodon that followed the traditional cycle of write, record, tour-tour-tour, write, record, tour-tour-tour. It’s worked out fantastic for us and I love every minute of it. However, when I get these brief periods away, and I’m doing something else that’s creative musically, it just brings a refreshing feeling over me that hits a reset button. Every time I go back into the Mastodon world I’m in such a great place mentally to dive headfirst in and give it all I’ve got.

Where did the band’s name come from?

We were honing in on things that were very human, relatable, real, and as far away from anything pretentious as possible. We were discussing subject matter of frailty and things that every human can relate to – love, loss, life, experience and opportunity and all things frail and fragile. The phrase ‘what’s done is done’ or ‘what’s gone is gone’ – you need to seize these opportunities now and make the most of it, reward yourself and fulfill yourself while the time is now.

We think it’s relatable and we’re not trying to be anything that we’re not. The level of pretentiousness is below zero – it’s minus eleven, it’s out of the fuckin’ picture. This band was organically created and it’s formed and has got to where it is now very naturally. It’s all from the heart and it means the world to us.

Finally – is it a bit weird having two Troys in the band?
I wonder if that’s every happened before. In existence. I’d like to hear from other people if so, but in this particular band I’m referred to as Sanders and the other Troy is referred to as TVL. It’s common to have two Mikes or two Chrises or two Scotts, but the way we look at it is: two Troys are better than one. That’s why we started this band. That could be the bold summary line. ‘Why did you guys start the band?’ ‘Because two Troys are better than one.’ Fuck all that other heartfelt shit I said earlier!